An Ode to Long Takes: The Joy of Watching Unedited Movement
Why do we love watching long takes so much?
I love a good, chaotically edited action sequence as much as the next clown, but there's just something uniquely gratifying about watching a scene with a lot of long takes. They let you take your time to survey the environment, look each character up and down, and examine the situation until you get a better idea of what's about to transpire next. As Fandor's Philip Brubaker puts it, these scenes "breathe" and let the viewer "see longer with another person's pair of eyes."
Though there are benefits to all different kinds of editing techniques, Brubaker's video essay takes a moment to celebrate the films that allow us to soak in the diegesis, to experience cinematic worlds for a little while longer, to experience time and space in ways that would be impossible with an army of edits.
Let's get this out of the way right quick: I have never heard a better description of a cut than a "brutal severance of a piece of footage."
Okay, where was I? Oh yeah—Brubaker touches on several interesting ideas in the video, but perhaps the most intriguing is the how filmmakers solve the problem of "rhythm" when edits are fewer and farther between. Edits affect shot duration, so naturally, they establish pacing. However, if a filmmaker wants to let shots linger for longer periods of time, how can they manipulate the pacing of the scene? Are they restricted to slower pacing just because the shots are longer?
Not necessarily. As Brubaker points out, camera movement can be used to heighten tension and increase the speed of the pacing of a scene. We see plenty of examples of this in Birdman, Fight Club, and pretty much all of Wes Anderson's films. As long as the camera is in motion, it has the ability to shoot the scene from different perspectives, capturing different angles, shot sizes, and even locations.
This technique effectively turns a single long take into multiple unedited "shots" that not only ramp up the pace of the scene but also allow the viewer to experience the environment from a more intimate perspective. It gives the viewer the chance to soak in the moment, to be enveloped by the scene, and take their time to process the visual information the way they would in the real world.