Posted in Links at 4:21 pm by Sam

I recall exactly how long I’ve been disgusted with the practice of quick cuts and jerky hand-held shots. The Rock annoyed me with it first, though I liked the movie. Armageddon annoyed me with it most, and I hated it. There are sequences in Armageddon where the narrative of the action is quite important, yet completely indecipherable.

Since then, things have gotten worse, as other directors have jumped on the bandwagon, many of them perhaps because they come from music video backgrounds, where fast cutting is part of the form. Television shows do it, too.

The practice itself can be employed well, as in Saving Private Ryan or Moulin Rouge. But more often I find the way it is used no better than outright incompetence. In the hands of a lesser cinematographer or director, it’s like giving a violin to a three year old and turning him loose. Excruciating.

David Bordwell is more diplomatic and thoughtful on the subject than I am. It’s a wonderful read. Check out his post on the Queasicam here.


  1. nate42 (10) said,

    August 23, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    I am not lying when I say this, Sam, but I was talking about this exact same thing to my wife a couple of nights ago after going to see the latest “Bourne” film. I told her some of the shots seemed like they gave the camera to a kid who had never held a video camera before and told him to film whatever he wanted to see. It reminded me of the time I was 6 and my dad let me video tape my uncles and him playing golf. We had a huge Betamax camera. The thing weighed as much as I did. Needless to say, I am sick of the style. It can be used right, but isn’t most of the time.

  2. Parker (16) said,

    August 24, 2007 at 10:26 am

    I love the Bourne movies, but yeah, the camerawork in the last two came close to ruining them. But I’ll say that they’re much more watchable on the small screen than in the theater.

  3. K.T. Slager (55) said,

    August 24, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    Yes! Yes! I totally agree! Thank goodness!

    Seriously, though, the first thing that comes to mind is the movie Collateral, which I actually liked quite a bit, except for its tendancy to shake up the screen. Oh, and this moment in Mission Impossible 3 (which I saw in the theater, wasn’t that bad) where the camera is holding on a character–he’s reacting to something someone just said, and then suddenly, for no reason the camera just drifts to the side. I thought they were going to reveal something, but no, it was just crazy instead.

  4. Stephen (221) said,

    August 24, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    It’s interesting, the mention of these movies working better on the small screen. For instance, I didn’t like Bourne Supremacy, but I saw it in the theater rather than on TV and was really, really put off by the style (though I ended up liking Ultimatum in the theater).

    Collateral, which K.T. mentions, is another flick that I didn’t much care for in the theater but really liked when I watched it again on HBO. I always assumed it was just a mood thing — I watched it late at night on TV when I couldn’t sleep, and got perfectly into the late-night vibe of the flick — but perhaps part of it was the shakiness.

    You know what really bugs me? Shaky cam in sci-if. I didn’t like it in Firefly or Serenity (though I love both of those) and in the new Battlestar Galactica show I think it’s just terrible. Dear directors: I know for a fact the events in space are not actually happening. You do not need to present the spaceship battles in fake documentary format.

  5. Stark (3) said,

    August 25, 2007 at 7:39 am

    I don’t really mind it at long as its consistent and matches the material. That’s why it’s perfect in Saving Private Ryan (where it was kind of born), Gladiator, and the Bourne films. I think Bourne especially shows the technique in its most effective use, which immediately means it’s going to be ripped off for less appropriate films trying to be trendy.

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