The Film Machine
Dziga Vertov had this theory that the film camera could become an extension of the human eye, and ultimately bring us closer to machines. He believed film to be too theatrical, and was more interested in cinema as a presentation of the real world. Sergei Eisenstein was interested in the use of film and montage editing to further develop the tension and emotion in theatrical storytelling, while Vertov used it in many ways as a reflection of the machines and environment he was capturing. Vertov talked about how by better understanding the perfection of machines and by our use of them, we could better ourselves (Vertov was heavily influenced by the goals of the Soviet Union at the time), and ultimately become more efficient humans.
Eisenstein’s ideas for the motion picture camera seem to lay out exactly what we now consider modern cinema. It is a theatrical experience that plays on our emotions while we eat popcorn, and that’s why we love it. I think Vertov’s harsh condemnations of this theatricality was really about asking more of ourselves, at least that’s what I think Godard took from it. It was a call for viewers to ask more of themselves and their brains. I love cinema for the escape that it is, but I also believe that there is much more to discover in the medium and in ourselves that has been overlooked by all but a few filmmakers.
I don’t think Eisenstein would have liked what cinema has become today, because he was still very much interested in pushing the medium, and asking something new of the viewers. American film viewers today are rarely or never challenged by new forms of thinking. I say “forms” because I think there are always new issues that good films bring to light, but very rarely are there new and original forms of presentation. When these new forms are explored, even in a narrative, they seldom see a theater presentation. It is difficult to watch something we don’t understand, but we are cheating our minds to avoid such things entirely. I don’t blame audiences completely, as the film medium has (up until recently) been a very costly endevour that required expensive equipment, technicians and crews.
Making a film is so easy now. I’m sure people said the same thing when the first home video cameras came out, but I think the technology today really does change everything. It doesn’t guarantee that everyone will make use of it, but it does increase the chance that someone interesting will. With a camera on us at all times, it has really become the extension of ourselves that Vertov envisioned, and Youtube would seem to be the new form of this cinema.
There is an interesting list of photography tips by Henri Cartier-Bresson that again mentions the idea of the camera as an extension to our eye.
Although Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with several different lenses while on-assignment working for Magnum, he would only shoot with a 50mm if he was shooting for himself. By being faithful to that lens for decades, the camera truly became “an extension of his eye”.
Book: Kino-Eye – Dziga Vertov