The fixed shot
If the fixed shot is the most widely used shot in filmmaking, there have been several filmmakers who turned it into their main form of filming expressiveness, such as: Manoel de Oliveira, Pedro Costa, Abbas Kiarostami, Philippe Garrel, Jean Eustache, Les Straubs, Yasuchiro Ozu…
In the beginning was the shot
A shot can be measured as one filming unit. A piece of time/space recorded without interruption, starting when a recording device is triggered (camera, camcorder, cellphone, computer) and ending when it stops. The first shot ever recorded in the history of cinematography was evidently fixed. Whenever a scene is filmed through several points of views, technicians had to differentiate between them in order to separate them from one another. “Therefore, we will be referring to the principal characters situation by dividing the space into shots that are perpendicular to the camera’s axis. Hence the use of the word shot. It was the preferred distance used to fine-tune adjustments.”
By using the fixed shot, the director chooses to keep the viewer at a certain distance of the perceived reality, similar to a painting. Coming from the name of the Brothers Lumière, the “Lumierist” is a fixed shot moviemaker. He invites us to look at things the way they are, making us see better, using all of his authority to make the slightest movement visible, the slightest move inside the frame. When he needs all our attention, he writes his action in a determined duration. Therefore, the camera’s (device) fixation, combined with the shot's duration, seems to bring forth an added reality, a feeling of “live” action. For a moment, narration stops, the story hanging in suspense.
Yasuchiro Ozu, the master
The fixed shot can be qualified as structuring when it is conceived in order to be articulated with other fixed shots, for example, in table scenes with several guests. There are so many (low) table scenes in Yasuchiro Ozu's films. Starting 1948, his style toughens up and this statement corresponds to a breach in Japan’s history, a country who just got out of a lost war. Ozu observes the mess, the world's chaos, thinking that the tragedy cannot be represented after the annihilation of Hiroshima. In order to render this sense of chaos, the filmmaker inversed the agreed on values of his representation by de-dramatising his stories. Ozu answers the world’s mess by a calm, meticulous organisation, devoid of shapes. He puts a precise device into place, using only a medium-length lens, only framing fixed shots with a camera placed 70 cm above the ground. In his films, the pain of living merges with the banality of everyday life. The scenes often end with a silent character, still inside a fixed shot. This moment gives us a gentle access to his inner self, his helplessness, the passage of time.
Narrative or not
Some artists have endorsed the fixed shot as their central figure of speech. They work alone or in a reduced team by both economic and practical necessity. In contemporary art, the fixed shot becomes a powerful argument in order to avoid any narration form. Andy Warhol, with his 8 hours fixed shot in "Empire State Building" (1964) wants to breakup with the notion of narrativity. He leaves the viewer alone in the thickness of the time that passes, in a way forcing him to tell himself some kind of story.
However, the radicalism of the fixed shot can also be tuned to the narration, like in the beautiful movie of Wang Bing, "Fengming", showing a woman sitting in her living room and telling the story of fifty years of existence in China in 3 hours. The minimalistic editing is essentially linked to the changing of the camera tapes. Wang Bing observes, in considerable detail, the woman telling her own story, however, it is also about the present being filmed, the realism in its natural temporality. There, in the fixed shot, can be found some of the cinematographer’s essence.