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Machine Art
Page 1Page 2Page 3    by Nicole Armour -- page 2 of 3

The kino-eye from Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera.

Dziga Vertov was a filmmaker whose call to arms was Truth. He believed that the filmmaker had an obligation to record "...real material, not romance, processed constructively for a specific function." [Lynton, 110] Inspired by the easily read signs of constructivism, he wanted to create an international film language. He thought that the perfection of the camera, the new eye, was without limit and believed in the ability of the machine to re-shape the world. For Vertov, viewing a film was as much about the camera lens and the projector as it was the moving pictures on the screen. He wanted movie-going audiences to collaborate in his films and be seduced by the future that machines promised. In his 1922 manifesto We, he wrote,

We discover the souls of the machine, we are in love with the worker at his bench, we are in love with the farmer on his tractor, the engineer on his locomotive. We bring creative joy into every mechanical activity. We make peace between man and the machine. We educate the new man. [Lynton, 110]

His 1929 film Man With a Movie Camera is a perfect example of this mediated reality. As the sun rises, the camera captures trams rolling along tracks and films people moving through the waking city’s streets as machines capably and rhythmically carve out a place for themselves in the running of the state.

As dawn lights up the city, a woman wakes on a park bench
and a worker inspects machinery in
Man With a Movie Camera.

Vertov created a reality that was different from the perceptible world because it was dependent upon the very materials which recorded it. In Man With a Movie Camera, he shows himself in the cutting-room, constructing his film, and records his brother, the cameraman, filming the shot that has just been shown. He even shoots his own movie as it’s being projected in a theater, so we can see the screen itself and, at times, the audience watching it. In one shot, we see a group of workers approaching the foreground and moving around something on the ground. In the next shot, we see the actual man with the movie camera and realize that this is the object the workers are trying to avoid. Just four years before Busby Berkeley’s bubbly broads burst onto 42nd Street, Vertov’s film Man With a Movie Camera showed audiences how people could learn to love the machine in the name of the body politic.

Dziga Vertov's camera shows us the
editor at work, as well as the raw film stock
and the final image

Meanwhile, in America, New York City was the darling metropolis. It was urbane and desperate at the same time and artists wanted to tap into the contradictory energy that was catapulting New York’s cityscape into the clouds. One only had to look up to be reminded that the shape of multi-storied buildings was synonymous with advancement. Though America hadn’t participated in Paris’ 1925 Exposition, European immigrants traveled to New York in steamships with the secrets of Art Deco safely stored in their trunks. The angles and lines of the new style were custom-made for the height and presence of New York’s skyscrapers and the buildings quickly became emblems of expectation.

The stock market Crash of 1929 put a damper on the frivolity of the twenties and society had assumed a more somber tone. To match this climate, the decorative arts became more purposeful and styles grew as hardened as the poor folk who were forced to shed the bearable burden of prosperity. Fashions became severe in order to promote an exterior of rigidity and economy. The city was inundated with clean lines, rounded corners and muted colors. This style was called "streamlining" and as the thirties progressed, few objects or buildings would escape designers’ hands without being streamlined.

...streamlining was a form of symbolic packaging, a visual metaphor of aspiration and progress. It suggested a people who were not content to remain static in the doldrums, but were determined to ride forward, as fast as possible, into a shining future. Perhaps society, too, could be engineered into something smooth and frictionless. [Hillier, p.105-107]

American art had developed a social conscience like that of the Soviet state, but in the hands of movie musical monarch Busby Berkeley, it would express itself with a very different vigor.

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