“...no better way of telling this story than with one continuous shot.”
September 30, 2019 1:07 PM   Subscribe

1917 [YouTube][Official Trailer] [Behind the Scenes Featurette]“James Bond director Sam Mendes wants to put audiences right in the center of World War I with his new war movie 1917. To do that, he shot the movie in one long, perfectly choreographed shot. In a behind-the-scenes featurette released on Monday morning, Mendes and some of the cast and crew go into detail on the challenge of shooting a movie this way, and why it was worth it.1917 follows two soldiers in WWI on a mission to deliver a message that could save thousands of lives. However, to do so, they have to carry that message across some of the war’s most harrowing battlefields. And Mendes wanted to make sure that the audience got to see every single step of that journey. “From the very beginning I felt this movie should be told in real time,” Mendes says in the featurette. “Every step of the journey, breathing every breath with these men, felt integral.”” [Via: Polygon]
posted by Fizz (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is basically Dunkirk 2.0 and while all of this feels very gimmicky, I also don't really care because that tracking shot we see in the trailer, legit gave me goosebumps. I know we don't need another one of these films, but damn if that shot isn't spectacularly breathtaking.
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Weirdly, the trailer seems to include jump cuts and reverse angles. It's obviously not going to be one single take camera tracking shot (a la A Touch of Evil's opening scene) or low cut count (Hitchcock's Rope had 10), so it's something else, a whole narrative wired together from these two central characters?

Unfortunately, it looks to me like just about any FPS video game about WWI.
posted by chavenet at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2019

We were just watching Atomic Blonde the other day and there's an extended multi-floor, multi antagonist fight sequence in there that's intended to look like one very long shot and it's damn fine work, damn fine, and makes the scene really impactful especially at the end when everyone is just exhausted. I'm not sure if they cut it together or not (though there was definitely a stunt double in there) but it was almost seamless.

I guess it wasn't seamless enough to keep this jaded viewer from being pulled out of the action to think "damn this is some fine storytelling" but here we are in 2019.

Also Russian Ark is amazing too.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

More like Gallipoli 2.0 - especially the plot point of the runners.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

So I'm having a hard time figuring this out from the article but this doesn't seem to be a Russian Ark situation? Like, this is not one shot taken in real production time, but more like they would shoot for a while, turn the camera off, then pick back up in the exact place? Because it's clearly multi day filming.
posted by selfnoise at 1:30 PM on September 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

And from Googling it appears to be a virtual long take a la Birdman.
posted by selfnoise at 1:33 PM on September 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

I imagine the spin from various media outlets will be to emphasize the "single-shot" for maximum clicks. It's a gimmick to get people into seats and in the theatre, but it still looks gorgeous and I'm a sucker for these types of films. I hate that I fall for these films every god damn time, but here, take my money.
posted by Fizz at 1:35 PM on September 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

When two actors are doing a scene, their performances can be edited together from different takes, but when everything is filmed in one shot everyone only gets once chance at the scene.

Ehhhh this isn't strictly true, and I think the writer just doesn't really understand these terms. I think what Mendes is saying is that you can't trim sections of scenes that don't work in the editing room. But you could redo a scene in production.

Anyway that's enough pedantry from me.
posted by selfnoise at 1:37 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that Polygon article isn't really correct. This Indiewire piece is clearer - as it says, the film "is designed to look as if it was filmed in a single shot." In other words, it wasn't shot in a single take, in real time, like Russian Ark, but it's supposed to look as though it was, like Birdman.
posted by Awkward Philip at 1:37 PM on September 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

It sounds like a gimmick that I'll be distracted by, trying to find the cuts instead of getting sucked into the story. But maybe that's just me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:49 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

This sounds good and I am looking forward to it. I have nothing negative to add at this point.
posted by bondcliff at 1:51 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Single shot or long takes previously: "If cinema is sometimes dreamlike, then every edit is an awakening." -Roger Ebert (December 28, 2010), which notes that the reason there were cuts in Rope was a decision shaped by the limit of the physical recording media.

Amusingly, this was from when there were shorter video length limits for YouTube videos, so Rope and Russian Ark were posted in parts, displaying the semi-arbitrary limit of digital video formats.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:55 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

seems like the the plot calls for suspending some disbelief but I can do that
posted by thelonius at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Heck, I'm still having trouble getting past, "James Bond director Sam Mendes."
posted by rhizome at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Heck, I'm still having trouble getting past, "James Bond director Sam Mendes."

Skyfall works a lot better as a film if you just think of it as James Bond Home Alone.
posted by Fizz at 2:09 PM on September 30, 2019 [14 favorites]

So a movie cut into one long virtual shot. That's hardcore.
posted by linux at 2:18 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

MoonOrb: "I think I’ll just wait and see it before I decide whether I like it or not."

Where's the fun in that?
posted by chavenet at 2:20 PM on September 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

The Richard Thomas "All Quiet on the Western Front" TV movie from 1979 is actually well done and quite legit! Check your libraries.
posted by rhizome at 2:44 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I spent this past weekend sorting through pictures of my great grandfather in his WW1 uniform -- some have been damaged so much that I'm hoping to stitch them together digitally -- but to see, suddenly, these boys so alive...

He was 18 when he went overseas and fought / endured some of the worst battles of the western front. Back then, they called what happened to him 'shell shock' because PTSD didn't exist as a catch-all yet. After he returned, he had multiple nervous breakdowns over the course of his life. My grandmother told me he used to dissociate for hours, rocking quietly in his chair. My great grandmother told me he had terrible dreams, and sometimes he told her about what he lived through: trenches knee deep in corpses and pieces of corpses and blood and water and feces and urine. People's faces blown off as you were talking to them. The nightmares that we ask soldiers to forget.

My cousin looks so much like him that it gives me chills, the way time almost collapses in their faces, the way all that horror becomes immediate and terrible. After the war, my great grandfather became a butcher. Married my great grandmother. Had three daughters. Survival is a gift, they say. I live because he lived.

The past doesn't always feel so past.

There's a wonderful book by Paul Fussell called 'The Great War and Modern Memory,' which looks at the ways our language and culture was changed by WW1. And as I contemplate this subject, I can't help but think about Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway, or scenes from the book Im Westen nichts Neues / All Quiet on the Western Front. Literature has tried to look at pieces of what happened, to capture a part of the experience and its aftermath.

As we pass next year into the twentieth year of the twenty-first century, I think we still have lessons to learn from this old war, so I guess it is good a movie like this exists, but I don't know. I wish we had a better way to present valor than by telling war stories about those who had that exhilarating combination of determination and luck. I wish we still didn't romanticize annihilation. I wish a lot of things when I'm sitting alone with my family pictures.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:57 PM on September 30, 2019 [34 favorites]

Victoria the german heist film was all one shot, one take. Loved it.
posted by hoodrich at 2:58 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like long takes as much as the next fellow, but this whole single-take-for-the-whole-film subgenre is getting tedious. Like, yes, sure, you can do that. It is impressive in its own right. But it is also exhausting for the viewer.

Take the shot from the trailer, where the soldier with the lantern is walking through the old bunks. He stops and stares at a photograph of a wife and child stuck on one of the bunks.

The way you'd see this done typically is a shot/reverse-shot (close-up of the object)/reaction shot. But when we do it this way, I have to look at the entire screen, see something that takes up like 5% of the screen, figure out what it is, then look back at the soldier's face, in order to get that three-shot setup. I honestly missed what he was looking at the first time I watched the trailer, which made that particular shot way, way less impactful. When you do one long take, the only way to create emphasis on a person or object is to either hold on that object for a long time, or push in on it until it becomes a close up. That can be dramatic in its own right, but when it's the only way you can create emphasis, it gets old quick. It's like a writer that uses the same sentence structure over and over, or never replaces the word "said" with an alternative. Can you do that? Sure. Should you do that? Reply hazy, ask again later.

And now do that for 2-3 hours. Hoo buddy. At the end, while I'm sure I will have enjoyed the shit out of this film, I'm going to wonder how much I missed because there's a hell of a lot more work involved to shoot and watch a story this way.
posted by nushustu at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Great ww1 previously
posted by j_curiouser at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Back then, they called what happened to him 'shell shock' because PTSD didn't exist as a catch-all yet.

My great-uncle Albert had been married a few years when he survived mustard gas in the Argonne Forest, as part of the Hundred Days Offensive. He spent the remainder of his life at the VA hospital in Beacon, N.Y. When he was 64 his draft card for WWII was mailed to his wife, and she burned it.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2019 [14 favorites]

Part of why Skyfall looked so gorgeous was the cinematography by Roger Deakins, who just won an Acadamy Award for his work on Bladerunner 2049. Reuniting with Mendes here means 1917 will be one of (if not the) best-looking movies of 2019.

His resume is very impressive and includes consulting on Wall-E, helping Pixar get the lighting/look of the opening of that film more realistic / filmic.

Fargo. Kundun. No Country for Old Men. imdb favourite Shawshank Redemption. Thunderheart(!?) I will confess to not really knowing he was a common factor in these works until I saw Skyfall, which I maintain is absolutely the best-looking and yet worst (modern) Bond film. Dreadful. But I could watch it over and over and over on mute, certainly. So I started looking into it and realized right away it was almost certainly Deakins, not Mendes, who was responsible for its incredible look.

I honestly missed what he was looking at the first time I watched the trailer, which made that particular shot way, way less impactful.

Gonna disagree here, full screen on my laptop there was no question and the framing was perfect. But your argument holds regardless: there are compromises in a 'one-shot' movie and storytelling that way is high-risk. I guess it's a tradeoff-- some elements are going to be less effective because you're limiting your available tools/language, but the overall impact is (hopefuly) worth it. I thought that scene was 100% effective in terms of understanding what it was and appropriateness of the actor's pause looking at the photograph. But I'm very very curious to see whether or not others are.

Still, I'm happy to see something other than an over-over-2-shot, yeah?
posted by cape at 4:42 PM on September 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

IMDb has Teresa Mahoney in the cast as “Mother.” That suggests a flashback or a dissolve to someone reading a letter or somesuch. If someone’s mom is actually on the Western Front, this is going to be a zany movie.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:46 PM on September 30, 2019

> If someone’s mom is actually on the Western Front, this is going to be a zany movie.

"Over 22,000 professionally-trained female nurses were recruited by the American Red Cross to serve in the U.S. Army between 1917 and 1919 — and over 10,000 of these served near the Western Front."
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:00 PM on September 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

Plus, of course, civilians.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:01 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Selling this as "Roger Deakins does shoots one long (virtual) take in natural lighting" is going to get my butt in the theatre in a way that "The director of American Beauty does Dunkirk-lite" does not.
posted by thecjm at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

True enough. I had in my mind that it was the mother of one of the named characters, although that in itself is telling that she wouldn’t get a name; just a relationship to a male character.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've never liked a Mendes film and doubt this one will change my mind, but for those seeking true long-take war films, may I suggest two Hungarian films: Miklos Jancso's The Red and The White (sample here), and Son of Saul. They both feature extraordinary cinematography.

A true single take film worth watching is Victoria.
posted by dobbs at 5:52 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

After Paths of Glory, does the world really need any more WWI movies?
posted by hwestiii at 6:17 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Paths is great, but NSQ (both versions) is great, too. That's right: both great! I think it's the first movie where I wanted Fanfare to be able to handle multiple versions of a movie.

I'm just glad someone got to this before Spielberg. I'm willing to suspend my apathy toward Academy Award™ Winner Sam Mendes if he's working a topic I'm already interested in, and trench warfare absolutely deserves the Saving Private Ryan treatment.
posted by rhizome at 6:32 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


posted by thelonius at 6:45 PM on September 30, 2019

Not So Quiet on the Western Front. Sorry, I assumed you all could read my mind.
posted by rhizome at 6:47 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just watched Peter Jackson's WW1 documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old" this weekend. It was very moving. Voice over from actual veterans recorded 50 years ago, footage restored to a proper frame rate, great colorization, he even hired lip readers to dub the speaking seen on-screen.

But all this technique is incidental to the content. The stories these men tell are extraordinarily moving. One man went in to enlist, told the recruiter he was 16, the recruiter told him to come back when he was 18. He walked back in an hour later and told him he just turned 18, the recruiter just told him "sign here."
posted by Marky at 6:48 PM on September 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

The Great War (1964) is also good. Long, but good.
posted by rhizome at 7:03 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Shades of Sidney Lewis, "declared the youngest authenticated combatant of World War One. He enlisted in August 1915 at the age of 12 and ended up fighting at the Somme."
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:03 PM on September 30, 2019

There are a lot of WWI films. They started right away, and now the centenary has inspired more.

For me, the best are Paths of Glory, All Quiet (both), Wings, Grand Illusion, Lawrence of Arabia, and Gallipoli.
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old is astonishing, both technically and, as Marky notes, emotionally.

WWI played a key role in 20th century horror films, too. There's a good recent book on this (my short review).
posted by doctornemo at 7:49 PM on September 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

1917 seems to have a lot going on.

There's the realtime storytelling promised by 24.

The long take (however done) of Russian Ark - here intended to convey trench warfare's brutality and claustrophobia.

I am curious about the date. In the broader context of WWI the first meaning is usually the Russian Revolutions, from the fall of the tsar to the Bolshevik October. If we're talking the western front, the signal event was the much vaunted and horribly failed Nivelle Offensive. Does this film take place during it, or after, when French morale had collapsed into rebellion?

Calling off a stupid attack does echo Gallipoli, as j_curiouser observes. It's a good metaphor for a war marked by bad plans and unstoppable machinery in various senses.
posted by doctornemo at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also Russian Ark is amazing too.

As a technical achievement it was amazing. As a movie it was shite.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thres also a new ww2 movie coming where Ralph fienes Kung fu fights rasputin cant wait
posted by um at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I saw Birdman and liked it very much and never noticed the single shot long take until people were discussing it online. Same with Atomic Blonde until today. I never notice the long takes. Why should I care about long takes? I just want to watch a movie. If something about the making of a movie distracts me from the story I count that as a flaw, even if it is some technically brilliant feat. If a long take contributes to my feeling a certain way about the story then that's great, but I prefer that to remain subconscious.
posted by hypnogogue at 8:25 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

" (though there was definitely a stunt double in there)"

I have heard (which means it's probably wrong) that Charlese Theron's cardio was so good that she could do her own stunts and allowed the director to use longer takes before cuts. It is pretty to think so.

And there is a big difference between long takes and real time. Which is this?
posted by Billiken at 9:41 AM on October 1, 2019

I don't really like the bigger than life spectacle WW1 films or museums. And always this very narrow framing, with some nods to the bigger issues. From the trailer, it looks like that kind of picture with "heart"...

I did like Joe Sacco's The Great War, it's also a single uninterrupted strip, that starts at the military HQ and ends in the cemetery.
posted by haemanu at 12:15 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

WWI is just incredibly difficult to put on screen in a way that captures even a fraction of the horror that historical accounts of the war describe.

posted by kliuless at 4:36 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Victoria the german heist film was all one shot, one take. Loved it."

Yeah, and it was extremely difficult to accomplish. I didn't find it "exhausting". I didn't realize that it was a single take until 20 minutes in. I think the film worked quite well and it wasn't a gimmick.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:11 PM on October 2, 2019

I loooves me some long-takes. Russian Ark was fascinating purely on a technical level, but as for someone who is woefully ignorant of Russian history, the "narrative" was rather incomprehensible. Birdman has about a dozen long takes stitched together to create illusion of a long take, and it's really well done, and the long takes fit with the material, because live theater. Haven't seen Veronica but it's on my list. There was another long-take film, a low budget crime drama starring John Hawkes, but the name escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, this looks quite good, but this trailer is either inept at or actively trying to disguise the fact that the film's a stitched-together long-take ala Birdman. Sam Mendes is an uninteresting director, but I'll watch Deakins' work on anything.
posted by zardoz at 1:26 AM on October 3, 2019

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