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The Man With the Movie Camera (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 24, 2012

It is often said that “the camera is a character” in certain movies.  Usually this is just sort of a clever way of commenting on the subjective viewpoint of the camera, but in this case the camera (and the titular man who operates it) is literally a character in the film.  At all times we are aware of its role in the process, seeing it being toted around, watching over the people, creating editorial juxtapositions and impossible tricks.  It’s not ironic or self-conscious, it’s a celebration of what the cinema can bring to life, a dazzling spectacle of the power of movies and its ability to reflect and unite society.

It’s also something of a cliché to say “the city is a character” but here it is undeniably so.  As one of the great “city symphony” films that were fashionable in the late 20’s and early 30’s, it explores Moscow and its inhabitants from every angle, showing a citizenry on the move, working and progressing and enjoying, and incorporating the camera into the fabric of that society.  People at sport, on the beach, on the job or dealing with family life, all brought together by the magic of film, with wonderfully inventive camera language and editing technique.

Having said all that, and hopefully conveyed my immense respect for Vertov’s work, I must admit it grows a little thin on the third viewing.  There is a place for experimental cinema in my heart, but I can’t honestly count this among my favorites any longer.  I say this with a mind towards the annual retooling of my top 100 list.  I love an obtuse narrative, an abstract narrative, even a barely-there narrative.  And I can love a non-narrative, but it doesn’t belong among the movies nearest and dearest to my heart, the ones that define who I am as a filmlover.  I feel a little guilty knocking it off the list, leaving just A Page of Madness and maybe Metropolis as the only silents.  However, I have to be true to my tastes.  I appreciate Man With the Movie Camera and the exhilaration it once gave me, but that feeling has faded.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an astonishing, important piece of work, just not one that I can sincerely number among my favorites.  Rating: Great

IMDb
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