Man with a Movie Camera is a movie I had heard about for a long time and although I’m a huge fan of documentaries, this title never really appealed to me. My expectation of such an old film about daily life in a Russian city simply did not seemed special to me, especially because I have seen so many fantastic documentaries. Yet I have learned over the years that you should give films a chance because they can surprise you. And how glad I am that I did.
As said, the subject is not that special, just images of normal people living in the city in the 1920s. People who go to work, relax, make sure they look good and meet up. All this while you regularly see a man with a camera on his shoulders walking around to film a next piece. Yet this film is so much more, because although there is actually no story or other fixed people besides the cameraman, this is a film that still feels fresh, despite its age.
There is a certain flow in the movie. At the beginning, the city still sleeps, everything is lifeless, big machines stand still and the streets are deserted. Slowly the city awakes and the film itself comes to life. What is striking is how quickly the different shots follow each other. According to Roger Ebert, the average length of a shot is 2.3 seconds. If you know the average length of a shot of Michael Bay is 3.0 and Christopher Nolan is 3.1 seconds , you can imagine why this film still feels fresh. The version that I saw also had a modern up-tempo soundtrack that contributes to this. It is also a documentary about the medium of film itself. You often see how the cameraman makes his shots, for example by hoisting himself above a waterfall or by digging underneath a train track so that he can make his shot. But also the aspect of editing a film is shown, you see “still shots” which then slowly come to life. They are all parts that not only make this title so fascinating, but also still relevant. In other words, a film that has passed the test of time and one which film lover should give a chance.