Russian director Dziga Vertov is best known for 1929’s Man with a Movie Camera, a masterwork that documents a day in Moscow and Odessa without the use of narration, intertitles or any form of cinematic artifice.
Kino Eye (Kinoglaz), which Vertov made in 1924, is an earlier demonstration of the theories of cinema that came to fruition in Man with a Movie Camera. The documentary is about the day-to-day lives of Russian workers, and records activities such as baking bread. Vertov introduced then-unusual techniques such as backwards sequences, and experimented with camera angles that still look fascinating today.
Kino Eye was also the name of the cinema movement that Vertov, who filmed revolutionary newsreels, formed in the early 1920s.
The main idea behind Kino Eye was that the “eye” of the camera – which Vertov refers to as a machine – saw life more accurately than the subjective eye of a human. So films should be shot objectively. Editing could then bring about new relationships between the shots to achieve kino-pravda, or cinematic truth.
Consequently, Vertov described Kino Eye – the film – as “the world’s first attempt to create a film object without the participation of actors, directors and artists; without using a studio, sets, costumes. All members of the cast continue to do what they usually do in life.”
The movie depicts the Russian proletariat at work and play. A long backwards sequence of a slaughtered pig coming back to life and returning to the train which transported it is surprisingly effective, while inventive camera angles, including a camera placed low down on a track in front of an oncoming locomotive, foreshadow the innovations of Man With a Movie Camera.
Vertov made the film in part as a reaction to the Hollywood films that were being shown in Communist Russia after a relaxation of censorship. He objected to Hollywood’s artificial depiction of life, and said that the subject matter of Kino Eye would be more relevant to Russian audiences. Like all Russian filmmakers at the time, Vertov grounded the content, and even the filmmaking techniques, in Marxist theory.
“The present film represents an assault on our reality by the cameras, and prepares the theme of creative labour against a background of class contradictions and everyday life,” Vertov wrote. “In disclosing the origins of objects and of bread, the camera makes it possible for every worker to acquire, through evidence, the conviction that he, the worker, creates all these things himself, and consequently they belong to him.”
Kino Eye will be screened on October 1 and 7 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, in Wan Chai, as part of the Cine Fan programme.