Film Let's return briefly to the subject of film durations. Les Vampires was originally released across seven months from the 13 November 1915 – 30 June 1916, has ten episodes and a running time of 417 minutes or just under seven hours. Over time there's been some discussion as to whether director Louis Feuillade's meisterwerk constitutes a single film or a series of them and having watched the whole business in just under a week last Summer, I'm on the side of it being a series.
Structurally it has everything you might expect from a modern television series with a clear protagonist, A and B plots, recurring characters and stories which last a single episode undercut with ongoing storylines. Viewing the series was akin to working through a modern boxed set, even though some episode durations vary wildly between installments, even more so than an HBO or Netflix series which aren't pinned to the traditional network television advert structure (or scheduling requirements in the case of the BBC).
At the risk of providing a review, as with television series too, some elements are more palatable than others, some storylines more exciting or involving. There's a lot of running around and superfluous moments designed to create empty tension and a fair number of false cliffhangers in the Doctor Who mode. As Time Out identified in their review "if shown, as it often is, in one great unnatural marathon, it can be sheer torture. Best viewed on tape." Treated as one long film it's unpalatable. Treated as a series it's mainly quite wonderful.
Which then makes me wonder about the number of films which benefit from being watched in shorter installments. The Hateful Eight feels very long, too long, with much padding and not many likeable characters. But I wonder now what my attitude would have been if I'd approached it as a television series, watching each of the different "chapters" as separate entities over a number of sessions. How would that have changed my attitude to the piece? Are we more relaxed about episodic drama having a meander?
But why do we persist in suggesting that some films are too long whilst happily graze through thirteen episodes of some Netflix drama telling one long story? Is it because by its nature episodic television provides breathers and a certain pacing which allows us to mentally detox between incidents whilst a film forces us to keep watching and be engaged with the characters and story for a much more intensive period? The Hobbit films seem very long, but collectively there's less screentime than an average series of Game of Thrones.
Perhaps, as the demarcation between film and television becomes ever unfocused, especially on streaming services we'll become more relaxed about film durations too. How long can it be before Peter Jackson releases yet another version of his Tolkien films which increase his vision yet further. Or perhaps it is that the filmmakers think they can take advantage of our extended attention spans even though they don't have enough story or their characters aren't complex or compelling enough to justify the story they're telling.