Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929) uses collage and layering to explore themes of collaboration and interaction. It desperately wants to be reflexive and include the audience in the artistic process, reflecting the collectivist ideals of Vertov himself and the theory of montage, in which the value comes from the collective efforts of many small parts, cogs in the machine.
Man with a Movie Camera is an explosively experimental film; Vertov plays with a multitude of different techniques, yet still manages to create a cohesive film. It’s not necessarily a conventional narrative, but pieces which meld to form a whole, asking the audience to question of their own perceptions of art and how it’s created.
Vertov uses layering, recycling, deconstruction and reconstitution. He creates double exposures to form layers of images stacked on top of each other in a kalidescopic effect.
He also highlights the means of production by switching back and forth between shots which show both the camera and the footage apparently shot by that camera at that moment. It’s very much a constructivist piece of art.
It’s fascinating that while Vertov’s aim was to produce an objective piece of cinema, in fact many of his experiments create a vastly subjective experience for the audience (and have since become staples in the cinema of embodiment for this very reason). Yet I enjoy the mixed messages and the conflict between the subjective and objective. I think it stops the film from feeling like too much of a propaganda piece. And it reminds me of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original” (Robinson, 2006)
Vertov’s political views are ever present in his film, yet it rarely seems like he’s forcing them on the audience. Instead it feels more akin to a celebration of his views than a command to follow them, and I think that this stems partly from his apparent rejection of propaganda in certain sequences. This seems clearest in the sequence in which Vertov presents the audience with still images of people frozen in a moment. In each of these stills the subject seems angry or upset perhaps, we definitely don’t expect them to happy. Then Vertov takes his camera to the cutting room and we see the strips of film from which these stills were taken. Finally he shows us the moving images that these film strips hold and see the events that were captured momentarily in stills as they appear in motion. When we see this footage in full (as opposed to a single moment captured in a still) we see the subjects weren’t crying or angry, but laughing and happy. Here Vertov highlights the ability of film to do something which photography cannot. But more than that, he highlights the danger of a single viewpoint, the still photograph, being taken as fact, how easy it is to lie to the viewer and present an image of the world that is completely disconnected from reality. This seems to be rebuttal to propaganda, which misrepresents reality by taking only the narrowest sliver of it and presenting it as universal truth.
The difference between long take and montage in how they engage the audience is a fascinating topic. Long take consciously activates the audience, making them aware that they’re being directed and though this awareness empowers them to choose their own interpretation of what they see. Montage works much more instinctively, pushing a more specific interpretation, telling rather than suggesting, on a subconscious level. It’s ironic that Vertov ‘s political ideals objectively align him more closely to the former, yet through Man with a Movie Camera he became a trailblazer for the latter.
Robinson, K., (2006) Do schools kill creativity?, TED, Available from: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en [Accessed on 22 March 2015]
Vertov, D., (1929) Man with a Movie Camera, VUFKU