10.26.2009

Four and a Half Minutes That Changed Film History

Orson Welles' Touch of Evil has an opening scene that changed the way films were shot. Welles used precise timing, mind-boggling coordination, and a crane, to film an amazing four and a half minute tracking shot to open his 1958 film.

The shot starts on a bomb being placed in the trunk of a car. The camera follows the car into the street. As the camera moves back we pickup Charlton Heston walking with his date. Though we’re concentrating on Heston, the bomb is still in our minds. The sheer length of the take heightens the tension for the payoff at the end. On its first release Universal placed the opening credits over the shot, which severely retracted from its power and suspense. In a re-release Welles original version of the scene was re-instated.

Literally changing an aspect of film making, the use of tracking shots have sometimes been used to try to one-up it, Psycho, for example. The opening shot of Robert Altman's The Player is a loving homage to the Welles shot. The opening of Joss Whedon's wonderful film Serenity begins with a five minute tracking shot that introduces us to the ship and the crew. Technically it's two tracking shots, spliced in the middle with some CGI, but I'll cut him some slack. (Whedon also did a great 6 minute tracking shot in an early episode of Angel, though I don't remember which one.)

My favorite tracking shot has to be in Children of Men*, but you can't beat Orson Welles for sheer genius and innovation. Mental Floss has a good list of others you can check out.


YouTube - Touch of Evil Part 01 of 11

You can watch the rest of the movie here.

*This clip is R rated and contains spoilers. If you haven't seen it, go rent it now! It's one of the best films this decade.

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