L13FC: The Extended Shot

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On the 13th of each month, the L13FC analyzes an aspect of the film industry. Please welcome co-host, Jordan at epilepticmoondancer, who wanted to suggest the topic of the EXTENDED SHOT with all of you.  

Jordan’s thoughts:

Each time there was an extended take, I find myself leaning forward, as the style seems to be near-extinct within the confines of popular American cinema. How effective is the decision to the narrative? For example, Luzbeki dazzled most with his flamboyant style in Birdman, using a little trickery to make the entire film feel like it was done in one long shot. While this enhanced the experience, it compromised the story it was telling, and upon the third viewing, the camerawork was nothing more than a distraction. (If anyone cares to see a film shot in a single take, one that takes us through the streets of Berlin while also adding to the story and plot, please check out 2015’s Victoria.)

Unlike Birdman, during the early scenes of The Revenant, this swinging, stylistic style of shooting enhances the experience and the story, as not only do we feel right in the middle of the action, with arrows flying in everything direction, we consequently feel the fear and the sense of feeling trapped. In this sense then, the camera almost functions as an unseen, unnamed character.

Moving away from Luzbeki, Orson Welles’s famous crane shot from Touch of Evil (1958) immediately establishes tension within the busy streets as we wait for the car bomb to explode. 

It seems then that these extended takes with a lot of movement work better outdoors than they do within. An exception is Son of Saul (2015). A simple hand-held camera follows Saul’s every move in the Auschwitz crematorium and the defocused, claustrophobic horror is captured effectively.  Son of Saul was praised for its unique visual presentation. We rarely see anything other than his face or the back of his head, and consequently, we see his reactions to other stimuli. Does this visual approach affect the way the story is perceived by the audience? It is the camerawork itself that tells us the story, that puts us in the shoes of Saul. It is a Holocaust film like no other, where we again feel right in the action.

I could obviously go on with endless examples, such as action films like The Raid or Tony Jaa films where the lack of cut after cut after cut means we can actually see the fighting, blow for blow. We can see that these guys know how to fight, and most importantly, we can see who is hitting who! Compare this to Hollywood, which has long been fond of using innumerable cuts to hide the fact that their actors have not been properly trained.

While such extended, moving cuts will consistently capture my attention, how much do you think it adds to a film? Does it distract you from the story in any way? Or, like me, can it draw you further in, adding another layer of immersion?
Cindy’s Impressions: 

One film that stands out recently for me is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’sThe Assassin (2015). The use of the long shot is used throughout the narrative, and it’s one of the more visually striking films I’ve seen.

I agree with Jordan that the choice of the extended cut adds an authentic element to the story-telling. Certain directors are heralded in part because they make good use of the long shot:

Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, and Alfonso Cuarón. Whether to move the action like Children of Men (2006) or to maximize the dialogue like director Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), their decision creates a film where the audience is trapped; it is voyeurism heightened and felt.  The film becomes an experience rather than a passive attempt at engagement. 

Would you like more examples? I thought this article by Jessica Kiang in 2014, which ranked 20 of the best long shots, was interesting. You can read it here on INDIEWIRE.

Thank you, Jordan, for suggesting this interesting topic. You all have an opinion, so please feel free to join the discussion.

82 thoughts on “L13FC: The Extended Shot

Add yours

  1. I doubt ‘Touch of Evil has ever been bettered for that crane shot, but I confess to great bias in favour of the wonderful Mr Welles.
    I am an unapologetic fan of long sequences. As well as ‘The Raid’, which has been mentioned, (and rightly so), there is also the trench sequence in ‘Paths of Glory’ (highlighted in the link you provided) and the marvellous night club scene in ‘Goodfellas’. I would also mention the tremendous opening scene in ‘Kagemusha’, Kurosawa’s majestic epic. And we must not forget the incredible scenes of the British Squares being attacked by French cavalry, in ‘Waterloo’. Of course, this was directed by the talented Sergei Bondarchuk, who made the Russian version of ‘War and Peace’, so the pedigree was assured…
    Put me down as a fan of the long shot, and thanks to you both for a great idea, well-realised.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. ‘Kagemusha’ and ‘Waterloo’are fine examples, Pete. Most films are better off with them. In general, the less editing, the better. I do believe there’s a correlation between the long shot and the director’s success as an artist. I’ve come to expect the shot when I watch a Paul Thomas Anderson film, for example.

      1. “In general, the less editing, the better.”

        I’m very much with you on this one. I haven’t seen either of those films you mentioned, though I did miss out on seeing Waterloo in the cinemas at a classic film fest last year.

        And I also come to expect great long shots from PTA too, there are great ones in TWBB. Magnolia though is one I haven’t seen in at least five years. Considering five years ago I didn’t write a word about film, I think the second viewing will be much more satisfying. All I can remember is that bizarre ending. But I’ve seen it listed for long shots on some lists, I think the list you linked me Cindy had it on there. Definitely need to get a copy of that one on bluray.

        1. There’s a few long takes I remember from Boogie Nights that felt like a homage to Scorcese but while I have no doubt there’s plenty in Magnolia I can’t bring one to mind. What I remember is the story and the characters. I think it might be his best film. I love them all, don’t get me wrong but there’s something heartfelt about Magnolia. I think it’s his most romantic and hopeful film.

          1. While I understand why everyone loved “Boogie Nights” and the filming and score and acting all great, I had a hard time getting past the glorification of the porn industry. I think PTA is brilliant.

          2. Very good point. Me though, I love to watch stuff as many times as I can. Having a terrible memory helps in this regard as I often will forget major plot points and the endings ;P

          3. Yeah there are some where one viewing is enough (Enter The Void!) but others where I could watch them 50 times. In the case of my two favourite movies, 2001 and 12 Monkeys, it’s probably been well over 50 by now. By this point though my memory has got it all pretty much set ;P

          4. Good movies. It’s funny my favourite film is Thelma and Louise and I called it a stop to watching it like eight years ago after I showed it to my wife. I think I’ve only seen it like 5 times.

    2. I can’t think of anything that beats the start of Touch of Evil either!

      Nice to chat to fellow fans of long takes. Yes I felt The Raid needed to be mentioned as it is so different from the slap-dash, sloppy (over)editing that makes up the action in most mainstream stuff these days. I don’t know how anyone could stand back after finishing these sorta of scenes and feel happy with their work.

      That trench sequence was one I was going to mention but didn’t. That is one that will forever be etched into my memory. Kagemusha is one I have not seen in a very long time, I’ll have to re-watch it with all this in mind.

      Thanks for the name drop too, I’ll do some searching on Sergei Bondarchuk. I had no idea they made a Russian version of War and Peace. I know Kurosawa made an adaptation of The Idiot I think it was, but I never saw it.

    3. Paths of Glory an excellent film and that long shot brilliant. I have nothing to add I just wanted you to know, I agree and I’m happy you like stuff and I life stuff. So I’m writing that. Doesn’t really add anything to the conversation but well there you have it. Paths of Glory. A good movie. 🙂

  2. Fantastic subject matter. I love extended sequences. You two mention some real highlights.

    I think contemporary directors, like Innaritu and Cauron, have it a bit easier with these long takes. They are inspired by cinematic auteurs like Welles and Robert Altman (who opened The Player with a complicated 10 minute shot). However, with film as the medium (vs digital) these earlier directors had a limit on how long they could film (until the reel runs out). I think I remember that the camera shot in The Player was the longest in cinema. Now, with digital whole films can be one-take (like Spanish indie horror Silent House), but they use also use cheats (like Birdman) of digital editing (and CGI to hide the cuts) to make it feel like one long shot. I love the artform. I love cinematography. Not like the digital route would be ‘easy’, but I really respect the traditional film extended shots a lot more. Now, Fassbender’s long chat with the priest (over a few smokes) in Hunger was something different – aiming to feel like reality (or a play). That kind of respect also involves the actors emotionally reciting pages of dialogue.

    Thanks for reminding us that some of the best special effects tell the story and don’t transform a car into a robot. This was a great article that celebrates the craft. Thanks!

          1. Tree of Life didn’t hit big back in the day, probably too slow and meandering for many and I don’t blame them. My buddy Rog (film critic Ebert) loved it and put it in his Top 10. I don’t know but I loved it. Everything about it fascinated me and I loved how it imagined the afterlife and the birth of the cosmos. Alternately if you watch it and say it bored the shit out of you I would completely understand that too. 🙂

          1. Thin Red Line is my favourite Malick. Of course, there is a lot of dense imagery to decipher and introspective visual poetry, but I dig on that 😉

            The movie grabbed me early on as I tried to figure out the title. Malick shows us an alligator descending below the surface of a river. Whatever is under the water, we don’t know, but the animal submerges itself. For me, this always spoke to war and the thin line that separates the unknown. When soldiers cross the line and kill, what happens? The film examines these themes in incredibly provocative ways.

            Malick is sure to drop ‘hints’ along the way, like an empty birdcage, which speak volumes to the viewer. I love how Malick lets us decide what the moment is about. He strings together moments without advancing plot but digging deeper into themes. Obviously, in Hollywood this is quite rare. Pretentious or perfect, you decide 🙂

          2. Sigh. Okay, between you and Pete, I’ll say I have to watch it now. I can’t believe I missed it. I like Malick for the most part. I haven’t seen Knight of Cups. Malick hails from my neighboring town in Illinois. Corn bread!

          3. Support the corn bread 😉 Definitely check out Thin Red Line over Cups. Although that stars Christian Bale (minus the permed mullet hehehe), it isn’t as strong as Malick’s earlier films.

      1. Happy Valentine’s, Cindy. You can always start by directing a short 🙂

        Malick’s ‘Heaven’ has some amazing natural lighting too. I seem to remember one masterful frame with a plague of insects in the sky. Malick used a lot of amber colouring and silhouettes to great effect along with the longer shots.

        Thinking of powerful compositions… Film started off with a lot of longer shots (in old black and whites) due to the heavy machinery of cameras. Then Welles came along with the crane and dug ditches below to get lower angles.

        While the effect of longer movements has an almost languid contemplation, nothing beats the power of the Close-Up. While longer shots and extended takes can be aesthetically pleasing and hint at larger themes, the emotion of an actor’s performance in a Close-Up invites us inside the character. For me, it’s one of the most subtle and forgotten techniques that we are accustomed to today.

        Thanks for getting cinematic with this special feature. I love getting nerdy with you 😉

        1. The close up vs. the long shot. Well, directors like to use both, don’t they. What great contrasts they make in films. Close ups can be distracting for me. However, they imprint themselves to you, don’t they? I think of Johnny Depp in “From Hell” or the mouths chewing on the train in the Spaghetti Westerns. Close ups — a different month’s L13FC !!! You should cohost it. 🙂
          BTW, your Valentine declaration brightened my day. 🙂

        2. I really must see more of Malick’s stuff. It seems like it’d be my cup of tea but I haven’t seen anything except Knight of Cups. I think I watched Badlands back in the day….

          I’m gonna do a Malick marathon I think 😀

    1. Very interesting comments mate.

      You’re spot on about the introduction of technology. One has to have more respect for something that is older and must have been sooo much harder to pull off.

      Thanks for the mention of Silent House, I’ll check that out for sure. Also, have you seen Victoria? I’m not sure but I didn’t see any trickery, and its all one take that takes us all over Berlin, in and out of cars, buildings… like you, as a fan of that sorta stuff, it just sucks me right in.

      That shot in Hunger was brilliant, though I think McQueen topped that in ’12 years’.

      That long, long, almost painfully long shot, totally static, of the slave standing on the tips of his toes so he doesn’t suffocate after being lynched, while in the background every other slave is working, not turning their heads or anything. And the longer the camera lingers on the image the more it bores its way into your mind. I’ll never forget that scene, nor the one from Hunger.

      And thanks for the kind words, and for popping in a commenting! 🙂

      1. They’re both great shots to be sure, I think I’d give the edge to The Hunger because the longer it goes on the less you remember it’s one shot and are drawn into the conversation which is in stark contrast to the rest of the film that has so little dialogue. The scene in 12 Years a Slave is powerful but you’re aware it’s being done.

        1. Indeed. That is a very good point, though in terms of burning an image into my brain, the latter wins out. But yeah regarding how it adds to the film, the Hunger shot is very different

      2. Thanks for the article, Jordan. Lots of interesting things to discuss. That moment in 12 Years was heart-breaking and thus super-effective. Very memorable. I also like what Cindy says about ‘Hunger’ and the contrast between no dialogue then a one-take long conversation.

        1. Yeah I agree w/ Cindy, that long static shot in Hunger… it somehow pulls you deep, deeeep into the dialogue. Hell now I want to watch that movie again now! So many movies, never enough time…

  3. Thank you Cindy and Jordan for another amazing LFC13 topic and post. Like all techniques a long take can be used well or poorly and most likely poorly when the filmmakers thinks the whole point is the technique itself. I’m with Cindy and Jordan in the sense that with CGI trickery you can do effective long takes (still with great difficulty but more possible than before) that become very immersive whether they call attention to themselves or not. The mentioned Children of Men and The Revenant are excellent examples. When I think of long takes though I am usually drawn to the older successes such as The Player made in 1992 (I’m yet to see it but it was often discussed at the time), Touch of Evil made in 1958 (which is the perfect combination of being technically brilliant and innovative but also serving a narrative purpose), Rope made in 1948 people! (the many times over innovator Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t shoot longer than 10 minutes so found ways to cut away at each length to create effectively the first one shot blockbuster), Russian Ark made in 2002 (again I’m yet to see but is a 96 minute Steadicam one shot film) and finally Goodfellas made in 1990. That long take of the couple entering the bar through the kitchen is perfect for showing the appeal of being a gangster and also acts as a metaphor for Lorraine Braco’s character entering the criminal underworld. At the time it was technically brilliant and unique for following them through various parts of the location and requiring dozens of extra to hit their mark without ruining the take. Still an achievement today and as Scorecese noted “As it’s become easier to do that shot now the challenge is to now when to pull back from it.” I enjoy long takes and I enjoy quick cuts. The cuts in The Bourne Supremacy fights are part of the action, the quick cuts of fight scenes in The Dark Night hide that Nolan doesn’t shoot fight scenes as well as he shoots other things. When I came of age fight scenes always showed cool moves whether it was the stunt guy or the actor, think the lightsaber duel in The Phantom Menace, Russell Crowe hacking off heads in Gladiator, Bruce Willis taking a side kick on the wing of that jumbo jet in Die Hard 2 or all the fight scenes in The Matrix trilogy. The martial arts industry has always boasted better shot fight choregraphy because they can but their influence takes over Hollywood for a bit and then goes away. When The Raid came out I realised what had been missing for a while in Hollywood where you just got wowed by the fight scenes. Hopefully we get more of that.

      1. Not yet, another to add to the list. I have just watched The Magnificent Seven though thanks to your Steve McQueen write-ups. Sadly I found it a fairly standard western actioner where as I am a huge fan of the original Seven Samurai.

    1. Some great comments, Lloyd. As for martial arts flicks, I implore you to find Iron Monkey. This has some of the best fights ever with Donny Yen (Star Wars: Rogue One) and Yuen Woo Ping (Matrix, Crouching Tiger) choreographing the fights. Brilliant. In China, we get full-frame fights. In America, we get a steady barrage of quick edits and close-ups to make a fight feel like one (when it really is just actors counting their moves like a dance number – a la the Star Wars prequels).

    2. Very interesting comments mate! As to your last point, I agree. When it comes to hand to hand combat, we need more stuff like The Raid. Still gotta catch the sequel.

      Rapid cuts can work, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head that involved close-quarters combat, and made it reeeally work. I’m sure I’m wrong, my memory isn’t the greatest.

      I just always find myself not seeing the moves properly, and often not seeing who is hitting who. This was especially bad in The Nice Guys from last year, when they tried to go for action is was horridly shot.

      I shall definitely have to check out Rope and Russian Ark!

      As for Goodfellas I need to see it again, there are so many great takes that the club one doesn’t stand out for me.

      1. It could be the one in Goodfellas is quaint by today’s standards that it failed to stand out to you. Sometimes its interesting when they have a long take and you don’t really realise it until the end or in hindsight. I thought the action was fine in The Nice Guys except something lacked in the finale. Maybe that was it. I thought the camerawork was good in the fight scene in The Bourne Supremacy but my mate who I saw it with complained about the camerawork and he’s not the only one. In terms of quick cuts, Batman’s debut at the docks in Batman Begins I thought was a good use of the technique to show Batman’s threat from the perspective of the criminals. As the series went on it was obvious director Nolan did that to help sell the fight scenes which just weren’t that good.

        1. I haven’t seen any of the Bourne movies but they aren’t really my thing.

          That is interesting though, I think if you are constantly aware its a long take (BIRDMAN!!!) then it takes away from the movie. Its a much better technique when, like you said, you don’t realise it until after the fact/in hindsight.

          Perhaps its cos I saw it 2 or 3 times, but in The Nice Guys, I honestly could not tell who was hitting who half the time. The action though was rare, which was good as they did stuff up the end. That was where I was lost the most, I just had no idea who was winning the fight(s)!

          I haven’t seen the entire Batman series but I imagine that is why they use these quick cuts – to hide the fact that the actors can’t actually fight like that. Which is fair I guess, can’t expect every actor to be an accomplished master of kicking arse 😉 I suppose Tony Jaa and The Raid films spoiled us

          With Goodfellas, the scene that stands out in my memory is when his wife tells him something, I forget what, she is being harrased or something, and the camera stays on that side of the road her husband crosses the road and bashes this guy’s face in. Now I could be remembering it wrong, but that was the shot that stuck with me. The camera staying with the wife, as if we are with here, watching her husband cross the road and be… ruthless. In any case, I definitely need to watch it again

    1. Hehe, yeah neither can I. The first time I was all wowed by the cinematography, so I decided I had to see it again. 2nd time I found it kinda funny but kinda pretentious, and the last time it was a friend who wanted to see it, so I thought why not. Again, I was all distracted by the camerawork, which wasn’t needed in that sort of context, IMO. Technically great, but adds nothing of huge significance to the story or plot.

      Victoria – 2015. One shot takes us all over Berlin. An amazing film!!

    1. Yup, when it is done right, it certainly enhances the movie in a variety of ways. But like someone else mentioned here, when the film-makers are doing a long take just for the sake of doing a long take… that’s where you’ll find trouble.

  4. Hi Cindy! Awesome topic here Jordan, great insights. The Assassin certainly is a gorgeous film! My hubby and I have been discussing various shots for our short film, though we won’t be shooting it ourselves. We met a great local (MN-based) DP at the premiere of a sci-fi film that was shot in New Zealand and Minneapolis called Project Eden, I was really impressed w/ his work so who knows we might end up hiring him. Cinematography is so key in conveying the story, as the visuals is pretty much as important as the story itself.

  5. This was one awesome discussion I must say. The amount of craft that goes into extended shots is beautiful and skillful. The opening of Gravity really blew me away with what it did.

  6. Great analysis of the extended shot Jordan and an interesting topic. As someone who had almost 20 years as a professional photographer, I regard shot types like any other part of filmic language (framing, focus, angle, elevation, depth of field, etc); they are merely creative tools. I do not agree with your observation that in Birdman “it compromised the story it was telling”. For me, it greatly enhanced the power of the story. It depicts a form of psychological confinement, panic, raised heartbeat, claustrophia, time running out in a troubled mind, being chased by inner demons, always watching over your shoulder….loosing your grip on reality. In the masterpiece Son of Saul it was also used like a painter’s brush to express similar emotions. Of course, every viewer is watching a different move and what we bring to the viewing has more influence than what the film brings to us. Thats why talking film is such fun.

    1. Richard, I’m having issues with WP and my comments not showing up! I’ve only went to the post through the back door of their matrix to discover I didn’t respond to you. My apologies. I happen to agree with you that in Birdman, it didn’t bother me at all. As we have discussed at other times, Son of Saul has the same effect on the story. To its benefit.

  7. This is an inspired topic! Nice one Jordan! Some extended shots that really stand out to me (and I was reminded of more with Cindy’s comments about Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’), at least in terms of films I have seen since writing about them, stem from McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Part of the reason that movie was so hard to watch was because of his refusal to cut away from the violence. There was a time I thought some of that was a bit indulgent and pointless but the more I think on it, the more I think it was an invaluable creative choice. Ditto that to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. I’ll never get over the torture scenes from that movie. Never.

    Or Gaspar Noe. The tunnel scene from Irreversible has scarred me for life. I haven’t seen the entire movie but knowing that that 10-minute rape scene is something I will have to look forward to if I do choose to go back and watch it, sort of puts me off from actually committing. Haha. I’m something of a wuss when it comes to those sorts of scenes. They deeply disturb me.

    1. I’m having issues with my comments not showing up!!! I just found your comment, TOM. I am sorry I didn’t respond earlier. You’ve picked up a great director and 2 films to discuss. Yes, to Steve Mcqueen the director and the extended shot of the violence of the whippings, sex. Violence in general as a choice to film and our suffering alongside by being forced to watch. I still prefer the lead up as a way to set anticipation. Take Danny’s bicycle ride in the Colorado hotel (always scares me) or recently, in Arrival when they walk to the white rectangle, to the Aliens.

      1. Perfectly ok Cindy, I only left it last night (I think). I had forgotten to catch up with this month’s L13 post! That’s on me! 🙂

  8. Hi Cindy,

    My name is A.J. and I’ve been a movie enthusiast my whole life. I noticed you pst a lot of content about movies and film, so I wanted to share with you my recent video, “Surprising Strangers with gift cards at the Movie Theaters.” (attached)

    I figured your followers would really like, given the viral success of your last article, “L13FC: The Extended Shot.” Anyway, thanks in advance for checking it out, I’m a fan of your blogs and would be honored if you featured my video.

    All the best,

    A.J.

    1. Hi there, Al. I liked your video! Thanks for the kind words. Here’s what I can do — next time I have a film post, please comment and let’s insert your video then. You don’t have a blog of your own? I’d enjoy reading your reviews. Best wishes, Cindy

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