ET 6: Deconstructing Vertov

Posted: March 21, 2012 in ET Blog Essay

“The Man With a Movie Camera”. What a title. The title in itself would capture an audience of any kind simply because of how simple sounding it is; sparking an interest to the viewer of what this man with a movie camera is all about. Unlike the other movies such as “Birth of a Nation” or “The Battleship Potemkin” where both movies have a straightforward title (that these movies are related to wars or about patriotism in a country not of theirs), The Man With a Movie Camera evokes curiosity to all viewers of any age or race. It has an innocent appeal to it and leaves room for imagination for the audience to create a story behind what this movie might be of. It certainly evoked my curiosity especially when it began with a truly unique start as compared to the other movies previously viewed.

Man With a Movie Camera begins with a statement saying that the movie is an “experiment” without the help of interfiles, story and theatre. In short, Vertov is creating an “international language” by creating a movie that does not involve a scripted play with actors and in a place where most people can related to. Vertov creates an international language through the absence of a plot, narration, subtitles, and actors and is explained below.

Firstly, the absence of a plot can be seen throughout this movie. In the Man With a Movie Camera we often are shown clips that what appear to be all over the place with no storyline whatsoever. We see pictures of a little girl laughing or the movement of trains on the road and it all seems so random with no flow or order. Just a constant flow of moving pictures of the everyday Russian life. For example, the movie starts off with clips of the streets that are quiet, people who are asleep such as the women, undisturbed machinery that stays as still as a rock. As it progresses, more seemingly random images are shown repeatedly all over the place like the pictures of gears of the factory, packing cigarettes, pigeons, the homeless or cutting in and out of scenes from a factory to the streets. This creates suspense to the viewer as we’re constantly at the edge of our seats wondering, “What’s next, what’s next?” as we do not know where this movie is headed. As mentioned before, this allows the viewer to imagine the next clip that might be shown or simply infer the meanings of the clips shown through the movie. This is a clear “international language” as anyone from anywhere can form their own imagination and infer theories based on their own opinion in contrast with “Triumph of the Will” that clearly imposes someone else’s idea as your own (that is, a strong sense of patriotism to Hitler and Germany).

Secondly, the absence of a narration is avid in this movie. Not one word is said throughout this film, not one clip of an explanation of any scene. This again, allows the audience to be free in his own interpretation and does not need to be guided by anyone to know what the film is about. This makes it easy for anyone to understand and watch as those who cannot read may be able to view it without missing out in important explanations of the movie. Besides that, the mute and deaf are even able to watch this movie as again, there is no need to listen for an explanation of any scene of sort. I believe that this is a key tool used in this movie as most films are screened to fit an audience who are hearing-able as well as educated enough to read. This allows literally, people of all ages and forms to view this screening in such a simple manner. Furthermore, many movies back then were made in Germany or in America where others from different parts of the world might not understand that language. With the absence of narration, there is no need for translators or a translation that might take the viewer away from the imagery shown.

This leads me to my next point which is that this movie has created an international language through the non-appearance of subtitles. Due to this reason, many are able to understand the “language” spoken through the art of moving pictures. As this movie is made purely with pictures, one is able to decipher his/her own meaning and interpretation or form questions such as, “Why does Vertov take pictures of the train?” or “What is the meaning behind showing the lady from naked to dressed at the start of the movie? Is it to show some form of sexuality?” As mentioned before, subtitles are like a wall between the audience and the film as the constant viewing of the words shown below the screen distracts us from what is happening in the scene. If you don’t understand the language or can’t read, we miss out on what is happening. If we linger on the words too long or simply read too slowly, we miss not only the current subtitles shown but important parts of the scene and the next thing we know, it’s a whole new scene already. Man With a Movie Camera takes the hassle out and allows the viewer to just enjoy the videogrpahy and art presented without any disruptions to the flow.

Lastly, we see Vertov filming ordinary people in the midst of their ordinary lives instead of actors in this film. From the start to the end, the imagery shown of people are literally random strangers like the homeless woman sleeping, or the traffic marshal of the trains or workers at the factory. We don’t see a famous movie star or a handsome actor strutting down the street in pretense of a traffic officer. Instead, we see ordinary faces from ordinary humans beings like you and I being portrayed in the film. This brings the audience to a level where they can connect as it is as if they are seeing themselves or someone they know on the screen. It is as if someone recorded their lives and displayed for all to see. This is what happens in everyday life; no acting, no stuntman, no props, just the world as how it is. By creating such an element, the audience is able be drawn to the movie, comparing how different their lives are compared to those of the Russians and find that except for facial features, everything is done in the same way.

Why, you may ask, would Vertov do such a thing as this? Rejecting societal norms of filmmaking – narration, theatre, etc – and doing something completely different? In my opinion, I believe that Vertov did this to firstly break out of society’s norm. In order to reach a mass audience widely, in order for anyone of any race or background to be able to watch and connect this film, elements like language and writing have to be taken away. I believe that he also did this for the world to see what life really is especially in the Russian world with no actors or sets or scripts. Many more can also be reached as this movie shows plenty of middle class workers in factories, the vast majority of the population. Hence, many more people are able to related to this movie as compared to “Bringing up Baby” for example which involves the higher class, the wealthy.

In Man With a Movie Camera, Vertov’s idea and methodology and the Marxist theory of equality are strongly linked. When watching the movie, one gets the idea of that everyone is equal and the same and there is no hierarchy of importance from one person or the other. For example, the viewings of the workers at the factory are equal importance to the traffic marshal of the trains. One does not see a distinction of statuses of any sort be it in cash received or any statements projecting that the traffic marshal is of higher importance than the workers. Instead it is like a statement made that what you see in my country is what you see in yours. It raises the question in the viewers mind whether they want to see this same image in their own lives – the image of no upper class dominating the lower class but everyone is treated equal. Do we want to find joy and laughter working in these factories such as the women seem to be having? We see factory workers, common class people and the poor and homeless so often in this movie. Do we really want to be trapped in this routine, robotic life of capitalism and having to strive and work hard for nothing? The opening of Man With a Movie Camera is a clear statement of this; the world is in a state of equilibrium and everyone is happy doing their own thing without any authorities barging over their lives or threatening them. There is also a sense of equality when Vertov juxtaposes images of death and birth as the same or marriage and divorce as a balance, a part of life.

All in all, I thought that Man With a Movie Camera was one of the most well edited films watched thus far in this course and I was greatly impressed by the speed of the film and the effects that were pretty advanced for that era. This work of art is surely an international language that can be viewed by all, anytime, anywhere and whenever and can be successfully understood by many.

  1. adprosebud says:

    This is one of the more difficult ET’s and you do a very good job with it. You justify the points in Vertov’s manifesto and finally bring in Marx, whose theories are absolutely essential in understanding the film. what you miss is the fact that the images ARE linked — through juxtaposition. I think you understand that, but you never really make it explicit by examining the connections between shots. For example, pictures of the woman waking up are positioned next to pictures of streetcars waking up are positioned next to shots of a windowshade opening — etcetera.

    Also, you talk about deaf, mute audience — but it’s clear from the beginning that music is essential to the film.

    • princesspang says:

      Hi Sir,
      Hmm music was important but it was very repetitive. I fetl that even if you were to take the music away others can still watch it and interpret the same meaning. Hence, an international language.

      I agree with you about the juxtaposition. I realized I lacked that after submission. Should I re-do it or can I just do another ET?:)

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