Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera[1] (Russian: Человек с кино-аппаратом, romanized: Chelovek s kino-apparatom) is an experimental 1929 Soviet silent documentary film, directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova.

Man with a Movie Camera
Directed byDziga Vertov
Written byDziga Vertov
CinematographyMikhail Kaufman
Edited byElizaveta Svilova
Release date
  • 8 January 1929 (1929-01-08)
Running time
68 minutes
CountrySoviet Union
LanguageSilent film
No intertitles

Vertov's feature film, produced by the film studio VUFKU, presents urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa.[2] It has no actors.[3] From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have "characters", they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

Man with a Movie Camera is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invented, employed or developed, such as multiple exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, match cuts, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, reversed footage, stop motion animations and self-reflexive visuals (at one point it features a split-screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).

Man with a Movie Camera was largely dismissed upon its initial release; the work's quick-cut editing, self-reflexivity, and emphasis on form over content were all subjects of criticism. In the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll, however, film critics voted it the eighth greatest film ever made,[4] and the work was later named the best documentary of all time in the same magazine.[5]


The film has an unabashedly avant-garde style, and emphasizes that film can go anywhere. For instance, the film uses such scenes as superimposing a shot of a cameraman setting up his camera atop a second, mountainous camera, superimposing a cameraman inside a beer glass, filming a woman getting out of bed and getting dressed, even filming a woman giving birth, and the baby being taken away to be bathed.

Vertov's message about the prevalence and unobtrusiveness of filming was not yet true – cameras might have been able to go anywhere, but not without being noticed; they were too large to be hidden easily and too noisy to remain hidden anyway. To get footage using a hidden camera, Vertov and his brother Mikhail Kaufman (the film's co-author) had to distract the subject with something else even louder than the camera filming them.

The film also features a few obvious stagings such as the scene of a woman getting out of bed and getting dressed and the shot of chess pieces being swept to the center of the board (a shot spliced in backwards so the pieces expand outward and stand in position). The film was criticized for both the stagings and the stark experimentation, possibly as a result of its director's frequent assailing of fiction film as a new "opiate of the masses".[6]

Vertov's intentions

Vertov – born David Abelevich Kaufman – was an early pioneer in documentary film-making during the late 1920s. He belonged to a movement of filmmakers known as the kinoks, or kino-oki (kino-eyes). Vertov, along with other kino artists declared it their mission to abolish all non-documentary styles of film-making. This radical approach to movie making led to a slight dismantling of film industry: the very field in which they were working. Most of Vertov's films were highly controversial, and the kinok movement was despised by many filmmakers of the time. Vertov's crowning achievement, Man with a Movie Camera, was his response to critics who rejected his previous film, A Sixth Part of the World. Critics had declared that Vertov's overuse of "intertitles" was inconsistent with the film-making style to which the "kinoks" subscribed.

Working within that context, Vertov dealt with much fear in anticipation of the film's release. He requested a warning to be printed in the Soviet central Communist newspaper Pravda, which spoke directly of the film's experimental, controversial nature. Vertov was worried that the film would be either destroyed or ignored by the public. Upon the official release of Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov issued a statement at the beginning of the film, which read:

The film Man with a Movie Camera represents
Of visual phenomena
(a film without intertitles)
(a film without a scenario)
(a film without actors, without sets, etc.)
This new experimentation work by Kino-Eye is directed towards the creation of an authentically international absolute language of cinema on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature.

This manifesto echoes an earlier one that Vertov wrote in 1922, in which he disavowed popular films he felt were indebted to literature and theater.[7]

Stylistic aspects

Working within a Marxist ideology, Vertov strove to create a futuristic city that would serve as a commentary on existing ideals in the Soviet world. This artificial city’s purpose was to awaken the Soviet citizen through truth and to ultimately bring about understanding and action. The kino’s aesthetic shone through in his portrayal of electrification, industrialization, and the achievements of workers through hard labour. This could also be viewed as early modernism in film.

Some have mistakenly stated that many visual ideas, such as the quick editing, the close-ups of machinery, the store window displays, even the shots of a typewriter keyboard are borrowed from Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), which predates Man with a Movie Camera by two years, but as Vertov wrote to the German press in 1929,[8] these techniques and images had been developed and employed by him in his Kino-Pravda newsreels and documentaries for the last ten years, all of which predate Berlin. Vertov's pioneering cinematic concepts actually inspired other abstract films by Ruttmann and others, including writer, translator, filmmaker and critic Liu Na'ou (1905–1940), whose The Man Who Has a Camera (1933) pays explicit homage to Vertov's The Man With a Movie Camera.[9]

On a technical note, Man with a Movie Camera's usage of double exposure and seemingly "hidden" cameras made the movie come across as a very surreal montage rather than a linear motion picture. Many of the scenes in the film contain people, which change size or appear underneath other objects (double exposure). Because of these aspects, the movie is fast-moving. The sequences and close-ups capture emotional qualities, which could not be fully portrayed through the use of words. The film's lack of "actors" and "sets" makes for a unique view of the everyday world; one that, according to a title card, is directed toward the creation of a new cinematic language that is "[separated] from the language of theatre and literature".


Man with a Movie Camera, depicting the daily life of a Soviet city, was actually filmed over a period of about 3 years. Three Soviet cities – Kiev, Moscow and Odessa – were the shooting locations.[10]



Man with a Movie Camera was not always a highly regarded work. Vertov's Soviet contemporaries criticized its focus on form over content, with Sergei Eisenstein even deriding the film as "pointless camera hooliganism".[11] The work was largely dismissed in the West as well.[12] Documentary filmmaker Paul Rotha said that in Britain, Vertov was "regarded really as rather a joke, you know. All this cutting, and one camera photographing another camera – it was all trickery, and we didn't take it seriously."[13] The pace of the film's editing – more than four times faster than a typical 1929 feature, with approximately 1,775 separate shots – also perturbed some viewers, including The New York Times' reviewer Mordaunt Hall:[14]

The producer, Dziga Vertov, does not take into consideration the fact that the human eye fixes for a certain space of time that which holds the attention.

Because of doubts before screening, and great anticipation from Vertov's pre-screening statements, the film gained great interest before even being shown. Once the film was finally screened, the public either embraced or dismissed Vertov's stylistic choices.


Man with a Movie Camera is now regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made, having ranked eighth in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the world's best films. In 2009, Roger Ebert wrote: "It made explicit and poetic the astonishing gift the cinema made possible, of arranging what we see, ordering it, imposing a rhythm and language on it, and transcending it."[15]


Man with a Movie Camera has been interpreted as an optimistic work.[16] Jonathan Romney has called it "an exuberant manifesto that celebrates the infinite possibilities of what cinema can be".[17] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that the work "is visibly excited about the new medium’s possibility, dense with ideas, packed with energy: it echoes Un Chien Andalou, anticipates Vigo's À propos de Nice and the New Wave generally, and even Riefenstahl's Olympia".[18]


The film, originally released in 1929, was silent and accompanied in theaters with live music. It has since been released a number of times with different soundtracks:

  • 1983 New composition[19] was performed by Un Drame Musical Instantané, based on Vertov's writings, among which was his Ear Laboratory. Electronic sounds, ambiences, voices were mixed to the 15-piece orchestra. An LP[20] had been issued in 1984 on GRRR Records.
  • 1995 New composition was performed by the Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Massachusetts, based on notes left by Vertov.[21] It incorporates sound effects such as sirens, babies crying, crowd noise, etc. Readily available on several different DVD versions.[22]
  • 1996 Norwegian composer Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere) was commissioned by the Tromsø International Film Festival to write a new soundtrack for the movie, using the director's written instructions for the original accompanying piano player. Jenssen wrote half of the soundtrack, turning the other half to Per Martinsen (aka Mental Overdrive). It was used for the Norwegian version Mannen med filmkameraet at the 1996 TIFF.[23] This version of the film has not been re-released elsewhere, but the soundtrack was released separately with Jenssen's contributions on Substrata 2 in 2001 and Martinsen's on an album of the same name in 2012[24].
  • 1999 In the Nursery version,[25] made for the Bradford International Film Festival. Currently available on a few DVD versions, often paired with the Alloy Orchestra score as an alternate soundtrack.
  • 2001 Steve Jansen and Claudio Chianura recorded a live soundtrack for a showing of the film at the Palazzina Liberty, in Milan on 11 December 1999. This was subsequently released on CD as the album Kinoapparatom in 2001.
  • 2002 A version was released with a soundtrack composed by Jason Swinscoe and performed by the British jazz and electronic outfit The Cinematic Orchestra (see Man with a Movie Camera (The Cinematic Orchestra album)). Originally made for the Porto 2000 Film Festival. It was also released on DVD in limited numbers by Ninja Tune. This DVD edition is currently very much in demand and goes for prices higher than the other DVD versions.
  • 2002 A score for the film by Michael Nyman was premiered performed by the Michael Nyman Band on 17 May 2002 at London's Royal Festival Hall. A British Film Institute DVD of the film was released with Nyman's score. This score is readily available on several different DVD editions. It has not been issued on CD, but some of the score is reworked from material Nyman wrote for the Sega Saturn video game Enemy Zero, which had a limited CD release, and Nyman performs a brief excerpt "Odessa Beach" on his album The Piano Sings.
  • 2003 June American multi-theremin ensemble The Lothars performed a semi-improvised soundtrack accompanying a screening of the film at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. They repeated their performance three years later, in December 2006 at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York.
  • 2006 Absolut Medien, Berlin released a DVD with the 3soundtracks from Michael Nyman, In the nursery, and a new soundtrack from Werner Cee.
  • 2007 November France based group Art Zoyd presented a scenic version of the film with addition video by artist Cecile Babiole. A studio recording of the soundtrack was released on CD in 2012.[26]
  • 2008 Norwegian electronic jazz trio Halt the Flux performed their interpretation of the soundtrack for Man with a Movie Camera[27] in Bergen International Film Festival. The trio consists of Anders Wasserfall, Jørgen Vaage & Bjørnar Thyholdt.
  • 2008 October London based Cinematic Orchestra undertook a show featuring a screening of Vertov's film, which preceded the re-issue of the Man With A Movie Camera DVD, in November.
  • 2008 November American Tricks of the Light Orchestra accompanied a screening of the film on Sunday, 30 November at Brainwash Cafe in San Francisco.
  • 2009 July; Mexican composer Alex Otaola performed live a new soundtrack for the film at Mexico's National Cinematheque. Aided by the "Ensamble de Cámara/Acción" (Adrian Terrazas-bass clarinet, Daniel Zlotnik-clarinet/flute, María Emilia Martínez-flute, Luca Ortega-flute/piano, Carlos Maldonado-upright, Jose María Arreola-drums/percussion), which consists of members from The Mars Volta, Los Dorados, San Pascualito Rey, Klezmerson and LabA.
  • 2009 The American Voxare String Quartet performed music by Soviet Modernist composers to accompany a screening of the film.
  • 2010 August Irish instrumental post-rock band 3epkano accompanied a screening of the film with an original live soundtrack in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin[28]
  • 2010 July Ukrainian guitarist and composer Vitaliy Tkachuk with his quartet performed his own soundtrack for the film at a first Ukrainian silent cinema festival "Mute Nights" in Odessa, the city where this movie was made.[29]
  • 2011: The French pianist Yann Le Long, the violoncellist Philippe Cusson and the percussionist Stéphane Grimalt performed for the first time the soundtrack written by Le Long for the film (20 May 2011) at the Centre Culturel du Vieux Couvent, Muzillac, France.
  • 2014 March: Sarodist, beat maker, and multi-instrumentalist composer James Whetzel performed live a 51-piece new all-original soundtrack to "Man With a Movie Camera" at SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle, WA, USA. Soundtrack features sarod, electric sarod, analog synthesizers, accordion, mandolin, bass, guitar, dhol, dholak, darbouka, bendir, rumba box, electronic drums, and 41 other pieces of percussion. Whetzel successfully completed a Kickstarter project for the soundtrack in July.
  • 2014 Spanish band Caspervek Trio premiered a new soundtrack for the film at La Galería Jazz Club, Vigo, with further performances in Gijón, Ourense and Sigulda (Latvia).[30]
  • 2014 September: Swedish indie rock band bob hund premiered a new soundtrack for the film at Cinemateket in Stockholm, with subsequent performances in Helsinki, Luleå, Gothenburg and Malmö.[31]


  1. Also known as A Man with a Movie Camera, The Man with the Movie Camera, The Man with a Camera, The Man with the Kinocamera, or Living Russia. See IMDB's list of alternate titles for Man with a Movie Camera.
  2. "Movie Review Devushka s Korobkoy (1927) THE SCREEN", 17 September 1929.
  3. Dziga Vertov. On Kinopravda. 1924, and The Man with the Movie Camera. 1928, in Annette Michelson ed. Kevin O'Brien tr. Kino-Eye : The Writings of Dziga Vertov, University of California Press, 1995.
  4. "Sight & Sound Revises Best-Films-Ever Lists". studiodaily. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  5. "Silent film tops documentary poll". BBC News. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  6. Crofts, Stephen. "An Essay Towards Man with a Movie Camera" (PDF). Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  7. "Images - Man With a Movie Camera by Grant Tracey". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  8. Dziga Vertov. Letter from Berlin page 101, in Annette Michelson ed. Kevin O'Brien tr. Kino-Eye : The Writings of Dziga Vertov, University of California Press, 1995.
  9. Rhythmic movement, the city symphony and transcultural transmediality: Liu Na'ou and The Man Who Has a Camera (1933) Ling Zhang a Department of Cinema and Media Studies, The University of Chicago, Classics 305, 1010 E. 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA Journal of Chinese Cinemas Volume 9, Issue 1, 2015, pages 42-61. Published online: 11 March 2015. doi:10.1080/17508061.2015.1010303.
  10. Ian Aitken (4 January 2013). The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Routledge. p. 602. ISBN 978-1-136-51206-3. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  11. Feaster, Felicia. "Man With a Movie Camera". Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  12. "Critics' 50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time". British Film Institute. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  13. Roberts, Graham (2000). The Man With the Movie Camera: The Film Companion. I.B. Tauris. p. 99. ISBN 1860643949.
  14. Roger Ebert (1 July 2009). "Man With a Movie Camera". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  15. "Man with a Movie Camera (1929)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  16. Brady, Tara (30 July 2015). "Man with a Movie Camera review: power to The People". The Irish Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  17. Romney, Jonathan (2 August 2015). "Man With a Movie Camera review – pure cinema, still unparalleled". The Observer. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  18. Bradshaw, Peter (30 July 2015). "Man With a Movie Camera review – visionary, transformative 1929 experimental film". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  19. Man with a Movie Camera (Un Drame Musical Instantané), 01:06, 1929 on YouTube.
  20. "UN DRAME MUSICAL INSTANTANÉ, À travail égal salaire égal". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  21. "ORCHESTRA Current Touring Repertoire". Archived from the original on 3 December 2009. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  22. Man with a Movie Camera (Alloy Orchestra), 01:06:40, 1929 on YouTube.
  23. "tiff1996". Tromsø International Film Festival (in Norwegian). Internet Archive: Tromsø International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 15 December 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  24. "Man with a movie camera (Mini-album)". Mental Overdrive Bandcamp page. Bandcamp. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  25. Man with a Movie Camera" score by In the Nursery. Archived 24 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  26. Eyecatcher/Man with a Movie Camera. Archived 13 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ["Featured Content on Myspace". Myspace. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  28. O’Dwyer, Davin. "3epkano Cinema in the Park". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  29. vitgit. Retrieved 10 March 2016 via YouTube.
  30. "Koncertzālē „Baltais flīģelis" uzstāsies „Caspervek Trio"". Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  31. "Bob Hund - Mannen med filmkameran". Cinemateket. Retrieved 23 August 2016.

Further reading

  • Annette Michelson ed. Kevin O'Brien tr. Kino-Eye : The Writings of Dziga Vertov, University of California Press, 1995.
  • John MacKay, "Man with a Movie Camera: An Introduction"
  • Feldman, Seth R. Dziga Vertov. A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.
  • Devaux, Frederique. L'Homme et la camera: de Dziga Vertov. CrisnÈe, Belgique: Editions Yellow Now, 1990.
  • Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. The Oxford history of World Cinema. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Roberts, Graham. The Man With the Movie Camera. London: I.B.Tauris, 2000.
  • Tsivian, Yuri. Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties. edited and with an introduction by Yuri Tsivian; Russian texts translated by Julian Graffy; filmographic and biographical research, Aleksandr Deriabin; co-researchers, Oksana Sarkisova, Sarah Keller, Theresa Scandiffio. Gemona, Udine : Le Giornate del cinema muto, 2004.
  • Manovich, Lev. "Database as a Symbolic Form". Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
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