Published July 07, 2022 by Rebecca Goldfine

The Many Possibilities of the Long Take

At the same time as the world slowed down during the pandemic, Eduardo Mendoza ’24 became fascinated with the cinematic technique of the leisurely long take, in which a camera seemingly stays focused on one scene for many minutes without cutting away.
Eduardo Mendoza

While Mendoza's omnivorous love of storytelling has always included movies (as well as books, theater, and art), he developed a devotion to watching them regularly during quarantine.

“I was struck by thinking, ‘how does this work, why am I so intrigued? I should be falling asleep, why am I not falling asleep?’”

Long takes “demand something of us as audience members that other screens in the world don’t demand of us,” Mendoza continued, quoting a book by Lutz Koepnick he’s reading called The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous. “The long take,” he added, doesn’t lean on editing to keep the audience engaged. “It will become more boring if the acting is not good or the screenplay isn't good, so those details have to be excellent.”

Rising junior Eduardo Mendoza’s campus job helped inspire his summer research project analyzing how film directors deploy the long take. He's a student curator for the Kinolab, a scholarly database of television and movie clips developed by Bowdoin faculty and staff. Mendoza’s role is to watch great movies closely, clipping segments and tagging them with terms like “diegetic music” or “great costumes” to make them searchable to researchers and students.

“All the time working for the Kinolab has been great for giving me cinematic ideas and exposing me to different kinds of cinematic styles and thinking,” he said.

Mendoza has a Roberts Research Award this summer to watch and analyze three or so films a week, selected with input from his advisor, Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Cinema Studies Alison Cooper, who is also the project director at Kinolab.

The movie selection is broad, encompassing filmmakers from around the world and from different eras. It includes Theo Angelopoulos, Kelly Reichardt, Abbas Kiarostami, Richard Linklater, Max Ophuls, Sergio Leone, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Chantal Akerman.

Each filmmaker uses the long take in a unique way to achieve their objective. “It really is a thumbprint. Each director uses it differently, and often uses it differently in every film they make,” Mendoza said.

One outcome of engaging with a long take as a viewer is greater intimacy with the characters, Mendoza noted. “You spend so much time with them,” he continued, referring in this case to the talkative couple in Linklater’s Before trilogy, “that it almost feels like you are part of the conversation, too, but you’re also apart, watching something special.”

Speaking about Ackerman’s 1975 film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, a three-hour-plus movie about a housewife going about her daily chores, Mendoza said, “It pushes you to the edge! I didn’t think I could keep watching her peeling potatoes.”

But he stuck with it. “The amazing thing about it is you are sharing time with someone, you become accustomed to the character, her habits and routine, and when things start to go wrong, you notice.”

He paused. “And spending time with people—we probably need more of that.” he said.