Subjective viewpoints

For this project I’ve been studying the differences between shooting objectively and subjectively. It’s an interesting concept. Most movies and TV programmes are shot objectively, that is placing the viewer in front of the action, almost like they are an invisible person watching the events take place (quite creepy really, this random invisible person watching you everywhere you go)  To shoot subjectively is to place the viewer behind the eyes of the characters. It’s effectively as written in books, first person, “I raced over and gave my cat Skye a big hug.”and third person, “Amber raced over and gave her cat Skye a big hug.”

There are not many movies that focus on the subjective, I can think of moments in a movie where the effect has been applied. For instance when a character has been drugged, the frame can switch to their vision to show it blurring or turning to black.

One example is the movie Lady in the Lake. The movie is shot from the POV of the main character Marlowe (played by American actor Robert Montgomery) You only see stolen glances of the narrator in windows or mirrors. It’s really ingenious and as the genre is film noir it seems a very clever presentation, keeping the mystery up of the  murder mystery, never really seeing the main character and instead focusing on everything Marlowe views. It also carries a vulnerable air, you are essentially the main character and whatever happens to Marlowe may feel like it happens to you. However clever it was and a one of a kind the critics didn’t respond to it quite so favourably. The New York times wrote “In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching toward a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as though it might come right out of the screen the novelty begins to wear thin.”

This seems a shame and I wonder how it could have been done to an effect the critics would have approved of?

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The movie The Russian Ark soared into history with it’s unprecedented creation. Just as in Lady in the Lake, The Russian Ark used the subjective viewpoint, this time shot from the viewpoint of a ghost wandering through the Winter Palace of the Russian State with the tale that he had died horribly. This was a high achievement in itself but add to the fact that this was the only movie in film history to film the entire movie in a single shot! Oh and as it was filmed at the Hermitage museum they only had one day to shoot it.

It blows your mind to think of it especially with such a collection of actors and extras, 2,000 (4,500 including everyone backstage) one tiny mistake and the whole reel would have been ruined. I would not liked to have been the film maker who forgot to press record… added to this there were operas and plays featured in this 96 minutes feature and three orchestras. Wikipedia states “...four attempts were made. The first failed at the five-minute mark. After two more failed attempts, they were left with only enough battery power for one final take. The four hours of daylight available were also nearly gone. Fortunately, the final take was a success and the film was completed at 90 minutes. Tilman Büttner, the director of photography and Steadicam operator, executed the shot on 23 December 2001.” 

“In a 2002 interview, Büttner said that film sound was recorded separately. “Every time I did the take, or someone else made a mistake, I would curse, and that would have gotten in, so we did the sound later.”

The critics loved it, Roger Elbert (  ) describing it as “…one of the best-sustained ideas I have ever seen on the screen…. [T]he effect of the unbroken flow of images (experimented with in the past by directors like Hitchcock and Max Ophüls) is uncanny. If cinema is sometimes dreamlike, then every edit is an awakening. Russian Ark spins a daydream made of centuries.”

“As successful as it is ambitious, Russian Ark condenses three centuries of Russian history into a single, uninterrupted, 87-minute take. “ (Wikipedia states it was a 96 minute take though I’m not sure which is correct)

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Focusing on a completely different genre from the two above and a sightly different subjective portrayal, Cloverfield, is a sci-fi horror, a monster movie filmed solely from a handheld camcorder.

Hud, the filmmaker is creating a movie to say bye to his best friend, Rob who is moving from the city. The whole movie is filmed on the camcorder, similar to Super 8 and Earth to Echo. The footage is shaky and jerky capturing the feeling of being right in the action. Due to this it caused a bit of a problem in cinemas, it was the trigger for motion sickness, migraines and vomiting. This was so bad that some cinemas released a warning poster. 440px-Cloverfieldwarning.jpg

The effect of it all being filmed from the POV of Hud also generates a feeling of fear. In first person books it is rare for the first person to die (it has happened though) but in this all the viewer knows they are watching footage from a camcorder and does this mean that the main character will be killed and the tape found…

“Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle called the film “the most intense and original creature feature I’ve seen in my adult moviegoing life […] a pure-blood, grade A, exhilarating monster movie.” He cites Matt Reeves‘ direction, the “whip-smart, stylistically invisible” script and the “nearly subconscious evocation of our current paranoid, terror-phobic times” as the keys to the film’s success, saying that telling the story through the lens of one character’s camera “works fantastically well”

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Another similar and well know movie is the Blair Witch Project and I’m not too proud to admit that I’m way too terrified to research that.

So whilst the subjective viewpoint to film an entire movie is rare, it makes it shine out when something is created like that. From the eerie still shots of Lady in the Lake to the outlandish, motion sickness, rollercoaster esque of Cloverfield this effect brings something very special to motion picture, catapulting the viewer right into the scene of the action, the only way to escape is to close your eyes because the camera certainly isn’t going to do that until the end.

 

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5 thoughts on “Subjective viewpoints

  1. I’ve never heard before of a movie being made with one take all the way through. Amazing achievement. Re the film “Cloverfield” – it made me think of wearing something like a GoPro camera. Have you ever done that?

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    • Me neither, it sounds absolutely incredible! Can you imagine the pressure to get that right, both for the actors and camera crew, I bet they had to all lie down after that. I haven’t got a Go Pro but have always fancied trying one out. I do have a handheld camera so maybe I could try that out and shoot an action clip 😀 How about you? Have you tried it?

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  2. I do have a GoPro camera plus a strap to have it on my chest. I haven’t used it very often and last time all I got was views of tree tops! However, previous ones were quite good except I felt slightly seasick because it rolls slightly of course as you’re walking. I actually found the best way was to set it to take a photograph every minute or so. I must use it again. So many things on my list!!

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    • Aw nice, I bet that’s fun. Haha that’s funny, shame it rolls like that. Ah so like a time-lapse, that sounds good. What else is on your list? I really like what you said so I’m going to be trying out a subjective short movie, we live near a wood so can hopefully get some dramatic scenes 🙂

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      • Oh dear! Use GoPro and also my medium format film camera; really get into PS layers; practise compositing. Loads and loads of practising at most things photographic, plus working at layers of narrative.
        Looking forward to your subjective short movie.

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