When I took to Twitter for suggestions of the greatest Tracking Shots for Dirk’s Film School STUDENT NOTEBOOK, I was struck that when it comes to a good tracking shot – length really does matter.
Thanks to the bold, fluid movement of Welles’ opening shot of TOUCH OF EVIL, auteur directors have entertained the idea that a really long tracking shot, with complicated figure movement is the mark of artistic greatness. There is something magical in the use of a seamless tracking shot. Cindy made the point that Hitchcock was a master of the spectacular tracking shot. He liked the movement of the camera and there are some brilliant examples: the silent movement of the camera down the staircase in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) or the movement from silence to street-noise down a staircase in FRENZY (1972). Hitch also used the reverse tracking or dolly zoom – a zoom as the camera moves backwards, to create the effect of the world closing in on Scottie. The best use of this is probably Spielberg in Jaws.
A good tracking shot is only a good tracking shot if it contributes something to the film and not just a case of ‘showing off’.
THE PLAYER (Altman, US, 1992)
As recommended by The Narrator and our very own Prof Dom Dirk. Being a film about the film industry gave it licence to actually reference Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL in the criss-cross of conversations encountered by Griifin Mill, who is being sent death-threats by writers, as he wanders through a studio back lot. Altman deliberately tries to out-class by having the take last almost two minutes longer. Like Welles, he uses the take to introduce the characters and the themes of the film perfectly.
CHILDREN OF MEN (Altman, UK, US, 2006)
Mark Walker suggested the astonishing sequence from this often forgotten film. The lack of cuts creates a calm that becomes a moment of shocking intensity when the car is attacked by marauding people in this dystopian fantasy. Shudder.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (Anderson, US, 1997)
Mark Foster was unsure whether to go for this or TAXI DRIVER (1975), Anderson owes a certain debt to Scorsese in the pacing and execution of this scene. There’s an earlier scene that takes its inspiration from GOODFELLAS as it follows Burt Reynolds saying hi to people in a club, however the one with William H Macy is brilliantly executed: he walks through a crowd of party people, discovers his wife in bed with an other man, goes to his car for his gun, and the rest is brutal.
True Detective (Fukunaga, US, 2014)
This year’s must see box-set. The Matthew McConnaissance continues with this brilliantly intense tracking shot of his character Cohle grabbing a hostage and moving through a den of perps until he is able to secure his escape. The ruthless efficiency of Cohle is revealed and his high-risk chutzpah. Suggested by Part Time Monster.
GET A GRIP!
THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (De Palma, US, 1990)
This is a much admired tracking shot from the poorly received adaptation of Tom Wolf’s satire on the indulgence of the 1980s. It’s everything that TOUCH OF EVIL isn’t, there is something about it that feels forced, artificial and like a director who wants to demonstrate his proficiency rather than to contribute to the story. The rest of the film is rubbish, so it follows that this bit is too, doesn’t it?