Cinephile Problems: Hefty running times

Today’s Cinephile Problem comes courtesy of Ben Nicholson, the man behind the fantastic Achilles and the Tortoise and collaborator of CineVue and Static Mass Emporium. Let’s hear him out. 

Okay, I admit it, it drives me mad when people moan about how long films are. This is largely because a lengthy runtime is not normally what they are actually complaining about; what irks them so is how boring they found what they just watched. If you like Lord of the Rings then the extended cut of The Return of the King (or, in fact, a day long marathon through all three) seems to breeze by whilst someone who doesn’t like them finds it agonizing. The same is true of a 71 minute film. If it’s boring, then it’s too long.
Having said that, as a cinephile, I do actually have a major problem with lengthy run times. It comes about due to the fact that I am some way from having seen all of the movies ever made as many times as I’d have liked. Woe is me, I know. The problem this presents, however, is that in modern life, where I work a day job and then come home and write film criticism in my evenings, actually getting free time to sit and watch the films I’d like is rare. So when an opening presents itself  I have to calculate the best I can manage to achieve in the limited window that I have. This, naturally, leads me to plan in the most films I possibly can and invariably results in those of substantial length, being postponed.
An example. My lovely girlfriend is out for the day and I, for once, have managed to get ahead with my outstanding reviews. I look at my schedule and figure that I’ll have maybe eight hours of film watching time once I’ve factored in food and toilet breaks (yes, I do plan film watching days out like this). Do I finally get around to watching Bela Tarr’s seven hour mammoth, Satantango, which I’ve been meaning to see for about four years and have been looking forward to for just as long? No. Do I include, in my marathon, the considerably shorter, but still three hour, INLAND EMPIRE by David Lynch which I rushed out to buy on the day it was released on DVD and which has sat on my shelf ever since? No. I find four films that clock in at two hours or under so that I can tick more films off my ‘to watch’ list.
And this is my cinephile problem, or at least one of the many. Despite it being the only Kubrick film left on my list, I’ve still not managed to get around to Barry Lyndon. If it had been ninety minutes long, I bet I would have. So, whilst I can happily enjoy long running films, and even abhor people who substitute the runtime in when what they actually want to complain of boredom, I’ve got a shelf bowing beneath the weight of Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka, Bergman’s Scenes From a MarriageMysteries of Lisbon from Raul Ruiz and Altman’s Short Cuts. All films I really want to catch up with but that never quite suit a tight schedule. Sigh.

Thanks for sharing, Ben! I can totally  identify with this Cinephile Problem. I’ve put off watching Once Upon a Time in America (269 minutes) for very long.

What about you, readers? Do you have a similar issue? Tell us in the comments.

Also, if you’d like to share your own Cinephile Problems, please contact me at