The Thrill of the Long Shot

Over the weekend, The Film Dr. tagged me in a blog meme begun by Stephen Russell-Gebbett who blogs over at (the interestingly titled) Checking on My Sausages and MovieMan0283 who blogs at The Dancing Image. According to the guys, the person tagged is to submit a gallery of images that represents “the thrill of cinema,” however s/he interprets that phrase. The other rules are spelled out thusly:

  1. Pick as many pictures as you want, but make them screen-captures.
  2. Pick a theme, any theme.
  3. You MUST link to Stephen’s gallery and my post too.
  4. Tag [at least] five blogs. \\ For my tags, I’ll go with Amanda at Judgmental Observer, Matt at Faded Requiem, Timothy at Inessentials, Noel and Nick at Monsters of Television, Matt at Submitted for Your Perusal, and Annie at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style.

My contribution represents the thrill I get from watching dance numbers in classical film musicals. The actors/stars dance! They can really dance! And you know how we know this? Long shots (and long takes, for that matter). Consistent, numerous shots that frame the performer’s full body. We see his/her feet, legs, torso, arms, shoulders, neck, and head all working together to get that step just right, to entertain the viewer, to make it look so easy.

As I often explain to my film students, many numbers in contemporary film musicals like Moulin Rouge, Chicago, and Nine avoid long takes, opting instead for fast-cutting, snippets of “dancing” body parts, and rapid camera movements. But this is not dancing; this is cheating. Even a (feisty!) eighty-one-year-old Gene Kelly recognizes (and laments) this:

“MTV, with its quick-cut camera work geared to short attention spans is the modern-day spawn of old-time musical numbers. Film editors have become the choreographers today. Everything is bam!…a tight shot of a shoulder…a leg…half a pirouette…an ass. In my day, editors were simply called cutters. Now a whole musical can succeed or fail based on the editing.”

As Kelly points out, some people chalk up the look and style of current musicals numbers to the modern audiences’ attention span (i.e., they can’t take lengthy takes and boringly framed long shots; they’re used to movement, quick cuts, etc.). Of course, this is nonsense. The problem — well, a problem — is that very few of today’s Hollywood actors/stars know squat about singing and/or dancing; as a result, they cannot successfully execute a number onscreen, at least not in such a way that would merit a 3-minute take framed completely in long shot.

Oh well, at least we can reminisce for a moment about those who knew the craft. To the thrill of the long shot — and those with talent…