In filmmaking, a Dutch angle is a technique that is used to put viewers off balance to create a feeling of disorientation. This type of shot is created by tilting the camera relative to the scene, creating an image in which the horizon is angled, rather than straight. In some genres, this technique is overused, causing it to become a subject of mockery and criticism, but when used strategically, it can be a very effective tool, as demonstrated in numerous art films.
People may also hear a Dutch angle called a canted, oblique, German, or Batman angle, and shots where the camera has been Dutched are often referred to as angled or oblique shots. Typically, when filmmakers shoot a scene using this technique, they also shoot it at a regular angle, allowing them to work with both in the editing room, in case the titled version does not work out as desired.
The use of the Dutch angle originated in German cinema, where the technique was common in films of the 1930s and 1940s. Supposedly, the “Dutch” in the name is a corruption of Deutsch, which means “German.” From Germany, the technique quickly spread to other regions of the world, experiencing its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the television series “Batman,” where these angles were so common that viewers might have been forgiven for feeling disoriented by a straight horizon.
The use of this technique certainly creates a very specific mood. Because people naturally tend to find an even horizon whenever possible, a Dutch angle can cause viewers to feel unsettled or even nervous. Such angles are often used to emphasize the alienation, madness, or disorientation of a character, by putting viewers off balance. A canted shot can also create tension in a scene, especially when the crew of the film plays with the use of light and framing.
Many Dutch angles are static, remaining fixed, although they can also be moving shots, with the camera being moved on a dolly. These angles can also be used in montages, in which case the angle generally swaps directions from shot to shot in the montage, tilting from right to left and back again.
Some people consider the use of the Dutch angle to be “cheating,” arguing that it is a very manipulative tool. One could argue that the entire point of film is the manipulation of reality, however, and that the use of any number of tools is acceptable when people are trying to create a mood.