Man with a Movie Camera is a 1929 silent movie from the Soviet Union, following daily life in Kyiv, Odesa, and Moscow. It’s groundbreaking the same way Prokudin-Gorsky’s full-colour photos from 1911 are. The film is cut almost at a modern pace (which audiences at the time found far too fast) with meta shots of the cameraman filming. The director, Dziga Vertov, used or created a huge number of modern camera tricks – fades, wipes, slow-motion, extreme closeups, split screen, freeze frame, stop motion, and far far more. It’s beautiful and hypnotic, and feels like it should be an art-house film in a gallery – it’s hard to digest just how old this movie is due to its modernity.
Vertov’s artistic career continued until the start of the Stalinist era, when the official establishment of socialist realism as an art form pushed all more novel and creative forms of art. Vertov went from one of the Soviet Union’s most celebrated art directors to an editor of newsreels, but did at least avoid the worst of the purges.
The whole movie (about an hour long) is available freely online. Since it was a silent film, there is no soundtrack, so many later ones have been added. I particularly like this version; it adds to the hypnotic artistry.