More Batstuff

Not that I’m eager to attract all the Batboys back to the board, but Larry Kart has sent in an interesting post on “The Dark Knight” that deserves better than being buried at the end of that painfully long thread:

Lord knows this party is over, but I’m surprised, now that I’ve seen TDK, that no one (or virtually no one) has mentioned what to me is clearly the most expressive (as in “oppressive”) aspect of the movie: The swooping, “circle the principals” camera work and the similarly obtrusive, “Look schmuck, this is linked to that!” editing, all of which is designed to give the film an air of perpetual stress and emergency, as well as to reassure both the audience and the studio heads that one is seeing much money being well spent in ways that are designed to allow no room for any response by the audience that deviates from a stress-and-emergency state of being. (These latter two points may in effect be one: What better proof that the air of stress and emergency is in some fundamental sense “real” within the context of the film-making than to display one’s ability and willingness to blow up, say, an entire genuine hospital (or to convincingly simulate that event; it amounts to the same thing, an act of weight and stature; if they took the trouble to do this … well, it’s like being faced with a large angry man-like being with flexed muscles and gritted teeth). Of course, with that allusion to the elderly godfathers of all this, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, some of you may be thinking that I’m erasing all distinctions here; and in one sense I am. This genre of perpetual stress and emergency is deeply, pervasively political in the sense that its emotional atmosphere for the viewer is meant to be one of near-perpetual stimulation and stress and observed purposeful (and thus increasingly familiar and acceptable to us) rage. The possible grace note in TDK is Ledger’s Joker, but I find him to be anything but that — sure, his character says all sorts of stuff about playfulness and chaos, but what we see him do time after time is plan things much more carefully and effectively than anyone else. In this, jumping back to my sense of the two related but different audiences for such films — ourselves in the theater, and the men and women who actually bankrolled the film — the needs of both those audiences are at once tickled and complacently, smugly diddled by the Joker’s behavior. Massive effort, massive effects, massive strength, all with their due impact, and the show still goes on — a damn miracle it is that the puppet-show “evil” we’ve dreamed up has that much life in it. Another sequel, please; the emergency continues. As for specific political policies being evoked and/or endorsed in such films, as I believe Dave said above, it’s pretty much a smorgasbord. Once you enter the building, under those conditions and are in some sense hungry, it doesn’t matter much whether you’re grabbing at the herring or the egg salad and stepping on someone’s face (or worse) in order to do so. The point is that you’ve accepted that atmosphere and are building a fiction that itself attempts to make that atmosphere pervasive.

Best, Larry

As an aside, I’d just note that the “circle the principals” move Larry describes has become as ubiquitous in contemporary films as the zooms of the 1970s – to me, it’s just another sign of lazy direction, like Altman’s slow zooms in on a single figure in one of his clothesline ‘scope compositions. You see it in romantic comedies as well as action films. The other night I was watching a tiny Poverty Row picture – “A Shot in the Dark,” directed by Charles Lamont for Chesterfield (1935), and at the moment one character tells another that an apparent suicide was anything but, Lamont dollies about 90 degrees around the latter, just enough to suggest that something fundamental in his view of/relation to the world has changed. In this context, it’s an expressive, even subtle device – but a whole film shot that way expresses nothing more than the director’s lack of confidence in his own material, his gnawing need to “punch things up” and “keep things moving” for today’s restive audiences.

My sense for some time has been that the two principal emotions expressed by Hollywood films are anger and self-pity, both of which are spectacularly on display in “The Dark Knight.”

29 comments to More Batstuff

  • jbryant

    The Dark Knight held my attention for its running time, but the responses it has generated are more interesting than anything on screen. Larry’s remarks being a case in point.

    I seem to recall that the “circle the principals” move first drove me to distraction in John Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights. A couple of nights ago, I caught part of Kevin Smith’s Clerks 2, and the move was put to annoying use there as well. If this was Smith’s attempt to disprove his well-known lack of visual competence, he (not surprisingly) failed.

  • Shawn Stone

    Heh. It’s not often you read about an interesting camera movement in a Chesterfield picture. . . .

  • Larry Kart

    What bothers me most about movies of this particular modern high-energy sort, as my post kind of says, is that they are so airless in terms of allowing the viewer to have any response other than the immediate, programmed one. The viewer may be or feel implicated in what’s going on but is never allowed to be a fully responsive collaborator. I’m reminded in this, for some reason, of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows,” which actually is also, like TDK (allegedly), about what dealing with death, danger, and evil under conditions of social extremity can do to one’s soul; but given that theme, it would be hard to imagine a movie that has more “air” in and around what it depicts that AOS does. For one thing, if the men and women in AOS are at once trapped and (in some sense) free, the movie never itself confuses those states of being, though the characters might; by contrast, TDK willfully confuses those states, arguably exists to do so.

  • Joseph H. Lewis’ films are a riot of camera movement – and contain sevearl circular camera movements as well. The moving camera is more amazing, in that most of Lewis’ films were made for almost no money.

    The opening camera movement of Courage of the West (1937) is highly unusual. In fact, I don’t recall anything like it in a 1930′s Hollywood film. It starts out on a map, like the giant map to come at the opening of Retreat, Hell!. The it rises up, to give an overhead view of people sitting at the table. The camera shoots through the chandelier, one of many foreground objects in the cinema of Joseph H. Lewis. The camera then moves down towards eye level. It starts making a roughly circular camera movement around the table, showing the various characters. Finally, the camera movement closes on Buck Saunders, and dissolves from his face to a spinning wagon wheel. The whole spectacular shot is both complex and original.

    A later nearly circular camera movement opens on Bob Baker singing to the heroine. The camera circles around Baker, then moves behind a post to reveal the heroine in a hammock.

    There is a camera movement in Invisible Ghost (1941), that moves around the back of Bela Lugosi while he is seated at his desk. This movement was cited with admiration by Robert Keser in his Lewis article in Senses of Cinema. The movement is almost-but-not-quite a pure circular arc around Lugosi. This movement then continues as a long take, with pans to the door and back.

    Boss of Hangtown Mesa (1942): When the telegraph superintendent is talking with the disguised villain in his office, Lewis executes a camera movement that rotates around the men. It only goes though a small arc. But it distinctly circles around behind the villain. The villain’s back is now to the camera, and the superintendent is seen face on. What follows is a typical Lewis conversation, in which we can see one speaker, but not the other. More camera movement ensues, following the superintendent around the room.

    So Dark the Night (1946): When the hero and heroine kiss, the camera moves in a circular arc behind them.

    The Undercover Man (1949): In the train station, the camera moves in a circular arc, around one of the characters. This movement goes through nearly 90 degrees.

    A Lady Without Passport (1950): The villain’s plane has just landed in the Everglades, and we see the passengers leaving it. We this through the eyes of a good guy Navy pilot from above, who is watching them from the skies while he is piloting a small aircraft of his own, just a bit above the ground. He repeatedly circles above the landed aircraft. We can see all of the characters below; each is a distinctive, recognizable figure, as they scramble over the huge landed plane, and move through the complex Everglades landscape around it. I do not recall seeing such moving aerial shots of figures on the ground in any other movie. The circular motion of the watching plane / camera, the intricate movements of the characters below, and the complex landscape all combine to make beautiful visual patterns. There are two such main overhead shots; each executes a nearly 360 degree complete circle around the landed plane.

    The Rifleman: The Deadly Wait (1959): When bad guy Lee Van Cleef enters the Marshal’s office just before the final duel, a camera movement starts to circle around the bad guy, just before the shot ends. It is a very brief arc – but still distinctly there.

    The Rifleman: Honest Abe (1961): At the start of the wrestling match in the saloon, there are two camera movements, one after the other, that each circle a small arc around the combatants.

    The Rifleman: A Young Man’s Fancy (1962) gets started with a bang, with a semi-circular camera movement around a love struck Mark in the street. Lewis goes a complete 180 degrees, one half of a circle around Mark. It conveys Mark’s emotional dizziness.

    The Big Valley: Boots With My Father’s Name (1965): A camera movement goes around Heath (Lee Majors) in a nearly circular arc, at the bar. Some fairly complex camera movements at the bar follow.

  • Larry Kart

    Mike — The question is not how much and what sort of camera movement but its specific expressive purposefulness. The scene Dave describes from “A Shot in the Dark” is a perfect example. You say almost nothing about the expressive purposefulness of the many Lewis camera movements you cite, other than “It conveys Mark’s emotional dizziness.” In “The Dark Knight” and so many other modern films of its type, camera movements are at once, as Dave says, “lazy” in their frequency and expressive of “the director’s lack of confidence in his own material, his gnawing need to ‘punch things up’ and ‘keep things moving’ for today’s restive audiences.” I would assume that’s not the case in any of the Joseph Lewis films you cite, but it needs to be more than “making beautiful visual patterns,” no?

  • Larry Kart and Dave Kehr are raising important questions. I don’t have the Final Answers, but will raise some more!

    Does every camera movement, or visual style in general, have to have some “expressive purposefulness”? Or is “beauty its own excuse for being”? The song “Every Little Movement Has a Meaning All It’s Own” is actually sung in Lewis’ “The Jolson Story”, but one suspects he was not talking about this :)

    Also, camera movement can be dramatic – but it is often hard to put into words what precisely the drama means. The camera movements in “Courage of the West” and “A Lady Without Passport” are remarkable to watch. Is that because they are simply a fascinating visual experience? Or is it because they are conveying some meaning – a meaning with perhaps eludes me because of my own inadequacies as a viewer/critic? I don’t know…
    Or does camera movement take us into some visual realm which conveys drama through rhythm, the way music apparently does? Suzanne K. Langer opined that music was “meaningful” to people, because musical structures echoed and transformed purely structural patterns found in other kinds of human experience. Does camera movement work this way?

    On Lewis: most people don’t “speak Joseph H. Lewis”. Most cinephiles know that when Bresson lingers on a door, or tracks along with feet, that this is part of Bresson’s visual language. And they recognize Ozu’s pillow shots and patterns of power lines and hanging wash. But most cinephiles can look right at a circular camera movement in Lewis, and are clueless that this is part of Lewis’ visual language. Whatever is going on in Lewis, understanding has to start with a recognition that circular camera movements are part of his cinema. Just thinking about the above examples is a starting point.
    Lewis is as personal a director as Bresson and Ozu.

    Let’s issue the La Ronde Challenge. At the end of the first great camera movement in “La Ronde” (Max Ophuls), the narrator moves past the carousel, the camera moves, and the carousel turns. The three movements are in breathtaking counterpoint. It is a “dazzling visual experience”: One of the most graceful in the cinema.
    What Does It Mean?
    Does this have some meaning we can put in words?
    “Why” is it there?

    One last hard question: How can we tell the difference between good and bad camera movement? I agree with Dave Kehr, that there is a lot of awful camera movement in current Hollywood films. It seems just awful. This is what my gut feel is telling me.
    But how do I KNOW this camera movement is bad? Can I find reasons to put into words, that would persuade an objective reader?
    The criterion seemingly proposed by Larry Kart and Dave Kehr, of “expressiveness”, sounds good – at first. But what is Ophuls expressing, in a film we probably all revere as great, La Ronde? Can we explain what he is expressing, in words of one syllable that can be understood by your cousin Fred in Peoria, or Dr. Stephen Hocking? Not so easy…

    I don’t have the answers to these questions.
    I am very grateful for a chance to discuss them with other cinephiles. And am grateful to Larry Kart and Dave Kehr for their insights.

  • JJ

    “Circle the principals”…you mean that thing you see now where instead of just cutting back and forth between two people talking you’re cutting between two moving close ups dollying in opposite directions?

    Yeah, that drives me bonkers too if it does’nt seem to have a purpose. I think the very, very first modern film I recall where the camera is constantly dollying around an actor in medium or close up is the opening of De Palma’s Scarface. Then Tarantino did the opening of Reservoir Dogs that way (both to good effect, I should point out) and then after THAT (starting about the mid 90s) it seemed to just become a stylistic tic designed to add “life” or “energy” to dialouge scenes. I think it reached a nadir in Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein where the camera is whirling around everybody like a helicopter circling the Empire State Building.

    I liked the Dark Knight (with reservations) but after watching “The Prestige” this weekend it’s flaws and strengths both became so much more obvious. There is thankfully nothing in TDK as silly as…well, I’ll try not to give it away, but I remember watching a scene with Hugh Jackman and thinking, “Hey, would’nt it be funny if he just used the machine and then killed the guy? That’d be hilarious!!!” Apparently, Chris and Jonathan Nolan did’nt think so.

  • nicolas saada

    I quite like “The prestige” and haven’s seen TDK yet. The best thing I’ve ever heard about this tendency to move the camera today was by mr Clint Eastwood who told me during an interview that “he did not need to move the camera and (would) only do it if he had to sell a Chevrolet”. Contemporary french directors have had a sort of wild rejection of new wave and tend to imitate the “moving camera” thing. The camera moves almost in every movie I watch now. Now, the camera is also made to move, and it should move, no question about it. But sometimes it feels that it’s moving for fear the audience gets numbed or bored. I guess this whole thing started with television shows in the 90′s.
    I saw “Wall e” today, which has one of the most sophisticated cutting I’ve seen lately. And the shots are often static, still, like a silent film. It’s absolutely beautiful.

  • Larry Kart

    Mike — A passage from Tag Gallagher’s IMO interesting essay on Douglas Sirk, “White Melodrama”:

    http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/05/36/sirk.html

    “…[T]he only power the plastic worlds have comes from the Will of the characters. When, for example, Susie [in "Imitation of Life"] reaches for a bedpost and turns out a lamp after watching the man she thought was hers kiss her mother, it is not the window or the bedpost or the darkness that impose themselves on Susie, it is Susie who gives symbolic force — emotion -– to the window and bedpost and darkness. She is a protagonist, not a puppet. ‘The angles are the director’s thoughts.’”

    I don’t know about Dave here, and certainly I don’t have the cinematic wisdom and experience that he has, but I can’t start from square one on this, don’t have the time or energy. And I don’t see what “words of one syllable that can be understood by your cousin Fred in Peoria, or Dr. Stephen Hawking” have to do with it. If it’s “not so easy,” either for the would-be explainer or for everyone on the receiving end, who said that it had to be? All it has to be is interesting enough for an interested person to pursue.

    If you’ve got that many Joseph H. Lewis scenes with striking camera movements filed way in your head, you certainly sound like an interested person. So try to go to work on those instances yourself from a “director’s thoughts” perspective. In fact, I don’t see how or why someone who is as interested in Lewis’s work as you clearly are could possibly restrain himself, even if you chose to keep your thoughts to yourself. Chuck the humility; you must have something to say. Why not find a place and start the conversation yourself instead of issuing a “challenge.”

    P.S. In a visual narrative that includes human protagonists, I don’t see how there can be any “simply … fascinating visual experience[s].” If sheer ineptness or foolish, merely pictorial dreaminess/posing on the director’s part are not involved, but these visual experiences are not linked to the narrative and the protagonists in some way, then the fact they they crop up in a narrative framework would have to mean that that framework is in some sense being interrupted or fragmented or abandoned, and that is the link. How could that not be immensely meaningful (again assuming that the director is not inept or being dreamy-foolish)?

    Larry Kart

  • Herman Scobie

    There’s a tender scene between Rebecca Hall and Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona in which most contemporary directors would have the camera circling the lovers. Our Woody, however, uses old-fashioned dissolves to shift from character to character, accenting their oneness in the process.

  • robert chatain

    It’s too obvious to bring up, but the long circular camera move around James Stewart and Kim Novak in “Vertigo” conveys a huge hit of meaning — and IIRC, there’s a circular move around the fleeing bank robbers in the heist-gone-bad scene in “Heat” that conveys panicky choice among limited options. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy has lots and lots of it, way more than we need. Cameron avoids it, but I’ll be curious to see how his style stands up to the 3D temptation when “Avatar” is released next year.

  • I’m glad someone brought up that scene from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which is very striking precisely because its visual language is so utterly unique and avoids conventional sweeping, “romantic” camera gestures. The dissolves both keep the characters separate and, by fading from one to the other, accentuate the ways in which they are being drawn together by the moment. I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily “old-fashioned,” though. Dissolves may have fallen out of favor these days, but though they were once used more frequently, I don’t remember many instances of them being used in quite this way — more often they were transitions between places in montages.

  • Ben

    My own yardstick on gauging the expressive “purposefulness” of a shot, be it fancy or austere, is to see how it relates to the shot before and after – do they connect smoothly or clash violently or comment one another or push or dissipate the intensity of the scene or graphically matched or opposed, etc… It all comes down to relationship between shots, as Bresson had pointed out in some of his writings. To me the modern master in keeping this tight control of relationship between shots is in the early films of the late Edward Yang, especially “The Terrorizer” – every frame has its purpose and not one is wasted. This also reminds me of what the great Art Tatum told saxophonist Don Byas that there is really no wrong note and it depends on what you do with the next note. In TDK I saw a lot of wrong notes, at least boring notes.

  • joe

    the circling camera in the dark knight struck me as a slap in the audiences face. they are simply meant to disorient us during a fight scene, to make it seem quick and like a lot is going on. it’s a bad move in this film, and cheap, but it certainly could be used well, although right now i cant think of any really good examples. it’s pretty characteristic of Nolan, who I’m sure will win best director or something for this load of crap.

  • jbryant

    With technically proficient journeymen such as Joseph H. Lewis, I don’t think you can ever rule out the simple desire make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear — to achieve something of visual interest on a low budget and a tight schedule. A restless imagination coupled with an ambition for “better” projects has undoubtedly motivated many an ingenious shot.

    I saw Jack Webb’s 1954 feature “Dragnet” this weekend and, much like the concurrent TV series, it’s loaded with inventive moves, angles and framing, most of them seemingly simple yet quite effective (I’m thinking of a shot that follows Webb and Ann Robinson from one room to another by swooping up and across some file cabinets; and another that shoots a suspect through the bottom of an ashtray he’s holding). I’ve seen only about 20 episodes of the ’50s incarnation of the series, but they’re similarly peppered with such attractions. Sure, sometimes the effect is more show-offy than expressive, but it makes for fun viewing. If I’m not mistaken, Webb directed every episode of “Dragnet” (276 of the ’50s version alone — is that possible?), so I guess he had to do something to keep it interesting! (Incidentally, like “The Dark Knight,” the “Dragnet” movie features a little debate about the ethics of surveillance; in this case, wiretapping.)

  • I respect everyone’s comments so far, but I sometimes think these discussions of ‘well-tempered, economical, expressive camera movements’ overlook the fact that cinema changed around 1960!! I love what Clint Eastwood does in his excellent ‘old-fashioned’ classical way, but you can’t take that as a measure of all cinema now. In the 60s, Rocha, Skolimowski, Godard, and about one hundred others started doing ostentatious, excessive and ‘formalist’ things with camera movement that have nothing (or not much) to do with the classical economy of ‘style serving dramatic content’. Then you go forward to Scorsese, Assayas, Hou (the camera moves there more than people think!), as well as back (as Mike rightly says) to JH Lewis and Fuller, and the whole question of ‘functions of camerawork’ completely opens up. So let’s open it up!

  • Got to remember that Michael Ballhaus, who made the circling camera his signature move, and has popularized as much as if not more than any other cinematographer, first used it in Fassbinder’s Martha–the dizzying impact of Martha meeting her husband to be–and pretty much used it everywhere ever since, from Last Temptation of Christ to Working Girl to Fabulous Baker Boys. He’s good, but the repetition has tended to diminish the value of the move.

    In Vertigo, that circular move ties in with the endless spirals and repetitive images and sense of inescapable fate in the film. It’s of a piece with the film’s visual scheme, and for that one kiss, the arguably dramatic high point, Hitchcock pulls that shot out of the bag to stunning effect (though personally speaking the single most effective moment for me was that closeup of James Stewart just minutes before, swallowing to the thrill of violins).

    It’s quite a move–De Palma’s been imitating it in almost all his movies, maybe most effectively in the climactic shot of Blow Out.

  • Adrian wrote: “In the 60s, Rocha, Skolimowski, Godard, and about one hundred others started doing ostentatious, excessive and ‘formalist’ things with camera movement that have nothing (or not much) to do with the classical economy of ’style serving dramatic content’.”

    What about Murnau’s camera work? Is the extended tracking shot through the swamp in “Sunrise” merely a “well-tempered, economical, expressive camera movement” in an “old-fashioned classical way”? I’d ask the same about the camera work in “The Last Laugh” and “Faust”.

  • Michael, you are absolutely right, as I tried rather elliptically to suggest in my original post: the 60s marks some kind of watershed in the liberation of the camera, but you can go right back through many films and directors in cinema history for equally wild, ‘unmotivated’, energetic, baroque stuff: Boris Barnet, for example. The example of Murnau is very rich and complex, and certainly can’t be restrained to a purely classical economy of expressive means.

  • nicolas saada

    Agree with Michael and Adrian, but there’s quite a difference between an energetic camera move ( Samuel Fuller,Lewis, Otto Premnger,Assayas), a poetic camera move (Murnau,Ophuls, Goulding, Bela Tarr, Welles) and a frantic tendancy to move the camera even when someeone picks up a phone or just says “alright”. But the “no camera move” school of filmmakers is another extreme, impersonated by masters such as Ozu, Jarmusch or Bresson.
    We cannot discuss camera moves without talking about editing.
    Fritz Lang and Preminger used log takes and elaborated camera moves that were totally invisible. they were not meant to be “maestria” moves but rather thought to multiply the angles within the same shot, giving the audience a sense of pace without having to change angles. “The Big heat” and “Fallen Angel” have some of the most elaborated long takes in the history of cinema. These takes are “montage filming”, and they cut the space from close-up to medium shots without letting you guess. On the other end of the spectrum the long camera moves by Opuls, Welles or Kubrick are meant to absorb the audience in a continuous and musical flow.

  • JJ

    Balhaus did a circular pan around the actors during a dance scene in “Reckless”: this particular moment (which is on YouTube, and worth taking a glance at, as “Reckless” is’nt on DVD and is not screened a lot) is what caught Scorcese’s eye and led to his hiring Baulhaus (although I’m sure he already knew about him from his association with Fassbinder).

  • Adrian, your original post has a condescending tone I’m sure you didn’t intend. I think most of us here are familiar with traditions other than high Hollywood classicism, and are unlikely to confuse modernism with the kind of mannerism that is on display in “The Dark Knight.” Barnet seems like an odd choice for a pioneer modernist, in any case: He and Otsep were the two Soviet filmmakers who reacted against the montage movement by backing away from an ostentatious display of technique, and films like “Outskirts” and “By the Bluest of Seas” have a gentle naturalism quite unlike anything else produced in the USSR at that time. A better example of a pioneer modernist — and certainly mannerist — would be Abel Gance, who was already making movies that starred his own camera work as early as “La Folie du Docteur Tube” (1915).

  • nicolas saada

    Another pioneer modernist dave is Edgard Ulmer: I’l never forget that tracking shot along the telephone wire in “Detour”.

  • Dave, I certainly did not mean to sound condescending to anyone here, and I apologise if it came across that way. I guess my point is that ‘mannerism’ and ‘modernism’ in camera work (and editing patterns, as Nicolas rightly adds) are more closely related, and less easily divisible, than is sometimes thought. I could not defend the affected style of many contemporary Hollywood blockbusters, not even less the silly ‘staged spontaneity’ of TV series like BOSTON LEGAL with their small fiddly zooms, zip pans and jerks rigidly transcribed into every frame (no matter what is happening in the plot or to the characters), but I am not so ready to bash ‘in toto’ the crazy style of people like Michael Bay or Tony Scott. Eastwood it aint, but the ‘energy at all costs’ school sometimes creates its own aesthetic (particularly at the levels of editing and image-sound relations) that I think is worth looking at with a more open mind. That’s all!

    Nicolas, great point about those different kinds of camera movements.

  • And by the way, Dave, have you seen Barnet’s HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA or BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS lately (I have the cheap French DVDs!!)? I know what you mean by ‘gentle naturalism’ (and about the reaction against the Soviet montage school), but on every level of style these films are WILD, completely energetic. Not mannerist, but not classical or wholly naturalistic either. My two cents!

  • Adrian wrote: “Michael Bay or Tony Scott. Eastwood it aint, but the ‘energy at all costs’ school sometimes creates its own aesthetic (particularly at the levels of editing and image-sound relations) that I think is worth looking at with a more open mind.”

    From my viewing of films by Tony Scott, I have come to conclusion that Scott is only as good as his editor. “The Fan” has all of what I find to be Scott’s “signatures”: ‘scope close-ups that only use the center of the frame, shallow focus, swishy/ bungee-cord cam, a disregard for and/or inability to create spatial geography and multiple stock and color changes. However, it is skill of editors Claire Simpson and Christian Wagner in being able to shape the glossy multi-million dollar incoherence of Scott’s multi-camera set-ups into a watchable film.

    As for Michael Bay, I love what Jack Angstreich said to me after he saw “Pearl Harbor”: “Bay only understands editing as a means of getting from one scene to another.”

  • Greg Little

    No one here has yet mentioned that the *virtual*, analytical (and, yes, tiresome) camera spinaround is – in the context of Nolan’s film – an encroachment of CG previz into the film proper.

    Stylistic precedent is I’m sure compelling to the filmmaker, on one hand, the technical means used fifty or eighty years ago notwithstanding. But I think that the analytical basis of some filmmaking – of The Dark Knight, or Iron Man, or whatever, the sort of $100 mil+ show whose efx are farmed out to ten houses – forms an imperative which becomes no less aesthetic than it is industrial. Things are done because they *can* be done, even when to our senses the action is overwrought and meaningless.

    Given a bunch of rich datasets – Chicago “Gotham” locations analyzed for augmentation through virtual sets; and actors’ movements analyzed via matchmoving software; and virtual cameras surpassing the physical limits of cameras and yet miming their artefactual characteristics – it follows that the camera can spin at any time around the actor (now he’s a man; now he’s a point cloud)–and the possibility becomes its own imperative. The motion has no lyrical or affective meaning; and I think it’s analogous more to an extra, ostentatious user feature included in a consumer device, the kind of feature you don’t need and won’t use. It’s as if the cinematic demonstration of the *soundness* of the fantasy has taken precedent over trompe l’oeil.

  • nicolas saada

    Greg, your comment is more than relevant: filmmaking has turned into an incredible technical machine in which, as you say, possibilities sometimes kill inspiration. Technique as software as you describe it. If we can do it, let’s do it.

  • JJ

    I suppose I should admit I am largely bewildered by this Larry Kart guy and what he seems to be saying, or thinks he’s saying. I’ve never heard anyone relate so negatively to a building being blown up in a movie. Does he hate Gone With The Wind for the burning of Atlanta?