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About this book

This is the first book in English exclusively devoted to the long take, one of the key elements of film style. Increasingly visible in contemporary international media, the long take currently attracts a good deal of attention in criticism and commentary. There are also significant strands of film theory in which duration has become a recurrent concern.

In keeping with the approach of Palgrave Close Readings in Film and Television, this collection is devoted to the detailed critical analysis of specific long takes, explored in terms of how they function within their contexts, how they shape the visual field, the meanings they generate and the effects they create. The Long Take: Critical Approaches brings together essays by established and emerging scholars (all but one essay commissioned for this volume) in an exciting collection that analyses works from a range of filmmaking traditions, from the 1930s to the present day, selected to represent varied long take practices and to explore associated debates.

Table of Contents


Introduction 1: The Long Take—Critical Approaches

Complementing Steve Neale’s chapter which follows it, this introduction reflects on the critical field and debates about the aesthetics of the long take. It draws on what have been the dominant ways of thinking about the cinematic long take in terms of continuity of space, time, and action, and considers a range of practices and debates that have developed across the various modes of film and video that have made use of extended duration. It outlines the commitment of the book—the first in English on the long take—to discussion and reflection rooted in the detailed analysis of specific long takes.
John Gibbs, Douglas Pye

Introduction 2: The Long Take—Concepts, Practices, Technologies, and Histories

Drawing on the writings of Lutz Bacher, David Bordwell, Brian Henderson, and Barry Salt, among others, this chapter provides a historical overview of scholarship on the long take, its constituents, and its nomenclature and history. In doing so, it draws attention to long take filmmaking in Europe in the 1910s, and the adoption of long takes in Hollywood, especially in the late 1920s and the 1940s and 1950s, even though the term “long take” was rarely used. It also pays attention to the pre-war and post-war films of Kenji Mizoguchi, and includes 1960s and 1970s avant-garde filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman and Andy Warhol, as well as art film directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Miklos Janscó, and, more recently, Béla Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.
Steve Neale

Three Long Takes: Le Crime de M. Lange (Jean Renoir 1935)

The chapter examines three long takes of varied durations and forms. Each embodies Renoir’s responsiveness to the moment and commitment to the continuity of dramatic space and time, and each has a significant place within the evolving story of the cooperative and the political values—“for the workers, solidarity, and collectivism,” as André Bazin puts it—it dramatises. In each, too, the intricate patterning and implication of Renoir’s detailed decisions articulate a nuanced relationship to the material. In different ways—a static frame that anticipates and restricts the action, the evocation of the musical, two elaborate but contrasting camera movements—Renoir celebrates the emerging community and simultaneously shades the moments with artifice, both in his staging and in the camera’s shaping presence.
Douglas Pye

The Average Long Take

The films of Otto Preminger are marked by average shot lengths (ASLs) that are two or even three times greater than the normal range for films of the classical period. These high ASLs are partly because, instead of following the dominant style’s wide-shot/medium-shot/close-up progression, Preminger’s scenes are composed with only one or two carefully placed cuts, or what Brian Henderson calls “intrasequence cuts”—“the crucial cut between related long takes.” This chapter explores Preminger’s use of the intra-sequence cut by offering an analysis of a scene from the director’s 1945 film Fallen Angel.
Christian Keathley

Looking and Touching: The Long Take in Five Women Around Utamaro (Mizoguchi Kenji 1946)

In Mizoguchi’s biopic of the historical ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist Utamaro, the long take’s sense of duration and connection is vital to the film’s analysis of the role and function of the artist and art. Mizoguchi’s long takes are means by which the on-screen artist and the audience alike can watch women, but the chapter argues that their blend of impartial observation and passionate engagement helps to challenge the notion that the gaze is necessarily objectifying, and clarifies a vision of art which is not purely aesthetic, but is directly engaged with, and helping to shape, lived experience.
Alexander Jacoby

Opening Movements in Ophuls: Long Takes, Leading Characters and Luxuries

This chapter provides an analysis of the orchestration of long takes and camera movement in the opening of Caught (Ophuls 1949), and develops a comparison with the opening of Madame de… (Ophuls 1953—US release title The Earrings of Madame de…). The restricted framings of the opening shot of Madame de… have an inverse but parallel relationship to the carefully varied views of Caught: in one case furs and jewels are rapidly revealed to be a fantasy, in the other they provide the heroine with an illusion of wealth, power, and freedom. In both, the objects prove to be more substantial than the women who wear them, while the films come to portray, and analyse, the commodification of the characters themselves. Tensions between on- and off-screen spaces and sounds are critical to the interest of the long takes under discussion. Camera movements subtly inflect the extent to which we are aligned (or otherwise) with the characters and the ways in which their material circumstances are revealed to us, offering perspectives on suggestively staged action and performances. The chapter has a parallel life as a video essay, published by [in]Transition (issue 3.2), and includes reflection on the relative merits of written and videographic methods of style-based criticism.
John Gibbs

Like Motion Pictures: Long Take Staging in Vincente Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing (1960)

This chapter addresses the singular nature of Vincente Minnelli’s use of the long take in his 1960 adaptation of the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing. Within the genre, Bells Are Ringing stands out for the range of musical sequences shot in one extended take. This is partly traceable to the desire to recreate the nature of a successful Broadway show. The takes “preserve” the show for posterity, even as the intricate nature of Minnelli’s mobile camera adds a distinctly cinematic dimension. The impulse towards preservation is particularly significant in relation to Judy Holliday’s performance. The long takes become a way of recreating the effect of seeing her on stage, a gesture that has added poignancy given that this would turn out to be Holliday’s final film.
Joe McElhaney

Roberto Rossellini Presents

The history films of Roberto Rossellini are often understood as a generally consistent aesthetic and political project, of which the long take forms a part. This chapter instead closely examines La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (1966) as a film in which the long take accrues a particularly intense and complex set of meanings, based on the specific historical subject matter. Drawing on notions of absorption and theatricality introduced by Michael Fried, O’Brien argues that the court setting of Rossellini’s film produces unusual patterns of presentation—an “absorption in theatricality”—which must be accounted for in our interpretations of Rossellini’s style.
Adam O’Brien

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (Jon Jost 1977)

First published in Movie 27/28 (1980), the chapter begins by challenging Movie to address the various new forms of cinema within the Americas that had become increasingly visible since the 1960s. That opening and the sections that follow define a context in which Jost’s use of the long take in a film “addressed to Hollywood” took on significant polemical (and political) force. The film is placed in relation to aspects of Brecht’s epic theatre and to Peter Wollen’s definition of “counter cinema.” The chapter then analyses in detail ways in which Jost’s varied long take strategies challenge and pose alternatives to Hollywood norms, and argues that the film as a whole exemplifies the possibility of an accessible but radical alternative cinema.
Jim Hillier

To Be in the Moment: On (Almost) Not Noticing Time Passing in Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater 1995)

There is the potential for paradox in many uses of the long take in fiction filmmaking. While the device has the capacity to offer viewers a particularly credible dramatisation of uninterrupted fictional “reality,” if a long take’s duration becomes tangible it may also remind us forcefully of technique at the expense of absorption in the dramatic action. This chapter examines a particular long take in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and argues that the shot finds various ways of discouraging our conscious awareness of its duration as a shot. It is further argued that, if the paradox of the long take nonetheless remains relevant here, Linklater exploits it to encourage awareness not of technique, but of the finite duration of this moment for this couple.
James MacDowell

Watching Cinema Disappear: Intermediality and Aesthetic Experience in Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) and Stray Dogs (2013)

The long take is often theorised in relation to the movement of characters in association with theatrical staging. Less examined is the way in which it can forge connections with immobile visual forms such as painting and photography. Looking at two films by Taiwan-based Tsai Ming-liang—Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) and Stray Dogs (2013)—this chapter explores such connections through a consideration of cinematic slowness and stillness. Separated by a ten-year gap, both films provide a fascinating comparative analysis by showing how Tsai’s increasingly unorthodox use of the long take has struggled to survive within the aesthetic and institutional confines of cinema, thus migrating into the art gallery.
Tiago de Luca

13 Ways of Looking at a Lake

The chapter offers a close reading of James Benning’s 13 Lakes (2004), exploring its relationship to the traditions and conventions of American landscape art and the effects of transposing these to a durational medium, as well as considering the film in relation to conceptual and performative practices in contemporary landscape art. This formal analysis highlights the film’s singular point-of-view system, a repeated staging of the encounter between a subject and an object. For the spectator, the film offers a mediated experience of landscape that is contemplative, but also full of longing for something that is constitutively absent. Although the film does not explicitly address the question of the relationship between landscape representation and national identity, close reading reveals its underlying importance.
Alison Butler

The Artists’ Long Take as Passage in Sharon Lockhart’s Installation Lunch Break (2008)

Reflecting upon the differences of contemporary artists’ long takes made for galleries, we find that a key assumption about cinematic long takes no longer persists: the time of the long take and the viewer’s time may not coincide. That being the case, the singular framing of space cannot possibly have the same effects as have either the cinematic long takes discussed by Bazin, the deadened time employed by Snow, Warhol, and 1970s artists performing on video, or the more thoughtful duration that has been attributed to slow cinema. Focusing on Sharon Lockhart’s installation Lunch Break, the chapter explores how the gallery’s asynchronicity of time invites viewers to engage with the image on other, intermedial and spatial levels. Hence, rather than a suspension of the passage of time, for Lockhart and other artists their long takes build upon the notion of the spatial passage as a walkway, corridor, or room.
Catherine Fowler

The Search for Meaning in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2011)

Long takes are often celebrated for their elaborate design and impressive execution. The long takes of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan 2011) are more modest, and yet have their own subtle power. The chapter asks what affect these less assuming shots have in our response to the film. The study is informed by a wider discussion of slow cinema, a movement that encourages a more contemplative mode of spectatorship, as well as the theory of haptic visuality, which contends that films can stimulate the sensations of touch and movement. The close analysis reveals how long takes can be used to shape how we see, and guide how we might feel about and interpret events.
James Rattee

Working Space: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón 2013) and the Digital Long Take

The digital long take has been celebrated as an expression of the artistic and technical virtuosity of today’s auteur directors, and derided as a betrayal of the Bazinian long take’s capacity for realism. This chapter will interrogate both perspectives, examining the digital long take’s highly mobile camera movement, and its relationship to questions of labour, aesthetics, and narrative, in a comparative analysis of two key long takes from Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). It will suggest that Gravity’s characterisation of movement through space as laborious, and its gradual subversion of normative notions of vision and technology as superior forms of knowledge, construct a platform from which Gravity can explore alternative ways of negotiating the world of the film, and the digitally mediated world beyond it.
Lisa Purse

True Detective (2014), Looking (2014), and the Televisual Long Take

This chapter juxtaposes two recent experiments in the televisual long take, both featured in eight-episode HBO seasons from 2014: the crime drama True Detective and the serio-comic Looking. True Detective foregrounded a “declarative” long take halfway through its first season, an elaborate Steadicam immersion that quickly became one of the most celebrated shots in American television. By contrast with that one-off tour de force, Looking made “stealth” long takes part of its vocabulary from the beginning, including a shot from the eighth episode describing an awkward post-break-up San Francisco street scene. These two very different articulations of the shot as extended time mapped out divergent trajectories for the language of “cinema” in the territory of television: the auteurist announcement of mastery and the observational expression of uncertainty.
Sean O’Sullivan


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