Hand Held Camera- History and Inspiration

The use of a hand held camera has become a well known cheap ploy in horror films, used to get a quick scare. This is known from films like Cloverfield and the Blair Witch Project- this ‘shaky camera’ technique, however, was used years beforehand, starting in the 1950s. It’s aesthetic appeal has been used either subtly or jarringly, making audiences nauseated.

A pioneer of the handheld camera was John Cassavetes, a director from the 1950s/ 1960s. His passion for filmmaking gained him much acclimation starting from his debut film. The work of Cassavetes along with some of his contemporaries in the 1960’s greatly influenced the style of the hand held technique making it significant still to this day.

Cassavetes influence spanned many directors and genres and impacted a movement called Dogme 95. This experimental style of filmmaking was written as a manifesto and created by friends Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. It was written in 1995 to challenge filmmakers to break free from the big budget Hollywood films that were dominating cinema culture. Rule number three of the manifesto reads “The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.”.

As stated in the rules of Dogme, the point was to challenge directors to strip down their presumed forms of overly produced films and create work that seemed more natural and less synthesized. Similar to the works of Cassavetes, these films (shot either on video or film but as stated in rule number nine the finished product must be formatted to Academy 35mm film) were presented in a type of “documentary style” that later generally became the staple aesthetic for hand held films.

Below is a list of different films acting as modern day ground work for this handheld style.

28 Days Later (2002)

Vacant London. (YouTube, 2016).

Danny Boyle’s creation of a really jarring hand held motion- a very juttery camera- meant it was hard to watch for many. What made this film stand out was that it was truly scary (this I can 100% agree)- the hand held shots making it aesthetically beautiful.

The best shots in this film for me, are the recordings of the zombies running- I can barely watch!

District 9 (2009)

For me, one of the saddest bits of the film. (YouTube, 2016).

This documentary style film is one I only watched recently and loved- cudos to Phoebe for the recommendation. I love the flickering of the camera view in this- sometimes from the perspective of the camera man filming the documentary and sometimes from the point of news readers.

Cocksucker blues (1972)

Directed by Robert Frank, this documentary follows the Rolling Stones through their 1972 tour of America. The film was spontaneous- several cameras and subjects encouraged to pick one up and start rolling. The film was shameless- showing scenes of the band members doing drugs and a groupie doing heroine in a hotel room. The crassness of the film showed the brashness of the life the band lived and allowed them to live up to their reputation.

Julian Donkey- Boy (1999)

Trailer for the film. (YouTube, 2016).

Harmony Korine was one of the few American directions contributing to the Dogme 95 movement. The film is a manic collection of characters and imagery combined. It follows the life of gold grill bearing Julien and his dysfunctional family.

The camera in this film is used by Korine to create the atmosphere of disorientation Julien lives in.

Scorpio Rising (1964)

Actually a good watch- I recommend the 28 minutes dedicated to it. (YouTube, 2016).

With themes like the occult, biker gangs, drugs and Nazism overlaid with of the day pop music- this film is a study into America in the 1960s. A short films (28 minutes) composed of steady long shots, quick cuts to stock footage, hand held moments and no dialogue- this film is a bizarre montage but Avant- Garde director Kenneth Anger.

The Celebration (1998)

English dubbed trailer for the Celebration. (YouTube, 2016).

Thomas Vinterberg was the first director to accept the Dogma manifesto- this film shot on a standard hand held Sony DCR- PC7E Handycam with Mini-DV cassettes. The plot follows a tragically unconditional family celebrating their father’s 60th birthday. It is a study into the complicated family dynamics.

One of our main areas of focus during our creation of our animation was that of Chronicle (2012). I explore this in more detail in a separate blog post.

In our own animation we are looking to create this additonal hand held look throught the addition of grain and the recording date and time on the screen which we have seen previously.



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