Film My Fair Lady is a very long film, surprisingly long. In its fully restored version it has a duration of a hundred and seventy minutes PLUS intermission if you're the sort of person like me who pauses their home entertainment system, takes a bathroom break and refills their beverage cup when the "intermission" card appears in these roadshow type pictures, imagining what it must have been like during the original release when everyone filed into the cinema bar much as they would at the theatre.
But it never feels long. Amid the songs, the ripping script, clever performances and the sense of being witness to an event, the time flies by. When people complain about films being too long and in a blanket sense, often what they mean is those films which "feel" long, or don't justify their duration. My Fair Lady, as with many widescreen technicolour masterpieces of this period fully repays the time the viewer spends with it.
Such things are to the taste of the viewer. The recent adaptation of The Hobbit's been criticised for turning a relatively slender volume into three films with a range of additional characters and plot details. Apart from the fact that an audio reading of the book actually covers a similar duration to the theatrical releases, an exact adaptation of Tolkien with Bilbo sleeping through the battle of the five armies and what not would be a deeply undramatic experience.
In its extended version, The Hobbit clocks in at just under nine hours including credits which seems perfectly judged since as we can see now without twelve months between installments it's actually one long film with a similar structure to the average action movie of ninety minutes but with each of its acts stretched out across three hours. Willfully meandering perhaps at times and with numerous set pieces which don't really advance the plot, it's meant to be an immersive experience and is.
But such cases are rare. In my experience the perfect duration for most films is about two hours plus credits, with ninety minutes for a comedy. Star Wars's The Force Awakens is 135 minutes but the live action section only covers about two hours, everything else is words. When Harry Met Sally is 96 minutes, five of which are the credits on either side and it's perfect. Which isn't to say Adam Sandler comedies would be any better if they were shorter but at least they'd be shorter.
Where does this leave My Fair Lady or The Hobbit, why are they allowed to break the rule? Quite honestly I've no idea. Increased incident and exposition help a lot, more story overall. Justifiably longer films tend to happen across more locations with a greater number of characters even if there's a single story thread, whereas the really long feeling comedies have a limited number of locales and characters. I'll no doubt return to this discussion again soon.