• One Scene: The Cranes Are Flying

    By Haskell Wexler


    I first saw Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying in Chicago in 1957. The film’s cinematography, by the great Sergei Urusevsky, has been a major influence on my career. The shot in the film that stands out most for me starts at about twenty-five minutes in. It begins handheld, when the character Veronica looks out the window of a bus, and continues out into a vast crowd of people. Then there’s a fast lateral movement going out of the bus and past a car, which could be just a great handheld move or was perhaps done on an improvised dolly. We can see a wide street through the crowd. Veronica stops for a beat of three seconds at the edge of the boulevard—at this moment, a crane seat was slipped under Sergei. The camera then cranes up to see the tanks and a wide view of the crowd.

    I knew Sergei for many years. And for a long time, even though we talked about his astonishing visual extravaganza I Am Cuba (1964), also directed by Kalatozov, I didn’t realize it was he who had shot The Cranes Are Flying. I borrowed the above shot for a combination shot for the 1976 film Bound for Glory. For that, I will modestly accept the description of a “spectacular shot,” along with the Academy Award.

    It’s amazing that the shot that comes to mind in 2011 when I'm asked to name an image from a film that's affected my work is from a film I haven’t seen since 1957. To me, that has an element of drama in it.

    Haskell Wexler is the two-time Academy Award–winning cinematographer behind Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Bound for Glory. The 1969 film Medium Cool, which he wrote, directed, and shot, was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2003. Learn more about Wexler here.


  • By David Hollingsworth
    August 22, 2011
    04:30 PM

    Thank you, Mr. Wexler. I couldn't agree more; this particular scene was etched in my mind ever since I saw the film. It's one of the best scenes in film history, in my opinion.
    • By Mark Lager
      January 05, 2012
      02:43 AM

      Mr. Wexler, Thank You for sharing your insight as a director. This film's cinematography is truly innovative--the scene you mentioned, the dying thoughts of the soldier sequence, and the tour de force of Veronica running past the train station, so visceral and dynamic. I'm also reminded of the dazzling cinematography of Sergei Paradjanov's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors--the sense of movement is exhilarating.
  • By Kenny M.
    August 22, 2011
    05:47 PM

    Please for the love of all that is holy give Wexler's amazing film "Medium Cool" a Criterion Collection release.
    • By Batzomon
      March 31, 2013
      03:00 PM

      Boom. Done.
  • By John
    August 23, 2011
    01:01 PM

    Damn. That was a masterful shot.
  • By Mike
    August 23, 2011
    01:57 PM

    Wow, I've never seen this before. What an amazing take. Thanks for posting this.
  • By Gary Aldrich
    August 24, 2011
    11:28 AM

    PLEASE......DO give THE CRANES ARE FLYING your incredible Blu-Ray treatment, as this IS a movie which deserves such improvement..... along with, of course......STALKER by Tarkovsky! Thanks!
  • By G. Sweet
    August 25, 2011
    05:09 AM

    Agreed! The Cranes are Flying is one blu upgrade I really want. And release The Letter Never Sent along side it too, which you just put up on hulu. I hope we don't have to wait long for a release of that film.
  • By Steve Lampen
    September 04, 2011
    02:19 AM

    Too bad they didn't post the scene he mentions from "Bound For Glory". I think it is the opening shot of the film (or close to it). It's the reverse of the shot mentioned here, starting high up on a crane with a very wide shot of a crowd, and coming down into the crowd. Then the camera, which is on a very early Steadicam mount, get's off the crane and walks through the crowd following a lead character. Yes, aobsolutely riveting. (And also a good friend of mine Toni Vian, a dress extra, runs through this shot as it proceeds.)
  • By Jeremy Hoare
    January 04, 2012
    03:41 PM

    This film had a huge influence on me, I saw it at The Academy Cinema on London's Oxford Street, since demolished and now a Marks and Spencer store. It was owned by a Yugoslav, Ivo Jarosy, who was a double agent during WW2.
    • By Andras Szekfu
      April 18, 2012
      05:33 PM

      Is this story about Ivo Jarosy documented somewhere?
  • By Jeremy Hoare
    January 04, 2012
    03:44 PM

    I also have to add that Haskell Wexler is one of my heroes of camerawork!
  • By Michael Medeiros
    May 06, 2012
    04:21 PM

    Haven't seen the film but the shot is crafty and brilliant and ultimately uncanny. Had to watch it a couple times to really get it. --www.bennettparkfilms.com
  • By Sunny
    December 05, 2012
    03:37 AM

    Beautiful Tatiana Samoilova! love
  • By Pierre Samuel Rioux
    March 30, 2013
    10:32 PM

    Very nice shot this it's a film i need in my collection. One i like very much it's done by Sergei Paradjanov in 1964 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. You have shot done in a way i never seen after. The first parts it's great the secound it's darker and I like it less.
  • By Barry Moore
    July 17, 2013
    05:42 PM

    The camerawork in this beautiful film is truly extraordinary and justly famous; there were times while watching that I was reminded of Orson Welles, finding the same sense of stretching the medium to its limits for its own delightful sake. It is remarkable that in this, surely one of the masterpieces of Soviet and Russian cinema, no mention or image of Stalin is ever encountered, when in reality, his name and likeness must have been ubiquitous in the Soviet Union during the years this film is set.
    • By Cineman
      October 31, 2013
      09:02 PM

      Not true. This film was made during the "thaw" and after Khrushchev's secret speech at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, which denounced the cult of Stalin. De-Stalinization was in full swing.
    • By Cineman
      October 31, 2013
      09:03 PM

      But I agree that the camerawork is absolutely masterful.