The Length of Modern Films

One writer pits his small bladder against the length of modern films

Posted December 12, 2013 by
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ately I have found myself busting for the toilet with an hour and a half of a film still to go. I cried at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, not because of Captain Kirk’s rousing jingoistic speech about freedom, which was a knife in the back of Gene Roddenberry’s philosophical principles, but simply because my bladder was about to explode next to the young lady that I had brought along as my date. Maybe the hard truth of the matter is that I am battling with my own incontinence. Drinking anything larger than a slim-line Coca-Cola before the lights go down is flirting with disaster.

I think my cross-legged agony speaks to a larger problem that is the length of modern films. This Friday sees the release of Peter Jackson’s latest entry in the Lord of The Rings saga, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It clocks in at a bladder-busting 161 minutes, and that is on top of the adverts, a short film and trailers. When the lights come up the ushers should reach for the mop & bucket and head straight for my seat. There is always the awkward bathroom break, but the thought of stomping on strangers’ feet, knocking over a drink or missing a pivotal scene helps me fight through the pain barrier and makes sure I get my money’s worth.

In the golden days of David Lean, Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson, they all were thoughtful enough to have an interval in the middle of their three hour epics. Back then I would have been able to swan to the bathroom, refill my popcorn and make a little chit- chat with my date. It seems a more civilised way to show a film rather than keeping an audience in a room for the length of a short haul flight. Andy Warhol went a stage further by having mattresses placed on the floor when showing his film Empire; an eight hour and five minutes opus that consisted of a single static shot of the Empire State building. The audience was free to come and go as they pleased, which would have been a blessing for me and my small bladder.

It feels to me the prevailing school of thought between so called auteur directors working today, (Nolan, Jackson, Tarantino, etc) is that length equals artistic integrity. They use it as a measure of their mastery of the cinematic art-form and it is hard to argue with their towering achievements. My only observation would be, is it possible for the audience to sit there comfortably? Putting my bodily functions to one side for a moment, people using their smart phones, small seats and poor projection, all have a negative effect on my film going experience.

It would be like opening Pandora’s box to say that a director has the ultimate control over the length of their film. Recently I went to see Gravity and I felt it was an excellent example of epic filmmaking that was not epic in length. I have a sneaking suspicion that the story in the hands of say James Cameron or Guillermo del Toro could have easily been over two and a half hours long. When I enter a cinema I am giving my control over to the director to tell me an engaging story. There isn’t a pause button that I can press as I have committed to a cinematic journey that should reach a natural conclusion. I feel that filmmakers and studios should kill more of their darlings in the editing room, instead of chasing epic running times that could in the near future make me wet my boxer-shorts. I’m looking at you, The Wolf of Wall Street.


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