Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Dolly Zoom

While watching Season 1 Episode 3 of The Wire this week, I noticed a camera movement that made me feel slightly uneasy. The scene shows a group of drug dealers sitting around in the projects, and one of them is telling a story.

In order to capture the perspective of each person listening to the story, the camera was trucked right while panning left to make the audience feel like they are rotating around the scene’s main character. However, as the story progressed and the situation he was describing got worse, a slow dolly zoom was introduced. This camera movement stood out to me for two reasons: first, it stood out to me because I can appreciate how difficult it must have been to accomplish this. Trucking right and panning left while dollying out and zooming in is not something that just anyone can pick up a camera and do. I was really impressed with the shot and the work of cinematographer Uta Briesewitz. As impressive as the shot was though, I felt it stood out to me because it wasn’t really necessary. The dolly zoom is a very dramatic effect, and can be great for communicating disorder or chaos when used correctly. But while simply telling a story like this scene in The Wire, it struck me as odd and out of place.

With my interests regarding dolly zooms piqued, I took to the internet to find more examples of times that dolly zooms were used effectively. I ended up finding this video on Vimeo that takes a look at the history of dolly zooms in movies, starting with Vertigo in 1958 and continuing to a couple films from 2005. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was one of the first times, if not the first time, that a dolly zoom was used in a widely popular movie. Because of this, the combination of dollying in/out and zooming the opposite way was was given the nickname “The Vertigo Effect”. The dolly zoom’s second most famous appearance come in 1975 with Jaws, giving it another nickname: “The Jaws Effect”.

After seeing all these cool examples of dolly zooms, I decided to take out my camera and try it for myself. Seven takes later, I came to a conclusion: a dolly zoom is tough to pull off (without tracks to smoothly dolly on). And although it might not have fit very well in the scene I first saw it in on The Wire, it made me appreciate the experimental camera work that past cinematographers have done to get the dolly zoom to where it is today.

No comments: