Occasionally, recently, I've grown weary of The Penciltonian, of having to watch a pair of films a week (as enjoyable as this is) matched to the years I haven't yet covered, then write them up. Some days I look eagerly to December, when I can count it as a complete work, and update it only when I have a great urge, or a fine and unlikely film to speak about.
Sometimes, though, I find a film like this one, 'Человек с киноаппаратом', and the project seems worthwhile. The whole scheme, and its attached blog, started so that I could find such amazing works as this, that I might watch films I would otherwise miss entirely - and this find has excited me more than any.
I had thought silent movies had peaked a couple of years earlier with 'Metropolis' (1927), when they'd grown as big and confident as they could. 1929 is down in my mind as the year talkies became the standard, with 'Hallelujah' and 'Sunny Side Up' and the Marx Brothers - but I didn't know about this film, which does pictures without sound - and without any commentary - so well, so intimately, giving us all the scale of the city without the need for sets, and with real people passing by as themselves, not silent crowds responding melodramatically to catastrophe.
Director Dziga Vertov had no interest in fiction, and thought the cinema had far more important matters to attend to. Spurred on by a desire for authenticity, and with (in apparent contradiction to this) a rich imagination for special effects, Vertov filmed some of everything, and together with his wife Elizaveta crafted an absurdly fast montage, a picture of three cities in what is now the Ukraine.
|Vertov in a moving car, filming another
This isn't anyone's story but the director's. This is the tale of how Dziga Vertov walked around with a camera and gathered footage. It wants us to remember that there's a camera on the set as well, and that everything is for our benefit, like in 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Leonard Cohen' (1965), when Cohen assures the audience that we haven't seen him acting naturally; caveat emptor. The film sparkles with Vertov's amazing ingenuity and humour, reversing footage, bolstering a magician's act with trick photography, and giving us, through the wonder of stop-motion, a dancing lobster, a tripod that puts itself away and a camera that can take a bow. The fun for the audience, then as now, is working out how it's been done.
What great shooting! What great editing! And after all these years, what great music, confirming and emphasising the excellent energy and drive of the pictures, an energy that exceeds anything else I've seen this year. Few films have better captured and held my attention.
Available on DVD, and also available on YouTube. I think this is an amazing film, and would urge you to watch it. It'll only take an hour.