single takes are mighty impressive

I love dance movies. So I’m really looking forward to seeing Step Up 3D. I’m pretty sure it’ll be sensory overload — with lots of jaw-dropping feats of physical skill.

But have you noticed how rarely today’s dance (or martial arts) movies embrace the single take? While I’m conscious of the fact that some of the contemporary fascination with scene-cutting is a matter of aesthetics, it does have the added benefit of allowing film-makers to draw from multiple takes to create a ‘montage’ of impressive moves even if mistakes have been made in the process.

One of the things I find most impressive about old school song and dance movies is the skill required to pull off a perfect dance routine in a single take. Fred Astaire was a stickler for the single take, apparently declaring “either the camera will dance, or I will”.

This appreciation of the single take was one of the reasons I was so taken with this video clip we saw on the weekend.

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4 comments

    1. Yeah! I went to see that at the cinema and it was pretty amazing. I was glad I’d done a little bit of Russian history, though, otherwise I think everything other than the camera-work would have gone over my head!

      My favourite single shot scene is the 7.5 minute street warfare sequence in Children of Men shot on a hand-held camera. The movie’s so enthralling you don’t notice unless you’re looking for it!

  1. Nat beat me to bringing up Children of men – though I’d point out that it’s not the only single shot scene they do (there’s one in the car when the burned out wreck rolls down the hill and one when they escape the farm).

    What’s most impressive of single takes in action movies is they often are single takes – you can’t blow up the car or burn down the house again. Fred, Gene and their ilk were very good at doing it right first time but they did often need to do more than one take

    1. There is truth in what you say, Ed. While they might have done more than one, old school song and dance movies didn’t do anything like the number of takes we do these days — film was way too expensive! And to be fair, these days what looks like a single take in an action movie has often had some help from CGI!

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