I must admit, right off the bat, that I am biased. I’ve been afflicted with motion sickness since I was a child, and movies filmed with handheld cameras give me room-spins more wicked and vomit-inducing than a night with Jose Cuervo. Ever since NYPD Blue exploded onto American TV screens with its groundbreaking handheld actions shots that whizzed from Kelly to Sipowicz and back again, it seems like almost every movie has jumped on the handheld bandwagon.
Every director I read about who uses handheld cameras claims that it adds to the realism of a movie, and intensifies the drama. But come on, people, do you really buy that? In real life, do our eyes truly dart around wildly or sweep across rooms in sickening blurs? Do we view what’s before us as unsteadily as if we were riding on the back of a galloping horse?
I have tried to think about this from the perspective of people who don’t get vertigo. When I ask certain friends, they squint, shake their heads and admit, “You know, I don’t really care for that effect either.”
My sister is a professional filmmaker in Hawaii. She told me, way back when The Shining was released, that Garrett Brown’s invention of the Steadicam® was the best thing that ever happened in the industry. Why then, she asks now, do people insist on going backwards? She suffers from motion sickness too, by the way. It runs in the family.
The only film I believe is truly justified in using a handheld camera is The Blair Witch Project. After all, it was supposed to be recovered footage from a handheld camera!
I wonder how many more people are out there, motion sick or not, who don’t really find this affectation in cinematography necessary. Should we write the directors? Should we lobby? There are a lot of great films out there, and I’d like to see them without having to worry about being sick the rest of the day. Listen up, all you conforming filmmakers, handheld is tired and played out. Start a new trend!