Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, Hitchcock, long takes and why a technical achievement isn’t the same as a truly immersive movie

Posted on January 22, 2020


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The more you try to convince me that something is really happening on screen – through, say, the single take – the more I am convinced that it is “unreal”. Because the craft is too obvious.

Spoilers ahead…

I mean no disrespect to Sam Mendes when I say I saw 1917 as purely a “technical” achievement. I kept going: Wow! Wow! Wow! By now, long-take movies are their own little sub-genre, and long-take wartime scenes are their own little sub-trope – you only have to recall the Dunkirk stretch from Joe Wright’s Atonement or the single-shot sequences in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. And yet, 1917 – despite its utterly basic storyline – is special. For one, the decision to shoot the whole film in one (apparently) seamless take – the cinematographer is Roger Deakins – doesn’t come across as a gimmick. Or to use Alfred Hitchcock’s word, a “stunt”.

While speaking about Rope (1948) in the book of interviews with François Truffaut, the Master revealed why he shot the film – his first in Technicolor –  in a series of unbroken takes: because the story itself takes place without a break. “It starts at 7:30 and finishes about 9:15, and I got this crazy idea of saying, ‘Well, maybe if I could do it in one shot, the whole film…’ When I look back, of course, it’s quite nonsensical and unreal, because I was breaking all my own tradition of using film, in the cutting of film, to tell a story.”

Continued at the link above.

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