The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as cinematic attraction

Gunning (2000) identifies that many of the approaches to cinema use techniques such as close-ups as attractions in their own right. Many of the films Gunning (2000) identifies that lack this concern with the self-sufficient narrative because the audience expectations were of the spectacle of the movie in its own right.



However, The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) described by the filmmaker Dziga Vertov as a ‘visual symphony’ begins with a statement that sounds very similar as the statement made by Gunning (2000) concerning early avant-garde films. It is a film ‘without scenario’, a ‘film without sets, actors etc.’ and attempts ‘the creation of a totally international absolute language of cinema founded on its total separation from the language of theatre’ (Roberts, 2000, p.46). Much of the attraction of this film lies in the use of visual effects such as double-exposure, recursive shots of the filmmaker with the camera, which then tower over the city, variable speeds, and split screens. This film can be regarded as both a documentary and a piece of unconventional filmmaking, but for many of the audiences the attraction was how it portrays the filmmaking process itself.


The Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929).


The film’s portrayal of everyday life has been seen as a kind of documentary, but one prominent feature of this film is that it is more to do with the process of film-making which continues the tradition of the use of the film as spectacle that had so informed earlier films. Gunning (2000) argues that between 1907 and 1913, cinema was made into a narrative and feature films became the principle format. However, Gunning’s (2000) periodisation may be extended to include this 1929 late entry. The question this poses is whether this has entirely been absorbed by narrative cinema, or whether this 1929 film represents the last gasp of cinema that was almost entirely spectacle rather than narrative of documentary (Muesser, 2006).


– Ziyi Wang



  • Gunning T.  (2000). The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, its Spectator and the Avant-Garde. In T. Miller & R. Stam (eds.), Film and Theory: An Anthology, London: Blackwell, pp.229-235
  • Muesser, C. (2006) Rethinking Early Cinema: Cinemas of Attractions and Narrativity. In W. Strauven (ed.) The Cinema of Attraction Reloaded, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp.389-416.
  • Roberts, G. (2000). The Man with a Movie Camera: the Film Companion, London: IB Tauris.

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