Scenes We Love: Explore Alfonso Cuaron’s Addiction to Single Takes in ‘Children of Men’

Children of Men

Traditionally — such a tradition has been built over the 6 week lifespan of this column — Scenes We Love takes a moment each week to focus on a single scene from a film that jumps right out at us, grabs our attention and simply won’t let go. This week brings us something a little different, courtesy of an email I received by a gentleman named Larry Wright from a site called Refocused Media. He’s created a 31 minute cut of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men using only the scenes that are 45-seconds or longer. Why would someone partake in such a maddening project? Well, I guess you’ll have to read on and find out.

Here’s Larry’s explanation for this undertaking: “It was recently revealed that Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming film, Gravity, will not only have a 17+ minute opening long take, but also an ASL (average shot length) of 45 seconds. Having been a fan of his previous films, I revisited my favorite one to see just what that type of shot looked and felt like.

I had seen the film a few times before, and couldn’t recall more than handful of shots that I thought would work. I was shocked to find there were 16 of them — heck, there are 6 longer than 90 seconds! They are used in a variety of situations, and to great effect. It was easy to see how I could forget there were so many, as each one simply pulled you further into the story. It made me so excited for ‘Gravity’ that I felt I just had to share with anyone else who would be interested.”

He then goes on to reveal some statistics about Children of Men that I find fascinating. Like that fact that it has 62 shots longer than 22 seconds. Editing and cinematography nerds — yes, I know you’re reading, as I mentioned the words ‘Alfonso’ and ‘Cuaron’ — will note that in recent years, the average shot length in most Hollywood films is 4-6 seconds, down drastically from 8-11 seconds in movies made before 1960. This is according to David Bordwell in his book, “The Way Hollywood Tells It.” 22 seconds on its own is a mind-bending accomplishment.

As Bordwell and others have posited over the years, the decreasing average shot length (ASL) has forced contemplative filmmaking to give way to the music video-styled, hard-cutting A.D.D. generation we see today. In this regard, Wright’s video essay shows Cuaron to be a classical genius. “My point in doing this,” he explains. “Is to demonstrate the effect of a long take in a variety of narrative uses, and to give an idea of what a 45+ second shot looks and feels like when directed by Alfonso Cuaron.”

Wedged alongside these other 45-second plus shots is perhaps one of modern cinema’s great accomplishments: the scene in which Clive Owen escorts the young pregnant girl from a building under siege.  It was a shot that required fourteen days of intense preparation and five hours for every time they wanted to reshoot it. Some may argue that the car attack scene is Cuaron’s best, but I can’t help but go with the pure realism felt when the blood splatters cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera. It’s a moment that I’ll never forget seeing on the big screen. And it’s included in Larry Wright’s compilation, seen below.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet.

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