VERTOV – The Man With the Movie Camera and Other Newly-Restored Works, Blu-ray (1924-1934/2015)
Director: Dziga Vertov
Studio: CNC/ Cinematheque de Toulouse/ Blackhawk Films/ Lobster/ Flicker Alley FA0041 [6/2/25]
Films are: The Man with the Movie Camera (1929); Kino-Eye (1924); Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (1931); Three Songs About Lenin (1934)
Video: 4:3 and more widescreen on some of the restorations, black & white, 1080p HD
Audio: Stereo PCM by The Alloy Orchestra on The Man With the Movie Camera, by Robert Israel on Kino-Eye; mono PCM on others
Subtitles: English, French
Length: TT: 279 min.
Sight and Sound voted The Man With the Movie Camera to be the best documentary film of all time. While several early Soviet directors heavily used montage editing, Vertov (who changed his Jewish name of David A. Kaufman to something more Russian) took that idea further than anyone else. He wanted to develop “film truth” by concentrating on arranged images of everyday life and doing away with traditional narrative and dramatic structure, even intertitles of any kind. There are no actors, script, nothing theatrical. His revolutionary technique made the camera an extension of the human eye to capture “the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” Nowhere is this more evident than in his great avant-garde documentary The Man With the Movie Camera. It was made at a time of strong avant-garde work in all the Soviet arts, which was squashed later by Stalin.
Several different organizations worked on this lovely restoration, which basically came from a 35mm print Vertov had taken to Amsterdam in 1931 and which corrects all sorts of errors and missing images found in earlier reissues. I didn’t know there were three main French film archives: the Cinematheque francaise in Paris, the Archives francaises du film du CNC and the Cinematheque de Toulouse. The latter was heavily involved in this restoration. Many of the shots in the film look like they were made yesterday. This contrasts hugely with the other old Soviet films in the collection, who look their age, and the 1931 Enthusiasm was one of the first Soviet sound films and sounds terrible. Even the sound of cannons firing is just a lot of noise and distortion.
Not only that, but the content of all the rest of the other films is such strong heavy-handed propaganda that most audiences in this country wouldn’t care to see them. The endless shots of Lenin in his coffin and people milling about grieving are definitely over the top. Even worse are the shots at the start of Enthusiasm of people crossing themselves and then actual mobs of Russians destroying and desecrating some beautiful Russian Orthodox churches, including classic ikons. Nearly all the Russians shown in closeups are smiling feriously; although Vertov’s general idea was to show “film truth,” nearly all these shots were set up carefully in advance. (By the way, nowhere in the notes does it explain what exactly a “donbass” is…)
Since the addition of sound on film took over a portion of the horizontal visual frame, making it more 4:3, silents were more widescreen, and this print of The Man With the Movie Camera is the first to show the entire original screen ratio. The Alloy Orchestra, known for their accompaniments to live showings of silent films, followed Vertov’s original notes on the music for the film and created a new stereo score for it. it adds a great deal to the experience of viewing this classic film.