2016, Movies

Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson)

When we’re watching movies, I think most of us never really think about the shots and scenes that got left “on the cutting room floor.” Unless we’re absolutely obsessed with a particular movie or filmmaker, most people don’t buy or watch the outtakes of most movies. Most of us accept the finished film as is, and leave it at that. This is especially true of non-fiction films – “documentaries” – which we often assume are essentially unedited depictions of the truth.

This film collects outtakes from many documentaries that Kirsten Johnson shot over the past 15 or so years, including at least one very famous one (Fahrenheit 911). The shots and scenes are edited together as a collage, essentially, sometimes jumping through time and space if the shots are similar, but usually sticking to the to the title cards, which don’t tell us which film the scenes are from, but tell us when and where. Additionally, some of Johnson’s home movies are inserted as well, blurring the lines between her professional career and her personal life.

The nature of such a collection is scattershot already, but for the most part this collage approach works pretty well. Though it is initially disconcerting, and though there are things to nitpick in terms of consistency – some of the outtakes are professionally done and even scored while others are quite rough – for the most part the film portrays a whole bunch of what might have beens for these films, and also reveals the relationship – not always easy – between the camera operator and the person or people on camera. This is something most of us completely forget about and so it’s a welcome reminder that all films are constructed and the vast majority of them obscure or even deny the relationships between those in front of and behind the camera. Also, it’s often nice to look at.

This certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s of interest to anyone interested in film-making, especially documentary film-making. And it makes me want to watch these movies.


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