A high-angle shot is one in which the camera is placed above eye level, creating a frame that looks down at the subject. Early examples of high-angle shots represent the point of view of a distant onlooker, as in James Williamson’s Attack on a Chinese Mission Station (1901) and Frank Mottershaw’s influential early crime film, Daring Daylight Burglary (1903). The consistent use of high angle objective, expressive shots taken from close to the subject emerges in France in the 1920s with films such as Jean Epstein’s l’Auberge (1923) and Maurice L’Herbier’s L’inhumaine (1924). Depending on the stylistic language established by the filmmaker, a high-angle shot may suggest that a character has lower status or is needier than another character. CLIP proposed: Wild River (1960) dialog between Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick It is tempting but inaccurate to read high angle shots consistently through an easy literal metaphor: in “looking down” on a subject, a high angle confers vulnerability and low status. If this were true, Hitchcock’s use of high angles would be illegible when, for example, in North by Northwest (1959), Van Damm decides to murder his mistress by pushing her out of an airplane. Extreme high-angles can suggest surveillance, such as in the following shot from The Conversation (1974): CLIP proposed: (Last shot of Conversation) High-angle shots can imbue a sub-human character to a subject, as in this shot from Taxi Driver (1976): CLIP: (Shot of Travis walking into diner) A high angle shot may reframe authority, as in this shot from Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé, where Collé defies village traditionalists who seek to circumcise girls in her protection: CLIP: (Shot of Village in stand-off.)columbiafilmschoolglossary
A shot taken from above a subject, creating a sense of looking down upon whatever is photographed.