I’ve never been a war movie guy. I’m not actively against them like when I was young and rebellious and thought they were propaganda, but I don’t seek them out. Of course there are some great ones, but I wasn’t in the market for Sam Mendes, director of AMERICAN BEAUTY and AMERICAN LONE WOLF AND CUB (and producer of Shrek: The Musical) doing his take on DUNKIRK. So when I saw the trailers for 1917 I wasn’t buying.

That is, not until they started playing little featurettes showing off that Roger Deakins (THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, JARHEAD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE ETC. ETC., PRISONERS, BLADE RUNNER 2049) is the cinematographer and he did it all in connected long takes. Okay, that I’ll watch. I’m into shit like that.

I thought it was funny that in the interview Mendes says that when they looked at the script they realized that was the way to tell the story – as if there was some way to have written the script not planning that. What are you, a pro-wrestler, you gotta tell obvious lies to make the story sound better? Be honest with me Mendes.

It’s a simple idea. Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, THE COMMUTER) and Schofield (George MacKay, DEFIANCE) are sent on a mission to deliver orders to a general. They have to call off an attack because the general thinks they’ve got the Germans on the run, but new aerials show that it’s a trap and they’ll get massacred. Blake was chosen because he has a brother there and will take the job very seriously. Schofield was chosen because Blake brought him along when he went to get his orders, not knowing it was gonna be something so serious. Gulp.

So you watch them hustling the wrong way through the trenches, bumping into people, pushing people, asking to be let through, touting their orders from the general, offending people by accidentally stepping on their dead colleagues. You watch them climbing through barb wire, trekking across mud, traversing no man’s land like Wonder Woman and War Horse before them. (They walk past a couple dead war horses, and also Benedict Cumberbatch is in the movie. I haven’t looked it up, but for sure it is the same character and part of the WHCU.) They hide from planes, watch distant dogfights, get real fuckin unlucky about being in the exact wrong spot whenever some shit goes down. They search abandoned German trenches, always nervous about who could be around each corner.

Alot of it is like a post-apocalypse movie. War is a traveling apocalypse.

There are definitely some parts that reminded me of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, especially when Schofield is blindly exchanging gunfire with an unseen sniper in an abandoned village.

The scope of the production is incredibly impressive. Occasionally there are more obvious digital enhancements – flies, rats, a Marvel-style shot following Schofield as he leaps into water – that are a little distracting, but not dealbreakers. I like when he wakes up at night, the sky glows orange from nearby fires, and flashes in the sky make huge streaking shadows from the shards of structures around him. Deakinsville.

It actually simulates two shots, not one. So you wouldn’t be able to make the entire movie into a GIF and post it on One Perfect Shot. There’s a part where he blacks out in the middle, and they take advantage of the opportunity to skip over some time. Hopefully there will be an extended cut where it just stays on him the entire time he’s laying on the floor unconscious. There were many parts where it seemed obvious to me that was the cut, but they can make it pretty seamless with these fancy movie computers they use now days. The only one I thought was silly was when he comes up and meets Mark Strong and they go into a little house and come out the other door and the camera stays outside and pans along the outside wall of the house. But you can see that it would’ve been faster to walk diagonally and not go inside the building at all. I don’t think there was a reason for them to go in there except to a hide a cut, but I forgive them.

I think the gimmick is effective, because it’s a new way to vividly paint a portrait of the horrors of war. You follow them walking and walking and walking and walking through the soldiers camped out waiting for battle – it’s alot of god damn soldiers. And when they do get away from the others and walk through the areas that are abandoned because of the war they never stop walking past dead bodies in pits or poking out of the side of hills or piling up clogging a dam.

If you saw the trailer you know there’s a part where he’s running sideways across a field of rushing soldiers, barely dodging the people and explosions and flying debris and things. At one point he falls and does a nimble somersault and keeps going. The scene reminded me of watching those clips of O.J. Simpson running with the football. Not that this guy is gonna turn out like O.J. I mean, it would’ve had to have happened a long time ago. We’d know about it.

There’s something I should mention but it’s a BIG-ASS SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH. I think they were trying to pull a Janet-Leigh-in-PSYCHO type move treating Blake as the lead and then killing him, forcing Schofield to take the reins. Unfortunately I’d seen the trailer a bunch and most of it only focuses on Schofield by himself, so it didn’t trick me. Blake looked like the sidekick the whole time. But I like the dynamic of Schofield trying to slow down and think things through while stubborn Blake insists on immediately hauling ass to save his brother. Blake is also the one who attempts to save the downed German pilot instead of killing him, and he gets stabbed to death for his efforts. That kind of seems like a nihilistic message – mercy won’t redeem you, it’ll get you killed – but maybe it’s just more evidence that war is, pardon my French, the absolute pits.

AH SHIT, MORE SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH. There’s a part where he comes across a platoon in the woods gathered around a guy singing some kind of Celtic type song, reminded me of LORD OF THE RINGS. By this point he’s so exhausted, but he hasn’t achieved his goal. I like that once he delivers the message, saves the day and is complimented on a good job (kind of a “That’ll do, pig” moment) he does not seem relieved and you realize he still has to find Blake’s brother and tell him what happened. Again it’s hard to believe the dramatic timing of how he finds him (and that people know who he’s talking about when he says his name) but it’s hard not to be moved by the heartbreaking conversation they have.

The National Hockey League was founded in 1917, and Ernest Borgnine and Thelonious Monk were born, but I guess it makes sense that they didn’t really get into those things in the theatrical cut. The Battle of Aqaba also happened that year, so hopefully somebody will do a fan edit combining this with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I guess I don’t really know how they would make it look like one shot.

Speaking of edits, I looked it up and the Critics’ Choice Awards, plus a whole bunch of critics groups (including two I was rejected from), nominated 1917 for best editing. The Hollywood Critics Association even gave it their award! I understand it required careful planning and FX work to hide the edits but come the fuck on, man. Clearly the intent of such awards is to recognize the power of rhythm, pacing, juxtaposition, etc. on cinematic storytelling. Not just pulling off this one type of sleight of hand. I mean, imagine how much more thought and experimentation editor Lee Smith had to put into his non-one-continous-shot movies like DUNKIRK, INCEPTION, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE TRUMAN SHOW, ROBOCOP 2, DEAD-END DRIVE-IN and HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS. Have some respect.

I was thinking it would be cool if this was the origin story prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE, but by my math Jimmy Stewart was about 18 years too young to be the same guy having changed his name and become a prep school headmaster who solves mysteries on the side. Despite that enormous oversight, this is a decent movie.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 27th, 2020 at 7:28 am and is filed under Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

55 Responses to “1917”

  1. Was debating with my wife about which movie to go see this past saturday. I lost, we saw Little Women instead of this and I absolutely loved it. That said, I feel like this is one you REALLY should see on the big screen. Babysitter is coming back next weekend I guess.

  2. This was less “war is hell” so much as it was “war is a sweet tech demo.” Technically it’s one of the most proficient things I’ve seen, but I couldn’t get past the movie’s video game structure. It was like each time they survived, they “leveled up” and got to meet a famous British actor. This will probably win Best Director/Picture under the Innaritu “It Looks Like It Was Hard To Pull Off” Clause.

  3. I should add, I did like this. Deakins’ work is incredible.

    (also, LITTLE WOMEN was terrific)

  4. I said it before, but war movies are my least favourite movie genre. I do however consider watching this one in theatre, because I’m a bit of a long take whore, doesn’t matter if it’s fake or not.

  5. I also am not big into war movies, but for some reason this caught my attention before I even knew about the one take angle, which always impresses me when it’s done for just one scene, so I was on board for an entire movie. I think I liked the idea of it being a small story contained in a larger war. It’s not about the *war* so much as these two guys doing this one thing. Also them traveling along and stumbling into hijinks along the way. Those appeal to me. I’m also usually drawn to big movies done by big names but starring people I don’t know. It makes me excited to think I’m about to be impressed by someone new. And I was.

    I really loved this movie. Great story, great acting, great cinematography. I had to fold my arms, trapping my hands in the scene when they first went out into no-man’s land due to the tension I was feeling.

    *SPOILERS* I guess I didn’t see the preview enough or pay enough attention because I didn’t think Blake was a dead man walking. I mean, I didn’t think either of them was safe, per se. And I thought he was the one who wanted to put the German pilot out of his misery and Schofield was the one who said no. Do I have that backwards? Even if that was him, he was still trying to help him only to get killed, making it especially tragic.

    I liked that he completed the mission *sort of* in time. It wasn’t a gut wrenching failure but it was also not a last minute, miracle reprieve. I don’t know, it just felt more meaningful to me that he couldn’t save everybody, like paying respect to the horribleness of war or something.

    There’s also something there in how the movie opens up with a serene scene of them laying in the grass, then it’s almost unending mud, and blood, and dead bodies, and cold water, and hard, sharp, blown up buildings, and then ends in the soft grass again. The moments of comfort and softness throughout – the cherry blossoms, the baby, etc. were brilliant little pops of, “see, this is what you’re fighting for, see, not everything is horror.”

  6. >I thought it was funny that in the interview Mendes says that when they looked at the script they realized that was the way to tell the story – as if there was some way to have written the script not planning that.

    Not to be contrary, but there are a lot of movies that are in ‘real-time’ without being one-take. That or they could’ve done rewrites to facilitate it being one-take. Jaws 3 started out as a parody, so these rewrites can do anything.

  7. I cannot muster any desire to see this movie. I have disliked every single Sam Mendes film so far (with his two Bond films being especially awful) and adding this “all in one shot” gimmick doesn’t do anything to change that (since I can’t think of any film that’s tried something similar that was effective). But I haven’t seen it, I could be wrong. Regardless, if I cared about Oscars, I would be especially pissed, since the award is now awarded based entirely on technical difficulty, which is some serious bullshit. I don’t understand how these people could watch “Little Women” and not nominate Greta Gerwig. But who cares? The awards are BS and many films that win the big awards no longer exist (“The Artist”, anyone? Yeah, didn’t think so.)

  8. I went into this knowing absolutely nothing except that it was Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins and WWI. The dawning realization that this really long one-take opening shot where they descend into the trenches was actually going to continue through the whole movie (more or less) was a thrill. It seemed gimmicky in Birdman, but it worked for me here. I would also barely consider this a war movie – VERN alluded to this, but for me it played closer to a post-apocalyptic horror movie. The video game criticisms are totally valid, but… I like video games, I guess, and this was some impressive shit to see on a big ass IMAX screen. The switcheroo totally got me, the thing with the rat in the bunker got the biggest jumpscare out of me in years and the nighttime scene with the flares was gorgeous and harrowing. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that had me more tense in the theater since Green Room. Sure, in retrospect I can see that there’s not a whole lot to the movie outside of a continuous string of setpieces, but in the moment I was completely engaged from start to finish and you can do a lot worse than that.

  9. I actually think THE ARTIST is an example of a film ‘we’ would like a lot more if it hadn’t been nominated for oscars, or not won certainly. It’s harmless, gimmicky fluff, but so are a lot of the films most of us go back to on a semi regular basis. But because it won best picture, it’s tied up in discussions about whether it deserved it, what its victory says about the academy etc. ARGO might come under the same category to some extent, but that’s a bit murkier as its based more firmly in real world history and politics . I certainly enjoyed it a lot as a thriller when I saw it before there was any Oscar Buzz though.

  10. Chuck you didn’t like ROAD TO PERDITION?

    This one was really good elevated to must-see by the technical audacity of it. But weirdly it was so well done that around halfway through I kind of forgot about the tracking shots. It was only when they had some obvious cuts that I even remembered it was one take.

    They are showing this in 4DX here so obviously I went to that one. It was very weird though as there was almost no actual 4DX involved. But when it did kick in it was intense. Like, there was no 4DX for the first 15-20 minutes except for a tiny bit of wind at the start, and I basically forgot I was in 4DX until the first explosion…which nearly made me shit my pants.

    MaggieMay – you do have that backwards. Schofield wanted to shoot him.

  11. Saw this last night and liked it pretty well. I went in expecting “DUNKIRK but WWI”, which sounded right up my alley. I came away feeling like this was more akin to GRAVITY or THE REVENANT (both of which I thought were enjoyable but flawed). The message of DUNKIRK seemed to be pretty much “this war shit is crazy and your survival is based on just luck”. 1917 follows the leads on a quest that is substantially different than DUNKIRK’s “just get me off this fucking beach”. I found the ultra-long single take to be incredibly effective in the first part of the movie, then much less so later, particularly after [SPOILERS that have already been discussed heavily here] the death scene at the farmhouse. The initial sequence that takes us through the maze of british trenches, in and out of the meeting with the general, then up and over the line and through no-man’s-land and into the German trenches was just crazy tense, and visceral — I really felt immersed in the mud and decomposition, the danger. I found myself thinking back to the no man’s land scene in WONDER WOMAN and thinking, “Right, if you weren’t a superhero this would totally suck.” But then after the truck turns up at the farmhouse the super-long shots started to seem more like a gimmick. The lone protagonist at that point definitely goes through some shit but basically never puts a foot wrong, racing through the bombed out city (which looked freaking awesome btw), diving into just the right hole to have a touching convo with a civilian, running blindly right exactly to the river he needs to find and then fishing himself out right exactly where the unit he is looking for is camped… The friend I saw it with commented on how much of DUNKIRK has the guys on the beach going around in circles, trying things that don’t work or that backfire spectacularly, or just trying to figure out what to do. It made me wonder that if 1917 had let up on the long-take device, it could have given the film more room to watch our dude struggle, fail and try again, etc. DISTRICT 9 is an example of a movie that starts out with a very strong framing device (fake documentary) and about halfway through relaxes that frame and lets the movie change. Of course, I don’t want to second-guess 1917 too much; it was obviously designed to tell a different story than DUNKIRK. And there was a lot of amazing stuff in this one: again, the entire journey from one line to the other; the deeply sad death scene at the farmhouse; the terrifying beauty of the nighttime bombed out city lit by flares; the frantic race at the end where I really wondered whether our guy was going to deliver his message; and like Vern pointed out the heartbreaking talk with the brother at the end. And the sikh (?) guy in the truck cracking his comrades up with his impression of their CO. All indelible parts of a movie that ended up adding to slightly less than the sum of those parts, at least for me.

  12. Liked this one quite a bit. It felt somehow both intimate and epic, hopeful but clear-eyed. General cumberbatch growls to schofield that if the men don’t die today, they’ll die next week. But it’s not a coincidence that the film is set on the day the United States entered the war—the tide is turning. Though most of the soldiers on the front wouldn’t live to see it through.

    I was fooled by the Act 1 kill-off of the supposed protagonist. I thought schofield was the goner, not Blake. But I was happy to follow schofield the uber-badass war hero the rest of the way, he was way more interesting than Blake. I hope he gets some disinfectant on that hand…

    Deakins is operating in god-mode the whole movie, but he outdid himself in the ruined French village, holy crap every frame is beautiful.

    I’m sensing some internet backlash to 1917 because it’s winning all these awards. I get it, I probably like Once Upon a Time more, but I’m just thankful we still get movies like these. I got for-real chills when schofield ran across the British advance, it was the kind of cinematic moment that happens so rarely these days.

    Anyway, good job mendes. I basically hated every other movie you’ve done, but you totally redeemed yourself here.

  13. “Road to Perdition” has beautiful cinematography by Conrad Hall….. and I am out of nice things to say about it.

  14. I went in not knowing about the one-take thing. Had I known I would have stayed home. I like war movies but the one take gimmick got old after 10 minutes or so. *sigh* The protagonist was dumb for trying to help an enemy combatant. Having been there and done that let me tell you, there is no way that would happen (especially back in those days!). I won’t let that deter me from looking forward to movies in the future, though. :)

  15. I am guessing there is stuff to like here because I trust Vern and many of you are backing him up, but I always thought Anne Billson skewered Sam Mendes perfectly in this piece, and that without even mentioning his name:

    Anne Billson | Films for people who don't really like films

    Anne Billson on why she can't get excited about The Reader and Revolutionary Road

    The one-take gimmick seems to fit with that view, even if Roger Deakins executes it all beautifully. Indeed, that is part of the problem.

    But perhaps I misrepresent Ms Billson. I know she used to read Vern and has commented occasionally.

  16. That is a great article and sums up exactly how I feel about at least 98% of prestige cinema (minus the part about getting around to watching THE READER someday). it will flatter you for your amazing taste, it will occasionally impress you with its artistry, but what it will never do is surprise you or flummox you or delight you or any of the myriad primordial reactions a Roger Corman movie might coax out of you at any given second. I got more pure cinema out of the first 20 seconds of 6 UNDERGROUND than I’ll get out of the full running time of whatever supposedly important film the Academy feels like congratulating itself for enjoying this year.

  17. Not anti-war movies and since we have so few movies about World War I I would normally be interested in this. Especially after Peter Jackson’s THEY WILL NOT GROW OLD which I got to see in 3D and really loved. Then I learned it was directed by Sam Mendes and lost all interest in it even though this movie should very much be my jam.

  18. THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD was fucking great. The transition from the old, square, scratchy black and white film to the colorized widescreen footage with full sound was jaw-dropping. I am not generally a documentary guy (the artifice of fiction is what makes it interesting to me) but I was totally enthralled by the presentation of this one.

    On a similar note, I probably wouldn’t be interested in 1917 at all without the one-shot gimmick. Another “Boy, war sure is hell but also pretty manly and awesome, isn’t it?” movie but you throw in some cinematic style and I’ll give you a shot. Even if you directed SKYFALL and made me kind of hate James Bond now.

  19. I feel like it is becoming a trend online for people to hate on movies that become critical darlings for no good reason. I have seen and listened to a lot of negativity about this movie lately (print, internet and podcasts), and I just don’t get it.

    I really don’t know how you can see this film and not be impressed by it and at least a tiny bit moved by it, if not more so.

    I guess what they are doing is a “gimmick”, but can’t you break down the way any movie is made and discuss how it’s lighting, music, cinematography, etc. is a gimmick? I get that trying to make a one shot film is certainly a choice to make a different kind of film. I think this film would work without said gimmick, although it certainly wouldn’t be as interesting.

    I remember leaving Dunkirk for the first time thinking I was pretty cool about the story of it and the performances, but wow it was an exhilarating time at the movies. I felt the same with this one, although I felt a little more engaged with the story that was unfolding. Dunkirk, to me, was a lot of really enormous, fantastic set pieces centered around a bunch of characters I really never cared much about. 1917 is a bunch of set pieces centered around two characters that I cared a little bit more about. The set pieces here are awesome as well, and they are made a little more astounding by the one shot “gimmick”.

    I don’t know, maybe its just me. Maybe my tastes are a little on the low brow side, because I see movies like this and I get really excited.

    Is it a classic? Nah. It will certainly be a film you remember 20 years from now, mostly because of the “gimmick” and because it will probably win best picture. It’s a hell of a lot better than Green Book.

  20. The most surefire way for a movie to be forgotten and irrelevant is to win Best Picture.

  21. Very good point, Chuck.

  22. Pfff, there are so many ways to be surefire forgotten and irrelevant. Like being a hit at festivals, being a Netflix or Amazon release, sometimes even being a hit movie isn’t a garantuee for relevance, considering how many #1 movies from the last decades are now more obscure than beloved classics.

  23. Jeff – I know exactly how you feel. The internet has feels especially hateful right now. I know the world is on fire and it’s hard to be cheery, but I’m feeling extra sensitive to all the negativity right now. It feels like it’s even leaking into here, which normally I see as one of the best places on the net. Between this one and FORD V FERRARI it’s been let’s all shit on serviceable directors day. Not everything has to be brilliant to be enjoyable. And not everything has to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s perfectly okay to let people like something without having to say why you don’t like it. If you’re passionate about not liking it; if it’s important to you why you don’t like it, fine, but if you just need to point out you think something/someone is shit, maybe don’t do that. I’m not trying to call anyone specific out or get on a soapbox about either this movie or FORD V FERRARI (which I haven’t seen and have no opinion about), I’m just getting fed up with so much vitriol. Like I said, I’m feeling extra sensitive to things right now, so maybe it’s nothing worse than usual and it’s all on me. Maybe I need to go offline for awhile and mainline the Muppets, who are my go-to “the world is terrible and I need to feel better” consumption.

  24. OK, so my gold standard for war films is Elem Klimov’s COME AND SEE. Where are we with 1917 compared with that?

    To be clear, I haven’t seen 1917, so I really can’t criticise the movie itself. What objections I have to it aren’t based on a knee jerk rejection of critical darlings – I remain desperate for PARASITE to get its UK release – but rather concerns about how 1917 fits with Mendes’s earlier work most of which I haven’t cared for. And judging by comments above, I am not alone in that.

    Clearly, Vern and other people here who have seen 1917 are getting something from it. And I respect that.

    But I think there’s a categorical difference between calling a one-take set up a gimmick and suggesting that all the standard elements of film making – cinematography, editing, music etc. – are a gimmick. What little I know of film theory comes down to this: you tell the story with the cut. So a one-take movie is setting itself up in opposition to that, and I’m gonna call that a gimmick. Hitchcock called ROPE a failed experiment. By contrast PSYCHO’s shower scene famously contains 52 cuts.

    Tarkovsky called film making sculpting time, primarily because editing allows you to stretch time out, jump about within it, see a moment over from different perspectives and so on. I might want Christopher Nolan to have more of a sense of humour about it, but he really, really understands that.

  25. Oh, I only just saw your comments Maggie after posting mine and it strikes me as bad juxtaposition on my part. Sorry.

    For what it’s worth, I still think this is one of the finest places online and I would feel bad if anything I said was responsible for driving anyone away from it.

    If you want positivity, I recommend the documentary NEXT GOAL WINS:

    Next Goal Wins Official Trailer 1 (2014) - Sports Documentary HD

    Subscribe to TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/sxaw6h Subscribe to COMING SOON: http://bit.ly/H2vZUn Subscribe to INDIE & FILM FESTIVALS: http://bit.ly/1wbkfYg Like us...

    It is glorious, in the truest sense of the word, and I can’t tell you how excited I am that Taika Waititi is making a new movie based on it with Michael Fassbender.

  26. Borg – thanks for the suggestion. I had never heard of it and it looks good. It looks like one that will have me in tears more than once as I tend to cry more often at things I find moving than things I find sad. I cry at the sad stuff, too, but I have a harder time holding back the tears with things I find beautiful.

  27. Yup, I get that. I’m tearing up just thinking about it, and it is beautiful.

  28. Is the whole cgi deaging thing in The Irishman a “Gimmick”? I’m not asking that being a smart aleck, but I think that movie will be remembered for that as much as 1917 will be remembered for its continuous shot.

  29. I think the fancy CGI de-aging is a bit of a gimmick, sure. But not really any more so than the premise of “Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci all doing one last gangster picture with Martin Scorsese”. A gimmick isn’t a bad thing in and of itself as long as it’s in service to the story. Like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III.

  30. I don’t really think the de-aging is a gimmick. It is heavily talked about now because the technology is still new and unusual (especially in the way it is used here, with the FX having to invent a new technology because Scorcese refused to put tracker marks on his actors’ faces), but basically I just see it as “using what is new and what will be the norm later on”.

  31. IMO the very fact that they had to invent a new technology to do this and then made such a big deal about it in promoting the movie is exactly what makes it a gimmick. If they had just used make-up or different actors to play the younger versions of the characters, that element of the film wouldn’t have drawn any unusual comment at all. Again, I don’t think a gimmick is inherently a bad thing (like Bette Middler said, ya gotta have a gimmick) and I think in this case it serves the story well enough to justify itself.

  32. I have been thinking more and more about what would constitute a “gimmick”. I am not arguing with anyone here about it, I just wish there was a better term. Clearly, a single shot is a gimmick. Found Footage movies are clearly a gimmick, right? Is it a gimmick now to make a movie in Black and White? Is it a gimmick in a movie like Wolf of Wall Street or Deadpool break the fourth wall? Hell, are all of Spielberg’s later movies with the washed out cinematography of Janusz Kaminski a gimmick, or is that just a style choice? I am probably overthinking all of this.

  33. Personally I think a gimmick is something that a movie doesn’t necessarily need to tell its story, but is a huge selling point. Like 3D or yes, a movie shot, or made to be shot, in one take. The use of new special FX technology not so much, especially if it’s something like de-aging, that will be as normal as computer generated dinosaurs in 10-15 years.

    For example was it necessary to shoot AVATAR as basically a CGI cartoon? Hell yeah, you can’t fake the look of the Na’vi with make up, no matter how good your make up artist is, not to mention that Pandora could never be created on a sound stage. Was it necessary to shoot it in 3D? Never saw it that way, but the 2D version was good enough for me.

    Shooting in Black & White might be more of a stylistic choice. I mean, if you make the definite holocaust movie, you can’t get more somber than erasing every colour from it.

  34. I’ve been pondering the gimmick thing myself, but from the opposite direction to THE IRISHMAN’s de-aging technology: Was filming BOYHOOD over 12 years a gimmick or a stylistic choice? Could Linklater not simply have changed actors in the manner of MOONLIGHT? The casting of MOONLIGHT was, I seem to recall, presented as an intriguing, if not actually gimmicky, aspect of the movie anyway.

    I like CJ’s working definition. I’d been leaning on distinguishing whether something was important to the story or important to the marketing, with the latter being a gimmick, which is how it seems 1917 is being pitched. But like I said, I’ve not seen 1917; maybe it really is vital to the story.

    I mentioned PSYCHO above, and, of course, Hitchcock was a master of both film making and promotion. PSYCHO was almost as famous for its Hitchcock-featuring “No one will be admitted after the start of each performance” poster as for its shower scene. Gimmick!

  35. Basically I say the lines between gimmick and no gimmick can blur a lot. In case of 1917 it might improve the story, but I haven’t seen it yet. Personally I loved the many, many long “fly on the wall” takes of GRAVITY and I think the whole movie would’ve been less captivating when filmed and edited in a more traditional way.

    BOYHOOD is probably the biggest gimmick/storytelling blur. What’s the point of seeing that story if they just recast the kid at certain stages in his life? But seeing everybody actually age in “real time” is what makes the movie, for better or worse.

  36. Boyhood is a perfect example.
    I feel like Blair Witch Project was one of the ultimate “gimmick” movies, but now found footage films are basically a genre, not a gimmick, right? BWP also had the gimmick of actually putting itself out there as if it was a real thing, not a movie. Nowadays, found footage films barely even try to pass themselves off as real. It is just a stylistic choice.

  37. The difference between a gimmick and a legitimate technique is time. Found footage was once a gimmick. CGI was once a gimmick. Gore effects were once a gimmick. Eventually, they all got absorbed into the mainstream playbook and now they’re just different tools you can use to tell a story. Gimmicks, like scoundrels, become respectable if they stick around long enough.

  38. Shit, widescreen used to be a gimmick. Color used to be a gimmick. Fucking sound used to be a gimmick. Time will tell if the all-in-one-shot format transcends its gimmickry, but as of right now it’s in pretty good company.

  39. However we define it, I do not mean gimmick to have a negative connotation when I use it. If I did I would say “just a gimmick” or something to indicate that the gimmick is not enough to recommend it.

  40. So it stops being a gimmick when people, including the film makers, stop talking about it? I’ll buy that.

    But I kinda wish we meant “gimmick” in the wrestling sense. I like to think I’d be more interested in 1917 if Sam Mendes was running around a ring in gold shorts and a mask sticking his tongue out at children and old ladies. But he’d probably want to call it performance art.

  41. Would ere be more single shot movies out there if it wasn’t such a pain in the ass to do?

    Also, there is a scene in Marriage Story where Scarlett Johansson meets with her lawyer/Laura Dern for her initial consultation that is almost a 5 minute continuous monologue that is absolutely mind blowing to me. Almost as impressive to me as any of the long action setups in this movie.

  42. There is this German movie VICTORIA, which is really made in one, uninterrupted, true, not fake take. And from a technical POV it’s a fucking miracle! But they unfortunately made the mistake of not having a real script, just an outline with lots of improvised dialogue. And holy shit, do certain (well, much of the movie) moments drag, because the director was never able to yell “Cut!” or trim down scenes in post production.

  43. Jeff, what you just described is what theather actors do on a daily basis. :)

    I love long takes. I watched a pretty good romantic comedy Plus One that had a fun long take in it.

  44. Haha Sternshein said what I was trying to figure out how to say without sounding like an asshole (not that Stern did! Just that I would have). What I find impressive about one-takes is the behind-the-camera choreography that has to happen for everything to go at the right time in-frame and everything. I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a theater background and, while it’s definitely *hard* to memorize a whole play, it’s very doable.

    As a side note- once I was in a play and one of my aunts came to see it. Afterwards she commented to me that she was really impressed with how everyone made up their lines so smoothly and it became a very awkward conversation where I had to gently explain to a 50 year old woman how plays work.

  45. Call me a hypocrite, but I kinda liked VICTORIA. Would it have been a better film if they’d put some of the energy they put into the one-shot filming into a better screenplay? Absolutely, but I liked the story and I was impressed by the acting for all the shortcomings of the script and their ad libbing. What I really noticed though was that the limitations of the one-shot are not just temporal, but also geographic: you really can’t get far in 2 hours. Hitchcock probably had the right idea with ROPE.

    Did anyone see LOST IN LONDON, Woody Harrelson’s directorial debut? A one-shot movie live-streamed direct to movie theatres. That really did sound like theatre.

  46. Oh no, in the end I liked VICTORIA too. Not sure if I will ever be able to watch it again, because of the reaaaally draggy parts, but as soon as the story picks up steam, it gets seriously great and left me exhausted in the best possible way.

  47. I thought VICTORIA was almost unwatchable and actually got worse as soon as its story got going. The 2002 film RUSSIAN ARK did the single shot thing pretty well, it’s only 90 minutes long because they removed the boring parts before they started shooting.

  48. Good point Stern

  49. A very good friend of mine’s daughter played Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird when she was about 10, it was one of the few plays I have seen and I was really floored by it. I memorized the Quint Indianapolis speech just as a party trick, and I still have difficulty recalling it. I also can do all the Jive talk in Airplane. That level of memorization is just astounding to me.

  50. I was in the drama club in high school, and they always gave me the really exposition-heavy parts because I could remember a bunch of dialogue. So I played a lot of lawyers, fathers, and other authority figures despite looking 12 years old. In GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, my daughter was three years younger than me. Luckily, my voice has always been much bigger and older than I am, so I pulled it off as long as you kept your eyes shut.

    Like a hundred Hefty bags worth of weed later, I don’t know if I still have that kind of memory power. But the added grit has made the voice more penetrating than ever, so it’s a good trade-off.

  51. My friend, let me assure you that you would *in no way* be the only weed enthusiast on any given theater stage.

  52. Watching people do Shakespeare on stage is borderline insane to me. Took a lot of Shakespeare in college, but only saw it performed live a handful of times. That is next level memorization

  53. Krautsalat – I have not seen RUSSIAN ARK but there is a great podcast called Heavyweight that did an episode on tracking down a guy that looked directly at the camera. I highly recommend it.

  54. HALLSY, that sounds fascinating, I’ll check it out.

  55. I loved Thomas Newman’s score. The work he has done for Mendes going back to AMERICAN BEAUTY and ROAD TO PERDITION (still Sam’s best) is some of the best film music I’ve ever heard, and this is right up there with those and the Bond films. I remember the groans around the predictions that this would sweep the Oscars, but as glad as I am that those were unfounded it also helped me appreciate this more on it’s own than I might normally would have done.

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