Guest writer - Tony Felstead
Here is a big thing
And here is a list of the nominees for the year’s Oscars:
Argo (121 minutes)
Beast of the Southern Wild (93 minutes)
Django Unchained (180 minutes)
Les Miserables (157 minutes)
Life of Pi (120 minutes)
Lincoln (150 minutes)
Silver Linings Playbook (122 minutes)
Zero Dark Thirty (160 minutes)
The figures in brackets are their running times. Only one film comes in at less than two hours. Four are two and a half hours or more. The average movie usually comes in between 90 and 120 minutes. The Oscars are the ultimate stamp of approval for the film industry.
Therefore, big must be best.
If it’s big it must have cost more. If it cost more then it must be good. Big is important, complicated, worthy, epic.
Only, I have had the misfortune to sit through two of these movies. Both were more than two and a half hours. Both had made their point well before their time was up. Big is flabby, flatulent, indulgent.
Why did I go to these films? Because I wanted to. Because I was looking to be entertained. I wanted to go on an emotional journey. And this really is my point, so I am going to type it big…
A SUCCESSFUL FILM WILL INDUCE EMOTIONAL RESPONSES IN ITS AUDIENCE.
What these responses are depends on the intentions of the filmmaker. The responses should also reflect these intentions. Boredom and frustration do not count. Once these responses, laughter, excitement, tension or whatever they are, have been achieved then - unless they can somehow be sustained - the film should be over. Its job is done.
Let’s deal with one of these films in a little more detail. Django Unchained. Exciting, tense, visceral, Django Unchained is all of these things. Radio 4’s Mark Lawson says that for the first hour he thought he was watching, ‘one of the finest films ever made.’
And then?And then, a whole two hours later, nearly everyone is dead except Quentin Tarantino, on screen, in his own movie, with the worst Australian accent ever.
So there we have it. An over indulged Mr Tarantino with nothing holding him back. With no one saying no. With the four biggest grossing films of 2012 all being 150 minutes and over, consumers do seem to be endorsing the cult of the big. As film correspondent for The Independent, Kaleem Aftab, suggests: “[studios] want to give people more bang for their buck.” We truly have reached the most base form of capitalism - if size stands in for value and value is now the only barometer of quality.
But all is not lost. Let’s contrast this with ParaNorman, also released last year. Ostensibly a film for children, so perhaps it has been constrained by their perceived attention spans. But it is also a stop motion animation, so every second of image is PAINSTAKINGLY created. Either way, the film delivers many of the same emotions, excitement, shock, laughs and some reasonably visceral thrills. It also has pathos and messages about bullying and tolerance AND it achieves all this in a trim 93 minutes.
Okay, this is possibly all a little simplistic. There are some great, great big films and there are many terrible, terribly short ones. But a successful production delivers with the audience constantly engaged in its emotional journey. Full stop.
Perhaps this is true of all narratives, all stories, perhaps even all creative endevour. It can only be regarded as a success if it creates the desired response in its audience, and the art, the difficult art, is in leaving that audience craving more.
That’s all. Goodbye.
(Oh, by the way: As you probably know, the ‘crowd pleaser’ Argo, an ‘exciting and informative thriller’, with its relatively lean 121 minutes, was named best picture. Hooray.)