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Camera and performer: energetic engagement with the shield

Donaldson, L. F. (2013) Camera and performer: energetic engagement with the shield. In: Jacobs, J. and Peacock, S. (eds.) Television Aesthetics and Style. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 209-218. ISBN 9781441157515

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The stylistic strategies, in particular those concerning camera placement and movement, of The Shield (FX, 2002-08) seem to directly fit into an aesthetic tradition developed by US cop dramas like Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-87), Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC, 1993-99) and NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993-2005). In these precinct dramas, decisions concerning spatial arrangements of camera and performer foreground a desire to present and react to action while it is happening, and with a minimum of apparent construction. As Jonathan Bignell (2009) has argued, the intimacy and immediacy of this stylistic approach, which has at its core an attempt at a documentary-like realism, is important to the police drama as a genre, while also being tendencies that have been taken as specific characteristics of television more generally. I explore how The Shield develops this tradition of a reactive camera style in its strategy of shooting with two cameras rather than one, with specific attention to how this shapes the presentation of performance. Through a detailed examination of the relationship between performer and camera(s) the chapter considers the way the series establishes access to the fictional world, which is crucial to the manner of police investigation central to its drama, and the impact of this on how we engage with performance. The cameras’ placement appears to balance various impulses, including: the demands of attending to an ensemble cast, spontaneous performance style, and action that is physically dynamic and involving. In a series that makes stylistic decisions around presentation of the body on-screen deliberately close yet obstructive, involving yet fleeting, the chapter explores the affect of this on the watching experience.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:36206
Uncontrolled Keywords:television style, television aesthetics, television performance, the body, The Shield, US television drama, tv cop series, camera movement, hand-held camera, documentary asthetics

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