Film analysis: Man With A Movie Camera (1929) and The Birth of A Nation (1915)

I noticed that Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, in his 1929 movie called Man with a Movie Camera (MWAMC), borrowed several concepts from D.W. Griffith. First, the use of close-ups. Vertov would shoot establishing shots of the place or of his subjects, then sometimes, he shifts closer to the subject by doing a medium/extreme close-up. Both of them employed cutaways.

vertov camera

In relation to that, Vertov used an editing technique that compresses time, space and information so as to convey a quicker progression of the story  rather showing scenes one by one. I suppose this is the equivalent of today’s montage technique.

In  MWAMC, Vertov did this when he showed how a woman starts her day: waking up in bed,  getting up, and washing her face. In The Birth of A Nation (TBOAN), Griffith showed this when a man and a woman, supposedly on a date, are seen talking outside the house, cut to seeing them strolling by the lake then to the “Love Valley”.

camera 2

Another editing technique used is cross-cutting. It is used to established action occurring at the same time and usually in the same place. In TBOAN, it’s seen when the man inside a room is having a meeting with another man, while at the same time, the woman in the other room was “daydreaming” of her ideal life. We confirm our assumption that this was simultaneously happening when the man from the other room goes out of his room and enters her room where he sees her daydreaming. In MWAMC, this is evident when we see people riding a carriage, then we see a horse running and pulling the carriage, and then we see the camera man filming them.

Another is the concept of superimposition. In TBOAN, Griffith made use of superimposition. Towards the ending, a warrior is seen atop a steed on the upper frame while on the left part, we see a group of people and to their right, we see a huge pile of dead bodies. All these give a new meaning to the picture. As a whole, this is a personification of war. In Vertov’s film, we see a woman dancing while a medium shot of a hand playing the piano is superimposed on it. This means, perhaps, that a woman is dancing to the musician’s piece as he/she is playing the piano.

This only means that with editing, we can gather meaning from the order and manner by which the images are conveyed.

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