1 May 2008

Man with the Movie Camera by Vertov

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 3:44 pm

Man with the Movie Camera: A record in celluloid on 6 reels. (An excerpt from the diary of a cameraman.) This film presents an experiment in the cinematic communication of visible events. Without the aid of intertitles. (A film without intertitles.) Without the aid of a scenario. (A film without a scenario.) Without the aid of theater. (A film without sets, actors, etc.) This experimental work aims at creating a truly international absolute language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theater and literature. [From the opening titles]

Jonathan Beller begins The Cinematic Mode of Production (2006) with an analysis of this 1929 Soviet silent film, in which filmmaker Dziga Vertov captures glimpses of daily life in all its diversity. It’s actually quite entertaining, what with the variety of cinematic techniques and tricks Vertov deploys. He’ll present in rapid sequence a variety of vehicles and machines in operation, then he’ll show the people actually running the machines, then he lets us watch the gears and pulleys and armatures in motion inside the machines. Or we’ll be watching three women riding in a car, then we see (via a second camera) the cameraman riding alongside in another car filming the women, then the lens of the camera, then the women watching the cameraman filming them. Vertov is intent on showing his audience both how stuff works and how filmmaking works. Films don’t just appear on the screen before you: someone has to operate the camera, cut and splice film, assemble the montages, run the thing through a projector. In one sequence Vertov shows a series of still shots, then a still of a piece of film that includes the prior still along with the series of images preceding and following it, then the scene containing the still in continuous cinematic action, the way we’re used to seeing it.

By breaking down the flow of life into discrete actions of people interacting with machines, Vertov shows how the mystifying intricacies of economic activity are assembled piece by piece by actual workers. By also breaking down the flow of film into discrete screen shots and their assembly executed by people working these devices, Vertov draws parallels between filmmaking and the work of industrial production. Says Beller:

for [Vertov] and for other Soviet filmmakers of his time, the consciousness characteristic of montage is the consciousness endemic to modernity’s assemblage process, from the assembly line to constructivism. Through the rationalization, routinization, and standardization of certain aspects of industrial production, montage achieves new orders of particularity and expressivity in the visual. Montage as fragmentation and montage as the connecting of fragments are at once the condition of modern life and the condition for the production of meaning in modern life. In short, all objects, from trains to concepts, are combined and combining: the rationalization of combinatory processes joins function and expression in a manner realized as cinema… Cinema is seen as an extension and indeed as a completion of the general logic of socio-industrial production. The cinematicity of production in general is realized as cinema and it is cinema that confers self-awareness upon a humanity embroiled in and scaled by industrialization.

Here’s a short clip from the movie:

The whole film can be seen in 9 YouTube segments, starting HERE. A reminder if you want to watch it without straining your eyeballs: click the little box in the lower right corner of the YouTube screen to get a full-screen image.



  1. An alternate score for this film by electronic artist John Davis and me from a live performance at Lincoln Center is available by request. Write to farmhouse41 at comcast dot com


    Comment by Donald Sosin — 1 May 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  2. Thanks for the information, Donald — I’ll check into it. That’s an unusual specialty you’ve accomplished by composing and performing for silent films.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2008 @ 10:20 pm

  3. The excerpt on the post reminds me of Videodrome (or vice versa, to get the historical sequence right). The audience members are captivated by the performance of the camera, which seems to operate itself even though the spectacle has been painstakingly assembled frame by frame by intentional human effort. And the camera is looking back at the audience, captivating them in its gaze, incorporating them into the show. Because it turns out that the show isn’t being staged for the benefit of the audience, but the audience has been assembled for the sake of those invisible people who staged the show.

    This is where Beller goes in his analysis (though I’ve not read this part of Beller’s book yet): capitalism is all about projecting images that capture the gaze of the consumer, whose cumulative attention accrues as market value to the image and the product represented in the image. So what looks like market-driven customer-satisfaction-oriented product is actually a carefully engineered scheme to subject consumers to market surveillance and to draw them in by the power of the gaze.

    Beller applies Lacanian theory here, though I found the dense prose tough sledding and probably worth another reading. We desire the desire of the other: this becomes the basis for consumer obsession with the image that looks back at you, desiring your attention. The gaze of the image, its desire for the customer, thus becomes le petit objet a for the customer. You desire Madonna because she’s got her eye on you when she does her performance, and she sees you watching her.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 6:10 am

  4. Clysmatics, would it be presumptuous to ask to discuss this book verse by verse as we did Lacan? I always wanted to but never found the time. It’s a very good and important book.

    Madanna’s new CD is very good, due to its collaboration with hip-hop artists: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK49XzBKcKk


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 6:52 pm

  5. We could give it a try. I find that it’s very densely written — either that or I’m a dense reader. So far I’ve read Chapters 1 and 3, and it’s taken me about 6 months to make myself get that far. I’ll email you.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 7:42 pm

  6. no why by mail, if it’s public than other readeries can contribute…


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  7. (who knows maybe we accomplish the feat of the century and manage to lure the Cobra into these waters…she loves that book)


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  8. I’ll think about it, but it sounds like a lot of work to write actual posts about it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 8:09 pm

  9. No don’t write posts, just a quotation of the passage we want to discuss, which could be the most prominent one in each chapter, maybe if there’s an online version of the book you don’t even have to type that.


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  10. You desire Madonna because she’s got her eye on you when she does her performance, and she sees you watching her.

    Indeed when you cast an even casual glance on any modern video clip, there is a fixation on the gaze – the eyes are trying to hypnotize you. This is because you establish identification with the eyes of a person, in real life too. But this theory of the screen as a projection… seems to be challenged by the new development where the screen is the portal (as discussed ref Inland Empire). What does Beller say about that? I read the book very quickly in the time of the Cobra discussions, and I don’t know if I picked up everything.


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  11. Hmmm…


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 8:37 pm

  12. (That last comment is about the book review series.)

    Beller says he wrote the first drafts of this book in the 90s as his doctoral thesis. Shaviro thinks it’s obsolete I think because of interactive media and the simultaneous multiplicity of images.

    The Parody Center is I think an excellent example of an interactive version of the gaze, of desiring the desire of the other, which isn’t news to you I’m sure given your avatar.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  13. Shaviro thinks it’s obsolete I think because of interactive media and the simultaneous multiplicity of images.

    I think he’s right in the following sense: when a production is interactive, the user establishes identification with the screen not via character (or eye contact for that matter) but because the screen puts him in the role of the actor in a manner of speaking. I also think (I wrote about this to Sherbert) that the modern camera movements which are so fast they almost follow the tempo of the saccadic movement accomplish a physical synergy with the viewer whereby his eyeballs are literally played like the joystick. But Beller is obsolete only technically, because all these methods are still ways of manipulating rather than setting free.


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  14. My avatar is indeed a reference to videodrome, while the horny mouth stands for sarcastic parody as well as titillation. It’s a brilliant avatar, unparalleled in the blawgosphere, especially when it appears in between the other avatars on dr. Sinthome’s blawg, interrupting the boredom with subversive glee. I really amaze myself with my incredible wit.


    Comment by parodycenter — 2 May 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  15. I’ll have to think about the interactivity, but certainly Lacan’s understanding of the gaze and desire and the imaginary assumes an interactive social world, so I don’t know why the ideas wouldn’t persist in an interactive virtual world. Besides, most of the interactivity related to consumer goods isn’t visual. I’m not sure how the attention economy plays out in interactive text or voice, which is the main interactive media. TV and movies still work the same way as they did in the 90s.

    Regarding rapid camera movements and jump cuts and such, Vertov uses this a lot too. I think it tends to mystify rather than to unveil, even in Vertov’s purported mission of exposing the inner workings of the social apparatus. It’s overwhelming, hypnotic, creating a kind of hyperkinetic aura around the ordinary objects being flashed before your eyes. This I think would further enhance the image vis-a-vis the symbolic and the real. In Scanner Darkly Philip Dick has characters who wear suits that flash multiple self images for this very purpose — to mystify the other so they can’t quite say what you look like.

    The Videodromic nature of the Parody Center is such that the parodic content consists almost entirely of the parodists’ gaze turned on its audience, but the gaze is double-bind, approach-avoidant, schizoid, and thus schizogenic. Of course this is always rude of me to carry on like this, so I’ll stop. I must go to sleep now, inasmuch as I’ve exhausted myself by hay fever symptoms today.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  16. All this reminds me of Lauren Mulvey’s feminist misreadings of Lacan for her essay on Rear Window.

    (just found this: http://cinetext.philo.at/magazine/wylie/masculine_gaze.pdf)


    Comment by seyfried — 3 May 2008 @ 9:30 am

  17. You desire Madonna because she’s got her eye on you when she does her performance, and she sees you watching her.

    Maybe that’s why I don’t desire her. She’s so ordinary all plumped into this Big Star thing with barely average talents to begin with. She doesn’t see ME doing a fucking thing, that’s why I was able to turn off Dejan’s link to her awful new song after it was clearly no different from a Rite-Aid floor-plan and layout. At least you can get antiseptic soap there.


    Comment by jonquille de camembert — 3 May 2008 @ 10:18 am

  18. The Parody Center is I think an excellent example of an interactive version of the gaze, of desiring the desire of the other, which isn’t news to you I’m sure given your avatar.

    Yes, Dejan, for example, desires my desire, but his behaviour has improved since he has learned he cannot get it. I have been very good for him as he recovers from his virtual persona. He thinks I will at some point which pestering him about this, but I have no intention of not finishing up the treatment, and refusing outlandishly laborious assignments. As it is, he is too weak to block idiots like that Lloyd Mintern.


    Comment by jonquille de camembert — 3 May 2008 @ 10:20 am

  19. “Maybe that’s why I don’t desire her.”

    Would you say, Jonquille, that you prefer the narcissistic hauteur of Gilberte and Albertine making their way along the Balbec promenade?

    They had, for whatever did not form part of their group, no affectation of contempt; their genuine contempt was sufficient… the mutual response which they gave one another with eyes animated by self-sufficiency and the spirit of comradeship, which where kindled at every moment now the interest now the insolent indifference with which each of them sparkled according as her glance fell on one of her friends or on passing strangers… If we thought that the eyes of a girl like that were merely two glittering sequins of mica, we should not be athirst to know her and to unite her life to ours. But we feel that what shines in those reflecting discs is not due solely to their material composition; that it is, unknown to us, the dark shadows of the ideas that the creature is conceiving, relative to the people and places that she knows — the turf of racecourses, the sand of cycling tracks over which, pedalling on past fields and woods, she would have drawn me after her, that little peri, more seductive to me than she of the Persian paradise — the shadows, too, of the home to which she will presently return, of the plans that she is forming or that others have formed for her; and above all that it is she, with her desires, her sympathies, her revulsions, her obscure and incessant will. I knew that I should never possess this young cyclist if I did not possess also what there was in her eyes.

    Or perhaps the studied elegance of Gilberte’s mother Odine?

    And I learned that these canons according to which she dressed, it was for her own satisfaction that she obeyed them, as though yielding to a Superior Wisdom of which she herself was High Priestess: for if it should happen that, feeling too warm, she threw open or even took off altogether and gave me to carry the jacket which she had intended to keep button up, I would discover in the blouse beneath it a thousand details of execution which had had every chance of remaining unperceived, like those parts of an orchestral score to which the composer had devoted infinite labor albeit they may never reach the ears of the public: or in the sleeves of the jacket that lay folded across my arm I would see, I would drink in slowly, for my own pleasure of from affection for its wearer, some exquisite detail, a deliciously tinted strip, a lining of mauve satinette which, ordinarily concealed from every eye, was yet just as deliciously fashioned as the outer parts, like those gothic carvings on a cathedral, hidden on the inside of a balustrade eighty feet from the ground, as perfect as are the bas-reliefs over the main porch, yet never seen by any living man until, happening to pass that way upon his travels, an artist obtains leave to climb up there among them, to stroll in the open air, sweeping the whole town with a comprehensive gaze, between the soaring towers.

    “She doesn’t see ME doing a fucking thing”

    That’s why/because she’s looking at Dejan.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2008 @ 2:01 pm

  20. Oh, John, those were wonderful to reread after 8 years–hadn’t remembered Proust going overboard quite as with ‘more seductive than she of the Persian paradise’, which sounds almost like a serious version of Ronald Firbank. No, I think I’ve exhausted that particular desire to worship someone chic at all costs–which is less what Dejan is doing with Madonna (at least I imagine) than what Proust is doing with Albertine at Balbec. The two girls are like modern-day High New England WASP types, tawny at Cape Cod and reeking of Old-Boy-Network-Daughter Privilege. He does a form of it with almost all these major female characters throughout the novel, and that’s Odette, by the way, he’s talking about. She is the object of ‘Swann in Love’, which made a fairly good film with Jeremy Irons and Ornella Muti. Overrated is ‘Le Temps Retrouve’, with Deneuve, Malkovich, a host of others from 2000. Ms. Muti was common-high-floozy enough for Odette, whereas Deneuve simply made little impression as the aging Odette. Yet in this passage you read the things that are what Proust is for, and why you are never left quite as alone in the desert of ‘no-frills Delta flights’, etc.: “those gothic carvings on a cathedral, hidden on the inside of a balustrade eighty feet from the ground, as perfect as are the bas-reliefs over the main porch, yet never seen by any living man”

    You read enough of those (and there are thousands throughout the novel; he even knows the exoticism of hidden greenswards in the middle of big cities, totally unexpected, especially in New York or Paris, less so in London where there are lots of mews and parks everywhere) and you then figure out a way to always get back to more of them, and figure out ways to look at everything anew with those new eyes (Proust’s own problems and illnesses may have made him fall in love with ‘inaccessible eyes’ a bit more than I’m capable–I like to GET it, he likes to be denied and left in a state of hypnotic wonder. Oh well, I know the feeling, but have cast it aside as less than the satisfaction of getting a full delivery).

    Many people have read just ‘Swann’s Way’, and been introduced to Combray and the waiting for the mother’s kisses, and then Swann agonizing about what Odette is doing when he’s not watching her (and she IS doing just those things he imagines, the bitch) in the second part of ‘Swann’s Way’, ‘Swann in Love’.

    You don’t really get a full introduction to Paris high society until ‘The Guermantes Way’, where you find Oriane and her high-style salon. IN ‘In a Budding Grove’, the second part, you have Balbec and the creamy breakers and the reveries of De Loup’s monocle and his ‘always beautiful clothes’, but I still find it interesting that the really urban ‘ancien regime’ is not developed until the third volume. Although Oriane is briefly glimpsed at church in Combray, which is the first time he ever sees her: When I first read that passage, including the business of the ‘carnal flush’ (that may not be quite the quote) of the hips that the doctor made outside the church that same Sunday, that it was exactly like Hollywood diva worship. And Proust is definitely very involved with this kind of thing as it existed in his time. But I like the way that he doesn’t really deliver Paris as the fully voluptuous place until the 3rd book, and that is already so far along that there are far more people who know about Combray and Odette’s racy behaviours.


    Comment by jonquille de camembert — 3 May 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  21. In the 4th Book, we are quickly introduced to the amazing famous ass-fucking of Charlus the aristocrat by Jupien, who is seemingly happy to obey the command. This is the whole cross-pollination and ‘finding one’s mate’ (however temporary) long reverie.

    Yes, I’m glad it’s Dejan who has to work his way out of the Madonna-web rather than me, I suppose. But it’s not entirely generational, since she was plenty famous already in the early 80s, and I was never drawn to her, just noticed she wanted to get on every magazine cover.

    But probably, back in the day, yes, I might have found the tawny suntanned girls of Balbec more interesting in their narcissism, but would have been more likely to fall prey to Proust’s Hollywood-diva-worship of the Duchesses de Guermantes, which is like some of the ones you’re already aware of. I suppose this is a definite syndrome of immersing oneself in someone else’s narcissism–until you find your own, and that’s also never recommended by various personnel. I can go back and forth now, so that I’m never in anyone’s thrall for too long in that totally hypnotized way, but I always break it off, preferring my own, since it’s the one that keeps the fewest secrets from the proprietor.


    Comment by jonquille de camembert — 3 May 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  22. Yes, I have to return to this book, get past the beach. Glances and gazes are integral to Proust’s obsessive desires. Madonna is much more direct in returning the gaze of her audience, like the porn queen looking right into the camera lens while she’s performing a blow job.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  23. A friend and classmate in grad school had been a classical dancer in New York. She hurt her leg so she had to quit; now she’s an academic. Anyhow, she was just leaving NY when Madonna arrived there on the modern dance scene. Apparently she was quite good, then she caught the pop star bug. The differences between Madonna’s direct sexual come-on and the varied and intricate subtleties of Proustian seduction is another manifestation of the pop versus high culture distinction.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  24. “I suppose this is a definite syndrome of immersing oneself in someone else’s narcissism–until you find your own,and that’s also never recommended by various personnel. I can go back and forth now, so that I’m never in anyone’s thrall for too long in that totally hypnotized way, but I always break it off, preferring my own, since it’s the one that keeps the fewest secrets from the proprietor.”

    Yes, this is fine, and on display without excess in the narrator of Cine-Musique.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2008 @ 3:22 pm

  25. jonquille, the subject of this post, as far as i can discern, is Jonathan Beller’s book on the cinematic machine, not your hyperinflated Ego, bitch! Why must you steal every bit of jouissance me and my dad, who is far less demanding as a dad than you are, manage to squeeze out of life? And the reason I am keeping Lloyd Comintern at the site is that we need sleazoids like that to clean up the toilet, of course.

    Madanna is interesting precisely for the fact that she built a multibillion dollar enterprise out of NOTHING, an empty porno signifier, and besides I think the new album is playful, innovative, relaxing. If you want we can take this discussion outside, to Michael Musto for example, but I don’t think you have the GUTS.


    Comment by parodycenter — 3 May 2008 @ 3:59 pm

  26. ‘but I don’t think you have the GUTS.’

    should read:

    ‘but I don’t think you have the GUTS!’

    Leaving out the exclamation point, however, goes along with your internetspeak.


    Comment by jonquille de camembert — 3 May 2008 @ 5:24 pm

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