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Michael Nyman's - Man with a Movie Camera [DVD]
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Michael Nyman s MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
A film by Dziga Vertov
Man With a Movie Camera is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, a montage of urban Russian life showing the people of the city at work and at play, and the machines that keep the city going. It was Vertov's first full-length film, and he used all the cinematic techniques at his disposal - dissolves, split screen, slow motion and freeze-frames - to produce a work that is exhilarating and intellectually brilliant.
This special edition DVD features a unique soundtrack specially composed by Michael Nyman and performed by the Michael Nyman band.
Michael Nyman's music has reached its largest audience by way of his film scores. Nyman has been researching the period of extraordinary creativity which followed the Revolution and lasted throughout most of the 1920s. Key to this period was Dziga Vertov's extraordinary film Man With a Movie Camera which documents the full spectrum of 1929 Soviet urban life with dazzling inventiveness. It was Vertov's exuberant montage and energetic lyricism which inspired Nyman to create his extraordinary score.
- Remastered and restored
- Fully uncompressed PCM stereo audio
USSR | 1929 | black and white | silent with music score | 68 minutes | DVD5 | Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 | Region 2 DVD
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While the word `art' usually conjures up images of beauty, style, grace and elegance, the viewer's first impression of "Man With the Movie Camera" is anything but beautiful, as images of city streets and people waking to a new day and getting ready for work bombard our visual senses. But before long it is obvious that there is a distinct rhythm, and what seem like random images taken from moments out of everyday life are put together - like a musical composition - to create a perfectly choreographed work of great artistic skill. Even if the viewer has no interest in the artistic aspects, the bombardment of images using the whole wide range of editing and camera techniques known at the time becomes quite mesmerizing and fascinating. Images of streets in Russian cities like Moscow, Kiev and Odessa show transportation from trains, trams, horse carriages, ambulance and fire engines, then people going to work in coal mines, fields and in the city, using modern technology of the time such as the telephone, switchboard and typewriter; people going to a wedding, a funeral, having a baby, being pampered in a beauty salon, then enjoying recreation after work such as going to the beach, dancing and playing sports and games. Every aspect of life is touched on, and it never becomes boring because the tempo changes frequently, or we see the cameraman himself, who was Vertov's brother, seeking the best position to film, then there are close-ups, unusual angles, frozen frames, montages and other effects to keep the viewer under a spell.
This Image DVD has a musical score by the Alloy Orchestra, based on instructions by Vertov himself because in a visual work of art like this, the music should underscore and complement the images as best as possible. The Alloy Orchestra has achieved this goal brilliantly, and there is also an optional audio commentary to provide more insight into Vertov's ideas, as well as various background information which help the viewer appreciate the film on a deeper level.
Vertov resisted the notion of telling a story like all his contemporaries, but he ended up telling a much more profound and important story than all other filmmakers, namely the story of life, told in the universal language of pictures, of cinema, which requires no words and no speech. This is perhaps what makes this film special and unique, and transcends any label one might like to give it, whether Soviet Avant Garde, Silent or documentary. An experience not easily forgotten, and well worth adding to a serious film collection!
There is the idea of film as a recorder of objective fact, that is potentially present anywhere though always located somewhere, suggested by the images of the filmmaker as a kind of eye towering over the city, seeing both the whole and the parts. There is also the idea of film as highly subjective, suggested in images that show the personal reaction of the filmmaker, and in images that show the personal dangers faced by the "man with a movie camera" in his effort to capture difficult shots. We see, in these shots, that film is not simply a passive recorder of events that unfold independently of the filmmaker but is also involved in the creation of these events. We see the editor, editing the very footage that we had just seen the filmmaker recording. We see that the filmmaker can be a kind of poet, making use of visual metaphors to suggest ideas: a train relay that suggests the intercutting of various scenes by the editor, a window and an eye that suggest the camera. We also see the capacity of the filmmaker to manipulate and create a new reality, when we observe animation (of the camera itself, seemingly taking on a life of its own without the cameraman), but we also see how this animation is achieved. We are even shown the audience itself, and by implication are included in the very picture we are watching. Some of these metaphors and ideas may seem heavy handed today, but that is only in my description of them. When you actually watch them they fascinate. The editing also is superb in this film -- always appropriate to the scene it is sometimes slow, and sometimes more rapid and kinetic than anything MTV produces.
All in all, I consider this an essential piece of cinema, well worth purchasing on DVD while it is still available. I hope it remains in print forever, but have a hard time believing it will, which is why I just recently purchased a personal copy -- when it was already owned by my campus library. (The picture on the DVD is quite fine, better than the VHS copy I have seen; the music that was re-created from notes left behind by Vertov is superb and fits the film quite nicely.)
Top international reviews
Despite its distance from our viewers' habits, this film is not so heavy to watch, but rather a bizarre and stimulating sensorial trip where our perception gets manipulated to introduce us to the richness of cinema language. I wonder what it must have been like the first time they watched it.
The boxset is beautiful and much larger than I had anticipated. The box contains two keep cases and a 100 page booklet with some wonderful essays and writings by Vertov. Man with a Movie Camera has some great special features but the second disc containing the four other films is sparse to say the least. A must own for any cinephile!
But a must see for those interested in the history of film. As this "movie" was produced - 77 years ago -, the concept of film was completely different to what it is now. This shows how a man, without the filmic knowledge of a present-day director, manages to make breath-taking scenes never shot before.
Dziga Vertov, can probably be seen as one of the inventors of the first long running movies.
A must see, and an historical masterpiece!
But the film is a lot more interesting as for its content and meaning. He has to be compared with Eisenstein who favored direct political messages, particularly about recent Soviet history. But we must not forget Fritz Lang who favored in his Metropolis another political message that industrialism was developing exploitation and enslavement and that it was barbarous and inhumane. But at the same time it is from these workers and the working class that hope could come from in the form of a rebellion and a compromise.
Vertov, apart from using the name and likeness of Lenin a couple of times is not only providing us with a political message. Of course it means that in the new historical phase the Soviet Union is going through Lenin, hence the revolution he represents (in his absence now), brought free time, leisure time, vacations to the workers themselves. But this message is the smaller part of the meaning. In fact paid vacations were invented by the Soviet Union, then adopted by Hitler and finally by the French in 1936. It spread from these three sources later on.
What is essential is the extremely positive vision of industrialism. The society it builds is a society of speed, ease, and creative work. Speed because everything is organized to save time and energy, to make things faster. Vertov concentrates on city life and does not really consider agriculture. This fast society is represented particularly by trams and means of transportation, but also at work by the new work organization that we call in the west taylorism or fordism. Charlie Chaplin will make fun of it in the most caustic way in his Modern Times.
Ease is also represented by modern means of transportation but also in life in general due to the new organization of industrial work that liberates free time, and the development of stores and commodities. Creative work is a positive vision of industrial work: workers are creative by being workers. It means that they create added value and riches for the whole country by and with their work. This is the most important message there and it is of course deeply political but it is also in complete contrast with the ideologists and artists of the west like Fritz Lang, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell or even T.S. Eliot.
Vertov is an optimist. This vision is of course today difficult to accept because that fully accepted industrialism produced pollution, colonialism, totalitarianism, fascism, nazism, and many other delicate development of the 20th century. Note I do not mention communism which is covered by totalitarianism. Paid vacations and the 40 working hours a week are two positive reforms that do not in any way cover up the rest nor compensate for the rest.
A last remark is that this film gives us a completely exploded vision of life in a myriad of small tid-bits that are recomposed in the kaleidoscope of our eyes. We find the same vision in Russian music at the same time. Fast rhythm of innumerable particles of life similar to the vision we can have of a very busy street while we are on a fast errand that makes us go up that street in little time. In other words the new technology made it possible to show on a screen what exploded life was really becoming. Vertov shows the positive side of things. Go to Fritz Lang or Charlie Chaplin to have the negative side of things, even if Chaplin tries to see the fun of it.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU