Another edition of My Favourite Scenes - another tracking shot. Sue me!
This is the opening scene to Derek Cianfrance's, The Place Beyond the Pines, starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan. Although it didn't cause much of a stir amongst critics, I'd highly recommend this beautifully made movie. It's certainly one of the most original screenplays from 2012, not to mention gorgeously shot throughout.
Technically, this scene is superbly directed and a fine example of a carefully blocked long take. The handheld camera weaves behind Gosling as he walks through the hustle and bustle of a busy fairground, maintaining a safe distance but never letting its star get too far ahead. Out of focus neon lights shine in the background and a blue hue illuminates the back of Gosling's leather jacket as he speedily makes his way to an unknown destination. Somewhere in this two and a half minute scene is a secret cut as Gosling is swapped out for a stunt rider. The genius is that, after watching this clip 10-15 times, I still can't put my finger on where that cut is.
As a character introduction, it's a daring and atypical one. Gosling doesn't say a word, we don't even get to see his face until he hops on the back of a motorbike. But we don't need to see a face or hear a voice to gauge the character. The first frame reveals a tattoo-laden torso covered in skulls, knives and snakes. And the jacket that Gosling throws on is full of holes and well worn. Despite people taking his picture and asking for autographs, Gosling doesn't talk to any of his fans, barely even acknowledging them in fact. And as he enters the arena, he doesn't seem affected by the stage before him. It seems this strange setting is a crude type of home for him.
For me, this scene is perfect because it establishes character without superfluous dialogue or exposition. Derek Cianfrance simply lets the audience figure out what character Luke is by letting them analyse the images themselves. This encapsulates the whole movie and is very much in keeping with Cianfrance's subtle, ultra-detailed style. It's also an extremely difficult camera movement. With the various changes in lighting, sound and the mass of people involved, it must have taken a lot of takes to get right.
Here's the scene (0:13-2:56):