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First person POV in film and TV

by Critical Commons Manager

The use of first person point of view is an often misunderstood cinematographic technique that has been a part of narrative storytelling since the classical era in Hollywood. The difference between a literal, lens-based simulation of seeing through a character's eyes and the narrative focalization (Gerard Genette's term) of a scene (or entire film) within the consciousness of a character is worth distinguishing. Early, extreme examples of literal POV include Lady in the Lake and the first part of Dark Passage, both from 1947. But these experiments quickly reveal their limitations as they conflict with other codes of Hollywood storytelling and character identification. As film scholarship has shown (e.g., Nick Brown's classic study of John Ford's Stagecoach), audiences do not identify with the POV of the camera, rather they are sutured (emotionally and perceptually) into a scene via identification with the subjectivity of characters on screen. This viewpoint may be multiple, allowing for fluid shifts of identification among characters, or it may focus on a single character by exposing viewers not to what a character "sees" necessarily, but to what a character knows. How successful are these examples of literal, cinematographic POV in building identification with a character vs. drawing attention to the artifice of the technique?

Lady in the Lake direct address intro

The opening scene of Lady in the Lake is told in direct address, explaining its signature first-person POV structure and issuing a game-like challenge to the viewer

from Lady in the Lake (1947)
Creator: Robert Montgomery
Posted by Critical Commons Manager