Saturday, February 20, 2010

Discuss: Getting Audiences to See Long Movies

The six-hour gritty crime drama The Red Riding Trilogy is slowly making its way around to big cities. It's really three movies, based on four novels by David Peace, adapted by Tony Grisoni and directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker. Each entry takes place in a different year, 1974, 1980 and 1983, and some characters cross over from one movie to the next. The whole thing played on television in the UK, and as of now I'm still not sure just how the U.S. theatrical release will be handled. Will moviegoers buy one ticket for all three films? Do they sit through all six hours at once, or can they come back on a different day? Certainly the press screening here in my hometown happened all in one six-hour chunk, though I opted to watch the film at home on a screener. (I'm only one-and-a-half movies in at this point, but I like it a great deal so far.)

A few years back, an Italian mini-series called The Best of Youth was released theatrically in the U.S. as a six-hour film. It showed in two parts, and required two separate admissions, and it was a small scale smash-hit, selling out and extending runs. But a year earlier, Lucas Belvaux's three-part The Trilogy (On the Run, An Amazing Couple and After the Life) opened without much of a splash. One of the most highly acclaimed movies of the 1990s, Bela Tarr's seven-hour Satantango (1994), never got its own theatrical release. Those who were lucky enough to see it did so at repertory houses during retrospectives and festivals. Now it's on home video and viewers can watch at their own pace.

Similar problems cropped up in the 1980s for movies like Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz (15 hours), Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Decalogue (10 hours), and Claude Lanzmann's 9-1/2 hour documentary Shoah. Some repertory houses came up with interesting ways of packaging these movies in manageable bites, but sometimes requiring more than one ticket. Needless to say, all of these movies seem more suited to DVD.

On the other hand, Gone with the Wind is nearly 4 hours long and is still the (adjusted for inflation) all-time box office champion. No one has ever had one second's hesitation about seeing that movie in a theater, nor any problems about distribution or ticket selling. Likewise, I'm sure plenty of devoted souls have seen the entire stretch of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings in one sitting. So let's hear it, dear readers! How much movie would you be willing to sit through in a theater? What kind of movie would it be? Would you mind subtitles? How much would you pay for tickets? - Jeffrey Anderson

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