Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Notes (and a Plea) from Venice - Day 7/8

Boyd from European Films here, reporting on the ongoing Venice Film Festival

Weather: sunny but not particularly warm
Films seen: Cassandra's Dream, The Nines, La graine et le mulet, Un baiser - s'il vous plaît, The Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier, Il dolce e l'amaro, En la ciudad de Sylvia, Der Freischwimmer, Mal nascida, Sukiyaki Western Django, Désengagement
People currently on the same square mile of earth as I am:
Peter Greenaway, Manoel de Oliveira, Amos Gitai, Tsai Ming-Liang, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp.

A Plea from Venice:

Dear directors (and dear editors of the aforementioned),

Life is short. Please remember this when putting your films together. Life is short. Repeat after me: Life is short. Life is short. Life is short.

Directors! What has happened to you? If the new films presented at the 2007 Venice Film Festival are any indication, anything shorter than 80 minutes is considered a short film, and anything shorter than 100 a medium-length feature. Don't you think viewers and especially critics don't have anything better to do?

Here is the e
vidence for my case:

123 minutes
Se jie (Lust, Caution): 156 minutes
Sad vacation: 136 minutes
Michael Clayton: 119 minutes
In the Valley of Elah: 120 minutes
Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon -
109 minutes
Empire II - 180 minutes
Hotel Meina - 110 minutes
Cléopatra - 116 minutes
Cassandra's Dream - 108 minutes
La fille coupée en deux - 115 minutes The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - 155 minutes
La Graine et le mulet - 151 minutes
I'm Not There - 135 minutes
Sukiyaki Western Django - 121 minutes
Désengagement - 115 minutes
Freischwimmer - 110 minutes

Nightwatching - 134 minutes
and the list goes on...

Do you really think we have nothing else to do in life? That we have no friends, no family, no TV set, no internet connection? What is wrong with you people? If you want to mirror life in your films, please remember what I said earlier: life is short.

In the list above, there are only two films that merit every single minute of their running time: Atonement and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Both are historical epics and benefit from the long running time (in Atonement's case it should ideally have been e
ven a bit longer; it's closing section is handled too quickly). All the other filmmakers have committed what might be a minor infraction if you are out on your semi-weekly multiplex visit, but what turns out to be something on the level of a crime against humanity if you are at a film festival.

If all the films above would have been shortened by just ten minutes, I would have had three whole hours of my life back, in which I could have: a) seen two medium-length films, b) watched the restored copy of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance playing here in Venice, c) gone out for a nice Italian meal d) gone for a swim in the Mediterranean and a nice Italian snack.

So, my dear directors, pleas bear this in mind when putting together your next film. Less is more. Life is short. Critics also like solid food instead of straw-fed Red Bull and coffee. And a dip in the Med is more than they could ever hope for. After any of the above occurrences (or -- God forbid --
a combination of them) , they might even be more mildly inclined towards your movies as they will not review them in a state of lethargy or somnambulance.

Thank you for your future consideration.

(a sleep-depraved) Boyd
editor of and
TFE guest blogger from Venice

NB: Note to the editors working with the directors: If you feel that the film you are working on is too long, please advise the director to "jump straight into the story" (read: chop of the endless city-, landscape or other useless shots at the beginning) and t
o go for an "enigmatic" ending (read: chop ten to twenty minutes of the ending).


Though I've seen a lot more, I haven't been able to review much (or very extensively) for the past two days, since I've had about a dozen interviews that will be published in the upcoming weeks at

What I can give you are the two reviews of highly anticipated titles that both come with reservations: Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited and, as promised, Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream. Both star stars and are too long but should appeal to fans of the directors. The links above are to the medium-length reviews on

The score board:

On the score board published in the festival daily, the French film La graine et le mulet (The Secret of the Grain) is currently the top choice of both the Italian critics and the Italian audience so far, with Branagh's Sleuth in second place for the audience and the critics placing their bets on Rohmer's Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon. My personal top three of festival films so far:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Atonement and Se
jie (Lust, Caution)

Tim Burton & Sweeney Todd:

Earlier toda
y, US director Tim Burton received the Career Golden Lion from the hands of an actor completely unknown to the director until the time of the ceremony: Captain Jack (the two bearded and bespectacled men can be see in the picture above, courtesy of Fabrizio Maltese). In honor of the director, the festival declared September 5 "Tim Burton Day" and screened the 3D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas and the first eight minutes of Sweeney Todd, which I haven't seen but which I have been told were quite out of the ordinary (not that anything less would have been acceptable from Burton).

The director walked down the red carpet with his rotund partner Helena Bonham Carter (she is eating lots a the moment but has good reason: she's pregnant), who plays the pie-baking Mrs Lovett in the adaptation of the Sondheim musical about the demon barber. Johnny Depp plays the sharp-cutting title character.


Chinese Odyssey said...

Boyd, i just find out that your review for "Lust, Caution" is now widely quoted in China.

Eddney Todd said...

Boyd, stop pleading for shorter films! You better start watching short shorts... And who is the "completely unknown" actor who gave the Golden Lion to T.Burton? (this can become one of the biggest mysteries in cinema, isn't it?)

Anonymous said...

Ummm 2 hours is a long movie, that's news to me.

I actually like long movies, I don't go to the movies very often, ( yes, unlike some, I have a life) maybe once a month. So I do like really long films, as in 2.5 hours or more.


I'm with Boyd.

perfect example of this trend in today's cinema: Peter Jackson's King Kong. It has the same amount of story as the original but somehow it's 87 minutes longer.

romantic comedies used to be one of the movies finest genres. Now they're terrible. There're also regularly 120 minutes now instead of 90.

woody allen.
drop in quality concurrent with rise in running time.

annie hall 93
manhattan 96
purple rose of cairo 84
bullets over broadway 98

curse of jade scorpion 103
anything else 108
hollywood ending 112

Glenn Dunks said...

Match Point was over 2 hours though.

But, I tend to agree. Not so much films in general, but as Nat said, certain genres. I tend to think that comedies over 100 minutes stop being funny towards the end (Borat was 85mins, classics like Flying High are too, but why does Knocked Up need to be 120?) And, yeah, romantic comedies. But the quality of them is also in major decline.

But then, I had an opposite reaction to a movie called Ils recently. It was barely 70 minutes long. I hardly felt right calling it a feature. The min-length for Oscar's Animation category is 75, isn't it?

And for people who have never been to a film festival, you can trust those who have when they say that if you have to see three or four movies in a day that are over two hours it can be a real test of endurence.


yes but don't you think that the length is part of the quality discussion --not just a coincidental side issue. with art films it's a different story sometimes but with the traditional narrative driven films, get to your story tell your story and then get out of the way when it's time to wrap it up...

you see this all the time on tv too. shows now they have 22 hours (or whatever) to fill and you can tell where the padding is if they don't have enough story for those 22 hours.

with movies it's harder to explain how this happens because they aren't required to be any specific length.

Michael Parsons said...

A film like "Zodiac" warents the running time completely. You knew it was long, but it warrented the running time to tell the story.
A film like "La Vie En Rose" ( movies going has been horrible this year) suffers from the running time (and editing). the point comes when you are like "Yeah..I get it, can I go home now"

Something like King Kong however is the PERFECT movie to watch on a rainy Sunday...I want long, I want emotion, I want FX and I want action...and boy do I get it

Boyd said...

Actually, there are two things at work here: a) film length in general, and b) film length during festivals. The latter becomes a real issue if you're watching five films a day for twelve days, believe it or not. On the first point, a film can really be any length, but most films tend to be too long, like Nathaniel's King Kong example and all the titles on my list except for the two films mentioned. Most of the directors and editors just seem to have a hard time to know when to stop. (That said, there are also films that are "short" but are still too long; The Darjeeling Limited at 91 minutes definitely outstays its welcome.)

Boyd said...

Oh - and Chinese Odyssey; I wonder what I sound like in Chinese ;-)

Brian Darr said...

The thing is, when it comes to Oscar films, and to a lesser extent film festival-tailored films, the ones remembered as "greats" are often among the longest. On the Oscar side you don't even need me to quote running times, but look at these titles: Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler's List...

For the film festivals: the Wages of Fear was 147 minutes, L'Avventura 145 minutes, La Dolce Vita 174 minutes, and leaping ahead a few decades, Farewell My Concubine was 171 minutes, Pulp Fiction 154 minutes, Werckmeister Harmonies 145 minutes, Spirited Away 123 minutes, the Pianist 150 minutes.

Some of the more well-remembered Venice prizewinners in the past 20 years:

City of Sadness 157 minutes
Short Cuts 187 minutes
Vive L'Amour 118 minutes
Monsoon Wedding 114 minutes
Vera Drake 125 minutes
Brokeback Mountain 134 minutes

It's a risk filmmakers often feel entitled to take (especially in cases when a film is being edited down into a festival-ready edition in a rush). If it pays off, people will feel all the more satisfied by the longer running time.

If not, though, its festgoers who are the ones to pay incrementally. Thanks Boyd, for taking one for the team!

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Yeah, I'm losing my patience with bloated running times (especially round festival season) - that and 'thematic trilogies' - cause you know 'Babel' was really necessary because it completed and built on 'Amores perros' and '21 Grams'.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is just that I am old enough to remember a time when we did not live in 'sound-bite nation'. Nowadays, of course, anything taking longer than 30 seconds to enjoy taxes the attention span of those being entertained past the breaking point. I, for one, am thrilled when I get a good movie in the 2.5 to 3 hour range, if for no other reason than that I am getting a better bang for my moviegoing buck.

On the other issue - I believe a moviemaker should tailor the work to the person going out to plunk down a Hamilton once or twice a week, maximum, and not cater to those paying once (if they pay at all) for a 50+ movie marathon. I do not have a lot of sympathy for the festival-goers...It is not like you didn't know what you were getting into.


carl, i hear you but i don't think that "better bang for your buck" necessarily equates with "longer"

i don't think length = quality

now if we're talking shot length i might agree. one of the things i reguarly am sad about is the inability of filmmakers to allow shots to linger past the 3 second mark. This is one of my very favorite things about older movies. I love to look at actors faces or a well lensed longshot. I HATE that filmmakers force me to look elsewhere every 2 to 4 seconds.

but you'll find the ADD editing in 3 hour films these days too so it's not about the long films not having ADD

Glenn Dunks said...

I am more than willing to sit through a movie with a 2.5/3 hour run time if it warrants it. But so many long films these days could have been better if they cut out 10/15/20/30 minutes. Spider-Man 3 being a perfect example. I may have been more forgiving if they had cut the fat.

"La Dolce Vita 174 minutes"

And 164 of those minutes were very painful on my dreary eyelids. I am no ashamed to admit my distaste for that movie.

Anonymous said...

Two hours has been the standard feature length for about 50-60 years now. Rock and roll. Deal with it.

Boyd said...

Two hours has been the standard feature length IN THE US for 50-60 years, elsewhere films have generally been shorter.