A history of failed film techniques

Every medium has techniques that are understood to work for their intended audience. Film, for example, has adopted quite a few conventions that have been shown to be effective in support of clear storytelling.

We now know what those are. They include establishing shots, two shots, close-ups, cut on action and the 180o rule, among many others.

In the earliest days of filmmaking not all of those conventions had been worked out. It wasn’t so much a question of any technical limitation as of understanding what works for human viewers.

After all, the set of all possible movies is incredibly vast — it consists of anything you can capture with a camera, edit together, and show on a screen. Yet the set of movies that can actually be comprehended by human beings is a relatively tiny subset of this much larger set.

With that in mind, it would be interesting to compile a list of techniques that filmmakers tried which ultimately failed. An obvious example would be films which broke the 180o rule: An edit which moves the camera position to the other side of the actors.

This kind of cut doesn’t work because the “screen right” direction in the first shot becomes the “screen left” direction in the second shot. When you do that, audiences lose track of which way the actors are facing, and they become disoriented.

I’ve tried to search on-line for a history of failed film techniques. That is, attempts to add to the cinematic vocabulary not because of any technical difficulty, but because the minds of human viewers would simply reject them or respond with confusion.

Does anybody know where such a list might exist?

2 Responses to “A history of failed film techniques”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    I remember as a kid, it wasn’t uncommon to see a split screen of two different settings when two characters were on a phone call with each other. I can’t recall seeing it in a movie in the last 20 (maybe 30?) years, though.

  2. Adrian says:

    I don’t know of a list, but this makes me think about the series _Mr. Robot_. A lot of movies and shows will occasionally break the standard rules in order to create a sense of disorientation, but, with _Mr. Robot_, breaking the rules is the rule. So much of it is so dark and so back lit that it’s often hard to recognize the characters or what they’re doing from their silhouettes. Establishing shots are rare. Conversations often avoid two-shots. Instead, they intercut close-ups the the characters, but with each shot composed such that the character will be at the extreme edge of the frame facing away from the center of the screen. It’s hugely unsettling, which is clearly the point, but it’s amazing how far they can take it and still tell a cohesive story.

Leave a Reply