Who Has Time for a 15-Hour Film? A Film Critic, That's Who.
Do you have fifteen hours to spare this weekend? Cause if you do, the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott is falling all over himself, drunk with delight, about a new and lengthy documentary that charts the history of film:
A more scholarly version of this double impulse [for old fashioned cinema a la "Hugo" and "The Artist"] — a history-minded cinephilia that is at once elegiac and celebratory, passionate and skeptical — informs “The Story of Film: An Odyssey.” Presented in eight chapters and clocking in at 900 minutes, this sprawling documentary, which takes up residence on Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art, is notable for its epic ambition and for its conciseness. Cinema may be a relatively young art form, but its rapid evolution and global reach make its history dauntingly complex . . .
He wants to tell the whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, as the saying goes, but he also wants this vast chronicle to have a shape and a point: themes and patterns amid the names, places and images. He succeeds to an impressive extent. The results of his dogged research, compulsive travel and hard thinking are exemplary, useful and sometimes thrilling.
I don't care how "thrilling" and "dauntingly complex" the history of film is, the idea of a fifteen-hour film about film is farcically funny, isn't it? Call me a philistine, but it's like, didn't the creators of the film have the budget for an editor? Scott thinks the film is notable for its "epic ambition and for its conciseness." Concise? Seriously?
The length of this film reminds me of those 1,000-page tomes that are getting published more and more these days—they're usually about some obscure topic, written by some professor you've never heard of, who teaches at some university you've never heard of, and yet gets a 5,000-word review in the New York Review of Books. You know the type of books I mean.
Who are these books written for? Or, more to the point, who is a 900-minute documentary created for? Their length--or "comprehensiveness," as the critic would put it—seems to be a slap in the face to an ordinary audience, who doesn't have the time or enthusiasm to absorb every. Little. Detail. The only people charmed by such "comprehensiveness" are academics and the literati: i.e., the authors, and in this case filmmakers, who get paid to create these works, and the critics, who get paid to review them. (Going full circle, the Odyssey's director and narrator, Mark Cousins, is a former film critic himself).
And only a critic like Scott would revel in this 15-hour film that is an "invigorated compendium of conventional wisdom . . . forthright in [its] feminism" (as Scott puts it). Only a critic like Scott would write this paragraph about it:
The first section also signals the agenda of the inquiry as a whole. It is global in scope, attentive to the political implications of film, generally director-centric and closely attuned to matters of form. There are interviews with academics and filmmakers, visits to cinematic landmarks and a wealth of wonderful clips.
The inquiry? Oh, boy.