Written by Parker Keye Eisen
From the beginning, I knew how important dolly shots would be to the story, feel, and atmosphere of The Lovers. My affinity for dolly shots comes from many places. From the high speed and technically choreographed push-ins of Paul Thomas Anderson, to the slow, languid highly precise dolly shots of Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr. The dolly shot has been recorded into my mind. It can be tense, funny, slow, fast, quick, or my favorite: long.
Ingmar Bergman once said something along the lines of “Nobody does it like Tarkovsky.” Whether it’s the incredibly long tracking shot in Stalker as the characters enter the zone for the first time, or the near 12-minute take in the beginning of The Sacrifice, nobody moves the camera like Tarkovsky. His dolly shots are their own language. Something he writes heavily about in his book Sculpting in Time. Cinema is a language of time for Tarkovsky and thus the duration of a shot becomes as important as the movement of a shot. A dolly shot is moving through time. Tarkovsky's dolly shots exemplify this idea, the sculpting aspect of cinema, the materiality of time being recorded. Time is the material of film, the sculpting of that time is with stasis or movement of the camera, the characters or events on screen, and the editing. In Tarkovsky’s movies though, pace is not dictated by editing, rather it is through, the duration with which the camera lingers. Cutting for Tarkovsky becomes about the changing of space rather than time.
Tarkovsky on how time affects the viewer’s experience:
“How does time make itself felt in a shot? It becomes tangible when you sense something significant, truthful, going on beyond the events on the screen; when you realize, quite consciously, that what you see in the frame is not limited to its visual depiction, but is a pointer to something stretching out beyond the frame and to infinity; a pointer to life.” (From Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, pages 117 and 118)
With a sense of time, the story is not trapped on a silver rectangle. It reaches far beyond on the screen, into the body and soul of the viewer, into their depth of experience and not just into one viewer but into every member of the audience, that is, to infinity. When duration is felt on screen, it stretches far beyond the screen. And this experience is manipulated through the movement of the camera. Again, pace is not set through editing, it is dictated by the shot, since the shot is what contains time, not editing, which contains a sense of space. This is the importance of the dolly, to move through time without disturbing space, by focusing purely on duration, time becomes “tangible,” whereas if you are cutting through space, you cannot feel the time since the viewer must always reorient themselves in the space before the time seeps into their soul.
If you were to cut up one of Tarkovsky’s dolly shots you would very quickly discover that everything in it would melt away, mostly because it is simply not possible. There’s no way to know exactly how much coverage Tarkovsky shot for a scene, but it’s likely the one shot since the blocking, choreography, and amount of takes for those kinds of shots takes hours upon hours of work and focus. Time and space work together in film, cutting disjoints or compliments time depending on the space one cuts to. The very idea of cutting becomes very powerful in this mode of filmmaking, as each cut becomes sacred. There is no need to create the space in a traditional Hollywood mode of continuity editing because time has taken control. Slowly pushing in from a wide dolly shot to a close-up does something completely different than cutting into a close-up.
A cut is one thing, a fast push-in is another thing, and a slow push-in that takes 10 minutes over the course of a scene is another thing. If Hollywood wants you to become immersed through a sense of space, then slow cinema wants you to become immersed through the duration of time. And ultimately, this is how I approached The Lovers, that is, a sense of duration, of a languid pace, of holding and slow moving instead of cutting, forces the audience to fall into a film instead of being pulled into. It is like falling asleep, one cannot be thrust into a dream, you cannot force yourself asleep; you fall asleep. By falling in, it lets the audience reflect on their own experiences, on the actions of the characters, hopefully, if all is done well enough, letting the film act on their own unconscious mind. Their affective mind, a mode of feeling rather than thinking.
This is my attempt with The Lovers and whether or not it achieves this is ultimately not up to me. It’s up to you, the audience. Let yourself fall into The Lovers.
To learn more about the film go to theloversfilm.com.