In traditional film terms, “master shot” refers to the widest angle of a scene, typically cut and left behind in once it’s provided a perfunctory overview of the scene’s geography. An “opening shot” is of course the first image of a film, and when used by filmmakers so inclined, can serve as a spiritual or symbolic (and for some daring folks, even literal) master shot for the entire film it is introducing. It could be ingenious, inept, or just functional; in every case, the construction of the shot tells you something about the experience of the rest of the film. Should you trust this film? The opening shot, like any first impression, hints at the answer.
It’s truly exhilarating to experience an opening shot that seems to resonate deep down, generating excitement simply because it exists, and because it exists exactly the way it is, and then have that tingle of intuition confirmed by the rest of the film matching that one frame in skill, precision, and intention. It’s all of a whole, of course, and the opening shot is really but one element working in concert with many others, but we don’t think like that when we’re in the middle of seeing it. The gift of time allows us to discover the film, peel the layers, and tremble, wondering if our trust in such a strong first impression will be validated. The films that launch on such a single, compelling image, and sustain the trust earned by it are the films I consider masterful. The experience of learning that they are “true” in a sense, true to that tingle, makes me think of them like friends.
And so, as the title suggests, here are three master shots in spirit and in truth:
In order: Three Colours: Blue (Kieslowski, 1993); Birth (Glazer, 2004); Certified Copy (Kiarostami, 2011)
Related: Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project