Long before I saw Silent House (out today in the UK), while hiding from the real world behind books and exams, I wrote an incredibly geeky thesis on the relationship between text and screen, which postulated that: given sentences on the page are the equivalent of takes on film, linguistic analysis of voice and narrative in a novel (and a script) could be related directly to the positioning of a camera in a cinema adaptation.
Because unlike literature, which can roam wherever the heck it wants, video cameras are physical and must be placed somewhere: films inherently have a perspective, which means that every shot is actively positioning the audience.
That’s why first-person POV is such an interesting choice, not to mention the more subtle decisions about the camera's proximity to the people on screen – the choice, for example, to only show scenes that contain a specific character.
But arguably the most curious technical decision a director can make is the long shot. Presenting something in a single, continuous take frees up the audience to track their own way through a scene - but it also restricts them to a set path of exploration, turning at a predetermined point, lingering on certain details.
Is it more immersive than a traditional montage sequence? When done well, it can be.
Which is what makes Silent House such an effective horror movie: ok, so like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope it’s not really all done in a single shot, but by keeping the camera rolling and staying close to Elizabeth Olsen, our knowledge is as limited as hers. We don’t ever see a person coming up from behind her: to be more exact, we can’t. And in a world where we’re used to the chronological or causational relationship between consecutive shots, not being able to see something from a reverse angle makes things more terrifying.
The ending of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s movie, sadly, ruins the whole effect – because of the script, I should add, not because of the visual technique.
So to celebrate the technical achievement of Silent House’s 88 (purportedly) uncut minutes, here are some of cinema’s most effective long takes...
Whether you're Sir Laurence Olivier or a small boy blagging a job as third assistant director on a film set, the chances are that you have, at some point, been hopelessly in love with Marilyn Monroe. Even if you've never met her.
But not so for Simon Curtis. The BAFTA and Emmy-nominated director of Cranford, Pride and David Copperfield was never a die-hard Monroe fan. So why did he direct My Week with Marilyn, a film about the iconic sex symbol's attempts to act seriously in Olivier's conflict-filled production of The Prince and the Showgirl?
He rang me up yesterday morning to explain himself, and contribute to My Week with My Week with Marilyn by discussing Michelle Williams, Colin Clark's memoirs and the Oscar buzz surrounding his charming film.
Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Judi Dench
It's one thing going into a film knowing that Michelle Williams will get nominated for an Oscar. It's another thing coming out thinking that you just saw Marilyn Monroe alive and well for two hours.
Williams manages the transformation entirely, drawing in everything around her, including Laurence Olivier (Branagh). "When she gets it right, you can't take your eyes off her," Olivier sighs, struggling to directing her on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. He's right. And My Week with Marilyn is all the better for it.
Thor thundered ahead at the UK Box Office this week, holding on the top spot after its £5m debut.
Marvel's superhero lost around 40% of last week's takings, but has hammered together a £9.5m running total, which will keep the makers of The Avengers happy for now.
Fast Five is right behind the God of Thunder with £1.6m stashed firmly in the boot. After three weeks on release, Vin Diesel's racer has accelerated past the £13.5m gross from the last Fast and Furious film, making it the fastest and most furious in the whole series. Bald men up and down the country will be sweating profusely with excitement.
Insidious, meanwhile, is in a strong third position, boasting a teeny 9% drop as people begin to spread the word about the Saw director's horror film. It's almost at the £4m mark in total, but expect this one to reach a fair bit higher than that.
All the three holdovers held back the weekend's new releases. Emerging at the head of the pack is Water for Elephants, the watery film about elephants and Robert Pattinson. Thanks to previews from Wednesday onwards, R-Patz beat Saoirse Ronan's Hanna to the UK Top Ten's fourth spot. But we all know she could take him in a proper fight.
Thor hammered its way to the top of the UK Box Office last weekend to take home £5.45m.
Marvel were hoping that the Norse god of thunder would strike hard in the UK, given that Thor's the cornerstone for all upcoming Avengers releases.
To avoid any threat of the Royal Wedding distracting cinema-goers, they promptly stuck three days of previews on the front of the film, picking up £2.3m from Monday, Wednesday and Thursday combined. Include the bank holiday Monday on the other side of the weekend and Thor smashes clean past the £6m mark.
It's a convincing show from Kenneth Branagh's superhero, one that matches the results from the less hirsute Fast and Furious Five on the weekend before. It's no surprise, then, that the Vin Diesel car flick is still speeding along in second place.
With a drop of less than 40%, Fast Five has a current total of £11m odd, which almost equals the £13.5m final gross from the fourth Fast and Furious film in 2009. No wonder Justin Lin is gearing up for a sixth.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings
A big blonde guy with a massive hammer? Yep, that’s Thor (Hemsworth), a hunky cape-wearing fellow known to most people as the Norse God of Thunder. This is the Marvel version of the myth, complete with a one-eyed Anthony Hopkins and a whole bunch of adverts for The Avengers. But forget Marvel’s upcoming superhero slate: Thor is a thundering success on its own.
"How could you eat entire box of Pop Tarts and still be hungry?"
I have been waiting for years for someone to mention Pop Tarts in a summer blockbuster. YEARS. (On a basic Pop Tart-eating level, I am more more manly than Thor.)
It's almost as good as that time Thor advertised Diet Coke.
And you know what? The rest of this new trailer's pretty good, too. After some so-so teasers, there's actually a plot going on here. Plus a whole new load of CGI effects. I'm rooting for this over Captain America, if only for the crazy call of Kenneth Branagh at the helm - I'm still convinced he can do something interesting here.
Plus it has Natalie Portman in, so it can't be all bad. Right? *cough* No Strings Attached *cough*
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
Release Date: Friday 29th April 2011
Thor spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the centre of the story is the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and is forced to live among humans. A beautiful, young scientist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has a profound effect on Thor, as she ultimately becomes his first love. It’s while here on Earth that Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.
"It's not easy to do what you did... You made my men look like a bunch of minimum wage mal cops."
It's a lot like the Comic-Con footage shown before (no surprise given it's a mere fraction of the length) but at the end of the day, it's got a blonde dude (Chris Hemsworth), Natalie Portman, and a massive hammer. What more could you want? Anthony Hopkins in a golden eyepatch, perhaps? You've got that as well. The world-melding plot of Kenneth Branagh's 3D take on the comic book figure of legend may not set your manly eyebrows on fire, but it's got a potential to at least be different to Iron Man 3.
Can Kenneth Branagh pull this off after the glut of superhero movies we've had to put up with? It's not looking completely impossible judging by this new Thor trailer. It's out on Friday 29th April. Read on for the full video.
What with the horrifying Human Centipede hitting the cinemas and the recent release of Splice, I (as a research scientist) am starting to feel a bit persecuted. You may think I’m paranoid but more often than not, scientists end up as the bad guys in movies.
Whether we're villains with God complexes or clueless, well-intentioned beings who mess with things way beyond them, us test tube folk always get left carrying the buck. Especially when Bad Things Happen.
Researchers in medical sciences, and particularly genetics, seem to be the most likely to be given the Frankenstein (or "Harold Shipman") treatment. But is Hollywood right? Are we all horrible, heartless or just plain ignorant? If The Human Centipede is "100% medically accurate", let's open the Pandora’s Box of Hollywood’s past scientific failures and see just how accurate their "evil" scientists are.