By show of hands now, what is the one piece of essential equipment that modern moviemakers seem to lack?
No, not a thesaurus although it's true that modern screenwriters seem to be hung up on just a few phrases and expletives that show up in just about every movie. But that's for another column.
Today, we're talking about the tripod.
That's right. That simple piece of equipment that helps a camera hold still.
Whoever invented the overused "shaky-cam" should be strung up by a reel of film.
I was really looking forward to "The Bourne Supremacy" last week, and I did enjoy it for the most part. But the chases . . . good grief!
There are so many extreme close-ups and agitated hand-held points of view and quick-cut edits (no one camera shot seems to last more than three seconds), that in places it's impossible to tell what's going on: Who shot out whose tire? Who's slugging whom? Which one has the upper hand now?
It's really quite frustrating.
The first time I noticed this, or at least the first time it was this irritating, was in 1996: "The Rock," starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris and Alcatraz.
There's a San Francisco car chase in that film that is completely incomprehensible. Half the time you're not sure which car is being shown, which driver or who's doing what.
At the time, I wondered if it might, at least partly, be the big screen that amplified this problem. So when it came on video, I watched the scene again.
It was just as incomprehensible on the small screen.
I don't know about you, but when I'm annoyed by something in a movie, or when I'm distracted from the action or exposition of a scene, I consider that a flaw.
To that end, I generally consider sex scenes, nudity, excessive profanity or vulgarity, and extremely graphic violence to be flaws as well.
Some movies, of course, just want to shock and titillate; they don't really have a story to tell, and they don't really expect the audience to suspend disbelief.
Movies have the ability to capture an audience and allow them to be magically spirited away for two hours or so. But when some jarring element forces audience members to look away from the screen or feel embarrassed that they're with a date or just wonder what the heck is going on or, worst of all, look at their watches to me, that's a flaw.
That's not to say that movies that invoke shock or horror or tears or belly laughs or romantic feelings or sadness or joy are problematic. On the contrary.
But there was a time when filmmakers understood that, to fall back on a cliche, less is more.
The silver screen is so big that everything on it is exaggerated by the very nature of the medium.
In the case of extreme close-ups which can be an effective cinematic tool you see every flaw on the face of even the most gorgeous performer. But if seeing those flaws is not in service of the character, perhaps the director should rethink the shot.
In the case of quick edits, sometimes they are used very well. Check out the justly famous under-the-bridge car chase in "The French Connection." There are lots of edits in that sequence, which is considered one of the best car chases ever put on film. But each edit still lasts long enough and the camera is pulled back far enough for us understand what's going on.
Also, one of the key elements is Gene Hackman's face. His reaction when he sees that his car is speeding toward a woman pushing a baby carriage is one of the key elements that makes that chase so emotionally charged.
In "The Bourne Supremacy," the chases are done with edits so quick that you could debate with your partner what exactly you saw.
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