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1917 Single Shot Decision (14 replies and 7 comments)

leonbrehony
1 month ago
leonbrehony 1 month ago

Hello Roger,

I just got back from seeing 1917 and I was wondering, now that it's finished, how you felt about the decision to create the illusion of a single take?

I'm only asking because personally I felt quite disengaged for large portions of the film where I was looking at it more objectively than I wanted to and felt like montage or a more traditional filmmaking style would have done a stronger job at telling the story. There were other moments where I felt that the long takes worked extremely well, especially the entire sequence in Écoust and the ending, but for the majority of the time I wished it would use montage to further the story instead of continuous motion.

Apologies if this offends, I mean to be as respectful as possible. I just wanted to know if, having pulled it off and having time to reflect, you stand by your (and the director's) decision to shoot it that way.

Roger Deakins
1 month ago
Roger Deakins 1 month ago

It doesn't offend at all!!!! Quite the opposite!!!! I am really interested in different opinions. Please be honest!!!! None of us will learn otherwise!!!!!

Many people have had the same reaction as yourself, others quite the opposite. I am glad the film has polarized opinions as it means that it is trying something. A film that pleases everyone is usually bland and uninteresting. That is the problem with big budget films, they have to please a worldwide audience and are, consequently, reduced to the lowest common denominator.

For myself, I have not really settled on the way I feel about '1917'. Perhaps, when I see it afresh in three or four years time I will make my own judgement. Who knows? I didn't have much time for 'Shawshank Redemption' until something like five years after I worked on it.

ADJL
1 month ago
ADJL 1 month ago

I think that a budget in the order of £100,000,000 is pretty large! Especially when comparing it to other relatively recent war movies like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. Although it's not in the territory of certain Disney franchises, it's certainly at the higher end of the budgets of, for example, the other Best Picture Academy nominees this year.

Not suggesting that Sir Sam was trying to please a worldwide audience, but surely with his producers hat on, he was aiming to make a return on the investment of his many partners?

And he's done this by writing a compelling script, and then directing a technically ambitious film that is designed to excite and entertain- at the same time as telling an important and potentially universal story.

My only issue, with this and most other war films, is that it doesn't show a balanced view of people from both sides of a conflict. For sure there were people on the 'other side' who were forced into similar situations- individuals with precious photographs of loved ones urging them to 'come back' to them? Imagine a 'single shot' film where some kind of interaction between Schofield and a German character 'passed the baton' over, and we subsequently followed 'the enemy' for the remainder of the film (I appreciate that some war films have attempted to do this, with varying degrees of success...).

But I understand that's not this film!

For me, the lack of discernible cuts in 1917 is what makes it so compelling and engaging as a narrative film. When a montage is used, or a PoV shot, the audience is asked to believe that we are directly seeing/ thinking/ feeling what another human is experiencing- we are essentially being directed how to think or feel.

What this film does is observe the journey of a character as if we were a witness immersed in the same landscape. It's exactly in the choice not to let us 'come up for air' that keeps this pressure on us to share Schofield's experience, even as we feel disconcerted by the fact that we are witness to something so terrible and traumatising as his ordeal. This is the source of my empathy for his character, that I'm being encouraged to feel like I'm there with him, not that I am him.

If there had been more than the one perceptible 'cut'- when Schofield falls unconscious, a move totally justified within the premise that it is Schofields own version of 'real-time' that we are sharing- then we would have been aware of the film being a film, i.e. we would have felt the inherit 'don't look at this now, look at that'-ness of the cut, and personally that would have pulled me out of the experience.

But the original question here captures what's so fascinating about cinema- how different people make or read films. And Roger's open reaction and this sites generosity in general expresses the fundamental point of cinematography as an art form- it's supposed to spark debate and provoke discussion. As RAD says, THAT'S HOW WE LEARN!!!!

Roger Deakins
1 month ago
Roger Deakins 1 month ago

I would like to see the film you suggest. Eastwood's two films, 'Flags of my Father' and 'Letter from Iwo Jima' did that. I think the latter film is about his best as a director, that is other than his masterpiece,'Outlay Josey Wales'.

The budget of '1917' was actually about 90 million, which is serious money in anyone's terms. Its probably the GDP of some small countries. However, in comparison, 'The Irishman' cost 160 million and 'Ford vs Ferrari about 98 million. The cost of 'Saving Private Ryan' in today's terms would be 109 million.

ADJL
1 month ago
ADJL 1 month ago

Thanks for the info on budgets- it's all a little beyond my scope of imagining, but I do wonder how they could spend so much on The Irishman, get so much right, specifically in terms of the attention to detail, and still deliver sub-par CG 'de-aging' which jars with the performances.

I enjoyed Eastwood's films- I remember thinking that Letters from Iwo Jima was the finer of the two- perhaps because Ken Watanabe's is such a magnificent performance.

I remember as a kid spending Sunday afternoons with my Granddad watching old war movies- The Longest DayThe Guns of NavaroneBridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape.

And then we watched The Young Lions which tried to tell the story of both the Allied and the Axis powers. I don't remember if it pulls it off or not- I recall falling a little in love with both Brando and Clift- so I'll have to re-watch it at some point.

Can I ask what war films you and Sam talked about as you discussed what you were hoping to achieve with 1917

Roger Deakins
1 month ago
Roger Deakins 1 month ago

We both like 'Come and See' by Elim Klimov but we didn't really talk about other films. We just studied the archive photographs from the war and we each picked ones we were drawn.

ADJL
1 month ago

I've seen stills from that film- specifically the young boys haunted eyes- but never had the guts to watch it. Another one for the list, thanks!

Canuck
1 month ago
Canuck 1 month ago

You should also add "The Ascent" to the list. It's directed by Larisa Shepitko, who was married to Elim Klimov and died in a car crash while scouting for locations for a film. Francis Ford Coppola was such a huge fan that he flew her to L.A. on a private jet and asked for her input on the "Apocalypse Now" ending.

socearrullain
1 month ago
socearrullain 1 month ago

I am more and more intrigued by this film now. 

As a former serviceman, I have a particular dislike for war films as they lack a lot of realism, genuinely. But I appreciate the work, art and attempt to tell the story as best possible through the lens as a creative. 

As far as I am aware, none of my lineage served in the great war, but we certainly served in nearly every major conflict after that. So experiencing conflict for myself firsthand makes it hard to be objective about cinematic reenactment. However, I do like Sam as a Director and of course love Roger's work, so I will see it as soon as I can and hopefully I will like it enough that I switch off from 'Mil Mode' and just sink into the flick.

No offence intended to anyone involved in creating '1917', I really have the utmost respect for the filmmaking craft, but there is a massive difference between dramatisation and reality. Crass I agree, but my honest view on all war films. 

Tyler Markovich
1 month ago
Tyler Markovich 1 month ago

I agree leonbrehony. The film is beautiful, and it executes the one shot illusion amazingly; however, I couldn't help looking at it from a technical perspective.  I frequently thought about the entire choreography between the actors and the camera, as well as the hidden edits.  I found this precise and rehearsed nature occasionally distracting from the characters and narrative.  Perhaps if I was not a film student and did not study Mr. Deakin's work as much, then I would have been more engaged in the film's narrative.

The fluid camera movements are amazing, but personally I think a little bit of shake can also be engaging in moments of action.  Understandably having some camera shake would sacrifice the objective nature that comes with fluid camera movements.  One of my all time favorite long shots is in 'Children of Men' when Theo is in a war zone, and he must get to the baby.  In that case, I don't think the camera shake drew attention to itself.  I didn't even recognize that it was a 7 minute shot until someone told me on my 2nd viewing.  Hard to say if this style would go with 1917 though.

The 4 parts of 1917 where I became fully immersed and forgot about the technical aspects were in the tunnel with the rat, the sniper shoot out, the sequence in Écoust, and the last battle when Schofield's running across the trench line.

Ultimately, although I really enjoy the film, I admire it more.  I appreciate that Sir Sam and Mr. Deakins pushed the limits of what's possible in film with 1917!  Simply amazing work!

Roger Deakins
1 month ago
Roger Deakins 1 month ago

There is a recent film called 'Painted Bird', which I thought must depict war as well as any, outside of Tarkovsky's masterpiece,'Ivan's Childhood'. Both are brilliant but the problem is both films are so bleak, and in B&W, that they are not seen by a wide audience. All I hope for '1917' is that it might raise the horror of that conflict in the general conscience. But to show WW1 war as it really happened?

The opening scene of 'Saving Private Ryan' really put the viewer on that beach. I doubt a film could do more but we were not really there. It is still an entertainment. And what about war tourism? I hear it is quite a money maker in Cambodia. I remember the first time one of Don McCullin's color photographs from Vietnam appeared as a double page spread in the Sunday Times. Many people were appalled! They opened the newspaper while they were having their Sunday breakfasts and they were appalled. But they were a captive audience and that is not the case with a film.

leonbrehony
1 month ago

I think despite my reservations 1917 did a really good job of depicting the existential dread that's such a massive part of conflict, moreso than Jarhead which to me is more about the pointlessness of war and the unquenched hunger for violence. Also pretty existential but different.

socearrullain
1 month ago

Oh gosh I hope I really didn't offend anyone with my comments above. It's impossible to recreate the incredible horror of armed combat with any degree of reality, it's just a personal thing that having been there and done that from a young age that I find war films very difficult to watch in general. I agree to a huge extent that SPR did good job of immersing the audience in that beach. Again, I haven't gone to see the film yet Roger, but I will, I think there was a great degree of respect given to the story overall from the entire crew based on what I have read and heard. Genuinely not trying to upset anyone.

It's just that when you live through conflict, you see things from a different perspective. That being said, I do love military history and it was a piece of WWII history that inspired me to serve myself.

Please accept my sincerest apologies if my comments were misunderstood.

ADJL
1 month ago
ADJL 1 month ago

In reference to several threads in this series, for me the camera becomes most objective when it draws attention to itself, i.e. when a film cuts from one image to another, or when a camera moves in a way that is suggestive of a POV or someone holding it.

I feel that the camera movement in 1917 allows for the most subjective immersion in the story, because in a the way it moves it feels post-human, or at least beyond human interference. Malick and Chivo do this really well- for me it's as if an elemental force is moving through their landscapes- or in the case of 1917 perhaps the ghosts of no-man's land... Whatever it is, I was able to totally give into the energy of the camera relentlessly movement forwards.

I hope it's fair to say that I was somewhat reminded of Tarkovsky in terms of certain framing choices in 1917- the no-man's land sequences evocative of Ivan's Childhood and Stalker's The Zone; and the farm-house felt like something out of Nostalgia.

Roger- have you marvelled at Tarkovsky's collection of writing and polaroids from towards the end of his life, Instant Light?

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