Gasland made me ill
I finally sat down to watch this documentary about the horrific environmental abuses of the natural gas extraction process and what it does to local water supplies. I think it's a great story, but I had to stop watching it halfway thru.
Only because the camerawork and editing was making me physically nauseous. I'm thinking the guy was pushing this disorienting aspect of the camerawork to emphasize the story, which for most of the first hour is documenting the stories of the sick people affected by the drilling and the post-drilling extraction, and the pollutants they are exposed to.
Shakey-cam galore, a lot of max-zoom hand-held stuff, auto-focus going in and out, bad iris control, twitchy cutting and trombone zooming and random rack de-focusing. I felt like I was coming down with the same neurological symptoms as the poor poisoned bastards he was interviewing. I get it... as an effect. But after 45 minutes of it I was yelling at the screen: "DUDE! BUY A FREAKING TRIPOD!!!!!". The same technique used to help me as audience relate to the subjects was now turning me off and more and more taking me out of the story, taking away my identification and sympathy with the film-maker. The droning monotone narration didn't help either.
Over-using ANY narrative tool risks alienating the audience. Here's an awesome and important story that needs to be told, needs to be heard... and I had to turn it off at the halfway point because the technique got in the way of the message.
I'll try to pick it up again tomorrow, see if it gets any better. But I'm guessing not. Don't misconstrue this as me being all fuddy-duddy and conventional in my expectations of what constitutes cinematography. I'm just saying that too much of anything can be a bad thing, and Gasland's shaky shooting is too much, if it insists upon itself to the detriment of the actual message of the film.
I have the same problems trying to get through Tony Scott films.
I stumbled upon GasLand yesterday whilst browsing channels and was hooked. I found the shaky camera work seemed to appear either when the narrator/director was shooting something out his car window or when doing something on the fly, or when someone else was operating the camera. And the film seemed to alternate between DV and HDV or P2 - there are a number of shots where you see the other camera in the shot. Like most docs these days, it is very one-sided. Possibly this is because he was refused interviews by the whole of the natural gas industry, although the subject matter makes a pretty good point without inserting too much opinion into the editing.
The synopsis of this doc is "natural gas may be the cleaner energy solution for our energy future, but making the stuff is destroying the environment and contaminating drinking water" - although the congressman and industry reps appearing on camera don't seem to think so. No surprise there.