I first noticed it during NYPD Blue. It was okay then because I used to watch it while doing the ironing – this was before I gave it up (ironing that is) – so didn’t have to watch the screen too closely.
Friends’ home movies also used to make me feel a bit ill, but I presumed this was just because they were subjecting me to footage of their children in a paddling pool or some interminably dull wedding speech. So I’d usually had a couple of drinks to brace myself for the ordeal.
When I was reviewing films for a critics’ website in Wellington, I had a free pass to all the films in the festival, which was excellent. Except for when I went to watch Half Nelson. It was not a bad film but I found myself sweating and nauseous. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to review it, I would have walked out of the cinema. As it was, I barely made it out of the auditorium before chundering in the toilets. I thought I’d picked up a virus. When I mentioned it to my editor, he said blithely, “I didn’t know you suffered from cinema vertigo”. Huh?
It seems I am not alone. Many people are highly sensitive to the technique not-so-affectionately known as Queasycam. It’s that handheld, shaky, blurry effect that leaves you with a distorted point of focus and can cause gross discomfort in the viewer with feelings akin to violent travel sickness. Yes, I am highly susceptible to it. So are lots of other people.
There is a website where viewers can rate the nausea-factor of films. This is a great idea allowing you to check before going whether it is worth it, or whether you will simply spend $20 to vomit on your neighbour. Several people are campaigning to have warnings put on these films – seriously, if you have warnings about strobe lights; this technique induces powerfully negative results also.
The technique is supposedly avant-garde, and I can see where it might work in a film like The Blair Witch Project, which is universally recognized as the worst offender. I couldn’t watch this (not because I was scared, but because I felt so sick) but I understand that it was a suspense-building device highlighting the supposition that this was being filmed by amateurs. Similarly Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity.
Some people have difficulties with the Bourne franchise, although these don't bother me too much - it's dodgy focus issues rather than swift jump-cuts that get my gorge rising. Of course, it's up to the individual director how they want to shoot their film, but if they are tripod-intolerant, they are generally shooting themselves in the foot.
Recently I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild. I had heard great things about it, and it has the potential to be an excellent film. But no one warned me about the nebulous camera-work, and it ruined what could have been a great piece of cinema. Why would you do that? Even a non-queasycam suffering viewer will spend the whole time thinking about the artifice rather than the art of the story. I don’t get it. I want it to stop. But at the very least, I want to have the choice to avoid the motion-sickness picture.
5 Films That Made Me Sick:
- The Blair Witch Project - everyone's favourite culprit
- Cloverfield - it's hard to hold the camera steady when there's a monster on the loose
- Half Nelson - I have the intelligence and imagination to believe he has a drug habit; I don't need to experience the effects too
- Beasts of the Southern Wild - and it could have been so good...!
- The Tree of Life - it wasn't just the camera-work that made me ill; the whole thing was a pretentious cup of cold sick