The last decade has produced enormous advancements in the craft of filmmaking. Since the DSLR revolution began in 2008, we have seen a proliferation of inexpensive high-quality digital video with new forms of image stabilization that filmmakers of yore could have only dreamed about. Despite these quantum technological leaps, however, the craft of storytelling has been passed down to us from previous generations of filmmakers. As anyone who has been to film school can probably tell you, the opening scene of Orson Welles’ 1958 noir classic Touch of Evil is the stuff of filmmaking legend. A single, uncut three-minute tracking shot, weaving through a street scene in Tijuana, Mexico, it is a technical and artistic achievement that has been enshrined within every film school curriculum as one of the most important moments in cinematic history.
Despite the fact that the opening scene of Touch of Evil was actually shot in Venice, California, it is nevertheless fitting that the scene took place in Mexico — decades later three Mexican filmmakers breathed new life into the trend that Welles started. Empowered by technological advancements that weren’t available during Welles’ era, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro Iñárritu, and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki have crafted some of the most ambitiously choreographed long takes in recent years. Cuarón brought us the contemporary dystopian classic Children of Men, which features a four-minute chase scene as well as a six-minute battle sequence, both shot in single takes. A few years later, Iñárritu wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film Birdman, which is comprised of a series of very long takes, spliced together to give the impression that the film was shot in one giant take. Both films were shot by Lubezki.
This brings us to today’s Staff Pick Premiere, “At The End Of The Cul-de-sac” by New York-based director Paul Trillo. The film tells the tale of Julien, a middle-aged suburban man who drunkenly attempts to confront his estranged wife as the whole neighborhood gawks at him in disbelief. The story itself is simple, however, the way in which the story is told is anything but. Trillo has been a mainstay on Vimeo Staff Picks over the years and has developed a reputation as one of the more technically ambitious and innovative filmmakers in our community. It was therefore unsurprising to see Trillo take on a challenge as monumental as this one.
“It was important that we push the technology in a way that verges on impossible,” Trillo says. The word “impossible” is one such word that might flash through the viewer’s head while watching “At The End Of The Cul-de-sac.” Trillo both follows in the footsteps of the aforementioned filmmakers while also one-upping all of them slightly: not only is Trillo’s film shot in one nine-minute take, but the camera is also mounted on a drone, which zips around the scene on every axis imaginable. “It’s not a helicopter, it’s a flying camera,” Trillo points out. It’s a subtle, but important distinction — the camera is not merely a payload, passively towed around by a drone. Instead, the camera is in the pilot’s seat here. It gets whatever shot it wants, whenever it wants. The end result is a truly omniscient point of view that would no doubt elicit Welles’ approval if not a touch of envy as well.
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