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Commentary & Opinion

Rob Edelman: Daring Filmmaking

On the surface, VICTORIA-- a new film which has been making the rounds of the festival circuit, was screened in Toronto, and has just opened theatrically-- is nothing special. It follows a night in the life of the title character, a twenty-something who is first seen dancing wildly in a club. As the story progresses her personality emerges, and the words which best-describe her are tough and amoral. Before the night is through, Victoria hooks up with a bunch of rowdy guys and is attracted to one in particular. Plus, there is a robbery, among other bits of mayhem.

But what makes VICTORIA so unusual, and so enthralling, is that the entire film, which features a 138-minute running time, is shot in one continuous take. While watching VICTORIA, I must admit that I was not impressed by any of its characters, who are at best unlikable and at worst walking powderkegs who might explode at any moment. Yet I could not dismiss this film, because of the cinematic aesthetic of Sebastian Schipper, its German-born writer-director, and this goes beyond his presenting the story in one long take. For example, Schipper sustains the film’s mood by varying the soundtrack, which features a combination of dialogue and slow, mournful music.

VICTORIA is not the first film to be shot-- or appear to be shot-- in one continuous take. Two that come to mind are Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN, one of the very best films of 2014, and Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE, which dates from 1948. Plus, countless films feature extended one-shot sequences that are dazzlingly visualized. One of the very best occurs near the beginning of Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL, from 1958. Still, for those who relish creative celluloid experimenting by enterprising filmmakers, VICTORIA is well worth seeking out and savoring.

Another example of daring filmmaking that also was shown in Toronto is Rufus Norris’ LONDON ROAD, whose roots are on the stage. LONDON ROAD is the fact-based account of a series of murders of prostitutes that occurred in a small British town almost a decade ago. The film does not focus on the killings and we do not see the killer. Instead, the spotlight is on the various townspeople and how they are impacted by these gruesome events, how they become obsessed with the crimes and the identity of the perpetrator. Many are at once confused, suspicious, and scared, but at the same time excited by the attention being paid to their otherwise obscure village. 

What makes LONDON ROAD so unusual is that the dialogue, which is taken directly from interviews with the locals as well as media reports and quotes from the prostitutes who eluded the killer, is not spoken. Rather, it is sung. LONDON ROAD is not the first “musical” whose plot centers on vicious criminal acts. SWEENEY TODD is one that comes to mind, and there are others. But LONDON ROAD is different, because of the source of the lyrics and the manner in which the music is presented.

While watching this film, I asked myself: What is the purpose of transforming this gruesome story into a musical? Is it that all the singing somehow allows the characters to separate themselves from their fears? Collectively, as horrific acts are occurring in their midst, are they yearning for escapism? Do they want to be transported back to a simpler, happier time? And can their situation be extended to encompass any gruesome event that might envelop any community? Indeed, beyond its entertainment quotient, there is much to ponder in LONDON ROAD. 

Rob Edelman has written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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