Year in review: in October, we released The Miracle Worker on DVD and Blu-ray.

PAUSE IT: What do you see? In a scene from Arthur Penn’s 1962 classic, The Miracle Worker, teacher for the blind and deaf Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) gives Helen Keller (Patty Duke) her first lesson. The story of Helen Keller, the remarkable woman who since childhood had been without sight, hearing, or speech is perhaps well known to you. With the aid of her life-long companion and friend, Sullivan, Keller learned to communicate and would later go on to be a tireless activist for human rights and social change around the world. To depict Keller’s harrowing journey from cloistered child to precocious young adult, Arthur Penn and cinematographer Ernesto Caparros employed the use of the long take. In the film’s most memorable sequences, Sullivan tussles with Keller, sometimes with brutal physical and psychological consequences, to instill in her a sense of decorum and to undo years of neglect. These scenes are largely shot in a long take. A long take is an unbroken shot that is held long enough to capture a complete unit of action. While the average shot length of a typical modern Hollywood film might last for three or fewer seconds, Penn’s last much longer. In The Miracle Worker, we get shots like the one pictured above that will sometimes last for upwards of tens of seconds. What this allows is for the actors to play the action in real time. For these school lessons, all the frustration, humor, and compassion are thus allowed to exist as they actually are — without the manipulation of montage. Our emotions are with Keller and our sympathies with Sullivan when we get to watch the struggles play out like a knock-down, drag-out fight. In these instances, we engage because we feel as though we are witnessing something that is happening authentically with documentary-like realism. As Keller learns and becomes more adept at her lessons, it is also the fact that this journey has been captured in a long take that helps to give us our well-deserved, and hard-fought, sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

The Miracle Worker (1962)
Director: Arthur Penn
Cast: Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Victor Jory, Inga Swenson
Cinematography by: Ernesto Caparrós
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray