The Joys of Short Movies

May 31, 2012 — 22 Comments

Anyone who’s ever been to a film festival knows the value of a short movie. Not a short film, mind you. A short, feature-length movie. Something a little over an hour, but definitely under 90 minutes. I love that kind of movie. Well, not every short movie is great, but I love the idea of a short movie.

Sure, sometimes Lawrence of Arabia demands four hours. And occasionally a Lord of the Rings movie will need three. I get it. As a lover of TV I don’t begrudge a movie for being long, but I often approach it as a chore or a mission. A mountain to be conquered. For example, I recently acquired the Criterion Blu-ray of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and have been meaning to watch it. But what’s this? Fanny and Alexander is a bajillion hours long? I suppose the blow is softened by it technically being a TV mini-series with actual episodes. But I’d still prefer to watch those episodes in close proximity, which isn’t always easy in a busy house.

Short movies offer so much more than just taking up less time, though.

A short movie—at least, a good short movie—is snappy. More than being short, it knows not to over-stay its welcome. Attack the Block is just under 90 minutes. It gets in, sets up characters, throws them into a crazy situation, manages to develop a couple of them, and then gets the hell out. It’s efficient. It gets to the point.

Paths of Glory is one of the best movies about the horror of bureaucratizing war. It creates characters, gives us a wrenching WWI battle sequence, and then a devastating court case. It also isn’t that fast paced. The movie takes its time, but the story it tells doesn’t require that much length to get the point across. The ending is extremely powerful precisely because of the focused efficiency of Kubrick’s edit.

Animated films, particularly traditionally animated ones, are often under 90 minutes. Beauty and the Beast is about 84 minutes including the credits. The Iron Giant is also under 90 minutes. Could the movies have been longer? Sure, I suppose. Had they been live-action they might well have been longer, but why would that be necessary? Its brisk running time doesn’t stop me from crying every time I get to the ending of The Iron Giant.

Or how about South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut? Another animated movie, under 90 minutes and some of the best, most memorable satire in modern cinema. That PLUS some of the best songs ever put in a musical.

There are also the interesting cases of short movies that feel long, but for the best. I’ve seen Stand By Me countless times. It’s one of my most cherished films and the best evocation of childhood friendship I’ve seen in film. It’s also only 88 minutes long including the credits. I only realized this last year. Until then I’d always thought of it as over 2 hours. Not that the film is slow, just that so much happens and the scope of story and emotions in the film feels way too big to be contained in such a short time.

Of course, there’s the flip side of this. I am so glad Robert Bresson’s films are mostly between 70-80 minutes. Any longer and in many cases I’d have begun considering suicide. It’s good to know that if you’re hating a movie at least the punishment won’t last too much longer.

Then again, Bresson’s L’argent is 85 minutes, which was a perfect length for a practically perfect movie. Not too much deep character work, but a lot of character machinations. Playing those machinations out in a quick-but-appropriate amount of time actually adds to the impact of Bresson’s socio-political messages.

So yeah, I love short movies. They are short, which is nice when you don’t want to get butt-cramps, and their tightness and efficiency can make for truly wonderful cinema.

How about you? Any favourite movies that are between 60 and 90 minutes in length? Share them in the comments.

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22 responses to The Joys of Short Movies

  1. 

    Exit Through The Gift Shop was a wonderful documentary and Breathless was a notch bellow perfect! :)

  2. 

    Thanks for giving me another opportunity to plug the Zellner Brothers’ GOLIATH. At 80 minutes, it’s just long enough. The trials and travails of our hapless protagonist really couldn’t go on any longer or you’d really want to do some self-harm. Even so, some scenes are dragged out to ridiculous lengths anyway just to make you squirm. It’s on Netflix here in Canada (and maybe elsewhere) so check it out.

    • 

      You’ve been plugging that movie so much I’m starting to think you produced it or something ;)

      That it’s short only makes me want to see it more.

  3. 

    There is no need for long movies. Film who can’t get their stories told in an efficient amount of time are being self-indulgent. ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ are terrible, boring films that would have been better as paintings. However, ‘Meet the Feebles’ is a fantastic 94 minutes. And I’m sure David Lean could provide a similar example if all the films he made weren’t bloated and sleepy (a.k.a. ‘Doctor Zhivago’).

  4. 

    Yeah, I love short movies and when I have lots of DVD’s to choose from I usually pick out the shortest ones. It’s also the reason I still have not seen some of the classics…

    • 

      That’s so true! I have a bunch of Criterion discs sitting unwatched, and usually when I go to watch one the biggest deciding factor is how short it is.

  5. 

    I do love shorter films. Of course, a great movie is a great movie no matter how long it is. Shorter ones are more rewatch-friendly, however. If I get the urge to start watching a romance flick at 10:30 PM, I’m not going to pick Titanic. I’ll go with Once, which at 83 minutes fits in much better.

    If I’m uncertain of whether I’ll like a movie or not, I’m also more likely to give it a go if it’s of shorter length. If it’s good, that’s great. If it’s bad, I’ll have wasted less time on it.

  6. 

    I know EXACTLY what you mean man…

    Especially as a working man I always love to fit in a film each night, but in order for me to do that, prepare a post for the next day and do other things (like cook dinner) it’s almost impossible if not for 90 min films (or TV shows of 20 – 45 mins long)…

    Sometimes when I prepare for podcasts I’m dead beat and I pray for the film of the week to be a 90 min long film so as not to murder my senses.

    It’s great to catch up on classics and much more intropective films but that runtime almost makes you pause. I own PATTON & KINGDOM OF HEAVEN on blu ray and I’ve only watched it once (I bought it without seeing it before) and I don’t think I’ve ever picked it up again. Not because of anything other than the commitment required to watch it again.

    • 

      I actually just ordered a Bluray of Kingdom of Heaven from Italy. It’s the only Bluray that has the roadshow version with the overture and intermission music, as well as all the DVD features, and apparently the best video quality. I adore that movie. I’ve seen it too many times, even though it’s long.

    • 

      You’ve really captured all the estilseans in this subject area, haven’t you?

  7. 

    I love a good short movie now and then, especially since there are times when I know I want to watch something longer than a TV show but also don’t have 2+ hours to spare. One that comes to mind that I saw recently is the fantastic Detour, a noir that packs a lot into its 67 minute running time.

    • 

      I’ve been meaning to see Detour for a long time, now I have even more reason!

      • 

        Great pick with “Detour”. The noirest of noirs. Actually, there’s a ton of Noir under 90 minutes. Kubrick’s “The Killing” bring one of them. Oh, and the Noir/Western “The Ox-Bow Incident” is like 75 minutes. Not a second wasted.

        Early Mark Brother movies are usually under 80. Primer is also under 80 which lets you rewatch it several times to try to catch up with what happened. Recently saw Secret Of The Kells which was gorgeous – and also under 80. Daisies (which just came out in the Czech New Wave Eclipse box) is 75 minutes of goofy insanity and I love it.

        I remember when Punch Drunk Love came out and I was bummed that it was half the running time of P.T. Anderson’s previous film (which I still love). It wasn’t until I saw PDL a second time that I totally fell for it and appreciated its packed 90 minutes.

        So yeah, I kind do a fist pump whenever I notice a running time under 90. Having said that, treat yourself to the 5 hours of Fanny & Alexander – I know you know that, but it really is a wonder.

        • 

          Punch Drunk Love is a great example. There you have a director who knows how to make a great long movie, but PDL is perfectly short and sweet. Not my favourite of PTA’s movies (that honour goes to Magnolia) but brilliant nonetheless.

          And yeah, I’ll definitely be getting to Fanny & Alexander soon. I’m looking for either a 5 hour block, or a time when I can watch the episodes with no more than a day separating them.

  8. 

    “The Rescuers Down Under” (77 mins, IMDB) is a favorite of mine when I was a kid. There were times when I even watched the movie three times a day!

    • 

      That’s such a good pick. I used to watch that movie a lot as well. It’s coming out on Blu-ray in a two-pack with the first Rescuers movie this Summer. I’ll definitely be picking it up.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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