Ten Great Tracking Shots

GreatTrackingShots

The tracking shot is the gateway drug for film nerds. It’s one of the first camera techniques that any viewer can recognize on film. Dictionary.com defines it succinctly as “a camera shot in which the cameraman follows a specific person or event in the action.” Here are ten great examples.

Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
It’s impossible to include this clip without including a spoiler. Electra Glide in Blue is the perfect example of a flawed film that possesses moments of brilliance- exactly the kind of film that you can learn a lot from. This scene blew me away. I like to pretend that there’s still a camera on a dolly somewhere in Arizona that’s been pulling back for the last 40 years.

I Am Cuba (1964)
This really is breath-taking, swooping in and out of the crowded streets into an aerial of a crowded funeral mass. Amazing.

Weekend (1967)
Godard’s traffic jam shot in Weekend is legendary. It takes major balls to fill up seven minutes of a film with nothing but a traffic jam set to the constant sound of honking horns, complete with French life going on in the periphery. Here it is with commentary.

Boogie Nights (1997)
If you were alive during the 1970s at all, and especially if you were alive during the 1990s revival of 70s nostalgia, then you understand how effectively PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) captures both eras. It’s peppered all over the film, especially in the tracking shot at the pool party. It says a lot for Anderson’s skill that this is one of two tracking shots from the film that easily could’ve been included.

The Shining (1980)
This tracking shot works on so many levels. The use of sound is tremendous and jarring. The whole thing builds suspense around several parts of the hotel. And it strikes an odd nostalgic chord if you ever owned been four and ridden a Big Wheel. Who knew that the rumble of a Big Wheel could be such an effective device?

Contempt (1963)
Godard strikes twice on the list, this time with a stationary shot of a cameraman recording a tracking shot, which might just be the most French New Wave thing ever put to celluloid.

Hugo (2011)
The opening shot of the film was shot the way 3D is meant to be used, with clockwork dissolving into an aerial of the Paris streets, eventually arriving at the train station that Hugo calls home. Given Scorsese’s love of a  constantly-moving camera, it’s no surprise that he’d be on here twice.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
There’s a brilliant tracking shot early in the film that cuts a swath across Shaun’s neighborhood as he wakes up, hungover, to make his daily trip to the convenience store. Like other great tracking shots on this list, it’s effective because it conveys so much while showing so little. In one short span of time, we come to learn that the zombie outbreak has happened, and Shaun- sleepwalking through life- barely even notices, even as he walks by multiple zombies. And it strikes the humor chord so well, in typical Edgar Wright fashion.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)
It’s not as long as its peers on this list, but it mimics Godard’s work from Contempt and twists it into something uniquely American. It’s just another flourish illustrating Kubrick’s prowess as a filmmaker. Also, Surfin’ Bird.

Goodfellas (1990)
This list is incomplete without it. The economy of the story in this tiny three minute clip is filmmaking at its finest.


21 Comments

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21 responses to “Ten Great Tracking Shots

  1. Great list! The Shining is probably my personal favourite – it’s just a terrifying opening to the film.

  2. Wait! You forgot the tracking shot in Swingers. 😉

    • Pretty sure my only thought when I saw that movie was “Cool! I should act like I’m in the Rat Pack and drink martinis!”

      • Awwww! I love that movie. Oh well. You can’t like them all I guess. No worries. You’re still “So money!” in my book.

        Now I need a cocktail. Then again, what else is new?

  3. Love this. Nothing beats a great tracking shot. Two others that come to mind: the opening of Touch of Evil, and the jogging sequence through NYC in Shame.

  4. Phil

    Ok, great list, but…
    I love the Hugo shot, but I think there’s too much CGI to call it a geat tracking shot.
    You probably know this, but the Boogie Nights shot is a ‘homage’ to the party scene in I Am Cuba.
    Is this the Touch of Evil memorial list? The greatest tracking shot in film history, right? Hitchcock wanted to copy it for the opening of Psycho, but couldn’t pull it off.

    • I felt a little guilty about Hugo for sure. I’m glad someone called me on it.

      Aaaand… I need to re-watch Touch of Evil. The shame. THE SHAME!

  5. 2 Godards. 2 Kubricks. Sounds about right.

  6. nimorphi

    You are forgetting the battle scene at the end of Children of Men. It is around six minutes long and takes place in an all out battle.
    Also, on the Shining. Their is a documentary out called Room 237 about fan theories about it, from the logical (it is about the genocide on American Indians) to the absurd (it is an autobiography of Kubrick’s emotions when he was filming fake footage for the moon landing). One of the theories is about how Danny’s big wheel rides at first show a static layout of the hotel and then later there they show inconsistencies in the layout of the hotel.

  7. I won’t mention Touch of Evil since others have 😉

    Some very good examples here, though. As someone above mentioned, plenty of Kubrick and Scorsese and Godard, which is good. However, I would have to include some Tarantino. He’s great with that stuff at times. I immediately think of Travolta strolling around Jack Rabbit Slims. Or the even better one: Kiddo when she goes to The House of Blue Leaves, that one was just beautiful to watch.

  8. Great list! I love tracking shots and each one of these are amazing. Love the inclusion of Full Metal Jacket.

  9. Superb picks. Love what you said about Boogie Nights. PTA really knew what he was doing there. What skill, and from someone so damn young.

  10. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    For my money, the best tracking shot in the history of tracking shots has got to be the Spice Girls video for Wannabee.

  11. Awesome list and terrific site. I am definitely following. If you get a chance, I recently started my own blog and would love it if you or anyone would come check it out, thanks.

  12. Great post. I don’t know if it would make the list but the intro to Altman’s Short Cuts is pretty good. Plus, Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin together.

  13. Pingback: Month in Review: March | French Toast Sunday

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