Posted by: ckckred | September 4, 2013

Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera

The biggest surprise of Sight and Sound’s 2012 poll, other than Vertigo dethroning Citizen Kane for the top slot, was the inclusion of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 movie Man with a Movie Camera, an experimental feature length film, at eighth place, ahead of The Passion of Joan of Arc and after The Searchers.  Some may cry blasphemy at the picture’s inclusion, but I found Man with a Movie Camera‘s high ranking to be completely deserved.  It’s an enthralling movie with a truly visionary standpoint.

Man with a Movie Camera opens up with a title telling the audience explicitly that it is an avant-garde film, meaning there will be no intertitles nor did Vertov use any actors or sets.  Vertov’s goal was to make a picture that speaks to all people (though there are subtitles translating various Russian texts), an original intention of film itself.  There is no direct story in Man with a Movie Camera, though the film often shows the images of the filmmakers as well as a recurring scene in a movie theater.  The center of the picture revolves around one day of a Soviet city, filmed in Odessa, Moscow, and Kiev.  Vertov filmed over three years of footage and his wife Elizaveta Svilova edited together about 1,775 separate shots.  Vertov commonly switches settings over and over.  He cuts from factories to dump yards to waterfalls to beaches.  Much like BarakaMan with a Movie Camera is just a symphony to watch the transitions.

Of course, what’s so famous about Man with a Movie Camera is the number of movie techniques it employs.  There is stop motion, freeze frames, tracking shots, extreme close-ups, split screens, and Dutch angles.  Man with a Movie Camera wasn’t the origin of all these cinematic movements, but it certainly revolutionized it.  It’s hard not to see the influence of the film in multiple movies, from Jean-Luc Godard to Martin Scorsese.

I’ll keep this review short, since I would not want to create many preconceived notions and would rather have you experience the film yourself.  It’s available on Netflix, accompanied by a score by Michael Nyman, and is only about an hour long, making it a short and easy watch.  It’s a miraculous film achievement, one that still seems completely fresh today.


  1. I caught this (on YouTube even, heh) right after that Sight & Sound poll came out; definitely would second the recommendation! The way its edited and structure is basically flawless.

    • Glad you agree. It’s a movie that’s great to watch unfold.

  2. Interesting, man. Very interesting. I must see this.

    • Thanks! I think you’ll like it. I know you enjoyed Baraka and this is much like that.

      • That sounds even better! Have you seen Samsara as well? I’m dying to get hold of that.

      • I haven’t seen it yet, but I have that on store in my Netflix queue, so I’ll probably watch it this weekend. I’m a big fan of experimental cinema.

  3. Remember trying to watch this a few years but wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time. Need to revisit it to give it a proper chance.

    • Thanks for the comment. Try giving it another shot. I watched it again afterwards and loved it even more a second time.

  4. Thanks, enjoyed this. Think I might actually give it a go on Netflix tonight, I’m in the mood for something a bit different. Sounds fascinating and I’ve heard so much about it. The Cinematic Orchestra (a UK band) released a new soundtrack to it 10 years or so ago – I have that record but have never seen the movie.

    • Thanks! It’s a great movie and I would like to listen to the Cinematic Orchestra’s score to it.

  5. Dear ckckred,

    I am writing to you on behalf of CITYlab at the University of California, Los Angeles. 5 faculty members are co-authoring a book to be published by MIT Press in 2019, in which they would like to feature the still image from Man with a Movie Camera you have featured in the blog post above. We would like to properly credit you, the assumed owner of the image, before proceeding with reproduction. Please contact me via email (I’ll leave below in the comment feature) for further information and next steps. Thank you for your consideration. Best, Maxwell Greenberg,

    • Sorry to get back to you so late. Unfortunately, I do not own the above image, but I do wish you the best of luck on your project.

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