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One Shot Is All You Need

Friday, June 8, 2007
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By: Matt Lahey

Anyone with the slightest interest in cinematography (and filmmaking in general) is required to spend time with the May 4th entry of Alan Bacchus’ blog Daily Film Dose. The subject of the entry – the long tracking shot in film (generally a long scene without cuts or edits, filmed with a camera moving on a platform of some kind).

The author organizes the shots into a ‘best-of’ list (a follow-up list of shots suggested by readers is included as well) and helpfully provides a brief thematic and/or technical description of each scene. Better still, however, is his inclusion of YouTube videos for nearly all of the shots listed.

The great part about this list is the comparisons that it engenders – it becomes readily apparent after watching a few that not all tracking shots are created equal. At best, the tracking shots provide both a counterpoint and a reinforcement to the action on the screen; see how the achingly slow camera of the Oldboy and Werckmeister Harmonies scenes makes the violence on screen seem all the more intense. At worst it’s pedestrian, a long shot for its own sake; the intro to Serenity, for example, seems simply a factual description when compared to some of the others on the list.

Dramatically effective or not, however, one can’t deny the technical gutsiness of most of these scenes. There’s a certain honesty that comes with this kind of shot, as it implies that the filmmakers and actors aren’t hiding behind any cinematic trompe l’oeuils (The Protector clip is an astounding revelation, for example, to anyone who has ever questioned the amount of skill required to lead a choreographed fight). It just somehow seems more real – hence, I think, the frequent lack of musical score in these shots.

So, enjoy and discuss. And please, as someone who has just finished watching the amazing Children of Men, I would ask that you do not watch that particular clip until you have seen the film in its entirety – do yourself a favour.

Thank you.yehalttam

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, June 8, 2007 7:53 am

    Rightly so, Touch of Evil is the first one on the list. And indeed, the first shot of that film is amazing – but there is another, I think even longer take, later on in the film, inside the victim’s apartment. It’s not as technically complicated, but it is expertly choreographed, and is one of those long takes that sneaks under the radar – you don’t really notice that its been one shot until near the end of it (I think it goes on for 8 minutes or something).

  2. Friday, June 8, 2007 10:53 am

    Just watched Touch of Evil at an Orson Welles retrospective thing they’ve got going on here in Seoul. By gum, it had been a while, but that opening shot, starting right on the bomb being placed in the car trunk, and following along with Mexican Charlton Heston until it detonates, the car coming and going in and out of the shot, had not been forgotten.

    I’d also just like to take an unrelated moment to say I hate the bland re-titling of Tom Yum Goong to “The Protector.”

  3. Friday, June 8, 2007 11:03 am

    I just glanced over the list and I have to wonder where two particular movies are. The first is Hitchcock’s Rope: it’s cheated with zoom-into-the-jacket cuts, but that whole movie is one shot.

    The other is Timecode, which, due to the advent of digital video, Mike Figgis was able to make in entirely one shot without the cheats. Actually, Timecode was four separate single shots, each filling a quadrant of the screen. I really enjoyed watching that one back when it first came out; not so much for plot or performance, but for the weird puzzle of figuring out which section I should be paying attention to, and I also got a kick out of those occasional moments where different shots would cross each other’s paths. I should give that movie another try, see if it holds up at all.

    Hmm. I suppose this is a comment best suited to the comments section of the Daily Film Dose page, not here. But I’ll put it here, because a) it seems that other commenters on that page have mentioned these two movies, and b) I’ve already typed this all out here, and I’m just not feeling up to Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V-ing right now.

  4. Friday, June 8, 2007 11:07 am

    Oh. He mentions Rope in the introduction.

    Oh.

  5. Friday, June 8, 2007 11:09 am

    Oh my god. The YouTube clip he used from Oldboy is dubbed. Sweet Jesus, no…

  6. James17930 permalink
    Friday, June 8, 2007 11:58 am

    Rope sucked.

  7. Friday, June 8, 2007 12:03 pm

    Rope was a great film!!

  8. James17930 permalink
    Friday, June 8, 2007 1:30 pm

    ^ You smoking crack again graeme?

    Just because it’s old and Hitchcock doesn’t make it a good movie. The pacing is horrible, the acting static and pasty and the story boring and obvious.

    If you’re going to turn a play into a movie, it helps not to film it as if you were simply shooting the action on stage.

  9. Friday, June 8, 2007 6:59 pm

    I rented Russian Ark a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful film, very serene. Not only was this an impressive cinematographic feat, but Sergei Dreiden delivers an enormous amount of dialogue (96 minutes worth) in a single take. According to Wikipedia, there were takes made before the successful one and they were all stopped for technical reasons.

  10. Friday, June 8, 2007 8:49 pm

    You’re really quick to jump on that “you only like it because you’re a brainwashed fool” horse, James. We only like Rope because it’s Hitchcock, we only like 28 Days Later because it’s Danny Boyle. Rope is good because it’s a cool little plot with Jimmy Stewart figurin’ shit out, and because they opted to go the filmed-stage-play route. And they didn’t just simply shoot it like it were shooting the action on a stage; that camera did move, it forced our attention, it just did it without cuts.

  11. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, June 9, 2007 8:51 am

    Obviously I disagree.

  12. Matthew permalink
    Sunday, June 10, 2007 2:10 am

    All right boys, break it up.

    Question – were any of the final scene’s in Scott’s “Alien” long shots? I remember some beautiful scenes which featured Sigourney scampering around in her undies as she was making her way to the escape pod. Her panicked breathing and the sounds of the ship slowly coming apart at the seams make the whole sequence seem to take an eternity, but there is one shot in particular which I believe may fall in the ‘long-shot’ category : she runs across a room, makes it to the pod, slumps to the floor just inside of it, and then jumps to her feet as flames suddenly spew from corridor.
    Anybody?

  13. Sunday, June 10, 2007 5:48 am

    She didn’t scamper in her undies en route to the escape pod. She stripped down after escaping the Nostromo in the escape shuttle, but before discovering she had a stowaway.

    But in the section where the self-destruct countdown is going and the steam is shooting all about, there’s nothing I’d really call a “long” shot. Some dolly stuff, pulling back as she runs down corridors, but nothing more than five seconds or so, I don’t think.

  14. Sarah P permalink
    Monday, June 11, 2007 7:14 am

    We just saw 12 Angry Men again last night. Wow. Like Rope, it’s based on a play, which of course lends itself to the long-take. But watch the secene that begins running under the opening credits, as the men file into the jury room. It just keeps going.

    That, and it’s just a fine film.

  15. Monday, June 11, 2007 8:18 am

    You know, I still haven’t seen the original 12 Angry Men, but I did see the late ’90s made-for-TV version, with Jack Lemmon and a bunch of others (included in those others: Tony Danza!). I remember it being pretty damn good. Can’t recall any long shots though.

    (Also included in those others: a pre-Cylonbusting matchup of Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell! Thanks, IMDB!)

    (Also thanks IMDB for allowing me to discover this fun fact: Jack Lemmon was a juror in the ’90s version, and Jack Klugman was a juror in the original. What an ODD coincidence…)

  16. James17930 permalink
    Monday, June 11, 2007 8:27 am

    How did they get away with an all male jury in the remake? I mean, it was supposed to be set in the ‘modern day’ right?

  17. Monday, June 11, 2007 8:50 am

    By making the judge a chick. That’s your Mary McDonnell portion.

    But yeah, one would think that just can’t happen these days, whether there’s an official law about it or not.

  18. Sarah P permalink
    Sunday, June 17, 2007 4:22 pm

    It was the 50s film that had the long takes. And the updated play is called “12 Angrey People.” But the original is so good, there’s hardly room to argue about feminism there….

  19. James17930 permalink
    Monday, June 18, 2007 6:09 am

    Or ever!

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