PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


I, Machine - Dziga Vertov Is 'The Man with a Movie Camera'

Flicker Alley's Blu-ray release of five of his films reveals just how crucial the Ukranian-born, avant-garde filmmaker Dziga Vertov has become.

The Man with the Movie Camera

Director: Dziga Vertov
Cast: Mikhail Kaufman
Distributor: Flicker Alley
Year: 1924-34
US DVD release date: 2015-06-02

Dziga Vertov (born David Kaufman in Ukraine) specialized in a hybrid of documentary, fiction, and propaganda that demonstrated his theories of montage by combining footage into forceful, meaningful motions and a sense of life, action, and progress. His work is showcased on a new Blu-ray anchored on an astoundingly clear print of his 1929 masterpiece The Man with a Movie Camera. What the viewer sees is a full-frame silent print (nothing lopped off the sides), struck from the negative, that Vertov himself left in Amsterdam; missing bits have been restored, including chapter numbers and a brief shot of a baby's birth. The Alloy Orchestra's score is based on Vertov's notes. Although these features are excellent, don't get rid of the 2002 Image DVD if you have it, which has critical commentary, or the 2003 Kino DVD with Michael Nyman's score.

Vertov's most dizzying, free-floating achievement, this day-in-the-life "city symphony" pulls off a battery of rapidly edited devices: superimposition, split-screen, moving camera, slow motion, freeze-frame, stop-motion animation, and almost abstract geometries celebrating modern machinery. It claims to record life without sets and actors, although we see at least two "actors": the cameraman (photographer Mikhail Kaufman, but who's shooting him?) and a pretty woman (Vertov's wife, Elizaveta Svilova) who awakens and works as an editor, all calling attention to the film as a construction. The prologue is especially self-conscious, using a theatre set with self-animating seats, an audience and a conductor.

The movie takes time to ogle pretty girls, thus characterizing the camera a bit lecherously; there's an eye superimposed over the lens for a literal masculine "kino-eye". When we get to the part of the day when workers have leisure time, there's a long section of male and female erotic-athletic spectacle, intercut with appreciative gazes, foreshadowing Leni Riefenstahl and today's Olympic broadcasts.

Also in amazing shape is Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (1931), which opens with close-ups on people's ears as they supposedly listen to a radio broadcast in celebration of electrical, mining, and mechanical progress. There's a jab at religion as a church is remodeled into a workers' club -- with reverse-motion tricks. The soundtrack includes a few speeches but is mostly an avant-garde mix of music and effects with injected whimsies. It's similar to Vertov's Stride Soviet (in Landmarks of Early Soviet Film), but odder and more experimental.

Crammed with beautiful imagery, Three Songs About Lenin (1934) functions as hagiography and propaganda about Lenin's legacy more than experimentalism, for "formalism" was increasingly viewed with suspicion under Stalin. Ironically, years after that regime made Vertov re-edit the film to remove certain personalities, Stalin himself largely got edited out. Aside from its imagism, the movie's most interesting quality -- as with all Vertov's work -- is its sense of musicality. Structured by Uzbekistan "folk songs", it includes themes of female empowerment.

From 1924, the feature Kino-Eye and newsreel Kino-Pravda #21, unrestored and ragged, should be considered bonus material. The former's several sections concentrate on village children organized into Lenin Youth, who march around aggressively helping people in a manner evocative of Village of the Damned. We also see social problems of alcoholism, cocaine, homelessness, tuberculosis, and a mental asylum. Vertov's reverse-motion tricks include the un-butchery of a cow!

Some of this film's footage is recycled in the newsreel, which marks the one-year anniversary of Lenin's death, with much footage of him in a manner that would later be called "cult of personality" about Stalin. It's also a quick history of the last ten years, including footage of a Muslim woman taking off her veil "for Lenin". Footage of his funeral includes Stalin and other notables. There's also hand-drawn animation illustrating how the legacy continues.

As a whole, this package illustrates the aesthetic accomplishment of a man quoted in the booklet as declaring: "This is what I am, a machine that runs in chaotic maneuvers, recording moments one after the other, assembling them into a patchwork. Freed from the constraints of time and space, I organize each point of the universe as I wish. My route is that of a new conception of the world. I can make you discover the world you did not know existed." Now that cinema has assimilated these ideas to sell cars, drugs, and other ideologies, we can see -- ironically -- how crucial Dziga Vertov has become.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.