|'It's hard to deny the vibrant, enigmatic quality Dziga Vertov's film continues to hold as it edges ever closer to its ninetieth birthday'.|
Whether or not you agree with Sight & Sound magazine that Man With A Movie Camera is both the best documentary film of all time and the eighth best film ever made, it's hard to deny the vibrant, enigmatic quality Dziga Vertov's film continues to hold as it edges ever closer to its ninetieth birthday. It's impossible to imagine which films made today - if any - will still be being watched ninety years from now, let alone be as revered as Vertov's remains.
Discussions around the director's success in documenting life in 1920s Soviet Union - or if it can even be considered a documentary at all - feel as though they are missing the avant garde film's wider impact. Vertov opens his film with a manifesto outling his intention to make a film without intertitles, a script, actors or sets. His adherence to these self-enforced rules may make Man With A Movie Camera less historically informative for a modern audience than a more orthodox documentary or a newsreel perhaps, but that doesn't stop it from being a unique and captivating perspective into a time gone by.
That Vertov's film is not only decades ahead of its time, but also still feels considerably boundary-pushing in its execution, is testament to its importance in the history of film. The cinematography and effects used are consistently inventive, utilising everything from split screens and Dutch angles to stop motion and reversed footage. The director transforms the everyday - a telephone exchange, factory machinery, a chess game - into hypnotic works of art. A beautiful panning shot of an urban landscape, achieved through filming the reflection in an opening window as the camera remains steady, is just one of countless examples of Vertov's continual creativity.
Where Man With A Movie Camera is at its most striking, however, is in its presentation of the cinematic process itself. This is a film just as much about film-making as it is about the people and places Vertov shoots. The cameraman of the title is regularly seen, often manipulated to appear as a larger-than-life observer or in surreal metacinematic situations. The whole feature is bookended by an audience watching the film in an auditorium - postmodern cinema long before such a concept even existed.
It would be remiss not to mention just how astounding the Masters of Cinema high-definition version of Vertov's film looks on the screen. There are regularly parts of this new definitive restoration which genuinely appear so immaculate that it's hard to believe they were captured in 1929. Whilst Man With A Movie Camera has now entered the public domain, this is a film which deserves to be seen at its most visually stunning.
Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.
Man With A Movie Camera is released in the UK on Monday 18th April 2016