Why are the Classics so Long?

Tonight I am going to see the classic film Gone with the Wind. Megaplex theaters here in Utah are doing a Silver Screen Series of 10 classic films for only $10. This gives us the chance to see classic films on the big screen!  Here is the series:

This is an awesome opportunity but also a lot of fun because I am podcasting about them with my friend Christine. We have already talked about Lawrence of Arabia, which we both loved. You can listen to that analysis here.

I must be honest though a side of me doesn’t really want to see Gone with the Wind tonight. It’s just so long and so full of melodrama. Plus, there are the racially insensitive moments and all that Magnolia rosy versions of the Slavery South. But mostly it’s just hard for me to get super excited for a 4 hour movie…

It got me thinking 6 of the 10 selections are 3 hours or more. Occasionally you will see a 3 hour movie these days with Lord of the Rings but most are under 3 hours. In fact, films like Batman v Superman will be hacked up to keep it under the 3 hours. I know why this happens because over 3 hours limits screening times which then limits income for the studio.  The 3 hour version is saved for the bluray these days.

But economics aside I think there is something more to this. I mean there is no way a movie like My Fair Lady or Sound of Music would ever be 3 hours these days no matter how many screenings they could fit in. It makes me wonder why?

classics1We can look at the same phenomenon with literature. Classic novels like David Copperfield are so long they took multiple parts to print. Books like Count of Monte Cristo, Nicholas Nichleby, Don Quixote, Moby Dick are well over 1000 pages. Occasionally you will find such a book these days but I think it is the exception rather than the rule.

Just like with movies there was an economic reason for the length of these novels. Authors at the time were paid by the word so the longer they could make the story the better. I love classic novels but some even try my patience including Les Miserables which despite my love for the musical I have never been able to get through.

But just like with movies I think there is more than economics to explain these changes.  Sure occasionally we get a novel that feels like a classic in length but it is definitely the exception to the rule (I haven’t read but been told Infinite Jest is such a book).

It makes me wonder what has changed in our collective storytelling patience in the last 50 years or so? Is it the prevalence of television and it’s 30 minute storytelling platform that made the difference? Is it the amount of material to read and view that makes us anxious for the next item? Perhaps if we only got 2 or 3 major books a year we wouldn’t mind the ones we got being long and drawn out?

Again, I love the classics but I’m not always in the mood for them. Sometimes I am in the mood for a more succinct modern story. Maybe it is just the longer novels/films which have persevered as classics while the shorter ones were digested and forgotten?

What do you think? Why do you think there is this difference in modern and classic books and movies?

What do you prefer? Do you like modern tight storytelling or the more leisurely paced classic?

3 thoughts on “Why are the Classics so Long?

  1. I will only watch a movie that is very long if I have it on a streaming service or on DVD and can pause it to go back. I managed to watch My Fair Lady in one day and Doctor Dolittle in one night, on two different devices, which I consider a miracle.

    1. Yeah so crazy a movie like Doctor Dolittle was long back then. I was just thinking though. Maybe it is kind of like we like to binge tv shows these days. They just watched one movie!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s