Man with a Movie Camera

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Many Russian films of the silent and early sound era have been classics of film history. But the films of Dziga Vertov have dropped in and out of public awareness.  An upcoming film festival promises to change all that.  Listen above to hear Sara Fishko's quick look...




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Dennis James is an internationally-known musician, historian and silent film accompanist who’s brought a great deal of attention to musical scores for silent films. His score for Man with a Movie Camera, which will be performed by his Filmharmonia Ensemble on Saturday, April 16th at MoMA, was based on five pages of hand-written notes written by Vertov himself. Here James explains how he came across Vertov's notes and turned them into his score.

Click above to listen

I was handed the notes without any identifying characteristics by Edith Kramer, who was then the director of the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. And she simply said, ‘Dennis, I’ve got some notes here that I’d like you to take a look at and just give me an opinion.’ So I took a look at the notes and I said, ‘Oh, these are professional scoring notes.’ And she said, ‘Could you realize a score from these notes?’ And I said ‘Of course. It’s exactly what was given by professionals in the silent film era to musicians to create scores.’

I’m an historian in all of this. And I’m especially a re-creational historian in that I’m not simply historically-informed, but I try to follow all the performances practices of the period --and even all of the musical practices. So to get a set of director notes was really exciting.


Here's a selection from James' score for Man with a Movie Camera when it premiered at the Pacific Film Archive in 1999. (Note: the music was recorded directly within the ensemble, so there is some slight audio distortion).

Click above to listen: Man with a Movie Camera score excerpt. By Dennis James.




For More Information...

  • The Dziga Vertov festival runs from April 15th through June 4th at the Museum of Modern Art. For more information, visit their website
  • Yuri Tsivian is a professor at the University of Chicago. One of his books, Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties, examines Vertov and his work.
  • Director Guy Maddin's short film Heart of the World (2000) screens with the Dziga Vertov festival on April 21st.




WNYC Production Credits...

Mix Engineer: Wayne Shulmister

Assistant Producer: Laura Mayer

Managing Editor, WNYC News: Karen Frillmann