Five great "one-shot" films
Ahead of the release of Sam Mendes's 1917, a first world war film that appears to be shot in just one take, we consider the merits of some of cinema's other great "one-shot" wonders
There is no more elaborate and indulgent a shot in all of cinema than the long take. It screams, “Look at me! Aren’t I virtuosic?” In saying that, the shot can also be cinema’s most captivating. It draws attention to itself in the hands of a hack, but in the hands of a master, it simply draws you in.
By refusing to cut away, you’re left to sweat and squirm alongside your protagonist. Each second that the footage is unscarred by edits can feel like the ticking of a time bomb. That’s certainly the case with the opening of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, in which we see a literal bomb being placed in the boot of a car that proceeds to pass through the busy streets of a Mexican town and across the border into the USA before exploding.
At four minutes, Touch of Evil’s bravado shot is a tiddler in comparison to those that would follow in its wake, like Michelangelo Antonioni’s haunting ending to The Passenger, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco Steadicam entrance via the back door of the Copacabana in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, or the opening of Robert Altman’s The Player, a meta tracking shot in which the characters rhapsodise about Touch of Evil’s opening tracking shot.
Some filmmakers go even further, though, turning their whole film into one feverish long take. That’s not exactly what you’ll get with Sam Mendes’s 1917 – that two-hour war movie has one break in the middle. Below, however, are five great films that do consist of a single shot (or in the case of the first pick, cannily hide their edits to make it seem like one).
Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)
Hitch ratchets up the tension by never turning his camera away from the sitting room in which a murder has just taken place.
Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)
Canadian avant-garde genius Snow strips cinema back to a single, stuttering, super-slow 45-minute zoom across a New York room.
Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015)
This German thriller is the most elaborate one-shot movie, taking us from a heady romance that begins in a Berlin nightclub to a police shootout via a bank robbery.
Who Killed Brown Owl? (Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, 2004)
The Desperate Optimists’ witty nine-minute single crane-shot surveys a seemingly idyllic scene of a British summer afternoon, only to end with the eponymous Brownies leader with an axe in her back.
Timecode (Mike Figgis, 2000)
Figgis goes three better than all of the above with a quartet of interlinking mini-dramas playing out simultaneously across four screens.