A Short History of the Long Take

Francis and the Lights – “The Top” (2008) and “Darling, It’s Alright” (2010)

With director Jake Schreier, this slightly arch, Wesleyan-bred outfit are making the single-shot performance video something of a calling card. Sung and played live, “Darling, It’s Alright” is “edited with light,” which means that successive illumination of the parts of a soundstage occupied by each player substitutes for the usual musician-to-musican intercutting. The technique is more common in theater direction than film (though Von Trier used it in Dogville), but it’s well-matched to a band whose major attraction is frontman Francis Farewell Starlight’s soul-revue inspired dancing. “The Top,” equally uncut but apparently lipsynched, dispenses with the rest of the band entirely. A slo-mo climax emphasizes the enthused ungainliness of some of his moves, but the real “sell” is short segment where he disappears from the frame, leaving a tottering microphone stand to imply the frenzy going on nearby.

Xiu Xiu – “Dear God, I Hate Myself” (2010)

Unpleasant for the viewer, more so for the “star”: For three barely-watchable minutes, recently-added keyboardist Angela Seo jams her fingers down her throat, with predictable results. This video, poised (one hopes) at the limit point of single-take “realism,” has already been discussed at some length at Thought Catalog. All I can add is that the project is the clearest evidence of the trend’s links to 1970’s performance art, with its press-record-and-go documentation; beyond Nauman and Acconci, the endurance-based works of Chris Burden are a likely reference point. (Some, like a 1974 performance in which Burden attempted to “breathe water” until he passed out, bordered on the suicidal.) It’s easy enough to frame bandleader Jamie Stewart’s concerns in terms of abjection, catharsis, and other by-words of the M.F.A. crit, but on the rest of the campus, such tests of a new recruit’s commitments have another name: hazing rituals. TC mark


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