The Real Time Effect

Films need a way to transition from scene to scene.  This is most commonly done in post production film editing in the form of cuts.  This means that as soon as one shot ends, the next begins.  This form of transition is used so often because it is easy to implement and it keeps the film moving and it also keeps the viewers attention on what is supposed to be important.  In the film Elephant, a different form of transition is commonly used.  This is the long tracking shot.

The film is eighty minutes long, and a significant amount of this time is spent following characters around in these transition segments.  In The Temporal Complexity of Elephant, Murphy talks about how these shots give the film an almost real time aspect.  According to Murphy, long tracking shots emphasize the duration of the events.

I think that the use of long tracking shots in Elephant are largely effective.  There are several reasons that I say this.  First, it sets a steady pace for the film.  By limiting the amount of jumping around the camera does, we get a very casual flow of events that feel as though they are happening in real-time.  Second, the audience does not get the feeling like they are missing something.  Sometimes when a camera cuts to another scene you might feel as though time has passed.  Not so here.  The viewer gets to see the whole things, and on several occasions we get to see the same events a few times from different perspective.  This takes me to my third point.  Without the long tracking shot I might feel a little lost with whole jumping around the timeline thing.  Since we get to see people just walking around and seeing the same events a few times it helps keep the timeline in check.  It might be pretty confusing to have the scenes jumping around as much as the time frame.  The final reason I really like the long tracking shot is because of Murphy’s point.  It gives the film a real time effect that makes the events feel significant.

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One thought on “The Real Time Effect

  1. I think you are dead on by saying the director doesn’t want us to miss anything. This is why we see so many scenes get left off but later picked back up at the exact moment they left. I also think this is why the passage of time feels so slow throughout every scene.

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