Montreal Film Journal


In 1929, after working on the first Soviet newsreel and various other docu- mentaries, Dziga Vertov directed a manifesto for stripped down moviemaking, "an experiment in cinematic communication of real events without the help of intertitles, without the help of a story, without the help of theatre." He was keen on creating "a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature." The result is a work staggering genius, 68 minutes of pure cinema, a film about film itself.

Ostensibly a documentary about a day in the Soviet Union, "Man with a Movie Camera" is kind of like "Koyaanisqatsi" half a century early, except that it constantly breaks the fourth wall, purposely calling attention the presence of the cameraman and to the facts of the shoot, even showing the film being edited and projected to an audience! Vertov cross-cuts between all of this, creating an increasingly hypnotic viewing experience. We're watching the film and the film being made and the film being shown and people watching it and...

Now this seminal picture packs more impact than ever thanks to a brilliant new score by The Cinematic Orchestra. TCO is the brainchild of Jason Swinscoe, a Ninja Tune employee in London who put together a group of jazz musicians to perform highly atmospheric and emotional instrumental music that would call to mind rainy streets and femme fatales and black & white, imaginary film soundtracks basically. They've been recording critically lauded albums such as "Motion" and "Every Day" and playing live in front of awed audiences around the world ever since, and now they've composed and recorded a full length score to Vertov's film.

"Man with a Movie Camera" is originally a silent film, but Vertov always intended it to be accompanied by music. No doubt he would be mighty pleased by TCO's work, which perfectly complements the visuals. Hovering between post-rock and acid jazz, the soundtrack is amazingly effective, soaring along with the rush of images... I know I'm not doing justice to any of it, but how can words convey all the feelings Vertov and TCO inspire? "Man with a Movie Camera" is like a wordless anthem for all cinephiles, directly targeting that je ne sais quoi that makes cinema so powerful.