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Have Mercy On My Poor Backside!

Contributed by: P Dodds

We live in an age of choice. Sometimes this can be a very good thing. But sometimes it is not such a good thing and the amount of choice can also be extremely confusing. I can no longer just pop to the shop for a pint of milk because when I arrive I will need to decide if I want full fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed, long-life, organic, UHT, and so on. The essentially simple concept of a pint of milk no longer exists without further qualification.

Increasingly this consumer philosopher has permeated into culture. More is considered better. It's not quite so simple as quantity over quality; it's more that we strive for quality in quantity. Unfortunately this can have a distracting and distilling effect. My favourite bands are producing good albums with 16 tracks and 75 minutes of music on them. But if they were to release just 10 tracks and 40 minutes of music they would be fantastic albums because the filler tracks would have been trimmed. J.K.Rowling's first Harry Potter book was a respectable 223 pages. It was phenomenally successful and the soon to be published fifth novel will be 768 pages long.

Sadly, this holds true for the world of cinema. I'm sure all of you have seen a film within the last year or so and left with the thought that it was too long. Those of you unfortunate enough to have seen A.I. will remember the 146 minutes it took to claw the film to a happy ending. The Colour Of Money, made in 1986, was one of the last feature films made by Scorsese that clocked in under two hours.

It's not just the Hollywood blockbusters that succumb to this trend. What Time Is It There? was a wonderful concept that would have made an excellent 90 minute film but dragged considerably as it made its inexorably way to the two hour mark. The Dancer Upstairs could have been a tight political thriller but spent so long showing the various acts of terrorism by the rebels that it took 133 minutes to resolve the story.

It only needs a cursory glance over the running time of classic films from the last fifty years or so to see that you don't need to take two hours to tell a good story. Obviously there are exceptions, but generally it holds true. I don't think that current filmmakers are constructing stories that cannot be told in under two hours and neither to I think that modern audiences need two hours to fully appreciate what they are seeing on the screen. I also hope that I am not afflicted by my generation's notoriously short attention span! The infiltration of the consumerist culture into film has been subtle and the cause and effect are blurred. I suppose either the audience started to believe that longer films were better value for money, or filmmakers gradually raised the audience's tolerance towards longer films. I would have to assume that editing a film's footage for a three hour running time has to be easier than editing the same footage into two hours, and I would imagine that most filmmakers will make the longest possible film that the studios will allow them to make. Whatever the cause the effect was the same - filmmakers found it easier to raise money for longer films because the audiences were happy to pay their money to see those longer films. The one fuels the other and I can only hope that we have reached a plateau. Fortunately three hour films are still quite rare and I hope that will remain the case for a long time to come. What with advertisements and previews an evening at the cinema borders on being an endurance test already. If the current trend continues then I will be mounting a ferocious one-man campaign for the reintroduction of intermissions!