Sunday, January 4, 2009

Take a Good Long Look

I was watching Gus Van Sant's 2002 movie Gerry the other day, and I was reminded of a very different movie, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, from 1948. Gerry is about two friends lost in the desert, while Rope is about two friends who kill a guy in New York City and then have some people over for a cocktail party while his body is hidden in a trunk. But they are stylistically very similar in that both employ excruciatingly long takes.

Rope is famous as Hitchcock's attempt to shoot a feature-length film in a single take. He couldn't do that, but he did manage to do it in a series of eight-minute shots, split evenly between cuts and places where Hitchcock disguised the introduction of a new roll of film by going to a quick blackout on, say, the back of Jimmy Stewart. There has been much discussion of how exactly he did this, but less discussion of whether it was successful as anything other than a stunt. I think it was; at later points in the movie, the steadily held gaze of the camera builds up tremendous tension, as if we're not permitted to look away from the screen for even a second.

The long takes in Gerry serve a disparate purpose; they emphasize how tedious it is to walk around the desert lost for days on end. According to IMDB, there are 100 takes in the roughly 100-minute movie, so they average a minute, which is really long compared to your basic comic-book film, which probably doesn't have a single take lasting a minute. There's one tight shot of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck walking for probably three or four minutes, as we see only their faces bobbing back and forth and hear their feet pound sand.

It may not be what people call "entertaining," but those interminable, dragged-out takes will make you think twice about getting lost in the desert. And the value of that can't be ignored.


Marshall said...

I'm already almost positive that I don't want to get lost in the desert, so I might skip this film.

Marshall said...

It occurs to me, a little late, that I pretty much just made a far weaker version of the joke in your final paragraph. Apologies!