(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#31) Man with a Movie Camera
Documentary • dir. Dziga Vertov • 1929 • Soviet Union
At any given point in time are you itching to settle in front of a silent Russian film from the late 1920s? No, me neither. The couple of times in my life when I have been, however, were handsomely repaid by Man with a Movie Camera. It’s a doozy. And what do you know? In a great many ways it’s more resoundingly new than the standard-issue Hollywood fare of today. When Vertov made Man with a Movie Camera, so much of filmmaking was still up for grabs – the question of what to actually do with a movie camera practically a call to arms. Vertov was fearless, restless, and eager. Mount it on the back of a speeding car! Balance it precariously atop buildings and bridges! Better yet, chop up the film that races through it to disassemble the world as it really is and put it back together again any which way. So far as the possibilities of film are endless, surely no other single film has done more to push against its edges.
Nor do I spend an awful lot of my time reading Pulitzer Prize winning, Russian history books. But I did once read one – Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick (subsequently the editor of The New Yorker). The Russia that emerges from its pages is truly captivating. Vast, majestic, strange, brilliant, tragic, and resilient: it’s the land of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, the Bolsheviks, the Gulag, the K.G.B… And, for three terrifying decades, the satanic tyranny of Joseph Stalin. Famine, purges, and the wilds of Siberia. Russia and its history seems to only get bigger the more you learn about it. Man with a Movie Camera is similarly intriguing – a precious (also fast and furious) peek into a fascinating world.