In the opening of The Player, a Hollywood-studio security chief (Fred Ward) is expounding on how today’s movies rely too much on editing. ”Everything is cut, cut, cut,” he says, complaining that long, cleverly staged shots like the 3 minute 18 second showpiece that opens Orson Welles’ 1958 Touch of Evil aren’t seen anymore. The joke is that the audience is watching just such a shot unfold. For more than 8 minutes, the camera glides around a studio lot introducing more than 20 characters, including star Tim Robbins, writers Buck Henry and Joan Tewkesbury, and director Alan Rudolph.
To choreograph the scene, which was done with a crane-mounted camera and a zoom lens, Player director Robert Altman built a scale model of the studio lot. The segment then took half a day to rehearse and another half a day to film. The actors ”all improvised,” says Altman. ”I didn’t know what any of them were going to say before we started.” After 13 takes Altman decided on the 10th — viewers may notice that the sequence begins with a clapboard reading ”Take 10.”
But Altman is not the only one to take a cue from Touch of Evil. Here’s a rundown of other recent long shots: * The Sheltering Sky (1990) In a comparatively short but dazzling shot, Debra Winger strolls for 1 minute 38 seconds through a Moroccan street and into a restaurant. * GoodFellas (1990) Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco walk from the street outside the Copacabana to front-row seats in 3 minutes. * The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) Bruce Willis goes from a parking garage to a gala celebration in 4 minutes 50 seconds.