MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA: reflections

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 IMAGES IN 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.

CAROUSEL 

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.

KUYAL’NIK BEACH

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].

FullSizeRender(18)

[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

[00:19:52]

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).

[00:14:50]

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).

[00:07:14]

[00:07:26]

[00:20:02]

FLOPPED PHOTOGRAPHS

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!):

FullSizeRender - 3(2)

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).

NOTES

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:

richardbossonsfcsd@gmail.com

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).

The effect of left-right reversal on film: Watching Kurosawa reversed, Marco Bertamini, Carole Bode, Nicola Bruno, Iperception. 2011; 2(6): 528–540. Published online 2011 Sep 15.

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’.

ALL ORIGINAL CONTENT COPYRIGHT ©Richard Bossons 2020

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