What is the Dutch angle and why is it actually German?
The word “Dutch” has been used a number of times in various expressions to describe several different actions. Whether you’re “going Dutch” after eating out with friends, or partaking in a little bit of “Dutch courage” before a first date, the word is exceedingly versatile. What you may not know is that the label "Dutch" also has a place in contemporary Hollywood, with the technique commonly known as the Dutch angle.
But what is the Dutch angle, and is it even really Dutch? Let’s find out.
What is the Dutch angle?
Put simply, the Dutch angle - also known as the Dutch tilt - is a type of camera shot used in photography and film that places the subject at a (slight) angle. Examples of this technique can be found throughout modern cinema and television.
In technical terms, this visual is achieved by tilting the camera along the x-axis so that the horizon line in the shot is not parallel with the bottom line of the camera frame.
The angle is typically used to portray a feeling of tension or distress or to unsettle the viewer. This means the camera angle originally was particularly popular in the horror and thriller genres, however as cinema and television have evolved, so too has the technique. Nowadays, you could recognise the Dutch angle in almost any kind of visual media, from stock images and selfies to award-winning films.
Where does the name Dutch angle come from?
While the technique may be relatively simple, the history of the Dutch angle is certainly interesting. In order to understand where the term “Dutch angle” comes from, you have to go all the way back to the 1910s, when Europe was on the brink of war. The German government was quick to take control of the national film industry, monitoring all the content and output of prevalent German filmmakers and banning all foreign media.
This meant that the German film industry took a very different approach to cinema, as the medium developed a distinct voice and tone largely influenced by German and Austrian expressionist painters such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Beckmann. As a result, German cinema of the era was filled with haunting imagery and awkward angles, giving films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) - a film largely credited with pioneering the Dutch angle - a very distinct tone and look.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the Netherlands, and the answer is: nothing. You might have guessed it already but, originally, the Dutch angle was actually called the Deutsch angle (AKA the German angle). Over time, as the technique became more popular with international filmmakers such as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, the two words were swapped around, creating what is now known as the Dutch angle.
Examples of the Dutch angle in modern cinema
So just how popular is it nowadays? Well, you can find examples and variations of the Dutch angle across pretty much all cinematic genres - from thriller to comedy. Some directors in particular are known for using the Dutch angle to great effect, while some films are known for being a little less successful.
Here’s a list of just a few famous contemporary films that have featured the Dutch angle:
- Thor (Kevin Feige, 2011)
- Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
- Snatch (Guy Ritchie, 2000)
- Inglorious Bastards (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
- Batman (Leslie H. Martinson, 1966)
- Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005)
VOX Video: Why movies tilt the camera
Interested to learn more about this famous film technique? Check out the video below.
So the next time you decide to sit bank with friends or family - whether it's at your local cinema or curled up on the sofa at home with Netflix - keep an eye peeled for any examples of the Dutch angle!