The long tracking shot has been expounded by the likes of Andrew Sullivan and Roger Ebert. A virtuosic feat requiring plenty of practice and technical facility, the long tracking shot is usually more of a flourishy show off than a requirement to make the film. Yet, this show-offy quality fits music videos perfectly, which need that 3 minutes of undivided attention to suck a viewer into a song.
Many best-of lists have been compiled for films, but music videos often use the same technique of the single take, as in this fine new single by J. Cole, featuring a Mr. Cole, a marching band, exploding cars and the city of Fayetteville, N.C. (Warning: Not Safe For Work… coarse language)
I tried to think of other music videos that use the same long tracking shot. A few immediately come to mind, but most are recent.
The cheap-o version: the fixed camera take, as in OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again.” I’m sure the take required plenty of choreography and practice, but there’s something about the fixed camera that keeps this video from the kind of artistry visible in some of the other videos. I wonder if this classifies as a “tracking shot” video, in the same way that I wonder if Ozu fixed-camera shots belong in the same category as, say, P.T. Anderson’s panning around in “Boogie Nights.”
There’s Vampire Weekend’s imitation of Wes Anderson storytelling, which moves between scenes of varying interest (not unlike J. Cole’s video above).
There’s Michel Gondry’s “Is that really one take?” Radiohead video for “Knives Out.” The video tells a distinct story, while keeping the usual Gondry whimsy amidst Radiohead’s gloom.
There’s the over-the-top production number, which has a tendency to flame out. Feist gets it right, though, with “1 2 3 4.” I’m pretty sure the video is what sold me on the song.
Even the venerable (and often boring) band-plays-the-song video can be gussied up with a little single-take magic. Observe…
One category of tracking shot video that deserves special mention is the fan-made lip dub variety that has made the rounds. The sight of joyous people singing an otherwise horrific pop song is enough to redeem even “Hey Soul Sister.” This kind of video encapsulates the pros and cons of single-take music videos: sometimes the gimmick overpowers the song or the visual onscreen, but the overall enjoyment of the technical achievement and the rapturous experience of the people in the video are enough to wipe away any qualms.
Finally, the one-of-a-kind split-screen single-take altogether perfect music video. I’m pretty sure this is the Platonic ideal. Solid pop song, video subject material tangentially related to song, band-playing-song trope still evident, insertion of band members into story, unsatisfying yet satisfying ending — it’s all there folks.
Anyone got more?