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The classic examples of "realist" long takes used by Bazin and others are Renoir (GRAND ILLUSION, etc., but especially RULES OF THE GAME), Mizoguchi (the rape in the countryside or the ending of UGETSU, for one example), Welles (THE MAGNICENT AMBERSONS, particularly the kitchen scene with George and Aunt Fanny), and Murnau (especially SUNRISE).  A number of sequences in Hitchcock also work.  Note especially the opening shots of REAR WINDOW.  (ROPE, on the other hand, does look like a formalist exercise.)  The fundamental difference for the long take = realism school is summed up in Bazin's description of Renoir's creating a style that "does not cut the world up into pieces."  So, in that sense the long take (along with other factors) is more "realistic" because (in Bazin's term again) it is more "democratic" than an editing style that "forces" interpretations on the viewer.  At the same time, however, "realist" cinema still can't escape being a representation and not direct reality (Bazin's image of the history of cinema as an asymptotic curve that comes closer and closer to the end line but never meets it).  One of my favorite comparison/contrast examples is the singing of the "Marseillaise" in CASABLANCA (classical Hollywood continuity) vs. GRAND ILLUSION (a single tracking shot).  Of course, these examples far pre-date Direct Cinema and most even pre-date Italian Neo-Realism (another hallmark movement).

But, as Robert points out, long takes can also be highly stylized.  Is anything more self-conscious than that opening shot in TOUCH OF EVIL?  One way that Bazin seems to depart from some of his auteurist acolytes is in favoring a Modernist view of cinema in which the sense of a creative presence/narrator/whatever is minimized, like Joyce's concept of the literary narrator being like a God we can't see.  Even then, as Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg pointed out long ago, we can still hear Him breathing.  But for better commentary on Bazin, among other critics, see Noel Carroll's pointed critique.

Better heads than mine have to wrestle with the second question, since there seem to be several different standards of "realism" circulating right now, all of them thrown into confusion by digital imaging and new visual media.  Does the length of a take matter anymore when the image itself can be manipulated in so many ways?  Does a handheld camera matter anymore, when small digital cameras can take us anywhere and where "reality" is served up to us in narratively-defined chunks of 50 minutes or less each week?  Do webcams really give us the "reality" of a scene or a person's life?  And then what claim can a documentarian make to "reality" for a subject when that concept comes into question?

Vladimir Nabokov said that "reality" should always be in quotes.  That seems like better advice than ever.

Don Larsson


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"Only connect!"  --E.M. Forster
Donald F. Larsson
Department of English
Minnesota State University
Mankato, MN  56001
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________________________________

From: Film and TV Studies Discussion List on behalf of David Tetzlaff
Sent: Sat 3/13/2004 1:31 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: long takes



One of the central principles of film studies (or so it seems) is the
distinction between a Bazinian realistic aesthetic on one hand, and a
more Eisensteinian montage/presentational style on the other, with
classical Hollywood film, or at least classical cutting, somewhere in
the middle. The realist style is said to favor long takes and
deep-focus cinematography, to preserve 'the ontology of the
photographic image' by avoiding editing where possible.

However, I can't seem to bring to mind any specific films that employ
long takes that seem particularly realist to me. Most of the
interesting long takes I can think of call attention to themselves by
virtue of their length. For example, the long takes in Stranger Than
Paradise seem more formalist to me than realist.

So i have two questions. The first is practical:

Can people recommend specific fiction films (and better specific
scenes) where long takes are employed toward the end of a Bazinian
realism?

The second is theoretical:
Have the representational markers of 'realism' changed. Is the
absense of editing still what enables the integrety of a photographic
images 'realness' (if it ever was)? I am thinking especially of
'Dogme' influenced films, which seem very invested in a kind of
realism but have lots of cuts, and very obvious ones at that. My
hypothesis would be that all this descends from Direct Cinema
documentary, which established certain conventions of how
moving-picture photography is used to capture
life-as-it-actually-happens. The pragmatic necessities of Direct
Cinema dictated often jerky, hand-held camera work, narrow depth of
field, and often jerky edits -- which now seem almost universally
deployed in any narrative that wants to seem 'real' and 'urgent',
from the TV show 24 to the film Thirteen, just to take examples with
numbers instead of names.

Any thoughts?

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