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Film: Man with a Movie Camera
He's looking at you.

Man with a Movie Camera (aka The Man with the Movie Camera) (Человек с киноаппаратом) is a Soviet silent documentary film from 1929. Director Dziga Vertov set out to make a documentary collage of urban life in the Soviet Union. He filmed regular people going about their daily routines in the cities of Kharkov, Kiev, and Odessa (all in Ukraine), capturing daily life from dawn to dusk. As the film notes in the opening title cards (the only ones in the movie), it is "an experimental film" made "without the help of a story".

The film is notable for its incredibly innovative use of every Camera Trick in the book, as well as radical use of Montage and other inventive editing techniques often at an incredibly fast pace that approaches subliminal. No other film in The Twenties looked like this—really no other film ever made looks like this one.


Tropes:

  • Acceptable Political Targets: Invoked, for a Literal Metaphor. A woman is shown doing target practice, shooting at a target of a man with a swastika on his hat.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: People mourning at gravestones and a funeral procession are contrasted with a line of babies in a nursery and a woman giving birth (the film actually shows the baby leaving its mother's birth canal).
  • Contrast Montage: Over and over again throughout the movie.
    • In one sequence, young women washing their faces and hair and getting makeup applied is contrasted with buildings being cleaned and laundry being done, and a woman's eyes blink in time with some shutters—implying that the city is a living organism that wakes up as a person does.
    • Frivolous or leisure activities are contrasted with work. A man getting a shave is intercut with an axe being sharpened.
  • Creepy Doll: An unsettling montage showing dolls posed in storefronts, ending with a doll that is somehow riding a stationary bicycle with human legs.
  • A Day In The Life: Captures a day in the live of the urban Soviet Union.
  • Documentary: A decidedly unconventional one.
  • Dutch Angle: Lots and lots. Wildly tilting buildings, streetcars, others.
  • Eye Open: Several tight closeups of a human eye superimposed on the lens of the camera.
  • Fan Disservice: Fat topless ladies covered in mud at the beach. (It's a skin treatment.)
  • Impairment Shot: See Vodka Drunkenski below.
  • Iris Out: As befitting this film that seeks to document its own creation, the last shot is of the camera lens, with an eye superimposed over it, as the camera's iris closes.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: A couple applying for a marriage license is followed shortly afterward by another couple applying for a divorce.
  • Le Film Artistique: If there was an editing trick known to mankind in 1929, it is in this movie. The film starts with a closeup of the camera—with a tiny cameraman standing on top of the camera.
  • Match Cut: Several. A shot of motorcyclists circling around a track is intercut with children on a carousel.
  • Montage: The whole film is a series of montages. This webpage demonstrates a few. One use of montage cuts from a poster showing a person making a "shh" signal to a live shot of a woman sleeping. Another demonstrates the process of editing, as the raw footage is shown, the editor is shown cutting the film, and the resultant footage plays in the movie.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: "Without the help of a story".
  • Overcrank: The use of overcrank for a slo-mo effect when filming basketball and soccer games anticipated televised sporting events by decades.
  • Recursive Reality:
    • The film opens with an audience assembling in the theater. Sure enough, at the end they are shown watching Man with a Movie Camera. The closest thing to a character the film has is the titular man with the movie camera, who is shown filming everything that's onscreen.
    • At one point the film stops, and goes through a series of freeze-frames. This is shown to be because the editor took a break.
    • In another sequence the editor clips together some footage, and that footage then plays.
  • Split Screen: Many times. Sometimes mismatches shots of trolleys are put up in split screen, with one coming and one going. Another shot shows a large urban square, which then splits in half, with the left side turning clockwise and the right side turning counterclockwise.
  • Stop Motion:
    • This is used to make a tripod stand up, whereupon a camera gets out of its box and gets on the tripod, and the tripod walks away.
    • A crawfish on a plate at a seafood restaurant is made to appear to crawl away.
  • Stop Trick: A woman engaging in target practice is intercut with a box of champagne bottles, which disappear one at a time, as if she is shooting them.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Seen as a young woman gets up and gets dressed, part of the daily routine of the city.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: A shot of people drinking at a bar is accompanied by an Impairment Shot of the camera wobbling crazily and going out of focus.
  • Wedding Day: A couple is shown applying for a marriage license, and a wedding party is shown.
PersonaWebsite/They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?    
Kin-Dza-Dza!Russian FilmsMimino
The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceRoger Ebert Great Movies ListThe Manchurian Candidate
Loose ChangeDocumentaryMiracles For Sale
The LetterFilms of the 1920sMarianne

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