In September 2012 I wrote this blog in Dutch this is my translation/interpretation to English. Now, five years later I revisit the text and I want to link the film to a film I saw recently ‘HUMAN’ the movie. I hope you enjoy and are encouraged to watch either films. Or start your own experiment in cinematic communication.
The movie ‘Man with the Camera’ starts with the following introduction:
“Attention viewers: This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events, without the help of intertitles, without the help of a story, without the help of theatre. This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema, based on its absolute separation form the language of theatre and literature.”
With this introduction the film create expectations. One of the questions I asked my self was: How do you create an international language in such a self-focussed land as Russia? A review on (THE) movie site IMDb describes the expectations and the (lack) of fulfilment of it very well:
Although I had obviously heard of this before watching it, and had been told enthusiastically by all that it was incredibly interesting, I found it hard to believe that a film with a) no storyline, and b) no dialogue or intertitles could be so exciting. I am now more than willing to eat my hat.
This is quite simply the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Probably best described as a documentary about itself (although by no means only this), this film and its creator were way before their time. bforbetty from Auckland, New Zealand 10 April 2004
The main question fort his post is the following: (how) does the Man with Camera create a truly international language of cinema? I will compare the content of the movie with the promises that are made in the introduction and give my opinion on whether or not (and how) the movie attains its goal.
As mentioned the movie starts with a text introduction. After that we see a now old fashioned camera, on top of the camera there seems to be a kind of hill: we see a man with a man with a similar camera climb on top of this camera, and he starts filming. We see the men on its way. A cinema is opened to the public: the film is about to start. What follows is a view of the city that is waking up: streets are still empty and these images are followed by images of a woman in her morning ritual, and as such we move from the city to the woman.
The rest of the movie continues like this. The movie seems to be constructed from fragments, broken pieces of different sequences put together. Yet, this almost chaotic sequence is pulled together like beads on a string. Various places are more often shown on different times of the day. This review adequately describes the films style: ‘Certain shots, reappearing many times in different films, began to feel like old friends’ Anne Nesbet. Even when I saw the movie for the first time the images felt like old friends. Aside from this film we watched Architecture & the Avant-Garde (Craig). The documentary about architecture in fact uses images form Vertovs ‘Man with Camera’. It is no wonder that fragments of the films are used in other movies. Aside from showing ‘real life’ every shot as a clear composition of its own. Every single frame is a well though through masterpiece. This inspired me to write down following while watching the movie for the first time: “[the movie] Celebrates the city, modern life, every aspect of it, celebrates filming as a whole”. Through this method I believe I believe that Vertov creates ‘a truly international language of cinema’ .
Vertov celebrates film, and the camera as a creative machine. Aside from that the movie celebrates modern life and this as well is an international theme. Although the film is old and Russian, the subjects of his film are not. We still as (post)modern people are caught in the friction between humans and machines, the order and chaos of the big city or even more basic: marriage and divorce, life and death. At the same time the film does not reduce to generalisations, but rather shows typical, real daily things in a Russian city. The man with the camera is a documentation of history (although at the time of course it was the present time).
Yet aside from a relatable sequence of images the film is a true work of art. The film truly creates an international language free from the language of theatre and literature. This is obviously already attained by the little use of words. Only the introduction contains text, the rest of the movie is silent apart from the music that would have been played in the theatre. The movie promises no stories, and we see no fiction as such, but the movie inspires to think of the stories of all the people we see. The film uses several techniques that are typical and limited to film: the editing and montage of images, video effects, stop motions and such. There are many movies that use these experimental techniques but they are rarely as well done as the man with the camera. The movie is a great example of how to make a film. It is a perfect balance between opposites, movement and rest, acceleration and slowing down, nature and machines.
The film uses a lot of different images yet it also uses repetition. As I said, I believe man with the camera passes the test of creating a universal cinematographic language with flying colours. It creates a harmony out of thousands of fragments, and shows us both universal as personal things. All this makes the movie a success, timeless, a joy to watch.
Yesterday I saw HUMAN, a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Although this movie is in a sense the total opposite of ‘ man with the movie camera’ by using a lot of text, of rather stories that people themselves tell it still reminded me of the man with the camera. There are no intertitles, yet similar to the Man with the movie camera various themes can be found by the viewer. There are no explanations, only when knowing the areas from which fragments of aerial view are shown, you will be able to connect the imagery to an actual place on earth. Similarly the interviewed people are not introduced by name, place of birth or age. Only by carefully listening to their stories this information might be pieces together. Similarly to the man with the movie camera this film inspires you to guess the stories of those who are shown but do not talk. Where did they come from? Where do they go? The use of areal views nowadays is not very revolutionary, yet showing them as almost abstract modern art, and barely framing the interviews recorded in all different languages gives HUMAN an international cinematic language of its own. Similarly as in Men with the movie camera, we learn about life, death, marriage, divorce, the struggles of modern life. Yet there is a level to the story that only people form or familiar with the countries depicted will recognise: the language spoken, the accents, the areas shown and described. The movie is a celebration of all that is human, of this world, and all that is and personal and universal. Although totally different the two movies seem to fit together. Like old friends.
Understanding Man with a Movie Camera Anne Nesbe In: Film Quarterly, 2005
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op2sOtF113M De gehele film man with the movie camera, met engelse ondertiteling
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019760/reviews hierbij heb ik de review onder de naam: All hail Lord Vertov….