Wednesday, May 13, 2009


"Not only in those scenes, but every shot in the film -- as was true with my last film -- the camera never moves. You look in the corner of the frame of any movie, you will see it is constantly adjusting and moving. In this film, it is rock steady, because, in fact, there is no operator. These are framed images, and everything is done through the structure of the editing. I don't think you notice, when you see the film, the extreme to which the camera doesn't move. It moves about seven times in the entire film -- when people are moving or when there's a dramatic moment. This is, over the years now, a style that I feel comfortable with -- a little reaction to contemporary movies where the camera is moving around so much I get seasick. It's more of an offshoot of the way we shot "The Godfather," where it was a very classic style where the camera didn't move at all. Everything was tableaux. Or the Japanese filmmaker Ozu, who at the end of his career decided that if you don't move the camera, then all the movement within the frame is more exciting, people's entrances and exits."


Yep. Most of that is mostly true and needed to be said (again) in these Ides of The Blockbuster Summer - Part May.

"What, you don't like camera movement?!?"

Bite your tongue! I'm no purest. Brian DePalma is probably my BFFilmmaker, for chrissakes! But there is a difference between elegance and retards running around with steadicams and hand-helds.

Let's take some extreme examples : Blair Witch, [REC], 28 Days Later, Cloverfield. These films may be conceptually interesting, but each one ultimately fails because the viewer can't see a damn thing. Defenders of the shaky-cam cinematography in those four films might counter with "well, that's kind of the point!". Well, maybe, but I didn't find the shaky-ness in Diary of the Dead* or Rachel Getting Married to be a distraction, nor a betrayal to the eyes, so there must be another variable at play.

Lest you're thinking that I'm a hand held hater or digi-damner, well, last weekend I watched a movie called Trigger Man that was shot guerrilla-style on digital and I thought it was very well made. So, much like the truth of "guns don't kill people, people kill people", there is now born, "camera's don't film bad movies, bad directors film bad movies". The director is that variable.

Lastly, on Coppola's point - via Ozu - that if the camera is still, movement within a frame is more exciting. I don't think that's absolutely true, because a bad director working within a still frame is still a bad director. However, I will concede that, when done well, a long-shot of a still frame has the power to connect with an audience more directly than any other set-up that comes to mind. I felt this while watching Frank Borzage's Lucky Star last week, and I felt it during the "phone booth" shot in Coppola's The Rain People, which I just coincidentally saw part of a few weeks ago.

*yes, I know that 87% of you hate Diary of the Dead... even a few of you who haven't seen it!


Greg said...

Most of that is mostly true...

Most of us don't need both uses of "most" in that sentence. Just saying.

Ed Wood didn't move his camera and his visuals sucked. So yes, if you're going for the tableau style of still camera filmmaking you have to give the audience something to look at.

I agree that there is movement without purpose and there is elegance of movement. I find Ophuls and Curtiz have purpose and elegance while Boyle with 28 Days and, especially, the end of Sunshine has little to none. I had some disagreement at Cinema Styles with my negative reaction to Sunshine but I stand by it. I really don't think Boyle has a purpose to his camera movemtents outside of thinking that because it is disorienting that it will heighten the feeling the audience has for the disorientation of the characters. I don't doubt he has good intentions in thinking that, but he's wrong. It's just disorienting and something that provides poor visuals. A good director or at least a much better one than Boyle, can demonstrate disorientation without shaking the camera.

Fox said...

Most of us don't need both uses of "most" in that sentence. Just saying....

Yes, but if one of us is JARVIS, then using "most" more than once is mostly alright with me.

I'll have to go back and check out your Sunshine post (I remember it, but would like to read it again now). I agree with you on Boyle. I never connect with his films, and that could be attributed to a variety of reasons, but one of them is his spastic camera. While not nearly erratic as 28 Days Later, there are still moments in something like Slumdog Millionaire where I want him to get a grip (haha! get it?).

Marilyn said...

Cloverfield did work, and there was a reason for the handheld look. The film, for the most part, was supposed to be shot through a video camera (which begs the question of what do we make of the first scenes that are "omniscent" camera, but I really don't care because it's a good film). Rachel Getting Married had absolutely no reason to use handheld - it failed. Blair Witch had a reason, but they overdid it. I got sick in the last two but found a way to make it through the first because it was a really good film.

If you're going to use handheld, don't make your audience sick and make sure it's justified by the plot, that's my only advice.

Fox said...


I can't argue with your point that the Cloverfield's hand-held style was by design, but what I object to was how ugly it was to look at. Of course, that's subjective, but I hate not being able to absorb what's on screen during a movie. My face was squinched for a lot of that film... and not because it was frightening at all.

I don't particularly want a movie to be a "ride", and that's what I kind of object to in POV cinema. With the exception of Diary of the Dead or Russian Ark - and maybe a few others that aren't coming to mind right now - I don't really see the point oustide of it being a stunt.

hokahey said...

Cloverfield is one of my favorite films of 2008. My eyes are old-style - reared on the films of the 50s and 60s - but I had no trouble with clarity in Cloverfield. The style captures the urgency and makes the monster an elusive entity.

As far as the shaky motion robbing the film of beauty - I didn't feel that way about Sunshine - though I am totally with you, Fox, on being able to absorb what's on screen. I'm a vampire for a vast, impressive, clear image. That's what I sucked on from No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. I am a fervent devotee of the Lawrence of Arabia school of filmmaking.

But Cloverfield does a good job of being a B-sci-fi movie - fast, urgent, and scary. Yet it has moments of beauty too: the shot of the city across Central Park after the helicopter crash; the shot of the monster hit by missiles. Some of the shots of the kids running down dark streets - reminiscent of shots from Invasion of the Body Snatchers - are beautiful too.

The ending of Sunshine is a good example of shaky camera style that simply causes confusion. I wanted to see exactly what was going on, but the camera style robbed the film of suspense. Despite that style at the end, I still love the film as a whole.

LegionOfPuppets said...

I was going to become a repeat offender and mock you for liking DotD but I realized you made a disclaimer in the end.

For shame.


gil mann said...

I have got to start reading blogs in real time instead of saving 'em up for the end of the week.

Blair Witch, [REC], 28 Days Later, Cloverfield. These films may be conceptually interesting, but each one ultimately failsThat, sir, would be a pretty specious claim even if you hadn't capped it off with a defense of Diary, which not only makes Land look like Dawn, but more to the point of your post, completely botches/wastes/ignores its verite aesthetic (which the few good moments strain groaningly against, by the way).

Heck, I'll give you 28 Days Later; It's the top of the line when it comes to pointless camera-wanking but it could only benefit from more restraint (wouldn't want it shot classically, though---gotta hide the digitalness somehow). Beyond that I think you're confusing bad filmmaking with not taking Dramamine.

Blair Witch ultimately fails, he says. Fails to NOT OWN, maybe.

Fox said...


I would have to rewatch Sunshine to give it any kind of a detailed red marks, but I remember hating the flashes and flares on screen. It reminds me of how some bands use reverb to cover up bad playing.


Are you at a new blog now? A second blog perhaps??? Gotta check that out.


You're right about the Dramamine. I am sensitive to motion, but I would never hold a film responsible for my physiological problems. I just think all those films look bad.

Marilyn said...

Fox - Motion sickness is not psychological, so you're off the hook.

Fox said...


Or, did you just lob a joke over my head that I'm not getting???

I probs have psychological problems too...

Blogger said...

Do you like live sex cams? Take a peek at BongaCams.