Alloy Orchestra to score ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ at the Englert Theatre

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Alloy Orchestra Presents: Man with a Movie Camera

Englert Theatre — Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

The Alloy Orchestra will be performing the live score for the silent classic Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Soviet Union) at the Englert Theatre in a production co-sponsored by FilmScene on Oct. 5.

The Alloy Orchestra first performed an original score for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts on Dec. 31, 1991. Using a variety of “trash items” (their famous “rack of junk” technique), they create fresh musical interpretations to enhance the visual experience.

Members Terry Donahue, Ken Winokur and Roger C. Miller have gone on to entrance audiences around the globe by providing original scores to over 30 films and counting. The late film critic Roger Ebert praised Alloy Orchestra as being the “best in the world” at what they do.

Filmmaker Dziga Vertov was a pioneering creative force in his own right. Vertov was the pseudonym for Soviet filmmaker David Kaufman, born in Bialystok, Poland (located on the Eastern part of what was then the Russian Empire) in 1896. He is noted for his avant-garde approach to documentaries and newsreels. The most noteworthy example of this is what would become his most celebrated film internationally: Man with a Movie Camera.

Man with a Movie Camera was filmed with the director’s political convictions in mind, the footage used to further the aims of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, which he supported even as a young man. Vertov’s brother Mikhail Kaufman served as the film’s cinematographer (the real “man with a movie camera”) and his wife Elizaveta Svilova edited this experimental non-fiction account of life in the Soviet Union.

“I am an eye,” Vertov once wrote. “A mechanical eye. I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only the machine can see it.”

The relatively new Soviet Government placed heavy emphasis on culture and the arts as a means of spreading political ideas to the masses. Film scholar Jamie Miller describes this innovative period in his book Soviet Cinema: Politics and Persuasion under Stalin: “In 1929-1930 the central issue for Soviet Cinema was the transition to sound. Such a transition, of course, had huge political significance. In the 1930s, illiteracy was still a significant issue and, while film certainly played its role in eliminating this problem, sound cinema provided the ideal means of reaching the masses in a more effective way.”

Englert, Film Scene, Alloy Orchestra
Still from ‘Man with a Movie Camera’

The U.S.S.R. gave birth to a score of historically and culturally significant films by celluloid trailblazers such as Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), Grigori Alexandrov (The Circus) and Vsevolod Pudovkin (Mother). Many of the techniques introduced or expanded upon by these directors can still be witnessed in films today.

Vertov’s other celebrated films include The Symphony of Donbass (1931), one of the first Soviet sound films, and Three Songs About Lenin (1934), a celebration of Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin made ten years after his death. Due to political and artistic differences with the Soviet leadership, Vertov spent the rest of his career in the editing room splicing together newsreels for the government. He died of cancer in 1954.

Even those who may disagree with the politics expressed in Vertov’s films can enjoy them for their startling originality.

Roger Ebert considered Man with a Movie Camera to be a “Great Movie.” Giving it a perfect four-star rating, Ebert said of the film’s revolutionary narrative style, and the progress being made in cinema at that time: “Movies could move with the speed of our minds when we are free-associating, or with the speed of a passionate musical composition. They did not need dialogue — and indeed, at the opening of the film [the director] pointed out that it had no scenario, no intertitles and no characters.”

The Englert Theatre and FilmScene will present a new restoration of the film. They note in a press release: “We often see the cameraman who is purportedly making the film, but we rarely, if ever, see any of the footage he seems to be in the act of shooting!” Tickets for the event are $15-20. There will be a post-screening reception at FilmScene for Friends of the Englert, FilmScene members and VIPs.

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