The Subjective Shot

Above is a link to a portion of the 1934 Chinese silent film The Goddess. In its pivotal scene, there’s a switch to a shot (starting at 6:14) that employs the first-person perspective that puts the audience in the shoes of the scumbag character who is about to get what’s coming to him from the main protagonist. I thought this might be interesting to share because it is a very early example of the subjective shot used in cinema to elicit a general feeling of uneasiness and sudden self-awareness in a film. Contrary to first person shooters, where the perspective immerses the player in the game, this particular shot is jarring. Camera movements in the silent film days were very limited- in this film, the camera doesn’t really move at all with the exception of this scene where it tracks backward ever so slightly, giving the illusion that the antagonist is leaning backward, yet paralyzed, and really making this shot exceptional. The protagonist stares directly into the camera, breaking that fourth wall, and breaks the bottle on the camera. It cuts away, back to a third-person view, to show the damage and never resumes a first-person shot. In this case, the shot is used very impactfully and artistically, but if the entire movie had been filmed in such a way it would lose that impact.

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