Tuesday, January 3, 2012

'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929) in Manchester, N.H.

One reason to show Dziga Vertov's experimental avant-garde film 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929) is all the incredible posters that were done to promote it. They're from that wonderful period of artistic inventiveness in the then-brand new Soviet Union—chiefly the 1920s, before Stalin took control of things and commandeered the creative arts to serve his own purposes. We're showing 'Man With a Movie Camera' on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library (free admission!), and get a load of some of these eye-popping designs from the original release:

The movie itself is a real trip — a blueprint for the much later film 'Koyaanisqatsi' (1983), although filmed in Odessa and in black-and-white. I had known about 'Man With a Movie Camera' for years but had not had a chance to sit down and watch it until just recently, in preparation for the screening we're doing on Tuesday, Jan. 3. (Yikes! That's tonight!)

A lot has been written about this innovative film. My own take is that it's a great example of a silent film that has become more interesting as time passes, as what Vertov captured receds further and further into the past. Seeing the film today allows us to contemplate not only what Vertov put on the screen, but also how much has changed, and (more importantly) how much hasn't.

I think it can be very rewarding—and grounding and comforting, too—to see how people lived some time ago, before the age of automobiles and gadgets and distractions that we now live in. And I think the rhythms and images that Vertov captured and assembled are perfect for this kind of contemplation.

And I hope the music that I do enchances this experience. I plan to break out my best faux Philip Glass, with the goal of using repetition to create that kind of hypnotic effect that I think works so well with Vertov's idea of cinema needing a new visual language. Just as a sculpture celebrates, say, the human form captured in a moment for us all to appreciate, Vertov's film captures "modern" life in a way that allows us to step back and ponder our own life and how we fit into the crazy quilt that he weaves on screen. And music, ideally, enhances that process, providing I don't screw it up.

And, as I said before, the passage of time has added another layer of richness to this contemplation. How much of what is depicted in Odessa nearly nine decades ago is similar to our own experience today? What perspective can we gain on our own sense of life as it rushes by, day after day, seemingly faster and faster?

Come to think of it, that makes 'Man With A Movie Camera' a great film to show as we pass from one year into yet another. Check your watch, turn the calendar, and sit back and think about the part you've been playing in the symphony of life—and what kind of music will be in the next movement.

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