In 2002, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov made cinema history with Russian Ark, which dramatizes a wide swath of his homeland’s history in a single, unbroken 96-minute shot. What’s more, he and his collaborators shot it all in a single location, one both rich with historical resonance and not exactly wide-open to movie shoots: St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, whose complex includes the former Winter Palace, official residence of Russia’s emperors from 1732 to until the 1917 revolution. What viewer could forget Russian Ark’s breathtaking final scene, which opens as the camera floats into the midst of a grand ball set in 1913 — taking place in the very hall it would have in 1913?
Now, at least in terms of duration, Apple has gone to the Hermitage and done Sokurov one better: its new advertisement for the iPhone 11 Pro is a five-hour journey through the entire museum, shot by filmmaker Axinya Gog in one continuous take — all, of course, on the phone itself. Like Russian Ark, it constitutes a cinematic achievement not possible before recent technological advances. Sokurov demonstrated the new possibilities of digital video camera that could capture film-like images; Gog demonstrates the new possibilities of a camera-phone with not only the battery life to shoot five straight hours of video, but at a resolution that looks at least as good as the cutting-edge digital video of 2002.
Just above appears the trailer for the ad, which hints that what the full production might lack in storytelling ambitions compared to a film like Russian Ark, it makes up for in not just duration but other human elements. Gog’s camera — or rather, iPhone — captures a Hermitage Museum without the usual crowds, striking enough in itself, but also with the addition of skilled dancers and musicians (even beyond those who recorded the video’s score). This in addition to no fewer than 588 works of art spread across 43 galleries, including paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens. The deeper you go, the more you’ll realize that, even if you’ve spent serious time in the Hermitage yourself, you’ve never had this kind of aesthetic experience there before. It may sound excessive to say “watch to the end,” but if any five-hour video has ever merited that insistence, here it is.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.