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Random Question: Tracking Shots

Ten Memorable Long Takes in Movies

Russian Ark (10/10)

Wavelength (1967): A Brilliant Work of Art or a Complete Waste of Time?

Michael Snow’s 1967 film Wavelength has been hailed by critics and moviegoers but it has also been heavily criticized by the general public to be ‘boring,’ ‘uneventful,’ ‘pointless’ and a ‘complete waste of time.’ It is only 43 minutes in length, so one might not consider it a proper, full length movie, but after recently viewing it I watched it carefully and took in all it had to say, mulling it over for a few hours before writing this post. And I have to say, I liked it. A lot. And I think I get it. I wasn’t bored. In fact, if I’m actually watching a very good movie it won’t matter how long it is. I won’t get bored. And there was a lot to look at here and a lot to take in.

The plot is so simple that to actually say the film has a plot is a joke. All it is is one shot (actually quite a few shots edited together to look like one) of a room, the shot visible at the top of this post. Throughout the film’s 40 minutes, the camera extremely slowly zooms in, until settling on a postcard photo of the ocean, before fading to white and ending. That’s it. During the film’s slow, lagging pace, we are also greeted with the sights of a woman having furniture moved into the room, sitting and listening to the radio, and re-entering a long period after to find a dead man on the floor. As these events happen, director Michael Snow could not give a flying f*ck. All he cares about is the slow zoom on the postcard. This makes the film original, clever, and gives it a specific target and a mind of its own. It, in fact, represents the entire process of watching a film. We start out at the beginning, and we’re slowly building to a climax (represented by the postcard) that we can barely see if we squint, but as the film progresses, we get closer and closer to that climax, until finally at the end, we see it. The whole of Wavelength is an excercise in what we can sit through. A good film takes its time to reach the climax, and Snow is representing that timeline with a deceptively simple zoom on a picture. A very clever metaphor.

Snow further tests the audience by playing on the soundtrack a, long consecutive beeping noise which begins at the 8-minute mark and lasts until the very end. It slowly becomes more high-pitched, louder, and annoying, representing the intense buildup to a climax we might feel while watching a movie. Snow tests the audience. Many will be bored and frustrated with the film, particularly that distracting beep, but watching Wavelength is not so much as watching a film as it is analysing human endurance in filmmaking and storytelling; what we can sit through, and whether our curiosity to the ending will be enough to make us sit through what might seem otherwise like a piece of time-wasting crap. It’s an excercise, to be studied and learned from.

I’d like to make this a longer review, but there’s really not much more to say. The film looks simple, and it is. Some people will be able to sit through it, and will walk away having learned something, but others will be bored out of their mind and will likely not finish it or fast forward through it. Don’t do this. It’s not how you should watch a movie. It’s cheating yourself.

Conveniently, Snow also created WVLNT, which is essentially the whole film, edited down to about 15 minutes. I’m sure it has a similar impact and can be learnt from in the same manner as the original, but the whole point of its long, unbearable pace is to force you to think about what on Earth it means and why you’re watching it. This is not a waste of time; this a great way to spend time if you’re trying to analyse what really goes into making a movie and the stress a director feels about whether the audience will be able to sit through their film. This is Snow’s point: sitting through this is just like sitting through a normal movie. It starts out simple enough, and leads expectingly to a gratifying ending that we know we’ve been slowly approaching the whole time. Fantastic.

My Rating: 8/10.

So, put yourself to the ultimate endurance test. Watch Wavelength right here, right now. Try to do it without skipping parts, fast forwarding or turning it off altogether. It might be a small achievement to make it through, but it’s an achievement nonetheless:

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Seen Wavelength? What did you think of it? A work of art or a waste of time? Leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.

100 Things I Love About the Movies

Recently, John at The Droid You’re Looking For made a sequel to his hugely successful “100 Things I Love About the Movies” post, and being a fan of both posts, I’ve decided it’s about time I did my own. It was a very inspirational and thoughtful post, and if you read it yourself it might just make you want to do one of the same. For now, here’s mine:

1: Hi-hi-hi there, at last we meet.

2: The shaking fence in Evil Dead.

3: A rape depicted through the clever usage of a silent movie in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her.

4: Qantas never crashed.

5: Whatever you want, Leo Getz.

6: The stunning ending to Lars von Trier’s Dogville.

7: Dave. Stop, Dave. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it.

8: The best movie cut of all history in Lawrence of Arabia.

9: The theme that plays when we see the man with the Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.

10: Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me…

11: The abrupt ending of Bonnie and Clyde.

12: I’m a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I’m a big bright shining star. That’s right.

13: The final perfect five minutes of Irreversible…

14: …and how The King’s Speech stole the music!

15: Ellen Burstyn’s monologue in Requiem for a Dream.

16: The hand emerging from the water in Deliverance.

17: The final half-hour of Audition.

18: Jimmy Schtewart.

19: The emotion and raw energy with which Kirk Douglas delivers this line in Paths of Glory: “I apologise to you, sir, for not informing you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man, and you can go to Hell before I apologise to you now or ever again!”

20: John C. Reilly shining his flashlight into the camera in Magnolia.

21: Blood Simple to True Grit and everything in between.

22: Hello… Hello, Dimitri? I… I can’t hear, could you turn the music down? That’s great, you’re coming through fine. I’m coming through fine, too, am I? I agree with you, it’s great to be fine. Now then, Dimitri. One of our generals… he went a little funny in the head… you know, funny. And he went and did a silly thing.

23: Tracking shots. All of them.

24: The Monty Python movies (“I fart in your general direction!”)

25: Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stuffing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life.

26: Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar.

27: Steve Martin in The Jerk.

28: Isabella Rossellini begging Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet (“Hit me!”).

29: In Heaven… everything is fine.

30: Did You Know You Can Use Old Motor Oil to Fertilise Your Lawn?

31: That lucky occasion when you come across a really, really good TV movie (Indictment: The McMartin Trial)

32: Get away from her, you BITCH!

33: I am Death. I have long walked at your side.

34: The most striking and disturbing use of colour in any film, that of Sven Nykvist’s brilliant cinematography in Ingmar Bergman’s fantastic Cries and Whispers.

35: NOT LOVELY, LOVELY LUDWIG VAAAANNNN!!!!

36: The slow-paced and slightly comic final duel in Barry Lyndon.

37: The deadly silent arrival of Martin Sheen into Colonel Kurtz new jungle home, rudely interrupted by an obviously high Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.

38: The first six or so minutes of Persona.

39: This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun.

40: The haunting piano music that plays throughout the latter half of Kubrick’s fantastic Eyes Wide Shut.

41: A surprise cameo from the greatest stand-up comedian of all time in a non-comedy role in Lost Highway.

42: Tom Cruise’s finest hour:

43: The perfect opening shot of Apocalypse Now.

44: Bernard Herrman’s shrieking violins.

45: Black and White movies in the era of Colour.

46: The nameless dystopian city in David Fincher’s Se7en.

47: Uncomfortably casual nudity in Short Cuts.

48: Marge Gunderson.

49: Nobody fucks with the Jesus.

50: Bring Out the Gimp.

51: Norma Desmond’s delusions of grandeur.

52: The drug deal scene in Boogie Nights.

53: I only got two things in this world: my balls and my word. And I don’t break em for nobody.

54: Robert Downey, Jr. in Natural Born Killers.

55: The “train going into the tunnel” at the very end of North by Northwest, a clever albeit overused sexual metaphor.

56: Ricky Gervais. Always. Always.

57: A movie set entirely within one room (i.e. Buried)

58: Rob Brydon’s cameo in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

59: Nothing’s wrong with it, Tommy. It’s tip top. I’m just not sure about the colour.

60: I am Jack’s _____ ______.

61: Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, oh, and while we’re at it…

62: 80s high school movies. All of them.

63: The epilogue of Pink Flamingos.

64: Clerks. ‘Nuff said.

65: Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!

66: Silencio.

67: Earn this. Earn it.

68: The final shot of the rat at the end of The Departed.

69: Extended Director’s Cuts.

70: I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!

71: The inability of Jack Lemmon to be able to watch Grand Hotel in The Apartment.

72: Memorable last lines in Billy Wilder movies.

73: We’re a loving couple that doesn’t touch.

74: Sunday nights, where I put aside a few hours to rewatch one of my favourite movies, no matter what it is or how many times I’ve seen it.

75: The creepy hidden camera shots in Michael Haneke’s Cache.

76: Amelie’s strange games with random people in the film of the same name.

77: Go round mums, deal with Phillip, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for all this to blow over.

78: Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure: “In the water, I’m a very skinny lady.”

79: Sidney Lumet. Rest in Peace.

80: The final shocking moments of Planet of the Apes.

81: The meaning of Roger O. Thornhill’s middle initial.

82: Martin Scorsese’s cameo in Taxi Driver.

83: Gregory Peck’s powerful courtroom monologue in To Kill A Mockingbird…

84: …and the uniquely different but still subtly similar version presented by a suprisingly good Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill.

85: Dustin Hoffman’s moving turn as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy…

86: …and the eerie subtle similarities between Jon Voight’s character in the same movie and Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights.

87: Mr. Jingles.

88: I just wanted to hold the little baby.

89: You mean the man who inserted rubber fist in my anus was a homosexual?

90: The stunning revelation at the end of Spoorloos (The Vanishing).

91: How quickly a director can take my interest, and how stunningly tight their grip remains on me within the shortest of times, and how it can last seemingly forever, as evidenced by my recent delve into the films of Ingmar Bergman.

92: Hit Girl.

93: Bill Murray waking up to the same nauseatingly repetitive jingle every morning in Groundhog Day.

94: Reese Witherspoon humiliating a disfigured Kiefer Sutherland in Freeway.

95: The little bit of low-budget masterpiece that was Sex, Lies and Videotape.

96: Dogme 95.

97: The Criterion Collection.

98: The little things in movies that so few directors really think to care about.

99: How movies affect my everyday life, the way I do things, the little idiosyncrasies that people rarely notice, and how I think and perceive things.

100: “I’m finished.”

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