Rodchenko in his Productivist work suit, folded parts of the Spatial Construction sculptures in the background, c1924. Photograph by Mikhail Kaufman.
Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rodchenko was born in St Petersburg on the 5th December 1891 (New Style calendar), and died on the 3rd December 1956 in Moscow.
December 5th 2021 is the 130th birthday of one of the great creative geniuses of the early Soviet Union. As a painter, sculptor, designer, graphic artist, and photographer, his work had a profound influence on the course of these arts from the early Twentieth Century to the present day.
‘Long live the poetry of the propelling and propelled machine, the poetry of levers, wheels, and steel wings1, the iron screech of movements, the dazzling grimaces of red-hot jets.’
From: ‘We. A Version of a Manifesto’, Dziga Vertov, Kino-Fot no. 1, August 1922 (source: ‘The Film Factory’, ed. Richard Taylor & Ian Christie, Harvard University press, 1988, p. 72).
‘…images of trains as symbols of connectedness (especially in combination with bridges) and of dynamism, rupture with the past, glorification of modernity, continue through the 1920s in the Futurist avant garde…while the image eventually disappears from Italian art, it is absorbed, maintained, and continuously re-elaborated in Soviet art, where it becomes part of the official iconology…’
Mikhail Kaufman, the cinematographer and eponymous Man of the film, had a serious disagreement with his brother, Dziga Vertov, the director, over the editing of ‘Man with a Movie Camera‘ (they never worked together again). In a later interview2 he complained about the ‘interminable number of trams’ in the film and indeed they are everywhere, not surprising when filming in European cities. As with many of the Kinoks’3 films there are also a lot of trains featured, particularly at the beginning and end. Both are used to create dynamism, criss-crossing the screen, often at dramatic angles, and acting as a counterpoint to previous and following scenes. Train sequences4 also signpost a journey to Odesa intercut with views of the station and passengers in cabs. This post also shows that many of the particular railway themes in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ are a re-use or continuation of those in previous Kinoks’ films throughout the 1920s.
The railway had a significant role at the beginning of Dziga Vertov’s career when, from January 1920, he was enlisted to work on the administration of film shooting and exhibitions on the famous Agit(ational) trains (Агит-поездa, Agit-poyezda) that spread propaganda and education throughout the areas occupied by the Red Army during the Civil War5. He travelled and organised film shows on the ‘Red October’ Agit-train at this time:
‘The next step was my work on the agit-trains of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Comrade Lenin attached great significance to the use of film in the work of the agitational trains and steamers. And so on January 6, 1920, I leave with Comrade Kalinin for the southeast front. I take films with me, including “The Anniversary of the Revolution”…We screen that film at all the train stops and carry it to urban movie theatres. At the same time, we shoot. The result is a film about the journey of the all-Russian senior leader, Kalinin. The period of my work concludes with the big film “A History of the Civil War”.‘6
1A Russian term referring to the sides of a locomotive (eg. the driver stands/sits on or behind the right wing), not airplane wings (made of fabric or aluminium in that era).
2‘An interview with Mikhail Kaufman’, October Journal, Vol 11, Winter 1979, pp. 54-76, The MIT Press (interview by Annette Michelson).
3Kinoks (Киноки) was the name of the collective of Soviet documentary filmmakers founded in 1922 by Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova (Vertov’s wife) and Kaufman (the word comes from an amalgamation of the Russian for ‘Film Eyes’, ‘kino-oki’, кино-оки).
Screenshot times [hr:min:sec] from a restored version of the film (see Notes).
5For extensive details of Vertov’s involvement in these trains refer to ‘Dziga Vertov, Life and Work: Volume 1’, John MacKay, Academic Studies Press, 2018 (Ch. 4 p. 233 on).
6‘Kino-Eye, The Writings of Dziga Vertov’, excerpt from ‘About Love for the Living Person’, ed. Annette Michelson, tr. Kevin O’Brien, University of California Press, 1984, pp. 151-152.
Mikhail Kalinin (1875-1946) was the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
‘The Anniversary of the Revolution’ (1918) was Vertov’s first full length film, a two hour long documentary using archival footage, some taken from the ‘Film-Week’ (Kino-Nedelia) newsreel series (recently restored, see Notes).
‘History of the Civil War’ (1921) was another long compilation documentary film (again, using some material from the ‘Film-Week’ series). Most of the film is considered lost.
TRAINS IN ‘MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA’
The first dramatic appearance of a train in the film as it rushes towards the intrepid cameraman. There’s an even braver one filming this with a camera and tripod in the middle of the track!
An impression is given that the camera was placed in a hole between the tracks for the shot (compare with the actual location above!).
The ‘nightmare’ and ‘waking woman’ sequence of carriages rushing across the screen at different angles.
An extraordinary sequence ending with footage of a railway track interrupted with black, darkened, and repeated frames to achieve a flickering stroboscopic effect. Professor Vlada Petrić, in his detailed analysis of the film7, has a fascinating explanation of this sequence as intending to represent ‘hypnopompic’ sensations (the transitional state that occurs during waking up).
7‘Constructivism in Film, The Man with the Movie Camera, a Cinematic Analysis’, Vlada Petrić, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 164-176.
A previous shot of a railway track from Dziga Vertov’s ‘One Sixth of the World’ (1926).
A well-known photograph of Mikhail Kaufman on a Soviet-made EP (aka GET) series electric locomotive (built in 1926-27) with a Debrie Parvo Model JK camera in another risky position. The location of the camera was presumably to film railway tracks like the shots seen above (or perhaps this is just a pose…). An interesting photograph not least because the electrification of the railways in the Soviet Union, promoted by Lenin, only started in 1926 with the 19km Baku – Sabunchi – Surakhani railway in the Azerbaijan SSR. Kaufman featured this unusual (and short) locomotive in his city symphony ‘Moscow’ (1927) so presumably this photograph was taken in 1926 (though the loco is looking rather battered for such a recent introduction!). However, electrification of Moscow’s railway system did not begin until 1929 so the sequence was either filmed in Azerbaijan (by Kaufman or others?) or perhaps it was running on Moscow tram lines (both the tram and railway gauges in Russia are 5 ft8). The intertitle describes the EP as ‘The first Soviet electric locomotive’. A rather quaint photograph to modern eyes but in 1920s Soviet Russia the loco and camera epitomised modern technology, a theme in so much of the Kinoks’ work.
8The 5 ft railway gauge was proposed by an American engineer hired as a consultant to the Moscow-St Petersburg Railway in the 1840s, George Washington Whistler, the father of the renowned artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Screenshot of the EP electric locomotive from ‘Moscow’ (the train goes over the camera in a typical Kinoks’ under-train shot, below).
Balancing on top of the carriage for this shot was a very precarious location for the cameraman but Mikhail Kaufman ‘….used to push himself to his limits, often risking his life. While working on the episodes of ‘Kino-Pravda’ (Dziga Vertov’s documentary series 1922-1925) Kaufman used to lay on the rails with the camera and film the train rushing forward above him. Once, the [carriage] was not properly attached and Kaufman escaped death by moving aside at the last moment…Another time [while filming for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’] he worked standing on top of a train.’ [‘Mikhail Kaufman, Ukrainian Dilogy’, Stanislav Bytiutskyi, Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kyiv, 2018, p. 15]. Kaufman also shot an almost identical sequence for his earlier film ‘Moscow’ (1927) below9.
9Many of the familiar scenes in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ are also evident in Kaufman’s film such as the tram and train sequences, shots of the Bolshoi Theatre, Mostorg department store, Theatre and Revolution Squares, Kuznetsky Most street, Strastnaya Square and Novo-Sukharevsky Market in Moscow, steelworks scenes, machinery and workers, bus station, high level filming of traffic and crowd scenes. Bearing in mind the scarcity and expense of film stock at the time it would seem logical that some of this footage would be used for MwaMC. This recycling was common in most of the Kinoks’ work, some of the same sequences appearing in several films.
From ‘Moscow’ above, and similar rooftop sequences from ‘Kino-Pravda’ below, the first one facing to the rear of the train.
On the locomotive steps with the Debrie Parvo Model L camera. Mikhail Kaufman lives up to his dare-devil reputation with another dangerous camera position (circled) taking close-up footage of the engine wheels (below). Filmed (probably with a hand-held camera) from the platform beside the boiler (arrow) – you can see the locomotive number on the side of the cab. There is some footage filmed from a similar location in ‘Kino-Pravda’ No. 20.
‘…the poetry of levers, wheels, and steel wings, the iron screech of movements…’
This low level filming of locomotive wheels also featured in Vertov’s 1926 film ‘One Sixth of the World’ above (how was the second shot filmed from this angle?).
A shot of wheels from the carriage steps this time from ‘Kino-Pravda’.
More close-up footage of locomotive wheels in motion from ‘Kino-Pravda’ and Mikhail Kaufman’s ‘Moscow’ (part of a sequence of trains and locomotives).
At the first [00:10:07] filming location from the other side of the tracks (note the electricity posts seen in [00:10:07]).
The camera follows the train as it passes (note the triangulated posts in the distance seen in [00:10:07]).
At the second location – the train stops.
It seems dangerous and foolhardy if, as the passage above suggests, Mikhail Kaufman was indeed lying on the tracks to film these multiple sequences. How did he try it out the first time not knowing how much clearance there was under different trains – look at the low steel bar in the screenshot? The passage above suggests that he was nearly killed filming the sequences below from ‘Kino-Pravda’ from what sounds like a loose part of the carriage coupling hanging down. The commentary below seems apt! After this I suspect that the clockwork Kinamo camera was used for most of these shots (see my blog post on the cameras used in the film, link below).
‘At one point a curious intertitle informs us: “4 metres of movie-camera memory, as it falls under the wheels of the freight train.” The huge wheels flash by; a view from under the train. That’s it. The last 4 metres of what the movie camera remembers. Evidently, in the eyes of the kinocs their kino-eye was a living being.’10
10A commentary on ‘Kino-Pravda’ No. 19 from: Yuri Tsivian, Catalogue ‘Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’, Sacile/Pordenone 2004.
Under-train shots were a feature of Kinoks’ films from the beginning – below is a scene from ‘Kino-glaz’ (1924). This superbly filmed sequence is quite hypnotic and very different in character to the more conventional shots in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. Note the heavy coupling hanging down, presumably like the one that nearly killed Kaufman!
The same piece of film was re-used for the end of Kino-Pravda No. 21 (devoted to Lenin). The text says ‘along the rails of Leninism’.
Viktor Shklovsky in his review of ‘Stride, Soviet!’ in Sovetski Ecran (14th August 1926, p. 4)11 praises ‘the shots of a train beneath the wheels’. It isn’t clear what this is referring to as I haven’t found any under train shots in this film. However, there are other superb shots of locomotives which I have added at the end of the post.
11‘The Film Factory’, ed. Richard Taylor & Ian Christie, Harvard University press, 1988, p. 152
There is a horse and cart version (going backwards over the camera) in ‘Kino-glaz’! Surely filmed with a motorised camera, not hand-cranking!
At the first filming location (note the triangulated posts). Filmed in the opposite direction to [00:10:07].
Taken from similar camera positions at the second location but different locomotives. Imagine lying between the tracks, if this was the case, watching this train approaching!
A similar locomotive and track shot but at a third location.
A similar shot from ‘Kino-Pravda’, a locomotive only – see above for the underneath view.
A shot of a locomotive without carriages going away at the second location (very little clearance underneath – another heavy coupling hanging down!). This is the back of the tender to the locomotive in [01:06:55].
Another steam engine ‘at speed’ along the track at the first filmed location (presumed from the post in the distance).
A similar shot from the track-side in ‘Kino-glaz’ (1924) below.
The C (S) on the front of the steam engines in the films gives a clue to the type. This is a restored example of the Class C (2-6-2 wheel configuration), a common passenger locomotive of this era, built in Russia between 1910 and 1919. Wikipedia Russia has a very comprehensive article about these good-looking locomotives, including details of the individual ones seen in the film. [photo source: Wikipedia Russia]
The carriage behind the locomotive is typical of many in the film, a Third Class pre-Revolutionary design, built in the 1900s, usually painted green.
A great shot of an unnumbered Class C locomotive coming into a station from ‘Kino-Pravda’.
Another Class C undergoing maintenance work, and a finished one emerging from the shed freshly painted with a star on the front, both in Vertov’s ‘Stride, Soviet!’ (1926). See the end of the post for more shots of locomotives in this film.
The only non Class C locomotive in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ at the second filming location. It is likely to be a Class Щ (2-8-0) type (as in the superb group photograph below) from the unclear letter on the front, which was in service in Ukraine (built 1906-1924).
Perhaps influenced by Arthur Honneger’s 1923 orchestral work ‘Pacific 231’ an example of this class of locomotive inspired a vocal composition in 1926 [music by V. Kruchinin, lyrics by P. Herman], and a rather good Constructivist poster!
A mysterious vehicle on the railway track, front (top) and rear (bottom). These are ‘hidden’ images in the last fast montage of the film, only occupying a few frames. I have not found any contemporary or earlier truck, van, ‘bus, or car that looks remotely like this vehicle. It seems to have a heavily framed ‘V’ shaped windscreen and superstructure, a (red?) star on top of the radiator and a (wooden?) buffer bar fitted to the front and rear of it. The rear (presumed) is almost semi-circular with large lights and a small window. No rear loading doors, so perhaps a passenger vehicle. It could be a conversion of the ubiquitous AMO F-15 truck, though the radiator looks slightly different and there are only single wheels at the back (the truck has paired rear wheels). This odd contraption does not appear anywhere else in the film and the track location seems to be different from the others. Shot for an earlier film (one of the lost episodes of ‘Kino-Pravda’?) perhaps, though I haven’t found anything yet.
The cameraman being run over again, and this convinces me that a clockwork camera (such as the Kinamo) and not the hand-cranked Debrie Parvo or Interview12 must have been used for most of these ‘under train’ shots as there is no possibility of this chassis clearing someone lying on the track! The wheels are very odd as they appear to have rubber tyres (look at the rear ones), and are not flanged steel railway wheels, an impossibility! There are examples of rubber-tyred rail vehicles but they always have some method of keeping the wheels on the rails.
12See my blog post on the cameras in the film for details, link below.
A car on rails also featured in the newsreel ‘Cinema Week’ (Kino-Nedelya) No. 21 but this one is more obviously adapted for rail use with proper flanged wheels (and it makes a lot of smoke!)13.
13Dziga Vertov began his film career as the office manager and book keeper of the Moscow Film Committee’s Photo-Film Division that produced Kino-Nedelya and he started editing the films around the time of this issue [refer to ‘Dziga Vertov, Life and Work: Volume 1’, John MacKay, Academic Studies Press, 2018, Ch. 4 p. 193 on].
Other shots of trains in the film not illustrated above: [00:10:14] [00:10:18] [00:21:00] [00:21:40] [00:21:51] [00:22:00] [00:22:12] [01:03:48] [01:04:47] [01:04:48] [01:04:51][01:07:34].
A shot of Mikhail Kaufman with the Debrie Parvo camera apparently during filming of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ [source: ‘Mikhail Kaufman, Ukrainian Dilogy’, Stanislav Bytiutskyi, Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kyiv, 2018]. The tracks are for a narrow gauge railway (2’6″), half of the conventional track gauge in Russia. Most of these railways were in forested areas or for the peat industry, or in factory locations. It isn’t clear where this was taken. The stacked timber might be a clue. These railway tracks do not appear in the film.
‘STRIDE, SOVIET!’ [Шагай Cовет!](1926)
No connection to any footage seen in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ but I thought I would add some more shots of steam locomotives from this earlier Kinoks’ film. As with so much of their carefully composed cinematography the individual frames make wonderful still pictures (the cameraman on this film was Ivan Beliakov).
Dramatic footage of crashed trains, the first one perhaps in the Civil War as you can see some artillery in the wrecked wagons.
Nearly twenty years after writing the words at the beginning of this post Dziga Vertov looked back on his career in 1941 using a railway analogy:
“Documentary cinema is not yet a cross-country vehicle. These are still the first rails and the first locomotive. I’ve spent my whole life building the locomotive, but I have not yet been able to obtain a broad railway network…“14
14‘Kino-Eye, the Writings of Dziga Vertov’, ed. Annette Michelson, tr. Kevin O’Brien, Pluto Press, 1984, p. 243.
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This post assumes some knowledge of this 1929 masterpiece of Soviet Cinema and its creators. For more information and a bibliography of essential reading about the film read my previous blog posts:
Studying ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ carefully, shot by shot, for two previous posts on the locations and cameras, I was struck by the repetition of reflected and reversed images throughout the film from the first dramatic view of the giant camera with the cameraman on top of it, to the ‘Film-Eye’ closing in the last few frames. No other film that I know of uses this editing technique to such a great extent. Largely invisible to an audience many of the reversed shots are just a few frames long (one second or less) spliced into the film.
Technically known as ‘flopped’1 images these only occur in the parts of the film shot in 1928, not in any of the ‘The Eleventh Year’ sequences used in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. Some of the lens shots were most likely filmed into a mirror which is why they are reflected images with the lettering the wrong way round. Other lens shots, and almost all of the camera body shots were reversed in the editing. Parts of the location sequences of the carousel and beach were also flopped. Some shots were reversed to show the opposite direction to a particular sequence (horseman, athletics etc). This consistent reflective imagery would have been a conscious editing decision, but the reasons for some of it are not obvious and I have been unable to find any discussion of the topic. Professor Vlada Petrić mentions some reversed shots in his detailed frame-by-frame analysis of the film, ‘Constructivism in Film, the Man with the Movie Camera, A Cinematic Analysis’ (Cambridge University Press, 1987) and his reasons for three of them are noted below ([00:02:22] [00:10:07] [00:19:52]2).
Writing about filming newsreels in 19223 Vertov listed one of the requirements as: ‘…trick printing of the positive from the negative (dual and triple printing), printing various negatives into the positive (aperture inventions – laboratory montage)…’. Perhaps turning the film the wrong way round is another variation of ‘trick printing’ though it would not be noticed by an audience.
1Flopped image = a static or moving image that is generated by a mirror-reversal of an original image across a vertical axis. Not to be confused with reversed motion shots (see Notes).A ‘flipped’ image is across a horizontal axis.[WikiVisually].
2[hr:min:sec] Screenshot times taken from a restored print of the film (see Notes).
3Source: ‘Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties’, ed. Yuri Tsivian, tr. Julian Graffy, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2004, p. 81.
FLOPPED IMAGESIN THE FILM
[00:02:22] The first frames of the film. The camera is reversed: the ‘Le Parvo’ lettering is back to front and the viewfinder and crank handle are on the wrong sides. The miniature camera on top is also reversed (the prominent silver disc on the Debrie Parvo Model L is on the wrong side). Correct image below.
Professor Petrić mentions this reversal (p. 134): ‘The viewer’s attention is promptly drawn to the circular form of the lens by the mirror image of the camera manufacturer’s logo4 “Le Parvo” (“Le Parvo”) [sic] reflected in the lens’ rim, forcing the viewer to read the words counterclockwise.’
I am not sure what is meant by this as I cannot make out any clear reflection on the lens (in an HD version of the film). As can be seen in [00:11:11] the hood is in the usual black satin finish which does not reflect very well. Even if it was reflected the lettering would be upside down as well as back to front, and ‘counterclockwise’ is not the right description. It is the reversed images of the lenses later in the film that have the counterclockwise rim engraving. I am doubtful that the audience’s attention would be drawn to the lens by this name reversal as it is already very prominent and in the centre of the screen. I suspect most Soviet audiences would not have registered that the French/Latin text is reversed, not knowing what it meant. Interestingly, Professor Petrić uses this image the correct way around to illustrate his essay ‘Film-Eye vs Film-Truth’ without explanation.
So I think there must be another reason for this reversal. Perhaps the exact opposite is intended: by reversing the lettering on the camera and lenses it becomes unreadable and less of a distraction to the viewer (though this does not explain why the lens in [00:33:48] is the correct way round).
4The manufacturer’s logo is an eagle on top of a globe with a length of film in its beak. ‘Parvo’ is the name of the camera model (Latin for ‘small’ as the camera is very compact because of the internal film magazines).
[01:07:44] The last frames of the film, the ‘Film-Eye’ closing. The Kinoks’ symbolic device (кино-глаз, Kino-glaz5) was invented by Mikhail Kaufman in the early 1920s using his colleague Boris Kudinov’s eye [source: ‘Ukrainian Dilogy’, S. Bytiutskyi, Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre, Kyiv, 2018, p. 12]. Note the reversed lettering on the lens. This is the same set-up as seen in [00:11:34] & [00:11:46] with the iris attachment, and was most likely filmed into a mirror (see below).
5Variously translated as Kino-Eye, Cine-Eye etc.
FLOPPED SHOTS OF THE CAMERA AND LENSES
[00:02:22] Opening sequence (the ‘miniature’ camera on top is also in reverse). Illustrated above.
[00:11:11 on] Lens changing sequence. The crank handle should be on this side.
[00:11:23] [00:11:27] [00:11:30] Front view of the camera being cranked (young tramp sequence). The handle should be on the left of the lens, this is the viewfinder side.
[00:35:44] Brief image of camera cranking from front (in reverse?).
[00:37:56] Cranking camera in reverse (non-reflected image, otherwise identical to [00:38:03] and the young tramp sequence). In some prints of the film (eg BFI version) this shot is also flipped ie seen upside down!
[00:38:03] Cranking camera in reverse (‘mirrored’ view of above). This makes editorial sense as a balancing image to the previous one.
[00:34:58] Side view of the camera being cranked.
[00:42:31] [00:42:34] [00:42:37] The same side view of the camera being cranked juxtaposed with machinery rotating.
All of the shots of the cranking side of the camera are flopped as above. The handle should be on the other side. Presumably the reversal was to have the cranking action match the direction of the machinery in the latter three shots.
[00:11:34] & [00:11:46] 21cm lens with camera reflection. This looks as though it was filmed into a mirror as the iris attachment in the image also appears to be on the reflected camera. This is the same iris as seen in the well-known Eleazar Langman photograph of Kaufman and the Debrie Parvo Model L camera below. Note the adjustment lever with the thickened end at the top left present in many of the reflected images of the camera. This set-up was also used for the ‘Film-Eye’ at the end of the film when the iris closes (compare the scratch marks on the rh iris perimeter).
It is interesting to speculate about how this set-up was achieved. If the iris attachment was used with a standard or wide angle lens it could be fixed directly to the front of the camera. However as the telephoto lens would have extended past the iris preventing it from working it is likely that a bellows lens hood would have been used to allow the iris to be fixed in front of the long lens. It looks as though the standard lens hood has been removed. The Model L catalogue shows both of these accessories.
The iris is seen on the Model L camera during the animation sequence [01:00:39 on].
[00:12:39] & [00:12:42] 15cm lens with another iris attachment6. These do not show a camera reflection in the lens but what looks like foliage, indicating that the shots could have been taken with another camera and telephoto lens from a distance rather than into a mirror, and then flopped in the editing for some reason. There is some unclear movement reflected in the lens which may be a cranking action.
[00:12:59] & [00:13:04] Last frames of Reel 1 & first frames of Reel 2. 15cm telephoto lens with iris opening and closing (and ‘foliage’ reflection). The same details as above. The iris is used unconventionally to signify the reel change by filming it from the outside rather than through the lens!
6This iris may be an earlier type, most likely used on the Debrie Interview camera. It is not shown in the Model L catalogue. Note the ‘Établissements André Debrie Paris’ engraving (in reverse) around the perimeter. A bellows lens hood would also have been used with the iris for these shots, as seen in screenshot [00:29:17] on the Debrie Interview.
[00:14:34] [00:14:37] 21cm lens (reflection of camera being cranked, with superimposed Film-Eye). The camera reflection and background look very similar to [00:33:48 etc]. The reflected camera has the iris not seen around the lens and so it seems likely that this took the shot which was flopped in the editing.
[00:32:22] 21cm lens (same lens image with eye as above).
[00:33:48] Start of Reel 4 – 21cm lens rising up with reflection of camera being cranked (the only non-reflected image of a lens in the film, but the same appearance as [00:43:27] at the end of this reel). Again, the reflected camera has the iris that is not present in the shot of the lens. If reversing the lenses was meant to make the lettering unreadable it isn’t clear why this solitary one was left the right way round.
[00:43:27] End of Reel 4 – 21cm lens going down, as [00:33:48] but flopped in the editing (and slightly out of focus). Same reflection of the camera, reversed.
The original shot [00:33:48] showing the 21cm telephoto lens (the correct way round) rising up at the beginning of reel 4 must have been taken with the camera that is reflected in the lens, and not into a mirror. As this looks like the Parvo Model L with the iris attachment what camera is being filmed? As the 21cm lens has the special Model L mount which would not fit the other camera used in 1928 (the Debrie Interview) was there a second Model L Parvo used for the filming? There appears to be a camera body in the background. See my previous blog post for information about the different cameras used in the film. The same lens goes down to signify the end of Reel 4 but this has been deliberately reversed in the editing.
[00:35:43/44] 21cm lens – reflection of a camera being adjusted? A strange reflection as the camera seems to be on its side (what looks like the rear viewfinder can be seen hanging down when the frames are studied) and there isn’t any obvious cranking action. There is also a second off centre ghostly reflection of the lens rim (with projecting lugs) of the Debrie Interview. The background to the lens looks like the Parvo Model L. However, this could not be a shot taken with the reflected Interview camera on its side as the lens is the right way up (Tessar is always at the top). Nothing about this shot makes much sense and there aren’t enough frames (21) for a more detailed study.
[00:35:03] Filming into a mirrored stand or booth (Paris Specialist [shoe?] Cleaner). Not reversed but the only reflected shot of the camera definitely filmed into a mirror!
[01:07:44] The ‘Film-Eye’ closing, the final image of the film. Illustrated at the beginning of the post. The same view of the 21cm lens with the iris attachment in [00:11:34] & [00:11:46] with the eye superimposed.
OTHER FLOPPED SHOTS IN THE FILM
[00:03:51] & [00:03:58] Shantser Cinema seats at the beginning of the film (note TS on the back = Theater Shantser. Anton Shantser was Austrian). Obvious editing reasons for this reversal.
[00:03:32] & [00:05:00] Film through the projector. The later shot is in motion. There is also a slight difference in framing between the two shots. Again, the reason for this reversal seems obvious.
[00:10:07] Railway track sequence. Top is original shot, bottom is flopped shot. There are clear editing reasons for this reversal (see Petrić p. 167). There may be other reversed shots of the train carriages in this sequence but it is difficult to tell.
[00:22:36] [00:23:04] [00:25:02] The first shot (top) is of a carriage with two women and a man in a straw hat travelling north along Pushkins’ka in Odesa being filmed from the camera car. The second shot (bottom) is of the carriage ‘frozen’ facing in the opposite direction. The third shot is the ‘frozen’ image moving again in the same reverse direction. This carriage and passengers is also seen going in the right direction in [00:21:41] and [00:21:56].
[00:48:35 on] Flopped sequences of a rider on a horse galloping in opposite directions. Not exactly the same background but the horse’s inside front leg has the white ‘sock’ in both shots.
[00:48:13] [00:48:18] Athletics sequence. Curiously the framing isn’t exactly the same (the lower image is enlarged) but the position of the athletes is identical. Presumably this happened when the film strip was copied.
[01:05:23 on] During the fast montage sequence at the end of the film a carriage is seen in Odesa with one male and two female passengers, one holding flowers. This is shown going in one direction on the Shantser Cinema screen and in the opposite direction thereafter.
Most of the carousel sequence [00:54:23 on] is in reverse as you can tell by the camera – the viewfinder is on the wrong side (correct image below). This may have been an editorial decision to show the carousel circulating in the opposite direction (clockwise) to the motorcycles going around the track (anti-clockwise). A few of the carousel shots are the right way around so this contrast is not consistent.
Current view of Kuyal’nik (near Odesa) showing the (now derelict) Sanatorium pier and hill behind in the opposite direction to the screenshot [Google Earth – photograph by Vladimir Percenko].
[00:51:05] & [00:51:18]
Most of the reversed images are of the Debrie Model L Parvo. The exception is in part of the beach scene at Kuyal’nik where the Debrie Interview with Mikhail Kaufman is shown the wrong way around. The background is clearly incorrect in the top picture and the cranking handle should be on the opposite side in the bottom shot as the correct image below. I have not discovered any obvious reasons for this reversal.
REFLECTIONS IN WINDOWS
There is a long shot of reflections of Strastnaya Square in Moscow from what appears to be a revolving glass door (the camera and cameraman are visible in the screenshot above). Professor Petrić has a lengthy analysis in his book (p. 88) of this sequence, suggesting it represents the triumph of Vertov’s ‘Film-Truth’ principles (the reflected views of the outside ‘real’ world) over entertainment cinema (the first frames showing the film poster of ‘The Awakening of a Woman’, a 1927 German comedy film).
Reflections (above) in the Mostorg department store front (Theatre Square, Moscow), and (below) in the windows of the Singer sewing machine and ‘cyclist’ shops, and a building with large windows (all three in unknown locations).
Many of the well-known photographs of Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman are often reversed in error, as are screenshots of the final sequence of MK in a speeding car through Odesa, most likely through a lack of knowledge of the cameras. The external viewfinder on a Debrie camera is on the right of the lens, and the crank handle is on the left, not as the following images (there are many more!):
The only photograph known of Dziga Vertov with a camera not on location. The incorrect top rh image is published in ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, T. Tode & B. Wurm, photograph #55 (and also seen in other publications). Vertov is holding the main part of the Kinamo camera (seen with Mikhail Kaufman in [00:43:00] & [00:43:05]) with the lens and film compartment. The missing motor drive casing is on the right of the lens and fits over the silver metal rim, as shown in the correct lh top image. Bottom images show the correct view as demonstrated by my own Kinamo – note the position of the front and rear frame-finder (the rear of the camera is towards the viewer).
Much of my commentary is speculative as I have not found any information about the reflected and reversed images other than noted above. Any suggestions and comments would be welcomed. I would also appreciate information about any reversed shots I might have missed! My email is:
I have found little published about ‘flopping’ or ‘mirror reversal’ in film, and what there is does not have much relevance to ‘Man with a Movie Camera’:
‘The Aesthetics of Mirror Reversal’, Roy Sorensen, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 100, No. 2 (Aug., 2000), pp. 175-191, Springer, JSTOR (registration required).
‘A Note on the Aesthetics of Mirror Reversal’, Rafael De Clercq, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 132, no. 3, 2007, pp. 553-563, JSTOR (registration required).
Mirror or left-right reversal is of course distinct from Reverse Motion, another consistent feature of the film (eg. pigeons flying backwards, people and traffic going backwards, etc). See Petrić p. 117.
The screenshots are from a version of the film posted on YouTube by a Ukrainian source AVG which is no longer available. The screenshot times [hr:min:sec] are from the Lobster Films/Eye Institute 2014 restoration of the film.
Details of the cameras and lenses used in the film can be found in my blog post ‘Man with a Movie Camera: the movie cameras’.
In the spring of 1927 Dziga Vertov* moved to Kyiv to work for VUFKU, the All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Adminstration (Vse-Ukrains’ke Foto Kino Upravlinnia, ВУФКУ – Всеукраїнське фоtокіноуправління) after being sacked by Sovkino, the Russian equivalent, for being over budget on his film ‘One Sixth of the World’ , and for refusing to present a script for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (which he had no intention of writing). Founded in 1922 VUFKU had a reputation for much more adventurous commissioning than Sovkino, and its predecessor Goskino, training, employing, and promoting mostly Ukrainian directors and cinematographers, and their films. VUFKU was effectively closed down in 1930, merged with Soyuzkino (Sovkino’s successor) after accusations of Nationalism, Formalism and other ‘unacceptable behaviour’ by the authorities in Moscow. In less than nine years the studios had produced over 140 full length feature films, and many documentaries, newsreels and animations. Films such as Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s ‘Ukrainian Trilogy’ (‘Zvenigora’ , ‘Arsenal’ , ‘Earth’ (‘Zemlya’) ), and Dziga Vertov’s two masterpieces, ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ and ‘Enthusiasm: the Donbas Symphony’  earned VUFKU an international reputation. It controlled all aspects of the cinematic process including film-making, film processing, screening, publicity, and education. The main studios were originally in Odesa with others in Kharkiv and Yalta. After the earthquake in Yalta in 1927 VUFKU decided to relocate its equipment to large new studios in Kyiv in 1928. These are now the home of the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Film Studio. The studio administration was also based in Kyiv at this time.
*With his wife and brother, Elizaveta Svilova and Mikhail Kaufman. Svilova’s virtuosic editing of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ is evident, but the latter’s creative contribution to this and earlier films is increasingly recognised (eg the excellent essays about him in the Dovzhenko Centre’s recent book, ‘Ukrainian Dilogy’ 2018).
Dziga Vertov’s first commission from the organisation was ‘The Eleventh Year’, a short propaganda film about the development of the electricity industry as part of the Soviet Union’s drive to develop the backward country (ahead of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan that began in 1928). Several sequences for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ were shot during ‘The Eleventh Year’ filming, and Mikhail Kaufman also used some of the footage for his film ‘Unprecedented Campaign’ . The VUFKU board were obviously satisfied with this first film as during a meeting held on the 12th and 13th April 1928 permission was granted to proceed with ‘Man with a Movie Camera’.
‘6. About the permission for the director DZIGA VERTOV to shoot a picture ‘Man with a Movie Camera’(Comrade SIDERSKY).’
‘6. Shooting such a picture is considered appropriate. Pass the production plan through the appropriate authorities for approval.‘
According to the shooting schedule filming began in Moscow in early June and continued to mid-September in Kyiv (see my previous blog post on the locations for details of the schedule). However, a short article in the Kyiv monthly journal Kino No. 11, November 1928, mentions that ‘filming is almost finished’. Editing and production work was presumably going on at the same time, the VUFKU board complaining of slight delays in handing over the film in a minute dated 10th January 1929.
‘The picture “Man with a Movie Camera” instead of receiving it on January 1st* the production department promised to hand it over on January 4th, but submitted it on the 5th, while the picture was supposed to go on the screen on January 7th.’
*A previous minute mentioned January 2nd as the handover date.
VUFKU minutes from ‘Minutes of the VUFKU Board (1922-1930)’, compiled by Roman Roslyak, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Rylsky Institute of Art Studies, Folklore & Ethnology, Kyiv. Lyra-K Publishing House, 2017.
THE FIRST SCREENING ON MONDAY 7th JANUARY 1929
It did make the deadline as the announcement for the first cinema screening of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was published on the 6th January 1929 in the Sunday edition of the Russian language newspaper ‘Kievsky Proletary’ (it wasn’t published on a Monday).
A very modest advertisement for the film to be shown ‘tomorrow’ at Goskino No. 2 Cinema with little information except that it was a ‘film without words, Director Dziga Vertov, Cinematographer Kaufman’. The announcement also boasts that the film is the ‘best VUFKU release’, not obvious from the small badly printed advert and screening in the less prestigious Goskino No. 2. Better publicity would follow (see the posters for the Moscow and Berlin screenings).
The Goskino No. 2 Cinema (Держкінo/Derzhkino = State Cinema in Ukrainian) was the re-named Express Cinema on the main boulevard in Kyiv, Khreschatyk (entrance circled above). This was the first cinema in Kyiv, and one of the first in the Russian Empire, opened in 1907 by Anton Shantser. It was a great success and several others followed culminating in his most luxurious cinema, named after himself, which opened on Khreschatyk in 1912. This is the cinema that features in the opening scenes of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (see a previous blog post for screenshots and details) so it was a pity that the film could not have been shown there. Both cinemas were confiscated after the revolution and renamed Goskino No. 1 and No. 2. They were destroyed in 1942 when the retreating Red Army blew up the Khreschatyk area of Kyiv.
Although the evidence points to the 7th January being the date of the first screening of the film in a cinema an article  on the 12th January 1929 in the ‘Proletars’ka Pravda’ (Ukrainian language) Kyiv newspaper implies an earlier pre-release screening of the film. A remarkably appreciative and insightful review by an anonymous author ‘N.U.’ (likely to be the writer and poet Mykola Ushakov ) in the same newspaper on the 21st December is describing the film that must have been seen before it was ready for distribution. Professor John MacKay, Vertov’s biographer, has drawn my attention* to a document in the Vertov archive in Moscow (RGALI f. 2091, op. 1, d. 34) which records the minutes of a ‘discussion of the film “Man with a Movie Camera” by the representatives of the press with the speech by DA Vertov’ dated 7th November 1928. Referring to this in his Academia paper ‘Man with a Movie Camera: an Introduction’, 2013 (p. 5, fn. 8), Professor MacKay notes that ‘the speakers at this session were largely enthusiastic about the film, in contrast to an earlier debate in Khar’kov, where (according to Vertov) speakers declared that he should be prevented from working further, and that the film was a “criminal” waste of government funds’.
This seems to be the only record of pre-release screenings of the film but as filming appears to have still been going on in October (Kino article above), and the VUFKU production department only handed the release print over for public screening on the 5th January 1929, the film must have been incomplete at this stage. It also seems odd that Mykola Ushakov’s enthusiastic review was not published until six weeks after the November screening. It therefore seems likely that there was another screening in late December to approve the film for release. Unfortunately, there are no details of any pre-release screening in the VUFKU protocols.
‘Щодо показу в грудні, думаю, це ймовірно, можливо, показ був внутрішній на засіданні приймальної комісії ВУФКУ, які обговорювали і дозволяли випуск фільму в прокат. Подібні засідання були звичною практикою. Наприклад, у книзі Українська дилогія, яка сподіваюсь, до вас невдовзі потрапить, є стенограма такого засідання щодо фільму “Навесні”. Там були присутні різні представники ВУФКУ, а також журналісти, письменники. Щодо такого показу в протоколах ВУФКУ нічого немає.’
‘As for the screening in December, I think it is probably possible that the screening was internal at a meeting of the admissions committee of VUFKU, which discussed and allowed the release of the film for rent. Such meetings were common practice. For example, in the book ‘Ukrainian Dilogy’….there is a transcript of such a meeting on the film “In Spring”. There were various representatives of VUFKU, as well as journalists and writers. There is nothing about such a show in the protocols of VUFKU.’
THE FIRST REVIEW OF ‘MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA’
‘Proletars’ka Pravda’ 21st December 1928
The Ukrainian transcription from the review by Mykola Ushakov and a full translation are at the end of the post. Ushakov is full of praise for the film, describing it as a masterpiece.
“…Dziga Vertov himself calls his film only an experiment. Perhaps this is excessive modesty. Man with a Movie Camera almost goes beyond the scope of laboratory research. This is a truthful picture, which excites not only by the freshness of its view of the material, not only by its formal achievements but also by its thematic depth. Many directors in the USSR and abroad will extract material from it in parts, and dozens and hundreds of young filmmakers will learn from it photogeny, interpretation of nature, editing and cinematographic art.
VUFKU is destined to give world cinema a new masterpiece. Let VUFKU use it to provide Vertov with a further opportunity to experiment in this way. These experiments will become the pride of Ukrainian cinema.”
ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK IN KYIV
Advertisements in Russian from the ‘Kievsky Proletary’ newspaper and in Ukrainian from the ‘Proletars’ka Pravda’ newspaper.
TUESDAY 8th JANUARY 1929
The second announcement for the film has even less information than the first, omitting ‘best release from VUFKU’. Goskino No. 1 Cinema is screening Vsevolod Pudovkin’s ‘Storm over Asia’ (aka ‘The Heir to Genghis Khan’)  (with a mention of Dovzhenko’s ‘Arsenal’ below), stiff competition for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’!
WEDNESDAY 9th JANUARY 1929
Announcements in both papers, proclaiming that the third day is sold out! ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ is described as ‘the only new experimental film in the USSR without words in 8 parts’ (sic). There is much more information about the film this time in rather florid language: ‘Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov*, Odessa, Kiev are in anticipation of a dream (of) dialectical movement, contrasts and versatility. The most sophisticated techniques of modern cinema, extraordinary filming without any preparation of props, without a script, and without actors. Life as it is. Many Kievans can see themselves on the screen, where they were photographed by the camera in the cinema, even through a window at home.At the same time the art of film editing and the integrity of the design are impressive.‘
These adverts are perversely printed at right angles to the page for some reason, perhaps to make them stand out.
*I have only found evidence of one Kharkiv location in the film. See my blog post on the locations.
THURSDAY 10th JANUARY 1929
Announcements for the film in the newspapers on this day have not been found. Perhaps it was sold out again and there was no need to advertise.
There is an advertisement for the film in the 10th January edition of the monthly Kiev journal ‘Kino-Gazeta’ at the bottom of page 4. This proclaims: ‘VUFKU News! An extremely interesting film will be shown in Ukraine. Cinematographer Kaufman, Author-Director Dziga Vertov’.
FRIDAY 11th JANUARY 1929
Back to the same basic announcement of the 8th January.
SATURDAY 12th JANUARY 1929
Interest in the film was waning perhaps as two comedies have been added to the programme to encourage Saturday cinema goers!
SUNDAY 13th JANUARY 1929
This was the last day of the film in Kyiv and the following Monday’s screening was being promoted in larger type. This was an ‘artistic drama’ entitled ‘The Right to Life’, a 1928 Sovkino film directed by Pavel Petrov-Bytov. It was about ‘the battle against protectionism in the production process during the NEP years’ which does not sound much like an ‘artistic drama’ but the story-line of a village girl being exploited when she comes to the city is similar to Boris Barnet’s more famous 1928 film ‘The House on Trubnaia’. [source: Julian Graffy]
KHARKIV PREMIERE – TUESDAY 15th JANUARY 1929
The print of the film must have then gone straight to Kharkiv as the first screening in the Ukrainian capital at the time was announced in the Sunday 13th January edition of the Khar’kovsky Proletary newspaper for the following Tuesday at the Goskino ‘K. Liebknecht’ cinema. The digital press archives for Kharkiv are incomplete so I am unable to discover how long the film was shown, and find reviews.
The announcement proclaims (in Russian) that this is the ‘first film without words’, and goes on to copy the titles at the beginning of the film – ‘An experiment in the cinematic transmission of visual phenomena, without resorting to theatre (a drama without actors, sets etc), without the help of a script (a film without a script), and finally without intertitles (a film without intertitles).’
Early 1900s view of Sumska Street, the main street in the city, showing the location of the cinema.
The cinema was opened in 1913 as the ‘Empire’, confiscated after the Revolution and re-named after the 19thC Prussian socialist politician and theorist Karl Liebknecht. [1930s photograph of the entrance].
An extravagant display of folk paintings and costumes to advertise the 1936 film of ‘Natalka Poltavka’, the 1819 nationalist play by Ivan Kotlyarevsky turned into a popular operetta by Mykola Lysenko in 1889. This first adaptation of an operetta in the Soviet Union was directed by Ivan Kavaleridze. A surprising production given the political situation of Ukraine at the time as the anti-nationalistic ‘Great Terror’ had commenced but apparently Stalin liked the operetta.
MOSCOW PREMIERE – TUESDAY 9th APRIL 1929
The Moscow premiere of the film was at the Hermitage Theatre in the Hermitage Garden and Tverskaya 46 Cinema on the corner of Tverskaya and Strastnaya Square. There was a preview of the film in the previous month attended by ‘experts in the art of film and from literature, theatre, and art circles’ as reported by the German Die Form magazine (see German screening).
A 19thC postcard of the Hermitage Theatre, one of the pavilions in the Hermitage Garden, located in the north of the city near the Garden Ring. Established in 1894 the garden became an important cultural centre with several theatres located in buildings in the garden or nearby. The Hermitage Theatre (not to be confused with its more famous St Petersburg namesake) was the venue for the first showing of a film in the city (‘The Arrival of a Train’) by a travelling Lumière operator in 1896. Nationalised in 1918 it was rented by a group of entrepreneurs in the NEP period for a variety of entertainment events, including film shows.
Screenshot [00:16:13] from the film showing the corner of the Tverskaya 46 Cinema at the junction of Strastnaya Square and Tverskaya street. The poster of a man in spats and large ‘disc’ with the cinema name can be seen on the building behind the motorcycle and sidecar in another screenshot below. The full poster as seen below is on the wall to the right of the kiosk.
Screenshot [01:04:31] showing the cinema on Strastnaya Square.
The cinema’s entry in a 1929 Moscow directory.
The posters are advertising the 1928 film ‘Engineer Elagin’, directed by Vladimir Feinberg. The man in spats probably depicts the engineer’s traitorous son in the pay of foreign intelligence, who sabotages his father’s factory and kills a worker. Engineer Elagin forces his son at gunpoint to give himself up! [Many thanks to James Mann for tracking down the poster and to Julian Graffy for information on the film]
The first* announcement for the film in ‘Pravda’ on Sunday 7th April 1929 advertising the premiere on the 9th.
The advertisement for the film on the day of the premiere. Unclear in parts but much of the rather sensational text is decipherable: ‘Today, the premiere of the first film in the SSSR without words. Man with a Movie Camera, Author supervisor Dziga Vertov, Chief cameraman M. Kaufman, Assistant editor E. Svilova. A VUFKU Production. Hermitage VUFKU, Tverskaya 46. Amazing adventures of a film cameraman. On land, on water, underground and in the air, for the first time – the TRANSFORMATION of a cameraman from a GIANT into a midget and vice versa. A Cinema GULLIVER…People in the air, a FROZEN horse, FILM-RESURRECTION of people and animals…The man is in danger…a tram over the auditorium…HELP…EXPLOSION of time. What happened to Theatre Square? The rebellious pendulum. Chasing time. Up to 1000 kilometres an hour…Up to 15 minutes per minute.’
*Preliminary ‘teaser’ advertisements were placed in Pravda from the end of March.
In contrast to the paltry announcements in the Kyiv and Kharkiv press VUFKU obviously thought it worthwhile to commission the renowned graphic artists Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg to design a poster for the Russian screening of the film. The result is a masterpiece, surely one of the greatest film posters of all time. It perfectly captures the spirit of the film’s breakneck journey through the city, using a spiralling motif with the letters suggesting the frames of a film. Clearly produced to promote the film for the Moscow premiere the description of Vertov et al matches that in the Pravda advertisement. Printed (by Sovkino) in an astonishingly large edition of 12,000.
The second Stenberg brothers poster for the film doesn’t quite match the virtuosity of their first but is still a wonderful graphic representation of images from the film (though the ‘gun’ silhouette is clearly designed to attract an audience as it is only a fleeting image in the film). The ‘camera eye’ is a brilliant device, and the Debrie camera and tripod are very accurately depicted.
This poster for the film by M. Chelovski is exhibited in the Cinémathèque française in Paris, but I have no information about it or the designer. In the Russian language but an odd rendering of the film title using ‘из’ (of) and ‘Kaufman’ is also spelled incorrectly. The alternative spelling of аппаратом is odd as the ‘m’ replacing ‘t’ in Cyrillic is normally only used in handwriting or an italic font. [photograph courtesy of the Cinémathèque française]
Anna Onufriienko has found a Ukrainian version of the poster seen in a catalogue of the ‘Ippei Fukura Collection’ of Soviet posters at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The ‘with’ in the film title is now correct but the misspelled ‘Kaufman’ remains. The Dovzhenko Centre does not know of any other Ukrainian posters for the film. The only other publicity I have come across is a newspaper or magazine advertisement in the Vertov Archive at the Austrian Film Museum.
‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was on for a week, replaced on the 16th April in both cinemas by an old Harold Lloyd film ‘Grandma’s Boy’ (1922). Also on show (‘exclusively’) at the famous ARS Cinema on Arbat was another 1922 film ‘Nanook of the North’.
This is the actual poster advertising ‘Grandma’s Boy’ at Tverskaya 46 on the 16th April 1929.
Chapters 24 & 25 in ‘Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties’ (edited by Yuri Tsivian) has several articles on the film, some with complaints about the short run at both cinemas. Konstantin Feldman in Vecherniaia Moskva, 18th April 1929, (chap. 25, p. 349) writes that ‘Our readers remember the campaign which Vecherniaia Moskva had to wage so as to achieve the cinematic release of Dziga Vertov’s film “Man with a Movie Camera”. Our exhibitors and cinema administrators – experienced specialists and connoisseurs of public taste – peremptorily decided that this film would not “get through” to the mass viewer. When it was finally put on in two large Moscow cinemas, Dziga Vertov’s film brilliantly refuted these gloomy prophecies. For a whole week the film did good box office at both theatres, competing successfully against foreign “hits”‘.
However, Feldman complains, despite this great success the film was immediately withdrawn from the screens of the two cinemas. He sarcastically says that if they were showing ‘popular’ films everything would have been ‘arranged for the better’ and they would have been kept on for a second and third week. ‘The film is being taken off the screen by force. We must hurry and expedite the release of such a significant film as “Grandma’s Boy” with Harold Lloyd himself. The mistake goes beyond the bounds of the permissible. We have before us the fact of stubborn opposition to bringing a work by a Soviet master to the mass viewer. It is time to draw conclusions from this whole long drawn-out story.’
See below for further reviews from the book, and publication details.
THE FIRST SCREENING OF THE FILM OUTSIDE THE SOVIET UNION
VUFKU Board Meeting Minute 17, Protocol 53, December 11th 1928.
’17. Statement of the director VERTOV with a request to give him leave to go abroad from the 15th December.’
’17. [resolved] to give the director VERTOV a vacation and it is expedient to send him abroad. Instruct the Art Department to agree with VERTOV on his further work.’
VUFKU minute from ‘Minutes of the VUFKU Board (1922-1930)’, compiled by Roman Roslyak (see end notes for details).
FILM UND FOTO EXHIBITION, STUTTGART, MAY – JULY 1929
In May 1929 Dziga Vertov took a print of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ with him on a tour of Europe to promote the film. It isn’t clear if this trip was a delayed result of the minute above or further permission had been granted. The tour was largely organised by the contacts of Vertov’s friends El Lissitzky and his German wife Sophie Küppers. The Lissitzkys had been commissioned to design the Russian Room at the seminal 1929 Stuttgart exhibition ‘Film und Foto’. An unprecedented event that showcased contemporary photography and cinema from Europe, the Soviet Union and the USA, by all the leading practitioners of the day. The curator of the film section of FiFo, Hans Richter, wanted to promote film as a serious art form and many prominent film-makers took part in the exhibition, including Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Duchamp, Viking Eggeling, and Walter Ruttmann. Films by Sergei Eisenstein, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Esfir Shub, and Dziga Vertov were screened in the Russian Room.
Unlike the rest of the exhibition The Russian Room (above) combined both film and photography showing work by contemporary Soviet directors alongside photographs by Aleksandr Rodchenko and others.
HANOVER, 3rd and 4th JUNE 1929
The first screening of the film outside the Soviet Union in a cinema was in Hanover according to an announcement in the Hannoverscher Anzeiger newspaper of the 1st June 1929. It was only on for two days, with talks by Vertov and ‘other work’ being shown, as the print was presumably needed for ‘Film und Foto’. It was not screened in a conventional street level cinema but in the huge dome of the planetarium at the top of the newspaper’s offices, the Brick Expressionist Anzeiger-Hochhaus building (below). Designed by Fritz Höger, and completed in 1928, the building was one of the first high rises in Germany, hence its name. In December 1928 a temporary cinema in the planetarium was opened under the name ‘Planetarium-Lichtspiele Kulturfilmbühne‘ (stage for cultural films), with 210 seats1. The reason for this first screening in Hanover seems to have been the Lissitzky’s contacts at the Kestner Gesellschaft, the city art gallery founded in 1916 to promote modern art2. Sophie Küppers-Lissitzky came from Hanover and her first husband had been the director of the gallery for many years3.
1Hanover City portal and Hochhaus-Lichtspiele website. ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, p. 262, describes the film ‘being projected into the dome of the planetarium’ but this seems unlikely and a misinterpretation of the location.
2‘Hannover in 3 Tagen: ein kurzweiliger Kulturführer’, Peter Struck, Schlütersche, 2008.
3‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, p. 262.
Announcement in the Hannoverscher Anzeiger on 1st June 1929 advertising the screening of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ in the Planetarium on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th June, at 8:20pm. ‘As well as this film Vertov will show other work. Vertov will also personally speak about his creative endeavours’. [courtesy of ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, ref: Pr De 005].
During his second European trip Dziga Vertov had also been invited to give a talk at the Kulturfilmbühne on the 7th and 8th October 1931 about his first sound film ‘Enthusiasm: the Donbas Symphony’ but this had to be cancelled after the film was banned in Germany on October 5th [‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, letter ref: B013].
Vertov also gave talks about the film and Kino Eye to audiences in Berlin, Munich1, and Frankfurt2. Germany was the centre for film production and photographic manufacturing in Europe at that time, and the giant UFA Studios in Berlin were the most advanced in the world. This made the city the most important venue for a screening of ‘Man with a Movie Camera‘ during the tour.
1 ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, p. 35 & pl. 19.
2‘Lines of Resistance’ chap. 28, p. 378.
BERLIN PREMIERE, TUESDAY 2nd JULY 1929
Following the film’s showing at ‘Film und Foto’ and Hanover the Berlin premiere of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was on the 2nd July at the Marmorhaus cinema (named because of the marble facade) on Kurfürstendamm. Built in 1912 on the most prestigious avenue in the city it was often the venue for the first screening of new films, including ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari’  and ‘The Head of Janus’ , the interior designed by the Expressionist painter and set designer César Klein making it a suitable location for both. Dziga Vertov also gave a talk at the venue on the day of the premiere1.
1‘Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, ref: Pr De 053.1.
A much better advertisement for the film than the Soviet papers could manage in the 29th June edition of Film Kurier [courtesy of ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, ref. Pr De 049.IV].
The advertisement of the premiere of ‘Der Mann mit der Kamera’ at the Marmorhaus Cinema in the 2nd July 1929 edition of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. Performances at 7:15 and 9:15.
The film was at the Marmorhaus for a week, replaced on the 9th July by another Soviet film premiere, Vsevolod Pudovkin’s ‘Storm over Asia’ (the film that occupied Goskino No.1 Cinema in Kyiv during the screening of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ back in January!).
The Marmorhaus Cinema in 1952 (I cannot find any suitable contemporary views of the building).
Interiors of the cinema (unknown date). [photographs: Oleg Andreev]
Another superb poster for the film, designed by Julius Kupfer-Sachs, showing the cameraman on a motorcycle speeding through an Expressionist city. According to a stamp on the poster it was approved by the Berlin film censors on the 24th June 1929, a week before the premiere [source: Austrian Film Museum Collection].
It seems Dziga Vertov may have designed a very good photo montage, featuring stills from the film, for promoting it in Germany.
EARLY REVIEWS OF ‘MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA‘
The popular narrative (eg Wikipedia, Senses of Cinema etc) is that ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was poorly received by both critics and the public on its release in the Soviet Union. Sergei Eisenstein’s comment that the film was ‘pointless camera hooliganism’ is well known. The reality was largely the opposite, typified by the first, very enthusiastic, review of the film by Mykola Ushakov written after a pre-release screening in Kyiv. After the first rather modest announcements in the local papers VUFKU obviously thought the public reaction to the film made it worthwhile to commission a poster (and a second) from the leading designers of the era, the Stenberg brothers, and have 12,000 of it printed. As noted above the Moscow screening was counted a success by critics, who complained the film was taken off too soon.
The principal reference to writings by and about Dziga Vertov is ‘Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties’ (edited by Yuri Tsivian with translations by Julian Graffy and research by Aleksandr Deriabin, published by Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2004) which includes contemporary articles and reviews of the film in the Soviet Union and the West. The majority of these are very positive about the film and its director.
THE FIRST (PRE-RELEASE) REVIEW OF THE FILM
21st DECEMBER 1928 by MYKOLA USHAKOV
Пролетарська правда. – 1928. – 21 грудня.
Культура й мистецтво
«Людина з кіно-апаратом»
Виробництво ВУФКУ 1928 року, автор-керівник – Дзига Вертов, голов. опер. М. Кауфман, асист. на монтажі Є. Свілова.
“Майстер іде вперед, а кайдани маніфестів тягнуться за ним.
Вертов, як і перше, говорить про життя, як його сприймає кіно-апарат. Він каже, що доданки цих сприйнять не міняють загальної суми. Але в мистецтві, а те, що робить Вертов, звичайно мистецтво, від переміни додаників сума цілком міняється. Отже ціла картина вже не життя, яким його бачить кіно-апарат, – це життя, що його створив монтаж Вертова та його групи.
Кайдани маніфестів тягнуться за майстром.
Вертов іде вперед.
«6-та частина світу» трималася на гіперболі написів, але самі держторгівські маштаби від полярного песця до виноградників говорили за себе. Ту саму гіперболу тітрів маємо й у «Одинадцятому». З погляду розгортання гіперболи «Одинадцятий» виявив себе, як провал, бо віддалення від Донбасу до Київа це не віддалення від Нової Землі до Криму. Шаленим монтажем Вертов хотів підмінити природній простір і зовсім не гіперболічну індустрію. Сталася невідповідність між бідністю й малими маштабами матеріялу та між темпом.
«Одинадцятий» міг би бути тільки, як частина «6-ої частини світу», але окремо він мав бути, бо без нього не було-б нової картини Вертова «Людина з кіно-апаратом». «Одинадцятий» з погляду монтажу був уже готуванням до нового надзвичайного вертівського фільму.
Говорити про мистецтво за-для мистецтва й про мистецтво тенденційне – це безглуздя. Великий майстер, працюючи над твором за-для мистецтва, створює шедевр великої громадської ваги. «Одинадцятому» куди до шедевру. Хоч тему мав і ювілейну, проте він дуже часто не підносився вище за монтажний орнамент, за-для монтажного орнаменту.
Те само могло трапитися й з новою вертовою картиною, коли-б у ній за головну дійову особу не була людина, оператор, Фігаро кінематографії, що прокидається вдосвіда й працює на повітрі, під водою й землею, що відбігає з рейок саме тоді, коли поїзд уже мав його розчавити, що повстав з-під ніг одеських рикш і із шклянки пива.
Цей оператор схоплює те життя людей і речей, яке ми бачимо, але не сприймаємо.
Дюамель в одному свому нарисі скаржиться, що люди, приходячи до шпиталю, дивуються з вилиску нікелю та білої фарби, але не бачать самої сути – страждання.
Гоголь, Достоєвський відкрили нам дух Санкт-Петербургу, Анатоль Франс – дух Парижу. Німецькі кінематографісти, що здіймали «Симфонію великого міста», чесно зареєстрували одну добу Берліну. Ми дізналися, що робить берлінець о 5-й, о 6-й, о 9-й год. ранку, о-півдня, після служби і о-півночі. Але дух Берліну був не розкритий. У Вертова немає певного міста й зовсім не важно, що «поштові скриньки» з київських вулиць монтують разом із Кузнецькнм мостом. Вертов не реєструє просто вияви міського життя, нещасні випадки, смерть, народження, спочинок, то-що. Але в своїй разючій грі темпами, то роблячи 5 хвнл. на хвилину, то висаджуючи час, вимикнувши життя, подає дух сучасного міста взагалі, міста не такого, як його бачить кіно-апарат, а своєрідного міста, що його викрили Вертов, його асистенти та оператор.
Вертов, підносячись над самим експериментом, подає своєрідну філософію міста.
Коли-б це місто було тільки місто, що його побачив кіно-апарат, то, звісно, не було-б великої різниці між «Парижем у-ві сні», «Симфонією великого міста» і містом із «Людини з кіно-апаратом». Хоч є зовнішні спільні моменти (велосипед у вітрині, поїзд і нещасний випадок із «Симфонії великого міста», і зупинка юрби в «Парижу у-ві сні»), проте ці три картини а-ні трохи неподібні.
Говоримо про це тільки для того, щоб Вертов не так уже цінував свої кайдани.
Сам Дзига Вертов називає свій фільм тільки експериментом. Можливо, це зайва скромність. «Людина з кіно-апаратом» майже виходить по-за межі лабораторних шукань. Це правдива картина, що хвилює не тільки свіжістю поглядів на матеріял, що хвилює не тільки своїми формальними досягненнями а й своєю тематичною глибиною.
Багато режисерів СРСР і за кордоном вихоплюватимуть з неї матеріял частинами, десятки і сотні молодих кіноробітників будуть з неї вчитися фотогенії, трактування натури, монтажу й операторського мистецтва.
ВУФКУ судилося дати світовій кінематографії новий шедевр. Хай же ВУФКУ використає його й забезпечить Вертову дальшу можливість так експериментувати.
Ці експерименти стануть гордістю української кінематографії.”
Proletarian Truth – 1928. – December 21.
CULTURE AND ART
“Man with a movie camera”
Production of VUFKU, 1928, author-supervisor – Dziga Vertov, head cameraman M. Kaufman, editing assistant E. Svilova.
“The master marches ahead, dragging along the shackles of his manifestos.
Vertov, as before, talks about life as it is perceived by the film camera. He says that the terms of these perceptions do not change the thing in its entirety. But in art, and what Vertov does is, of course, art, the change of terms completely changes the whole. So the whole picture is no longer life as the film camera sees it, – it is life created by the editing of Vertov and his group.
The shackles of the manifestos follow the master.
Vertov goes forward.
A SixthPart of the World was based on the hyperbole in the intertitles, but the very scale of state trade from polar foxes to vineyards spoke for itself. We have the same hyperbolic intertitles in The Eleventh Year. From the point of view of the deployment of hyperbole, The Eleventh Year proved to be a failure, because the distance from Donbass to Kyiv is not the distance from Novaya Zemlia to the Crimea. Vertov wanted to replace natural space and absolutely not hyperbolic industry with crazy editing. There is a mismatch between the poverty and small scale of the material and the pace of the film.
The Eleventh Year could just have been a part of A SixthPart of the World but it had to be separate, because without it there would not have been Vertov’s new picture, Man with a Movie Camera. In terms of editing The Eleventh Year was already a preparation for Vertov’s extraordinary new film.
Talking about art for art’s sake and tendentious art is nonsense. A great master, working on a work for art’s sake, has created a masterpiece of great civic importance. The Eleventh Year is far from a masterpiece. Although it had a jubilee theme, it often did not rise above montage ornament for the sake of montage ornament.
The same could have happened with Vertov’s new picture, were it not for the fact that the main character was a man, a cameraman, a Figaro of cinema, waking up before dawn and working in the air, under water and underground, running from the rails just when a train might have crushed him, rising from under the feet of Odesa rickshaws and from a glass of beer.
This cameraman captures the lives of people and things that we see but do not perceive.
In one of his essays, Duhamel complains that when people come to a hospital they are surprised by the shine of the nickel and white paint, but do not see the essence – suffering.
Gogol, Dostoevsky revealed to us the spirit of St. Petersburg, Anatole France – the spirit of Paris. The German filmmakers who filmed The Symphony of a Great City honestly recorded one day in Berlin. We learned what a Berliner does at 5 o’clock, at 6 o’clock, at 9 o’clock in the morning, at noon, after work and at midnight. But the spirit of Berlin was not revealed. Vertov does not have a specific city, and it does not matter at all that “mailboxes” from the streets of Kyiv are edited together with Kuznetskii Most Street in Moscow. Vertov does not simply register the events of city life, accidents, deaths, births, rest, etc. Rather, in his striking game with tempo, he either turns five minutes into one, or he ousts the sense of time, switching life off, giving the spirit of the modern city in general, a city not as seen by the film camera, but as revealed by Vertov, his assistants and cameraman.
Vertov, rising above the experiment itself, presents a kind of philosophy of the city.
If this city was just a city seen by a movie camera, then, of course, there would be no big difference between Paris qui dort, The Symphony of a Great City and the city in Man with a Movie Camera. Although there are external commonalities (a bicycle in a shop window, a train and an accident from the The Symphony of a Great City, and a crowd coming to a stop in Paris qui dort) these three pictures are totally different.
We are talking about this only so that Vertov will not value his shackles so highly.
Dziga Vertov himself calls his film only an experiment. Perhaps this is excessive modesty. Man with a Movie Camera almost goes beyond the scope of laboratory research. This is a truthful picture, which excites not only by the freshness of its view of the material, not only by its formal achievements but also by its thematic depth.
Many directors in the USSR and abroad will extract material from it in parts, and dozens and hundreds of young filmmakers will learn from it photogeny, interpretation of nature, editing and cinematographic art.
VUFKU is destined to give world cinema a new masterpiece. Let VUFKU use it to provide Vertov with a further opportunity to experiment in this way.
These experiments will become the pride of Ukrainian cinema.”
I am very grateful to Julian Graffy, Emeritus Professor of Russian Literature and Cinema at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, and Tom and Roksolyana Lasica for editing the translation of Mykola Ushakov’s remarkable review of the film.
‘The Hero of the Film is the Camera’ (‘Lines of Resistance’, chap. 24, p. 339)
‘Kino’ #2, Moscow, 8th January 1929, page 3. E[zra] Vilensky
In an appreciative review, the day after the Kyiv premiere, Vilensky notes that the ‘film aroused heated debate in Kharkov and Kiev*. It is a long time since film production has delivered such sharp material. It is a long time since the Ukrainian public was so agitated’. He fears that ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ will suffer the fate of the majority of non-fiction films and insists that ‘we must not allow it to lie on a shelf until some unspecified time. The centre of the cinematic life of the USSR, Moscow, must see this film as quickly as possible’.
*This is presumably referring to the pre-release screenings and discussions recorded in the minutes dated 7th November 1928 in the RGALI Vertov archive, and noted in Professor MacKay’s paper at the beginning of the post.
‘So What is the Matter?! Once again about Man with a Movie camera’ (‘Lines of Resistance’, chap. 25, p. 350).
‘Kino’ #17, Moscow, 23rd April 1929, page 3
The anonymous author repeats much of Konstantin Feldman’s comments in Vecherniaia Moskva asking readers to recall the ‘heated struggle between the public and the film exhibition organisers which had to take place before the release of “Man with a Movie Camera”….The public won a partial victory. On the 9th April the film began a run on the screens of two central cinemas, the Hermitage and 46 Tverskaia Street. The first week of the run showed that the fears of the cinema businessmen were completely unfounded. In material terms ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ did normal box-office: at the Hermitage it was higher than average (more than 4,000 roubles in a week), and at the Tverskaia it was average (over 7,000 roubles). If you bear in mind that this is a non-fiction, experimental film, which the viewer is not used to and may even find difficult to take in, then these figures would seem to provide evidence of a great victory for our cinema: they reveal the heightened cultural demands of our viewers, and in consequence the film should continue to be shown.’ However, the author complains that, despite this commercial success and protests from the public and press, ‘after a single week “Man with a Movie Camera” made way on the screens of the Hermitage and 46 Tverskaia Street for such an obviously philistine film as “Grandma’s Boy”, with Harold Lloyd.’
I would like to thank Professor Julian Graffy for providing the pages with the original articles.
The 1st April 1929 edition of the influential design magazine Die Form, produced by the Deutscher Werkbund, included a preview of the Film und Foto exhibition featuring ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. Translation of the article below.
‘NEW RUSSIAN FILMS AT THE EXHIBITION
In Moscow a new film “Man with a Movie Camera” was recently previewed. The film, which takes simple everyday life by surprise and records it dynamically, was created by the young Russian film artist Dsiga Werthoff without actors, without any scenario and completely without intertitles. Hot, pulsating life, which seems to jump out at the viewer, is not only seen anew and given new forms by the film, it is experienced anew and is turned into a cinematic work of art without any literary or theatrical pathos. This is why this film can neither be told nor described in any way, it speaks its own language, which is derived from the possibilities of cinema. He shows us the facts – seen through the lens of the camera – from a different angle than we are used to seeing them.
The film made a strong impression on all viewers, who were composed of experts in the art of film and from literature, theatre and art circles.
Dsiga Werthoff’s film will also be presented to the public for discussion in Germany, for the first time, as part of the international Werkbund Exhibition “Film und Foto” in Stuttgart. As is well known, this exhibition aims to address all of the important issues of film and photography by showing demonstrations and lectures in order to encourage progress in these areas.
In addition to the new film by Werthoff, other previously unpublished films will also be premiered in Stuttgart. Individual directors and cinematographers intend to put together short instruction films especially for this exhibition, which should give an insight into their theories, working methods, and editing. Shorter published films by Pudowkin, Eisenstein, Schub and new cultural films from Russia will also be shown.’
Die Form, issue 7, 1st April 1929
Vertov’s friend, Sophie Küppers (-Lissitzky) wrote an article in praise of the film in the May 1929 edition of the influential art journal Das Kunstblatt, ‘Schaut das Leben durch das Kino Auge Dsiga Werthoffs’ (‘Look at Life through Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye’). In one of the most thoughtful reviews of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ she gets right to the heart of the film: ‘..But life here is not only observed and fixed. It is experienced – formed deeply and chastely, and with a heart burning with poetry. Never before was womankind shown with such restraint, never before has the martyrdom of birth in art revealed itself as a drama of a few seconds. The whole range of human emotions is touched upon – quietly and with great dignity…Vertov’s optical tricks catch us unawares – if he has mystified us, so in the next moment he will laughingly explain his trick to us. Even as the wild chaos of the street is barely no longer whirring before us, he already shows us the assistant at her laborious editing work.‘
She concludes: ‘Vertov has received complete appreciation and enthusiastic acclaim from all progressive-minded people. His valiant co-workers loyally support him in his struggle for his work. A new language has truly been created, that cannot be imparted by any other communications medium other than the cinema apparatus. No written history, no verbal poetry, and no image will be able to give the following generations a truer testimony of the experience of life in our time than these film records of Dziga Vertov. Through his instrument he has rythmatized seeing; seeing resounds; the theatre broke into pieces – what we experience through him is only – REALITY.‘
[Excerpt from ‘Lines of Resistance’, chap. 26, pp. 359-360. Translation by Oliver Gayken]
The following Berlin newspaper extracts are difficult to read so there is a link to each article via the newspaper title under each review.
A review in the 12th June edition of Berliner Volks-Zeitung of a ‘poorly attended’ lecture about ‘Kino-Eye’ given by Dziga Vertov on the 9th to the National Association of Film Art in the Phoebus Theatre, Berlin. The reviewer (Franze Schnitzer – see below) wrote that the lecture was too technical for the audience and best suited to ‘experts in a cameraman’s club’. He thought that ‘what some samples from Werthow’s montage showed was, in a certain sense, a refined Ruttmann film. “Symphony of a Great City” only depicted the outward appearance of the big city, the Russians, as always, take convincing and politically oriented pictures, and also depict something like the people’s soul. Werthow is a fanatical fan of the candid film. One of these, “The Man with the Movie Camera”, will soon be showing in Berlin.’
The day after the premiere a small notification of the film’s release by Derussa* appeared in the 3rd July edition of Berliner Volks-Zeitung.
‘The first full-length, complete film by the Russian film art association “Kino-Eye” is now being released by Derussa. Direction and Montage: Werthoff’.
A review in the Berlin Communist newspaper ‘Die Rote Fahne’ (The Red Flag) on Friday 5th July. Difficult to read even in the original because of the ‘Faktur’ black type, it concludes that the film is ‘very interesting artistically, with masterful montage and camerawork, but overflowing with details and without a continuous rythm. Ruttmann’s film “Symphony of a Great City” is more economical than this Werthoff film. Werthoff’s path with “The Man with the Camera” deviates from the real tasks of Russian “Cinema Eyes”.’
A review of ‘Der Mann mit der Kamera’ in the Saturday 6th July edition of Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (unfortunately difficult to read even in the original as it is typeset in Fraktur black letter script). DAZ was one of the principal German newspapers.
A mixed review that rather misses the point of the film in the 10th July edition of Berliner Volks-Zeitung (translation below). The misplaced photograph of the star of ‘Sweet and Sinful’ illustrating the piece would have also irritated Dziga Vertov I imagine!
The Man with the Camera In the Marmorhaus
‘Wertoff’s film culture and the goals of the Russian film group Kino Eye have already been discussed by this writer a few weeks ago1. At that time one had only seen excerpts from the “Man with the Movie Camera”, a documentary and a film with no intertitles that resembles Ruttmann’s “Symphony of a City”. There is no actual content to be seen here. The eye of the spectator experiences a city and its inhabitants, people who work, play sports, join committees, have children, mourn their dead, get divorced, work again, rush through the city, and have their fun and their sorrows. The man with the camera is everywhere. At the wedding, at the divorce, when having children, in the cemetery, when there is a fire and everywhere and all the time. He turns, turns, turns. He records the reality and then goes into the editing room and glues together a wonderful song out of it. The hymn of a city, Werthoff’s pictorial song, begins with an andante and ends with a magnificent furioso, which is brilliantly assembled, but which will not be of interest to a non-literary audience or a viewer unfamiliar with the French absolutists and the birth of the avant-garde.
The film runs without intertitles. For the German provinces and for the many smaller cinemas (even in Berlin) this is a catastrophe. In the Marmorhaus the excellent accompaniment music by Schmidt-Boelke2 [sic] was played now and then to the audience so that the various scenes could be distinguished and understood. But in a smaller cinema with only a gramophone or an organ or a man with a violin – what will the audience do?
Werthoff’s picture is a treat for film professionals. All weekly newsreel cameramen should watch it. You can learn from him. But the film is too long. You can’t watch the weekly news for two hours3. What is very nice, however, is that Werthoff understands how to explain film as a craft over and over again, in close relation to the following scene. Rather like a table of contents. You can see a film editor arranging and sticking different film strips together, spooling and rolling them.
It is all very beautiful, and it should be acknowledged that this film is worth seeing and a great artistic achievement, despite some foolish antics. But …. what will the audience outside of the area around the Memorial Church4 have to say about this series of pictures? It is a muddle, from the tram to the railway, from work in the factory to people on the street. The housewives are tired of worrying about their children, of doing housework, and of the whole week. And now you sit in “your cinema” and see nothing but the tram, factory work, housework, children and all the excruciating hustle and bustle of everyday life. In addition, an untrained eye may not be able to cope with the terrific rhythm of the sequence of images. Also about the film see the last paragraph of the article on this page “Cinema of the Workshop”‘. F.S. (Franze Schnitzer)
Paragraph referred to:
‘Every now and then, however, a local theatre owner sets his ambition aside and plays one of those much-praised films often referred to as “art films”. For example, a now much-celebrated Russian film. And what does he have to listen to from his very candid audience? “Man, it looks as though I’m looking at the Kurfürstendamm through your bandy legs!”*’ Franze Schnitzer.
*An odd phrase in Berlin dialect.
1See above for Schnitzer’s 12th June review of Dziga Vertov’s Berlin talk (this may have been one of the articles that Dziga Vertov was complaining about below, although it only mentions Ruttmann).
2Werner Schmidt-Boelcke (1903-1985) was a German conductor and composer of film music.
3An exaggeration. The film is around 1 hour and six minutes long, similar to Ruttmann’s film.
4The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is at one end of the Kurfürstendamm.
Dziga Vertov complained in a long letter to the Frankfurter Zeitung (written from Berlin on the 8th July, but not to a Berlin newspaper for some reason) that ‘one segment of the Berlin press’ had made the accusation that ‘…Kino Eye essentially represents a “fanatical” continuation of the principles and practices carried on by a certain Blum (in the film “In the Shadow of the Machine”)1 and Ruttmann (Berlin, “Symphony of a Big City”), both of whom are unknown to me’. Albrecht Blum had lifted parts of ‘The Eleventh Year’ for his 1928 film2, and Walter Ruttmann did acknowledge the influence of Vertov’s theories. There is a long, generally favourable review by Siegfried Kracauer in the Frankfurter Zeitung of 19th May3 so perhaps Vertov thought he would find a readership sympathetic to his letter in this newspaper. Most reviews of the film in the Berlin press were positive (many making reasonable comparisons with Ruttmann’s film) but he could have taken offence at a very critical one in the 3rd July issue of ‘Kinematograph’ which concluded that ‘Vertov had nothing new to offer and could no longer surprise the audience, since Ruttmann and others had already used the same techniques’.
Letter excerpt from ‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, p. 221.
1The reference to Blum was removed from the published letter [‘Lines of Resistance’, chap. 28, fn. 16].
2‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, p. 221
Vertov also explained his film and complained about Blum in an interview included in ‘Lines of Resistance’ [chap. 26, pp. 366-367].
Chapter 28 in ‘Lines of Resistance’ has more on ‘Vertov versus Blum’. Chapter 29 has more on Vertov and Ruttmann.
3‘Lines of Resistance’, chap. 26, pp. 355-359.
 An article in ‘Proletars’ka Pravda’ on the 12th January 1929 entitled ‘Gravediggers from VUFKU’ by Mykola Yatko (1903-1968) who was a screenwriter and journalist, and had worked for VUFKU in Kyiv and the Odesa Film Studio. His article was sharply critical of VUFKU’s distribution policy that he thought favoured ‘box office hits’ at the expense of real works of art. He cites the poor advertising of the current screening of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ in Kyiv as an example. Looking at the paltry announcements for the film in the newspapers he had a point.
‘…Преса кричить про «Арсенал», а прокатники тільки всього виставили в 1-му кіні скромну дошку з світлинами «Арсеналу», а праворуч од неї пишний плакат «Мулен-Ружд» з голими ніжками танцюристок. «Людину з кіно-апаратом» без жодної об’яви (принаймні в Київі), без жодного плакату пускають без підготовки в другорядному кіні…Наша й московська преса присвятила докладні статті «Людині з кіно-апаратом», громадський перегляд одностайно привітав ВУФКУ з новим досягненням, вирішено було всіляко сприяти й популяризувати в масах «Людину з кіно-апаратом», а прокат просто всупереч логіці просто свідомо закопує кращий радянський фільм…’
‘…The press is shouting about “Arsenal”, but the distributors only put up a modest board with photos of “Arsenal” in the First Cinema1, but to the right of it is a magnificent poster of “Moulin Rouge” with the bare legs of dancers. “Man with a Movie Camera” is allowed to go ahead without any advertisement (at least in Kyiv), without any poster, and without any preparation in a second-rank cinema…Our and the Moscow press devoted detailed articles to “Man with a Movie Camera”, the public review2 unanimously congratulated VUFKU on the new achievement, and it was decided to promote and popularise “Man with the Movie Camera” among the masses, but the exhibitors, contrary to logic, simply deliberately buried the best Soviet film…’
1Goskino No. 1
2Julian Graffy suggests this could also mean ‘public reception’. Perhaps this is referring to another pre-release December screening at the VUFKU studios to which the public were invited, or the same one that Mykola Ushakov attended? The Dovzhenko Centre has no information about this.
 Mykhailo Kalnytsky suggests that ‘N.U.’ is the renowned Kyiv poet and cultural figure Mykola Mykolayovich Ushakov (1899-1973) who sometimes used these initials (for the Russian version of his name, Nikolai Ushakov). Professor Yuri Tsivian has read the review and says that it is clearly by Ushakov as it is similar in style to his book ‘Tri Operaturi’ (‘Three Cinematographers’, 1930).
Fair Use claimed for any copyright material as it is copied solely for research purposes and commentary only, without financial gain. Attribution and links given where known. Contemporary Soviet photographs are generally in the public domain.
I have added links to other websites and information to enhance the value of this post and although I have taken reasonable steps to ensure that they are reputable, I am unable to accept responsibility for any viruses and malware arising from these links.
The screenshots are from a version of the film posted on YouTube by a Ukrainian source AVG which is no longer available. The screenshot times [hr:min:sec] are from the Lobster Films/Eye Institute 2014 restoration of the film.
Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and Berliner Film-Zeitung newspaper announcements and reviews extracted from the ZEFYS digital archive of the Berlin State Library.
‘Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties’, edited by Yuri Tsivian with translations by Julian Graffy and research by Aleksandr Deriabin, published by Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2004.
‘The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum’, ed. Thomas Tode & Barbara Wurm, SYNEMA, 2006. There is online access to the collection, which includes many more newspaper articles and announcements.
I would like to thank the following for their invaluable help and information, and patience in answering many questions. Inclusion does not imply endorsement of anything in this blog post. Any errors and omissions are entirely mine.
I am indebted to my collaborator in Kyiv, the renowned historian of the city, Mykhailo Kalnytsky, for finding the Kyiv and Kharkiv announcements, the first review of the film, and the Mykola Yatko article. The photograph of the Goskino No. 2 Cinema is also from Mr Kalnytsky.
Professor Julian Graffy, for his invaluable comments, corrections, and information, and for his contributions also acknowledged in the text.
Anna Onufriienko, Senior Curator and Research Scholar at the Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre in Kyiv, for providing the extracts from the VUFKU minutes, the Ukrainian poster, and other vital information.
VUFKU minutes from ‘Minutes of the VUFKU Board (1922-1930)’, compiled by Roman Roslyak, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Rylsky Institute of Art Studies, Folklore & Ethnology, Kyiv. Lyra-K Publishing House, 2017.
Alyna Fedorovich, Chief Curator, Museum of Moscow, for information on the Hermitage Theatre.
Konstantin Dubin, Head of Department, Kharkiv Historical Museum, for information and photographs of the K. Liebnecht Cinema in the city.
Ukrainian and Russian translations, not otherwise credited, by Tatiana Kovaleva.
‘We leave the film studio for life, for that whirlpool of colliding visible phenomena, where everything is real, where people, tramways, motorcycles, and trains meet and part, where each bus follows its route, where cars scurry about their business, where smiles, tears, deaths, and taxes do not obey the director’s megaphone…’
Dziga Vertov, diary entry 20th March 1927
Vertov’s words anticipate his 1929 experimental masterpiece ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ [Человек с кино аппаратом, Chelovek s kino apparatom (R), Людина з кіноапаратом, Lyudyna z kinoaparatom (U)] which, along with Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’, must be the most influential of all Soviet films. Acclaimed by many reviewers on its release, and popular with Soviet cinemagoers, the film fell out of favour along with its director in the 1930s and was neglected for decades. It is now a staple of film studies courses and academic papers, and it was voted one of the ten best films in cinematic history by BFI ‘Sight & Sound’ readers, and the best documentary ever made.
However, it was not meant to be a documentary in the conventional terms of a 1920s ‘City Symphony’, such as Paul Strand’s on New York (‘Manhatta’, 1921), or Walter Ruttmann’s on Berlin (‘Berlin: Symphony of a Great City’, 1927). On the face of it the film portrays a cameraman’s journey around an unnamed Soviet city recording its life during one day. However, the pioneering special effects and rapid montage sequences, the extensive use of Lev Kuleshov’s theory of ‘Creative Geography’ (where different locations are edited together to portray a single place), the idea of showing the process of film-making, the beautiful cinematography, and the joyful humanity that is portrayed, lift it beyond mere documentary to the level of great art. Watching ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ is still a thrilling experience over 90 years after it was made, whereas other ‘City Symphonies’ of this period look very much of their time.
This blog post assumes a knowledge of the film, and for those readers who are unfamiliar with this masterpiece a previous blog post‘Man with a Movie Camera: the movie cameras‘ has an extensive bibliography. Professor John MacKay of Yale University, Vertov’s biographer, has written an invaluable Introduction to the film, available to read on Academia. I can also recommend one of the most perceptive reviews of the film by the renowned US critic Roger Ebert. Unfortunately there is no longer a good quality version of the film on YouTube.
A large part of ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was shot during 1928 in Moscow, Kyiv, and Odesa. Vertov had been hired by VUFKU (the All-Ukrainian Photo-Cinema Directorate, in Kyiv) in 1927 after being sacked from Sovkino, the Russian equivalent, for being over budget on his film ‘A Sixth Part of the World’ (1926), and for refusing to present a script for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (which he had no intention of writing). His first commission from VUFKU in 1927 was ‘The Eleventh Year’, a short propaganda film about the development of the electricity industry as part of the young Soviet Union’s drive to develop the backward country (ahead of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan which began in 1928). It was clear that Dziga Vertov was already planning ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ as several of the sequences for the latter were shot at the same time as those for ‘The Eleventh Year’ (with a Debrie Parvo Model K 35mm hand-cranked camera, not the later Model L used on MwaMC – see my blog post on the cameras in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’). Professor MacKay has also seen notes to suggest footage for MwaMC was filmed at the same time as ‘One Sixth of the World’, but it seems that none of this footage was included in the later film.
As with his previous films, Dziga Vertov worked with his wife Elizaveta Svilova as editor, and his brother Mikhail Kaufman as cinematographer*, calling themselves in Soviet style ‘The Council of Three’. For obvious reasons Kaufman, as the eponymous ‘Man with the Movie Camera’, was being filmed by others, whose superb work is seldom credited, not least on the original film titles! Professor MacKay notes in his Academia paper (footnote #22) that the other cameramen whose footage was used on MwaMC (including that taken during ‘The Eleventh Year’) were: Boris Tseitlin, Konstantin Kuliaev, and Georgii Nikolaevich Khimchenko. In Dziga Vertov’s diary entry of June 22nd 1927 written in Zaporozh’e during the filming of ‘The Eleventh Year’, he mentions two other members of the crew ‘Kagarlitsky’ and ‘Barantsevich’, presumably one or both behind the camera shooting Mikhail Kaufman in the mine sequences.
*Mikhail Kaufman’s creative contribution to this and earlier films is increasingly recognised (eg the excellent essays about him in the Dovzhenko Centre’s recent book, ‘Ukrainian Dilogy’ 2018).
I decided to research and write this post as there seems to be a good deal of confusion in many published commentaries on the film about where it was shot. As ‘Creative Geography’ is a key part of the ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ I thought it would be both useful and enjoyable to establish exactly where the different scenes were filmed, the location’s appearance at the time, and the present. Many of the locations were already well known and much of the rest has been tracked down; the few elusive ones are included in the hope that a reader of the post familiar with the three cities may recognise them. By following the screenshots in the order they appear in the film you get a real sense of the extraordinary creative and editing process that links so many diverse locations and periods into one vision of a city throughout a single day. Also clearly evident is a fine appreciation of architecture and the urban (and industrial) landscape.
The locations and schedule for both films have been published in academic papers (JSTOR & Academia) by Professor MacKay, gleaned from Vertov’s notes in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI) summarised (by me) as follows:
‘The Eleventh Year’ (1927)
Moscow to the Volkhov dam (near Leningrad) in June 1927; then to the Ukrainian sites of Kharkiv at the end of June and beginning of July, the Kamenskoe (Kamianske) Iron Foundry (on the Dnieper River) in July and August and the Donbas industrial region in August. There was a visit to the under construction Dnieper Hydroelectric Station during September, and then to Kyiv for the tenth anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution. The film crew also went to Odesa and the Romanian border but the exact dates of these visits are not known.
 Vertov’s notes seem to be incorrect as his diary entry of June 22nd 1927 describes ‘completing our filming of the Dzerzhinsky plant’ (the iron foundry in Kamianske). The diary entry was written at Zaporozh’e (Zaporizhia) the city where the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station is located where, presumably, the film crew was staying during filming there, so the September date for this looks wrong as well. He also writes about filming underground in a mine so the August date for the Donbas also looks incorrect as there are no mines in Kamianske or Zaporizhia.
 The mines, coke ovens, and steelworks of Rutchenkovo and Lidievka around the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. The city, originally named Hughesovka after the Welsh businessman who started the Russian steel industry, was known as Stalin at the time of the film.
 The sequence showing this in the film appears to be in Sovetskaya (now Tverskaya) Square, Moscow (the obelisk Monument to the Soviet Constitution in that square is clearly visible).
There seems to be uncertainty around the locations, dates, and members of the film crew for ‘The Eleventh Year’ which would merit further investigation!
‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1928)
The new footage for ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ was shot from early June to the middle of September 1928: Moscow in June, Odesa in June and July, Kyiv in July and August, Kharkiv* in August, and another visit to Kyiv at the end of August to mid September.
*Only one scene in the film (the aircraft hangar [00:13:26]) has been located in Kharkiv (unless one of the few unverified locations was shot there). Mr Dubin, of the Kharkiv Historical Museum, has viewed the film carefully and cannot see any other locations in the city.
I have queries about some of these dates as the clothing worn in the relevant sequences does not seem to tie in with the time of year stated. For example the filming in Moscow took place in June, a warm summer month in the city, but people in the scenes are often wearing coats [00:20:16]. Filming in Kyiv was apparently done in the summer and early autumn as well but the audience in the cinema is wearing winter clothes [00:03:42] [00:04:01]. As Vertov was based in Kyiv this footage could have been taken later. A short article in the Kyiv monthly journal Kino No. 11, November 1928, mentions that ‘filming is almost finished’, long after the dates in the notes.
Location map (see end of blog post for detailed maps of cities). Illustration to ‘The Riddle of Russia’ by Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, published in the Daily Telegraph on 31 January 1929 (courtesy of Warwick University). My annotations in red.
ODESA: Prymorskyi Boulevard, Port, Station and Pryvokzal’na Square, Pushkins’ka street, *Tram Depot, *Rosa Luxemburg Street & Fire Station, *Sports Ground, Arcadia Beach, Kuyal’nik Resort.
With the exception of those with a star these were all well known locations, repeated multiple times throughout the film, which would have been familiar to a late 1920s Soviet audience. This makes the extensive use of ‘Creative Geography’ to give the impression of a single city even more significant than it would be to a modern international audience with no knowledge of these places. In Moscow much has changed since the film was made, but most of the locations in Kyiv and Odesa are still recognisable. The scenes in Moscow are particularly poignant, showing a largely unspoilt and beautiful city centre just before the widespread destruction of the 1930s from Stalin’s megalomaniac ‘General Plan for the Reconstruction of Moscow’ (the first major church to be demolished was St Paraskeva on Okhotny Ryad in June 1928 which must have been only a few days after it was filmed).
LOCATIONS WITH LIMITED APPEARANCES (from ‘The Eleventh Year’ filming, 1927).
Similar industrial scenes and the Volkhov Dam also feature in ‘A Sixth Part of the World’ (1926). Chimneys and steelworks are also seen in Mikhail Kaufman’s film ‘Moscow’ (1927).
DONBAS: Rutchenkovo and Lidievka (coal mine, coal yard and gantry, [chimney and blast furnace exterior?]).
KAMIANSKE: Dzerzhinsky steelworks on the Dnieper River.
VOLKHOV (Leningrad): Hydroelectric Power Plant dam (Волховская ГEС). Similar shots of the dam are also seen in ‘A Sixth Part of the World’ (1926).
Other locations with single appearances noted throughout the post (eg Kharkiv).
There are inconsistencies with translated place names in Russian and Ukrainian, and I have sometimes used the anglicised version (Theatre Square etc). Many are gleaned from Google Earth. I have generally used the Ukrainian spelling of place names in that country. There is also some inconsistency with the names familiar today and those used in 1928, as many streets and squares were re-named several times. I will try to amend errors as the post is updated.
I would like to thank the following for their invaluable help and information, and patience in responding to many questions. Inclusion does not imply endorsement of anything in this blog post. Any errors and omissions are entirely mine.
I am indebted to Mykhailo Kalnytsky, my collaborator and renowned historian of Kyiv, for sharing his extraordinary knowledge of the city (and elsewhere) which has added so much of interest and value to the post. Mr Kalnytsky has a fascinating online journal on Kyiv, its architecture and inhabitants. He instigated the naming of a street in the city ‘Dziga Vertov Lane’ as a member of a City Hall commission.
I would also like to mention Dr Romodin (Moscow), and Mr Volokin (Odesa), leading historians of their respective cities, whose detailed knowledge of them solved many puzzles. Yevgeny Volokin has a comprehensive website on Odesa, full of historic information and old photographs. He has also co-authored several albums of historic photographs of the city.
Dziga Vertov’s diary entries of March 20th 1927 (quotation at the top of the post) and of June 22nd 1927 are from ‘Kino-Eye, the writings of Dziga Vertov’, ed. Annette Michelson, Pluto Press, 1984, p. 168.
Google Earth and Google Maps screenshots: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.
Contemporary Soviet photographs are generally in the public domain (Russia has a 70 year copyright limit).
Fair Use claimed for any copyright material as it is copied for solely research purposes and commentary only, without financial gain. Attribution and links given where known.
And very grateful thanks to Wikipedia, Google Earth, Google Images, Google Translate, and the Typeit website’s invaluable Russian and Ukrainian keyboards!
I have added many links to other websites and information to enhance the value of this post and although I have taken reasonable steps to ensure that they are reputable, I am unable to accept responsibility for any viruses and malware arising from these links.
Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments, criticisms, and corrections. I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with information on the scenes that can’t be located or verified.
Richard Bossons, Oxford, June 2020
The screenshots are from a version posted on YouTube by a Ukrainian source AVG which is now unavailable. The approximate time of each screenshot is shown as [hr:min:sec] and they have been taken from the 2014 Eye Film Institute/Lobster Films restoration. The high definition restoration of the film has been a revelation for researchers as you can now pick out details never seen before, essential for the work involved in establishing the locations. There is a fascinating Academia paper by Mark-Paul Meyer from the Eye Film Institute about how its restoration work on the film was carried out.
I have been through every shot and many frames of the film to pick out a location of some sort, however brief, and I am fairly confident that most have been covered. Each one verified has either had clear architectural evidence pointing to the exact street or square for example, or has been confirmed by those I have consulted above. The ones I cannot verify or find are noted as such. Most of the minor ones without any clues will never be found. However, I am happy to be corrected as this is the first attempt to establish all of the locations used in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ which I hope will be useful and add to the enjoyment of watching this wonderful film.