From The Shining, Goodfellas, Rocky, Bound for Glory, and – of course – Russian Ark.
It’s been exactly four decades since the Steadicam made its Hollywood debut in Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory, based on the autobiography of real-life American folk hero Woody Guthrie. You know the Steadicam, it’s that big device attached to the body of a cameraman that allows for a smooth, stabilized shot no matter the movement or terrain. It is the perfect technique for Ashby’s film, which covers Guthrie’s time moving among those left indigent by The Great Depression; it’s a film about wandering, roaming, staying in motion just to stay alive, and the visual effect conjured by the Steadicam lends itself to these themes.
Devised by cinematographer Garrett Brown, at first the Steadicam was just for shits and giggles in his own work, but once Brown realized the merits of his invention, he clued the rest of the industry in on what he’d done, and as a result the entire field of cinematography was altered forever.
To celebrate its 40th birthday, Ben Kenisberg and Mekado Murphy of The New York Times have put together the following video highlighting the five best-known shots captured on Steadicam: Woody wandering through camp in Bound for Glory; Danny riding his big wheel in Kubrick’s The Shining; Henry taking Karen into the Copacabana through the kitchen in Goodfellas; Rocky running up the steps in Rocky; and the most famous of the bunch, Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark, which was captured in one, 96-minute Steadicam take.
Before CGI came along, the Steadicam was perhaps the most-influential tool in all of cinematography, and helped to make the field freer, more fluid, and more natural, thus having the same effect on filmmaking as a whole. Celebrate its introduction to the industry by revisiting its finest moments at the link below.