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Spielberg, Tarkovsky, and the Power of an Invisible Long Take

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The long-take, or the “oner,” is one of the most celebrated filmmaking techniques out there. While some filmmakers use the oner purely as a visual, stylistic choice, others practice it with the defense that it is essential to their film’s narrative. And, let’s be honest, some just use it to flex their directing chops (but can we really blame them for that?). Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that, done right, the oner is both impressive as hell.

On their YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting, video essayists Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou highlight the cultural and stylistic importance of the oner. Instead of using an example of an iconic oner, though, like that iconic complicated restaurant scene in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (I still don’t understand how they got the camera down the stairs so smoothly), or the film portfolio of a director like Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Birdman is essentially staged to look like a feature-length oner, Ramos and Zhou pick an unconventional subject for their video: Steven Spielberg.

Ramos and Zhou break down the technique of the oner in simple terms. They explain that “basically, all it means is doing an entire scene in a single, unbroken shot.” The camera moves, the characters move. There is only one real rule: there are no cuts. They then provide some relevant historical context for the oner and explain that in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, the oner was most often used as a narrative technique that moved the story along.

It wasn’t until later, notably in Orson Welles’ 1958 film Touch of Evil,........

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