By Scott and Geoff (my comments are in the second half)
At the end of the day, I’m a minimalist. I like things short and sweet; I tend to cringe at novels that go too far past the 300 page mark or short stories that go much more than 20. I guess you could say I’m a big fan of economy. In fact, I think part of the reason I like comics so much is that they are the ultimate example of ‘Show Don’t Tell’ (this could be the minimalist’s credo). Last year, I finally got around to reading The Grapes of Wrath and I felt compelled to edit it, not only could the prose use some paring down (in a ten page passage, at least an entire page worth of words was dedicated to describing how Tom Joad was chewing his gum); more importantly, I thought it could probably go without the last 20 pages or so. I felt the same way about Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away.
More to the point, I recently purchased AC/DC’s Black Ice and I have agree with what many of the reviews have been saying: at 15 tracks it’s a ‘good’ album but, at 10 tracks, it could have been great. One of the biggest criticisms against The Dark Knight was that it was too long. There is a long list of artist who perhaps should have “quit while they were ahead.” Even the Beatles could be guilty of this sort of thing; George Martin once stated that he felt that The White Album would have been much better had it made into a single album. And it probably have been a much tighter album had it been edited down (don’t get me wrong; The White Album is one of my favorite albums and, personally, the ‘warts-and-all/everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-approach’ is probably one of the reasons I like it… but it really is kind of a mess).
So, what are some of your favorite examples of works that outstayed their welcome?
Here are a couple of mine off of the top of my head:
The Strokes- First Impressions Of Earth: I actually love this album, but it’s three tracks longer than the other two Strokes albums and that’s exactly how many tracks too long it is.
Foo Fighters- In Your Honor- This double album was divided into a ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ disc (the ‘soft’ featuring acoustic numbers), a novel idea, unfortunately, most of the ‘soft’ disc was largely unmemorable. Simple solution? A single disc that includes only the best of the ‘soft’ disc.
(Note: Something that has largely contributed to this problem in music over the last 20 years is the advent of the CD. Before that, in order for an album to be a standard ‘single’ album, it could not go over 60 minutes; with the introduction of the CD that length has been bumped up to about 80 minutes. If you think about it, that 20 minutes is about how much needs to be cut off of most albums that are ‘too long’)
Wim Wender’s Until The End of The World – It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie but, from what I remember, the final act of the movie where they were trying to record their dreams needed to be a LOT shorter.
Ang Lee’s Hulk – I really had no idea what was going on the last 20 minutes of the movie…. And neither did Nick Nolte, apparently.
Death Proof- I like it better now than when I first saw it, but it still feels too long… the extended cut was entirely unnecessary.
[Like Scott, I am a minimalist in most of my aesthetic taste, which is why I prefer poetry to the novel for example. I would very much disagree with The Hulk -- the last 20 minutes were wonderfully subversive, as the Hulk cannot just punch WATER. But I think I cannot disagree with Death Proof. Death Proof is the one where I fall into a trap I hit others for: I like part of the movie so much (the end) it kind of overwhelms the rest. The Road, as you know, is my favorite example of a book that needed an editor -- it is much better as prose poetry than as any kind of story. There was a good 200 page novel somewhere in Don Delilo's Underworld, and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind needed some serious editing; Dark Knight too certainly. Moby-Dick on the other hand -- my favorite novel -- honestly could have been LONGER.
The key question on this topic is: Should we be more forgiving of movies such as Dark Knight because what is good about it is excellent, what is bad can be to a certain extent ignored? This seems to be what happens with most people I talk too, but I cannot give an A to a movie that has so much fat to trim, even if the lean is pretty well awesome.
Does anyone know about the fan edits of Phantom Menace, where someone made an alternative cut of the movie getting rid off the bad stuff, keeping the good stuff, and making Jar Jar talk in an indecipherable alien language so that his dialog could be rewritten in subtitles? I have always wanted too see it but am bad with the tech you need for finding and downloading semi-illegal stuff like that.
We are so close to a kind of editorial revolution where we will all be able to edit our favorite movies ourselves when they go on for too long. It could be like those "clean" Christian movies severely edited for content, except we could edit against self-indulgent bloat, rather than, say, violence or nudity. Think how great our bold new world of 50 minute summer blockbusters could be!