Man with a Movie Camera, Santiago Alvarez & Cuban Nueva Trova
Table of Contents
Man with a Movie Camera is a film with no identifiable actors and story. This film is interesting as it reflects the urban life in the Soviet cities of Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa and Moscow. It depicts the citizens of these towns at work, in leisure places and as they interact with the modern-day machines. The combination of shots from different scenes makes the movie interesting and worthwhile. It was considered a unique idea, having appeared in the early 20th century. This film gives the viewers an opportunity to understand how life was in the Soviet cities in its various scenes. The first part of this paper is an analysis of a particular scene in the above-described movie.
The scene under analysis is the eighth scene in the movie where a man shoots an oncoming train. The scene is about 81.83 seconds long. This scene involves a man standing on the railway and a train moving towards him at full speed. The train is showing some lights and, as always, looks unstoppable. The man, on the other hand, does not seem much in a hurry but is taking very careful shots to depict the train moving at speed from the front. One can obviously note that the man is risking his life. The style of shooting used in this scene is the medium close-up with the camera at eye level. This style of shot is evident because the camera man was right in front of the train, and the subject he was shooting that was the train was at an eye level. Secondly, the camera man was relatively close to the subject and was having a close view of the train, making it a medium close-up shot. The type of editing was the split screen technique that was showing a different type of movement at the top of the screen in comparison with the bottom of the screen.
Vertov’s theory of camera truth suggests that the camera reveals the true nature of the environment and human characteristics. In this theory, Vertov suggests that the camera cannot lie since it is the reflection of what the environment is, what happens and what humans are. This scene signifies Vertov’s theory of camera truth as it reveals the reality of the railway transport in the Soviet Union cities in the early 20th century. In this time, the train was the major form of public transport, thereby shooting this scene speaks truth about the Soviet Union cities at that point. Moreover, it represents the achievements of the Soviet Union government in constructing railways considered among the modern modes of transport in that age. This scene also reflects the theory in that the camera man was true and sincere in depicting the actual movement of the train while risking his life to capture the real, tangible and genuine essence of the moving train.
This scene reveals a revolutionary idea in the world of cinematography. It shows the adventurous nature of the camera man which can prove risky an idea that has been adopted by several cameramen in many movies even today. Accordingly, the risky aspect brings a lot of emotional, psychological and insightful response from the audience. In fact, this aspect flavors the movie scenes. Today, most movies have used this revolutionary technique, and cameramen can be found making movie shots from different risky angles such as under moving cars and from under the waters. The eighth scene of a camera man shooting an incoming train standing on the rail track brings the risk aspect of shooting movies. One would wonder if he does not see the train that is the beautiful aspect that it creates in the mind of the audience. Thus, this type of shot enables the movie to be true and real. It provokes the reality aspect in the mind of the viewer, making it more thrilling and providing a profound emotional impact.
Santiago Alvarez being a Cban filmmaker wrote a lot of films about the American and Cuban cultures. Among his works were Now which is the most popular of his films, Hanoi, 79 Springs, and an anti-imperialist satire LBJ. In his film LBJ, Alvarez continues his criticism of the American politics, especially under the leadership of Johnson. The film’s title reflects not only the initials of Johnson’s names but also the names of the three personalities assassinated during his leadership which were Martin Luther King and the two Kennedys, namely Bobby and John. This film represents a satire on the American culture and politics, a fruit machine with the letters LBJ is shown in the film and an iconic cartoon of Johnson appears in the movie. This film comprises majorly a complex collage of materials. It also reflects much on the racial conflict. The movie uses songs of people who disapproved racial and political injustices; in this movie, for example, there is a song by Miriam Makeba, a renowned African songstress and civil rights activist. Alvarez believed that 50% of a film is the music that accompanies it. The song, therefore, flows thematically with intentions and basics of the movie. This film blends the rhythm of the audio and visual components. The filmmaker used a combination of photos and images from various places to depict his theme in this film. Thus, his method of captivating the audience is the satire that existed in the images and photos that he used in this film.
Some have perceived Santiago Alvarez as a natural successor of Vertov. The reason is that his styles utilized in filmmaking symbolize and are almost the same as Vertov’s. Both of them engaged in documentation of various shots, photos, and images from diverse origins. Vertov in his film Man with the Movie Camera chooses different shots of various circumstances in the diverse Soviet Union cities to reveal the intentions and theme behind the movie. Alvarez also compiled different images from cartoons, Hollywood scenes and the ones connected with the normal equipment and machinery that people interact with on a daily basis to bring a thematic flow of his movies. Furthermore, both Alvarez and Vertov use the aspect of unplanned photography to represent various fundamentals behind their ideas and intentions. In addition, their use of images and music is great; they both coordinate the rhythms of the images and music to create an emotional sense of conception in the audience. Therefore, it is possible to state that they were both masters of improvisation.
The Cuban Revolution, which was led by Fidel Castro, was against the oppressive and dictatorial rule of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. Batista allowed the domination of American companies in the Cuba, while Cubans remained unemployed and lacked the basic amenities such as water and infrastructure. At this point, even the film industry in Cuba was led by American film companies. There was a lot of change after the revolution achieved victory, and Fidel Castro gained control of the leadership of the country. There was a significant advantage to the local filmmakers as the success of this revolution led to the establishment of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry. This industry encouraged talent development and shooting of independent films by Cuban filmmakers. Santiago Alvarez’s work was among the first films after the establishment of the industry. In fact, it represents one of the aesthetics of the Cuban revolution. Apparently, his work proved the existence of talent and improvisation in the corridors of the new cinema industry. The works of Alvarez crossed the Cuban borders, and he was admired for the powerful use of imagery and music. Thus, his style of editing has impactedd on the film industry to date.
Nueva Treva was a significant movement in Cuban music that occurred after the victory of the Cuban revolution that caused evident social and political changes. Cuban Nova Treva music contains a lot of wild political content. There are several songs representative of this category of music movement, and two are chosen for analysis in this paper, namely “Cancion del Elegido” by Silvio Rodriguez and “Guillermo Tell” by Carlos Varela. The first song by Silvio Rodriguez talks about a man born in a foreign place who comes fighting for the treasures of the earth, causing a conflict and war between him and the inhabitants of the earth. Finally, the man leaves. This piece of music is important as it reflects Cubans’ true treatment of Americans who were dominating their economy. One of the primary reasons that led to the revolution is the domination of the American companies in Cuba, while Cubans remained unemployed and characterized by high poverty levels. The man going away in smokes as stated in the song is a reflection of the victory of the revolution through the war when the leader of the revolution Fidel Castro took leadership and implemented policies and reforms that favored the Cuban people.
“Guillermo Tell,” on the other hand, speaks of a son who was tired of holding the apple on his head, while the father shot the arrow at the apple. The son got tired one day and wanted to be the one to shoot the arrow, while the father holds the apple on his head. This song importantly reflects the oppression under Fulgencio Batista’s rule in which he favored Americans than the native Cuban people. Thus, the boy was a depiction of the fact that Cuban citizens were tired of the oppression and wanted to be in charge of their social, political and economic life.
Both songs use allegory in their style of art. They both depict the Cuban revolution but do not do it directly. Accordingly, they use stories that imply the actual events and situation. Moreover, imagery is significant in both song lyrics. In the song by Rodriguez, it is easy to picture the foreign man searching for treasures for himself even in a land that is not his own. The listener can then imagine and formulate the picture of the man defeated who was made to leave. This image makes this song easy to comprehend and understand the allegory. “Guillermo Tell,” on the other hand, uses imagery more clearly than “Cancion del Elegido”. While reading the lyrics, the reader can clearly see the boy with the apple on the head, while the arrow is shot at it. One can see the defiance of the child and the reluctance of the father to let him shoot the arrow. Furthermore, both songwriters utilize the metaphor element. They use sentences and phrases that imply ideas that they do not directly mention. In “Cancion del Elegido,” the man from the foreign land is used to symbolize the American companies, while mineral treasures signified the Cuban economy and monopoly and benefit that American companies were enjoying.
In “Guillermo Tell,” the boy represented Cuban citizens, while the father described Batista and Americans that were at the top of decision-making. In its turn, the arrow symbolizes the oppression of the leadership of Cuban citizens. Thus, Carlos Varela in the song “Guillermo Tell” uses repetition to insist and draw attention to the metaphorical point that Cubans were tired of the oppressive rule and wanted to be in charge of the aspects of their country in a manner that favored them. It reflects the idea that the tiredness of Cubans was resolute and definite. As a result, they decided that they will no longer be oppressed that is the critical information that Varela passes to the audience.