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POV shot   Noun, e.g., Except for two scenes, “Lady in the Lake” (1947) consists completely of POV shots of Robert Montgomery’s character, Phillip Marlowe.

POV shot Definition:  POV is an achronym for “Point of View,” a shot so-called because it shows what a character or group of characters is seeing. The audience is alerted to the shot in various ways:

  • By a preceding or following shot that frontally shows a character or characters looking off camera.
  • By people reacting to the camera as if it were a person or some other conscious being, e.g., various characters  in “Dark Passage” (1947) look at the camera to converse with fugitive Vincent Parry, whom we hear but don’t see until Parry undergoes plastic surgery to look like Humphey Bogart.
  • By a moving handheld or dolly shot that . . .
    • is over the shoulder of a character recognizable from behind, e.g., Danny pedaling a big wheel through hotel corridors in “The Shining” (1980).
    • shows a hand and arm extended outward, e.g., a hand opening a door.
    • elicits reactions from people whom it approaches, e.g., victims stalked by Jack the Ripper in  “Murder by Decree” (1979).
    • is accompanied by music associated with a character, e.g, the shark in “Jaws” (1976). 

History: The POV shot is practically as old as filmaking itself. It became a big shot beginning in the late 1940s with suspense, horror and science fiction films. All three genres strove to elicit shock, anxiety, revulsion and fear, and nothing makes a moviegoer’s flesh crawl more than sharing the skin of a victim, protagonist or killer.

The late 1940s also saw the beginning of Hollywood’s transition from the studio system’s industrial approach to filmaking to the modern approach of director as film “author.” No director more accelerated this transition than Alfred Hitchcock, whose concept of “pure cinema” made the most of the POV shot. Indeed, Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) largely consists of POV shots and characters’ visually  and verbally reacting to them.   

Related Topics:    Dutch angle    establishing shot    framing    30 Degree Rule   180 Degree Rule

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