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Man with a Movie Camera, Directed by Dziga Vertov

Chelovek s kino-apparatom, VUFKU, January 8, 1929 (USSR)

Screenplay: Dziga Vertov

Dust and gravel kick up at my heels, and thoughts wisp from my head like vapor under pressure, puffing from the chimney of a steam locomotive along the Continental Divide. I climb the western incline of Runyon Canyon, set on a ridge above a paved path trekked by less adventurous hikers below. I think. I know. I can.

The Southern California sun burns with caustic vigor, and each inhale absorbs the toasted aroma of golden brush on either side of a skyward trail—advancing toward the wide, grey-blue yonder, unless one descends from the opposing direction. What an odd place of confutation, on an afternoon excursion in the mountains that dominate the megalopolis asunder.

Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the rest of greater Los Angeles settle to the bottom of the basin, ostensibly still and quiet, even if over three and a half million people call her sediment home. I stand in a city but am better apace with nature, thousands of steps removed from the industrialization that snakes over gridlocked freeways and tramples astral markers for entertainment icons fossilized in stone.

A slab of rock, jutting too low to alight upon the iron haze that routinely blocks the indigo dome of her urban sprawl, functions as an impromptu observation deck. Views span over one hundred eighty degrees from downtown to the Pacific. Uplands swell athwart, further interrupting any chance to scan a level horizon. Despite obvious signs of colonization, I wonder how I find myself alone.

Activity scuttles about, somewhere. The standstill must result as an optical illusion, a distortion of human levitation. Cities never go idle. Reason dictates that a traffic light changes from yellow to red at that second. Or, far from earshot, two cars collide in a bloody spray of fluids and steel. The ecstasy of orgasm shrieks from a fifth-story bedroom in another one of those multi-use apartment complexes, where diners on the ground floor buy burgers that sizzle on a grill and a frozen yogurt machine swirls Pineapple Tangerine Tart two doors away from hot oil fryers.

An old woman also inches her arm to squash an unsuspecting fly. Baby Bella is born at Cedars-Sinai to the west, where a doctor adjusts her scrubs, a mother sighs from exhaustion, and a teary-eyed father snips his daughter’s umbilical cord, concurrent with the wheels of a Metro Rail train sparking on underground tracks at Vermont and Sunset, while gunfire silences the life of a wayward teen, and computer keys click from concealed habitats like cicadas singing from rural yards at night in surround sound.

At the Just Tires on Beverly, an impact driver loosens lug nuts on the rim of a BMW that is suspended high on a lift rack. A light switch gets clicked off elsewhere. Such minutiae in a grander scheme fuses back into the one-dimensional façade of my actuality, which is no more spatial than a set built on the back lot of Paramount, located in the general neighborhood of over that way, the same place where Rihanna shoots her latest music video with a cast and crew of hundreds.

My feet shuffle toward the edge of the granite plateau to discern proof of a town in presumptive motion. I still detect barely a stir; the observable world is limited by space and time. Impressions fill the gaps of reality. To see beneath the surface, to get over and around, far away and near, slow and fast, forward and back, linking patterns of movement, I am hopeless unattended. I appeal to the man with a movie camera. Through his omniscient lens, he is my guide, my companion.