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The eye of the mannequin

Author: joe

Tuesday, 02 August, 2011 - 22:41

Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera is, according to the first title frame's final parenthesised subtitle, an "excerpt from a camera operator's diary". It is a re-presentation of the records of the man with his camera, an excavation of an naively created archive - authentic and unspun. The film unfolds reflexively in its very name and subtitle, its title sequence, and its opening scenes which present a cinema theatre filling with spectators, gathering to watch the moving images on the screen.

An orchestra is frozen in time, the camera cutting between individual musicians poised and waiting, in tension with their instruments. Vertov stretches the sequence in time, pausing on the horns and the fingers resting on the valves, the double-bass straightening its player through the bow, the timpani, violin and trombone holding their humans taut as they anticipate the still conductor's movement at the prompt of the rolling of the film. The elongated duration in which the inert players remain motionless, braced for the introductory notes, outlasts the sense of natural time elapsing: life is fixed fast and rigid.

The projector's shutter is shown slowly to open and to begin beaming light, whereupon the conductor brings his orchestra to life: the once motionless musicians now burst and flail over their charges. Although when released the film was accompanied by live music in theatres, and subsequent audiences have enjoyed the film with a variety of audio interpretations as its soundtrack, the film artefact itself is silent, and has an extraordinary effect when viewed without sound. In silence, the orchestra works wildly, and the projector swallows its reel of film noiselessly, before finally the cinematic vision appears: a single numeral '1' is erected into view and we begin moving through a window of a house. The eerie silence augments the distances we travel: we are watching a film-maker watching a film-show. The camera watches the audience watching what the camera has seen.

Some minutes into the film within the film, we see the eyes of a mannequin, peering from a store-window, gazing out on the world. Eyes, windows, camera. The lifeless figures in the windows and the dressed busts, the posed dummies at the sewing-machine or astride a bicycle - even a stuffed dog articulated so as to seem expectant and watchful: all look out at the world, whose alienated form reflects on the inanimate almond shaped bumps painted to look like the organs of sight in a facsimile human face. The camera sees for them: their own images, their view of the streets, the paraphernalia of commerce which surrounds them, the sleeping bodies of the otherwise absent human race.

It is a puppet show in a world of matter with a transcendent intervening cinematic machinery providing an occasionalist vision and sense. An outside force runs through the world, causing actions and events, permitting sense to be made, prompting beings into life: mediating. The world's continued existence is brought about by machinery with a roving eye.

Categories: dziga-vertov, man-with-a-movie-camera, film, time, eye, window, mediation, cinema, puppet, mannequin, occasionalism,
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