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Note: This month’s Blindspot entry arrives one week ahead of schedule to accommodate this site’s coverage of the Hot Docs film festival next week. While some links have already been added below, more will be added through the next seven days as we draw closer to the final Tuesday of the month, when this series usually posts. Please check in through the coming days as the list of links grows. – RM

A little over ten years ago, a girl I was dating asked me if I was interested in documentary film. Still being at the stage where one wants to seem smart, in-tune, and cultured, I said that I was (“Are you kidding baby – I love documentary!”). At the time, I think I’d seen five nonfiction films in my life – none in a theatre. In a neat little twist of fate, that girl was on to something because the documentaries I went to see with her in the hopes of scoring points turned out to be pretty darned good. Truth was more interesting than fiction. The left an impression on me that lasted to this day, spurring a love-affair with the medium that is now going into its second decade.

The girl? I married her.

Today, for the first instance in almost thirty blindspot selections, I’ve chosen a film that doesn’t have a traditional “plot”. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA instead a series of experiments and vignettes are brought together to form a multifaceted look at one composite day in Soviet life in the late 1920’s. The camera is placed in every conceivable spot high and low to capture life, humanity, society, industry, and the way we interact with all of it. Some of what we see is specific to the 1920’s, some of what we see could easily be happening the moment that you read this.

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As a photographer, one of the things I was deeply drawn to as this film played out was the way director Dziga Vertov seems to continually ask himself “Where else can I put my camera?”. It reminded me of an exercise I was given in my photo studies where we had to shoot an environment from all plausible vantage points and angles, including dangling our camera over a ledge and using a timer. The idea was to see how the world looked from other points-of-view, and understand how that affected our image. Obviously, these are ideas that Vertov knew well, since he spends much of this film’s svelte sixty-eight minute runtime with his camera everywhere from the tops of buildings to level with the rails of a train track. What we’re shown is our own world – but from eyelines we seldom experience.

I’m likewise in love with the way the film uses editing to make its point and tell its tale – something that needs to be credited to Elizaveta Svilova. That same pretty girl I mentioned in my introduction always says that editing is storytelling, and her point has seldom been better proven than it is in MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. On their own, well-composed shots of labouring engineers and billowing factory smoke stacks might just be “nice”. When intercut back and forth though, we begin to feel something. We get an inkling of cause and effect. We sense just how hard those engineers have to toil to make that much smoke plume from the chimney. Feelings of pride, or injustice, or determination are formed and a story is told…just by cutting back and forth between two sequences of film.

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When you bring that well-shot footage and that clever editing together, what unfurls is a film that feels every bit as poignant today as it did in 1929, with clear influences on films like SAMSARA and KOYAANISQATSI. Documentaries that need very little in the way of spoken narrative, inter-titles, or text to convey feeling, emotion, or philosophy. They need only linger on a particular image, or stitch several together ‘just so’ to make us in the audience think. The result is both wildly manipulative and deeply honest. After all, there is very little being shown in this film that wasn’t actually happening. And yet, what is shown in the shot before or the shot after can alter our reaction to the image (as can the music played underneath it).

In that way, the film serves to underline that assignment I was once given. What I’m being shown is often quite ordinary – beer being poured, trolleys passing by, clocks ticking. However, because I’m looking at them from a different point-of-view, it’s prompting a very different set of emotions in me than they usually would. They make me feel more anxious, more jovial, less static. It all comes together to become less a series of captured moments, and more one complete effort that captured a moment of life itself.

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The film ends with perhaps my favorite visual metaphor in film history – the image you see above of the director’s eye superimposed on to the open camera lens. To be fair, it might be a little bit on the nose, but at the time – and to this day – it remains such a poignant icon of what it means to be a photographer, filmmaker, and documentarian. It’s long been said that anyone can be taught how to use a camera, but one cannot be taught “how to see”. Few movies exemplify that like MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. Between understanding the elegance in everyday tasks, and trying to explore new ways to capture it, Vertov “saw” in ways that few people of his time did.

Where some saw people typing, putting on make-up, or folding papers, Vertov saw beauty, vibrance, intricacy, and life. He looked upon so many of life’s most ordinary moments, but saw them in a way that turned them into something extraordinary…and the film remains extraordinary to this day.

Blind Spots

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for April so far…

Nikhat watched JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG

Beatrice watched PAN’S LABYRINTH

Josh watched SOLARIS (1972)

Katy watched BEFORE SUNRISE

Fisti watched SHADOW OF A DOUBT

Andina watched CITY LIGHTS

Caitlin watched THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Jay Cluitt watched HIS GIRL FRIDAY

Mette Kowalski watched LEON THE PROFESSIONAL

Chris watched all fifteen hours of THE HISTORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY

Dani Eide watched THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Dan Heaton watched THE KING OF COMEDY

Brittani Burnham watched VERTIGO

Mariah watched FAHRENHEIT 451

Will Kouf watched DRAGON INN

Steven Flores watched STOP MAKING SENSE

Sean Kelly watched LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS

Cristian watched FANTASIA

Shantanu watched AMERICAN GRAFFITI