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).

The Dutch Angle from Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo.

Fandor / Jacob T. Swinney explores the subtle and overt use of the Dutch angle in an assortment of films in the video to the right (Click image to watch)

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).

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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.