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.