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The Long Take: What's the Big Deal Already?

Ah, the long tracking shot -- cinema's most pretentious device. Sure, they can be fun and flashy, but like a loud and insecure extrovert, they also tend to draw a lot of attention to themselves. Isn't the point to get lost in the story?

As a young cinephile, of course, I loved them. They're the fastball of cinema language, and when used well, they can be masterful: in The Shining, for instance, when Kubrick follows young Danny at knee-level as he rides his Big Wheel through the hotel (one of cinema's first Steadicam shots, by the way), it draws us in, creating an almost unbearable amount of suspense. Classic examples abound, like the opening shot of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (feel free to skip past the text at the beginning):

Of course, Evil is a classic, and it's tough to aspire to classic-hood. Another famous tracking shot, the long and hilarious opening of Robert Altman's The Player, works beautifully because it references Welles' shot directly without being pretentious -- instead falling somewhere between homage and parody. (Apologies for the French subtitles here; YouTube has been pretty scrupulous about axing popular-but-copyrighted content lately):

In a very real way, young director P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, this year's magnificent There Will Be Blood) inherited the mantle of Robert Altman -- Anderson's complex ensemble scenes, where the camera roves between different conversations and people talk over one another in a more or less natural way, recalls Altman's best work (Nashville, for instance), and when Altman was directing what was to be his final picture, A Priarie Home Companion, he was in such failing health that he elected P.T. Anderson to be something like his Vice-Director, with the understanding that if Altman died during the shoot, Anderson would finish it. Which is a long-winded way of saying, Anderson is a guy who loves long takes, and he does them well, and if Altman thinks the kid's alright, then I do, too. (Insert smiley here, however inappropriate in the text of a blog.) Blah blah blah -- check out the opening shot of Boogie Nights, which sets the mood perfectly, introduces most of the film's important characters, and gets your foot tapping to boot, and you'll see what I mean ... it's Altman, Scorsese and I Am Cuba all rolled into one. (More iconic tracking shots can be found by clicking the links above.)

I know, I know. I'm supposed to be writing about how annoying tracking shots can be, but I've just spent three paragraphs extolling them. The trouble is, if you're going to do one of these shots, you have to do it really well, or it can become a spectacular, attention-grabbing failure. Coppola said something while he was making Apocalypse Now, that if you strive for greatness, the danger is that you'll fall just slightly short of your goal and end up making something that's just pretentious. Pretentious wants to be great, but isn't. I would put the "famous" long tracking shot in this year's Oscar contender Atonement in that category: pretentious, distracting and kind of pointless -- it stops the story in its tracks while the director shows off. Here's a clip of it (with the sound replaced, thanks YouTube, sigh):

In sum, I think the tracking shot is a dangerous proposition, but one we're seeing more and more of, in part thanks to the increasingly lightweight nature of cameras -- but just because you can shoot for 60 minutes without cutting doesn't necessarily mean that doing so makes you a cinematic genius. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter -- and please keep in mind that this brief list above is by no means meant to be complete!

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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