The verdict I gave when the lights came up was, “I fell asleep three different times”. My friend laughed a little – arrogantly so – having predicted that I’d find Lincoln boring when we bought the tickets. In fact, it was palatable enough for as biopic. But at 150 minutes it was just too long. And I’ve had a gutful.
Sure, I have an overarching objection to sitting still for longer than 90 minutes: I get fidgety, disruptive, and am hard-pressed resisting the gravitational pull of my phone.
But my true objection centres not on the achy coccyx or restless legs. I simply do not understand why a story can’t be told in 90 minutes.
From high school through to my undergraduate years, every single assignment I ever wrote was ridiculously over the word length. No matter the topic, no matter my interest level, I’d research like a maniac and think that the only way to show how much work I’d done was to write copiously.
I had all kinds of elaborate techniques to “hide” words: narrowed margins, smaller fonts, my beloved kerning. Once I started tutoring as a PhD student however – once I was tasked with marking essays – I realised how immature and farcical it all was. And I promptly learnt my lesson.
I suspect that my naive belief that quantity was the best way to crow about my labours is akin to the rationale of Hollywood’s Long Film Syndrome.
An unnamed director recently described Django Unchained as Quentin Tarantino “masturbating for three hours”. Harsh. But I too would question the levels of self-indulgence of a director taking three hours to tell a story. Any story.
I had been on a sketchy mission to see all the Oscar nominees before the ceremony. I couldn’t however, bring myself to see Django, and the thought of sitting through Les Miserables made by arse ache. 165 and 158 minutes respectively.
Comedian Rita Rudner – discussing her friend’s long labour – commented, “I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for 36 hours”. And I often think of this line when a film approaches the two-hour mark. My aversion to sitting still of course, is on its own insufficient grounds to protest film length. Instead, let us turn to the economists.
I might have exited that undegrad microeconomics class with a pitiful mark of 66%, but I did pick up a couple of handy terms. One is the law of diminishing marginal utility.
The law of diminishing marginal utility states that the more of a product the consumer has, the less will be the marginal utility… The idea of declining marginal utility is based on the assumption that even though human wants are, in general unlimited, the desire for any particularly product is limited.
Or, as I like to paraphrase it: the first chocolate in the box tastes best, each subsequent bite tastes a little less good until you eat so many you’re ill.
And film is the same. The film might be good – the film might even be great – but it’s not getting any better the longer it drags out; in fact, the sitting, and the restlessness and the needing to go pee pee all likely detract from the enjoyment.
I have actually seen a few of the films on the three-hour plus list. I really liked Deer Hunter, for example, but I’m pretty sure I’d have loved it had it not ran for 185 minutes. Ditto Schindler’s List (195 minutes) and Magnolia (188 minutes). And at a ridiculous 317 minutes, 1900 was way too much effort for one scene of Stefania Casini giving simultaneous hand jobs to two men. (Even if those men were Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu).
Hollywood – a size-queen if ever there was one – has gotten herself into a cycle of thinking of thinking longer is better, longer is serious and longer means epic. To me, I just want to know where the bloody editors are when you need ‘em.