What’s the perfect movie length? Only a lightweight needs toilet or food breaks

What’s the perfect movie length? Only a lightweight needs toilet or food breaks

I can still remember sitting down to Theo Angelopoulos’s legendary epic film The Travelling Players and noting that it was 222 minutes long and thinking … sure, cool, two hours and twenty-two minutes, tiny bit on the long side, OK, nothing I can’t handle. The truth hit me just as the house lights were starting to dim and that spasm of unease came back into my mind reading about the new US research survey that suggests that 92 minutes is the “perfect” length for a film.

The “perfect” length? What does that even mean? Larry David fans will remember his magnificent resentment in Curb Your Enthusiasm when someone tries to think of something nice to say about his hugely unsuccessful feature film Sour Grapes and finally says: “It was such a perfect length.” Larry replies acidly: “What about the width? There’s some great width in that movie!” Ninety-two minutes? Does that extra two minutes mean you’re not such a wimp that you can’t stand a film that goes above an hour and a half?

I can only say I have taken on films of buttock-annihilating, bladder-stress-testing massiveness. Bela Tarr’s mysterious black-and-white Hungarian meisterwerk Sátántangó weighs in at 439 minutes and if you’re already trying to divide that by 60 in your head and work out how many hours it is, then forget it, you’re too much of a lightweight. And only a lightweight wants loo breaks or food breaks. The original uncut version of Erich Von Stroheim’s silent 1924 masterpiece Greed went on “all day” at its single screening for awestruck critics and aghast executives, with the master himself reportedly sitting at the back scowling at anyone who dared ducking out to visit the restroom.

That said, an hour and a half isn’t a bad proportion. My late predecessor Derek Malcolm told me that 10% can be cut out of any film, no matter how long it is, and then 10% of that, and again, so that a film – like Zeno’s arrow – approaches a sublime existential state of brevity. In truth, there’s something to be said for the 92-minute idea. Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter is 92 minutes. So is Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc, and Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

Storytelling discipline and clarity in feature film-making used to mean that the hour-and-half-to-two hour benchmark got a three-act narrative across with efficiency and force and theatre managers loved it because they could schedule many separate performances a day. Now, perhaps, the primacy of streamers and binge-watching means in theory that people are ready for longer films (though perhaps not in the theatre). I have watched epic films that have zapped by very quickly, and I have watched films that were short in theory (usually commercial Hollywood pictures) but whose every minute seemed to last as long as Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Let’s not tie ourselves to a 92-minute rule.

Source: theguardian.com