A postmodern remake of a futurist classic

Video artist Perry Bard’s Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake is a participatory project made with contributions from people around the world who upload video clips interpreting Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera (1929), a film that is still fresh today in surprising ways. With this remake, anyone can upload footage that is archived, sequenced, and streamed back out as a film. The videos people submit are synchronized with the original shots by software running on the server, which then mixes in newly added material every day, and thus the film is never the same twice. You can watch the original film and the clips selected by the site for the remake side by side. It’s fascinating to compare the images both in terms of aesthetic criteria and as tiny portraits of contemporary life, presenting a world-wide montage, in the word of Vertov, “decoding life as it is.” He also wrote in a 1923 manifesto, “I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it” and was clearly advocating for documentary over fiction when he wrote, “film drama is the opiate of the people [...] down with bourgeois fairy-tale scenarios [...] long live life as it is” (you might be interested in Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov , one of my favorite film books).

Perry Bard: Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake

Bard’s work is the kind of machine-assisted participatory filmmaking that brings Vertov’s vision into the new millennium and enabled by computers and the net. I’m sure Vertov would have loved it. Man With A Movie Camera was Vertov’s mechanical vision of a new socialist society with Vertov as auteur, Mikhail Kaufman as the cameraman, and Yelizaveta Svilova as editor, and with Soviet society and the machinery of the industrial age as the protagonists. Bard’s project presents a global social reality in the new millennium. Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake, or as I like to think of it, “People with Video Cameras” brings the machine and ordinary people into the process of movie production and delivery, providing a collective vision consistent with Vertov’s futurist masterpiece of the modern era but remade in a postmodern setting with the media and tools of our generation: participation, camcorders, the internet, and computation. The perspectives of multiple contributors is consistent with Vertov’s philosophy, Joseph Schaub wrote in his essay, “Presenting the Cyborg’s Futurist Past: An Analysis of Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye“, “Kino-eye, then, is a cyborg construction that contains multiple positions for the production of film meaning.” OK, I’m stretching a little, but ideas are fun to play with, I see them as guides to possible worlds.

Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake provides a crisp example of the first, second, and fourth characteristics that Janet Murray suggests in her book, Hamlet on the Holodeck, make new media a powerful vehicle for literary creation: 1. Procedural, 2. Participatory, 3. Spatial, and 4. Encyclopedic. The site does not make use of the spatial dimension (except for some aspects of the interface, which traditional cinema lacks completely), however, It’s pretty easy to see how the project could become more spatial in an interesting manner by adding geographical information related to the video when it is uploaded to the site, underscoring the truly global nature of the effort. Regardless of being light in the spatial dimension, Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake is one of the most interesting participatory video projects I’ve had the pleasure to experience and points the way to the future of cinema. While theater owners worry over sagging ticket sales and studio moguls fear the audience’s move to net, as creators and participants we can move beyond the industrial practices of the past and look forward to a re-invented, participatory, global, postmodern, Kino-Eye.

This post is based in part on a post written for my Design Seminar II class at MassArt in response to Scott Kirsner’s Media Tech Tonic presentation, “Inventing the Movies.”