My old business partner and dear friend, the renowned documentary film-maker Colin Luke once said that he never measured his manhood by the length of the films we made. (At the time we were making films of between nine and 90-minutes for TV). Having spent the last month watching up to a dozen films a week I am beginning to wish today’s movie directors felt the same.
As a producer it is my job to help a director make their film better. When it comes to running time television dictates very precise slot lengths, but once it is a matter of a theatrical release length is no longer dictated by a channel’s schedule so the discussions and frequently tough decisions on what to keep in a film and what to cut out are often a creative compromise for fixed length broadcast films and a murderous argument for a theatrical film. I have yet to meet a director who isn’t convinced their film will be better at a greater length and you only have to watch so called ‘Director’s cuts’ to know I speak the truth! I have always been of the opinion that films are generally improved for being shorter and this has been confirmed to me over and over again watching the latest crop of films in competition for a BAFTA.
The big culprit this season is Interstellar,which at eleven minutes shy of three hours would have been infinitely improved if cut by at least an hour. The last year has seen an overdose of war films and biopics of cultural heroes and I include Britain’s homage to Alan Turing, The Imitation Game (114 minutes) and America’s Foxcatcher (134 minutes), Unbroken (137 minutes) and American Sniper (132 minutes). One of the finest British films in the true war story drama I have seen is Kajaki – The True Story (108 minutes) – which simply outshines all the American war fodder already mentioned vying for Oscar nominations. Life Itself, the honest and affectionate documentary about the US film critic and broadcaster Roger Ebert, runs at 120 minutes, for me, about as long as any movie should be. The Theory of Everything another British biopic, this time about Stephen Hawking, at 123 minutes is worth the extra three minutes.
So, for me shorter is invariably better but just to show how flawed my case is I must mention one of the very best films of 2014, Boyhood, which at 165 minutes is only four minutes shorter than Interstellar.but felt like a moment in time well spent whereas the sci-fi indulgence was 169 minutes taken from me, never to be returned. Other favourites include Still Alice, an engrossing and challenging 101 minutes – and the shortest British film so far, the utterly delightful Paddington, (93 minutes). Only Lovers Left Alive is on the cusp at 123 minutes but worth sitting through I think we can all agree.
Films not in the English language that ring my bell are We Are the Best, (102 minutes) and Leviathan which I thought was remarkable but really would have benefited from some judicious pruning to bring it down from a lengthy 140 minutes. But Pawel Pawlikoswki’s Ida at just 82 minutes is proof if ever you needed it that less is more.