Culture & Media / Images / Video & Film

Through the Eye of the Camera

In any type of  media that intends to convey a message, the point of view from which the message is being given is obviously a key factor.  This is especially apparent in film, television shows, and documentaries, where the point of view can be visually demonstrated.  As John Douglass and Glenn Harnden point out in chapter 3 of The Art of Technique: An Aesthetic Approach to Film and Video Production, the different methods of employing the point of view can drastically change the message or story.  Naturally, the three points of view that can be used in a film are first, second, and third person. First person can either be established with voice-over narration of a character telling the story and including insights into his or her thoughts and motivations, or brief first-person shots can be used to show the literal point of view of a character, what lies within their field of vision.  Second person, addressing the understood “you” of the viewer, is employed most often in advertisements.  And finally, third person is the most common.  Either a third party who is uninvolved from the action can give narration, or the events and conflicts of the film simply revolve around the main character.

The visual (not storytelling) point of view used will dictate and control what the audience is able to see; in other words, the camera is in control of what is shown in a film.  Usually, the camera allows the viewer to see the important events of the film and gives an sense of omniscience that the viewer has over the characters within the film.  As Douglass, Harnden, and many others have said, the camera often acts as a voyeur, allowing the viewer to see what goes on behind walls and doors, or even through the eyes of a voyeur within the film.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is known for its unusual camera work that reveals the omniscience of the camera and the viewer.  In several scenes, the camera makes Marion, the female lead, the object of the gaze of the viewer, an inanimate object within the scene, or her eventual killer, Norman.

The opening scene of the movie (clip includes the opening credits) creates this sense of voyeurism immediately.  The film begins with an establishing shot overlooking the city of Phoenix, and then in a continual tracking shot, zooms in on a building, then one of its upper-story windows, and finally slips under the blinds of the window to reveal the room inside, where Marion and Sam have met for an afternoon tryst.  The easy access of the camera into a private setting and scene gives the viewer a sense of invasion into the couple’s privacy.

Another scene where the viewer’s point of view is mandated by the camera occurs when Marion is packing in her bedroom after she has stolen $40,000 at work earlier.  The scene is shot from a corner of the room on level with the bed, as Marion stands at the closet and packs her suitcase on the opposite side of the bed.  The camera zooms out to reveal the large envelope of money that is sitting on the bed’s corner.  By doing this, the camera reveals the it is from the point of view of the envelope that Marion is being watched.  As the camera focuses on the money before zooming out to reveal Marion again, the viewer is aware that Marion is continuing to pack outside the frame, but the viewer is unable to see that action.

And finally, the scene leading up to the infamous shower sequence is the most obvious example of camera voyeurism in the film.  At this point, Marion has arrived at the Bates Motel, and has met and eaten dinner with Norman in his parlor.  After an unusual and unsettling conversation with Norman, Marion retires to her room to shower and go to bed.  After Marion has left the parlor, Norman takes a picture off the wall, revealing a hole in the wall that separates the parlor from Marion’s room.  As Norman looks through the hole and watches Marion undress for the shower, the viewer is shown both Norman’s eye watching and what he sees.  In that sense, Norman’s eye becomes the camera, as the viewer sees Marion in her room, framed by the sides of the hole in the wall.

Though an extreme example, the camera work in Psycho relates well to the use of point of view in film, as well as the omniscience and voyeurism of the camera itself.

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One thought on “Through the Eye of the Camera

  1. Pingback: Media Mosaics

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