If a tracking shot draws attention to itself, does it fail?


It's a pretty simple question. Luc Godard disapproved of long takes and close ups for being intrusive when dealing with historical subject matter. Even without prescribing specific standards about how a film should be made and what it should be about, there's still a question of immersion and how obsessive praise over tracking shots have pretty much ruined them.

Alejandro Inarritu's Birdman is the perfect example, and its subtitle The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is one that I've always posited to comment specifically on its use of a single long take. If you're unaware of the elaborate nature of the shot, you can enjoy the film for its content instead of its artifice. It's kind of strange actually that editing is so ingrained into the audience's perception of film that unedited content is distracting in that way. That begs the question as to whether this discussion is even possible from an objective standpoint if we can assume that its subject to specific eras of moviegoers.

So I pass the question onto you, do tracking shots fail when we notice them?

Orson Welles' legendary opening shot from Touch of Evil.

Paul Thomas Anderson speaking on Max Ophuls, a French director renowned for his tracking shots.

True Detective's tracking shot from season 1 which caused quite a stir, and even drew a response from Game of Thrones which also proceeded to execute a long, elaborate shot.
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I guess it depends on the directors reason for the shot. If it's to show off or draw attention to the choice of shot, then it succeeded. Most 'normal' people (the vast majority of people who watch films) probably wouldn't notice or care, in the same way they don't care who the director is or which studio made the film or how it was financed.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

Redwell makes some interesting points. To answer your question, I don't feel that tracking shots fail when we notice them, but if we're very aware of them, it does take away from the scenes, and in some cases perhaps the story impact.

You've included some very nice examples. The Welles and the Ophuls were both fresh and gratifying because they were fairly early uses of the tracking shot; and also because they really enhanced the narrative. If in the TV example it was used to convey strangeness, then they succeeded.

In the case of Birdman, I personally enjoyed the tracking utilization, since it kept the action going in a fairly complex story. I didn't particularly notice the technique, although the feeling was there that something was very different from the average film techniques.

To give an example of a film that I didn't appreciate the tacking was Hitchcock's Rope. The tracking added to the negative impression of the plot and its feel. Combined with J. Stewart's miscasting, the technique contributed to harm the film. There again, it was probably a fresh technique, which Hitchcock probably used to display his expertise.

BTW, many folks are not aware of the proper use of the phrase, "begging the question." It's incorrectly used commonly these days to mean "raises the question", or "invites the question". Here's a pretty fair explanation: [the site won't let me post a link in my first post. Look up the phrase on Wikipedia}


I personally have never felt a tracking shot failed, at least a tracking shot performed on a dolly or with steadicam. There are two kinds of film watchers, those who know the techniques and those who do not. Watching the tracking shot from "Blow Out" was a treat for me knowing what it was. I wouldn't imagine anyone being distracted by a camera simply following some action without cutting. If handheld, I'm sure it could get tedious fairly quick depending on what's happening in the scene. Not sure what qualifies as a fail if film makers are using a poetic way to tell a story such as a tracking shot. If it's bumpy, shaky or wild it probably fails. Then again, Laws of Gravity all hand held. Didn't fail for me.