Matt Singer traces the roots of the “Hidden Camera” genre from its “Candid Camera” days to most recent experiments like Under the Skin featuring Scarlett Johansson.
Through most of Under The Skin’s first half, Johansson’s unnamed character repeats this ritual over and over, collecting victims—almost all played by non-actors—and luring them back to her lair. To make these sequences possible, director Jonathan Glazer built a new camera system, hidden in the dashboard of Johansson’s van, and filmed Johansson’s unscripted interactions with the men. More than a simple marketing hook, this clever formal trick adds innumerable dimensions to the film’s story of a stranger in a strange land, and marks Under The Skin as the pinnacle of a recent wave of hidden-camera cinema.
Glazer is far from the first director to surreptitiously turn a camera on unsuspecting victims and share the results with the world. Allen Funt’sCandid Camera was a popular television mainstay for more than 50 years after its introduction in 1948. Funt even took the concept to theaters with two adult-themed Candid Camera movies in the 1970s:What Do You Say To A Naked Lady? and Money Talks. As the franchise continued, imitators appeared. NBC and ABC had Dick Clark’s TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes. One of the Fox network’s earliest hits wasTotally Hidden Video; when it debuted in 1989, it scored the highest ratings of any show on the channel to date. And Ashton Kutcher cemented his own celebrity by pranking other movie and TV stars on MTV’s Punk’d.
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