Five Great Extended Shots in Film

The extended shot is unique in film. Directors often rely on editing to determine the style of their film, whether it’s Ozu intercutting shots of his characters speaking directly into the camera as they have a conversation or the kinetic editing of Christopher Nolan’s fight scenes. But the extended shot does not rely on editing but pre-planning. Since there will be no edits for sometimes several minutes, everything must be planned perfectly from rehearsal and cinematography to acting and sound. Because they are so difficult, they are rarely tried; however, when they are done well, they serve as a reminder of the director’s filmmaking skill but as further proof to the legitimacy of film as an art form.

This list is in no way meant to be comprehensive. I am limited by my finite knowledge of cinema and what is available on youtube. What this list is are 5 extended shots I enjoyed, shots I believed were particularly virtuoso in terms of cinematography, music, acting, and mood. Any suggestions/omissions are welcomed in the comments.

1) GoodFellas directed by Martin Scorsese- the Copacabana Scene

The Babe Ruth of all extended shots. With the The Crystals “Then He Kissed Me” blaring in the background, Henry Hill takes his new girlfriend, Karen, to the Copacabana club. What follows is voyeuristic view of the gangster life and everything that makes it appealing to the pop culture masses– money, power, and women.

2) Touch of Evil directed by Orson Welles- the opening scene

If the GoodFellas shot is Babe Ruth, this is the Ted Williams of extended shots. What amazes about this scene is Welles’s mastery of light and shadows, and how he is able to tell a single story– the lighting and exploding of a bomb– in one take.

3) The Darjeeling Limited directed by Wes Anderson- the funeral scene (starts at 3:40)

Including this scene, I think, will annoy some people. But I’m a sucker for The Kinks, and there’s just too much here not to like- the slow motion, Adrien Brody looking back at his brothers anxiously, Jason Schwartman throwing flowers into the air as he passes Indian Sadhus. Great stuff.

4) Atonement directed by Joe Wright- the Dunkirk Scene

I’ve heard it argued that this scene is over-the-top, but I disagree. Somehow Joe Wright filmed a 5 1/2 minute scene with no cuts that manages to show all the waste and madness of war.

5) Old Boy directed by Park Chan-wook- the 25-1 action scene

I really wanted to include one of the masterful extended shots from Children of Men here. Alas, I could find no suitable video on the interwebs. So I went with this clip from the disturbing but fascinating Korean film Old Boy. Action scenes in general are very hard to film because of all the choreography involved, so to do it in an extended take is quite an achievement.

8 Comments on “Five Great Extended Shots in Film”

  1. The car scene in “Children of Men” is rather impressive.

    As is the ballet collection/announcement scene shot in “Carrie” (although I can’t find that on YouTube).

    • Interesting, I can’t watch that “Children of Men” scene as it says it is blocked in the US.

      • Derek says:

        The extended shot scenes from Children of Men are some of my favorite! Incredibly intense and absorbing – especially the pitched fight scene near the end of the movie. The movie’s director, Alfonso Cuaron loves this technique. He did something similar in his segment of Paris, je t’aime, another classic scene. Must watch!

  2. JP says:

    Have you ever seen The Passenger (1975)? The final scene is a ~10 minute shot (goodbye Oldboy, say hello to notable mentions).

  3. Anthony K says:

    There was a movie I saw a few years ago called the Russian Ark all shot in a single take. The whole thing was gorgeous. And even more impressively, they got it on the third try.

  4. Diana says:

    Have you seen Hitchcock’s Rope? It never really interested me, but watching all of these extended shots makes me curious about it now.

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