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Between the Eye and the World

The Emergence of the Point-of-View Shot

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Elena Dagrada

The point-of-view shot is usually perceived as a «natural» device, yet its naturalness is illusory. This book provides an answer to the question: «Where does the point-of-view shot come from?» It investigates the emergence of this filmic form as the product of a culture and its history, unravelling the difference between a point-of-view shot and a character’s subjective viewpoint. In so doing, it shows that what would become the point-of-view shot developed from the interposition, between the eye and the world, of a prosthesis capable of modifying the conditions needed to access the visible, and thus to expand the potential of human vision. Moreover, the book offers inspiration for further research on modern (and postmodern) vision as a mediated vision, an important topic in contemporary debates in the digital media landscape.
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Introduction

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This study originates from a conviction and a question. The conviction – today a shared belief, common to most film scholars – is that the set of filmic forms dominating Western institutional cinema is the product of a culture and its history, rather than the expression of what was once presumed to be “naturalness”. The question concerns the emergence of one of the most fascinating filmic forms, commonly called the point-of-view shot, which represents on the screen the characters’ gaze, showing what they see from their own optical vantage point.

The relationship between this conviction and this question may appear quite unrelated. Actually, it relies on the fact that, even today, ordinary spectators perceive the point-of-view shot as a “natural” device, which everyone understands without necessarily realising that it needs to be understood. And yet, to claim that the set of filmic forms dominating Western cinema is the product of a culture and its history means precisely to question the apparent naturalness of its devices. This study, then, investigates the emergence of what we call today a point-of-view shot. It examines the first period in cinema history – generally referred to as early cinema – in which some films include images representing what a character sees, usually looking through an optical instrument or a keyhole, and thus showing some views mediated through the evidence of a gaze. It tries, therefore, to provide an answer to the question: “Where does the point-of-view shot come from?”, analysing early films in which the...

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