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Should The Film Industry Employ More Long Takes?

Should The Film Industry Employ More Long Takes

How Hitchcock Effectively Used Both

When making a film, there are numerous variables that need to be considered. Alfred Hitchcock takes these variables into account when choosing to use short or long takes.

Reasons For Long Takes

Over the last several decades, there have been numerous films shot using mostly or all long takes. Films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Rope (1948), Martin Scorsese’s biographical crime Goodfellas (1990), or more recently Sam Mendes’s war drama 1917 (2019).

Each of these films had a different creative vision. Each team had a reason for choosing a long take format. Hitchcock’s thriller Rope follows Harvard students Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, who strangle their fellow classmate David Kentley. They do this as part of their own psychological experiment to see if they can commit the perfect murder. 

Hitchcock’s use of long takes was in part stylistic and part necessity. The director later became known for his long takes, not only in Rope, but in his other films, such as Lifeboat (1944). However, due to the lack of technology at the time, Hitchcock had to get creative. Cameras could not hold more than 1,000 feet of 35mm film. As a result, the film was shot in ten takes using about a full roll of film each time. The shortest take was about four minutes, with the longest being just over ten. 

When appearing on the Dick Cavett Show in 1972, Hitchcock discussed Rope and alluded how he wanted to stay faithful to the film’s source material, which was a play with the same name by Patrick Hamilton. He said, in part, “It was a theater piece, I was trying to get some movement into what is really a theater piece.”

Should The Film Industry Employ More Long Takes

Reasons For Short Takes

Short takes, just like long takes, have their pros and cons. There are numerous films that use short takes, such as Hitchcock’s Psycho and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001). In Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann uses short takes to create faster pacing. This is because the movie takes place in a 19th century theater. Many of the shots are cutaways, which create a faster and more dynamic pace that mimics the film’s setting in the theater and corresponds with the fast-paced, high-energy choreography throughout the film.

Hitchcock’s Psycho uses shorter, faster takes to create a sense of urgency, tension, and suspense. Psycho is based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch. The plot follows Marion Crane, who wants to get married to her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. Upon further discussion, the couple realize they are unable to do so because of Loomis’s debts. Crane then steals 40,000 dollars from her work and decides to meet Loomis in California. Along the way, Crane stops at the Bates Motel, where she meets Norman Bates. Bates later invites Crane to dinner at his home. After dinner, Crane decides to shower. While in the shower, Bates fatally stabs Crane to death.

This particular scene is still regarded as one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time. Hitchcock’s Psycho is in contrast to his earlier film Rope, which uses longer takes to create a similar effect. Both Psycho and Rope have murder as one of their main plot points. Rope’s suspense is created with longer takes while the guests are at the dinner party. This also adds a sense of eeriness, because the characters are unaware of what has just happened. In comparison, Psycho has a faster pace due to the level of violence and Bate’s impulsive nature. He demonstrates his impulsiveness when he spontaneously kills Crane. Bates murdering Crane was not pre-planned. However, in Rope, the murder of Kentley was clearly premeditated by Shaw and Morgan. In Psycho, audiences don’t know where to look, because the camera is constantly switching from one shot to the next. This leaves the audience in suspense despite the film’s faster pace, whereas in Rope, with there being longer shots, the suspense is more of a slow build. The audience has time to evaluate each scene but is left wondering what will happen next.

Which Is Better?

Ultimately, the use of short or long takes depends on the effect the director is trying to achieve. And the effect they are trying to achieve all depends on the story itself and the message that is being conveyed. Rope was originally based on a stage play and Psycho on a book. Plays are often a more drawn-out medium with several acts, whereas books are often a faster paced medium. This is one of the key distinctions that Hitchcock’s thrillers drew inspiration from. While making the films, he tried to stay as true to the source material as possible. If the audience takes away one lesson from either of these films, it should be to remain vigilant. If you yourself want to be vigilant, you can stream both Rope and Psycho available on Peacock.

Should The Film Industry Employ More Long Takes

Psycho (1960) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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