Unboxing the Silents: Dziga Vertov – The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Restored Works

Welcome to another unboxing post! Today, we are going to be taking a close look at Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray release of Dziga Vertov’s intriguing cinematic contributions.

As you may know, Flicker Alley is sponsoring the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon in celebration of this release, as well as their new 3-D Rarities collection. (And they’re giving away a prize! Details found in the link above.) If you want the skinny on the 3-D release, Aurora of Once Upon a Screen attended the premier and has all sorts of great things to say. My other co-hostess, Ruth of Silver Screenings, is going to follow up with her review of the collection as viewed on her spiffy 3D TV.

Packaging: Single disc in a standard Blu-ray case. No trouble at all removing the disc (hard-to-remove discs are a personal pet peeve). The disc comes with a 24-page booklet discussing films and filmmaker.

Menu: You are given a choice of French or English. Otherwise, pick your film and have at it!

What’s included?

Dziga Vertov was a pioneering director whose bold editing and clever montages continue to influence filmmakers all around the world. Here’s what we get on the Blu-ray:

A restored version of The Man with the Movie Camera

Kino-Pravda Newsreel 21, a montage dedicated to Lenin

Kino-Eye, an optimistic look at village life under Soviet rule

Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass, in which Vertov enters the world of sound cinema

Three Songs of Lenin, Vertov’s propaganda exercise

The Look: Gorgeous! The Man with the Movie Camera is probably the star attraction for most viewers and it does not disappoint. The primary source print belonged to Vertov himself and was directly printed from the original negative. Missing snippets of footage have been restored and the film has a sparkling new transfer and an intensive 2014 clean-up. I can say with confidence that The Man with the Movie Camera has never looked better. (By the way, feel free to call it Man with Movie Camera, Man with a Movie Camera or any other variation. Russian has no definite or indefinite articles so go with your article preference, you wacky English speakers!)

A man on a camera, the man on the camera, man on camera... All the same thing!
A man on a camera, the man on the camera, man on camera… All the same thing! (image via Flicker Alley)

The other films in the collection show the ravages of age and censorship to varying degrees. Three Songs of Lenin seems to have been the hardest hit. As in the case of Battleship Potemkin, subsequent years brought along new rounds of cuts to suit the political mood. However, it’s still an important part of the portrait of Vertov’s artistry and I am happy it was included. (For the record, I am always in favor of the inclusion of fragments and censored films. They are a poignant reminder of how few early films survive completely intact.)

Film buffs still suffer from the censorship of previous generations.
Film buffs still suffer from the censorship of previous generations. (image via Flicker Alley)

But back to happier thoughts! We have one film that looks amazing and four others that look pretty darn good considering what they have been through. I’d call that a victory.

Since Vertov was all about putting the motion into motion pictures, it’s really best to see his work in action. Here’s a preview:

See? Nice!

Music: Scores can make or break the silent film experience and I am happy to report that the sounds of this Blu-ray match the images in quality. Three of the films are silent and the scores are a delight. Robert Israel provided the music for Kino-Eye and Kino-Pravda. Both scores have the sort of infectious enthusiasm that Soviet distributors would have doubtlessly wanted for these morale-building films.

The Man with the Movie Camera is accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra’s popular 1996 score. It’s based on Vertov’s notes and has the right combination of retro and modern. Good stuff.

Vertov used newsreel footage to tell all-new stories. (image via Flicker Alley)
Vertov used newsreel footage to tell all-new stories.
(image via Flicker Alley)

Obviously, the sound films have all the expected issues of the early talkies, which were compounded by shortages and government meddling. (Comrade Stalin, please stop telling sound engineers what equipment they can use. You don’t know what you’re talking about.) Taking these difficulties into account, the soundtracks work just fine.

Verdict: This disc gets a strong recommendation from me. Worth it for the eye-popping restoration of The Man with the Movie Camera alone, the other four films are the icing on this already delicious cake. Vertov’s work has never looked better and has rarely sounded better. This is a must-have for film buffs and even casual viewers will find much to thrill them.

Availability: Released on Blu-ray by Flicker Alley. The disc is region A, B and C so viewers outside the U.S. and Canada can also enjoy this release.

4 Replies to “Unboxing the Silents: Dziga Vertov – The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Restored Works”

    1. No, I just dabble in the grammar a bit and I can read the alphabet. I love to know the whys and hows of accents and how languages differ from one another. I love Russian but the only language I am seriously studying in Korean.

  1. This sounds excellent! (The) Man with (a) Movie Camera is one of my absolute favorites—an astonishing masterpiece. (And thanks for clearing up the question about the title—that explains why I’d see it various ways and never could figure out what was correct.) I’m glad it has the Alloy Orchestra score that fits this film so well. The other items sound most interesting as well. Thank you for the informative review!

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