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February 2002, Week 2


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Darryl Wiggers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 7 Feb 2002 15:35:38 -0600
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On Wed, 6 Feb 2002 18:09:36 -0800, Georgi Goldman <[log in to unmask]>

>> > I am a student at the Columbia Graduate School of
>> > Journalism.  I am writing a short peice on how the
>> > length of contemporary feature films has increased
>> > recently.  Have you noticed this trend and if so,
>> what
>> > do you think accounts for it? Has it been favored

Can’t say I noticed any trend. Comedies are still relatively short (about
90 minutes) and dramas hoping to earn critical praise and awards strive for
over 2 hours. And audiences react to them much as they always have.

Here are some examples of long running times that come to mind:
Greed (1924) – 140 minutes
Dr. Mabuse (1922) - 270 minutes
Gone With the Wind (1939) – 234 minutes
Giant (1956) – 201 minutes
How the West was Won (1962) – 162 minutes
The Guns of Navarone (1961) – 158 minutes
Kelly’s Heroes (1970) – 144 minutes
The Dirty Dozen (1967) – 145 minutes

Well, this can go on for ages, but I threw in a bunch of straight-forward
war-action-adventures to illustrate Black Hawk Down (143 minutes) is not
quite that unique. Also remember that credit sequences have definitely
gotten longer. I remember someone mentioning (Leo?) that the Godzilla
remake had end credits so long, they consumed almost the entire final reel.

What puzzles me is why older films are being released in lengths that are
longer than they originally were (capitalizing on the dvd-inspired craze
for “never-before-seen” footage) consequently making them even less likely
to be appreciated by new audiences. In 1979 – before MTV and Jerry
Bruckheimer helped to reshape audience tolerances towards movie pacing – I
remember people getting quite bored with the length of Apocalypse Now (see
Ernie Fosselius’1980 parody Porklips Now). With some young viewers seeing
AN in Redux form, is it any wonder if they find older movies long and
boring? That was certainly the reaction I experienced when watching the
revamped version of Exorcist with an audience of young viewers. I couldn’t
blame them. It was quite tedious.

Unfortunately the dvd-extras craze has created an industry where every
boring, wrongly-executed clip is thrown onto video and “Director’s Cut”
(even though, in most cases, the “Director’s Cut” was the original shorter
version). Still, appropriately-paced films are being produced theatrically
(hence, no real change in theatrical running times — they still conform to
the standards of their respective genres), and film makers can be comforted
that a favourite edited-out scene can still be available in video form.

The only obvious change I’ve noticed is that almost no new films have a
running time shorter than 80 minutes. In the early days of cinema it was
possible for a 56-minute film to be released as a “feature.” By the late
1950s the shortest films were about 80 minutes, and that seems to be the
standard that has stuck. Nowadays only independent films and Woody Allen
seem to allow for a less-than-90 rule.

There is also the real demand from exhibitors to keep running times at a
reasonably length so as to ensure maximum box office. Not every 3-hour
movie can be a success like Titanic.


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