Fake Documentary Movies

When does a trend become a cliche?  My wife and I watched Cloverfield last night and it was an enjoyable giant monster action flick.  Like Blair Witch Project, the gimmick of the film was the premise that it all was a recording taped on a camcorder by characters in the story.  Other horror movies, like Paranormal Activity, also have used this premise.  Then you have variations of the theme, with some movies filmed like pseudo-documentaries, such as District 9 and The Last Exorcism.

Is this a creative storytelling technique or a cliche that draws too much attention to itself?  The shaky camera, the choppy editing, the sporadic crappy lighting and sound, the improvised-style of dialogue makes it a tempting choice for low-budget filmmakers.  But the risk is that it is very limiting, tying the director's hands, and making the audience constantly and at times painfully aware of the camera. 

Shaky camera techniques might be considered artful, but many viewers I know find them not only distracting but also at times inducing headaches, dizziness, or nausea.  The language of narrative film developed over the decades works because the movie-watching public accepts the close-ups, the establishing shots, the pans, the zooms, the cross-cutting, the dissolves, and all the rest as invisible tools (when done well) that tell the story.

The motion picture examples I mentioned above all were good films, and the cinema verite style certainly works for most of them.  But I can't help wonder how the same stories might have turned out if presented in a more traditional format. 

I know, I know.  The whole foundation of those films often is that we are watching "real" footage rather than a fictional movie.  But for some reason it seems to make me more aware that I am watching a work of make-believe instead of getting caught up in the plot and suspending my disbelief.  I say, leave the gimmicks alone and just tell a good narrative story. 

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