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Frame by Frame

Man With a Movie Camera

This 1929 silent film by Dziga Vertov, principally shot by his younger brother Mikhail Kaufman (Vertov’s real name being David Kaufman), and an uncredited Gleb Troyanski (since Mikhail Kaufman is often seen in the shot, as the “man with the movie camera” photographing the film, Gleb was pressed into service as the second-unit cameraman, although he received no credit for his work), and edited by Vertov’s wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, who also appears in the film, demonstrating the editing process as the film moves along, is a classic of Soviet experimental filmmaking, depicting one day in the life of a number of Soviet cities, centering on Odessa, from dawn until dusk.

Vertov uses every cinematic trick in the book to make the film come alive for audiences — stop motion, split screen work, freeze frames, frame-by-frame cutting, slow motion, mattes, kaleidoscopic effects — and even today, it remains a kinetic masterpiece, which easily enthralls the viewer with its pictorial audacity for its brief 68 minute running time. It’s sort of Sergei Eisenstein on steroids; comprised of roughly 1,775 shots, it moves along like lightning, never really resting in any one place too long.

But because of this, it’s an effective time-capsule of a period long lost to authentic recall, when the Soviet Union was rising into a great world power, and its social possibilities seemed, at least to some, limitless. Of course, we now know how little of this promise was actually fulfilled – the Soviet Union turned into a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship - which makes the naive enthusiasm of the film seem all the more poignant.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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