6. Theo Angelopoulos
Theo Angelopoulos was a master of cinema, whose work garnered him infinite admiration ever since The Traveling Players (1975), which is actually the second part of his “Trilogy of History”. His films were always deeply interconnected with the culture and the social situation of his home country, Greece.
In fact, the filming of the The Traveling Players had to be kept hidden from the authorities of Greece, which at the time was under the dictatorial ”Regime of the Colonels”; as for the cultural themes of his cinema, one could easily find many references to the immense ancient Greek culture (Homer in particular).
Stylistically, Angelopoulos developed an highly recognizable style, made of very calculated camera movements, impeccable framing and extremely long takes. One of the unique traits of his long takes is the fact that these shots, while visually continuous, often actually move from one time period to another.
Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) opens with some images of the first Greek film, and then shows a moment from 1954 as remembered as a man who is actually present in the moment (in his recollection); the man then turns to the protagonist in the present time. In Angelopoulos’ cinema, and in his extended takes, space and time intertwine.
5. Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky is a real legend of filmmaking, and infinitely influential. Bergman was right in saying that he “invented a new language”, since watching a Tarkovsky film is nothing but having a unique viewing experience. He opens new worlds to the viewer, and these worlds are a singular mixture of psychological and physical space.
In Solaris and in Stalker the director subtly reduces the line between what is seen and what is felt, or thought, by the characters. His reflective style often led Tarkovsky to adopt extended takes, the most famous probably being the one from his last film The Sacrifice, which is six-minutes long and extremely poignant.
A good example of Tarkovsky’s pacing is also the pool sequence from Stalker, a two-minute take which focuses on drowned objects to then end up on a body, a scene which conveys an unique sensation of estrangement.
4. Stanley Kubrick
Out of all the impressive techniques he adopted in his career, long takes are not what he is immediately recognized for having used; this may be because when it comes to discussing his style there are often other notable techniques to notice, many of which Kubrick actually used for the first time, so an impressive but common shot like the long take can be overshadowed.
Still, if someone started listing the best scenes from Kubrick movies, he would soon find himself talking about at least a few great long takes. Part of what made The Shining so memorable are certainly some extended takes (in particular the tricycle race trough the halls), all shot by dp Garrett Brown with the Steadicam, an invention of his which made its feature film debut with the film.
There are iconic long takes in Paths of Glory and 2001: A Space Odyssey as well; another good example is the opening shot from A Clockwork Orange, which slowly zooms out from a close-up of Malcom McDowell.
3. Michelangelo Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni is a pivotal director of Italian cinema, and even more so of cinema in general, since he was always able to transcend a specific genre or period of filmmaking. Three of his masterpieces compose the “trilogy of incommunicability”, (L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclissi), while his three English-spoken films, Blowup, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger are still largely studied and admired (although Zabriskie Point is still object of debate about its quality).
Antonioni became famous for his long takes, to the point that Orson Welles expressed his difficulty in watching Antonioni movies, so full of prolonged shots. Still, part of the reason his films convey such an effective and particular mood is the us of these extended, almost dream-like takes. His seven-minutes sequence at the end of The Passenger has become the quintessential long take for many critics and movie fans alike and the exact way it was executed is still object of discussion.
2. Max Ophüls
Max Ophüls’ style, and particularly his approach to camera movement, has influenced an uncountable number of directors, including Stanley Kubrick and, more recently, Paul Thomas Anderson. He directed films in Germany, France and in the Unites States; among his masterpieces there are the episode films La Ronde (1950) and Le Plaisir (1952), as well what Andrew Sarris called “the most perfect film ever made”, The Earrings of Madame de… (original title “Madame de…”).
To explain his approach to filming, Ophuls once said “The camera exists to create a new art and to show above all what cannot be seen elsewhere: neither in theater nor in life; otherwise, I’d have no need of it”; this can explain how he became a master of camera techniques, employing at best and in inventive ways dollies and cranes, while using long takes as much as possible, to the point that his preference for uninterrupted shots became legendary. Le Plaisir (1952) in particular has an impressive example of extended take combined with a crane shot.
1. Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi mainly worked in the first half of the 20th century, like another master of Japanese cinema, Yasujirō Ozu. Thematically, his films are sophisticated reflections on life, and he often focused on women’s issues, especially due to the male-centric structure of the Japanese society of his times. Mizoguchi’s films usually convey powerful but subtle statements, and work as a poetic reflection on life’s many troubles and sufferings.
Stylistically, Mizoguchi famously adopted the “one scene, one shot” approach, and together with Ophüls he became the signature “long-take” director, at least for the classic era of cinema. In particular, he is widely recognized for his mise-en-scène abilities, and his intricate organization of on-screen and off-screen elements; this latter quality is particularly admired by another master of the long take, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, whose only acknowledged influences are Maizoguchi’s and Welles’ (so he said in a recent interview).
Mizoguchi directed almost ninety films, and often worked with Kazuo Miyagawa, a dp who also frequently collaborated with Kurosawa and whose signature style is linked to the use of tracking shots.
Author Bio: Riccardo Basso is an Italian cinephile specializing in Humanities and Philosophy. He has only recently started writing about his favorite interest, cinema, but wishes to continue doing it (just don’t tell his cinephile friends he has seen every 007 movie at least three times).