The Longest of the Best

It is a pity that “Drive” was not streaming online at the outset of the current quarantine. It is a work of conceptual, visual, technical and logistical brilliance
that, at fifty-seven hours in length, is presenting Director, James Rasin (“Beautiful Darling” 2010) and Director of Photography, Paul Reuter, with a difficult birth:
their “baby” is currently too big to stream, too much data for installation. I had not thought this possible, speaking cyber as I do with a foreigner’s accent but I am assured by the filmmakers that a screening solution is in the pipeline via custom-designed computer hardware.

Photograph of a long straight road to the horizon with a pale blue sky with clouds.
“Day Horizon”

“Drive,” in one shot, records a road trip from Greenwich Village to an oceanside parking lot in Malibu. Think of it: how do you do pull this off gracefully, artfully, without a hitch? The simplest things are the hardest to make well —a truly good cup of coffee, the perfectly boiled egg. Here, the concept is crystalline; its execution, Byzantine. Example: the camera’s point of view. You cannot mount a camera and a driver in the same place. Solution: a right-hand drive car, old enough to be exempt from U.S. import specifications but young enough to make it across the country. In Washington State, Rasin found a 1989 Toyota van, the “Master Ace Surf Special, Turbo Diesel.” (Nothing short here.) A custom made camera mount had to be fitted out for the van’s passenger side; behind it twin DVRs backed each other up, recording duplicate files; in front of the camera a specially fabricated neutral density filter that can be adjusted on the fly for the trip’s two sunsets; behind the van another van for support and sleep; and way up ahead, someone to hold the parking place in Malibu. Had you thought of that?

Photo of the two men by their van, showing some of the technical seup inside the van.
James Rasin & Paul Reuter in their Toyota van

Logistics aside, this film is beautiful. I have watched a two and a half hour clip (yes, for a fifty-seven hour film, that is a clip) beginning somewhere east of Amarillo and ending at a gas station in Tucumcari, during which the sun sets and sheet lightning pops in the darkling distance. What is remarkable about Paul Reuter’s cinematography here is how closely it approximates actual vision. The clip begins with the sky blue but the sun low, sometimes obscured by cloud but sometimes not and shining directly into the lens. Filtration and exposure are constantly, seamlessly and (poor Reuter) tirelessly adjusted so that we see not only the sunset but also the road, the storm clouds ahead, the passing semi trailers reflecting roseate hues of day’s end and finally the lamp-lit world of Interstate at night. A day’s work for the eye but daunting to reproduce with art tools — pen, brush, digital camera.

Photograph of a long straight road to the horizon as night falls and a car with headlines come toward the viewer in the left hand lane
“Night Horizon”

On balance, “Drive” brings off Rasin’s concept with cut-throat efficiency. How could this one-shot film be more concise, shorter? The work is a wordless narrative that anyone who has ever driven on a highway can feel as immediately as any drama … and for as long as he or she likes. Up for the ride?

photo of the Toyota van at a gas station
“gassing up”

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