Theories of Long-Take Cinema

Toward a synthesis of cinema – a theory of the long take moving camera (Menard, 2003) is an essay on the schools of long take and montage cinema. Split into two parts, part one focuses on the ‘gap’ between the theories of long take and montage, focusing on at the work of Orson Welles. It caught my eye, because it seems to explore the interchange between the two theories, an idea which I wrote about after watching Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941).

Menard begins by noting that film theory is sparse and fragmented when compared to the classical theory of other artistic disciplines. He believes that this is why montage and long take are often seen as being mutually exclusive. He asserts that the theories which support them should be parts of a broader, overarching film theory, but because this hasn’t yet been explored, they’re pigeonholed as distinct techniques which cannot be reconciled. Menard’s goal is to investigate the gap between these two apparently disparate theories in an attempt to define a broader theory of film which encompasses both techniques.

He begins by identifying both as extremes of a continuum on which reality is represented through art. He believes that montage is the extreme in which art dominates; through which reality come to art. Whereas long take cinema is dominated by reality and art exists in its service. But in between these two extremes lies a gap in which long take is combined with expressive editing to create powerful cinematic experiences. He cites Orson Welles as an exemplar of a director whose work inhabits this gap between the opposing ideals of pure montage and pure long take, this “no-man’s land of film” (Menard, 2003).

Menard also cites the work of film theorist Jean Mitry, who speculated on a synthesis theory, combining montage and long take, and suggests that Welles followed a similar ideology:

A theory of the long take moving camera which is a synthesis of montage and long take, where long take is not an aesthetic condition but a mode of free-minded expression, as with Orson Welles’ cinema. (Menard, 2003)

Menard goes on to highlight examples of Welles’ work which he believes represent this synthesis theory, describing The Trial (Welles, 1962) as the paradigmatic foundation of the synthesis of cinema. He also picks out Chimes at Midnight (Welles, 1965) for its powerful use of inter-sequence cuts and sound editing. (Both of these films are going onto my list to watch for more research and inspiration.)

Part two of Menard’s essay focuses on:

Spatial-temporal relations in The Trial, that is, an examination of Welles’ long take cutting style for the purpose of pointing the way toward a possible approach to the development of a theory of film. (Menard, 2003)

So without further ado, it’s time to watch The Trial.


Menard, D., (2003) Toward a synthesis of cinema – a theory of the long take moving camera, Montreal: Hors Champ, Available from: [Accessed on 5 May 2016]

Welles, O., (1941), Citizen Kane, RKO Radio Pictures

Welles, O., (1962), The Trial, Paris-Europa Productions

Welles, O., (1965), Chimes at Midnight, Alpine Films


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