Lately I’ve been pondering slow cinema and the long take. Such ponderings were spurned on by a Sight & Sound article. It’s not online but UK independant filmmaker David Warwick has gone to the trouble of typing up an excerpt and posting it on his blog:
The Last decade certainly saw an increasing demand among cinephiles for films that are slow, poetic, contemplative – cinema that downplays event in favour of mood, evocativeness and an intensified sense of temporality. Such films highlight the viewing experience in which, ideally, you become acutely aware of every minute, every second spent watching…
Apart from filling the gap left by philosophical-poetic auteurs such as Bergman and Tarkovsky, the current Slow Cinema might be seen as a response to a bruisingly pragmatic decade in which, post 9/11, the oppressive everyday awareness of life as overwhelmingly political, economic, and ecological would seem to preclude (in the West, at least) any spiritual dimension in art. And the spiritual is at least a potential force in most Slow Cinema…
We understandably thirst for abstraction at a time when immediacy and simultaneity – culminating in the multiple strand captioning of television news screens, or the instant feedback of Twitter – are tyrannical demands, forcing our aesthetic sensibility to seek ways of slowing itself down.
– Johnathan Romney, Sight & Sound, Volume 20 Issue 2, pages 43 and 44
( source )
What inspired the desire to write this post though was the various articles around the web celebrating examples of the long take in cinema. You can go and check them out yourself but you will find the majority of the embeded youtube videos have been taken down. The ones from American/Hollywood films anyway.
André Bazin (pictured), co-founder of the film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, was an early supporter of the long take:
To him, film was the “art of reality.” He once wrote: “All the arts depend on the presence of man; only photography lets us delight in his absence.” What he meant was that by not interposing oneself between the camera and the subject, the filmmaker had the potential to truly capture reality. As V.F. Perkins put it: “[A] sonnet or a sonata created a world which might reflect the subjective vision of its maker; film recorded the world which existed objectively.” ( source )
Poet & filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was also a fan, reflecting on it philisophically, several decades later, in a four page essay entitled ‘Observations on the long take‘. Definately worth a real if such things are of interest to you.
Those of you who have seen the movie Children of Men (and if you haven’t you really should!) will know that the long take is utilised at several points in the film in exceedingly superlative and traumatic fashion. Film International have written about its use of the long take over here.
The long take is a well-used device in so called ‘slow cinema’, a concept which rejects the hyper-kinetic fast-cut asthetic which hollywood continues to embody in increasingly more drastic ways. I could try and tell you about it but frankly I would do a shitty job. Instead, I turn to danish film magazine 16:9, in their article Towards an Aesthetic of Slow in Contemporary Cinema. Don’t worry, it’s in english. Here’s some extracts:
In defiant opposition to the quickening of pace in mainstream American cinema, a distinctive narrative form devoted to stillness and contemplation has emerged in the work of a growing number of filmmakers over the last two decades. Most widely exhibited on the festival circuit, this “cinema of slowness” (as categorised by Michel Ciment in 2003) has begun to signify a unique type of reflective art where form and temporality are never less than emphatically present, and a diminution of pace serves to displace the dominant momentum of narrative causality. The most distinctive active practitioners of such a style might be thought to comprise, in loose chronological order, Philippe Garrel, Chantal Akerman, Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami, Béla Tarr, Aleksandr Sokurov, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, Sharunas Bartas, Pedro Costa, Jia Zhang-ke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lisandro Alonso, Carlos Reygadas, Gus Van Sant and Albert Serra.
The formal characteristics shared by these filmmakers are immediately identifiable, if not quite fully inclusive: the employment of (often extremely) long takes, de-centred and understated modes of storytelling, and a pronounced emphasis on quietude and the everyday. In light of the current prevalence of these stylistic tropes, it is perhaps time to consider their reciprocal employment as pertaining not to an abstract notion of “slowness” but a unique formal and structural design: an aesthetic of slow. The work of the directors listed above constitutes a cinema which compels us to retreat from a culture of speed, modify our expectations of filmic narration and physically attune to a more deliberate rhythm. Liberated from the abundance of abrupt images and visual signifiers that comprise a sizeable amount of mass-market cinema, we are free to indulge in a relaxed form of panoramic perception; during long takes we are invited to let our eyes wander within the parameters of the frame, observing details that would remain veiled or merely implied by a swifter form of narration. In terms of storytelling, the familiar hegemony of drama, consequence and psychological motivation is consistently relaxed, reaching a point at which everything (content, performance, rhythm) becomes equivalent in representation.