Hippy-hippy shake: Camera and actor on the move in "The Bourne Ultimatum."
The invention in the early 1970s of the camera stabilizer popularly known as the Steadicam (actually a brand name, like Kleenex or TiVo) was a milestone in the technology and aesthetics of film. The freedom and fluidity with which the camera could "float" through a scene was astounding. It was first used in films such as "Bound for Glory" and "Rocky" -- but try to imagine "Halloween" or "The Shining" without it. (On the other hand, the "Shaky-cam" created by Sam Raimi and crew for "The Evil Dead" -- which involved bolting a 16 mm camera to a two-by-four carried by two grips running through the woods -- had a lesser historical impact, but was comparably effective for its purposes.)
Woody Allen and cinematographer Carlo Di Palma used old-fashioned hand-held camerawork for "Husbands and Wives" (1992) -- most noticeably in the opening scene, which became notorious because it made some moviegoers dizzy or nauseous. Theaters posted signs at their box office windows warning people that the movie could induce motion sickness.
Roger Ebert has received a lot of Answer Man mail about all the jittery camerawork in Paul Greengrass's "The Bourne Ultimatum" (see "Shake, rattle, and Bourne!"). And now David Bordwell, in a characteristically well-researched and fun-to-read post on his and Kristin Thompson's blog ("Unsteadicam chronicles"), says: "A spectre is haunting contemporary cinema: the shaky shot." ... Some viewers and critics think the jarring quality of ["The Bourne Ultimatum"] proceeds from rapid editing. The cutting in "Bourne Ultimatum" is indeed very fast; there are about 3200 shots in 105 minutes, yielding an average of about 2 seconds per shot. But there are other fast-cut films that don’t yield the same dizzy effects, such as "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (1.6 seconds average), "Batman Begins" (1.9 seconds), "Idiocracy" (1.9 seconds), and the "Transporter" movies (less than 2 seconds). [...]To put this in perspective, check out the Cinemetrics database (to which, of course, Bordwell is a contributor), and you'll find the average shot length of the late Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura" is 18 seconds, while that whiz-bang "L'Eclisse" has a zippy 11.9-second average. (See Bordwell's article at Cinemetrics here.)
But as Bordwell explains, when it comes to the disorienting effect of some shots, it ain't the meter, it's the motion: