I just started watching the 1984 Frank Zappa concert video Does Humor Belong in Music? The band, one of the tightest and most able in rock music history, open with the complex guitar driven song Zoot Allures. Immediately this gives Zappa the opportunity to show off his magical mastery of that lumpen wood tied up with steel string. The camera ambles around introducing us to the musicians; the director clearly has no idea what he's doing, even if the director is Frank Zappa, a man whose artistic attainment I would never normally question. I have paused the video at just over five minutes in and am weighing up the risks, to my mental health, of continuing to watch.
There have been, so far, three prolonged close-up camera shots of Zappa as he's plays his blistering opening guitar solo. The first was a shot of Frank Zappa's face; concentrating, looking downwards at his instrument, oscillating back and forth ever so slightly, the occasional twitching eyebrow or lip. I find this deeply unpleasant. Don't get me wrong, he's a good looking guy, but were I in the room with Frank Zappa playing Zoot Allures I would not be staring directly into his face from a near distance. After moving around the other musicians for about a minute we see our second close-up of Zappa soloing. This time the camera zooms right in to his picking hand. All we see is his plectrum wiggling up and down.
Facial close-up, followed by picking hand close-up. These are, as far as I'm concerned, the two great unforgivable sins of videoing guitarists. The ideal shot frames the guitarist from the waist up and includes both hands. Their face is not necessary but I suppose can be included if you insist. If the camera really needs to get further in than that then the only allowable close-up is of the fretting hand, the hand that moves up and down the fret board. That's where the action is. I've lost count of how many times I have seen these simple, but immutable, laws flouted disgracefully on concert videos.
My fiancee, a dancer, has a similar bugbear regarding videoed dance. Especially in modern TV programmes, like talent competitions, music videos, etc, the dancing is made utterly unwatchable by furious camera cuts, awkward close-ups, swooping shots. Every trick in the videographers book is played when really there should only be a single fixed camera placed at the centre of the stage. Anything more than that steals away from the efforts and talent of the dancers.
When I see unnecessary close-ups during a guitar solo I find myself moving sideways in a futile attempt to push the camera to the guitar, the focus of the action. There was an art film, called Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, made about the footballer Zinedine Zidane. It depicts a non-fictional entire real-time football match, filmed using 17 cameras, every one of which is focusing entirely on Zidane. A 90-minute football match comprised entire of close-ups of one footballer. There is a reason that this is not the norm for televised football. It ignores the larger picture, the true action, instead focusing on a tedious picture of a man's face looking sweaty and serious. Zappa, Zidane, or... Arnie Zane, I don't want to see that.
Missing the action because of inappropriate close-ups...