The piece I chose for this week is an interview with Mikhail Kaufman, who appeared as the cameraman while served as the actual cinematographer for the film Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929), in terms of his intended envisagement of the film and his understanding of documentary cinema, which provided rather an insightful perspective for us to interpret the film.
Man with a Movie Camera, according to Kaufman, was an embodiment of “Kino-theory in cinematic form” (October, 54). Kino-theory constructed by Vertov believed in the surpassing potential of the camera in capturing events that were inaccessible to human eyes. Indeed, certain sequences of the film were intentionally filmed in a way to show the power of the camera, including the railway sequence (9:07-9:09) in which the camera was positioned on the railway and was able to capture the train hurtling by. Expanding upon the theory, Kaufman proclaimed that the cinematography of the film was “infused with the particular thought that he is actually seeing the world for other people” and “observing life from the point of view of the social structure” (October, 65). While the segments of the film seemed not connected at first sight, Kaufman stated that “the accumulation of tremendous number of phenomena” would lead to the comprehension of the world (October, 69).
Another intriguing point from the interview was Kaufman’s comment on the documentary cinema. He argued that “the working method of a documentary film director does not involve components such as design, acting, or dramatic composition” (October, 54). In fact, for documentary films, “the shooting process for ‘life as it is’ required that people’s attention be distracted” (October, 64). Kaufman stated it was equally challenging to have actors perform effectively in front of a camera and to have people look into the camera without any visible reactions. A great example to back up his idea would be the sequence in which the cameraman filmed the bourgeoisie sitting in the car next to him: the passengers couldn’t help but turn to the camera and look directly into the lens (21:13-21:20).
Interestingly, Kaufman also indirectly responded to the question of why Man with a Movie Camera was the last piece that he worked on with his brother Vertov. While both Kaufman and Vertov were involved in the Kino-theory, Kaufman held an even bolder and more discrete view in terms of filming as he stated that “material was supposed to be shot which would then lead to the search for other material, so as to comprehend all shooting processes, to interpret them” (October, 69). Also, Kaufman considered the editing of the film rather redundant and intrusive and didn’t fulfill his own intent.
Overall, this interview being a primary source provides us with a quite credible and intimate perspective in interpreting the film and dissecting the goals of the filmmakers.