Without any exaggeration, the history of such movies as Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and The Man with a Movie Camera is full of twists and innovations, and it is a pleasure to watch both of them. It is even more pleasant that one can keep a finger on the pulse not only on modern movies but those from ages ago. Both films are aimed to demonstrate urban life without any up-to-date or professional tools of moviemaking. The Man with a Movie Camera is not about Berlin but the Soviet Union cities. The purpose of the following analyses is to find out similarities and differences between both films, show how new movie features can impact art, and discuss which urban and industrial features authors showed there.
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Starting from Berlin: Symphony of a Great City movie, the only actor there is Berlin — giant and, in other words, titanium. Symphony is made up of millions of humans, who are framed and reduced with each other, and with all that accompanies moving past in a hurry. One meets his or her own Berlin in the context of the street bustle, rotating machine parts, dancing actress of theater, newsboy, stately burghers, clutter buildings, and semaphores.
It should be stated that the movie about Berlin is one-of-a-kind films aimed to show the urban life as it is. Walter Ruttmann had the goal to present the real life of the big city. Therefore, there is a movie about industrial, working, and active Berlin. During the film, one can see everything from constructors to businessmen, from railways to kids playing in the yard. This movie is one of the most prominent ones when it comes to a demonstration of Berlin’s real life of the late 1980s. Both movies have no story, no actors, and everything one can see is a city itself. As for The Man with a Movie Camera, as it was already mentioned, it is not about Berlin. Its location was Odesa, Kyiv (presently Ukraine), and Moscow (Russia).
Both movies are not in lack of actors or some script — a camera itself is the only tool needed to be at the heart of life along with its breathing, hearing, catching the rhythms of the city and its people. The camera in the hands of a man is not only a means of fixing the life and main participants.
The Social and Historical Context
As for Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, it emerged as a result of a new industrial era. Some people say that it was a kind of protest against the modern life of a big city because even nowadays Berlin is being called one of the most unpopular cities in the context of tourism but one of the best ones for different enterprises. The documentary film describes a day in Berlin, which experienced an industrial boom in the 1920s, and even today there is still an insight into the living and working conditions at the time. Hence, it means that the major aim was to show not just Berlin but to emphasize industrial issues. For that rushing time, Ruttmann used numerous short cuts to make the vitality and bustle of the city. As one of the first symphonic films used Berlin, in the late 1920s, the creators of this movie developed technical ability to cut films precisely and in many small sections and stick them again. In this way, it could be reacted to the possibilities of a varied soundtrack with cinematic meaning and vice versa. The film was released in June 1927 with a total length of 1,466 meters from the censorship and premiered on September 23, 1927, in Berlin. Needless to mention, the industrial issues of the late 1920s were probably the most popular and relevant topics. People wanted to know how to live in a new industrial era and what it will bring to them. Without any doubts, Ruttmann aimed to demonstrate that he did not want to see Berlin as an industrial city. It means that at least in such scales the movie was a protest for such type of life there.
As for The Man with a Movie Camera, it is a classic example of documentary cinema as it should be. No statement, no script — just a city as it is. This is a picture of the operator who, wherever he may be, is in possession of his “eyes.” An eye that captures everything it can see without any evaluation and relationships. The operator takes everything he is interested. He takes a viewer to an unusual and not very comfortable position; for example, talking over phone while passing through the crowds of people, the operator shoots standing on the edge of the machine when it is moving, takes on a high tower and roof, removes sitting in the water, etc. Movie-eye is the lens the work of which is related to the imposition of two frames. The picture also used much installation and operator techniques: single shooting, editing on the move, the combination of images shot in the reflection, chamfered corners, etc. The painting itself has no logic. It simply shows the atmosphere of 1929, the rhythm of life of city people, their lifestyle, and fashion of that time.
Moreover, speaking about the background of this movie, there is no background as this masterpiece is just a complication of small pieces that were presented under different effects starting from all-new slow motion to “playing” with fast speeds. However, there is one issue that has to be mention: this film can be described as a sneak peak. Without any exaggerations, this movie shooting technique was the newest in the late 1920s. Simple life, simple people, simple job, simple daily actions — such plain things have managed to make a revolution in the history of films and art. The Man with a Movie Camera was one of the first genius sneak peaks. Even nowadays people are lead by a feeling to have a look at daily life. Hence, this movie can be compared with YouTube or lifestyle video blogs as a material to follow somebody’s lifestyle, to find out more just about one’s daily actions.
The Elements of Urban Life
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City describes all the aspects of urban life: from motorways to the city to workers, from shops to busy traffic streets. It is never too much to mention that this movie is a very unusual film even without a plot in the conventional sense of the word, over which labored with as many as three writers. This documentary features scenes that could be hardly accidentally removed in reality. This hour-to-hour experiment is as understandable as possible, clear, and normal life without a single word. As if the random patterns of the daily lives in Berlin are arranged in a common history of one day of the life of the metropolis. Since the symphony is made up of a variety of topics, melodies, and repetitive motives, an urban life contains a lot of small accidents, everyday activities, and other things. Speaking of “new materiality,” it has consistently protected their images from the slightest threat to their ideological or cultural interpretation.
The idea of the master chamber of drama, a famous screenwriter Carl Mayer, is as simple as it is spacious for imagination because the artist has carried out with incredible meticulousness. People and machines, objects and animals transform Berlin into a big city. In the frame of the street bustle, there are rotating machine parts, dancing cabaret artiste, newsboy, imposingly burgers, piles of buildings, and semaphores. Mounting thread offers a distinctive, dynamic style of peculiar narration technique of “high” documentary. Such so-called symphony is made up of millions of humans who communicate with each other and with all that accompanies moving past in a hurry, slow motion, or any other effects.
Coming back to The Man with a Movie Camera, this movie also shows some aspects of urban life: from women with sewing machines to sailors working on ships, from railways to running kids. However, this film narrates the daily life of Odesa, Kyiv, Moscow, and it is important to mention that in comparison with the previous one, these cities are not as crowded and busy as Berlin in the late 1920s. In the beginning, Dziga Vertov characterizes his creation, which is called a documentary film. There are only one actor and one operator — Michael Kaufman (Vertov’s brother). It is his eye, and under the guidance of Vertov, Kaufman takes one working day in Moscow, the Soviet Union. Kaufman was a man who was examining the whole life of the populous and diverse city during one business day. There is still a paucity of traffic with cars and horses, factories to the workers, a woman in labor in the hospital, the girl awakened from sleep, and people on the beach.
The film is a journey of eternity, the camera is not just something to fix, it is home to every frame. The device is taken in various places in the city and displays every moment of life and the birth of the funeral, wedding and divorce, leisure and work, and just running from industrial machines and trams, beer from bottles and trucks with coal, people searching for a job and those in search of relaxation. Camera and operator in this film are everything and nothing: they are the object and the subject of shooting and participants of everything.
The Narrative Structures
Starting with the operator’s work of The Man with a Movie Camera, it is life itself. The operator, his eye, cities, people — all these issues make a plot itself. One watches it in so-called unforeseen circumstances: here he is digging in with his hand-held camera to film the bottom railway train. There he inexplicably hangs on the tram and here he takes off standing in the car. In the picture, there is a cinema where life, hunting object Man with a Movie Camera, played out in front of an audience on the screen.
In this movie, there are two main actors: the totality of the city and the people and things — Man with a Movie Camera — impresses this set. On the one hand, the object, on the other, “a movie-eye.” Relations between them determine the content of the picture. They are extremely bizarre: it is not just the operator makes an impression of reality. It is briefly operator and its manipulation. In addition to the monitor, it looks like the world in the frame. It turns out that the world is woven from pure associations. Something similar exists in the Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, but if it is a purely formal association (they sound in his paintings is reduced to a simple coupling element). Then Vertov’s installation fails to put a special meaning in reality fragments connection. Ruttmann gives a simple sequence without trying to explain it and interprets it as Vertov. Besides alternating individual, there are such unconnected elements as the empty garden, the sleeping man’s chest, mannequins in shop windows, and the face on the poster. Nobody has ever succeeded as a masterful display the riddle of the strange hours when life and death are reversed. This movie opens eyes at a surrealist artist, spy on mute conversation faded scattered life with things awake. Vision turns into a vague dream when the day comes, and the poster again becomes the most common banner. In comparison with Berlin: Symphony of a Great City movie, this one shows many aspects of urban life, and it is not an industrial city by all means. Also, The Man with a Movie Camera shows a life of three cities and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City talks about Berlin. Nevertheless, whatever it was, these two films are beautiful, and both surprise her mounting delights. Berlin mounted with civilian, soldiers and cows in sync frames is worth a lot. Despite looking “suggestively,” the film is still apolitical.
Throughout the tape, it was clearly felt the author’s love of the art. This is, of course, not the Leger, which is the basis of image, put “movement mechanism” (and a little less people likening their mechanisms), but still some shots are just saturated with reverence equipment and machinery (7 minutes beginning of the film: the authors prefer trains, rails, and depots). As a result, the picture is rather industrial-symphony, and there is no matter about the city itself. Nonetheless, this symphony is brilliant. While making this analysis, it was also looked through some poems by Stefan George about Berlin as it was a masterpiece about this city in the text, and this movie is a masterpiece for eyes and ears. Here there is a real city felt in every word. Moreover, this was the Berlin and no other as if it was telling about itself. The author has managed to make a brilliant film but not necessarily about Berlin. Paying attention to all small details of a big city, it is easy to see some philosophical issues. Everyone can find its own Berlin in this movie. Again, in comparison with The Man with a Movie Camera, this film is quicker and demonstrates a more industrial life of the big city. Nevertheless, it gives one a unique chance to emerge into busy and industrial daily life and become a silent viewer.
Avant-guard, Documentary, and Modern
According to Nichols’s arguments, Walter Ruttmann — one of the most outstanding documentary — refers to the German film avant-guard. Link to the invention and daring experiment feature many works of this period. In this film, it is archaic, which sometimes felt in the old movies, fun, and modern. Needless to mention that avant-guard was the most captivating stream in the movie production of those times. Both German and Soviet authors have managed to create masterpieces that draw much attention even nowadays. Sneak peeks, documentary, and an avant-garde are probably the best combination of the late 1920s to captivate many eyes and ears to any movie. According to Bill Nichols’s arguments, both works represent a beautiful aesthetics merge as any viewer has much so-called “art-space” to keep an eye on urban life and make its conclusion itself. As it was already mentioned above, the avant-garde and documentary themselves can bring aesthetics merge and show not only beautiful city — even if it busy, daily, and industrial — but to demonstrate something new that a viewer could never expect to find out in this movie. Experiment with the chaos has been taken in The Man with a Movie Camera and obviously shows key categories mounting aesthetics Vertov: the rhythm and range. Vertov primarily rejects traditional art as a closed system of signs, made the move the main assembly principle, its short interval variability is the key moment for Vertov.
In conclusion, The Man with a Movie Camera and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City are two silent masterpieces. Attention needed to be paid to the first cinema’s installation and up-to-date effects of those times. The advent of cinema installation in metaphorical terms can be described as a change in the window function, which is no longer owned the house on the outskirts of the city. The window is transferred to the center of the city, out of it disappearing landscape has given. Every viewer’s sight is blocked surrounding houses and becomes partial. Fragment begins to reveal its autonomy; it resists integration into an aesthetic whole. Using accepted in art history terms, the team of The Man with a Movie Camera rather worked in the decoupage technique, in collage technique.
When it comes to Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, this movie is probably one of the most effective ways to find out about the reality of Berlin in the late 1920s: industrial, developing, busy, noisy or calm, and just full of energy like a wide man. Everyone will see his or her own Berlin in this movie. Both films give enough space and leave many questions unanswered. Also, it is important to mention that both works do not have any sounds but the music on the background only. It is one more complex hint to the perception of this movies — it is pretty hard to keep an eye on a busy, daily life without a sound. It is indeed possible to show a life of a whole city or even three ones even if there are one retro camera and absolutely no sound.