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The One-Shot Film

06 Jan 2022

‘Boiling Point’ is set in a trendy London restaurant and stars Stephen Graham as a stressed chef attempting to juggle multiple crises over the course of one evening. It was filmed as one continuous take – the first UK feature film to do so. Restricted to just four takes as the first lockdown loomed, the result, from take 3, is a remarkable cinematic experience.

Why do some filmmakers attempt to take on this fiendishly complex cinematic coup? Is it a daredevil stunt or a genuine attempt at furthering the artform? Long takes or sequence shots have garnered much critical acclaim. Think of Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas’ strolling into the nightclub through the back door with his awe-struck girlfriend in tow. Orson Welles successfully pulled off the same trick in the opening of ‘Touch of Evil’. However, a single shot for a whole movie is a different animal altogether as it ditches the cut, the very syntax of cinematic language. Montages, jump cuts, match cuts, smash cuts and cutaways are all unavailable to the one-shot filmmaker.

Probably the greatest asset of the one-shot film is that they succeed in making us feel as though we are there in some sort of eyewitness capacity. ‘Utøya’ is a case in point as it follows Kaja as she attempts to survive the massacre that took place upon the eponymous island. The result is thrilling, unnerving and almost documentary-like. The danger of a one-shot film is that the audience becomes over-aware of technique thus distracting from the story. ‘Birdman’ and ‘1917’ seem to suffer from this – perhaps because they are ersatz one-shot films with the cuts concealed and the temptation is to try and spot the cuts.

Shooting ‘Boiling Point’ in one take enhances the chaos, claustrophobia and pressure of a professional kitchen. Sebastian Schipper, director of the kinetic ‘Victoria’ has sworn off ever making one again. If you want to see the toll it exerts on the director, watch ‘One Breath / Alexander Sukorov’s Russian Ark’ on YouTube. At the end of the documentary, you glimpse the haggard-looking Sukorov blinking away tears as the camera comes to its final position after 96 flawless yet nerve-jangling minutes of choreographed non-stop shooting.

We are showing ‘Boiling Point’ from 21 January.

Boiling Point

Richard Warburton