Sunday, September 25, 2022

Reel Adventures - RW Norton Art Gallery - Chinatown

On Friday night, I was part of launching the first-ever film club at RW Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport. The first film we showed at what will be a periodic film club was Chinatown. Here is the talk I gave that night:

I wanted to welcome everyone. My name is Jeffrey Goodman. I know many of you but for those of you who I don’t know - I’ve made a few movies, spent a considerable amount of time watching and thinking about film, and my hope for tonight is to share at least one thing about the cinema that stays with you.

I wanted to thank Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have been open to the idea of a film club from the first day it came up and who have been instrumental in making tonight happen.

I have a short 5-7 minute talk I'd like to share, then we'll do another round of trivia and then I’ll come back to try to answer any Chinatown or film-related questions you might have.

And just before I begin, I’m curious how many of you had never seen Chinatown before this event? Raise your hand if you could. (It was probably half the room!)

Last Tuesday, French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard passed away at the age of 91. Godard is considered a massive figure in the history of cinema and his contributions would take hours to discuss. But if I were to single out the one thing he should most be remembered for, it is his efforts to get people to accept and view the medium of cinema as an artform that at times could be just as artistic as ballet, painting, classical music, sculpture or any of the other high arts.

And so it seems fitting that we’re here tonight at Norton's for its first-ever film club.

If, as Godard says, certain films are more than mere entertainment then there should be some sort of gain in looking more deeply at them.

So, Chinatown.

It is a film I would claim is of high artistic value. All of its components – hair, make-up, wardrobe, set design, framing, lighting, locations, sound, score, casting and camerawork – are overseen by master crafts people working together to make us believe we are in another time and place.

In fact, that is one of the most challenging aspects of film. Making something that we believe. And hiding all the thousands of pieces that go into making a finished film. One effective way of hiding the apparatus in film is what I’d like to focus on for the next few minutes and it’s the long take.

As all of you know, film is made up of a bunch of pieces, or “cuts” that are edited together to tell a story. The average number of cuts in a film is about 1,050. If films average 1,050 cuts and the average film is 120 minutes long, then there is on average a cut every 8.75 seconds.

What the long take does is attempt to illustrate a moment visually in a longer timeframe than normal without resorting to a cut. Filmmakers use long takes for many reasons but often it is to preserve the illusion that what it is in front of us is actually taking place rather than fabricated by a countless number of crafts people.

There have been several very famous long takes in the history of cinema. There is the three minute long take as Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the Copacabana nightclub in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, the nearly 4 minute opening sequence in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope in which Hitchcock attempts to make us believe that we are watching an entire film without a single cut.

I won’t digress too far on this. But films used to only be made on film. And the magazines that went on the film cameras at most could hold a 1000 feet of film or about 11 minutes. Therefore, until digital cameras came about, it was technically impossible to film an entire movie in one long take.

There are very complicated, highly choreographed long takes where the camera is moving around a large amount of space without a cut and then there are other more modest long takes like this one I am about to show you from Chinatown. This long take in Chinatown lasts a minute or nearly 7x longer than your average shot.

(Showed one minute long take from Chinatown.)

And cut.

So my parting words are this:

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of watching films by lifting the curtain somewhat on how movies achieve their magic. I believe the opposite in fact - that if you learn more about how movies are made, know more about what you are watching, you will ultimately feel deeper enjoyment for the entire experience.

That is my hope from these Reel Adventures we have just begun.

I really appreciate everyone coming out, hope you’re having fun so far and I look forward to the opportunity to do more of these in the future.

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