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Is Longer Better? A Swedish Movie Shot in a Single Take Tops Two Hours

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Anette Skåhlberg, director of “7333 Seconds of Johanna”

The Swedish filmmaker Anette Skåhlberg claims to have shot the longest movie consisting of a single take. Her “7333 Seconds of Johanna” (122 minutes 2 seconds) exceeds Aleksandr Sokurov’s 96-minute 2002 Hermitage odyssey “Russian Ark,” which comprises a single Steadicam shot, by 26 minutes.

As Cineuropa reports, the film was shot in Uppsala between 9.35 and 11.37am on October 7 after several months of preparation and rehearsal. The feat was accomplished on the fourth take by Skåhlberg’s cinematographer, Jesper Klevenås, who used a Canon C300 full HD digital camcorder; it was coordinated by Martin Lima de Farla.

That representatives of the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to monitor the shoot and ensure that no additional footage was added indicates that Skåhlberg and her collaborators were partly driven by technical showmanship – not to mention one-upmanship. It raises the issue of whether filmmakers should be invested in breaking records, as if they were athletes.

Potentially more interesting is the topic of Skåhlberg’s film and why it needed to be shot in real time without a single cut. It is the autobiographical story of a troubled married woman, Johanna, played by the writer-director herself, hurrying through Uppsala’s “different quarters, churches and hotels, in a boat on the Fyriså [river], trying to find herself amidst marital and economic problems,” writes Jorn Rossing Jensen.

The financially strapped Johanna seeks a divorce from the jealous husband (played by Robert Fransson) whom she still loves. He is contesting her request for joint custody of their six-year-old daughter (Josefin Olsson). Johanna’s new lover (Thorsten Andreassen) has meanwhile proposed to her.

Yet to be unveiled, Skåhlberg’s movie sounds like a raw slice of social realism along the lines of Ken Loach’s 1994 “Ladybird Ladybird,” though that’s conjecture. The single take will likely subject Skåhlberg/Johanna to intense anthropological scrutiny.

The Hut Project may dispute “7333”’s claim to having being the longest single-take movie. Last year, the London art collective produced “The Look of Performance,” which was digitally filmed in a single 360º take lasting 3 hours, 33 minutes, 8 seconds. It was shot at 50 frames per second, meaning the final exhibited work lasts 7 hours, 6 minutes, 17 seconds.

The grandfather of this kind of single-take experimentalism (or brinkmanship) is “Rope,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 version of the Leopold and Loeb killing of Robert Franks, though it only gives the illusion of being shot in a single take. Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall’s cameras held a maximum of 1,000 feet of 35mm film so Hitchcock’s takes lasted no more than 10 minutes. He masked the transitions through the inventive use of dolly shots into blank surfaces, from which he then zoomed out; the film consisted of 11 shots.

In 1964, Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas shot the experimental “Empire” on 10 rolls of 16mm film. They used an Auricon camera that enabled takes lasting about 33 minutes, or 1,200 feet. The famously “unwatchable” silent black and white movie captured, in slow-motion, the Empire State Building as its lights flicker on and off in darkness on the night of July 25-26. Situated on the 41st floor of the Time-Life Building, Mekas, who was the cinematographer, filmed the skyscraper from 8:06pm to 2:42pm at 24 frames per second; projected at 16 frames, the running time expands to 8 hours 5 minutes.

One-shot wonders include the Greek director Spiros Stathoulopolous’s 84-minute Columbian drama “PVC-1” (2007), about the plight of an extortion victim who had a pipe bomb strapped to his neck. Venezualan director Gustavo Hernández’s 88-minute low-budget Uruguayan horror film “La casa muda” (2010, “The Silent House”) was allegedly shot in a single take, but since the digital camera used can only shoot continuously for 15 minutes, this has been disputed.

Scene from “Russian Ark” / Courtesy Paramount Home Entertainment

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