Slowness and Time Expansion in Long Takes: 2001: A Spacey Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut

Cinergie – Il cinema e le altre arti. N.12 (2017)
ISSN 2280-9481

Slowness and Time Expansion in Long Takes: 2001: A Spacey Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut

Elisa PezzottaUniversità di Bergamo (Italy)

Elisa Pezzotta, PhD in Film & Television Studies, Cultore della materia at the University of Bergamo. Her major interests are film analysis, adaptation studies, the concept of time, and Stanley Kubrick. She published articles in Adaptation, Alphaville Journal, Cinergie, Elephant & Castle, Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, Offscreen, Wide Screen, and in Ai Confini della comprensione (Ghislotti [ed.], 2012). She co-edited a special issue of Elephant & Castle. She is the author of Stanley Kubrick: Adapting the Sublime (2013)

Published: 2017-12-04


Pramaggiore claimed that Barry Lyndon is slow, similarly Ciment suggested that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut are slow films, too. Moving from the debate on slowness, especially from Jaffe’s discussion, from the data collected in Cinemetrics about Kubrick’s films, from their comparison with data of other films elaborated by Bordwell, and from a stylistic analysis of Kubrickian films, I will show that, in Kubrick’s oeuvre, only the three films mentioned by the French scholar can be considered slow. One of the features of slowness is the presence of numerous long takes characterised by a few dialogue or silence, by rare and slow movements of the camera that often do not follow the staged events, and that show in long shots the lengthy movements of characters and objects. During these takes, the associative narrative form substitutes the sequential one – as discussed by Grodal – and the expressed time – as defined by Yacavone – is emphasised. Beginning with Totaro’s discussion of long takes, I will analyse them in 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut, and compare their features with those of long takes in slow cinema. When either the camera or the characters and objects in frame moves, I will draw conclusions about expressed time through a discussion of movement, adopting the Conceptual Metaphor Theory. My hypothesis is that Kubrick managed to extend expressed time, much like the directors of slow films do, although in his films the sequential narrative form is never completely abandoned in favour of the associative one, and coexists along with it.

Keywords: Stanley Kubrick; slowness; 2001; Barry Lyndon; Eyes Wide Shut

1 Features of slowness in Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre

As suggested by Michel Ciment, in Kubrick’s oeuvre, only 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) are characterized by a “provocative slowness” (Ciment 2003). According to Ira Jaffe, a slow movie’s resistance to emotion imbues the film as a whole. Adjectives such as “blank, flat, affectless, deadpan and expressionless” are adopted to describe slow cinema and its characters. Emotional expressions are “ambiguous, indeterminate, difficult to read and frustrating”, and characters restrain their emotions and take little action, speak few words or remain silent. Similarly, no or few events unfold during the development of the narrative, information is often withheld from spectators, and the movies remain open to different interpretations and experiences. There are a lot of long takes during which the camera is still or moves slowly, and often does not follow the events unfolding. Characters are framed in long shots to prevent viewers’ easily identifying with them and guessing what they are feeling and thinking (Jaffe 2015); or there are landscape tableaux (Romney 2016). These features bring time into the foreground, determining our experience of it: the stillness of the present moment is stressed, we feel “a sense of immobility, of existence as fixed or frozen in place” (Jaffe 2015), “a sense of duration, of time and life passing” (Dargis and Scott 2011), and alienation. “A dream-like, hermetic reality” is created (Romney 2016).

The features that characterise the narrative structure and aesthetic of contemporary slow cinema and, consequently, the audience’s experience of it, derive, according to Matthew Flanagan, both from post-war Italian Neo-Realism, and from the early de-dramatised European art-cinema (Flanagan 2008, Flanagan 2012: 69). In particular, the latter movement developed “the themes of alienation, isolation and boredom”, and “‘a cinema of walking’, the lineage of which can mostly likely be traced from Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1953) to Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) by way of Varda’s La Pointe-Courte (1954) and Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959)” (Flanagan 2008). In previous work I showed that, even if the fullest flower of art-cinema developed in the late 1950s and 1960s, Kubrick’s last six films can be interpreted in light of this way of making movies. His protagonists are usually depicted as passive wanderers in dreamy diegetic worlds, where they happen to find themselves in front of sublime visual and aural spectacles staged to entrap and entertain them, as well as their extradiegetic audience (Pezzotta 2013: 154-9, 119-28). I will discuss that 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut can be placed in the tradition of the slow cinema inspired by the “cinema of walking” of the early de-dramatised European art-cinema.

The object of my discussion is expressed time, as defined by Daniel Yacavone, which is the result of the interaction of story time, plot time, and screen duration with the filmmaker’s style. According to Yacavone:

In a cinematic context this expressed time and its affects are undoubtedly occasioned by the direct perception of a film’s visual and auditory properties, as well as the people, places, and objects “given” by its representation, but is also felt and intuited. (2008: 97)

Citing Yacavone, Jaffe claims that both in the form and content of slow movies “we feel or experience film world’s resistance to emotion”, and “not just time looms larger as action is displaced or diminished; cinematic form comes to the fore in a new way”. The “formal artistry of slow movies belies their indications of human incapacity, of nothing happening, of time as empty or dead” (Jaffe 2015).

Before discussing expressed time in the long takes of 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut, it is important to verify Ciment’s insight by showing that, in Kubrick’s oeuvre, only these three films can be considered slow. Firstly, only The Killing (1956), Lolita (1962), 2001, A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut have a greater Average Shot Length (ASL) than movies of the same period.1 Among these films, 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut have a Median Shot Length (MSL) greater than the other Kubrick’s movies.2 Secondly, the narratives of both The Killing and The Shining are oriented towards the future and dominated by suspense. In Lolita there is no paucity of dialogue, and during long takes either the camera or characters move to different planes in depth of field (Falsetto 2001: 27). In A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket there are vivace pieces, and the characters’ movements and editing follow the lively rhythm of music (Pezzotta 2013: 85-98).

2 Experiencing expressed time in long takes

Analysing the long takes of 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut implies making a quantitative choice about how many seconds a shot should last to be considered a long take. Following Donato Totaro’s suggestion, I call a shot a “long take” if it is at least twenty-five seconds (Totaro 2001: 4-5). Totaro claims that a long take is interesting to discuss when it is characterized by “durational complexity”, namely the disparity between its screen duration and the viewers’ perception of it, i.e. if a shot can be experienced as shorter or longer than its clock-time. Totaro cites an example that could perfectly describe long takes in slow films: a “long take with an extremely low kinetic level (i.e. little action, dialogue, movement) that produces a mesmeric effect in which the shot feels shorter, or where time feels suspended” (2001: 11). Both Flanagan (2008) and Mark Le Fanu link their discussion of long takes in slow cinema to André Bazin’s ontological long take theory, and “the sense of passionate contemplation (contemplation here being only another word for reality: an unmediated openness to the world) that had been a governing aspect – a spiritual aspect almost – of the finest examples of early primitive cinema”, before the introduction of montage. Bazin was interested in the long takes re-introduced, after the emergence of continuity editing, by Italian Neo-Realism, and in the modern sequence shot, which is a combined use of long take and deep-focus photography first introduced by Jean Renoir, and then adopted by Orson Welles and William Wyler (Le Fanu 1997).

The suspension of time, which should arouse a “mesmeric effect”, a “passionate contemplation”, implies a question: when expressed time is expanded, some spectators are fascinated, whereas others are simply bored, and between these two extremes there are lots of possibilities. Those who feel bored often complain that nothing happens on-screen, and criticise the lack of action. This is the case of the polemics aroused against Kubrick’s 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut.3 According to Torben Grodal, the viewers’ time experience is linked to the form of the narrative processes, too. A sequential narrative form usually characterises canonical narratives.4 When the narrative process changes its form from sequential to associative, the spectators, instead of rearranging the events of the story following a causal logic, are free to find analogies among shots and scenes, among other films by the same filmmaker or by other directors, and among different media, so that the linear aspect of time may be substituted by timeless experiences (Grodal 1997: 148). If the spectators, while watching the film, do not understand the transition from one narrative form to the other, or are unwilling to move to the associative form, or for personal preferences would either choose the sequential form, they will probably keep checking their watches waiting for the film to end.5

In what follows, first I would like to analyse long takes in 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut, second discuss how Kubrick managed to expand expressed time during long takes, and finally highlight how he succeeded, through the extension of expressed time, to shape his diegetic worlds so that the sequential narrative form is never abandoned in favour of the associative one, but rather coexists along with it. For each long take I shall analyse its screen duration; whether a Steadicam is used, the movements of the camera, characters and objects in frame; the distance of the camera from its subjects; whether there are dialogue, music, noises, and their intensity and frequency; and the story, plot and character development.

3 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 2001 long takes are about 12% of the shots, and they can be considered slow for several reasons. Firstly, in 60% of long takes the camera is static, and in 17% of them neither the camera, nor the objects or characters in frame moves. Secondly, when either the camera or characters and objects move, they are slow. Often there are no characters in frame with which the spectators can identify, but only planets, deserted landscapes, and spaceships framed in very long shots or long shots that constitute landscape tableaux from the future. As regards the soundtrack, there is little more than forty minutes of dialogue in the whole film. Images are accompanied by silence, by the total absence of noise, sometimes broken by the astronauts’ breath that seems to underline their loneliness and vulnerability: their life is linked to a feeble rhythm that wanes in the silence of the universe. Or characters and objects in frame, much like montage does, follow the peaceful rhythm of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz, and the Adagio from Aram Khatchaturian’s Gayaneh ballet suite.

I have drawn some conclusions about expressed time through a discussion of movement. According to the Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT),

our abstract concepts are defined by systematic mappings of attributes and relations from bodily-based sensory-motor source domains onto abstract target domains. […] we employ the logic of our sensory motor experience (i.e. image schemas) to draw inferences about abstract concepts. (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2014: 80)

Following CMT, our abstract idea of time is structured through the mappings of attributes and relations from the source domain space onto the abstract target domain time (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 86).

In 2001 expressed time is expanded not only because the camera remains still, or moves slowly, following the lento rhythm of the extradiegetic music, but also because spectators often cannot guess whether it is the camera or the characters and objects in frame that are moving. Movement becomes relative, and consequently time. For example, in six long takes either the camera tracks upward or the planets move downward, or vice-versa. Similarly, before Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) reaches the space station, either the camera tracks backward or the space station moves toward the background. And before the Star Gate sequence, either the camera tracks to the left or Jupiter and its moons, Discovery, and the monolith float to the right. At the beginning of the Star Gate sequence, there is a close up of Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea): lights are reflected on his space helmet, and his head begins to shake quickly – or is a hand held camera that rattles? In these cases viewers wonder whether it is the camera, or the characters and objects in frame that move. In other cases spectators seem to be inquired directly about the functioning of special effects. For example, when a hostess, on board the moon-shuttle Aries, after having taken a tray, walks up the wall to exit upside-down, from the viewers’ point of view, the woman is moving and the camera is still. But the shot “was filmed using a rotating set with all lights and the camera secured to the rotating structure. The Stewardess remained upright as the set and the camera rotated around her” (Trumbull 2000: 122). Similarly, inside the centrifuge of Discovery, a wheel which rotates to “nullify the weightless effect by means of artificial gravity” (Lightman 2000: 98), when the spectators think that the astronauts move and the camera is still, actually the set and the camera move: “the camera was mounted stationary to the set, so that when the set rotated in a 360 degree arc, the camera went right along with it”. Vice-versa, when the viewers believe that the astronauts are still and the camera moves, it is the set that rotates: “The camera, mounted on a miniature dolly, stayed with the actor at the bottom while the whole set moved past him” (Lightman 2000: 103).

During long takes, when the camera is not still and does not track, it pans either right or left. In four long takes it pans in both directions with a Ping-Pong effect. On board Aries, the camera pans left and right before tracking forward to follow two hostesses and a steward; then it pans right and left to keep in frame the hostess who picks up a tray before walking upside-down; inside the centrifuge of Discovery, it pans left and right while Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) is jogging. More interestingly, in the meeting room on Clavius Base, when Dr. Floyd and other scientists are gathered to discuss, and a photographer takes pictures of them, the camera pans continuously to keep in frame the characters that move. These panning shots are so numerous and quick that foresee the scene shot with a hand held camera during which Dr. Floyd and other astronauts, ready to be photographed in front of the monolith on Crater Tycho, are shocked and deafened by the loud noise emitted by the alien artefact. In both cases the camera movements seem to translate the characters’ worry and astonishment.

In long takes, when the camera is not still, it pans with a Ping-Pong effect, or its movements are relative to those of the characters and objects in frame: in the former case expressed time seems to go forward and backward, in the latter it becomes relative. The idea of a time that follows a linear trajectory that from the past leads to the present and future is challenged during the Star Gate sequence where shots are not edited in a chronological, cause and effect chain, but suggest the infinite variety of spaces and times. According to Mario Falsetto, during this sequence time is compressed in comparison with the scenes of space manoeuvres (2001: 30), although in the Star Gate sequence there are five long takes, and the ASL is greater than that of the whole film.6 These shots are not perceived as long shots because the lights change directions and colours, several astronomical cataclysms rapidly succeed one another transforming what is in frame, and the camera moves quickly forward in what appears to be aerial footage of deserted, strangely lit landscapes.7 In this sequence the linearity of time is subverted, much like in the last sequence of the film, when Bowman finds himself in an ornate room where he rapidly ages and is finally reborn as a Star Child. David does not only age, his younger and older self are co-present in two shots, meaning that the present and the future, or the past and the present, are co-present instead of chronologically succeeding one another, and that the past or the present do not necessarily influence the present and the future respectively (Pezzotta 2011).

In the whole film the idea of an expressed time that is different from clock-time is conveyed through the movements of the camera that the spectators confuse with those of the objects and characters on screen, and vice-versa. Expressed time is expanded because movement loses its directionality, and it can no longer be described with certainty. At the end of the film, expressed time itself comes to the fore, as if to emphasise what had already been stated with movement. Past, present, and future no longer exist, there is an expanded, everlasting time that envelops the universe and the Star Child.

According to the Conceptual Metaphor Theory, two major metaphors conceptualise time. In the time-moving metaphor (1), the spectator is stationary, whereas time moves, and events flow from the future to the past (Fig. 1) (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 87). In this case the character is stationary and the camera either tracks along a direction or pans, and its movement coincides with a flashback or a flashforward (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 90-2).

Figure 1. Time-moving metaphor (1), copied from Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 89.
Figure 1. Time-moving metaphor (1), copied from Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 89.

The other major metaphor is the ego-moving or time’s landscape metaphor (2): while the observer moves, time is stationary, the spectators “move over various locations in a landscape, where each location in the observer’s path represents a time” (Fig. 2) (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 88). In the metaphor time is a location (2a), the camera is stationary and the character moves. In the metaphor motion of the observer (2b), the camera tracks with the character through different temporal locations (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 93-5).

Figure 2. Ego-moving or time’s landscape metaphor (2), copied from Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 89
Figure 2. Ego-moving or time’s landscape metaphor (2), copied from Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 89

In 2001 the movement from man-apes to men to Star Children is conveyed through a travel in the very concept of time. During long takes, when both the camera and the objects and characters in frame do not move, or when they move slowly, as classical dancers, expressed time comes to the foreground. When spectators cannot know whether the camera or the objects and characters in frame move, or when the camera pans with a Ping-Pong effect, movement and, consequently, time seem to be directed nowhere, to be extended in the present moment. During the Star Gate sequence Bowman is stationary, whereas the camera often moves; it’s a time-moving metaphor (1) that leads the protagonist in the past or in the future, in an unspecified time. When David finds himself in the room, both he and the camera moves, but there is more than one observer, more than one Bowman, and the expressed time is once more extended to encompass past, present, and future. The film brings to extreme consequences our time metaphors. “The formal skills of Kubrick’s films reflect an underlying conceptual and metaphorical design which is inherently embodied” (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2012: 83). Kubrick through embodied structures of meaning-making, such as long takes during which the camera, characters and objects in frame move or remain still, conveys to the spectators the abstract concept of an expanded time in which the categories of past, present, and future merge.

4 Barry Lyndon

In Barry Lyndon long takes are about 12% of the shots, the same percentage as in 2001. In 69% of long takes the camera is static or either zooms in or out, and in 40% of them the characters in frame do not move, too. This data aside, there are other features that freeze expressed time. For example, when the camera or the characters move, they usually do it slowly. There are a number of very long and long shots that prevent spectators from easy identification with the characters, and create perfectly composed landscape tableaux or tableaux vivants. Often the dialogue has a leisurely rhythm. The voice-over, an anonymous third-person narrator, is played by Michael Hordern, who speaks slowly, placidly, not only to comment on the images that are shown and the characters’ present, but also to disclose their past and foreshadow the future (Napolitano 2015: 333-5). The narrator, linking Barry Lyndon’s (Ryan O’Neal) past, present, and future, emphasises his destiny, closing the protagonist in his life span. Similarly, among the three narrative title cards, the first one predicts the protagonist’s rise, the second one foretells his fall, and the last one ascertains that all the characters are equal in death. Barry is frozen in his destiny, there seems to be no escape for him, as the plot underlines. Pramaggiore claims that he is hunted both by the past, the killing of his father, and the future, the death of his beloved son: he is imprisoned in the repetitions of losses and failures (2015: 95-102).

The movements of the camera and characters emphasise this entrapment too. For example, when Barry leaves Lischen (Diana Körner), before meeting Captain Potzdorf (Hardy Krüger), there is a long take during which the camera pans left to follow Barry riding a horse, then pans right to follow a group of boys who walk away because, as the voice-over explains, they have been enrolled in the Prussian army. Barry is a deserter and goes in the opposite direction of the young soldiers, but the camera, after having accompanied him, follows the boys, as if to foreshadow that he will be soon enrolled in the Prussian army too. When Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), discussing with Reverent Samuel Runt (Murray Melvin) and Graham (Philip Stone), and nervously walking back and forth, decides to demand satisfaction of his stepfather to save his mother’s dignity and his family’s fortune, the camera pans continuously right and left to keep him in frame. Once more panning seems to visually translate and underline the already known boundaries of Barry’s life, expanding the expressed time included within them. The last time that the spectators see the protagonist is in a long shot during which he is shown entering in a carriage with an amputated leg. It is not a long take, but at the end of the shot there is a freeze frame that expands this moment as if to emphasise the end of the protagonist’s life, or at least the end of all his success and hope, as the narrator suggests: “He appears to have resumed his former profession of a gambler without his former success”. According to Pramaggiore: “He becomes a virtual photograph, signifying the immobility of death” (2015: 149).

Another technique that entraps characters, and in particular the protagonist, in their destiny, bringing expressed time to the foreground, is the use of zoom. According to Vittorio Gallese and Michele Guerra, the activation of the viewers’ motor cortex is weaker when the zoom is applied and stronger when a Steadicam is adopted (2014: 110).8 “The zoom is usually considered as a fake movement or, at least, an abstract one, while the camera movement is the only way to elicit the audience’s sense of presence” (2014: 112). As discussed above, if the viewers feel less involved in the pro-filmic events when the zooming technique is used: if they do not pass from the sequential to the associational narrative form, they get bored; if they pass from one form to the other, they can fully appreciate expressed time. Falsetto claims that the slow zoom “stresses various elements of artifice and reinforces the film’s sense of fatalism” (2001: 58), it emphasises the two-dimensionality of the image, flattening it “both physically and metaphorically” (2001: 59), so that the “characters are trapped within the two-dimensional space of the image” (2001: 62), and “the oppressiveness of time” comes to the fore (2001: 65). The zoom underlines the characters’ and, in particular, the protagonist’s incapacity of dominating time, his being entrapped in his life span.

On the other hand, the deep focus strategy emphasises the illusion of the three-dimensionality of the image. It is interesting to note that Tatjana Ljujìc, after research carried out at the Stanley Kubrick Archive, discovered that Kubrick, for the candlelit shots, did not turn for inspiration to Adolph Menzel’s paintings, as the majority of critics claim (Ljujìc 2015: 243), but to the Dutch seventeenth century painters of light, e.g. Johannes Vermeer, Adriaen Brouwer, and Gerard ter Borch. “The aim to create the appearance of natural light (both candlelight and daylight) went hand in hand with the aim to recreate light effects from Dutch seventeenth century painting” (Ljujìc 2015: 258). The light effects in these paintings emphasise the illusion of the three-dimensionality of the image, much like the chiaroscuro in Barry Lyndon created by the use of candlelight and daylight. In the film both deep focus and chiaroscuro give the illusion of the three-dimensionality, and of a feeling of penetrating, dominating space and, consequently, following the CMT, time. There is an illusion of mastering the present time of the image, in contrast with the inability of controlling the protagonist’s destiny. Deep focus and light effects versus zoom, expansion versus compression, resulting once more in a foregrounding of expressed time.

During long takes usually either the camera is static or zooms in and out. When the characters move, we can interpret the shots through the ego-moving metaphor (2), in particular through the metaphor time is a location (2a). Rarely in long takes are there tracking shots during which the camera tracks to precede or follow characters, but this movement of the camera is always used when characters have to take a decision or do something, and are certain about what they want or have to do. Tracking is adopted to translate characters’ determination: like when the camera tracks backward to precede Barry and Captain Grogan (Godfrey Quigley) while they are speaking about the former resolution to challenge Captain John Quin (Leonard Rossiter) to a duel; or when the camera tracks backwards to precede Lord Bullingdon when he demands satisfaction from Barry. There are two long takes that adopt a hand held camera: when Captain Potzdorf, inside a fort, shoots with his comrades against the enemy fire; and when Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) tries to commit suicide, and writhes and screams with pain. Either when the camera tracks or when a hand held camera is adopted, both the camera and characters move: it is once more an ego-moving metaphor (2), but in this case it is the motion of the observer (2b).

In Barry Lyndon, in the majority of long takes, movements, and consequently time, can be interpreted through the metaphor time is a location (2a): the present of the image, the expressed time is expanded until it encompasses the whole life of Barry, entrapping him in the stasis of his destiny. Only in a few long takes is the motion of the observer (2b), and the characters’ resolution or, at least, their illusion of dominating their destiny. This contrast between time is a location (2a) and motion of the observer (2b), evokes that between the zooming technique, and deep focus and chiaroscuro. The illusion of mastering space and time comes to the fore in a few occasions, only to be overcome by the incapacity of escaping from destiny.

5 Eyes Wide Shut

Judging from Eyes Wide Shut’s ASL, MSL,9 and number of long takes (about 16% of the shots), this film is the slowest among those discussed in this article. In 59% of long takes the camera is static or it briefly moves either at the beginning or at the end of the shot. And in 25% of them both the camera and characters do not move.

The expressed time is further extended by slow, repetitive dialogue. The protagonist Bill (Tom Cruise), instead of communicating with the other characters, often repeats their sentences and words: the signified remains uncertain, overwhelmed by the signifier (Pezzotta 2013: 111-4). Also, the other characters almost stammer, they look for words without finding them and, when they feel uncomfortable, they grow stern and are left painfully in frame. Spectators keep waiting for meaningful sentences, but words lose their signifieds. It is a waiting time that will never be satisfied. During dialogue the camera is usually static, and this feature further emphasises the slowness of these long takes. This happens, for example, when Marion (Marie Richardson) confesses her love to Bill, and when the protagonist asks the prostitute Domino (Vinessa Shaw) what are her prices and services. Or when Bill goes back to Domino’s, but finds her roommate Sally (Fay Masterson) who explains to him that her girlfriend is HIV positive. Whereas in the first two scenes mentioned above there are respectively four and three long takes, this last scene is a plan sequence, and the longest of all the three films analysed in this article, lasting three minutes and two seconds.

When, in long takes, the camera is not static, it tracks or a Steadicam swirls around the characters. Usually the camera tracks to precede or follow characters, especially the protagonist, both in exteriors and interiors, emphasising his aimless wandering. For example, the camera tracks with Bill who, walking along the street, is lured by Domino. In the last scene shot in a toyshop, the camera tracks backward to precede Alice (Nicole Kidman) and Bill who are absent-mindedly following their daughter. Moreover, there are numerous long takes during which the camera tracks to follow or precede Bill inside his apartment, when he returns from his adventures. On these occasions he seems to be lost too, to wander randomly from a room to another. These tracking, in long takes, prolonging the protagonist’s wandering and stressing the chance of his encounters, expand expressed time. Unlike in Barry Lyndon, where tracking in long takes are only occasionally adopted to follow characters that are resolutely moving towards their goals, in Eyes Wide Shut tracking is often used in long takes to follow the protagonist’s wandering. Indeed, during these camera movements, Bill happens to find somebody or something for chance. It is, in both cases, the metaphor motion of the observer (2b) that prevails during tracking, and in both films the present moment is extended. In Barry Lyndon the present is always haunted by past and future, by destiny, whereas in Eyes Wide Shut the present is suspended in a timeless atmosphere.

In Eyes Wide Shut, when in long shots the Steadicam swirls around characters, the metaphor motion of the observer (2b) can be adopted once more to better analyse time. During the Christmas party, when Alice dances either with Bill or Sandor (Sky du Mont), the Steadicam rotates around them who turn around themselves while dancing. Similarly, in the orgy scene, during which eleven women are arranged in a circle, the camera turns around them in a counter-clockwise direction. When Bill finds himself in this same room, surrounded by other masked men ready to judge him, the camera swirls again around them in a counter-clockwise direction. This direction seems to emphasise an extension of time. These techniques, i.e. the Steadicam, the circular movements of the camera and characters, and long takes, not only contribute to expand time, freezing it in an atemporal atmosphere, but also to confuse, to let characters and viewers lose themselves in space and time. The movements of the Steadicam, which more than any other camera movements are able to strongly activate the motor cortex (Gallese and Guerra 2014: 110, Gallese and Guerra 2015: 157-69), emphasise in the spectators the feeling of losing balance, and their space-temporal coordinates. In 2001 the spectators cannot know whether it is the camera that moves or the characters and objects in frame; in Eyes Wide Shut the viewers understand that both the Steadicam and characters move, but lose their orientation, and often cannot know where the characters are in relation to the mise-en-scène. In both films the present time of the image is expanded, but in 2001 past, present, and future are melded, whereas in Eyes Wide Shut the present is suspended in a timeless atmosphere, haunted by fantasy and dream.

Indeed, Bill’s present is menaced by the blue image of Alice making love with the naval officer. Usually a track in on the protagonist’s face precedes these shots. It is a time-moving metaphor (1), but it is not a flashback or a flashforward, it is a nightmare dreamt with eyes wide open. The time that moves towards Bill is neither the past nor the future, but that of his imagination, of a menace that can slowly erode his present.

6 Conclusion

2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut share some of the features of slow cinema, such as lots of long takes during which the camera is static or zooms or moves slowly, much like the characters and objects in frame. The former utter a few words or remain silent, and are often framed in long shots, or there are shots constituted by landscape tableaux. These characteristics bring expressed time to the foreground: the present moment is expanded and frozen, creating a sense of life passing, of alienation, a dreamy, hermetic reality; and style and form are emphasised, “the formal artistry of slow movies belies their indications of human incapacity, of nothing happening, of time as empty or dread” (Jaffe 2015).

In the Kubrick films analysed here, slowness in long takes is not only the result of a static camera, but also of peculiar movements. In 2001, the movement in space and time from man-apes to men to Star Children is not only conveyed by the story, but also through a voyage in the very concept of time. During the sequences shot in space spectators cannot know whether it is the camera or the characters and objects in frame that move, or panning left and right creates a Ping-Pong effect. In the former case time becomes relative, in the latter it goes back and forth. During the Star Gate sequence, through montage and images, the linearity of time is completely subverted, much like in the last sequence of the film. Expressed time is expanded, it is an everlasting time that encompasses and melds past, present, and future, enveloping the universe and the Star Child. In Barry Lyndon the panning, and the characters’ movements back and forth visually translate the boundaries of Barry’s life. In the majority of long takes the zooming technique emphasises the two-dimensionality of the image, and the protagonist’s incapacity of dominating time. Barry’s destiny, his past and future, are also highlighted by the voice-over and title-cards. On the other hand, the deep focus and chiaroscuro given by the adaptation of the seventeenth century Dutch painters of light, together with the few long takes during which the camera tracks or a hand held camera is used to translate characters’ determination, give the illusion of the three-dimensionality. Expressed time is extended, the protagonist is entrapped in his life, in his past and future, even if rarely he is granted the illusion of escaping from his destiny. In Eyes Wide Shut, when in long takes the camera tracks with, precedes or follows Bill, it stresses his wandering and the chance of his encounters. Whereas when the Steadicam swirls around characters who turn around themselves or are disposed circularly, the viewers lose their balance, their spatiotemporal coordinates. Expressed time is expanded, the present suspended in a timeless atmosphere, always haunted by the imagination, by the nightmare of Alice’s betrayal.

Le Fanu, moving from Bazin’s long take theory, distinguishes mobile shots from static ones, and cites Kubrick among the filmmakers who usually adopt a moving camera during long takes (e.g. Otto Preminger, Douglas Sirk, Samuel Fuller, Vincente Minnelli, Elia Kazan, Bernardo Bertolucci) (Le Fanu 1997). I have instead shown that in 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut Kubrick manages to extend expressed time in long takes both when the camera is stationary, and when it moves. Le Fanu praises those directors for whom the camera is “a kind of self-effacing servant, biding its time, waiting for the miraculous thing to happen” (1997). It was Bazin himself who, although praising the long takes in La terra trema (Luchino Visconti, 1949), was concerned about the “austere ‘entertainment’” of the film, and claimed that the aesthetic of cinema “must be applicable to dramatic ends if it is to be of service in the evolution of cinema”, and that “the cinema aesthetic will be social, or the cinema will have to do without an aesthetic” (Flanagan 2012: 88-9). I discussed that Kubrick can be put in the tradition of art-cinema, and considered a Hollywood Renaissance filmmaker who created a self-consciously auteurist art-cinema. The protagonists of his last six films are passive wanderers (Pezzotta 2013: 159), and 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut can be considered slow films. Thus, in particular, these three films can be interpreted in light of the tradition of the slow cinema of walking of the early de-dramatised European art-cinema. But, unlike in, for example, Rossellini’s trilogy of loneliness – Stromboli (Stromboli terra di Dio, 1950), Europe 51 (Europa ’51, 1952), and Voyage to Italy (Viaggio in Italia, 1954) – and Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy of alienation – L’avventura (1960), The Night (La notte, 1961), and L’eclisse (1962) – Kubrick stages a sublime cinematic spectacle which enraptures his characters and us. The essence of Kubrick’s long takes is not only in the potentialities of the moving camera, but in his virtuosity (Le Fanu 1997, Bordwell 2006: 134), and his camera does not wait for an epiphany, it makes it possible. More generally, unlike art-cinema, Kubrick’s oeuvre is less centred on the ontology of the medium. At a deeper level there is a critique of classical Hollywood cinema, at a more superficial level there is a sublime spectacle during which the experience of time comes to the fore. As much as Bazin was doubtful about the gravity of La terra trema, Peter Wollen criticised the fact that Jean-Luc Godard placed the reality principle before the pleasure principle, overlooking the power of the latter in arousing revolutionary political ideas. Kubrick, through the pleasure principle, through a sublime spectacle shot in long takes, arrives at the reality principle without being revolutionary (Pezzotta 2013: 160-4): laying bare the duration of our life experience as passive wanderers in a world that entraps as well as entertains us. His films “provide a concrete perceptual level of style while at the same time offering an abstract level of meaning. They strongly mirror the distinction between form and content, which is intrinsic to Conceptual Metaphor Theory” (Coëgnarts and Kravanja 2014: 83). Kubrick through his long takes, either when the camera is static or when it moves, manages to translate the content of the stories. He brings to the fore expressed time, expanding it, but the sequential narrative form is never abandoned in favour of the associative one, because the form hides the content.


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  1. According to the data collected in Cinemetrics (last accessed 19-01-16) the ASL of The Killing is 12.7 seconds (measured by Iasonas-Giasin Naas on 20/10/2014), and that of Lolita is 16.7 (by Marieke Van Schoonhoven on 08/03/2009). While the ASL of the films released in the period 1930-1960 is between 8 and 11 (Bordwell 2006: 121). The ASL of 2001 is 13.6 (by Erik on 07/12/2010), and the ASL of the films of the mid-1960s is between 6 and 8 (Bordwell 2006: 121). The ASL of A Clockwork Orange is 11.3 (by Joran Heimering on 25/12/2009), and that of Barry Lyndon is 13.4 (by Wytze Koppelman on 08/03/2009). Whereas the ASL of the movies during the 1970s is between 5 and 8 (Bordwell 2006: 122). The ASL of The Shining is 13.1 (by Iris Mullor on 28/12/2011), and that of Full Metal Jacket is 10.9 (by Felicity Whiston on 17/09/2012). Whereas the ASL of the movies during the 1980s is between 3 and 7 (Bordwell 2006: 122). The ASL of Eyes Wide Shut is 16 (by Mohsen Nasrin on 15/08/2009), and the ASL of the films of the end of the Twentieth Century is between 3 and 6 (Bordwell 2006: 122).

  2. The MSL of 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut is greater than 9 seconds, while the other movies have a MSL less than or equal to 8 seconds (last accessed 19-01-16). The ASL is the length of the film in seconds divided by the number of shots. The MSL can be found by arranging all the lengths of the shots from the lowest to the highest value or vice-versa, and picking the middle one. According to some scholars, the MSL is a more efficacious measurement than the ASL because the former is not affected by the presence of outliers. “Outliers occur in shot length distribution as shots that are exceptionally long relative to the rest of the shots in a film” (Tsivian).

  3. For example, as regards the debate about Barry Lyndon’s slowness see Pramaggiore 2015: 19-21, 43-4.

  4. Grodal’s definition of canonical narrative: “a narrative which cues the experience of sequences of acts, emotions, and perceptions of living beings”, in which “The events are represented by a straight-forward temporal progression, and the living beings are able to perform voluntary mental or physical acts” (Grodal 1997: 283).

  5. I discussed these processes also in Pezzotta 2016: 28-34.

  6. The Star Gate sequence has an ASL of 14 seconds, whereas the ASL of the film is 13.6 seconds.

  7. For the play of lights, Douglas Trumbull designed the slit-scan machine to “produce two seemingly infinite planes of exposure while holding depth-of-field”. As regards cataclysms, “These effects involved the interactions of certain chemicals”. And “The final series of shots were done by shooting some fairly unusual aerial scenes, and then juggling the colour filters” (Trumbull 2000: 119).

  8. For a discussion of the use of the zooming technique in Barry Lyndon, see also Gallese and Guerra 2015: 149-50.

  9. The ASL is 16 seconds, and the MSL 9.9 seconds (last accessed 19-01-16).


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