With the release of Super 8 imminent there has been some discussion over Mr Abrams liberal use of lens flares. Many critics have mulled over their application and possible meaning and comedy mileage has been found in sketches and memes across the web. Are they being over-used? Possibly, I guess it's all down to context. Lens flares on the bridge of the Enterprise, a gleaming hub of lights and screens? Okay. In a remote ice cavern with no light source what-so-ever? Perhaps not.
It's not just flares, however, that are in question but an emerging trend whereby film-makers are actively alerting us to the presence of the lens. In both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Hellboy II: The Golden Army there are moments where small creatures are crushed and their post-produced gooey innards are ejaculated (stop it) onto the camera lens.
Surely this just destroys the carefully constructed facade that the audience have, if they are behaving themselves, agreed to buy into? Surely it's no different to catching a glimpse of a digital watch on a Roman, or a microphone peeping into shot. Only in these cases, great lengths have been taken to place that watch and that microphone into the full view of the audience. What up with that?
During a dalliance in filmmaking myself (the Doctor has fingers in many metaphorical pies. Curiously a number of literal ones too) I made an interesting discovery while checking the rushes for a particular scene. It appeared that I had been so caught up in the creative moment that I had not checked my lens was clean. The rogue spots and smudges that peppered the lens created some irregular results. Areas of blurring, primarily, but the way in which the light behaved as it made its way through to the CCD had also changed, albeit subtly. It was beautiful, in an ugly sort of way. It was a happy accident and one that was kept in the final edit.
I kept it because it was not exposing artifice. Microphones, poor costuming and continuity mishaps are all technical errors showing the audience how the facade was constructed. Exposing the audience to the lens only exposes them to the way in which it is presented.
Like seeing the brushstrokes in an oil painting, when used appropriately it exposes the technique, not the technical.