How do we quantify what happens when a film assumes the first person point of view, and instead of watching events unfold on camera, viewers become, in a sense, part of those events? Leigh Singer takes us through the varieties of experience possible with such POV shots in his latest video essay (which covers 74 films!). The first experience is a sense of dizziness, which can either be darkly funny, as it was in Being John Malkovich, or darkly jarring. The technique often occurs in films in which empathy is important: films as different as The Blair Witch Project or Reservoir Dogs depend upon our ability to identify with the person carrying the story to us, whether that story is presented as nonfiction or fiction. It may communicate power, in different forms: contrast the famous (in different ways) uses of first person POV in Robocop and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both signalling the advent of disorder and mayhem, one disorder somewhat deserved, one disorder decidedly undeserved. It may be used to let us in on a voyeur’s discovery, as it does for the hero of Blue Velvet, as he spies on the horrors of the abusive relationship between a nightclub singer and a perverted small time criminal. And, then again, it may be done simply for what should be called, for lack of a better label, the “what if” factor: what if we could sit on the back of a bullet as it flew towards its destination, and then, having reached the destination, what if we went a little farther? In a sense, the use of the first person POV shot is the point at which film mingles with the other arts, whose purpose is, after all, to show us the beautiful wildness inside the human imagination: sublimated, glorified, alive.–Max Winter
Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi, Dazed & Confused, Total Film, RogerEbert.com
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter