September 5, 2015

Should You Use Dutch Angles in Your Films? (Answer: Yes, But...)

Camera angles can communicate a lot of different emotions to your audience, but none so much as the Dutch angle.

The Dutch angle can be used to make an audience feel a host of different emotions, like fear, uneasiness, even drunkenness. It can help heighten psychological distress and tension, creating a cinematic environment that makes for a thrilling, suspenseful experience. As creative and effective as this technique may be, its use doesn't always produce the desired effect overall (for reasons we'll get to later).

Fandor Jacob T. Swinney explores the subtle and overt use of the Dutch angle in an assortment of films in the video below:

https://vimeo.com/138044491

Also known as the Dutch tilt, canted, German, and oblique angle, the Dutch angle was first used in Robert Wiese's 1920 horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. However, throughout the course of cinematic history this camera technique has gone through seasons of being considered in vogue and passé.

Whether or not you know which season the Dutch angle is currently in, you can still use it as long as you know the major tenet of using -- just about anything and everything, including this angle, in your film. It must serve your story. Throwing in a Dutch angle arbitrarily just won't cut it; it must be motivated. For example, if you've got a scene in which a man and woman are chatting about scones, you might not want to use a Dutch angle. However, if they're chatting about scones and the woman has a gun in her pocket with orders to assassinate the man, that would be an excellent time to use one.

Here's an example of a 90° Dutch angle from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Besides, they don't have to be extreme; they can be subtle. However, if you do want them to be extreme, they can be -- but again, they have to be motivated. One of my favorite uses of Dutch angles comes from Roger Deakins' work in Doubt. He masterfully uses them to, you guessed it, cast doubt on the nature of Father Flynn's relationship with a young boy in the parish school. He doesn't used them throughout the entire movie, though; they appear in only a few shots, but those few shots are just enough to convey the important message that no one can be certain whether or not Sister Aloysius is correct in her suspicions.

This is the takeaway. A Dutch angle is like salt: you can use it boldly for flavor, but too much might leave a bad taste in people's mouths.      

Your Comment

9 Comments

Thank you for the article. The classic example shown is from the 60's Batman when the villains were always shown at an angle to emphasise their unbalanced nature.

I can also see it bringing more of a person into shot by using the tilt as in the Raging Bull clip.

September 5, 2015 at 6:31AM, Edited September 5, 6:31AM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
977

The Batman tv series used it alot I believe, in order to be more like the comic book.

September 15, 2015 at 8:49AM

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Steven Arredondo
Photographer/Student/Musician
184

According to wikipedia each villain had their own specific angle. I"m going to have to look out for that next time I watch the film.

September 18, 2015 at 9:51PM

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Great article. I love the use of the dutch angle in Batman Forever, it's so motivated by the story, characters, and cinematography.

September 5, 2015 at 11:02AM

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Ilya Matyushin
YouTuber & Filmmaker, Freelance Filmmaker
85

Very demonstrative! Also, that clip from Battlefield Earth gave me a giggle.

September 5, 2015 at 1:45PM

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L.Rowan McKnight
Film student
168

Love that the 28 degree angle was from 28 Days Later. Happy accidents.

September 6, 2015 at 1:08PM

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Avery Maycock
Writer, Director
164

Check out the trailer for "Fay Grim". It looks like the whole movie is shot dutched.

September 8, 2015 at 1:58PM, Edited September 8, 1:58PM

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I feel that if it's at an angle it's to convey an emotion of crazyness/tension/that something bad is going down that's out of control of a character, but the 90º shot in 2001 is more about showing the artificial gravity effects of the Discovery One. Is it still a 'Dutch Angle', or just a rotated shot?

If 90º is a Dutch Angle does that mean upside shots are too?

September 18, 2015 at 9:57PM

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If I remember correctly, there are some dutch angles in Lord of the Rings that worked great. For some reason the Hobbit's use of dutch angles stuck out as painful to me. A common feeling all around between the trilogies.

September 27, 2015 at 2:40PM

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Sean Voysey
Creative Director
293