Series explores use of long takes in eight films

Though the apartment overlooks the Manhattan skyline, the cocktail party feels airless. The guests wonder aloud, just where is David Kentley?

Filmed in real time with the illusion of a single take, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948) continues to enthrall viewers with its murder-mystery. The film is one of eight included in the Dartmouth Film Society’s “The Long Take” series this term, which celebrates the difficult cinematic technique of filming scenes — or whole movies — without cutting.

On average, feature films include about 600 shots. Long takes require meticulous planning and rehearsal to create a flawless scene without cuts, DFS member Alex Stockton ’15 said.

“The camera has to know what it’s going to be looking at, the actors need to know exactly what their marks are, the extras have to be in place and all of the equipment needs to be in positions where it won’t be seen, so typically you rehearse many times until you get it about right, then you try it,” Stockton said. “Things always go wrong, so you do it again and again and again until the film gods shine down on the set and it comes together.”

Though challenging to capture, long takes are worth the trouble when executed correctly. Varun Bhuchar ’15, a Hopkins Center film intern and DFS member, said that the technique forces audiences to pay attention to details that they might not otherwise notice.

“The filmmaker is forcing the audience to see specific aspects of a scene that change the way the film is viewed,” he said.

Directors also use the technique to show off their technical prowess behind the camera, Bhuchar said.

Long takes have featured prominently in recent award-winning films, including “Gravity” (2013) and “12 Years a Slave” (2013). Director Alfonso Cuarón used the technique liberally throughout “Gravity,” such as in the film’s 17-minute introduction, and director Steve McQueen used the technique to capture the full graphic horror of Patsey’s whipping and Solomon Northup’s near-hanging in “12 Years a Slave.”

Scenes filmed using  the long take technique are particularly striking due to the profound difference in length from that of normal shots, DFS member Emory Orr ’16 said.

“The average shot length in Hollywood today is around three seconds, which has gradually decreased over the decades from the past average of nine seconds,” Orr said. “Because of this fact, films with long takes distinguish themselves from most contemporary films.”

“The Long Take” is the first Dartmouth Film Society series dedicated to a specific filmmaking technique. The group chose the theme from five potential topics spring term.

Dartmouth Film Society director Johanna Evans ’10 said the theme, while specific, allowed the group to profile eight different films.

About two years ago, Dartmouth Film Society reduced its film series from 20 films to eight or nine, changing the nature of the themes that the group adopted, she said.

“We found that a 20-film series always ended up being a little general, and that we had to stretch it in order to fit in the new releases that we wanted to play,” Evans said. “We tightened up the series so we could look at more specific topics, such as the long take.”

Evans said that the series allows students to try out films that they may not otherwise know.

Upcoming films in the series include French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” (1967) on Oct. 5 as well as contemporary American director Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” (2014) on Oct. 19.

The films are shown on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. in the Loew Auditorium. The series will run through Nov. 16.

 

Bhuchar is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.

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