Camera Angles

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Before this class, I never watched Breaking Bad or The Wire. Coming in mid-season to both shows made it so that I wasn’t as interested in plot as in finding something to emotionally or visually attach myself to. I realized this week that it was harder for me to get into watching The Wire than it was for me to watch Breaking Bad, and I think that it has a lot to do with the different styles of camera work on the shows. There’s a voyeuristic quality to The Wire that I wasn’t drawn to, especially in contrast to character-focused Breaking Bad.

Watching The Wire, I started to realize the importance of the position of the camera in establishing intimacy with a character. In The Wire, the camera tracks, follows, and snaps back to the characters. The viewer watches the show from a decidedly third person perspective. In Breaking Bad, on the other hand, the camera tends to move with the character’s eyes–an intense frontal gaze from across the table, the shot of a bug looking at Jessie and Jessie at the bug. I think that seeing things from the eyes of the character encourages the viewer to immediately establish a bond with them, while tracking the characters encourages the viewer to criticize their situations (a situation which I didn’t fully understand as a new viewer to a long-running show).

Perhaps if I had an attachment to the plot/situations of the characters in The Wire or Breaking Bad when I first sat down to watch the episodes, my opinion of either show would have flip-flopped.

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3 Responses to “Camera Angles”

  1. emeraldp Says:

    I’m going to have to agree, there’s very little intimacy with anyone on The Wire and the camera angles certainly do emphasize this. The writing itself doesn’t allow for much emotional attachment either, but I wonder if we would feel more connected to the characters if at any moment there was a sense of their perspective.

    The answer would probably be yes? But I wonder if the “distance tactic” is only used because there are so many characters and if any one is giving more of personal perspective it would take away from the other characters?

  2. maxkennedy Says:

    I think this is really interesting, especially since I just finished an essay for another class, part of which was about the jarring effect that “frontal gaze” had in Tout va bien (an early-1970s French film). While in that case, I think the actors’ eye contact with the audience worked (intentionally) against identification, I agree with your assertion that Breaking Bad’s use of it promotes a sense of intimacy.

    I think this is in part because of the television-ness of television, which is already a more intimate medium that film. We are more used to people’s eyes looking straight at us on TV, such as on news programs, and in mockumentaries like the Office. In film, this is less common, and was even more uncommon in the 1970s. The image of someone’s face, already so powerful and imposing on the big screen, can sometimes be intimidating when it looks straight at you. But on television, this can enhance the audience’s level of identification with a character.

  3. annapmullen Says:

    While I agree that the style of filming on the Wire distanced the audience from the characters, I think it forces us to look at and judge the characters in a really interesting way.

    We talked earlier in the semester about how good television often leaves room for characters’ intentions. When shows allow for internal tension or monologue, we can judge the characters by not only what they say or do, what why they say or do it. It’s more like a novel, as long-form visual storytelling often is, or can be at least.

    The Wire is really interesting, because it is obviously a quality show, and while we are sometimes privy to the characters motivations, their intentions still remain hidden – just like in real life. I guess it all comes back to the realistic feel that the Wire tries – and succeeds – to promote.

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