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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Google Glass and the Rise of POV

Will Google Glass revive a controversial cinematographic technique?

  • May 1, 2013

The other day I wrote about how I was skeptical about advertisements ever finding a home on Google Glass, largely for reasons of “screen real estate” (“reality real estate” may be more apt). I urged readers to take my argument with a grain of salt, having neither sampled Google Glass nor having seen a simulation of it. Yesterday, Google finally posted a video introduction to the Google Glass experience. Check it out here:

If Google Glass indeed becomes the next smartphone–something I’m agnostic if not skeptical about, but something that doesn’t seem impossible, either–then this video might mark the beginning of a new visual epoch. Something interesting happens around the 0:20 mark in the video above. We cut from a third-person view, to a first-person view; where before we saw a woman, now we see what she sees.

We’re familiar, of course, with the “point of view” shot, a staple in cinema for decades. One of my favorite curiosities of old cinema is the Robert Montgomery version of “Lady in the Lake,” for instance, in which the camera simulates the viewpoint of the private eye Philip Marlowe throughout the film. The idea was that just as Raymond Chandler’s books were written in the first-person, so should film attempt to do so; the novel’s “I” would become the camera’s eye.

It was an outrageous idea, seemingly far too experimental and high-concept for a major studio release, and in 1947, no less. Check out a scene:

A full 105 minutes of this is downright dizzying, though, and most filmmakers have restrained the use of the first-person camera perspective for selected expressive moments within films (the moment a character awakes from unconsciousness being an especially common one). First-person cinematography has had pride of place in more recent science fiction though, as with Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” (1995) or Matt Reeves’s “Cloverfield” (2008). To the best of my faulty knowledge, though, we’ve never had a full-blown first-person feature film in the vein of Montgomery’s 1947 experiment again. First-person views are now more common to videogame shooters and shoestring-budget porn.

If Google Glass is indeed a compelling product that people wind up buying en masse, then one of two things is about to happen. Either the YouTube/Facebook/Vine uploads of POV video will become so commonplace as to condition us to appreciate it, where previous audiences never had a taste for it. Or: our distaste for the form will prove so deep-rooted (audience members were reported to vomit after seeing “Cloverfield”) that video sharing will be one of the things people rarely do with their new Google-produced toys. Perhaps Instagram only works as well as it does because the images it streams are stills. Moving images are a trickier medium; done wrong, they can induce real nausea in many viewers. There may never be an “Instagram of video,” perhaps simply for reasons of biology.

One thing’s for sure, though: if Robert Montgomery were alive today, he’d love to see what comes next.

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