Uncut to Montage and Back Again

When Jeff was talking about how early film was just a single uncut scene (the factory workers leaving for the day) and the revolution of film through montage, I thought about how, interestingly enough, we’ve almost come around back to the beginning. Maybe only among the super nerdy film circles, you’ll hear about how blank was such a great scene because it was one fluid shot (uncut) for an extended period. Take, for example, the fight scene from one of Tony Jaa’s kung fu movies, Ong Bak,

It is considered amazing because Tony Jaa is a kickass kung fu master, of course, but also because it is nearly 4 minutes long without the camera cutting away once, and that because it is a fight scene up stairs, one is limited to how much stamina your lead actor possesses.

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9 Responses to Uncut to Montage and Back Again

  1. Tyler Pace says:

    A couple of things.

    1) Kung Fu should be a blog post category.

    2) The latest episode of Rescue Me contained an equally amazing uncut scene. Two main characters, Tommy and Lou are walking through a burning building, upstairs and downstairs with ceilings falling and people dodging debris all without a single cut. It must go on for at least 3 minutes. Absolutely amazing that they could pull it off given the circumstances of the environment. I’ll try and find a clip, but it probably won’t happen.

  2. thismarty says:

    If you’re interested in a classic example of a kick-ass tracking shot from the days before SteadyCams and CGI, check out this 3-minute doozy from the Orson Welles’ 1958 film Touch of Evil (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW1bKefX7QU).

    If only Welles had been into Kung Fu …

  3. Dave Roedl says:

    I would say that the real antithesis of montage is represented by Andre Bazin‘s film theory. Rather than edit film to create meaning, he believed that the camera should be made ‘invisible’ so as to capture ‘objective reality’. This amounts to not only extremely long shots, but also with an immobile camera. One of the reasons for this approach is to allow the interpretation of the scene by the spectator, rather than delivering constructed messages of montage.

    While I’m not sure I’d accept any film as ‘objective reality’, even with a stationary camera, I think its interesting to look at both extremes in terms of film-viewing experience. Clearly, montage is has been far more accepted and solidified as part of the language of film. But I think realism still has its value and place depending on the motivation of the film.

  4. Tyler Pace says:

    I meant to add to my comment that what made the Rescue Me clip amazing, beside it’s technical difficulty, was the lack of cuts. If they would have cut the scene like every other, nothing would have stood out. However, this uncut scene will probably stand as one of the best this season. By not cutting, it felt like a much more “raw” or “real” representation of the characters and provided for a very immersive moment with the program.

  5. I love this post and the ensuing dialogue. Thanks, LB, for posting YouTube video for all to admire, and a number of good concepts came up that we’ll discuss during the semester. We will certain return to Andre Bazin and his notions of “realism.” Incidentally, the TV sitcom _Mad About You_ did an episode in a single take (uncut), and it was interesting to see sitcom actors (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) under that strain.

  6. thismarty says:

    And for you all you single-take fans, let’s not forget the creme-de-la-creme: Hitchcock’s Rope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rope_%28film%29). An entire film made of nothing but long, uncut shots – some up to 8 minutes in length.

    Aside from the obvious technical wowing, it’s interesting what it does to the mood of the film. This isn’t like one of those early Lumiere films Jeff described in class, where the camera thinks it sitting in the audience watching a stage play. Here, the point-of-view moves in the scene like a modern frame-of-reference should, but absent juxtapositioning of shots, it achieves an unusual realism and intensity.

    If you haven’t seen Rope, I recommend it, especially given this thread. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing one of the first, great, masterful benders and breakers of film language rules at work, watch any great Hitchcock (i.e. Rear Window, North by Northwest, Frenzy).

  7. Tyler Pace says:

    Children of Men, as I recall, had quite a few long, uncut scenes which most definitely added to the quality of the film.

  8. Just so we don’t get carried away, there are many forms of video that benefit from heavy cutting. The classic example is from Hitchcock’s _Psycho_, where the famous shower murder scene has more than 70 cuts in 60 seconds. But you don’t have to watch old movies to see it; just turn on MTV. Modern music videos are intensely edited with cuts happening so quickly we can’t always even process them all.

  9. thismarty says:

    The Monkees was a great, early, fast-cut TV show. And it’s got all those great tunes too!

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