Posts Tagged ‘3D’

First Person in Film

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Based on the argument I made last week against 3D, that it undermines the connection between the protagonist and the audience, it was suggested to me that by that logic, film should be shot in the first person. Having not seen this done before, I rented LADY IN THE LAKE, directed by and starring Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe shot almost exclusively in the first person.

The majority of the film is shot as though the camera is Marlowe. We see what he sees. The other actors address the camera directly as though it was Marlowe. There are only a few occasions when Marlowe looks into a mirror and we see his reflection.  The only other time we see Marlowe is in a framing device where he directly addresses the camera at the start and end of the film giving us the setup and denouement.

Ironically, I was expecting this to be as distracting as 3D, if not more so, due to the fact that it is completely atypical. I thought it was a gimmick, no less unnatural than 3D because of my conditioning. I was expecting the moments when the other characters addressed the camera to be the most disquieting as we have been taught that this is one of the most blatant mistakes an actor can make.

I didn’t find it disturbing at all.

This may be in part due to the fact that the story and characters are strong. It is an interesting mystery, which kept me engaged throughout in spite of dated dialogue, languid action and antiquated mannerisms. Perhaps the effect wasn’t as pronounced as it might have been, be it good or bad, since the film was black and white, thus lacking the reality of vision.  Maybe I’m more conditioned to accept first person after countless hours of CALL OF DUTY.

However, I also didn’t feel any more connected to the protagonist. It didn’t create a more significant illusion that I was Philip Marlowe.  This may be due to other facts, chiefly the black and white. Or perhaps the story was just dated enough that I couldn’t relate to the character as much as audiences in the forties might have. I wonder how a film like CRANK would fare in the first person?

The only moments where I really felt disconnected from Marlowe were during the framing scenes when he addressed the camera directly himself. I know this was more common, especially in Hitchcock’s work, during this era. However, in this case, since the rest of the film was in the first person, these moments really did take me out of the plot.

All in all, seeing first person used in film was interesting. I’m not ready to see every film shot this way, but would welcome the chance to see a more contemporary story in the first person. Of course, convincing today’s egotistical, tabloid-centric, starts to forgo 98% of their screen time may be an unwinnable battle.



3D Undermines the Filmgoing Experience

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Since AVATAR, studios, production companies, and directors have embraced 3D. When considering the additional box office revenue, it is easy to see why the studios and production companies like 3D. Since the director is charged with creating an emotional and entertaining experience ostensibly putting the creative before the commercial, it becomes more difficult to understand why they would embrace this technology. Ultimately, 3D is the antithesis of the desired audience experience and destroys that which makes attending a film rewarding.

Film is a voyeuristic experience. We watch the film to experience the events that are happening to the characters on screen. Usually, the audience identifies with and feels empathy for the protagonist.  When a story is well constructed with vibrant characters, interesting plot and a richly developed world, the audience forgets all about their problems, their world, even themselves. For two hours we are seeing the world of the protagonist through his/her eyes. Psychologically, we have turned off our ego.

At its worst, 3D reminds us we are physically separate from the protagonist. For example, in AVATAR, Jake mounts an alien horse and rides away from the camera. When he does this, he is already appearing to leave us behind as gets smaller in the frame. When the accompanying 3D effect is bits of dirt and mulch being kicked up and sprayed in our face, we become aware of ourselves and literally try to dodge the debris. This is a classic example of the concept of breaking the 4th wall. Any effect, whether it is 3D, a camera move, or a sound that draws attention to itself, takes the audience out of the context of the story. It makes them aware that they are watching a creative work. They are no longer experiencing what the character experiences.

At its best, 3D puts spatial distance between us and the main character. Again in AVATAR, when Jake is standing under the tree of life, the little jellyfish-like creatures float around him and us. While this is better than the previous example because we are experiencing the same event that the protagonist is, it reinforces the spatial distance between us. Being trained to perceive depth with our binocular vision, we subconsciously estimate the distance between obstacles and ourselves. Psychologically, we have now severed the connection between the protagonist and our mind.  In fact, some part of our psyche may even be trying to “get back” to the protagonist, making us uncomfortable even if we are unaware of the cause. If the story is working, we don’t want to be apart from the protagonist.

For 3D to effectively communicate emotion and experience, there needs to be an organic reason in the logic of the story for the audience to be separate from the characters. Until screenwriters figure out how to include a “me” character in the plot, it seems unlikely that the psychology could ever work.