Are some Oscar-likely movies too slowly paced?
”In the Bedroom,” the Maine-set drama starring Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei and directed by Todd Field, has won plenty of critical plaudits since it opened, and it seems headed toward Oscar nominations. But go to any online movie chat boards and you’ll notice that the praise tends to be drowned out by often-virulent carping over the film’s pace. I quote: ”Boring and slow to the point of torture,” ”this has to be one of the most tedious movies I have ever seen,” ”the movie drug on forever,” ”the movie just drags on and on for two and a half hours and by the end accomplishes NOTHING!” And so on.
It’s not just ”In the Bedroom” that gets these irritated responses, of course. It’s ANY movie that dares to amble thoughtfully in a culture built for speed and impact. It’s ”Monster’s Ball” (”painfully slow…the story really doesn’t go anywhere and the characters are so unlikable that you spend most of the movie hoping that the rest of them will die off”) and ”Mulholland Drive” (”never have cinema seats seemed so hard, never has two hours seemed so long”) and ”A Beautiful Mind” (”the film just moves at a turtle’s pace with characters talking and talking and talking endlessly about boring subjects”).
Once upon a time, movies did not all move at the speed of a flamenco dancer on crank, and it was okay. Classic Hollywood dramas unfurled at a leisurely trot, unless they were gangster movies or screwball comedies, in which case they sped up considerably (in a film like ”His Girl Friday,” to the manic pace of a vintage 78 record).
Things actually slowed down in the 1960s and 1970s, as the influence of European filmmaking and certain smokable substances popular among young directors of the time resulted in dramas like ”Klute” and ”Five Easy Pieces” and ”The Conversation” – films that probed for Truth in the pokey mundanity of American life. Even Coppola’s ”The Godfather,” as elegant and transfixing as it is, probably strikes a lot of younger viewers as funereal in the worst way.
What happened? That’s easy: ”Jaws,” ”Star Wars,” and MTV. Movies and videos that sucked audiences in with drive and flash and noise. An entertainment industry increasingly addicted to the jingle of change in young people’s pockets and happy to feed them whatever sugar shock was on the menu. And a corresponding lack of interest in films that require you to not even necessarily think (God forbid) but simply sit and absorb.
Smart moviegoers understand when they settle in to a movie that they have to adjust their metabolism as the film demands. It’s not that hard. ”Mulholland Drive”? Slow your breathing down to an REM torpor, and let the story and imagery come to you. ”Black Hawk Down”? Strap yourself in and ride it like a chopper gone out of control. ”In the Bedroom”? Use the long pauses to note the finely calibrated changes in the relationship between Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. ”Jimmy Neutron”? Pass the Sugar-Bombs. ”Gosford Park”? Chill out and open your eyes and ears.
Anyone can play, really, so why are some moviegoers so enraged by films that require them to lower their pulse rates? Are they offended by movies that don’t do all the work for them? (In other words, are they that lazy?) Are they afraid they might hear themselves think? What exactly is the threat here?
Me, I happen to LIKE flicks that force me to go into a Zen fugue state to appreciate them. Give me anything by Japanese master director Yasujiro Ozu or French New Wave maverick Jacques Rivette – serious paint-dryers with intense, profound beauties to be discovered if you slow down long enough to see – and I’m a happy-happy film snob. I also like biffbambang stuff like, I don’t know, James Cameron’s ”Aliens.” They’re different kinds of head food and they each have their place at the banquet table. So why do some in the audience insist that everyone eat Big Macs? And why do they have such a problem reading the menu before they come into the restaurant?
Do you enjoy films with a leisurely pace?