Camera MovementTYPES OF CAMERA MOVEMENT
FUNCTIONS OF CAMERA MOVEMENT
CAMERA MOVEMENT AND THE LONG TAKE
Camera movement is one of the most expressive tools available to a filmmaker. It alters the relationship between the subject and the camera frame, shaping the viewer's perspective of space and time and controlling the delivery of narrative information. As the camera frame orients the viewer within the mise-en-scène, movement of the frame provides the illusion of the viewer journeying through the world of the narrative. The camera height and angle, the distance to a subject, and the composition of a shot may change during camera movement, as the framing travels above, below, around, into, and out of space. Types of camera movement are distinguished by their direction and the equipment used to achieve motion. Although the basic forms of camera movement were in place by the 1920s, the equipment that facilitates camera motion continues to evolve.
The moving camera can function in a variety of ways and, when used in a long take, is uniquely able to depict uninterrupted stretches of time and space. Camera movement may follow objects in transit within the frame, or may act independently; it may reveal offscreen space, or deliberately suppress access to space; it may objectively witness events, or suggest the subjective perspective of a character; it may advance the narrative, develop themes, or create patterns; and it may contribute to kinetic or rhythmic effects. Fluid camera movement within shots sustained for unusually long periods of time can not only serve as an alternative to editing, but can also punctuate changes in narrative action within the shot and participate in formal patterning across the entirety of a film. The film critic André Bazin was one of the great champions of camera movement within long takes, believing that such shots had the potential to record the reality of the world in front of the camera more accurately than sequences constructed through editing.
The two most basic forms of camera movement are panning and tilting; both involve the rotation of the camera while it is attached to a fixed stand. A pan (from "panorama") moves the camera from side to side on a horizontal axis, providing the sense of looking to the left or the right. A tilt moves the camera up and down on a vertical axis. During panning and tilting, the camera is typically attached to a tripod, a three-legged stand topped with a camera mount and an arm to direct the rotation of the camera. The location of the tripod or other camera support does not change when panning or tilting; rather, the camera rotates on the mount attached to the support.
Because most early motion picture tripods had fixed camera mounts, panning and tilting were extremely rare before 1900, when more camera operators began using rotating tripod heads. Panning was initially established as a cinematic device after the turn of the century with the emergence of panoramas, documentary films that contained a slow pan providing an extended view of a single location. During the first decade of the 1900s, narrative films also began featuring pans to reveal offscreen space, while tilts were used in conjunction with pans to follow characters in motion. An example of an early pan occurs in The Great Train Robbery (1903), when the camera moves to the left to follow the bandits as they flee the train.
A tracking shot (also known as a dolly or trucking shot) propels the camera through space parallel to the ground and can travel forward, backward, from side to side, diagonally, or in a circle. Whereas a pan or a tilt reveals what one might see when standing still and rotating one's head, a track provides the impression of actually advancing into space. Tracking shots are often produced with the camera mounted on a dolly, a small, steerable platform with rubber tires. Tracking shots receive their name from the railroad-like tracks that are frequently laid on the ground to guide the dolly during long camera movements.
b. Tokyo, Japan, 16 May 1898, d. 24 August 1956
One of the most acclaimed directors of world cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi created elegant, precisely staged long takes in films that examined the circumscribed choices of women in Japanese society. His tightly controlled camera movement, recessed foregrounds, and depth staging served to subordinate characters to the overall composition, positioning the viewer as an observer to highly emotional yet distanced subject matter.
Having directed more than forty silent-era films, during the 1930s Mizoguchi began to develop a visual style of systematic long-shot long takes. Naniwa erejî (Naniwa Elegy, 1936), considered his first masterpiece, selectively incorporates camera movement to shape the viewer's understanding of the protagonist, a young woman pressured into a series of ruinous indiscretions. When the heroine runs into her former boyfriend in a department store, other customers and objects in the foreground frequently block the couple from view during a long tracking shot, preventing the viewer from scanning their faces for emotion. Without direct access to the heroine's subjectivity, the viewer is forced to imagine her shame, embarrassment, and fear of discovery.
Throughout the rest of Mizoguchi's career, camera movement was a favored tool to define the rhythm of his scenes and the viewer's response to the narrative. The mobile camera is dominant in Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, 1939) and participates in segmenting narrative action. Camera movement is typically motivated by character movement, revealing new space and connecting static tableaux within the long take. Mizoguchi's use of camera movement within long takes has been linked to the rhythmic structure of other Japanese arts.
Although Mizoguchi's aesthetic of long-shot long takes tends to de-center characters within the frame and de-dramatize action, his use of camera movement encourages more active participation by the viewer. Denied direct access to his characters' subjectivities, we can only witness their suffering, and in witnessing it, imagine their pain. Saikaku ichidai onna (The Life of Oharu, 1952) provides a key example of how Mizoguchi's camera offers viewers a perspective of narrative action that is objective yet at the same time full of emotion. When Oharu and her family cross a bridge on their way into exile, the camera looks up at them from a low-angle long shot below the bridge, panning to follow their progress and pausing as they bid their friends farewell. As the family turns out of sight behind the bridge, the camera tilts down and tracks in, revealing a glimpse of the family walking into the horizon through the arch of the bridge. The movement of the camera situates the viewer as an observer within the scene, initially content to watch the family retreat but ultimately so sorrowful as to be unwilling to relinquish sight of them.
Naniwa Elegy (1936), Gion no shimai (Sisters of the Gion, 1936), The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), Genroku chushingura (The Loyal 47 Ronin, Parts 1 and 2, 1941–1942), Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna (Utamaro and His Five Women, 1946), The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Ugetsu, 1953), Sanshô dayû (Sansho the Bailiff, 1954)
Andrew, Dudley, and Paul Andrew. Kenji Mizoguchi: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981.
Kirihara, Donald. Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.
McDonald, Keiko. Mizoguchi. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
O'Grady, Gerald, ed. Mizoguchi the Master. Toronto: Cinémathèque Ontario, 1997.
Tracking shots came into use at the end of the 1890s when filmmakers mounted cameras onto moving vehicles for "phantom rides" through actual locations. By 1903 narrative films started to incorporate parallel tracking shots, in which the camera moves at a fixed distance from and the same rate of speed as objects advancing in the same direction. During the next decade, a few films exhibited tracks into and out of a scene independent of movement within the frame, but nonparallel tracking shots did not become popular until after they were used to flaunt the sumptuous sets of the Italian epic Cabiria (1914). By the 1920s filmmakers expanded their use of the tracking shot and began exploring more adventurous means of moving the camera, including strapping it to the cinematographer's chest for Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924) and swinging it on a pendulum for Napoléon (1927).
Although holding the camera allows for much greater freedom of movement than mounting it on a dolly, handheld shots were difficult to achieve during the first half of the twentieth century owing to the tremendous bulk and weight of professional 35mm cameras. After World War II, however, compact, lightweight 16mm cameras originally designed for training and combat use entered the market, leading a variety of filmmakers to embrace handheld shooting. Television news cameramen and direct cinema documentary filmmakers took advantage of the smaller, lighter cameras to record material spontaneously in close quarters. When shooting Primary (1960), the cinematographer Richard Leacock (b. 1921) held his camera above and behind John F. Kennedy while following him through a crowd at a campaign stop, providing the viewer with an intimate sense of actually "being there" and rubbing shoulders with the candidate.
Handheld shots often appear shakier and blurrier than those produced by a camera mounted on a support, and thus lack the level of perfection found in high-quality commercial cinema. Some young filmmakers of the 1960s "new cinemas" considered this visual distinction an advantage, however, as handheld camera movement challenged staid orthodoxy. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard (b. 1924) shot several scenes in À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) while sitting in a moving wheelchair and one in Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962) while running across a bridge; his unfettered camerawork identified the French New Wave with a spirit of freedom and vitality. Because of its early adoption by nonfiction filmmakers and its absence of visual polish, handheld camera movement is often associated with increased authenticity. Later use of the handheld camera, in movies such as Festen (The Celebration, 1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999) reinforce the suggestion of an unmediated filmed experience.
In the early 1970s the cameraman Garrett Brown, with engineers from Cinema Products, Inc., developed the Steadicam system to integrate the responsiveness of handheld camera movement with the smoothness of a dolly. The Steadicam features a camera mounted on a movable, spring-loaded arm that is attached to a weight-bearing harness worn on the upper body of the operator. A handgrip moves the camera up and down and side to side in front of the operator's body, while the camera itself can tilt and pan in any direction. An attached video monitor allows the operator to view the image without looking through the camera eyepiece, while zooming and focusing are remote-controlled. The Steadicam arm absorbs the shock of sudden movements, enabling operators to walk, run, jump, and climb stairs while still producing the level, bounce-free camera movements previously exclusive to dolly-mounted shots. Although Steadicam shots tend to act as tracking shots, they may also involve other support structures that carry the operator into the air.
The primary means of moving the camera above ground is with a crane. During crane shots, the camera rises and lowers on a platform connected to a mechanical arm, much like utility company cherry-pickers. A crane enables the camera to traverse great distances up and down, as well as forward and backward and from side to side. Although in use as early as Intolerance (1916), crane shots became a signature of the 1930s musicals of Busby Berkeley (1895–1976) and multiplied following technological improvements after World War II. In the late 1970s the introduction of the Louma crane further increased shooting options. The Louma operates like an oversized microphone boom, with a rotating arm and a remote-control camera mount at the end. The Louma transmits the image from the camera to the operator in another location, enabling the camera to move through very tight, narrow spaces that were previously inaccessible.
Aerial shots taken from a plane or helicopter are a variation of crane shots. A camera mounted on an aerial support can move into space in all directions while achieving much greater heights than can a crane. Filmmakers began exploring ways to mount a camera on a plane during the 1910s, and in the 1950s helicopter mounts created additional shooting possibilities. An aerial shot may frame another flying object, as during the Huey helicopter battle sequences of Apocalypse Now (1979), or it may provide a "bird's eye view" of the landscape, as in the swooping helicopter shot of Julie Andrews in the Alps at the opening of The Sound of Music (1965).
A cinematographic technique that is frequently mistaken for a form of camera movement is the zoom. Zooms are produced by a zoom lens, which can vary focal length during a single shot from wide angle to telephoto and back. Although rudimentary zoom lenses were available in the late 1920s, technological advances and increased location shooting encouraged filmmakers to use zooms more frequently beginning in the 1950s and 1960s.
Audiences often confuse a zoom shot with a track or crane shot, but careful viewing reveals distinct differences. A zoom in to an object will magnify it and decrease the apparent distance between the object and surrounding planes, whereas a zoom out from an object will demagnify it and increase the apparent distance between planes. As with zooming, tracking and craning can alter the size of objects within the frame, but the latter two will also affect spatial relationships; a zoom merely magnifies or demagnifies a portion of the image. For example, during the party sequence in Notorious (1946), a crane propels the camera down from the second-floor balcony and into the lobby for a close-up of the key in Alicia's (Ingrid Bergman) hand; in the opening of The Conversation (1974), a zoom slowly isolates Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and enlarges him within the frame as he tries to escape a mime in the park. Both the crane shot and the zoom highlight a detail within the image, but where the crane physically moves the camera through space, the zoom creates only the illusion of movement.
Camera movement has the potential to function in many different ways, such as to direct the viewer's attention, reveal offscreen space, provide narrative information, or create expressive effects. The camera most frequently moves when an object moves within the frame, initiating reframing or a following shot. Reframing involves slight pans or tilts designed to maintain the balance of a composition during figure movement. A camera operator will reframe when a sitting person stands up, for instance, so as to keep the person in the frame and allow for appropriate head room. Reframing helps to fix the viewer's eye on the most important figures within the frame and is so common it is often unnoticed.
The camera itself accompanies the movement of an object during a following shot. A track, crane, or hand-held shot can lead a moving figure into space, pursue a figure from behind, or float above, below, or alongside. Intricate following shots may be motivated by the movements of more than one figure, such as during the ball sequence of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942): as the last guests say goodbye, the camera pans and tracks to follow characters from the stairs to the foyer to the front door, producing a series of deep space compositions that fore-shadow the rekindling of an old romance and the development of a new one.
Not all camera movement responds to motion within the frame; the filmmaker may direct the camera away from the dominant action for other purposes. Such camera movement draws attention to itself and is typically used sparingly to emphasize significant narrative details. For example, when Judy (Natalie Wood) stands up to exit the police station in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the camera pans and tilts down to frame the compact she left behind, highlighting an important motif that will bring the protagonists together.
Because of its ability to reveal or conceal space, camera movement often participates in the creation of suspense and surprise. In Strangers on a Train (1951), a point-of-view editing pattern places the viewer in the optical perspective of Guy (Farley Granger) as he approaches a dark staircase to warn a father of his son's murderous intentions. The director Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) then varies the editing pattern by craning up from Guy to disclose a menacing dog waiting on the landing above. The independent camera movement informs the viewer of an obstacle unknown to Guy, raising the question of whether he will be able to reach the father—thus heightening suspense. Later in the same scene, Hitchcock alters his use of camera movement to conceal offscreen space and suppress narrative information. As Guy enters the bedroom to wake the sleeping father, the camera tracks to Guy's side and keeps the father offscreen. By delaying an onscreen image of the father's bed, Hitchcock surprises viewers when a subsequent shot reveals the treacherous son in his father's place.
Sometimes camera movement positions the viewer as an objective witness to unfolding events. In Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (Eternity and a Day, Theo Angelopoulos, 1998), a four-and-a-half-minute take turns away from the primary plotline to gaze at secondary activities. As the dying protagonist gets out of his car to find a home for his dog, the sound of an accordion prompts the camera to track left, revealing a wedding parade turning into the street. When the parade passes the protagonist's car, the camera pans left, relegating him to offscreen space and instead fixing on the bride at the head of the parade; the camera then slowly follows the parade down the street, until the groom emerges from a building, joins his bride in dance, and the two lead the procession into a nearby fenced courtyard, the camera settling next to a row of children watching the dancing over the top of the fence. Finally, the protagonist walks into the right side of the frame, halting the dancing, and asks the groom's mother—his nurse—to take care of his dog. As in this example, very slow camera movements within long takes focus the viewer on the passage of time and build narrative expectation. Here the camera movement situates the viewer as a curious inhabitant of the narrative world, linking simultaneous events in adjacent spaces and integrating the protagonist's preparations for death with a joyous celebration of life.
Camera movement can also be used to illustrate a character's subjective experience. In the documentary Sherman's March (1986), Ross McElwee (b. 1947) frequently records his daily life with his camera mounted on his shoulder. As he walks through the woods or interacts with his family and various girlfriends, the moving camera captures images from his optical perspective—the viewer literally sees the world through his eyes. Camera movement at the end of Detour (1945) provides more indirect access to a character's subjectivity. A voice-over of the protagonist reflecting on the consequences of his companion's accidental death is accompanied by a close-up that begins on his face, then tracks, pans, and tilts around the room, going in and out of focus to reveal potentially incriminating evidence, and eventually circles back to his face. Although the camera movement does not imitate the protagonist's optical perspective, it nevertheless illustrates what he is thinking. The moving camera can also suggest what a character is feeling, as in GoodFellas (1990), when a combination zoom in and track out marks Henry Hill's (Ray Liotta) realization that his best friend is going to betray him. During the shot, Henry and his friend remain sitting in a diner booth in the same place within the frame, yet the zoom in and track out distort the spatial relationship between them and the background; the world around them literally shifts while they talk, visually expressing Henry's disorientation and fear.
Through its ability to locate the actions of a character within a given environment, camera movement may directly advance the plot. For example, at the end of an evening of costumed skits in La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939), a series of quick pans and tracks follow and reveal characters as their secret romantic pairings are hidden from, searched for, and discovered by other characters. At times the camera will be guided by a character's movement; at other times it will move independently, always uncovering the betrayals at the heart of the film's romantic game of hide-and-seek.
Alternatively, camera movement can function to develop narrative themes. In Gone with the Wind (1939), a dramatic crane shot situates the private anxiety of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) against the misery suffered by the Confederacy as a whole. When Scarlett arrives at the train depot searching for Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), the camera tracks back from her and cranes up to a great height, revealing row upon row of wounded men around her and the tattered Confederate flag flying above. Similarly, a high-angle panning shot of Harry's gutted apartment at the end of The Conversation illustrates the film's surveillance theme. The camera's angle, location at the top of a wall, and back-and-forth 180-degree motion mimic the type of image produced by a security camera, an ironic reminder of the threat to privacy that fuels Harry's paranoid fears.
The moving camera may also serve a structural purpose within a film, as shots with similar camera movements create patterns of repetition and variation. In Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), two high-angle shots from the second floor landing pan right and tilt up as a man and his female companion climb a circular staircase to his apartment. In the first shot, a young girl on the landing watches the couple; in the second shot, the landing stands empty, and the girl is now the man's companion. The parallel established between the two shots depicts the fulfillment of the young girl's desires, while also marking her as just one in a series of women enjoyed by the man. A more expanded pattern of tracking shots in Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond, Agnès Varda, 1985) helps to unify the episodic narrative and indicate the continuity of the protagonist's journey. As Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) travels the countryside on foot and interacts with a series of characters, leftward tracking shots follow her from one episode to the next, each ending on a random object that is either the same or similar to the object that begins the next tracking shot. The pattern suggests the one constant in Mona's life is her movement, and as the camera never exactly parallels her motion, it underscores her ultimate independence.
At times, camera movement primarily operates to create a visceral sensation. For example, in This Is Cinerama (1952), the attachment of the camera to a roller coaster car offers the viewer the giddy sensation of actually being on the ride, while in Wai Ka-fai's Too Many Ways to Be No. 1 (1997), a handheld camera positioned above a crowd suddenly flips over as a fight breaks out, providing a jarring sense of the physical confusion within the scene. A series of repeated camera movements can also create a rhythmic pattern. In Ballet mécanique (Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy, 1924), brief pans in an upside-down shot of a woman on a swing create a visual rhythm that is then repeated and varied later in the film. Similarly, a series of panning shots of car crashes in A Movie (Bruce Connor, 1958) initiates a rhythmic pattern of accidents and disasters. In these instances, speed, direction, and length of camera movement are controlled to produce kinetic and rhythmic effects.
Avant-garde filmmakers have been at the forefront of experiments using camera movement to interrogate the act of seeing. In Wavelength (1967), Back and Forth (1968–1969), and Breakfast (1976), Michael Snow (b. 1929) explored how the movement of the frame and the camera affected perceptions of time and space. For La Region Centrale (1971), Snow and Pierre Abaloos invented a new camera mount that could move along different axes at variable speeds, transforming the recorded landscape into abstracted lines and swirls of color. Stan Brakhage (1933–2003) embraced the potential of the handheld camera to capture a new mode of vision. In films such as Anticipation of the Night (1958) and Dog Star Man (1961–1964), Brakhage's "first person" camera expresses his subjective experience of what he was shooting. In these experimental works, the filmmakers encourage the viewer to consider the unique effects of camera movement that are often taken for granted when watching mainstream films.
Long takes are continuous shots that last considerably longer than the typical shot in a given historical period. (Although it is easy to confuse long takes with long shots, the terms refer to two different relationships: long takes suggest the duration of a shot, while long shots specify the distance between a figure and the camera.) During the studio era, the average shot in a Hollywood release lasted approximately eight to eleven seconds; since the 1960s faster cutting rates have resulted in shot lengths averaging less than half the studio-era norm. In the absence of editing, long takes tend to use camera movement in combination with sound and mise-en-scène to direct the viewer's attention toward important narrative elements. Tilting, panning, tracking, and craning can create a series of new compositions during a long take in much the same way as editing, but without breaking from a continuous recording of space and time. During the 1940s and 1950s, mainstream directors such as Otto Preminger (1906–1986), Vincente Minnelli (1903–1986), Max Ophüls (1902–1957), and Samuel Fuller (1912–1997) incorporated long takes with camera movement into their visual aesthetic, but since the 1960s extended shot lengths have predominantly been embraced by art cinema directors, such as Theo Angelopoulos (b. 1935), Hou Hsiao-hsien (b. 1947), and Tsai Ming-liang (b. 1957).
A long take can comprise one shot within a scene, the entirety of a scene, or even an entire movie. Long takes with camera movement alter the rhythm of a scene and the presentation of space within it. Most often, directors will vary the lengths of shots within scenes, integrating a lengthy take with close-ups or shot-reverse
b. Max Oppenheimer, Saarbrücken, Germany, 6 May 1902, d. 26 March 1957
From the 1930s through the 1950s, Max Ophüls directed over twenty films in five countries, establishing himself as one of the preeminent visual stylists of his generation. His films are marked by the systematic use of a continuously moving camera that emphasizes the fleeting nature of his characters' romantic dreams.
Although Die Verkaufte Braut (The Bartered Bride, 1932) contains Ophüls's initial use of elaborate camera movements and deep-space staging, Liebelei (Flirtation, 1933) is commonly recognized as the first fully developed example of his signature style. A tale of a womanizing young officer in turn-of-the-century Vienna who briefly finds true love, the film uses sweeping camera movements and parallel sequences to develop the excitement of courtship and the couple's tragic fate.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, Ophüls fled Germany and began a nomadic existence, eventually landing in Hollywood in 1941. Although he enjoyed working with the skilled technicians and state-of-the-art dollies and cranes available at the studios, Ophüls's fluid long takes challenged classical methods of production when consistently used in place of traditional coverage and close-ups. His wrangling with Columbia executives during the production of The Reckless Moment (1949) inspired the actor James Mason to rhyme:
I think I know the reason why
Producers tend to make him cry.
Inevitably they demand
Some stationary set-ups, and
A shot that does not call for tracks
Is agony for poor dear Max
Who, separated from his dolly,
Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
Once, when they took away his crane,
I thought he'd never smile again.
In 1949 Ophüls returned to France, where he made his final four films—La Ronde (Roundabout, 1950), Le Plaisir (Pleasure, 1952), Madame de … (The Earrings of Madame de …, 1953), and Lola Montès (1955)—with a core group of artistic collaborators. Ophüls's intricate use of camera movement and symmetry to develop the short-lived euphoria of love is illustrated in a waltzing scene during Madame de …, when the camera pans and tracks with the heroine and her lover as they dance around columns, statues, and extravagant decor over a series of five nights, each night a new location and orchestra, but the same couple, and the same waltz. The symmetry of action and music and the swirling movement of the camera express the overwhelming joy of the couple, oblivious to all around them. The camera dances with them until, on news of her husband's imminent arrival, it abandons the couple, trailing off to follow a servant who extinguishes the chandelier, foreshadowing their doomed romance. Andrew Sarris and other critics have argued that Ophüls's style visualizes the effects of the inevitable passage of time. As they capture his characters' ill-fated efforts to preserve love, Ophüls's graceful camera movements, long shot lengths, and parallel sequences imbue his films with a defiant romantic spirit and exquisite poignancy.
Die Verkaufte Braut (The Bartered Bride, 1932), Liebelei (1933), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Reckless Moment (1949), La Ronde (Roundabout, 1950), Le Plaisir (Pleasure, 1952), Madame de … (The Earrings of Madame de …, 1953), Lola Montés (1955)
Bacher, Lutz. Max Ophüls in the Hollywood Studios. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
Wexman, Virginia Wright, and Karen Hollinger, eds. Letter from an Unknown Woman, Max Ophüls, Director. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986.
Willemen, Paul, ed. Ophüls. London: British Film Institute, 1978.
Williams, Alan Larson. Max Ophüls and the Cinema of Desire: Style and Spectacle in Four Films, 1948–1955. New York: Arno Press, 1980.
shot sequences. In East of Eden (1955), Elia Kazan (1909–2003) uses camera movement to emphasize the gulf between a father and his unloved son during an intricately choreographed long take. Lasting five times as long as the previous shots, the long take tracks and pans backward as the father walks in the foreground away from the son, leaving the son diminished in the rear of the frame; the father's favored son then enters in the open space between the two men. The camera movement, in combination with the blocking of the actors, creates a physical distance between the father and his unloved son, punctuating their emotional distance and visually expressing the son's isolation.
Camera movement frequently breaks the narrative within a long take into discrete units, distinguishing the various phases of action by creating a series of framings, much like edited shots. In Fuller's Forty Guns (1957), the camera follows the blocking of the actors during a five-minute, forty-six-second shot as they position themselves in successive areas of the set, tracking and reframing to produce twelve distinct compositions in different shot scales. At the beginning of the shot, the camera establishes the space and tracks to frame a couple, Griff (Barry Sullivan) and Jessica (Barbara Stanwyck), sitting at a piano discussing the conflict that divides them; an off-screen crash prompts a fast track forward, marking a narrative shift as the sheriff who loves Jessica barges through the door and brawls with Griff. Subsequent phases of the shot feature the sheriff confessing his love to Jessica, Griff exiting offscreen, and Jessica paying the sheriff to leave. The camera then tracks back to reveal Griff again at the piano; he is subsequently joined by Jessica, who suggests they can forget about the sheriff. As the two begin to kiss, it appears the narrative has come full circle, but an offscreen sound of knocking interrupts their moment of passion. A cut reveals the payoff: the swinging legs of the sheriff, who has hung himself. The extended duration of the long take, the circularity of the camera movement and blocking, and the apparent narrative closure within the shot all make the sudden revelation of the dead sheriff that much more shocking. Camera movement helps to articulate each phase of the narrative action, highlighting the development and resolution of conflict within the scene.
Long takes can also serve a formal function, initiating a pattern at the beginning of a film that is then repeated and varied. Directors may reserve long takes for certain types of scenes or locations, producing an identifiable stylistic motif; examples include the transitional tracking shots in Sans toit ni loi and the slow, unmotivated crane shots that advance from the beach house to the sea throughout Mia aioniotita kai mia mera. A plan-séquence, or sequence shot, is a scene made entirely of one long take. Sequence shots may be varied with scenes that rely heavily on editing so as to encourage comparison and contrast between scenes. Alternatively, sequence shots may form the foundation of the film. Hou Hsiao-hsien organizes Shanghai Hua (Flowers of Shanghai, 1998) according to sequence shots lasting approximately three minutes each and separated by fades to black; in the sequence shots, the camera roams around a single room, following first one character and then another, positioning the viewer as a distant, objective witness to all that unfolds. When the pattern of fluid, long-take long shots is broken through the use of a quick point-of-view close-up, the close-up carries additional weight. After watching events from a distance, for a moment the viewer is allowed access to a character's direct experience; the significance of the shot then resonates more strongly within the narrative.
Until the end of the twentieth century, constructing an entire feature-length film out of one extended long take was an impossibility, as a 35mm camera could typically hold only about eleven minutes of film. As a result, while Hitchcock sought to give the illusion of filming Rope (1948) in only one shot, he was forced to use deceptive visual strategies to hide the film's seven cuts. The advent of digital video, however, has opened up new opportunities for filmmakers interested in the extreme long take, as videotapes can record over two hours of material. An eighty-six-minute Steadicam shot forms the entirety of Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002), tracking through thousands of actors depicting a series of moments in Russian history. The choreography of the camera and actors as they move through St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum produces a constantly changing array of compositions that operate in lieu of editing. Timecode (Mike Figgis, 2000) uses digital technology to experiment with duration and simultaneity; four discrete long takes unspool in quadrants of the frame, each revealing the simultaneous action of different characters who eventually meet.
The ability of digital video to produce extended shot lengths would very likely have appealed to André Bazin, the first film critic to champion the long take. He celebrated the photographic properties of cinema and the film camera's unique ability to record continuous space and time, thereby revealing the reality of the world in front of the lens. Although he recognized that film could never completely reproduce reality, Bazin argued that technological and stylistic developments could advance the medium closer to that goal. In particular, he embraced the ability of long takes with camera movement, deep space staging, and deep focus cinematography to maintain the spatial and temporal unity of recorded events and make ambiguous the most significant action within the frame. Bazin thus elevated the work of Jean Renoir (1894–1979), William Wyler (1902–1981), and others, who frequently used long takes and attempted to capture the spontaneity, ambiguity, and specificity of reality as it unfolds over time.
Bazin, André. What Is Cinema?. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
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