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11 January 2013

Visualizing Vertov: Visualization Analysis of Russian Avant-garde Cinema

  • All shots with close-ups of faces from “The Eleventh Year” (Dziga Vertov, 1928). The shots are arranged in the order of their appearance in the film, left to right, top to bottom. Each shot is represented by its second frame. The complete film is 52 min, 654 shots.

  • Detail of a montage of all shots with close-ups of faces from “The Eleventh Year” (Dziga Vertov, 1928).

  • Detail of a montage of shots from “The Eleventh Year” (Dziga Vertov, 1928).

  • Detail of a visualization of shot lengths in “The Eleventh Year” (Dziga Vertov, 1928).


Lev Manovich

Visualizations and Publication


"Visualizing Vertov" (2013) presents visualization analysis of the films “The Eleventh Year” (1928) and “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929) by the famous Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov. One of the goals of the project is to show how various dimensions of films can be explored using special visualization techniques inspired by media and new media art, as well as the basic principle of cinema itself – editing (i.e., selecting and arranging together media elements).

In some cases, we use digital image processing software to measure visual properties of every film frame, and then plot these measurements along with the selected frames. (For example, this approach allows us to visualize the amounts of movement in every shot in a film.)

In other cases, we don’t measure or count anything. Instead, we arrange the sampled frames from a film in a single high-resolution visualizations in particular layouts. (For example, we can represent a feature film as a grid of frames – one frame for every shot.)

This use of visualization without measurements, counting, or adding annotations is the crucial aspect of my lab’s approach for working with media collections. We hope that it can add to other approaches already used in quantitative film studies and digital humanities.

The article presents a sequence of 33 visualizations which start from a “bird’s eye” view of the cultural artifacts (e.g., hundreds of 20th century films) and gradually zooms in closer and closer, eventually focusing on details of a single shot – similar to how Google Earth allows you to start with the Earth view and then zoom in and eventually enter a street view.

The article is an experiment. It does not develop a single argument or a concept. Instead, I progressively “zoom” into cinema, exploring alternative ways to visualize film media at different levels, and noting interesting observations along the way.


The digital copies of Vertov's films were provided by The Austrian Film Museum (Vienna) which has one of the best collections of film prints and other Vertov materials.

I am grateful to film researcher and Austrian Film Museum staff member Adelheid Heftberger for initiating and making possible this project in 2009, and providing detailed feedback on the work as it developed.