- The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous by Lutz Koepnick
Lutz Koepnick. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 288 pp.
Although long takes seem to be a lost art in our contemporary digital world, some twenty-first-century filmmakers eschew fast-paced montage and visual effects. Lutz Koepnick’s The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous examines contemporary long-take cinema, arguing that it constructs the potential to experience wonder. Wonder is a term that is Socratic by origin and points toward a desire to discover something, not to be confused with shock or astonishment. The wondrous is therefore distinct from Tom Gunning’s formulation of early cinema as a “cinema of attraction.” Wonder is not immersive, like most classical narrative cinema, but contemplative. Furthermore, long takes recalibrate our sense of attentiveness. They create a rupture in temporality that forces us to acknowledge our desire for narrative cohesion, our desire to see beyond the frame, and situates us in a spectatorial position distinct from, and counter to, our twenty-first-century media-saturated lives.
Koepnick draws from his earlier book On Slowness: Toward an Aesthetic of the Contemporary, arguing for “slowness as a reflexive engagement with temporal passage, one that maps the heterogeneous co-presence of multiple temporalities, of old and new, fast and sluggish, private and public times within the fabrics of the present” (4). The focus of The Long Take is art cinema, though Koepnick attempts to revise what this means in a digital milieu. Long takes serve a transgressive function that is unique to the twenty-first century. They deconstruct and destabilize what have become standard forms of viewership in a 24–7 media culture. Chapter 1 outlines the historical lineage of long-take cinema. Andy Warhol’s 321-minute one-take Sleep (1963) serves as an appropriate genealogical predecessor to the contemporary long take, as opposed to the European art cinema of filmmakers such as Antonioni and Tarkovsky. Traditional cinematic spectatorship is not the intended form of viewing Sleep. Rather, Warhol would insist the spectator be mobile and perhaps even distracted, thus calling attention to one’s own practices of media viewership. Antonioni’s long takes are intended to be viewed without interruption, by a spectator seated patiently and observantly in the theater. In the digital age, viewership can be defined more by distraction and mobility than by attentive stasis.
The remaining chapters alternate between studies of feature-length films and studies of alternative forms of media. Chapter 2 examines Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Union City Drive-In, Union City (1993) and Philipp Lachenmann’s SHU (Blue Hour Lullaby) (2002/2008) as examples of single-take short films that thematize light, thus self-reflexively acknowledging the power of photography and cinematography. Chapter 4 focuses on three examples of motion pictures intended for gallery exhibition: Tacita Dean’s The Green Ray (2001), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s Le Baiser/The Kiss (1999), and Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s Single Wide (2002). In these spaces the spectator is active, mobile, and distracted. These filmmakers emphasize the contingency of screen-based media and, more generally, the contingencies of contemporary life in the twenty-first century. They complicate the rigid binaries of active/passive spectatorship because in these viewing environments it is utterly impossible to speculate on how any individual viewer may engage with the work. Chapter 6 analyzes two short films by Francis Alÿs: Rehearsal I (El Ensayo) (1999–2001) and Reel/Unreel (2011).
Chapter 3 looks at the films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang and Hungarian director Bella Tarr:
Their cinema of the threshold does not present the slow as a mere inversion of today’s speed but rather as a medium to develop fundamentally different notions of movement and [End Page 96] spatiotemporal mapping. Its aim is to transform both camera and viewer into pilgrims who appreciate the experience of path and passage as cinema’s greatest and continually unfulfilled promise.(83)
This transformation by the viewer seems to be pedagogical, not necessarily to produce knowledge but to demonstrate our lack of knowledge, to posit more questions than answers. In...