Sorry if I’m making up terms here, I don’t know the industry terms, but one thing that’s interested me lately about cinematic form is the use of the camera, whether the camera is an active or passive participant in the films. The standard use is for it to be a passive participant: It’s a bug on the wall, there to give you a good view of these characters’ personal moments. The camera is at it’s most an active entity when the cameraman is literally a character, such as in found footage films.
What I find the most interesting is when the camera finds more subtle ways to be an active participant. For instance:
The viewers are the characters fear and paranoia: A witness to their non-affair affair, spying on them from the outside and judging them. The way the camera is placed accentuates the emotional state of the characters.
The most common example of the camera being an active entity is shaky cam, which is used to immerse the viewer in the scene, or in Lars Von Trier’s case to make the scene unsettling. Or, there’s the wandering camera in Tree Of Life or Enter The Void, and in a different way many of Sokurov’s films, which makes the viewer feel like a disembodied spirit, distanced from the scene.
I’m interested in hearing about other films where the camera influences the viewer’s perspective in subtle ways like in In The Mood For Love.
Similar to the second frame you posted:
hands and feet:
Would steady-cam POV shots fit the bill?
Almost making the audience an active participant, almost voyeuristic….
I find the active-passive dichotomy you’re using interseting, although a bit odd, as in I’m not sure it entirely fits. Are you talking strictly about the way a shot is composed and the way the camera moves—so not the cinematography or editing?
This is potentially an interesting thread—especially if people provide images and commentary. I’ll try to think of some examples.
My sense is that that example would apply.
What’s your reading on the shots that follow the first one (which I basically understand).
They’re recurring motives in Wong’s work, Jazz. Clocks obviously underscore time. Wong’s to the portmanteau film Eros, “The Hand” also has a shot that’s very similar to the first frama Jirin posted:
Do you see a deeper meaning in those motives? (How’d you like Eros btw? I haven’t seen that one, yet.)
sorry, I meant to type “motifs” not “motives” of course.
I’ve not yet seen In the Mood for Love, but I personally found the camera to be a “passive” participant in Abraham’s Valley, because the film seems to spy, in a way, upon the protagonist’s life story with its static camera shots.
I’ve actually been thinking of something similar, recently.
So, I caught part of Hong Sangsoo’s masterful Night and Day last night on Sundance and the way the camera was used in one scene struck me particularly. Around 2005 or 6 Hong began using zooms and eventually panning and zooming and camera movement in general became a huge functionary part of the formal aspect of his films. Hong has stated this was mainly for financial considerations, but the manner in which he uses the technique turns his camera from a passive, distanced, ‘fly on the wall’ static component to an extremely active participant.
So, about 80 minutes in the lead and his illicit Paris crush get drunk in the middle of the day (in a Hong film!?):
Now, this entire scene is done in two shots. The first containing the flowers and then panning to the kissing couple. The next containing a static take that then zooms inward on both of the characters in the scene. A very quiet scene, seemingly, but the entirety of it seems to suggest an ineptitude on the lead’s part to recognize his place in this foreign environment (and we’re not really talking about Paris).
The camera’s movement and swiftness even as it sits for prolonged periods does make this world seem foreign and definitely these people seem opaque. By sitting and watching and then cutting in between them he shows both the physical closeness of the moment, but also the emotional gap between them. Actively cutting one out of the other’s world.
“(How’d you like Eros btw? I haven’t seen that one, yet.)”
Wong’s is the best of the parts, imo. It’s not great overall.
Since “Halloween”, many horror movies, for better or worse, indulged in the killer’s point of view, to the (conflicted) thrill of the audience.
The unbroken shot with Michael Myers working his way into the house and up the stairs, put the viewer in the driver’s (and killer’s) seat.
It was a subversion of the classic hand-held “point of view” shot, where we see what the character is seeing, now becoming a choice of what we might or might not wish to do.
A friend once described In the Mood for Love as a “frame within a frame” which I think captures both how it is shot and the layers of constraint on the characters. As Matt points out, such composition is common in Wong’s films, but this is probably it’s most highly realized use. In an interview Wong said that he makes films about people who have bad timing. So I take the clocks as particularly about that—people who miss their chance because they didn’t meet when they should.
As to Jirin’s idea, I guess I would say that Wong is one of those filmmakers who can draw my attention to what he is doing with the camera without drawing me out of the film.
Camera as participant in a movie? For my money no one is better than Shimizu when it comes to moving the camera and creating a relationship between the viewer and the characters/events on screen. I don’t have any screengrabs to illustrate this sadly, but then again since it is the movement that is the point a screengrab wouldn’t properly convey this anyway.
That makes me think of Playtime.
Playtime uses these large shots, sometimes from the outside of a building, in order to shrink the characters and give the feeling they are being absorbed by the setting. And if you look at the settings: Grey, shiny spaces where all the lines are perpendicular to each other and characters seem disturbed when the setting is upset.
Also, Altman sometimes uses the camera actively to morally judge the characters. The best example I can think of is that one scene in Short Cuts where those fishermen are saying “She’s not going to get any deader, why should we lose our weekend?” then the camera pans over to the dead body. The camera is the audience’s omniscient moral visor.
It’s possible I’ve used the wrong terminology, but I think there’s a difference between a camera that just shows you the scenes and a camera that tries to influence your reaction to the scenes.
Camera as participant in a movie
If there exist a film I feel inmerse in is an Assayas’ film. The camera work feels effortless. I honestly can’t pinpoint why it’s different but that’s my perception.
(I haven’t seen this one but it’s an example I think)