Student # 10260974
December 3, 2001
The Impact of Dziga Vertov on Film
” The main and essential thing is : the sensory exploration of the world through film. We therefore take as a point of departure the use of the camera as a keno-eye, more perfect than the human eye, for the exploration of the chaos of visual phenomena that fills space.”
– Dziga Vertov , Manifesto The Council of Three (1923)
The innovative theories and filmmaking techniques of Dziga Vertov revolutionized the way films are made today. Man With a Movie Camera (1929), a documentary that represented the peak of the Soviet avant-garde film movement in the twenties, displayed techniques in montage, creative camera angles, rich imagery, but most importantly allowed him to express his theories of his writings of Kino-eye (the camera).
The film has a very simple plot that describes an average day in Russia, yet the final pieces of this film emerge a complex and fast-paced production that excites the audience. Vertov’s ability to use radical editing techniques with unconventional filming to present ordinary things has inspired many directors around the world. And still now modern avant-garde movies apply many of these same techniques to dramatize simple and complex stories.
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Vertov was one of the greatest innovators of Soviet cinema in the post WWI era. During this time, the freedom to make films was limited due to low stock of supply. Vertov and his colleagues had to be very creative and innovative if they were going produce anything at all. ‘The Kuleshov Workshop’, a workshop class at the Moscow Film School led by Lev Kuleshov included famous Soviet filmmakers like Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, but excluded Vertov. This is significant to the fact that Vertov was very different than any other Russian director. Unlike the other Russian filmmakers, Vertov usually captured people with a candid-camera that allowed him to portray the truth, for example in his series called Kino-Pravada 1922-1925.
“Not ‘filming life unawares’ for the sake of the ‘unawares’, but in order to show people without masks, without makeup, to catch them through the eye of the camera in a moment when they are not acting…” (41 Vertov)
His original ways of thinking, isolated him from all other filmmakers. Even his style of using “montage” (editing style commonly used by Soviet directors) in Man with a Movie Camera was very different. In this film, hours of footage are edited together in many cuts, which is the style that Vertov is well known for. His cuts are very rapid and he displays them accordingly to music to add excitement to the sequence. The sequences act on all three levels of montage: narrative, intellectual, and emotional. For example in the beginning of Man with a Movie Camera, there is a sequence in a theatre where the cameraman sets up the film for the audience to watch (appendix 1).
The lights come on, the seats go down, the cameraman sets up the projector, the audience enters, the lights dim, the orchestra awaits and then the manifest begins. The narration comes from the editor throughout the whole film. The cameraman cannot possibly be the narrator since he is randomly out of frame and it is a silent film.
“From the very beginning… the centrality of the cameraman’s vision is put into question, since he moves out of frame in the third shot of the film. In other words, the cameraman cannot be equated with a central character, or even the central narrating intelligence of a narrative film, since visual perspective is not localized in a single figure, but dispersed through multiple perspectives.” (162).
... were many wipes and fast cuts in the film until the end where it was a slow camera movement of the mountain with ... it.This is one example of the many fast camera movements in the film. However, Soderbergh manages to keep this pace up ... suspense. Soderbergh, who was also the film's director of cinematography, made sure that the camera angles and lightings of all his ...
From this point, the film is bombarded with sequence after sequence of 9 daily ordinary events that occur from morning to night in an orchestral movement manner. Bombarded are the cuts because of the abundant amount of imagery and plenty of assorted camera angles. There are a large variety of metaphorical cuts that search an intellectual response of the audience. For example, when the woman wakes up from bed at the very beginning, a clip of window shutters, a camera lens opening and closing, are juxtaposed in a sequence of her blinking (appendix 2).
This sequence is a metaphor connecting the lens of a movie camera as “an extension of human vision”. As the rapid-fire cuts increase with the music, tempo and rhythm, an emotional response is experienced, and this thesis (metaphor) of the film is emphasized.
Other examples of this same technique are thoroughly presented in each other of the nine events. Amongst this array of symbolism, there exists other editing techniques that makes the film even more powerful at certain times. About twenty-one minutes into the film, Voltov’s wife Elizaveta Svilova appears at the beginning of a movement at the editing table, with a pair of scissors. She is in the midst of cuts between her and a series of freeze-frame stills, beginning with a horse pulling a carriage and ending with close-up faces of people (appendix 3).
At this point, the importance of the editor is achieved, and as more editing techniques or “visual treats” (Mast, 187) are displayed to the audience, we realize that the editor is the other central figure in the plot. Formal cuts, an example of another editing technique, emphasize the importance of the circles or circular motion in machines, such as those of sewing machines, train and car wheels, and the movie camera itself. This demonstrates the machine as a major figure in film now as well.
Accompanied with tonal, rhythm tic, and directional cuts, the filming comes from all different types of angles which grasps the audience’s intellectual response. From the very start, the cameraman is picked up in a car that is viewed traveling across the frame from a very high angle overhead (appendix 4).
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Then he is taken to the railway where the music heightens as he lies on the railway tracks to get a very dangerous shot of the train approaching. The peak of this sequence becomes loud with music and extremely fast with cuts from all angles of the train (appendix 5).
A very powerful editing technique is used here to emphasize the importance of the cameraman in the scene. By adding blackness to the frames, giving the video a strobe lighting effect, the viewer becomes attentive to what is visual (not black).
Slow motion, split screens, dissolves, and the use of prismatic lenses are some other “visual treats” that make the audience appreciative of the film. Closer to the end of the film, there is even a stop-motion animation of the movie camera setting it-self up. The audience is brought into this sequence so that the film reminds us that this is a show for the audience. The camera has a job to entertain us, and Vertov who has always been very fascinated with the movie camera’s tricks, wants the audience to realize all the little tricks it is capable of doing. These tricks are more than just entertainment, but these editing techniques serve as the camera’s superiority to the human eye. Vertov explains this idea in his writings of Kino-Glaz (Kino-eye or Cinema eye).
“Starting today we are liberating the camera and making it work in the opposite direction – away from copying. The weakness of the human eye is manifest. We affirm the kino-eye, discovering within the chaos of movement the result of the kino-eye’s own movement; we affirm the kino-eye with its own dimensions of time and space, growing in strength and potential to the point of self-affirmation.” (7)
The relationship between man and the camera is one the main focuses of this documentary, which was a very rare focus in the times of a harsh state of communist propaganda. Man with a Movie Camera takes a break from the all the other Soviet films that only focused on unity between people, communism, and praising Stalin and mother Russia. The film has an excellent message describing the relationship between the worker and the machine.
We discover the souls of the machine, we are in love with the worker at his bench, we are in love with the farmer on his tractor, the engineer on his locomotive. We bring creative joy into every mechanical activity. We make peace between man and the machine. We educate the new man. [Lynton, 110]
... three runs throughout the film. A distinctively visual image relating to the theme time is when the screen shows three camera shots of Lola ... is a theme that is clearly portrayed in this film. The editing of this film highlights the major role that this theme plays ... suspense for the audience. It is through the techniques of editing and shots and angles that the theme of chance is ...
Vertov uses this message to explain his job and his relationship to his camera. Declaring the lens of his camera as an extension of human vision, he searches for an “absolute language of cinema.”
“He moves outside of Hollywood storytelling, and closer to an absolute language of cinema that he seeks.” (Denkin 7)
Run Lola Run
The language that Voltov discovered has inspired the works of many filmmakers from all over the world. The film Run Lola Run (1999) by Tom Tykwer, is probably one of the most innovative films of today’s Hollywood style movie, which many similar filming and editing techniques originated in Voltov’s Man with a Movie Camera. Tykwer uses a number of different ways to film Lola as she runs to save her no good boyfriend from certain death. From an artistic point of view, the editing deserves most of the credit for all of the intensity that is felt by the viewer. Run Lola Run has a very complex story, which is very interesting on its own. However by using the avant-garde techniques of filming and editing developed and mastered by Vertov, the movie becomes alive and fast-paced keeping the audience in suspence at all times.
In Run Lola Run, Lola has twenty minutes to find 100,000 marks if she is to save the life of Manni, her boyfriend who lost the money which was picked up by a homeless person on the subway. Manni has until 12 o’clock noon to get the money, or his boss, a drug dealer, will kill him. Lola runs into the streets of Berlin attempting to find the money one way or another.
From the opening frames of the movie, several “visual treats” set the tone of the film. There is a clock sound with animation of a huge clock at warp speed. With the aid of accelerated speed of the frames, dissolves, thousands of people are passing into and out frame. Within these thousands of people, certain characters, which are later introduced into the story, are focused on for a split second. This foreshadowing technique, hints who some of the characters are, in the film. It sets a high tempo where figures collide, quickly in and out of frame to the narration of a God-like voice that asks us questions about questions of man and where we come from. He gives us an answer, but it is probably the last answer we would expect: soccer.
... movie that life is like a game. Tykwer conveys this concept in the film through the themes of love, time and chance. Run Lola run ... is different to ordinary films, it is not something you would go see in ... John: Run Lola Run directed by Tom Tykwer, is an intense, fast paced action film with implications about fate, love, chance, time, choice, and ...
After the credits are displayed through an animated cartoon of Lola running, the real story begins and Tykwer establishes a smooth flowing arrangement of editing techniques that replicate those used by Vertov. Because there is panic felt right off the start as the phone rings, a techno drum thumps a heartbeat while the conversation on the phone is cut into rapid-fire editing from medium to close-up shots to Lola and Manni’s expressions and dialogue. The quick cuts are very attractive, as the camera at times doesn’t even move an inch, but with so many of them, there is a quick tempo that escalates on the dramatic parts of the conversation. These quick cuts are very similar to the rapid-fire editing between the juxtaposing clips of the woman blinking, the window shutters, and the camera lens opening in Man with a Movie Camera.
Throughout Run Lola Run, Tykwer’s use of creative tricks of the camerawork and editing, give the story drama and comedy in 3 trials of Lola attempting to save her boyfriend. The repetition of Lola running through the streets of Berlin is original and anything but boring, as cameras flow with her running to her father to get Manni the money. Quick cuts, high and low angle shots, split-screens, fast and slow motion, animation, still frames, and symbolic music are amongst all the camera tricks Tykwer uses in the footsteps of Vertov.
Several parts of Run Lola Run also use the effect of still-frame flashforwards to tell little stories within the main story. Like in Man with a Movie Camera, still frames were used to emphasize characters. However, Tykwer goes beyond the use of the stills to emphasize character. He used them to tell little stories about certain people Lola bumps into on her path to get the money. If Lola interacted with certain characters amongst her path, the camera would focus on that person and a series of flashforwards would snap ten different shots looking into their future. Each flashforward episode consists of a series of almost subliminal stills; each appears on screen for approximately one third of a second only. The flashforwards depict drastically different and quite extreme outcomes for each person, creating a humorous effect for the audience. It is as if Lola, in imagining/performing a series of three contrasting futures for herself, also creates different possible futures for other people. This editing technique is powerful in that the viewer is allowed to know how even the slightest split second difference in Lola’s action, changes the very lives of the people she encounters. This in turn foreshadows a different result of her quest to find Manni 100 000 marks every trial.
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Vertov’s unconventional ways of filming different camera angles with the use of machines and vehicles, is apparent in the film Run Lola Run. The different angles of shots, including helicopter and crane shots, reflect the myriad of perspectives possible at any one time. Particularly striking are the shots featuring Lola and Manni, in which the frame is split into two, three and sometimes even four sections. Lola and Manni’s points of view are revealed simultaneously and the performance of identity by different individuals is intertwined. Tykwer uses the split-screen effect to add suspense when noon approaches and Lola hasn’t arrived to Manni’s aid. The split-screen replaces the purpose of the cross-cut effect and displays both person’s point of view. She is running and he is deciding whether he should rob the store or not, so the suspense is increased when it is clear that she is very close to him.
In Man with a Movie Camera, the split screen was also used to heighten the emotions of the audience. In the opening frame of the film, we see the cameraman setting up his camera on top of a camera (appendix 6), giving the audience the suspense of what he is preparing to shoot and with the effect of an interesting and different image. This suspense is not as extreme as the effect of the split screen in Run Lola Run, nor does it provide a similar narrative function, however, this editing technique serves as a purpose in building montage in both films.
Run Lola Run and Man with a Movie Camera are two very similar avant-garde films of their time specializing in editing, however the two films are completely different in plot. Man with a Movie Camera is a documentary and Run Lola Run is a suspenseful drama. There are no actors, dialogue, intertitles, scenario, or sets in Man with a Movie Camera. Vertov designed the film as an experiment with “the aims at creating a truly international absolute language”. Run Lola Run, on the other hand, uses actors, scripts, sets, dialogue etc. to tell a story with the idea of one controlling one’s own fate. This in turn, demonstrates how Vertov has had an impact on films of all types. Tykwer may not have been an admirer of the works of Vertov and he might not have even seen Man with a Movie Camera, but his style of shooting with innovative camera angles and unconventional editing techniques, demonstrates the existence of Vertov’s styles and ideology. If the fact that Tykwer didn’t study the works of Vertov, this would boost the reputation of Vertov’s impact on the film industry, as many other filmmakers have produced films with the same innovative techniques.
“I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it. Now and forever, I free myself from human immobility, I am in constant motion, I draw near, then away from objects, I crawl under, I climb on to them. I move apace with the muzzle of a galloping horse, I plunge full speed into a crowd, I outstrip running soldiers, I fall on my back, I ascend with an aeroplane, I plunge and soar together with plunging and soaring bodies. Now I, a camera, fling myself along their resultant, maneuvering in the chaos of movement, recording movement, starting with movements composed of the most complex combinations. Free of the limits of time and space, I put together any given points in the universe, no matter where I’ve recorded them. My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the world. I decipher in a way a world unknown to you.” (17)
Vertov originates a timeless ideology about the possibilities of the movie camera, and these ideas pertain to the filmmakers of an endless era. Tykwer is one to have brought to life these ideas on a new level in Run Lola Run, which glorifies the camera’s results with movement in every frame. Run Lola Run feeds the kino-eye with collision, contrast, and conflicting scenes, which make the film a huge success in giving the audience a new type of story with suspense, comedy and drama.
Appendix 1 – Preparation of the manifest
Appendix 2 – Metaphor of the Camera as a n extension of the human eye
Appendix 3 – The use of still frames
Appendix 4 – Conflicting motion colliding across the frame
Appendix 5 – The train and the uses of rapid cutting
The Split Screen of the Man and his Movie Camera
Bordwell, David (1972a) Dziga Vertov: An Introduction. In: Film Comment 8,1, pp. 38-45
Denkin, H., “Linguistic Models in Early Soviet Cinema.” Cinema Journal XVII / 1, Fall 77; p.1-Lynton, Norbert, The Story of Modern Art, Oxford: Phaidon Press Limited, 1980
Mast, Gerald, Kawin Bruce F., A Short History Of The Movies. Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
Vertov, Dziga, Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov / edited with an introduction by Annette
Michelson; translated by Kevin O’Brien. Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, c1984.