Yesterday we looked at examples of Lost-style non-linear storylines. Today, in honor of 24, we’ll run down some examples of real-time TV and film.
The most obvious for Keifer Sutherland fans is Phone Booth, in which a man answers a ringing telephone and comes to regret it. Sutherland is the voice of the man making the call, so it’s hardly a Bauer-esque action-filled role on his part. The movie works well for what it is, though.
When you talk about real-time movies, the all-time classic is Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the play Rope. It begins with two men murdering a former classmate, to then watch them spend the next 80 minutes as they hold a party with the food served on top of the chest in which they’ve stashed the body. The real-time, continuous scene approach is impressive, but to modern audiences the technique Hitchcock uses to get round technical limitations may appear clumsy: with film stock limiting continuous shooting to around 10 minutes, the joins are made by zooming into and out of a solid background such as a jacket.
If you want 24’s approach taken to the limit, check out Timecode. It involves the screen being split into four shots, each running continuously in real-time. The audio fades up and down to put the emphasis on whichever “scene” is most important to plot development at any time. It’s certainly creative (particularly on DVD where all four soundtracks are available in isolation), but not particularly enthralling once you get past the gimmick.
The same can’t be said of 102 Minutes That Changed America, a History Channel documentary about the attacks of 11 September 2001. It’s made up of dozens of different clips shot by ordinary people on camcorders and edited in a simple way: the footage is in real-time and at any particular moment, the most powerful video recorded at that moment is shown. The result is that instead of simply showing the Twin Towers collapsing on a loop, it puts the events into context and conveys the lack of information most people had and the panic they felt. The choice of footage for the moment the second plane hits the tower is probably the most chilling piece of reality you will ever see.