Laszlo Kovacs was justly celebrated for pioneering the anything-goes handheld camera style that made audiences feel they were catching experience on the fly in movies like Easy Rider.
When a style like that breaks out and is "of the moment," it can feel right even in movies where it isn't absolutely necessary. But as years pass, and it becomes just one more available technique, it registers as outrageous affectation unless it's rooted to the story and the characters.
Today's two major American film openings show the good, bad and ugly of what happens when a creative camera explosion evolves into one more instrument in a director's tool-kit.
In El Cantante (the bad and the ugly), director Leon Ichaso may want to use the twitching, wriggling camera to evoke the culture surrounding the rise of salsa singer Hector Lavoe. But he throws so much of the focus on Lavoe's addiction and marital woes that he never clinches the connection - the jitteriness just gets in the way.
In The Bourne Ultimatum (the good), director Paul Greengrass uses a roving lens to put an audience into the head of a hero hard-wired for action. Camera styles, like clothes styles, can go in and out of fashion, but in the hands of a master like Greengrass, this one sharpens your heart and mind: It makes you feel as if you have the same smart reflexes as a super-agent.