Long Takes in Movies

Long takes are such a rarity in cinema it seems that we always have to point out when there’s an especially impressive shot in a film or television show without any cuts. Whether it’s a movie like Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu‘s Oscar-winning Birdman or The Revenant or a real superhero sequence like in the first season of Daredevil, you can’t help but marvel at how these single takes are pulled off.

However, as beautiful and breathtaking as long takes on film are, they aren’t necessarily always a good thing. A new video essay dives into what a long take can’t accomplish on screen, which is perhaps why editing is preferable beyond the technical difficulty of pulling off a long, single take. Watch the video essay about long takes in movies after the jump.

Here’s the video essay “What Long Takes Can’t Do” from Now You See It:

The biggest shortcoming in long takes is that you can’t easily create thematic juxtaposition in the way editing does. The video uses the sequence in The Godfather that cuts between the baptism and the execution of several mafia leaders. This is something that couldn’t be accomplished with a long take. In addition, editing can also add intensity and emotion, as seen in the clips from 12 Angry Men in the video.

While long takes are beautiful, impressive and mesmerizing, I do feel like they’re a little indulgent. However, at the same time, they do allow the viewer to really get comfortable in a scene, and absorb every detail on the screen without being taken away. Plus, technology has allowed more innovative ways to create the impression of a single take, as we saw in Gravity, a movie that is as intense as any finely edited thriller, but without any obvious cuts.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the filmmaker to decide what works best for their storytelling methods, and you can’t say whether editing or longs takes is definitively better. Their value is in the eye of the beholder.

What do you think of long takes vs editing?

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