I hate the Queasy Cam

We had a family outing to the cinema last weekend, and saw The Hunger Games at last. My stepson has read the first book and was most anxious to see it, and of course we’ve read all the hype, so we were curious.

I couldn’t even watch the first several minutes of the film. The scenes where Katniss is walking through town, and where the citizens are making their way to the Reaping, were such egregious examples of Queasy Cam abuse that I could not look at the screen. It didn’t improve much as the film progressed. Even scenes where two characters are standing motionless, doing nothing more than talking to each other, are filmed with the camera jerking all over. Seriously, have directors ever watched the footage they produce with this overused, overabused technique? Is there anyone other than 22-year-old graduates of Film Techniques 101 who thinks that inducing motion sickness in audiences is desirable?

I found myself agreeing fervently with the film critic who wrote that she wished Katniss would turn her bow and arrow on the camera operator. Hear, hear!

To soothe my heaving stomach, I headed to YouTube to watch a real film artist demonstrate his mastery. Modern directors need to study a bit harder. Do they want to create a sense of menace? Of stress and impending danger? This is how it’s done.

(Note: the sound doesn’t kick in right away.)

I don’t think there’s a person in the world who can watch this scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and look anywhere other than that glass of milk…which surely must be poisoned. The menace is overwhelming, and the stress and dread in the perfectly steady camera shot of the heroine’s eyes and face are impossible to miss. Hey, directors — why not try letting your actors act? I bet they’d be happy to.

But perhaps they’ll say, “That’s an old film. Modern audiences want more action.” Okay, let’s try a more modern, active film. How about this one?

Plenty of action here — a light saber fight and a jump to certain death, even! — and yet the camera stays perfectly still, letting the viewers actually watch, rather than clutch their stomachs. Why, we can even see who is hitting whom, which makes following a fight much more exciting.

I’m not sure when it all went wrong, but I live in hope that we will someday get back to films where directors take pride in carefully planned, artful camera work, rather than their ability to confuse and nauseate the viewer. But I’m not holding my breath. This trend has already gone on far longer than it deserved, despite the noticeable lack of viewers and critics saying, “Wow, I loved how the camera jerked all over and I couldn’t actually see anything!” The only explanation is that it’s a masturbatory exercise for directors. And if that’s the case, we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. Nothing takes longer to wear out than self-gratification.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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16 Responses to I hate the Queasy Cam

  1. Linda Briganti says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Did you coin “queasy cam”? Can’t wait to work this into my own comments.

    • oregon expat says:

      Did you coin “queasy cam”?

      Alas, no, but it’s perfectly descriptive, isn’t it? So much better than “shaky cam,” which is what the directors would like for us to call it.

  2. Paulo says:

    Hear, hear, many times. Ditto and very well said and I subscribe to every single word. Clapping with hands and feet. Nodding approvingly and admiring the clear and brilliant prose and agreeing with all it exposes. Yes! Thank you!

    So, I sort of agree with you…

    Haven’t seen The Hunger Games yet, not sure I want to, but this has been a pet peeve of mine for some time. We should start a worldwide petition aimed at directors, urging them to stop doing that sh**. It was interesting the first time. Now it’s annoying as hell and shame on you for forcing your camera operators to do things they must surely disapprove of, just to fulfill your stupid unoriginal “vision”. Arrrrrgh!!!

  3. Joao Brandao says:

    I hate that style of filming as well, but I’m betting I know what part of the problem is. It’s not the filming or technique itself, it’s the current cinema technology limitation. In non-digital projection theaters, the image has not only a lot less definition, but it also has a lot more motion blur when the camera moves. It hurts the eyes. Even the digital projection ones suffer a bit from this, but they’re a lot better. The first time you’re probably going to start noticing a difference is when The Hobbit comes out later this year. The whole movie is being shot, and will be projected in 48 frames per second, as opposed to the regular 24 or 26 (I’m not sure) it’s currently being used. It’s supposed to be quite a dramatic difference. When movies start being projected like that, maybe the queasy cam won’t make as much of a difference. You can’t forget the editing of a movie is done on computer screens in a small room. Yes, they then should view it on a big screen, but still…

  4. Power Wench says:

    I fully agree!! I hate, hate, HATE queasy cam!! And here I thought it was just me, since I am closing on senior age. Personally I think there’s a certain amount of directorial laziness involved, because current “action” sequences swoop and jerk and cut so quickly that the viewer is left with a sense of chaos, whether or not the actors were actually interacting with each other. Probably less expensive/simpler to get the effect with camera work and editing than having to pay actors and extras to realistically work through a scene.

  5. Lilaine says:

    The only explanation is that it’s a masturbatory exercise for directors

    And what does that make us, who…er…consume their ….hem… production? 😮
    And to top it off, we pay for it! 🙂

    I can see another reason for the abusive use of a queasy(jerky?*) cam: I bet it’s most cheaper than using several static ones.

    *well, I’m trying to show off my extended … vocabulary. 😉

  6. Sue Dunham says:

    I haven’t seen it, and Queasy is a new term to me. I hate shaky cam. I refuse to watch any more of Paul Greengrass work. But when I examined it closely, much of what I was calling shaky is jump cut editing.

  7. Lisa Shaw says:

    Well, here’s an uber-geeky question for you … in the Star Wars clip, at :50, Luke lands a solid hit to Vader’s right shoulder, which merely makes him groan. Why did it not slice off his arm as Vader’s later swing sliced off Luke’s hand? I can’t recall from the “prequels” how much of Vader’s anatomy is actually made of metal. Anyone?

  8. xenatuba says:

    “Masturbatory Exercise for directors” What a phrase!!

    I have a pet theory: We (the consumers of electronic media) have had our brains changed in the way they process information. The combination of the type of light that enters our brains and the speed of images are in turn creating (in some) the need for faster, louder weirder to get to the same level of “excitement”. The suspense, if you will, is no longer created via imagination (see Hitchcock) but it is crammed into our brains via high def image; surround sound and whatever masturbatory exercise the director chooses and overwhelms the circuits with stimulus to create the suspense.

    There is research that suggests that exposing developing children to video (even Barney) changes the formation of how the brain processes stimulus. Col. David Grossman (USA Ret) has done a lot of research on the impact of violent video games, and has published some of his results at his web page “Killology” (I’d post a link if I new how…I don’t.) Grossman has done pioneering research in the psychological cost of combat on military and law enforcement

    My personal experience is that I can no longer watch the lead in to Monday Night Football because the images go too fast and I get…queasy.

  9. Ana_ñ says:

    I can’t say that I totally understand what you are talking about because I haven’t seen that film, and I have no intention whatsoever of watching it, but I am very glad you did just for the pleasure of reading and watching this post.

    I don’t know if this most intriguing film-making onanism is a complex psychological entity or a simple nervous tic, but based on your reaction I’m afraid it can cause serious disorders in the spectators, including severe cases of bad taste. May I ask what did your stepson think of the movie?

    • oregon expat says:

      He enjoyed it, but also thought parts of it were hard to watch. I suspect that while we were queasy, he was just impatient because he couldn’t really SEE.

  10. Sarah says:

    I’m totally with you on the queasy cam…I understand that the reason they shot Hunger Games this way was to obscure the violence in order to keep the rating at PG-13 and not lose their teenage audience. That doesn’t change that it was annoying.

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