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2004.12.16

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girish

I think that one reason a take might sometimes *feel* longer is if the camera is stationary, and there is no camera movement.

Even though Ozu cuts often, his later films often use little or no camera movement and sometimes the camera might linger briefly on empty rooms or still objects.

I saw "Early Summer" recently and the film ends with a crane shot. This felt like a Jerry Bruckheimer explosion to me because Ozu never used them (except this once) and so it felt like a grand, operatic gesture coming from him. But in his early, 1932 "I Was Born But...", he uses so many great tracking shots that it *seems* to give the impression that the film is faster-paced, with short takes. That's how it feels to me, anyway....

George

"Touch of Evil" and "Weekend" are knockout opening long takes in my book, but the most recent one that had me saucer-eyed was Altman's "The Player." It seemed the camera must have looped back across its own path half a dozen times, and the timing of character entrances was staggering.

Darren

Tarkovsky comes instantly to mind, of course. Some of my favorite long takes are the voyage into the zone in Stalker, the candle sequence in Nostalghia, and the opening and closing shots of Sacrifice. My favorite long takes of the year, though, are found in Angelopoulos's The Weeping Meadow. Amazing stuff. I wrote on my site:

I actually gasped at the end of one shot, which like Russian Ark in miniature, captures an entire drama in a single take. Angelopoulos's camera follows his young lovers through a noisy dance hall where they are confronted by a threat from their past. Setup, conflict, resolution — all in a single movement. Unbelievable.

Adam

What I like about long takes is that they often require me to hold an emotion that is discomforting to hold, such as lonliness, fear, revulsion, or general sadness.

My favorites along those lines -

Two from TSAI Ming-liang's VIVE L' AMOUR: The fear of desire in the long, slow bedroom gay kiss and then the wonderful fit of loneliness in the long, long, feels like hours walk and tearful inhales/exhales of a cigarette at the end. (Interesting, the ending of GOODBYE, DRAGON INN that people seem to enjoy for its length is personally NOT long enough for me.)

Gina Kim's ending in INVISIBLE LIGHT forever just sitting their on the protagonist's face as her emotions shift so drastically to show us the shift isn't so drastic after all. I feel as if I shouldn't be there witnessing this but am so moved by what I'm witnessing.

On a happier note, the long take of the 3 characters singing "Arirang" in IM Kwon-taek's masterpiece, SOPYONJE, is a lovely scene as well.

Trixie Belden

The long takes in Mamoulian's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE are great examples of suspense-building (as in the scenes where Hyde threatens Ivy). The sense of realism they create also mimics the sober writing style of the book, allowing the fantastic stuff to seem more believable.

Tom

I love long takes. On the one hand I love the intensity that directors get from putting their actors in 'real time', an effect akin to cinema veritee, and which persists even if the director cuts between two different set-ups in the scene – you can still feel the heat if the actors have played an entire scene out for each take or each set up. I'm thinking here of almost anything by Cassavetes (but lets say for example Mabel's crackup in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and the infamous drinking/singing scene in HUSBANDS), and the best/worst moments in Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT etc. This strain seems peculiarly American for example, and linked to notions of psychological realism in acting.
Then, on the other hand, there is the pleasure of watching a perfectly choreographed, baroque crane shot in Welles or de Palma, or Ophuls, which conveys the joy and exhileration, the verve of filmmaking. I don't think there is a better example than the opening of TOUCH OF EVIL, but it's worth noting the brilliant long shot later in the same film, where Quinlan plants the bomb, which lasts, what? 4 mins or so and lots of people miss. (As they should. I only picked it up on a second viewing). And there is an even less well known example in Welles' MACBETH, for Lady M's climactic monologue.
Other favourites: Harvey Keitel's drunk in MEAN STREETS. The ten minute opening scene in Tarr's WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (which illustrates the harmony of the cosmos, in a bar).

girish

I think Antonioni offers an interesting case in contrasts.

--The 7-minute long take ending of "The Passenger", where the camera goes in through the bars of a window, into a courtyard and returns, to find a character dead, and

--The antithesis of that approach, the ending of "L'Eclisse", an 8-minute montage of some sixty shots of emptied-out spaces, marked by *absences* of the characters.

And they both work wonderfully.

dvd

I'm partial to the new Van Sant school of long takes -- particularly the dialogue-free profile sequence in Gerry, and also the majority of the footage that makes up Elephant.

Regarding the exact definition of a long take: I wonder why we always refer to it as a 'long take' rather than a 'long shot.' It's not like the other takes are often too markedly different (at least in planning, if not in execution), and it's not like a director often sees a certain take and decides to use it in its entirety -- that happens, to be sure, but a lot of the long takes/shots mentioned above were meticulously planned. I suppose the term 'long shot' has other connotations, though.

Michael

Great post and discussion. I sort of look at long shots in a couple of ways. Certainly, a shot that lasts only a few seconds isn't by definition a long shot, but any shot that seems to last a while can be a long shot. On the other hand, it's too difficult to say that the shot must last a specific number of seconds. Another way to look at it is within the context of the film itself, by comparing the duration of one shot with the duration of all the others. One that comes to mind immediately is the scene in the snow-covered garden in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Tarantino's fight scenes throughout the film are rapidly edited, but there's a great shot in which the Bride and O-Ren Ishii are in the background and that bamboo water shute is in the foreground -- Tarantino holds his camera there; it's certainly not long compared to shots in many other films, but it alters the rhythm of the scene and heightens the tension.

the narwhal

I'm surprised no one has bothered to mention the opening shot of Boogie Nights. I think it is definitely on par with the opening shots of The Player and Touch of Evil.

dave

I think the directors you list - Scorsese, Welles, Kubrick, Altman, DePalma - are not infrequent users of the long take at all. In fact, they are extremely proficient in its use but choose to use extended takes to contrast their intense, conspicuous montage, retaining the salient qualities of each for the most powerful of effects. Remember - all cinema is essentially a variation on the principle of montage because, until recently only, there had to be a way to link those extended takes, and the juxtaposition of one with the other could be as powerful as 100 thumbnails lined up. This is even true of canonized long take directors like Renoir and Bresson. A director like Preminger in his early days did not seem as concerned with the linking (see Laura) as later in his career where this really took off to startling results (see Bunny Lake is Missing).

I'd also contend that Scorsese, and now PTA's use of the long take is a take off of Rope which used montage principles in its use of reframing. Simply put, many of the instances in which they use extended takes could be broken down into standard decoupage techniques - whereas that would probably be impossible in examples like Touch of Evil, Raising Cain, The Player, and The Passenger (my personal favorite - great call, girish).

I think two sequences in De Palma's Blow Out are noteworthy when looked at side by side, and I'm sure it was De Palma's intent. They each occur in Travolta's sound room. The first is a conspicuously editing split screen montage (a tight, controlled establishing sequence), the other a very long 360 degree pan that begins to distort as it looses the ability to retain persistence of vision, leading to hysteria. Bazin claimed that the beauty of the long take was in its ability to retain space and time, while montage was inherently discontinuous and therefore unnatural. However, as film viewers we are accustumed to montage and therefore find takes that are exceedingly long uncomfortable (this is why there is such serious tension in Rope and Elephant). The two scenes in Blow Out (if you haven't seen it, sorry for not going into narrative details) are a complete inversion of Bazanian logic.

Oh yeah - one more. David Holzman's diary - the scene where he interviews his friend who then gets angry when David doesn't shut off the camera.

Cubie

Everyone above has posted some wonderful long takes (I think THE PASSANGER takes the cake). I personally find long takes to be one of the most interesting/important techniques in cinema because of its ability to sway the emotions of an audience member in the most realistic (life-like) manner. Bazin surely recognized this effect. Some long takes I admire come from Godard's MY LIFE TO LIVE (the opening shot deftly depicts Nana's isolation; there are so many more in this film). The often overlooked opening shot in CRADLE WILL ROCK is highly impressive, technically speaking. The trolley ride in SUNRISE. Iranian films such as TASTE OF CHERRY, CLOSE-UP, and CRIMSON GOLD. The slow-motion shots in IN THE MOOD OF LOVE encapsulate WKW's milieu brillantly, any other way would not work so effectly. And the modern master, who started this discussion in the first place, Hou. His newest film MILLENNIUM MAMBO once again shows his uncanny ability to recontextualize (through voice-over) what we are viewing and forces us to continually reevalulate how we view the current shot and the film he presents us as a whole.

*Also, we should cannot forget one of the best comic long takes of all time, from ANNIE HALL, "Jew eat?"

cjk

IRREVERSIBLE had the most amazing long take mise-en-scene of any film I've seen in recent years. I'll second those who cited Kubrick (the dialog scene between Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers in THE SHINING is a great example of a long take with the camera absolutely still), and Antonionni (the penultimate shot of THE PASSENGER is sheer bliss). And, in the realm of avant-garde film, nothing beats the 45-minute single take of Michael Snow's WAVELENGTH.

Michael

"I personally find long takes to be one of the most interesting/important techniques in cinema" -- I agree. Also, if I may add, one might look at long takes from the opposite side of the coin. I think long takes are very difficult to pull off and make convincing, but, when done right, they display real cinematic, visual prowess. The other side of the coin are all of those rapid short takes and insane cutting techniques that seem to be an integral part of the visual vocabulary of many mainstream directors, especially of those who make action films. I never understood why some viewers seem to think that a billion cuts in a movie (like, say, in any Michael Bay film) somehow translate into brilliant filmmaking. If anything, it's a lack of ability. Nuance, rhythm, subtlety, etc. are real skills, whereas using a camera like a jackhammer is not. So when I see films that are nothing but countless numbers of short takes, it makes me appreciate long takes even more.

Wayne

Some information as to how (and speculation as to why) the average shot length has changed in US cinema can be found in David Bordwell's paper 'Intensified continuity: visual style in contemporary American film'; see: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1070/is_3_55/ai_85465101/print

Filmbrain

Wow! So many incredible comments and offerings.

Darren -- I'm angry I haven't had a chance to see The Weeping Meadow, but from the description it sounds phenomenal.

I couldn't agree more about the final shot of Goodbye Dragon Inn -- it should have gone on longer.

I also agree with the comment about Irreversible. That the entire film is made up of a handful of extended takes is most impressive, especially considering the overall pacing.

Thanks for the link to the Bordwell article -- looking forward to reading it.

Filmbrain

Regarding Michael's last comment --

One film that uses quick cuts to its advantage is Requiem for a Dream, where the rapid-fire editing is perfectly suited to the lives of the characters. It works so well, that when the one long take arrives (almost at the film's exact midpoint) the effect is like pulling the emergency brake on a speeding train.

Spun tried to do the same thing, but failed miserably, IMO.

But it's true that most films use it today for nothing more than keeping the ADD-ridden audience interested.

Filmbrain

I remember reading an interview with Bela Tarr a couple of years ago in which he said that the shots in Werckmeister Harmonies would have been longer, but he was limited by the maximum length of film the camera could hold. (About 11 minutes.)

Sal C.

No one has yet to mention a terrific 'lost' film from 1969, Milton Moses Ginsberg's Coming Apart. Rip Torn plays a psychiatrist who sets up a hidden camera in his office so that he can record his sessions with a series of increasingly unstable female patients/lovers. All we see is what is captured by the doctor's camera. From what I remember it never moves within a particular scene (unless the doctor is adjusting it) and the takes are all several minutes in length. Not a perfect film, but an fascinating artifact.

Sean K.

Very interesting post and discussion.

First, some new nominations:
The climactic 360 degree pan in THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE.
The opening reel of SNAKE EYES (even if it is - like much of "Irreversible" - faked by the use of swish pans).

And I heartily second the following:
The bedroom kiss in VIVE L'AMOUR (uncomfortable, sad, funny, transgressive, and unbelievably suspenseful).
The opening celestial dance of WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (aficionados of the long take might also dig the unbelievable run-on sentences of Krasznahorkai's source novel).

Anyone interested in the art of the long take should track down a copy of Rob Tregenza's TALKING TO STRANGERS. Nine segments of about ten minutes a piece, each a single take and each supposedly staged only once. Aside from the stunt factor involved, Tregenza manages to give a different tone and style to each scene, ranging from meditative to melodramatic to suspenseful. And incidentally, Tregenza is credited as one of the many cinematographers that worked on Werckmeister Harmonies.

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