A Shot in the Dark
The more movies you see, the deeper into the aesthetic issues of cinematic eloquence you plunge, the more likely you are to come around to see the long shot – tracking or otherwise – as a kind of ur-cinema, a fundamental, uniquely filmic and matchlessly expressive and experiential movie manifestation no cataract of fast cuts, Avid foofaraw, montage theories and digital pyrotechnics can encroach upon. Casual filmgoers rarely understand when the serious filmhead waxes rhapsodic about a long traveling shot – the assumption is that our awe is derived from noting the degree of difficulty and the production skill employed, two matters which most movie viewers correctly assume are beside the point of their viewing experience. Of course, the assumption makes an ass and an umption out of everyone; note the calisthenics though we may, what we are truly transfixed by is the quintessentially cinematic experience of time, space, action, depth, drama and contemplation that occurs naturally like alcohol in a long shot’s fermentative process. Long shots can evoke and present an entire four-dimensional world, not just a commanded, puzzle-piece fraction of it. This is not a new sense of things, God knows, but given the way most Hollywood films are made today, it’s still an aesthetic idea that has yet to bust out into the popular consciousness.
Maybe we should initiate, you and I, a cinephiles’ Long Take Hall of Fame – we all have our favorites, beyond the celebrated examples (Murnau’s marsh walk in Sunrise, Welles’ bordertown swoon in Touch of Evil, Kalatosov’s street funeral in I Am Cuba, Godard’s traffic jam in Week End, Antonioni’s summary courtyard circle in The Passenger, Scorsese’s Copacabana hustle in GoodFellas, Sokurov’s Winter Palace tour in Russian Ark, etc.). Any consideration would land soon enough before the busts of Mizoguchi, Jancso, Tarkovsky, Angelopoulos and Tarr, but what about the long shots we’ve forgotten about, or never heard praised? How about the astonishing seven-minute climactic motel-room faceoff between a concussioned Robert Mitchum and Faith Domergue in John Farrow’s Where Danger Lives (1948)? The Balint Kenyeres one-shot short Before Dawn (2005)? The diner scene in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow (1973)? The ultimate patient shot, climaxing with a peacock finally unfolding its tail for the camera, in Gu Changwei’s Peacock (2005)?
Let’s say this: no digital suturing allowed. I’ll be happy to quote-post comments, so show your passion.