‘The Power of Pictures’ Review: Soviet Cinema’s Radical Potential

[From The Wall Street Journal]
The films in New York’s Jewish Museum’s ‘The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film’ reveal the struggle between artistic invention and state control

In Dziga Vertov’s exuberant “Man With a Movie Camera” (1929), the camera dances, spins and materializes on rooftops, before an oncoming train and even on stage. Combining electrifying editing, naturalistic scenes and trick photography, the film evokes 24 hours of Soviet urban life, beginning with humans and machines awakening at daylight. Vertov envisioned an all-seeing “cinema eye—more perfect than a human eye for purposes of research into the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” Filmmakers explored various aesthetic approaches during the era, but it was a period of startling cinematic invention.

A still from “Man With a Movie Camera,” depicting an eye peering through a camera lens, appears on the cover of the catalog for the Jewish Museum’s “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film.” Twelve films from the era, including Vertov’s breathtaking city symphony, are screening on video in a specially constructed theater within the exhibition, and their vitality and diversity parallel those of the photographs and other materials. Twenty-three dynamic film posters are also on view, as well as a compact 35mm camera of the same model as the one featured in “Man With a Movie Camera”—it’s hard not to expect it to spring to life.

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