Thursday, April 29, 2010

In The Time It Takes...

How long is too long? (Thats what she said)

A friend of mine claims that "The Dark Knight" was a little too long; I, on the other hand, didn't want it to end. So what proceeded was a conversation on just how long is too long for the run time of a film.

I'm a film purist and I totally believe in the medium's ability to tell a compelling story. And telling a compelling story should not have a time limit. I believe filmmakers should take as much time as needed to tell the story they want to tell. Of course, this doesn't mean that a filmmaker should cram in as much story as possible simple because he can. Storytelling, or more specifically good storytelling, is an art and as such a storyteller should be as concise as possible to garner and sustain an audience's attention. Human beings, sadly, are not known for their tolerance of time consuming media, particularly now in the age of quick "bite size" entertainment. So a story, no matter what medium its told in, should be digestible for the average person ... but this doesn't have to be a rule.

Somewhere along the road of film's history an hour and a half to two hours became the norm for the length of an average movie. There have been exceptions to this norm over the years, but films of that nature are typically regulated to the "experimental" or "art" films genre. Take for instance, Andy Warhol's films "Sleep" and "Empire", which lasted five hours twenty minutes and eight hours five minutes respectively. These two films were basically experiments on the "long take" ("Sleep" consisted of five hours of a man sleeping and "Empire" was eight hours of the Empire State building at night) but their length tested the limits of what an audience would accept as a "viewable" film. Many would argue that the films being unwatchable was exactly the reaction Warhol was going for, however they retain their importance as prime examples that cinema, at it's very core, should not be bound by length. Of course it does say something when out of the nine people in the audience to watch Warhol's "Sleep", two left after the first hour. Apparently audiences want a concise story. Who would have thought.

A concise story, I believe, can be a film like "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", which ran three hours and twenty minutes, which, in my opinion, did not run the risk of losing its audience because of length. I do however believe around three hours should be a "quasi" limit if a film is to be consumed in one sitting; I mean let’s be honest, who can sit still for longer than that to watch a film. I admit, I am irritated sometimes when a person dislikes a film purely on length alone; a friend argued that “The Matrix Revolutions” was unsuccessful because of its length. If a film's story isn't compelling enough to sustain the film's length, then yes length can be a deciding factor in critiquing a film badly; however judging a film because it tried your patience is something else. Films are not supposed to fit in nice neat boxes to please audiences; they are created to stand on their own and to be taken as is. No one ever criticizes the artwork of the Sistine Chapel as being "too much to take in at once" because of its immense detail. Its excepted simply as is.

Here's to hoping that one day we can break free of the lifestyle we've become accustomed to; the lifestyle of quick, easy gratification. There is something to be said for endurance and patience.What’s that old saying?

“The best things come to those who . . . watch.”

Send me a comment and let me know your thoughts on film as it pertains to the argument of length!


1 comment:

  1. Filmmakers can't please everybody. There are always going to be those that love a long movie as a form of escape from the real world or those who hate it because of a short attention span.

    As long as the story is a good one, the length of the movie won't matter. Take "Avatar" for example. Classic James Cameron with a 3-hour-long movie (I'm having "Titanic" flashbacks as I type), but everyone I know walked out of the theater in amazement that the movie "didn't seem like 3 hours."

    To make a long rant short: length doesn't matter, only how it makes you feel <*insert Michael Scott's "That's what she said" here*>