Posts Tagged ‘Robert Montgomery’

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.