From The Inside: Revenge of the Curse of the Camera Phone!

It’s hard to commit to writing a regular column for many writers who love (and write about) cinema. But occasionally members of the Inside Pulse Movies Staff have long form thoughts on film they want to share with you, our valued readers. Thus comes a new project from Inside Pulse Movies, “From the Inside,” where members of the movies staff sporadically share their thoughts on anything and everything related to film.

There’s been a thought bouncing around in my skull for a while now and it finally came together a little while ago when I watched Green Lantern and some of the original silent films by the Lumiere Brothers on the same day.

It was the use of cell phones in film.

It’s getting really annoying to me that just about every modern film is starting to have a crowd of people holding up their cell phones to record images of the hero as he saves the day and flies off into the night. I realize that if Green Lantern were to really stop a helicopter from killing dozens of people it would surely wind up on YouTube before the nine o’clock news but there is something about this that saddens me … and I can’t quite place why.

I think some of it might be how accessible film has become to everyone. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s given talented artists who wouldn’t have had a chance to break into the industry. Anyone can make a film now, as opposed to having to go through the studio system and earn your stripes through various means. The costs of making a film have dropped, radically, and formerly a film that would take 20-50 thousand dollars to make can be made for under $5,000. Advances in technology have made it so that with some time and elbow grease an artist can make a film that may not be studio quality, but is close. The world of cinema has been expanded outside of the hands of the few.

With a digital camera and Final Cut, anyone with the time can make a film on the cheap. My Date with Drew ended up being a film with a $1,100 budget that found its way to theatres, crafted by a guy with nothing more than a camera from Circuit City and a computer to piece together his film with. While not everyone on YouTube gets a feature film deal with Paramount, it does give some people a sizeable audience and just enough of a fan base to make them happy. Look at Hannah Hart, who produces her own web-series “My Drunk Kitchen.”

I tend to think it’s hilarious.

Will it launch her to superstardom? Most likely not, but half a million hits is nothing to scoff at. And it’s not just Hart, either, as the art of making short films available en masse has become significantly easier. Talent that could be over-looked or never discovered has the ability to do so now. But with every good comes an equal (or worse) bad. In some ways this easy access to cameras has trivialized cinema as well. Any idiot with half a brain can buy a cheap camera, shoot something stupid and spew into onto the web were unsuspecting viewers eyes will be scarred for life by it.

In a way, since the birth of the movie camera just over a hundred years ago, it seems it has come full circle. In the late 1800’s people like the Lumiere Brothers would film simple everyday events. Not cause they wanted to get hits on YouTube but because it was magical to see a moving picture. To watch people ice skate on a frozen lake, or to watch cars drive down the street, was something people had never seen before. Anything that people with cameras could film they would. It had never been done before; the newness of it all was revolutionary and helped evolve the art form.

Over the years the art that people know today as cinema grew and evolved. The groundwork was laid for the elements of storytelling and with the advent of digital cinema and the recent advances in 3-D technology (as gimmicky as it is) shows that this young art form continues to grow and will continue to do to so for decades to come. However, what was once magical and groundbreaking is now some guy with a camera phone posting two women fighting on the bus, or worse.

The first film that really utilized the camera phone in a good way was Kick Ass. Kick Ass’s first fight winding up on YouTube launched him to fame and directly affects the plot of the film. It plays an integral role in the story of the film and serves its purpose. But now just about every big budget action movie that comes out has groups of people standing around holding up their camera phones recording the action. It took me a while to place exactly why this bugs me, and I think I finally hit it.

One of the joys of film is that we don’t have to see the annoying mundane things in life. People eating food, going to the bathroom, or sitting bored picking their nose: These kinds of things are generally left out of films unless they have some important role to play in the film. I feel the same should go for the use of camera phones. If it’s going to play an important part of the film, fine, throw it in there, but if it’s just going to be a bunch of idiots standing around watching the real action in the movie, there is no need for it.

Perhaps I’m just an old fart stuck in his ways unwilling to accept the changes happening in cinema today. Perhaps I’m a nut who spends too much time thinking about films. Or perhaps there’s a point hiding somewhere between the two.

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