Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Long Take



Some of my favorite filmmakers both past and present—Renoir, Hou—use long takes, so I thought it might be a good idea to spend some time reflecting on this valuable stylistic device.

The long take—a shot of extended duration—is still unusual enough in today’s movies that it stands out, but it wasn’t always this way. The first decade of silent movies used them almost exclusively, and it wasn’t until D.W. Griffith that filmmakers began to cut frequently.

The first great champion of the long take was André Bazin. To him, film was the “art of reality.” He once wrote: “All the arts depend on the presence of man; only photography lets us delight in his absence.” What he meant was that by not interposing oneself between the camera and the subject, the filmmaker had the potential to truly capture reality. As V.F. Perkins put it: “[A] sonnet or a sonata created a world which might reflect the subjective vision of its maker; film recorded the world which existed objectively.”

For Bazin, silent movies contained two streams. The first—best exemplified by the Russian school, most prominently Eisenstein—employed the power of cutting, resulting in images that didn’t speak for themselves through the reality they captured and showed, but instead were made to speak what the filmmaker wanted them to say. The second stream consisted primarily of Stroheim, Murnau, Flaherty and Dreyer: “here the image counts in the first place not for what it adds to reality, but for what it reveals of reality.”

Bazin believed that the long take was ideally suited to capture the rhythms and complexities of reality, while preserving its unity in space and time. Chopping up an action or event with cuts was to disrupt this unity and undermine cinema’s ability to be faithful to reality. Thus, it was important to him that Flaherty showed the length of time that Nanook waited to capture the seal. Using cuts to compress this event would not give an authentic sense of the activity of the seal hunt.

For Bazin, the great link between the silent masters devoted to film as a reality-revealing medium and the true potential of sound cinema was Jean Renoir. By using long takes and moving camera to capture the flux of action and life while cutting functionally rather than expressively, Renoir unjudgmentally recorded the world while providing the spectator with an active role in making sense of it. The viewer’s eye had to pick and choose what was important in the frame instead of being guided by the filmmaker.

But the long take is a flexible and powerful device. Serving the needs of faithfully capturing reality is not its only use. Brian Henderson, in his much-cited essay “Towards a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style,” makes a fascinating case for Godard using the long take for non- (one might even say anti-) realist purposes in Weekend. (He quotes Godard from La Chinoise: “Art is not a reflection of reality; it’s the reality of that reflection.”) In Weekend, Godard does this by not providing compositions-in-depth (which traditionally go hand in hand with the long take). In this film, the shallow flat space rolls out in long take like a two-dimensional ribbon, and Godard consciously refuses to individuate the characters and develop them into flesh-and-blood human beings. Godard’s deployment of style here is of a piece with his purpose: bourgeois critique.

The use of long takes I’m most familiar with is in the work of Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Hou’s use of this device lends itself perfectly to recording the rhythms of daily life (is there a Hou film that does not have a leisurely eating or drinking scene filmed in long take?). Remarkably, for a filmmaker so keenly interested in historical and political change, his films are paradoxically small-scale and intimate. David Bordwell remarks on Hou in his book Figures Traced In Light:

The camera’s angle does not ennoble the traveler, as it does in [Angelopoulos]….No parades or demonstrations, mass meetings or defiant facedowns with authority; no spectacular executions; no onscreen confrontations with Power. Instead, we get casual-seeming minutiae….In this world, people mostly smoke, walk, watch, wait, ponder, shoot pool, drink, and eat.

Hou sees the camera as a sort of sympathetic witness (he quotes Confucius: “Watch but don’t intervene; observe but don’t judge.”) and one thing that is very important for him is a certain distance from what he is filming. He has spoken in interviews of frequently telling his cinematographers to move farther back, of not getting close to the action. It even shows up in the kinds of lenses he uses—the longer the lens, the narrower the angle (and thus, playing space) they can survey. Bordwell points out that Hou’s long lenses—100 mm and up—actually force the camera to fall back. Which meshes perfectly with Hou’s aesthetic proclivity in maintaining a distance.

One thing I especially appreciate about Hou’s shots is that even though the takes are long, he never feels the need to build in a dramatic or emotional arc into a shot. (Many filmmakers will shape a long take as a mini-dramatic narrative, with the unfolding of little surprises.) Somehow, this conscious muting of drama serves a wonderful, higher purpose: a greater sharpening of attention for the significance of the ordinarily undramatic, or the “drama of the undramatic,” that too often gets drowned out in a film. Small details, gestures, motions and shifts register with greater effect than they normally would simply because Hou has set up a de-dramatized context for them. Somehow, there’s a great lesson here not just for the value of experiencing such moments in a Hou film, but also—in fact, more so!—when we walk out of the theater and find ourselves ever-present in the midst of such moments in “real life.”

If you feel like it—your examples of filmmakers who use long takes? How, and to what purpose? Also, examples of movies or scenes, if you like.

72 Comments:

Blogger ratzkywatzky said...

Sopyonje, by Im Kwon-Taek (who frequently uses long takes). There's a static shot of the musicians walking down a road, singing a pansori which I think is about a drowned girl (it's been about 10 years since I've seen it). It's probably about six minutes long and as moving a performance sequence as I've ever seen. It gives you a sense of their life and their art in the way a dialogue sequence wouldn't--and, at least for a Western audience member, lets you know whether or not you want to hear anymore pansori singing.

July 11, 2006 12:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A friend gave me a present of this film when we were visiting and dining in the Korean district of NYC in the spring. It's sitting on my night-stand--soon to be watched...

July 11, 2006 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Some of my favorite long takes are those that establish the relationship between characters. In Le Boucher, Chabrol employs a long take lasting 3 minutes and 43 seconds to draw out (very subtly) the psychology of his two main characters, Popaul (Jean Yanne) and Helene (Stephane Audran). They're leaving a wedding reception and are walking home; he's very gentle, open, kind, while she's extremely aloof. He clearly likes her, but she's clearly closed off emotionally. It's a magnificent set-up to a relationship that will change and eventually become tragic. I believe that, had Chabrol used any cutting in this scene, the details and the meaning of the scene would have been lost, or at least greatly minimized.

Godard does a similar thing in Masculin feminin, though his purpose is much more political. There's an extended conversation between Catherine-Isabelle (Catherine-Isabelle Duport) and Robert (Michel Debord), during which Godard relaxes his camera on Catherine (as she eats an apple) for a very long time; he eventually cuts to Robert and then back and forth between the two, but that long shot is great -- it shows us the awkward relationship between Robert and Catherine (she's not interested in him the way he is in her) and also visually comments on the sexual politics of the time (her eating an apple, like Eve, while talking about sex and relationships).

One thing I've often said about long takes such as these is that they can instill anxiety in today's viewers; we're so used to quick takes in most films and in TV shows that, when we see a long take, we keep expecting it to cut. I know I had this reaction when I began watching directors who use long takes. It wasn't until I became accustomed to the long take that I realized just how purposeful and beautiful it could be.

July 11, 2006 1:17 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Dreyer's Gertrud (1964) is a series of long takes, in which the characters almost always avoid eye contact. While not his best film, it's my personal favorite of Dreyer's.

July 11, 2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Remember those Altoids commercials with the slogan "Practice on other mints first?"

Repeat that mantra as I pull out the big guns here: Béla Tarr's Sátántangó. Not much needs to be said; it's 7.5 hours of nothing but lengthily held shots, many lasting several minutes, most reaching sublimity... I still dream about the Hungarian pub party where a man wears a cheesy breadstick on his head while drunkenly jigging with others to a simple accordion riff, repeated ad infinitum. That had to have been 15 minutes alone.

And those tracking shots (street-walking towards the horizon for minutes while thunderstorm-swept debris swirls at their feet) that Gus Van Sant ripped for his youth-culture death trilogy (Gerry, et al.) could have been extended without hearing me gripe. Hell, I wish the film were longer.

July 11, 2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

The longest long take I've seen was called Russian Ark. I think I like the long take/tracking shots more, though: Welles in Touch of Evil, Scorsese in Goodfellas, the Dude and Donny and Walter leaving the bowling alley in The Big Lebowski (a scene with so much going on in the dialogue and plot that I didn't notice it was all one take the first few times I saw it).

Still practicing on the weaker mints....

July 11, 2006 2:35 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Jebus. More than the long take/static shots, I mean. Frequently with the static shots I do keep expecting something to happen (especially in one of Takeshi Kitano's gangster films: it was a long static shot with nothing at all apparently going on, and I couldn't read anyone's expression, and didn't [don't] very well understand the culture/etiquette, and so it seemed to me not at first that something should happen and then that something in fact was happening, something being decided somehow, but I didn't know what or why.)

July 11, 2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nice ones, y'all.

Michael ~ I really love that Chabrol period '67-'73. I just discovered that Juste Avant La Nuit came out on non-region 1 DVD. It's a peach.

Flickhead ~ I dig Gertrud myself--it's one of my Dreyer favorites too.

Aaron ~ That drunken jig to accordion--who can forget it?

"youth-culture death trilogy": never heard it called that before, but it's perfect.

Tuwa ~ That's an interesting point about viewer psychology and variation of expectations between static and moving long takes. Hadn't thought of that at all.

July 11, 2006 3:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You must check out this video that Chuck links to. It is hilarious.

July 11, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger chutry said...

Tuwa listed most of my favorites. The long take at the beginning of Short Cuts is also pretty amazing, of course.

And if I remember correctly, Tarantino (!) uses relatively long takes to good effect in the moving sidewalk scene at the beginning of Jackie Brown.

Glad you enjoyed Bush Pilot!

July 11, 2006 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

Oops, blogged as my blogger username rather than my main blog name, not that you wouldn't have known who I was.....

July 11, 2006 3:26 PM  
Blogger Kurt Halfyard said...

Nice Topic. (I just sat down and watch Gerry last night as a matter of fact - and yes, Bela Tarr is given thanks at the end of the credits there..)

Most recently, I liked the long take of Ms. Kidman and the opening Jogging shot in BIRTH.

Lots of good ones in Barry Lyndon too.

July 11, 2006 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

"The longest long take I've seen was called Russian Ark."

You know what I love about that film? It's not so much the technology behind the one long take (which is pretty cool in itself), but it's the structure of it -- it's like a long, gradual crescendo that builds and builds until that great climactic scene in which everyone is walking down the stairway at the end. Great stuff.

July 11, 2006 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Jim Emerson said...

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because of the Opening Shots Project I'm putting together -- and girish submitted a fine eight-minute opening shot from Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Flowers of Shanghai." Was it Bazin who got into what he considered, basically, the moral (not just aesthetic) superiority of mise-en-scene over montage? The frame grabs I've been taking for many of these Opening Shots (which, naturally, tend to favor memorable long takes -- although they needn't) show how a filmmaker can continually compose and re-compose, using blocking and camera movement, so as to "edit" seamlessly within the time-space of a single shot. Look at John Carpenter's "Halloween," for example, where he re-composes familiar elements of Hitchcock's sliced-and-diced "Psycho" shower sequence into a single shot. Or Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria," which consists of a pan, a tracking shot, and another pan -- moving from a hillside down to a river. The whole thing is a far shot, but there are many different movements and rests within it.

Of course, the first director I think of when it comes to long takes is Max Ophuls. Those takes of his aren't just for show -- they're like the sentences of Henry James, expressing complex feelings and ideas about time and memory. In "The American Cinema," Sarris called the shot in "Letter From an Unknown Woman" (one of my very favorite movies) that re-traces an earlier movement to the top of the stairs where Joan Fontaine used to live "the definitive memory-image of love" (or something close to that -- I paraphrase from memory).

The opening shot of Renoir's "Rules of the Game," from a radio operator, down to a spool of cable, then following that cable to a microphone held by a reporter as she works her way through a crowd, has that "documentary" feel Bazin talks about. But, for mostly practical reasons, I think long takes are essential to comedy. There's an amazing dolly shot in Sturges' "Miracle of Morgan's Creek," where Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) and Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) engage in hilarious banter while traversing a sidewalk and around a corner (if memory serves). You don't even necessarily notice the shot; it's purely functional. What it does is preserve the comic rhythms of the actors' performances. Nothing destroys comedy more than cutting, which can destroy the timing essential to making something funny, or the integrity necessary to make a sight gag work. (Buster Keaton knew this: think of the waterfall rescue in "Our Hospitality," or the falling housefront in "Steamboat Bill Jr." or the motorcycle handlebar ride across a bridge created by two passing trucks in "Sherlock Jr.") Capra even used pre-Godardian jump cuts (combining different takes from the same angle, cutting just a little closer or farther back) to capture his actors' flawless timing. Hawks's "invisible editing" could be used to accomplish something similar.

So, I'd agree with Bazin that mise-en-scene is "superior" to Eisensteinian montage, but maybe not entirely for the same reasons. I don't think it has anything to do with "reality" (since a long take can be just as artificial as a sequence made up of many shots) -- but, generally speaking (especially these post-MTV days when idiot filmmakers cut at random just to create a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction that keeps you watching in hopes of actually seeing something in the next shot), a long take that lets you watch it is more fun, more involving, more challenging and exciting!

July 11, 2006 4:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, folks.

Jim--Very insightful points; thanks for posting them.

That opening shot of Rules Of The Game (which I saw again last week) was exactly what made me rustle up this post.

The comedy long take rationale you provide makes perfect sense too.

By the way, that Opening Shots project is a fantastic idea, a great resource...You should be heartily applauded for it!

(I wanted to send you Earrings of Madame De... but then realized I only had it on VHS and couldn't get a screen-grab to you.)

And I agree with you about Bazin: presented as the one and only position, his prescriptions are doctrinaire because they don't allow for competing positions, but his ideas nevertheless are critical and important and make solid sense. And what a great writer.

July 11, 2006 5:15 PM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

Although I love a good long dolly shot as much as the next guy or gal - the dynamism, and, as Jim pointed out, constant evolution of composition in a scene is always exciting (never so much as when you realize you haven't even noticed it). But it's the combination of length and stasis (or near-stasis) that really does it for me these days. I love to watch things develop within the constricted, enforced window of a static frame. Moreso than the since of truthfulness that is naturally evoked by this method, there's a certain courage and resolution implicit in the lack of cutting or movement that I find quite engaging. It's so easy to cut away, or to push in or pull out - avoiding these techniques creates an entirely different sort of dynamism from a moving shot, one that's perhaps more subtle but no less exciting.

It's something I've been exploring in my newer films, and the filmmakers who give me courage to do so are Hou, without a doubt, and also Tsai Ming Liang and Hong Sang Soo. And while it might be a bit of a cliche, I also still think Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, made up entirely of a series of static, long-take scenes, is an absolutely brilliant predicate to this sort of pan-Asian style.

On that note, some of you may have already read this, but here's a great article on that very style.

July 11, 2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Girish, excellent post. Jim, I know the take you're talking about in MIRACLES OF MORGAN'S CREEK, it ends with Eddie Bracken's classic "Spots! Spots!"

Woody Allen was probably the first filmmaker who clued me in to the value of long takes. I love the ending of ANNIE HALL, the long, static shot out the restaurant window and you see Alvy and Annie part and the camera stays still, leading into Woody's final voice-over about how we all need the eggs. MANHATTAN first made me notice the value of an interior scene static camera, in some of the shots where Woody would focus the camera on a narrow hall and show himself pacing back and forth in the deep background, talking to Diane Keaton or Mariel Hemingway's character. Really, we need a Woody blog-a-thon one of these days. I still say if you simply add up his very good-to-great movies, he's got a better batting average than any of the modern American directors who get slobbered over critically on a routine basis. It's easy to take him for granted.

July 11, 2006 8:28 PM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

And speaking of ANNIE HALL, another one is the long, loving shot of Annie singing SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES.

July 11, 2006 8:30 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Béla Tarr's choreographic long takes were definitely influenced by Miklós Jancsó's cinema, so he deserves a nod; I really like the opening sequence of The Round Up, where you get an encapsulation of the entire dynamics of the entire prison system just from that one sequence. It's been a long time since I last saw it, but The Red and the White had this kind of unresolved, back and forth battle sequences that symbolized the protracted war.

I'm a huge fan of Theo Angelopoulos, and he has a lot of these back and forth shots too in The Travelling Players, but my favorite long take in all of his films is the final shot of Voyage to Cythera, where the aging couple drift slowly out to sea, and Angelopoulos "follows" them until they're almost just dots on the horizon.

One that really struck me semi-recently (of an older film) in a similar vein is this shot in Raymond Depardon's Captive of the Desert where he places a camera in such a way that the travellers are practically dots along the horizon (that bisects the shot). When the sequence starts, the leaders of the convoy are on the left of the screen, and the sun is above them. By the time the shot concludes, the last of the convoy exits the frame on the right and the sun has set such that there is only a faint red glow left. And as with Depardon, everything takes place in real time. It's a pretty amazing shot.

July 11, 2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

A discussion about form only! Now that's high-brow cinephilia! :)
Great insightful post by the way Girish.

I finally discovered Antonioni's The Passenger recently to see the famous final plan-sequence (I prefer this term). It is skillful and hardwork but I don't see the point really. The scene does conclude the film with a tensed climax, but I doubt the uncut action does more than the actual (offscreen) drama taking place.
Going through the window bars looks too stylish, not to mention most of the actors outdoor are filling with occupation of the space that isn' very credible.

I believe the Russian Ark was spliced in the middle actually, but anyway, it doesn't strike me as a performance requiring a single shot. Each scene starts on cue from room to room like in a stage ballet. The script developped for this film barely justifies an uninterrupted take. The dramatic achievement isn't proportional to the artistic effort it takes to film all in one take. I mean the tension developping in a single shot doesn't amplify further once the maximum limit is overextended. I'd argue that cutting each scene would not compromise the essence of the film, only it's gimmicky construction. I think the film is great but it's not the long-take that transcends it.

Recently I caught Philippe Garrel's Les Hautes Solitudes, consisting only of silent B&W static long takes. And it looks like they are actual dailies, we can see the rough edges at the start and end of each take when the lens opened and closed. Garrel keeps the entirety of the camera recordings, which also captures Jean Seberg and Nico like a voyeur stealing moments of real life. The intensity of their look into the lens and the sense of non-performance is palpable. They have to look away from the camera, unable to sustain the stare of the camera eye, like if it was a real person.

July 12, 2006 3:36 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Harry's comment on The Russian Ark--that it's great, but that the content doesn't quite justify the elaborate form--seems spot on.

Anyway, wrote an article for Ekran about Lav Diaz's films. I make a note of his use of long takes, especially in the more-or-less 10 hour long Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (The Evolution of a Filipino Family), my choice for the greatest film of 2005:

Lav Diaz: An Overview of His Films to Date

July 12, 2006 6:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Merci, mes amis.
Great reading!

A few links:

--Michael on Sontag's film criticism.
--Andy Horbal on "the cardinal sin of film criticism."
--Acquarello on Dreyer's THE PRESIDENT.
--I'd like to link to Jim's SEARCHERS piece again: there's a lively discussion in the comments.
--Heads-up: the anorexic/bulimic comments thread has been expanding, er, bulimically.

July 12, 2006 8:32 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I would just like to endorse Harry's comments on Les Hautes solitudes, a fascinating film ...

July 12, 2006 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Glad to see that somebody else mentioned that scene from Seopyeonje. It is indeed one of the most moving long takes. What's interesting about it is that even though we watch the singing characters slowly approach from the distance, the sound remains at a constant level throughout.

One of the better films I saw at the NYAFF was Song Il-gon's (Spider Forest) latest film, Magicians. Like Russian Ark, it too was shot in a single 95 minute take. (It's remarkable how he manages to incorporate flashbacks within the single take.)

I also find the use of long takes in Irréversible to be quite effective. I love how Cassel flubs a line during the party scene, but they go on with it nonetheless. (A woman asks him his name, and he says "Vincent" by mistake, but then corrects himself.)

July 12, 2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Filmbrain: "It's remarkable how he manages to incorporate flashbacks within the single take."

How does he achieve this?
Reminds me now of René Clair's Les Belles de Nuit. The protagonist goes back in time in his dreams, inspired by people and places of his wake life. Sometimes Clair just pans across the set to go from (present) reality to (past) dream in a seamless plan-sequence with period-costume change off-screen.

July 12, 2006 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

It's not that far off from what Clair did. Song makes great use of the set, and achieves the effect through the movement of both the actors and the camera, and some very clever use of lighting.

It's a remarkable film that actually impressed me more than Russian Ark, though it might be taboo to say so.

July 12, 2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I didn't "get" Russian Ark--more cultural/historical ignorance at play, I'm sure.

Filmbrain, you've reminded me of some of the unusual special effects done in-camera on The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, specifically when he leaves the library, the lights switching off behind him, rather ominously, and then he finds himself in someone's residence. Interesting work on that film, though I can't remember how much of it was in long takes.

July 12, 2006 2:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Actually, though I like Russian Ark, I think it's quite atypical Sokurov, and must admit that I don't feel as close to it as I do to several others (Whispering Pages, Mother And Son, Second Circle, Days Of The Eclipse, even his wacky Madame Bovary adaptation, Save And Protect).

July 12, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Tuwa, on the Russian Ark DVD there's an excellent "making of" featurette which explains a lot of the film's esoteric and obscure references.

July 12, 2006 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim Emerson said...

Glad to see HarryTuttle and Filmbrain mentioning Rene Clair. I was just looking at "Le Million" and "A Nous la Liberte" for something else I was writing and delighting in those extraordinarily musical Clair takes -- the opening shot of "Liberte," for example, going down the assembly line of wooden horses, then reversing direction to look at the convicts who are putting them together. Or the astounding combination of full-size sets and miniatures in the cross-town opener of "Le Million."

But HT's description of a Clair pan that fluidly glides from the present into the past reminds me of another favorite film that does just that: John Sayles' "Lone Star." Sayles has always been more of a writer than a filmmaker, but the way he uses the river to show the flow of time in this film is wonderful.

P.S. Somebody submitted "Russian Ark" as an example of a great Opening Shot. Ha! What about "Rope"?

July 12, 2006 3:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Or Wavelength?

July 12, 2006 6:16 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Did you really enjoy Save and Protect Girish? I couldn't believe my eyes how bad it was... not because it was disturbing or demanding, but facile and aimless. And I usually like his non-conventional work.

July 12, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, I really liked Save And Protect--it has a visionary thrust, and takes great, thrilling, (even admirably "crazy") chances with the Flaubert template-text. If I have the opportunity to see it again (it's been 4 years), I can try to write about it and defend what I liked about it in some detail. An unforgettably "demented" film!

July 12, 2006 9:38 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

One kind of funny long take is the short film C'était un rendez-vous shot with a camera mounted to the front of a car racing through Paris very early one morning.

July 13, 2006 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Four modern examples stand out for me:

1. I like Linklater's boat ride down the Seine in Before Sunset. This whole movie almost feels like single, long take, but it does have very subtle editing. Either way, by the time Julie Delpy sings Nina Simone, I'm in love. This movie reminded me of a cross between Cleo from 5 to 7 and Manhattan (the final shot of Woody as Muriel Hemmingway say "You just have to have a little faith in people...*sigh*...)

2. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the post-murder long take on the living room floor in Funny Games. I know many don't enjoy Haneke, but his unflinching camera holds me breathless. You have no idea where the killers are, what the outcome of their violence may be, what lurks in the next frame... for me, pure tension.

3. The final shots in two of Erik Zonca's films; Alone and The Dreamlife of Angels. Both heartbreaking and both leave me full of wonder as to the story beyond the film.

4. Nicolas Philibert's documentary To Be And To Have which is filled with a patient stillness, including beautiful landscapes and a loving portrait of children and a teacher at work.

PS- How did we get this far and nobody mentioned Rope?

July 13, 2006 2:42 AM  
Blogger Grand Epic said...

No one has mentioned Tarkovsky yet, but maybe that's just too obvious.

July 13, 2006 5:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Tom, Peter, Grand Epic.
Tom--I wonder what happened to Zonca? Haven't heard from him since Le Petit Voleur six or seven years ago...

Links:

--Nick Rombes: film stills and third meanings.
--Harry: Bazin on criticism, 1943.
--Lots of links at Andy's.
--Film analysis web site at Yale.
--Michael Guillen interviews [*wolf whistle here*] Elisha Cuthbert.
(Michael--you in the big leagues now!) :-)

July 13, 2006 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Tom--I wonder what happened to Zonca? Haven't heard from him since Le Petit Voleur six or seven years ago...

Me too. I love his films deeply, and have no idea where he is or what he is working on. He is missed.

July 13, 2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Wonderful examples in that Yale guide, yes?

July 13, 2006 12:01 PM  
Blogger Momo said...

Great post, Girish.

Tuwa's bringing up of the long take/static shot makes me recall Kurosawa's Sanjuro - the final "duel" between Sanjuro and his arch nemesis, Muroto. For the longest time, the two men stand facing each other for their battle to the death, perfectly still. The seconds continue to tick by.... and then in a flash it's over.

You are right about Bazin's theory on the long take and its revealing of reality - but it's (and this has been pointed out) a phenomenological position. I think what's cool abt that static shot in Sanjuro is a revelation not of "outer" reality but of an inner reality (?). Since there's no visible "outer" action, we are forced to consider what's happening in the minds of the two warriors: are they thinking about the impending death, which has to happen to one of them? Are they thinking about how alike they are to each other, that they could have been brothers? Or maybe they are battling it out mentally, ala Hero. Whatever it is, I think it's yet another wonderful way to use this stylistic device which you have highlighted.

July 13, 2006 1:47 PM  
Anonymous girish said...

Hey there, Jenna. Great point; I'd never thought of that, but it makes good sense.

Yeah, Andy, I like that even if the ideas and techniques are familiar, the examples at the Yale site are interesting and unusual.

July 13, 2006 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Jim Emerson said...

girish: I've been trying to FIND "Wavelength" (which I haven't seen since college)! Anybody know if it can be had on DVD???

July 13, 2006 3:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jim, I've only seen it on the big screen, and have never ever heard of it being on video/DVD. Perhaps someone else would know...?

July 13, 2006 4:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--More Opening Shots at Scanners.
--Brad reporting from the Auckland filmfest.
--Bright Lights blog points to some Bollywood sites.

July 14, 2006 8:07 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

...so interviewing babes puts me in the big leagues, eh? Heh. Guess I'll have to do it more often.

Thanks for the tip of the hat, Girish; it's always appreciated. I continue to be impressed and respectful of your gestures of reciprocity.

July 14, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, it's just the celebrity-struck side of me (although admittedly not a very big side!) that said that.
And you're most welcome.

July 14, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Jim Emerson's Opening Shot Project is an exemplary model of analytical criticism, and of collaborative work. 2 things I like to see developped online.

Girish, I would definitely need some clues to get in this wacky adaptation. I guess it's not my kind of trip. I hope you write on Save and Protect one day.

Tom, this plan in Funny Games feels endless because it's unbearable. On second viewing I counted the seconds in my head, and I think it was only 1 minute or so, I don't remember now (anybody knows?). I was surprised how shorter than I thought it was.

I agree with Momo about relativization of Bazin's theory. He doesn't say montage is evil, he says certain scenes require a continuity of action without cuts, defining the intuitive cinematographic syntax, the one that won't feel like a cheat. For instance, we can see here that the long take isn't always the best solution to capture the scene, sometimes it just feels formal.

What about De Palma's plan-sequences?

July 14, 2006 10:43 AM  
Anonymous rda said...

Did anyone mention Chantal Ackerman yet? News From Home is all long takes with a static camera.

Peter Watkins' amazing, 6-hour La Commune is also all long takes, but all steadicam.

Another great, totally unexpected long take is the bank robbery scene in Gun Crazy (1949!!)

July 14, 2006 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Jim Flannery said...

Jim E., Michael Snow has been adamant that Wavelength will never be issued in a video format ... and released via Art Metropole a DVD entitled WVLNT: Wavelength for Those Who Don't Have the Time, which cuts the film into thirds and superimposes them, making a 15-minute film with multiple simultaneous focal lengths/times (oddly not listed on the Art Metropole website, but apparently available from Printed Matter).

July 16, 2006 5:46 AM  
Blogger wjfljql said...

i don't know but, for me, if it has long takes, then the images in that take always stick to me more strongly (regardless of how good the film was). and it always makes we want to see it again. i guess it has something to do with the mechanics of how one perceives continuity

July 16, 2006 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I just read a 50 post thread on the long shot and didn't come across a single mention of Mizoguchi...

July 16, 2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger Joseph B. said...

Though Michael Haneke is known more for his clipped, hypnotic takes, he sometimes deploys a miraculous (or annoying) long take. I just re-watched "Funny Games" and was impressed by the nine minute take after the young boy is shot- I remember this scene from the first time around, but the sadness and depression felt by the mom and dad as they slowly start to move around the room was even more heartbreaking this time. Then there's the (annoying) 3 minute shot in "71 Fragments..." as a man plays ping pong with himself. I shouted at the screen during this scene. But then Haneke got what he wanted... provocation.

Some other long shots I admire have to belong in the oeuvre of P.T. Anderson- Sydney's (Philip Baker Hall) cool crawl through a casino floor in "Hard Eight" or the scene in "Boogie Nights" that holds on Mark Whalburg as he stares into space, realizing he's probably hit rock bottom on a drug dealer's couch.

Someone's already mentioned the opening shot of "Birth", one of the most criminally under appreciated films of the past few years. God, so many more shots escape me now. As soon as I send this message though, I'll think of 4 more...

July 16, 2006 9:44 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

The long take isn't exactly the same as a long shot though. A long shot establishes the context of the subject with respect to the surrounding, a long take is an extended duration shot. I wouldn't describe Mizoguchi's shots as particularly long take; I'd say his shot lengths are comparatively average. I can't think of one shot of hand even lasting 4-5 minutes, he edits his sequences quite a bit.

July 16, 2006 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Acquarello-- I can't think of a shot lasting 5 minutes or more either, but, when you consider average shot lengths have, since 1907 or so, always been under 15 seconds or so, I dunno that we gotta go to such lengths. Mizoguchi is more a long take director PT Anderson or Gus van Sant or Brian DePalma, each of whom can sustain a shot for heroic lengths of time primarily because his steadicam operators can keep his feet moving. That is, there's a distinction to be made between between locked down long takes and tracking long takes. If we accept David Bordwell's research, there are plenty of long takes of the latter sort in films today, despite that post-MTV attention disorder afflicting contemporary filmmakers...

July 16, 2006 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

There's no doubt that Kenji Mizoguchi is a master of the long takes. To not see his name mentioned in a discussion of such stylistic device is to see how anesiac the world of cinephilia has become. Much has been written about Hou's similarity to Ozu, but with Flower of Shanghai we can say it is closer to the films of Mizoguchi, especially with its theme of prostitution and freedom.

Ozu's films are not full of long takes but many individual scenes are assembled with one continuous take in mind, that is, there are no elipses(this is different from his so called eliptical editing by eliminating certain events such as a wedding or baseball game). For example, if a person is about to walk downstairs and leave the frame, Ozu would pause for exactly how long for that person to arrive at the lower floor and then cut to the next shot continuing his action. Such empty frames give many lazy critics to interpret such images as zen or whatever cliches they can come up with - those symbol readers or what Bordwell coined "Interpretation Inc." would have a field day. Sontag was right, against interpretation indeed! Part of the enjoyment of Ozu is the playfulness of form in its own right and a glimpse of the possibility of a single shot or series of shots in relationship to each other, all done with exquisite composition, perfect timing, and peopled with fully realized characters.

July 17, 2006 12:36 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Mizoguchi, of course--the final shot in Ugetsu, one of the greatest in all of cinema; that lesser-known one that starts with the hot spring and ends up by the shore of a lake the next day. The long shot in Life of Oharu where (SPOILERS) she's assaulted, someone discovers them in the middle of the act. The impassiveness of the camera in this scene is Mizoguchi's terrible yet understated way of emphasizing that her life is ruined. (END SPOILERS)

July 17, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

On Oharu--at least that's what I remember happening. It's been years since I saw that film...

July 17, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger wjfljql said...

i always thought the term long shot as confusing. 'long' but not in duration. wouldn't it be better that it was called something like a 'far shot'?

July 17, 2006 7:04 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

"That is, there's a distinction to be made between between locked down long takes and tracking long takes."

Great point, I think you've hit the nail on the head on why Mizoguchi's shots never felt long to me, unlike Akerman's for instance (whose work I also love) because her shots tend to be stationary (but not always).

"To not see his name mentioned in a discussion of such stylistic device is to see how anesiac the world of cinephilia has become."

I don't know that I'd necessarily agree with this conclusion (especially since Mizoguchi, along with Dreyer are my favorite filmmakers, so I would argue that I haven't forgotten their respective styles). Rather, I'd suggest that within the discussion's context of Hou and Tarr, people were commenting on "endurance length" shots lasting several minutes, like Rope (with continuity devices aside) or Russian Ark, and Mizoguchi isn't in this category (although Anonymous made a good point about relativity).

July 17, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

A couple of thoughts:

--I agree: that's a great point about relative shot lengths. Renoir, Mizoguchi and Murnau don't strike us as inordinately long-take directors today but they were considered so in their time.

--It's interesting that Bazin, despite his admiration for Renoir's long takes, did not consider long takes themselves to be essential for "presentation of reality." Stroheim, Dreyer (and even Murnau) often cut frequently and only employed long takes on occasion within a film (if they did). Bazin particularly liked that their cutting was not expressive.

--Ozu's shot lengths were actually quite small (Bordwell demonstrates this with a stopwatch in his book.)

--Harry, thanks for bringing up plan-sequence (one scene, one shot). De Palma is a master of the long-take but doesn't use plan-sequence that much--he usually cuts within a scene even if he's using long takes, instead of letting an entire scene play out in a single long take.

--Unlike, say, Tarr. I read that even though SATANTANGO took years to shoot, it took just a few days to edit because there were so few shots.

--Haneke's CODE UNKNOWN is made up almost entirely of plan-sequence. I wrote a 1000-word post about this film for the blog-a-thon and neglected to mention this basic fact!

July 17, 2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Suprised Tsai Ming-liang hasn't come up. There's more cutting in his films as of late but his body of work is littered with long takes.

Girish, what you mention of Hou and Godard is interesting. As Hou's lenses get longer and he increases the distance between lense and subject, the field of view becomes distorted as the planes of vision converge and squeeze down on one another. Hou retreats the camera to compose a wide frame on his long lense, and what results is a pictoral quality of congestion that isn't quite a replication of the reality of human seeing. The fluidity of Hou's panning technique is a direct result of this and something akin to Godard's efforts in Weekend, the difference being Hou's preference of employing this mode in tight quarters, usually indoors amongst crowded spaces. The rigor this places on his crew -- longer lense + indoors = hell on focus -- is to be noted. And one could make a case that his marraige of the long take to the long (lensed) shot is to create a tension between the technical compression within the image and the emotional compression of his characters.

Three Times is a great example.

July 17, 2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow, terrific point, Barry.

July 17, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Re: Dreyer, I'm referring to his pre-war films. Not sure if his takes got longer post-war, or not...

July 17, 2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Kurosawa, incidentally, used a five-minute locked-down take for his first shot in Kagemusha; to confuse matters further, he has three people looking almost exactly alike speaking to each other (well, two of them speak; the other sits sullenly until he breaks out in hysterical laughter).

De Palma has done his share of long takes; that gorgeous panning, snaking camera shot in the climactic chase sequence of Carlito's Way, and, of course, in Snake Eyes--where the plot of the entire film is contained in the film's twenty-minute opening shot, and the rest of the picture deconstructs exactly what happened. Brilliant, if it wasn't for that WTF ending.

July 17, 2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Was the Funny Games shot 9' long? So the 1 min lapse I mentionned was between when the killers leave and when the mother switch off the TV (within the longer shot).

You're right Girish, "plan-sequence" and "long take" aren't strict synonymous. We use it a lot in french for whatever "long take".
But that's an interesting distinction to make, between stand alone single shots and long takes completed with other shots. The former really give long takes their maximum power.

July 19, 2006 4:56 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

There are different kinds of long takes. There are the kind that move, such as the opening shot in Touch of Evil or that shot in Frenzy that leaves the flat, goes down the stairs and then out of the building, as if slowing backing away from evil.

And sometimes you don't move the camera and instead you shoot in wide or medium shot with deep focus, in the style of William Wyler.

But the first example that occurred to me is one of my favorites: the first proper scene in Sullivan's Travels, after the opening bit with the film-within-a-film. Did you even remember that the whole scene, all five-and-a-half minutes of it with Joel McCrea, Robert Warwick and Porter Hall, was one shot?

They're complicated to shoot, but if you plan them properly, they're faster, and thus cheaper. There is the famous story of Welles shooting pages of script on his first day of shooting Touch of Evil. Shane Black, in his commentary for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, makes a comment along those lines about a lengthy take.

July 22, 2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous The Third Man said...

Ohmigod! How could I have forgotten the closing shot in The Third Man? Classic. It wouldn't have worked if staged in any other way.

July 22, 2006 12:12 AM  
Blogger Jenni Olson said...

Wow! You guys are hardcore. And yet somehow no mention yet of James Benning. If memory serves El Valley Centro consists of 30 3-minute takes (each shot the length of a 400' roll of film). He is the master of landscape cinema and a total inspiration. Even more inspiring to me personally as a filmmaker is Benning's former student William E. Jones - especially his film Massillon. And I also can't resist mentioning my own movie, The Joy of Life which just came out on DVD last week nd consists almost entirely of long, static landscape shots of the city of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

P.S. A big thank you to Michael Guillen for choosing me as one of his blog-a-thon subjects (and for turning me on to this wonderful site).

August 06, 2006 12:52 AM  
Anonymous The Cinesthete said...

Tuwa mentioned a bit about Takeshi Kitano. One of the things he does very well in his films is show characters killing time. These are often done in long takes with a static camera. Its usually just characters playing baseball, gambling, or even playing with toys, but the camera holds on them from a distance and we really get to see a side of them most movies wouldn't show. The side that reveals itself only when there is no plot to push them along.

August 08, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger knowby said...

Bela Tarr, and everyone he influenced: Gus Van Sant, Gaspar Noe, Alexander Sokurov, etc.

October 16, 2006 11:21 PM  
Blogger ougie said...

hello- just wanted to thank you for this post. it was really interesting and got me thinking about how i shoot my films. great writing...

did anyone mention Hong Sang Soo? i think he's amazing w/ the long take.

May 25, 2007 2:15 AM  
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