As I was sitting through the interminable The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I found myself musing on a long-gone Hollywood practice that I began to think ought to be re-introduced. And then finally the movie came to an end and stopped musing and I fled in search of relief.
Surely I am not the only person was has sat through the last half of a movie with my thighs pressed firmly together, wiggling anxiously in my chair and wishing the movie would just end, already. Or perhaps I just have a small bladder. Nevertheless, here is a short list of some movies during which I could hear nature calling…or bellowing.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 169 min.
- The Help – 146 min.
- The Avengers – 142 min.
- Julie & Julia – 123 min. (not long, I admit, but I still had to actually slip out; I couldn’t take it any longer)
And these movie lengths do not take into account the 20 minutes or so of ads and previews that come before the movie begins.
I did, however, make it through Frozen comfortably, but it was only 102 minutes.
These experiences have been etched in my memory and have acted as an accumulative conversion experience: I now wholly and evangelistically believe in intermissions.
Plays have them, and musicals have them, and operas and ballets, and football games have them. Even hockey games get two.
When I go to a musical – say, “Les Miserables” (approx. 3 hrs.) – there is an intermission and I have a chance to commune with my body and determine whether or not I can last another hour. It’s marvelous, because it brings peace of mind.
Initially, movies did have intermissions. They were required because early films were usually spaced across several reels of film and the technician needed time to change the reels. Even when that was smoothed out, intermissions were still used for especially long movies.
- Ben-Hur – 212 min.
- The Sound of Music – 174 min.
- Gone With the Wind – 220 min,
- The Godfather – 175 min.
The last prominent film to have an intermission was Gandhi (183 min.) After that, the audience was left to fend for itself. I abstain from all liquid several hours before show time and only sip parsimoniously from my water bottle during the movie.
I’ve read several people’s views that an intermission would be disruptive, but personally I can’t think of anything more disruptive than dancing uncomfortably in one’s chair. Also, it’s not as if the movie is going to randomly break in the middle of the action. An intermission actually gives directors the opportunity to build towards a second climax (think “as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!). The first act ends on an exciting or suspenseful or emotional note and the audience has a break. They can talk, get more food, stretch, relieve themselves, compare thoughts, and then return to the film with anticipation and fresh concentration.
I think Alfred Hitchcock had the right idea about it.
“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”
And if they can’t do that….please, just put in an intermission.
Note: my brother also likes the idea of intermissions because he says the best music on a soundtrack always comes during the intermission.