Among his many accomplishments at the intersection of showmanship and pure cinema, Alfred Hitchcock managed, in 1948, to make a feature film without any cuts — or rather, more impressively, he made a feature film people believed had no cuts. Though cinephiles will know several fine examples of no-cut or few-cut movies from recent years (I’ve enjoyed Mike Figgis’ four-screen Time Code since it came out in the nineties, and I often recommend Il-gon Song’s more recent but rarer one-cut Magicians), they’ll also know that, due to physical limitations in the film technology of Hitchcock’s day, nobody — not even Hitchcock — could possibly have made a film longer than ten minutes out of a single, unbroken shot.
So how did Rope, one of Hitchcock’s lesser-celebrated but still thoroughly fascinating projects, convincingly fake its own form? Editor Vashi Nedomansky shows us in the three-minute video above. “On further examination,” Nedomansky writes on his blog, “Hitchcock’s gem actually contains ten edits. Five of them are hidden as the camera lens is filled by foreground objects. The other five edits are regular hard cuts that not many people either realize or acknowledge.”
Nofilmschool offers a post that goes into greater depth on Rope and editing: “Even though there is editing, it’s often described as a film that plays out in real time. Why? Probably because it’s such an immersive piece of filmmaking; the hidden edits and use of handheld cameras follow and track its characters, allowing audiences to experience and react to each situation at the same moment the actors do — right in the thick of the action.” You can find a more theoretical take from Peter J. Dellolio at Flickhead, who describes Rope as a picture exploring “some of the fundamental characteristics of the cinematic abstraction of time and space by using the mobile camera as an agent that gives plastic reality to subjective material” whose “synthesis of real time and filmic space forces the viewer to absorb narrative information on multiple, often distastefully ironic levels.” For a different framing, presentation, and analysis of Rope‘s cuts, see also the short video essay “Skipping Rope.” Hitchcock may not have had the ability to really make the movie in one shot, but he certainly had the ability to keep us all taking about it these 65 years.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.