At the Oscars last week, there was one prize we didn't see being handed out - the Academy Award for a Film That Didn't Outstay It's Welcome. A shame, because it's time the Academians - most of whom must be old enough to recall when films lasted just 90 minutes - did something to halt the inflation that has hit their industry.
But then maybe they have. The Insider didn't win any prizes, after all. I had been looking forward to seeing Michael Mann's new movie for several months, until, that is, my eye brushed against a review of the film in the Radio Times, by Barry Norman.
"Michael Mann," wrote Norman, "tells a complicated story clearly and well, though at much too great a length."
Aghhh... there it was again. "At much too great a length" - the curse of modern cinema-going. A curse that has numbed-arse punters like myself silently screaming through the last two reels of most commercial movies made these days.
I'm not sure how this came to be. Since the 1930s most films blipped along at anything between 90 and 100 minutes, said what they had to say, and exited pretty smartly. These days movies say what they have to say in 90 or 100 minutes, and then hang around boring everyone rigid for another 40 or 50 minutes. The stalls are full of amateur editors, mentally bellowing "cut, cut, cut, for heaven's sakes cut" as fair-to-middling entertainments go on as if they were Les Enfants du Paradis.
Take The Talented Mr Ripley. This was an enjoyably gripping psychological thriller. The Amalfi Coast looked lovely, and Jude Law proved himself a charismatic actor. Hitchcock would have nailed this in well under two hours. Anthony Minghella drags things out for 30 minutes too long.
The Patricia Highsmith book on which The Talented Mr Ripley is based is actually a novella. If Highsmith could do it it, why not Minghella? I should have been warned.
Passing two old ladies exiting the Odeon Kensington from the preceding performance I heard this succinct review. "Yes, it was very good. But TOO BLOODY LONG."
Few movies can justify such running lengths. They are mostly disposable entertainments which the punter should be able to take or leave. This thought - this fear - that I'm going to be bored by over-matter stops me taking risks with movies, from going to the cinema more often. I have to have films reviewed to death from every angle, with each word of mouth glowing with unconditional praise, before I go anywhere near my local multiplex.
I have consulted friends who know, and this sorry state of affairs is apparently the result of increased star power.
The Tom Cruises, the Richard Geres and the Leonardo Di Caprios of this world want their mugs on our screens for longer and longer. Ironically, the only movies I attend with any confidence that they are going to be brief and to the point are "indie" movies, made on the cheap. Lack of finances would seem to be the better part of brevity. And it was surely the cost of so much computer animation that restricted Toy Story 2, one of the most invigorating and well told films so far this year, to 95 minutes.
There's a joke in movie-buff circles that says Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Men in Black and Get Shorty, is the only filmmaker whose 'director's cut' would actually be shorter. Good for him. What we're losing, it seems, by this careless over-extension of movies, is the storytellers' art - the style that could condense Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep into 114 minutes.
We're all losers. The cinemas miss out on an extra screening while punters can no longer simply 'catch a film', before going on for a drink or a meal.
It's way past ten when you emerge from most evening screenings these days, and you're too worn out by the experience to do anything but retreat to bed.
But before, like so many Hollywood films, I begin to repeat myself, let me end here.Reuse content