The Curse of the Shaking Camera

Has there been any worse curse inflicted on movie fans than the “technique”of the Shaking Camera?!?! I can’t really put my finger on when the trend started… but I can tell you when I first really noticed it. The abomination that was “Battlefield Earth”.

In Battlefield Earth the “director” (if you can call him that) decided that during a fight scene it would be a good idea to shake the camera around a lot, like the cameraman was going into convulsions, so the audience couldn’t tell what the hell was going on up on the screen. He figured that would make the scene feel more intense. The only thing intense about it was the hatred it generated in me and an overwhelming desire to have nasty things happen to the director in his sleep.

Even some good movies have done this. Honestly, The Bourne Supremacy was a pretty good film… but then it got to that scene where Matt Damon had the fight in the apartment of his old teammate. Remember the scene? Well guess what…all I know about the scene was that there was a fight. The camera was being shaken around so much that I had no fricking idea what was going on and I had no clue who won until it was over and the camera stood still for 2 seconds. That totally ruined the movie for me.

Now it seems like almost every movie uses this stupid method. So here’s my open message to directors everywhere around the world:

HOLD THE FREAKING CAMERA STILL SO I CAN SEE WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!!!

What movies can you think of off the top of your head that really abused this “technique”?

End of angry rant.

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19 thoughts on “The Curse of the Shaking Camera

  1. I think movies have used it for a long time now but not enough of them to be really noticable. I think that the craze for it in Hollywood really started with Black Hawk Down. Ridley Scott used it a lot in that movie. Plus it was nominated for best Cinematography which could have also led to the new craze. If you think about it after Black Hawk Down is when you see that kind of camera work in almost every action movie. Yes Saving Private Ryan used it at the beginning but you didin’t see it after that really but in Black Hawk Down almost the whole movie is filmed using that technique.

  2. This is one of my pet peeves… but I only have 3, and this is my most intense!

    The technique of camera shake (if that is the correct designation) is distinguished by the offensive attitude revealed by its use: the film-makers are choosing a method which unavoidably draws the viewers’ attention away from the actors in the transparently insincere belief that this visual style will create a certain mood of sponaneity and realism: that perhaps by emulating an amateur’s recording, we will not feel that we are being led or manipulated by Hollywood-type glamor and fancy tricks.

    Sure. A more candid (if cynical) reaction from viewers over 10 years of age might awaken the undergrad film majors responsible for perpetrating these spectacles to the reality:
    As of June 2005, “shake” is nearly non-existent in any filming done by amateurs using amateur camcorders less than 5 years old.

    More distressing -By Far, however !!! – is the attendant rapid panning: the
    deployment of the Pan In and Pan Out effects ( and to such a degree as to disorient, nauseate, and completely discourage all those viewers who had courageously tolerated the shaking with vain hopes of being entertained: transported into the cinematically created world as spectators…. Instead find their attention being repeatedly seized by the film makers with their vain, puerile demands to “Look at what I can do! Look : I’m an Artiste! An Intellectual! This is no lousy Home-Movie, but I can make it look so Bad it’s Good! Get it? I took a course to learn this, too!
    Not just some dumb kid playing Luke and The Force!

    These film makers are fantasizing about themselves, and their contemptuous indifference to their viewing public (at least their low opinion of a public which is so easily deferential and impressed by Art) is an important credential in their CV’s as intellectuals.

    I am strongly reminded of the poolside atmosphere in summertime suberbia. There are few adults who can honestly claim not to be aware…not to be very impressed by… the apparently *insatiable* demands for recognition and applause from the pool. Cries of “Look, look, watch me! watch me!” And the incredible fact of how -year after year- cries of “MARCO!!” … followed evetualkly and loudly by “POLO!” just keep on delighting all the young directors and cinematographers splashing around in the pool.
    Well, when they grow up, these cinematographers and directors must discover that there’s (sorry!) “hardly anything new” under the sun and that this cheap imitation of “artistry” is a false and Tiresome gimick. And no more!

  3. This is one of my pet peeves… but I only have 3, and this is my most intense!

    The technique of camera shake (if that is the correct designation) is distinguished by the offensive attitude revealed by its use: the film-makers are choosing a method which unavoidably draws the viewers’ attention away from the actors in the transparently insincere belief that this visual style will create a certain mood of sponaneity and realism: that perhaps by emulating an amateur’s recording, we will not feel that we are being led or manipulated by Hollywood-type glamor and fancy tricks.

    Sure. A more candid (if cynical) reaction from viewers over 10 years of age might awaken the undergrad film majors responsible for perpetrating these spectacles to the reality:
    As of June 2005, “shake” is nearly non-existent in any filming done by amateurs using amateur camcorders less than 5 years old.

    More distressing -By Far, however !!! – is the attendant rapid panning: the
    deployment of the Pan In and Pan Out effects ( and to such a degree as to disorient, nauseate, and completely discourage all those viewers who had courageously tolerated the shaking with vain hopes of being entertained: transported into the cinematically created world as spectators…. Instead find their attention being repeatedly seized by the film makers with their vain, puerile demands to “Look at what I can do! Look : I’m an Artiste! An Intellectual! This is no lousy Home-Movie, but I can make it look so Bad it’s Good! Get it? I took a course to learn this, too!
    Not just some dumb kid playing Luke and The Force!

    These film makers are fantasizing about themselves, and their contemptuous indifference to their viewing public (at least their low opinion of a public which is so easily deferential and impressed by Art) is an important credential in their CV’s as intellectuals.

    I am strongly reminded of the poolside atmosphere in summertime suberbia. There are few adults who can honestly claim not to be aware…not to be very impressed by… the apparently *insatiable* demands for recognition and applause from the pool. Cries of “Look, look, watch me! watch me!” And the incredible fact of how -year after year- cries of “MARCO!!” … followed evetualkly and loudly by “POLO!” just keep on delighting all the young directors and cinematographers splashing around in the pool.
    Well, when they grow up, these cinematographers and directors must discover that there’s (sorry!) “hardly anything new” under the sun and that this cheap imitation of “artistry” is a false and Tiresome gimick. And no more!

  4. Anyone remember the old Dark Shadows soap. There were several scenes in it with shaky cameras. But that was usually because the camera man tripped, or ran into something. I remember one episode where the camera is following Barnabas as he walks down a hall and turns into an open doorway. Suddenly the whole scene jerked to the right then the camera suddenly pointed at the ceiling briefly before the scene cut to a different camera in the room Barnabas had just entered.

    Sorry I can’t remember the episode, It’s been a couple decades since I last saw DS on TV.

  5. Bourne Identity made my wife sick. Missed the entire second half of the movie ralphing in the bathroom. I eventually saw the rest of it on DVD and hated it. Why use it? Why why why?!? It totally ruined what could have been an incredibly good action movie.

  6. i dont like the shaky camera one bit. the only movie i didnt mind it in was the “blair witch project” which was fine becuase it was consistent and its a “home movie”, but i think i really noticed it first in the movie “thirteen”. sometimes the technique will be used throughout the whole movie or sometimes it will just happen out of no where and at the top of my head, if i think, the movie “the woodsman” had a fair amount of shake in it and i just saw “cinderella man”, ron howard i dont think has ever abused his camera and shaken it but he did for one seen in the movie. i dont know why its the new trend in movies, it makes me dizzy, especially in a theater. whenever i’m watching a movie and the shaking starts i have to contain myself and stare at one spot so i dont get ill, like “ladder 49” it would shake then stop, shake then stop. i can understand the realism just as much if the camera were still!! if not better!

  7. kinji fukasaku : ‘under the flag of the rising sun’ used his moving / dynamic / handheld camera technique in 1972. first time fukasaku used it and it has a great stylistic feel to it in the ‘battles without honour and humanity’ films later in the 1970s. british TV was plagued by the technique in the late 80s and early 90s… leading mostly (ahem…) old folks to complain.

  8. During the beach battle in Saving Private Ryan, there was use of the shaky camera, but it was only for a few seconds.

  9. Oh c`mon now. You’re just jelous ;)

    Seriously though , I never really notice it unless it’s horrible. You’d probably hate Irreversable for more reasons then the actual story.

  10. I think this, and close ups instead of wide shots on fights, are mainly due to keeping withing PG-13 guidelines and still ‘showing’ violence.

  11. Why was Steadicam invented? To film a tracking shoot on foot, without getting a shaky picture.

    Steady… Cam. Don’t anyone know how to use it anymore?

    Now, when a “shaky hand-camera” tracking shot is done RIGHT – which is rare – it looks great. It stays in your mind.

    In DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, when John McClane runs toward a crashed car in the rain, right after a car chase, the camera briefly tracks him running… and it looks almost like authentic war footage.

  12. Its not a movie, but the soap I watch has been going handheld a bit lately for a “on the lam” storyline. I don’t mind the odd dutch cant shot, but going handheld outside of personal perspective shots is not necessary and only serves to alienate the audience in my mind. As someone who studied single camera shooting, let me tell you, my executive producer/teacher would refuse to air anything handheld over the airwaves and I quite agree with his reasoning behind it. And that’s not even mentioning how ill it makes some people feel watching it, much like they would if they were sitting at the front of a roller coaster dropping at a 90 degree angle for the next 420 feet up.

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