When I saw Koyaanisqatsi, I thought it was the most original and artistic movie I’d ever seen. It took my completely by surprise that a film with no plot and no narrative could be so captivating and helped me appreciate cinema as an art form in and of itself apart from story telling. Who knew it was all cribbed? Turns out Russian director Dziga Vertov had done it all before way back in 1929 with Man with a Movie Camera. Shot in the Ukrainian cities of Odessa, Kharkiv, and Kiev, Dziga presents a sometimes voyeuristic, sometimes narcissistic, and always fascinating vision of a man who understood cinema as the art of seeing and being seen. Film is moving images, and Dziga focuses primarily on movement. However, like Koyaanisqatsi, Baraka and other films that came after it, Man with a Movie Camera goes beyond merely presenting a slice of life by emphasizing patterns and contrasts and repeating motifs. The motion of window blinds is compared with a woman’s blinking eyes. Images of laborers ankle deep in muck are contrasted with vanity rituals carried out in the local beauty shop. According to the film’s IMDB entry, Vertov was “worried that the film would be either destroyed or ignored by the public eye,” and “requested a warning to be printed in Soviet central Communist newspaper, Pravda, which spoke directly of the film’s experimental . . . nature.” Yeah, I’ll bet. Much like Koyaanisqatsi, people are either going to love this film or hate it, either be swept up in and carried away by the visual poetry of it all, or dismiss it simply as gimmicky. Over the years I’ve tried to turn multiple people on to Koyaanisquatsi, from my wife, to family members, to friends, and even one of my college professors. All without success. Oh well, here we go again. It’s only 68 minutes long. Where’s Wanda anyway?
P.S.- I know one group who’s bound to enjoy this. Surely this film is essential viewing for film school students as it’s basically a primer on camera angles and film technique.
P.P.S.- The version I watched was scored by Michael Nyman. Yeah, not so much. I love the soundtrack to The Piano, but the relationship here between sound and image simply isn’t symbiotic as it needs to be. It falls a bit flat. Where’s Phillip Glass when you need him? An irony of these non-narrative photography films is that they are incredibly dependent on the soundtrack.