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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Feb 5 1997
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The Man With the Movie Camera
Presenting Dziga Vertov's silent 1929 The Man With the Movie Camera with the big, live sound of the tiny (three-man) Alloy Orchestra is an extraordinary aesthetic salvage act. Dziga Vertov was born Denis Kaufman; according to Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia, Dziga means "spinning top" (in Ukrainian) and Vertov means "the act of turning" (in Russian). His masterpiece is a jazz symphony of the streets: What it's got instead of narrative is centrifugal force and charismatic optimism. In this film, when the director's eye lingers on a bum, it isn't to underline the plight of the homeless, but to savor the man's languorous freedom and stubbornness; when a skilled female laborer swiftly puts together cigarette packs, she isn't being exploited -- she's showing off her expertise. Vertov's shoot-the-works photographic style and witty, suggestive editing spark a delight that's simultaneously sensual and cerebral.

Under the guidance of Vertov's own recently unearthed notes, the astonishing "junk metal musicians" of the Alloy Orchestra have devised sounds from their synthesizers, bottles, and handmade drums and instruments that release the film's soaring Machine Age gallantry and humor. The main motif has a spacious imminence reminiscent of Jerome Moross' opening theme to William Wyler's The Big Country -- you sense momentous things are about to happen. But the rippling clangs and sly interpolations of jazz and wedding music give their work a cosmopolitan cheekiness. Seeing The Man With the Movie Camera at the Castro with the Alloy Orchestra is a genuine eureka experience.

-- Michael Sragow

The Man With the Movie Camera screens Friday, Feb. 7, at 9:30 p.m. at the Castro, Castro & Market. The Alloy Orchestra also accompanies Paul Fejos' Lonesome at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 per film, $25 for both. The S.F. Film Society is presenting the show; there are discounts for members. Call 621-6120 or 931-3456.

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Michael Sragow

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