Friday, September 5, 2014

Long takes and Louis C.K.

In the contemporary age of Hollywood, where Michael Bay's average shot length is a measly 3 seconds and the general average is only a second or two longer, it's really refreshing to see a film or TV show that has an appreciation for the long take. Obviously, Alfonso Cuaron is the first director that comes to mind - at least in this day and age - for his incredibly long takes in both Children of Men and the more recent Gravity (7 mins and 17 minutes, respectively). Also headline-worthy was Cary Fukunaga's elaborately choreographed 6 minute True Detective shot, featuring Matthew McConaughey bursting through houses and just generally kicking ass in one of the coolest TV scenes of the year.

Long takes don't have to be all violence and space-floating, though. In fact, some of the more iconic long shots are during simple (albeit equally well-choreographed) sequences. Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 thriller Rope took place in real time and was edited to appear as one extremely long take, even though it was made up of only 10 separate shots. One of the bi
ggest reasons that filmmakers use long takes is to provide exactly this sense of real time, whether to create suspense or to add an extra element of realism to a film. Cutting from shot to shot can sometimes take away these elements and can create a less fluid experience. 

One man who makes statements with long takes is Louis C.K. Going into the fourth season of his TV series 'Louie', FX has allowed him even more freedom in regards to his creative process, and he certainly took advantage of it. Forrest Wickman, a staff writer for Slate, went so far as to call Louie "the most cinematic show on TV." (read the whole article, which I'll elaborate on further, here

C.K., for whatever reason, loves long takes. In fact, the third episode of the most recent season ended with a shot that lasted an incredible seven and a half minutes. This isn't HBO. This isn't even an hour long drama we're talking about. This a low budget comedy on FX. A seven and a half minute shot equates to almost a full act of the story, which means that almost the whole thing is bookended by commercials. That's a big chunk of TV. The shot in question is nothing particularly special. No fights, no guns, no exploding space stations, just Louie doing what he does best: going on an awkward date and the raw, brutally honest, and beautiful conversation that ensues. People love to throw around the phrase "it's like nothing else on television," but this is literally like nothing else you will find on television, let alone in any hollywood films. 

Louis - the real Louis, not the character - uses these long takes to create an atmosphere of real, honest, everyday life. It can be awkward, sure, but it can also be close and familial (see the living room scene with Louie's two daughters and then-girlfriend Amia), odd and unexpected (a model drives up to Louie and tells him to get in her car), and beautiful and special (Louie's daughter plays the violin). C.K. has proven himself to not only be one of the funniest comedians alive today, but also one of the most adept directors and showrunners on television. Not to mention the most cinematic. 

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