Camera Tricks

I saw a screening of this independent feature named Shutter (aka "Focus", also aka "Shot"). The IMDb still shows the original title, so that's what you see here. I'm sure at this point most of you are thinking along the lines of "shutter, focus... sounds like camera tech stuff, what's the difference?" Well, hang on on a bit and we'll see...

And guess what - our protagonist is a photographer. Robert is a somewhat self-despising white guy trapped in a nowhere job and desperate for creativity in his life. When searching for a spark to his photography, he meets up with a black child, Marcus, who has his own special gift for making interesting compositions, as shown in his drawings, and then with the camera Robert lets him use. At this point, Robert sees Marcus' potential and decides to mentor the kid.

Marcus lives with his mom, a slightly younger sister (who you may have seen on Six Feet Under), and a much older and cynical brother, Keith, who takes an instant dislike to Robert. His reasons are understandable - white people are pretty much foreign to their neighborhood, and do not stay for long before being scared off. Marcus is starting to see Robert as a role model, someone to look up to. Having dealt with his own fatherless experience, Keith wants to insulate his little brother from the inevitable disappointment that would happen when Robert stops coming around.

The other thing to know about Keith is that he belongs to a gang. He and Robert dance around each other like slightly less hip members of the Jets and the Sharks for some time until a challenge results in Robert riding with the gang in the neighborhood to prove he can handle the life. Somehow, with each photograph he takes, this becomes a bonding experience for Robert and the rest of the gang, and Keith eventually relents and accepts him.

Naturally, that's not where the plot ends. Robert's involvement gets deeper, and events escalate beyond the tolerances of an uneasy friendship. While we enter a realm of typical dramatic ironies, it's good to see it done without losing track of character or a sense of story. The film concludes not unlike a fable, demonstrating that even the best of intentions can have direst of consequences.

The creative input of the movie is almost completely dominated by writer-director-editor-executive producer Roger Roth. The benefit of such a working relationship with oneself is getting one's own way with the material. That also happens to be the downside. In this case, there are some ideas that ought to have been tempered. An extra viewpoint or two can be quite useful in making a plot believable, or having a scene communicate something more effectively. I think a decision as simple as using a separate editor to cut the film would have smoothed things over into a better film - which is not to say the editing was bad, merely that it was done by someone who was less than completely objective about what had been shot. The film is far from the depths of the many truly awful made-by-committee films the studios churn out. All I'm saying is there should be a happy medium somewhere between the two extremes.

The gangsta talk presented in the film is an odd thing to consider. Roth pulled in another writer to help with that dialog, and the actors embellished further on top of that. There is a ring of authenticity in the words, but there are times it goes over the top. The repeated use of the word ‘Nigger’ is one thing, but what gets to me is that the speaking style seems to get in the way of the acting on occasion. When people are urgent about getting a point across, they tend to do just that - get to the point – whereas, these characters are almost soliloquizing in their profanity at times.

As for the title, I really do sympathize. First off, the film has fairly straightforward themes and there's no obvious central thought to build a title on. Plus, competing for attention in limited shelf space is tricky business. "Shot" is calculated to appeal at the lowest common denominator. "Shutter" isn't the same sort of artistic compromise, and, to me at least, evokes some of what the audience will be feeling as they watch. And "Focus", one could argue as being true to what the characters are going through. Honestly, in this situation, I'd be tempted to put one title on the box in the interest of marketing, and another in the opening credits for my own artistic satisfaction.

But that's just me.

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