TWENTY SHOTS to be henceforth retired from film vocabulary

by robbiefreeling
March 30, 2009 2:24 AM
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In the tradition of Reverse Shot's Dictionary of Received Film Criticism, here are 20 shots to be henceforth retired from film vocabulary. Compiled by your RS pals filmenthusiast2000, clarencecarter, robbiefreeling, sean mcavoy, eshman, and bugs meaney.

1. Moving clouds sped up.

2. It starts off in a long shot and a guy's all far away and walking toward the camera and you're all “Uh-oh am I going to have to watch him walk the whole way?” and you do and it takes three minutes or more. “Ooh, look at me, I'm sculpting with time!” Fuck you.

3. Alienated teen or adolescent girl in the passenger side of a car driving down the highway, window rolled down, her hand swaying in the wind as she zips down a road to Who Knows Where.

4. Overhead shot of protagonist in the rain, arms spread, just letting the downpour COME. Laughing optional. (See The Shawshank Redemption, Pleasantville, Instinct)

5. All side angle above-boob shower shots of women “cleansing” themselves of previous events. (Also: Into mirror shots of people washing faces in the sink, then looking up to examine their wet face in the mirror, mouth open. Extra hate to those that move characters from grimaces to tears.)

6. Protagonist on mass transit, looking pensive. Literally everyone looks miserable on mass transit. This conveys no information other than maybe they don't have a car. And turn off that fucking melancholic electronica, while you're at it.

7. Mexican/Sicilian/Indian/Iranian children running through streets without a care in the world, smiling and laughing, running right by a mother who hardly notices them, so busy is she hanging laundry

8. Helicopter shots of anything meant to signify connectedness. (NOTE: Helicopter shots for no good reason, however, can definitely stay.)

9. Any shot of someone throwing or catching a football especially slow motion with background a crowd in soft-focus. (NOTE: Footballs thrown against rubber tires to signify erectile dysfunction can stay.)

10. Dude goes to open a safe or a refrigerator or whatever and PRESTO the camera's shooting out from inside the safe or refrigerator or whatever. That's some bush league My First Creative Camerawork shit.

11. Anything with barrel distortion. I will slap that fucking 10mm lens off your camera, hotshot.

12. Shots of people dropping objects from the perspective of the object being dropped.

13. Super close-ups of old people's eyes. Waking up from a dream or something. It means the film will be from his/her point of view and will probably flash back because we don't want to watch movies entirely about old people. These moments are meant to instill gravity, because seeing crow's feet in extreme close-up makes us contemplate death. (See The Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic)

14. Epiphanies while jogging—gliding tracking shot, then pull up short when they get winded, physically and existentially. alternative: keep going as they double over.

15. In documentaries: Stock footage of 1950s appliance ads and educational reels for goofy/eerie/conformism effect. Also in docs: comic beats that rely on holding the shot slightly too long on an interviewee after he's obliviously said something weird/dorky.

16. In trailers: Character's chest is heaving from the exertion of a hasty retreat. He or she is slumped but still wary, back to a wall. Is it gone? Can it hear me? You can hear the percussive thump-thump, thump-thump of their heartbeat, louder and louder, coming though on the Dolby. Stop heartbeat. Screen goes black. They're safe? OHMYGODNO IT'S A 30-FRAME CUTAWAY OF SOMETHING SCARY AHAHHAHAHAHAHAAAAA.

17 Goes without saying, but shit blowing up while somebody walks away and DOESN'T EVEN TURN AROUND THEY'RE SO NONPLUSSED* (buttrock riffs on soundtrack, usually).

18. Old-timey camera flashbulb close-up opens shot. Often in slo-mo so you can see the scorching filament. (See: every Scorsese movie save Kundun—and I'll have to go check that).

19. Over-the-shoulder long takes that supposedly get in the mind of the character but only show their shoulder, really, and maybe an ear. Doesn't work anymore, post Rosetta. (See: The Wrestler)

20. Anything like the still from The Pope’s Toilet, above. Yes, that’s right, New York, the Uruguyan film The Pope’s Toilet is coming to MoMA.

* [ED. "unperturbed" or "self-possessed"?]

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More: Instructive


  • billy | May 6, 2009 7:35 AMReply

    Basically a list of movie cliches.

  • Dexx | May 6, 2009 6:42 AMReply

    2. Long Walk
    These shots have their place as long as they serve a purpose besides wasting time.

    11. Barrel Distortion
    It's not original anymore but it can be used tastefully...

    12. Falling
    Same as 11

    13. Super Close Up
    No super close ups of eyes, are you kidding? The number of contexts that a shot like that could be used in is endless and it's crazy to say otherwise.

    15. Creepy Old Ads/PSA's
    ...well I guess somebody who hasn't seen said creepy old commercial or psa or whatever can just imagine it. And if you can thing of a better way to put emphasis on something someone has just said without trampling all over it you let us know.

    16. Panting/Chasing/Jumping Trailer
    I don't like these sequences either, but from a commercial perspective how else does someone convey terror in 30 to 60 seconds? Allow an oppressive and frantic atmosphere to slowly build over the course of a relatively long period of time la Rosemary's Baby or The Wicker Man (1976)? No you have something jump out and scare someone.

    I'm not saying I'm totally in love with all of these techniques, but just because they're often overused or used poorly doesn't mean we've got to get rid of them altogether.

    But I totally agree that everything else can go to hell.

  • shane laser | May 5, 2009 9:42 AMReply

    hilarious page. and it needed to be said. here's my contribution:

    I'm sick of every commercial cutting between different actors all reading the same monologue in order to make the copy seem more important. i know they're trying to make it seem like the spokesperson is "humanity" or something but they've been abusing this trick for years now.

  • joel | May 5, 2009 8:22 AMReply

    The only exception should be if you can work at least a half a dozen of these cliches into a single shot.

  • CatBallou | April 10, 2009 1:03 AMReply

    So true.

    And while it's not cinematic, I'd like to add:

    Writer has no fucking clue what "nonplussed" means.

  • Terrell | April 9, 2009 11:16 AMReply

    Man you people are very angry over very little

  • kj | April 9, 2009 9:26 AMReply

    Re: #17 "Nonplussed" means puzzled, not unflustered. I say this because I just recently learned that I, too, had been misusing it for years. Oy. In other news, I'd like to see any of the main characters hit by any of the falling debris. Never happens.

  • Temmere | April 9, 2009 9:19 AMReply

    Oh, man, if I had a dollar for every time I've been filled with rage by #17...

    Poeple's eyes are naturally drawn to explosions! That's why movies are full of them! Turn around and look, &$@hole!!!

  • Ben | April 9, 2009 8:01 AMReply

    The one I think you clearly missed is the opening title sequence shot where the camera pans across every item along the walls, showing pictures of protagonist interacting with boyfriend/girlfriend/family/friends/dog/etc., as well as useful items that make us understand who this character really IS. The shot finishes on our subject quietly sleeping/writing/inventing/etc., or on an answering machine picking up a expositional message.

  • theotherkafka | April 9, 2009 5:35 AMReply

    You know, if someone could put all these shots into the first five minutes of a movie I would love to see it.

  • Bobo | April 4, 2009 4:25 AMReply

    How about those opening shots where the title appears on a backdrop showing stars in outer space, zooms into the background without pausing, then a short narrative describing events that set up the plot slowly scrolls towards the background before fading, and then the camera ALWAYS pans downwards to the actual start of the film? I think I've seen this exact same sequence in about six movies now. Have directors lost their sense of originality nowadays?

  • GRSW | April 2, 2009 3:55 AMReply

    I am not in the film industry but the shot that just pisses me off is the actor laying on their bed/ or cot while fan blades spin just below the camera. In war movies, be sure to add in a swooshy helicopter sound to signify some flashback or dream sequence. I saw that shot decades ago. I get it. Think of something else.

  • Joseph "Jon" Lanthier | March 31, 2009 10:41 AMReply

    Fantastic list, especially #6. Japanese film more or less took that shot to its zenith in, what, like maybe the 60s?

    I'm not particularly fond of the Vertigo-esque shots either wherein the camera dollies forward whilst zooming out (or vice versa) to manipulate background/foreground tension as either centrifugal or centripetal. Alternative: why not just zoom/dolly in/out? Choose one, jackass.

  • the rifleman | March 31, 2009 5:59 AMReply

    I nominate any shot in which Christian Bale is the subject

  • Chris | March 31, 2009 5:18 AMReply

    Fucking awesome. Nice work.

  • mjr | March 31, 2009 5:17 AMReply

    And yet another (can't believe I or anyone forgot this -- it should absolutely be #1): the patented, supposedly inherently nostalgic/besuming Wes Anderson shot, a symmetrical composition with a neutral expressioned character placed in the dead center wearing quasi-ironic thrift store threads as a canonic (or campaigning for the canonic) indie/British Invasion/70s glam rock nugget drenches us in tragically cool sonic goo to impart said character's lovably disaffected nature. See: Everything Is Illuminated, Broken Flowers, and, from what I can tell from its blindingly painful trailer, the upcoming unholy Sam Mendes/Dave Eggers union Away We Go.

  • Nellie | March 31, 2009 3:25 AMReply

    re: #14

    I think Juliette Binoche earned a nomination for Best Actress in a GIF for this.

  • Micky | March 31, 2009 1:57 AMReply

    "I am so angry/frightened/delighted right now, I will not only shoot at you with my gun, but I will SCREAM while I do it!"

  • Micky | March 31, 2009 1:52 AMReply

    If we didn't have shots like that from The Pope's Toilet, then we would never have had Radio.

    Are you willing to live with consequences like that...?

  • gokinsmen | March 31, 2009 1:25 AMReply

    Great idea for a's been on my mind for a while now. Couple of additions:

    21. Golden Hour Photography. Hollywood and art cinema alike rely on it for can't-miss-prettiness and artistic self-affirmation. Days of Heaven was thirty years ago...find a new trick. Has anyone, professional or student, ever done a "bad" golden hour shot? Yawn.

    22. Patterned Shadows Falling Over Faces. Preferably while one character stares out a window pensively.

    23. Silhouette Shots Framed by a Doorway - usually as a camera dollys in. Another thing Hollywood and "art" cinema always agree on.

    24. Labored, super-choreographed, show-offy tracking shots. Somehow, even when I see a really skilled execution of one (e.g. Atonement) it still leaves me cold.

  • Mark Asch | March 30, 2009 6:21 AMReply

    Phone rings. Ennui-ridden protagonist does not answer the phone. Phone rings again. Protagonist's existential exhaustion precludes him/her answering phone. Phone rings again. What deep malaise or buried trauma. could be keeping protagonist rooted to couch in mystifying inertia? Phone rings again. DEAR CHRIST ANSWER THE FUCKING PHONE.

    I hate movies where people don't answer the phone.

    This is not a "shot" so much as a "scene that helps pad your minimalist indie character study out to 90 minutes, so it can be screened at festivals and receive a guardedly positive review from Robert Kohler", but still.

  • mjr | March 30, 2009 4:31 AMReply

    Since you liberal elites didn't invite me to the party you subsequently forgot a pretty obvious one: unless your name is Orson Welles or James Whale, you are not allowed to employ canted angles, ever. And if you do, at least pretend they're narratively or psychologically motivated, eh, Danny Boyle?

  • Bob Hawk | March 30, 2009 3:33 AMReply

    Great list -- but the exception always proves the rule (I think). A few caveats:

    1. "It starts off in a long shot and a guy’s all far away and walking toward the camera and you’re all 'Uh-oh am I going to have to watch him walk the whole way?' and you do and it takes three minutes or more. 'Ooh, look at me, I’m sculpting with time!' Fuck you."

    Response: This does not always apply, at least if they're DOING SOMETHING. I'm thinking of that fantastic shot in "Hunger" where the prison guard, in real time from the far end of the corridor, proceeds to scrubs down the LONG urine-soaked corridor until his hard-bristle broom is in your face.

    2. "(NOTE: Footballs thrown against rubber tires to signify erectile dysfunction can stay.)"

    Response: wouldn't this signify premature ejaculation? Erectile dysfunction is usually represented by some phallic object (like a hose) going limp.

    3. "Super close-ups of old people’s eyes. . ."

    Response: Not when they're Hal Holbrook's (cf. "Into the Wild"). He shoulda won the Oscar! (Javier was not supporting ANYBODY.)

    Otherwise, I agree with everything on your list. Now, how about doing one of SOUNDS??