Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dziga Vertov's 'Man With a Movie Camera' to screen on Wednesday, 9/30 in Plymouth, N.H.

A poster for the Russian film 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), which I'll accompany on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Had a lot of fun today accompanying Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) to an audience of about 40 people at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As a sign of how strange things are right now in the movie exhibition business: this summer, silent films with live music have been the top box office attraction at the Town Hall Theatre.

Today's audience included several families with children. In welcoming everyone, I announced the presence of the youngsters by urging all adults to behave themselves so as to make a good impression on the kids. 

The two Keaton pictures were both about the movies, and so is the next one: 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), Russian avant garde director Dziga Vertov's extraordinary documentary about daily life as captured on film. 

I say "extraordinary" because unlike a narrative film that tells a story, 'Man With a Movie Camera' instead plays like a piece of music: fast, slow, and then fast, and so on. It's like a visual symphony. 

Lots more info in the press release, which I'm pasting in below. Hope to see you next week at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth!

P.S. Want to drive your spellcheck function crazy? Try typing in this film title: Koyaanisqatsi

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The eyes have it: an image from 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Man With A Movie Camera' with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Feature-length silent documentary about Russian city life regarded as world's first extended music video

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It has no story, but it tells everyone's story. It's a silent film, but it's the world's first music video. It has no actors because the star is you, the audience.

It's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of city life via a dizzying collage of images and kinetic cinematography that's left audiences breathless for nearly a century.

'Man With A Movie Camera' will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Vertov's experimental documentary caused a sensation when it was released at the end of the 1920s, when motion pictures were still a new artistic medium.

Even with no story and no actors, 'Man With A Movie Camera' was filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

Although no official score was composed for the silent feature, director Vertov specified the type of music that he wanted played wherever the film was screened. Rapsis will create music that follows those guidelines.

"Vertov wanted a kind of kinetic, energetic music to be played with the film, rather than unobtrusive background music," Rapsis said. "The goal is to create music that acts as an equal partner in conveying a kind of exhilaration that I think Vertov was going for."

Filmed mostly in the bustling city of Odessa in the late 1920s, the film features a wide range of slice-of-life scenes showing everything from streetcars to sports contests. Vertov took his camera everywhere, from a birth hospital to a divorce court.

Most spectacularly, Vertov experimented with filming ordinary scenes (such as a crowded public square) at a very slow frame rate. When run at a normal speed, the result was a speeded-up view of reality that few had ever seen or studied before.

Vertov's wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, was an equal partner in creating 'Man With A Movie Camera,' editing the film. She also appears in the film, editing it as we're watching it.

Editor Yelizaveta Svilov, wife of director Dziga Vertov, is seen editing the film in 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929).

"It's a film filled with self-referential puzzles and meta moments," Rapsis said. "It also plays like a piece of visual music, with fast sequences followed by slow ones and moods that often change."

"Although 'Man With A Movie Camera' has some dark scenes, ultimately it's a celebration — of life in what was then the fast-changing Soviet Union, but also in a way that speaks to life regardless of time or place," Rapsis said.

"That's what I'll try to capture in the musical score, which will be performed live and largely improvised," Rapsis said.

At the reopened Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity will be limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

"Films from the silent era were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," Rapsis said.

'Man With A Movie Camera' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.: The original 'Nosferatu' (1922). Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is the best ever done, and has become creepier with the passage of time.

• Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Broken Blossoms' (1919). Can two outcasts in Edwardian London find peace and happiness in a cruel world? Will Lillian Gish overcome her abusive father? Can Richard Barthelmess find love in a forbidden relationship? Great D.W. Griffith drama, with stellar performance from iconic silent actress Gish.

• Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy. In 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, with hilarious results. Preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train.

‘Man With A Movie Camera’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

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