Tag Archives: Bi Gan

Sam Hamilton, ‘The Obsessive Perspective’


Video Essay


Creator’s Statement: 


This work has three principle aims; to delineate a term in the canon of stereoscopic (3D) film studies which Spöhrer points out1 is a fledgling field and warrants investigation, secondly to link this term to the longstanding cinematic device of one point perspective, and finally to create an impression of how the director of Long Day’s Journey Into Night reveals an obsessive protagonist and how this ultimately links to the use of 3D.


The term is the Obsessive Perspective, which can be understood as Mulvey’s notion of the ‘gaze’2 and its potency when combined with an obsessed protagonist and one point perspective. Although this is not an essay on the male gaze, the notion of the male gaze is a fascinating pretext for this video essay which associates the way (often male) directors deploy one point perspective to channel an (often male) character’s psychological fixation on a singular goal into the audience’s viewpoint. I link this to the use of 3D in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.


In Long Day’s Journey Into Night the philosophy of the sun, Buddhism, meshes with the genre of the night, film noir. It is intensely stylish and a beautiful modern restaging of the classical Hollywood noir, full of all the anxiety, eroticism, existential terror and rain-soaked nocturnal imagery that identifies the genre, applied to a new country, a new language and a new culture. But what makes Long Day exceptional is two things. A poetic wisdom to the way these elements combine to affect the audience. And a 59-minute shot stereo converted in post production to alluring 3D.


3D, which also creates artificial depth in a 2D medium as does perspective, creates the feeling of almost being able to touch the object in the frame3. I introduce this train of thought in the essay by invoking Jeong’s claim that 3D long takes are ‘not just a complete representation of reality, but a complete presentation of our being embedded in a represented reality’4. This chimes with the director’s intentions for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, being ‘the conjuration of fake three dimensional memories’5. The film clearly illustrates a psychological journey, full of intentional lapses in unities of space and time, that prevent any assumption we are watching a physical reality. For in this filmmaking intention, there is grounds to suggest that 3D in Long Day’s Journey Into Night activates a closer sense of viewing the perceived reality we live in than a by-standing Bazinian camera. A represented reality, as opposed to mere reality, is a subjective one, one which must by nature have a perspective, which in this case relates everything in the frame back to Wan Qiwen. Hence every texture and element of mise-en-scene which is heightened by 3D, an effect which mesmerised a mass audience in Avatar, is channelled back to that focal point of Wan Qiwen, at the centre of a psychological one point perspective even when the frame is not set up as a one point perspective with her in it.


Kogonada made clear the prevalence of one point perspective in the cinema of Stanley Kubrick, by cutting together over a hundred frames from his filmography6. But there is more than a filmmaking style to the way one point perspective has been used throughout cinematic history. This video essay draws upon the proclivity to use one point perspective in those moments where characters or their mental states are represented in a vortex. Spinning spirals, illusions and stereoscopic effects using vortexes that incur stereolepsis – seeing in 3D –  were eventually omitted from the final cut of the video essay on the one hand because it drew time away from the important explanation of Luo’s psychological state but also because such effects are known to trigger seizures in some viewers. They are useful tools, however, to distort vision and make the same clip appear different afterwards, demonstrating the important point behind 3D’s significance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night that should you change the way you look at a thing, what you look at changes too.


This video essay ultimately left me with more questions as to the specific nature of watching a film in 3D. Since autostereograms and optical illusions possess such a capability to reshape the frame as your eyes perceive it7, those curious about 3D should look into its own inherent effects on the film experience. One of the more curious discoveries I made while researching for this video essay, for example, one of the central pieces of information that I find warrants an intrinsic investigation of 3D as a technology, was a neurological discovery made by Liuye Yao, not long after the release of the film, that indicates extended viewing of 3D movies triggers theta wave activity, which only ever appears elsewhere during REM sleep. The suggestion that 3D has a hypnotic nature here gains some credence. It shows there is some psychological utility to the technology beyond merely exciting our senses. And it reinforces this video essay’s presupposition that 3D was the right choice for invoking an obsessive man’s wandering odyssey into a dreamworld.

Sam Hamilton




























Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022, No. 3: Sam Hamilton on Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, 2018)

An insightful conversation on a film that’s difficult to grasp in terms of plot but which nonetheless offers us enough to have returned twice more to see it. In the podcast, we discuss the famous 59 minute tracking shot, how the film shifts gears narratively and stylistically; how the first half may deal with memory and the second with dreams; we talk of the film’s texture, how sound often works against image and how the images themselves are precise and controlled; we relate the film to noir (time, rain, vamps, fedoras, its evocation of BLADE RUNNER). We relate the film to the work of Jia Zhang Ke and Tsiai Ming Lang; and we talk of how it’s a film that may leave audiences initially puzzled but that seems to grow in their estimation as discussion unfolds. All this, and much, much more.

The podcast may be listened to here:


José Arroyo and Sam Hamilton

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 207 – Long Day’s Journey into Night

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify

José’s seen it once and returns to its depths for a second time, alongside Mike, who knows nothing about it. Chinese writer-director Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, unrelated to Eugene O’Neill’s play, tells a story that flashes between memories of a love lost long ago and present day reality, culminating in an hour-long single take that moves through an entire mining village.

It’s a film that oozes feelings of loss and nostalgia, the protagonist’s return to his hometown seeing him wander through dereliction and abandonment, where his life was once vital and exciting. The noirish flashbacks are sumptuously composed and lit, romantic and evocative; one sinks into those gorgeous images.

The long take that comprises the film’s second half is less successful, an exercise in form that leaves longueurs and attracts too much attention to itself. But its relationship to the first half is intriguing, its symbolism readily apparent if difficult to interpret, and its technical accomplishment unquestioned. (We didn’t see this version of it, but it’s entirely in 3D, which we can only imagine heightens its fluid, magical tone.)

Despite José’s criticisms, it’s one of his films of the year, though for Mike its qualities don’t offer enough to counterbalance a second half with which he really struggled. But it’s certainly worth your time, and if it’s showing near you, you should catch it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.