Early & Silent Film

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The very political Man With a a Movie Camera

Posted by keith1942 on October 15, 2014


A political comment on Bourgeois art.

A political comment on Bourgeois art.



















This film (Chelovek s kinoapparatom, 1929) came top in Sight & Sound polls of both critics and filmmakers regarding ‘great documentaries’. There was an excellent profile of the film in the September 2014 issue by Brain Winston. Then in October David Robinson had a ‘letter of the month’ where he chided Winston that he ‘neglects to mention that the Greatest Documentary of All Time is Ukrainian”. I think David is missing the point. The Ukraine was one of the Socialist Soviet Republics and the films produced there, as in other Republics, were, and should quite rightly be, attributed to the USSR. Worse followed. He quotes Ivan Kozlenko who, referring to the Ukrainian aspect of the film then comments, “But not by chance was the totally apolitical Man with a Movie Camera different from Vertov’s other agit-films.” Do you wonder sometimes if someone is writing about the same film as yourself? |Perhaps someone who knows practically nothing about the Soviet Union in its socialist phase, or about the revolutionary Soviet cinema of the 1920s might miss the politics, but otherwise …? David is quoting from the notes in the Catalogue for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013, where there was a retrospective of silent films produced in the Ukraine in the late 1920s. In fact Vertov’s film did not feature in the programme. There were some very fine films and very political films at that. However, I did notice a strand of narrow nationalism in some of the introductory comments. This presumably reflects the contemporary contradictions between capitalist Ukraine and capitalist |Russia. That was not the case in 1929. Vertov and his comrades, along with the other revolutionary filmmakers, would have given short shrift to such petty bourgeois nationalism. David’s letter would have been more to point if it had quoted from the Catalogue notes provided by Yuri Tsivian for the Factories of Facts retrospective at Pordenone in 2004. Tsivian discussed the reasons why Vertov and his comrades moved to Ukraine at this point for their film production. He also paid due attention to the other members of the collective, especially Elizaveta Svilova and Mikhail Kaufman, who have been seriously overlooked in the paeans to this great film. And Tsivian stressed the political content that informs all their movies including Man With a Movie Camera, One example is his comment on the shot illustrated above – “that famous trick shot from the last reel … which makes the Bolshoi Theatre collapse. … Left-wing writers and filmmakers alike perceived the Bolshoi (former Imperial) Theatre as emblem of dated, portentous, etc, art. Vertov .. could use the movie camera – the filmmaker’s weapon – to knock out symbolically what he could not physically knock down.” Unfortunately the great Soviet filmmakers have suffered in recent years [as have I in a minor key] from bourgeois re-interpretations of their art works. Perhaps we could have a Siberian cinema camp where we send these recalcitrant commentators. A brief ‘Letter to the Editor’ on the central point appears in the December edition of Sight & Sound. Still kindly provided by Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

2 Responses to “The very political Man With a a Movie Camera

  1. Melody said

    Exceptional! Have to share this 😉

  2. […] Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). However, this is a film about people in the city and it is consciously political. In fact, it is a paean to Socialist Construction, a still meaningful term in 1929. Thus the final […]

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