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Arts & Entertainment

Film 101: Understanding the Dutch Angle

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 7, 2020 • 3 min read

All sensory elements in a film work with one another to create a mood, an atmosphere, a tone, and a feeling. These components convey a narrative to audiences, who interpret and relate it to their own feelings and experiences. Sometimes, it takes more than a solid piece of dialogue or well-timed music swell to convey a specific feeling, and that’s where certain cinematic techniques come into play including one in particular: the Dutch angle.

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What Are Dutch Angles in Film?

Dutch angles, also known as the Dutch tilt, canted angles, or oblique angles, use X-axis camera tilts to enhance a disorienting or uneasy feeling in a scene. By skewing the camera angle diagonally, the filmmaker can indicate that something in the scene is off-kilter, emphasize a character’s “crookedness,” or generate an unsettling feeling or sense of instability.

What Is the History of Dutch Angles?

In the early twentieth century, German filmmakers began using the Dutch (originally “Deutsch”) angle camera technique for dramatic effect. The unique camera shot was first used in the 1929 experimental documentary Man with a Movie Camera by Ukrainian filmmaker Dziga Vertov. The Dutch angle was a useful tool for German Expressionists of the era, who wanted to create their own films depicting the dark mental states and emotions post-World War I.

In the late 1930s, the Dutch angle began appearing in Hollywood films like The Bride of Frankenstein, Citizen Kane, and The Maltese Falcon. The canted angle continues to be used by cinematic auteurs like Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and Spike Lee to create feelings of anxiety, unrest, or tension in modern-day film audiences.

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The Effect of the Dutch Angle

A Dutch angle gives viewers an uneasy feeling, like something isn’t quite right, or something ominous is looming just ahead. This type of camera shot can create a feeling of disorientation, madness, or imbalance. Dutch angles enhance tension, generate fear, and exacerbate unsteadiness.

6 Examples of Dutch Angles

Dutch angle shots are used in filmmaking, TV series, video games, and other forms of visual media. Here are some famous examples of Dutch angles:

  1. Mission Impossible (1996): The expert use of the Dutch angle occurs in the restaurant scene where Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, realizes he’s become the target.
  2. Citizen Kane (1941): This classic film by Orson Welles uses a Dutch angle in the iconic “campaign promises” scene, to show corrupt politician Charles Kane making his political speech to an audience.
  3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): As a premise centered around drugs and their effects, the wide shots and Dutch angles employed throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas make for a particularly disorienting experience for film audiences.
  4. Do the Right Thing (1989): In Do the Right Thing, when Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem, and Smiley walk into a diner to confront Sal, the tension is palpable because of the tilted camera angle. Legendary director Spike Lee uses the tilted camera angle to clue the audience into the impending conflict.
  5. Inception (2010): One of the core themes of Inception is dreams versus reality. Since much of the film takes place in a layered dream world, numerous Dutch tilts are employed throughout the entire film, contributing to the overall feeling of uncertainty and instability the audience feels, along with the characters on-screen.
  6. Batman (1960s): In the live-action Batman TV series from the 1960s, villains like The Penguin and The Joker were often portrayed at an angle to emphasize their crookedness and instability.

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4 Tips for Using Dutch Angles

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Once you’ve identified the moment(s) in your script that would benefit from a Dutch angle camera shot, check out these tips on how to best use the angle in your work:

  1. Know when to use the tilt. The camera tilt can give an unsettling feeling to any scene so it’s important to know when to employ it. Determine the exact feeling you’re trying to evoke. Are you raising the stakes for an action scene featuring the good guys? Or are you foreshadowing a tyrannical figure?
  2. Choose your depth of field. The depth of your shot is also an important component to use with a tilted camera. Close-up Dutch angles can create a sense of claustrophobia—there is no escaping the anxiety and tension presented on-screen.
  3. Decide the camera level. A scene shot using a low-angle tilt can make a crooked main character feel like they’re looming over viewers, giving them power. A scene shot using a high-angle tilt can diminish the character’s power, making them appear weak.
  4. Use when necessary. Audiences will notice when you overuse Dutch angles. These moments should be saved to elicit specific feelings, not as a way to “get creative” in your regular shots.

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