I was sitting in a theater watching the last few minutes of a movie when it dawned on me that, technically, the movie was very long. But I hadn’t even noticed.
For most movie goers, the clock is our version of Roger Ebert’s thumb. The less you looked at your watch, the more you enjoyed the movie.
The movie was “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg’s riveting holocaust film – three hours and 15 minutes long! But who cares with an historic hit like that?
And then there was a movie six and a half hours long. It’s called “The Best of Youth.” (It’s available on DVD). Late in that film, I found myself looking at my watch for a positive reason, realizing sadly that it had only about an hour more to go, and wanting more.
That’s like reading a terrific book with only 10 pages to go. You wish it could go on for a few more chapters.
Those situations remind me of watching a treasured friend die. There’s no such thing as wanting the finish of a friend or the conclusion of a stupendous book.
For many of us, that includes a friend we never met, our guide and movie mate, Roger Ebert, who died the other day. It was Ebert who best described the two sides of time when watching a movie.
“Every review of ‘The Best of Youth’ begins with the information that it is six hours long,” he said. “No good movie is too long, just as no bad movie is short enough. I dropped outside of time and was carried along by the narrative flow; when the film was over, I had no particular desire to leave the theater, and would happily have stayed another three hours. The two-hour limit on most films makes them essentially short stories. ‘The Best of Youth’ is a novel.”
Ebert invented the movie thumb. His death reminded me that most of us have a similar movie tool, but ours measures time.
When I sit there in the dark, pushing the little light button on my watch, I do so because I start to wonder how much longer I must suffer through some tiresome film.
A film can fail the watch test even if it could be a pleasure if the director hadn’t been so much in love with his own work that he couldn’t bring himself to cut a single frame of his precious baby. So he gave us a film that runs two hours when 90 minutes would suffice.
So I sit there looking at my watch, wondering if anyone will miss me if I go hide out near the confection counter. If I can’t get any relief from that Hollywood turkey inside the theater, I can at least try to kill myself with sugar.
Roger Ebert gave stars in each review. The better the movie, in his opinion, the more stars he would give it, up to a total of four.
My yardstick is similar. I enter the theater with a total of 10 wristwatch symbols in my mind. Each time that I find myself looking at my wristwatch, I eliminate a watch. If the movie is enough of a stinker to find me peering at my watch for the tenth time, I abandon the show and head for the only pleasure left in the building –all that corrosive candy. I would rather give up the movie and risk a toothache than experience a pain in the rear from sitting too long through a dud.
(Forgive me if I seem to have gone on too long, but, in truth, it has only been five minutes.)Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.