The more movies you see, the deeper into the aesthetic issues of cinematic eloquence you plunge, the more likely you are to come around to see the long shot – tracking or otherwise – as a kind of ur-cinema, a fundamental, uniquely filmic and matchlessly expressive and experiential movie manifestation no cataract of fast cuts, Avid foofaraw, montage theories and digital pyrotechnics can encroach upon . . . we are truly transfixed by is the quintessentially cinematic experience of time, space, action, depth, drama and contemplation that occurs naturally like alcohol in a long shot's fermentative process. Long shots can evoke and present an entire four-dimensional world, not just a commanded, puzzle-piece fraction of it. This is not a new sense of things, God knows, but given the way most Hollywood films are made today, it's still an aesthetic idea that has yet to bust out into the popular consciousness.
The long shot as the salient element of high art cinema isn't a new idea, as Atkinson knows, and it's a welcomed respite from the machine-gun editing style of many contemporary action films. However, I'm not so sure about Atkinson's claim that the long duration shot constitutes an "ur-cinema" in the sense of a master formal template from which all "true" cinema arises. Maybe today we see the long shot as indicative of a cinema for people who love the medium, as opposed to those who see films as delivery vehicles for popcorn, but highly expressive and emotive editing wasn't always held in such low esteem.
Interestingly, the film for which Atkinson's blog is named, Jean Vigo's wildly imaginative Zéro de conduite (1933), is hardly a paragon of the mise-en-scene aesthetic, which popularized the long duration shot. (A still from the famous pillow fight scene is at left.) The entire French avant-garde film movement of the 1920's, of which Vigo was a part, was expressly indebted to Sergei Eisenstein's montage aesthetic. Vigo, Dmitri Kirsanoff, Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac and other directors in the movement experimented with montage editing in their search for a "true" cinema. Eisenstein himself noted the tendency in the mid-1920's "to show actual man in films only in long uncut dramatic scenes" (emphasis in original, "A Dialectical Approach to Film Form"). Eisenstein brushed off these long shots as purely informational, hardly better than intertitles, declaring "I considered (and still do) such a concept [the long duration shot] to be utterly unfilmic."
The mise-en-scene v. montage debate reached its peak with Andre Bazin's path breaking essays on film form in the 1950s, but clearly the debate is still with us. Improvements in film stock, the introduction of the wide screen aspect ratio, and new camera technologies can now produce images far richer than those available to the French and Soviet avant-garde filmmakers of the silent era. But before we get too entranced with the languorous tracking shots of contemporary art cinema , we should remember that the cut is the only thing that film does that no other medium does. Splicing together two strips of film stock is a uniquely cinematic act. It's the only one.