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Adventures in First-Person Camera

Adventures in First-Person Camera (photo)

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In Nick Schager’s interview with madman/visionary Gaspar Noé, the director notes that one of his inspirations for the POV shots in “Enter the Void” was a 1947 Raymond Chandler adaptation:

One day many years ago, maybe when I was in my late teens or early 20s, I took some mushrooms with friends, and then I went back home and they were playing “Lady in the Lake” on TV. That’s when I decided that the first part of the movie should be shot in first-person perspective.

“Lady in the Lake” is a film that claimed to represent “a startling and daring new method of storytellng, a milestone in moviemaking” but is in actuality mainly a novelty (if a personal favorite of mine). The majority of it is shot from the point of view of the main character, private detective Philip Marlowe (played, when he appears on screen, by Robert Montgomery, who also directed the film). The result is both compelling and deeply silly, with a lot of glancing at reflections (a must for any first-person camera scene), hands reaching out from the bottom of the frame to open doors and Audrey Totter kissing the lens.

With one major exception, having any significant portion of a film be in first-person camera is a difficult proposition — if it doesn’t instantly read as gimmicky, it can still be unbearably disorienting, and it naturally limits what can be shown to what’s within the range of the character. The first part of “Enter the Void,” which is shot from the POV of the drug-addled Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), is deliberately claustrophobic — you’re locked into the character’s head, his actions, his thoughts, his blinks, which blacken the screen every few seconds. It’s effective, but also dizzying and almost intolerable — it’s a relief when the camera’s released.

That sense of suffocation, of being boxed in that comes with the first-person POV is memorably invoked in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which is all about being trapped in one’s own head — in that case, the first person camera adds instant empathy to the situation in which Jean-Dominique Bauby finds himself, and in both his and the audience’s case, his richly colored memories provide an escape.

In Sokurov’s “Russian Ark,” what we see is from the viewpoint of the narrator, voiced by the director, who may or may not be dead or dreaming — he’s visible to some, and just an observer to others, drifting halfway between a participant and a disembodied perspective.

These days, a first-person perspective can instantly call to mind video games. “Doom” has a lengthy Karl Urban POV sequence as a gesture towards its source material that is, unlike the rest of the movie, goofily fun, while “Kick-Ass” also evokes a first-person shooter with a scene in which Hit-Girl uses night vision to take out a group of thugs.

But what’s becomes the true place of the first-person camera, the aforementioned major exception, are films supposedly shot by a character or series of characters documenting the action from within the midst of it, like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield,” “Diary of the Dead” and “[REC].” That these are all genre films is fitting to the strengths and weaknesses of the choice — shaky camerawork is better explained away when it’s the work of people who are running from something, and a deliberately limited POV both puts you in the place of the character, and limits what you can see — and scary things are always best kept in the dark.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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