Rope (1948): All One Take, or a Fake?
Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Written by Emily Laird
Welcome to another addition of #FilmFriday. This week we have chosen to discuss the influence and technical implications of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie Rope. The movie would go on to inspire many modern cinematic classics, and it also forever changed how audiences viewed movies. Rope was advertised as being one long take. Could you imagine that? Having an old film camera rolling for an entire length of a movie? We feel for the camera man. This is of course not true.
Written By Emily Laird
Rope Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xkQoH8QbVs
Rope has a total of ten edits, or cuts. Try to find them. Hitchcock and his editors simply cut and wrote the film in such a way that the cuts could be hidden;
“Any movie filmed on 35mm has cuts, because a 35mm magazine can only hold 10 minutes of footage. In fact, there are blatant hard cuts that weren't even attempted to be hidden, but the scarcity of edits, as well as the use of handheld camerawork, are what make Rope so important to cinema. […] Also, it's important to remember that cinema is an abstraction of time and space, and that abstraction is created by the camera, influenced by the filmmaker, and experienced by the viewer. With a film that plays out in "real time," time seems less like an abstraction, which gives the impression to the viewer that what they're seeing is real life -- "real" real life” .
(No Film School, Renee, V. Understanding the Hidden Editing in Hitchcock's 'Rope'. Oct 4, 2013, https://nofilmschool.com/2013/10/understanding-hidden-editing-in-hitchcocks-rope).
From Imdb.com, Hitchcock and his actors.
Hitchcock never tried to sell his movie as a one-take wonder, but in the late 1940’s, this kind of technical achievement awed and baffled many theater goers. At the time his ten edits went by mostly unnoticed, as the viewer’s eye was not used to thinking about such technicalities. Always an innovator, Hitchcock challenged his viewer’s idea of how movies could be structured.
“The movie was shot on a giant camera with 35mm film, which limited takes to 10 minutes. This is why his film features many push-in, to black, or static shots of inanimate objects”
(Premium Beat, Maher, Michael, Film Edits Hidden in Front of Your Eyes, Feb 9, 2016. https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/film-edits-hidden-in-front-of-your-eyes/).
These push-in and still shots are the visual tools Hitchcock used to hide the cuts. Watching the movie today, it’s much easier to see where the cuts are, especially since we understand them all to be ten minutes apart.
Watch the interview with the Master of Suspense himself, the juicy bit starts at 2:40, he discusses Rope in detail https://youtu.be/fXUSN_aCCSE?t=160
COPIES WITH STYLE
So, what about other films that are labeled as one-take wonders? In recent years this has been a blooming editing trend.
Hitchcock was one of the first to use this innovative technique, and directors today are still actively following in his footsteps. Birdman (2017), Silent House (2011), and 1917 (2019) were edited in such a way as to appear to be one take. “Unlike Rope, the film Birdman also features many whip pans and even an occasional VFX motion blur.
The technology available allowed them to pull off countless edits that are seemingly naked to the human eye. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski had experience working with whip pans and VFX edits when working on the tracking shot car scene in Children of Men (2006)” (Premium Beat, Maher, Michael, Film Edits Hidden in Front of Your Eyes, Feb 9, 2016. https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/film-edits-hidden-in-front-of-your-eyes/).
In Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, (who also used several extended shots in The Revenant), required 15 to 20 takes for each chunk of Birdman. It’s much easier to blend and hide edits in the digital movie landscape of today. Building upon precedents Hitchcock set forth, Birdman filled in the blanks for a more modern audience. As many of you probably remember, it was one of the most talked about movies of the year. I remember being awed upon seeing it on the big screen for the first time.
What about a movie that is actually one take? Well, then that would be the masterpiece that is Russian Ark (2003); “With more than 2,000 actors and three orchestras, Russian Ark roamed around dozens of rooms of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace in just one 96-minute take. The director, Alexander Sokurov, had enough battery power for only four attempts; the fourth one was the charm” (The New York Times. Grode, Eric. ‘1917’ Isn’t the First (Supposedly) One-Shot Film. Here’s a Timeline. Dec 25, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/25/movies/1917-single-take.html).
Russian Ark is the perfect example of just how far movie-making technology has advanced. Hitchcock had the idea back in the 1940’s, but he didn’t have the equipment to make it work. It would be truly fascinating to see what he would do with today’s technology.
Alfred Hitchcock will always be remembered as the innovator of his time. He was the first director to film a flushing toilet in Psycho (1960) after all, and he then went on to kill off the lead actress within half an hour of the start of the film. He had the longest takes in commercial film in Rope, he defined our definition of voyeurism with Rear Window (1954), he actively tackled mental illness in Spellbound (1945), and showed us just how dark the human psyche can be with Frenzy (1972).
It’s almost like this man of modern legend had a love for film and human psychology. Something that was transferred from his cinematic work to thousands of young inspired filmmakers, even decades later, including everyone at Dark Mind.
Some say he’s the best director in modern cinema, some say he is a relic to a past memory of film. All we know is that man had one very “dark mind”. And we loved every piece of film we received from it.
Want more reviews from Emily? Further readings available at: medium.com/@thefilmjournal
Presented by Dark Mind
Written by Emily E Laird