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DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL . . . : Ouch! Can They Stop Bouncing the Cameras Already?

March 07, 1993|ELIZABETH HANSEN | Elizabeth Hansen is a Los Angeles-based writer and playwright

There's a virus running rampant on television these days . . . no, not a virus, an affliction . . . no, a fungal irritation. The formal name for this aggravation? Cinema Verite.

If you don't have your English/French dictionary handy (and I always do), cinema verite means "truth cinema." A technique to convey candid realism. And how is that "realism" captured? With a hand-held camera. A "hand-held" camera or "spaz-cam" as my friend Ed calls it. You've seen this technique. The picture on the tube bounces all over and gives you a headache. Cinema verite is everywhere: commercials, sitcoms, episodic television, even weather reports. They drive me nuts!

That annoying UPS spot jolts to mind. You know the one. Where some invisible interviewer talks to a handful of common folk responsible for handling their company's shipping needs. The camera stays on one person no more than a couple of seconds. And when we do see the person, the picture jumps here, there, back, forth, up, down, left, right . . . Makes me feel like a hyperactive super ball. But let's not pick on just poor UPS. AT&T and American Express do it. Chrysler and Bank of America do it. Even Channel 4 and Heineken do it. Why? What ever happened to "that little gentle blue pill . . . c-o-m-p-o-z?" Or "Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya."

I'm not asking to go back to L.S.,M.F.T., I just don't want to have a b.r.e.a.k.d.o.w.n.! As an art form, cinema verite is great. It's been perfected by documentary filmmakers to "get the truth under the most natural conditions possible."

I can understand it in a Frederick Wiseman documentary on meat packers or hospitals or high schools. Or, if you're going into a prison and you don't want some serial killer to know you're taking his picture, hide the camera and shoot. But what does that have to do with beer? Don't the sponsors want us to see the can?

Which brings us to "Homicide," the new Barry Levinson-Tom Fontana venture seen on NBC on Wednesday nights. It too is being described as cinema verite. "Using hand-held cameras creates a hybrid format by combining the intense drama with the look of a real documentary or news piece," Levinson touted in a press release. Hybrid? I thought mules were hybrids.

"This is also an exciting and challenging shoot for the actors," Levinson enthused, "because it's fast." I'll say. Poor actors have to do calisthenics just to get in the frame.

And who can forget Woody Allen's "Husbands & Wives"? It was like watching that first Cinerama movie roller coaster ride . . . I got sick then, too.

OK, I'll admit that when all this verite stuff came into vogue, it caught my interest. I was intrigued. It seemed new and innovative and interesting. But so were break dancing, disco and the BeeGees. Now it's time to move on.

I know I'm not alone. It irritates my mother, my friend and my friend's dog. Please, get a tripod or find a tabletop, just put the dang camera down and let my eyes focus. Let me see what you have to show me. Because if you turn me off, I'll turn you off.

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