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(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

Watch this insanely complicated shot from ‘Under Capricorn’ by Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock loved a long shot. This complex, semi-continuous shot from the 1948 costume drama (not a genre Hitchcock is particularly known for) Under Capricorn is perhaps one of the most impressive.

These days, movies which have been filmed – or at least appear to have been filmed – in one continuous take aren’t that uncommon. Back in 2014, Bird Man made headlines for appearing to be shot entirely in one take. In reality, director Alejandro González Iñárritu carefully staged long sequences of around 15 minutes and then stitched them together to give the impression of one seamless shot. Sam Mendes used the same technique in his recent WW1 film 1917.

But back in 1948, things weren’t so easy. It’s no surprise that it took a director as talented as Hitchcock to accomplish such long continuous takes. The year before Under Capricorn hit cinemas, Hitchcock made Rope, a psychological thriller about two men who murder a colleague to prove they have learned the lessons of their favourite professor. In the end, the film’s depiction of an (implied) homosexual relationship proved far less controversial than Hitchcock’s decision to film the project in long, continuous takes. In 1948, cameras only allowed for takes of 20 minutes. To create the illusion of a single take, Hitchcock filmed to the end of each spool and utilised a method of hidden cuts to trick viewers into thinking the film was seamless.

As such, this scene from Under Capricorn is not the longest uninterrupted shot in Hitchcock’s filmography, but it’s certainly one of the most complicated. Here, the director abandons montage altogether in an attempt to capture the grandeur of the house’s interior and the tension between the characters inhabiting it.

Filmed using a huge colour camera, footage of this kind required Hitchcock’s crew to craft moving set pieces and walls which could be moved along in tandem with the camera. This is the same method Hitchcock used in Rope, but here there is far more going on. Indeed shots of this kind remind us of just how much the director asked of his crew. Take, for example, the moment a cameraman was gagged and dragged out of the room after a dolly ran over and broke his foot. Hitchcock’s shots took a long time to prepare, and he was willing to do anything to save them from interruption. Make sure you check out this elaborate scene from Under Capricorn if you haven’t already.