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Video: A New Man With a Movie Camera?

Happy New Year everyone! Those of us who live on the East Coast of the United States were treated to a post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s Eve gift this year: a two-day blizzard that left over a foot and half of snow in Central Park and over two feet of snow in other parts of New York City. During the maelstrom Astoria, Queens resident Jamie Stuart ventured out to create a short film documenting the trials, tribulations, and beauty of the snowstorm. He sent the film to famed film critic Roger Ebert who posted it on his blog along with a breathless review. In the review Ebert opines that it should win the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short subject for its, “wonderful quality,” homage to Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Soviet Montage masterpiece, “Man With a Movie Camera,” and its, “almost unbelievable technical proficiency.” The film (which is embedded below along with Vertov’s original) is indeed a marvel. It’s a great document of the blizzard (especially for those of us who were elsewhere when the storm hit and stranded in its wake) and the technical skill involved is indeed impressive, but is it the Vertov homage that Ebert claims?

I’m not quite as convinced. Although I see the similarities, Vertov’s film was imbued with such a strident political message that it’s difficult to separate filmic image from political meaning. In Vertov’s critical writings one can see just how important politics were for him and his filmmaking process. In his poetic-essay, We: Variant Of a Manifesto, Vertov writes:

In an art of movement we have no reason to devote our particular attention to contemporary man. The machine makes us ashamed of man’s inability to control himself, but what are we to do if elecriticy’s unerring ways are more exciting to us than the disorderly haste of active men and the corrupting inertia of passive ones? Saws dancing at a sawmill convey to us a joy more intimate and intelligible than that on human dance floors.

While I agree with Mr. Ebert that Stuart does an admirable job at creating an homage to Vertov (especially in the piece’s first minute or so), I hesitate to push the analogy much further than that. It documents a specific event in an interesting way, but isn’t as interested in the underlying politics of man in the mechanical age and the mechanization of society that makes “Man With a Movie Camera,” such a sentient film. That being said, Stuart does get some amazing images and makes excellent use of them. But, what do you think? Is Ebert right? Is it Oscar-worthy, or is he just being hyperbolic?

Stuart’s video and Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera,” are after the jump. But first:

Jamie Stuart’s website, The Mutiny Company.

Mr. Ebert’s own take on “Man With a Movie Camera.” Continue reading