Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Return of the Overture and Intermission

I have a lot of time to watch movies suddenly. I don't have a computer at my house and I have my kids every night. So I get to watch movies all by my lonesome every night from the time my kids go to sleep until one or two in the morning.

Lately I've been watching really great movies. And two nights in a row I caught movies with Intermissions and three in a row films with Overtures at the beginning of the film. (East of Eden with just the overture, Lawrence of Arabia and Gone with the Wind with both.)

Why have these disapeared? The overture brings a certain elegance back to the movie-going experience and gives people time to get adjusted or arrive a few moments late. You get an emotional feeling of the movie before it starts. If the composer knows how to do his job (and most do) they can get you in the mood for the movie beforehand. It creates an all around better movie-viewing experience.

The Intermission, on the other hand, offers writers an amazing tool that I had never realized before the last few days. You can have an intermission and start a whole new story over. It's like two different screenplays. Take, for instance, Lawrence of Arabia. In the first half of the film you love Lawrence as much as anyone else. The Intermission begins and you see this man as a scrupulous hero.

You go out to the lobby, talk about what you just saw with your friend or date while you're buying popcorn and you go back in. Perhaps you're still wondering why the reporter at the funeral called him the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum and Bailey. I know the first time I watched it I was, because I didn't see any exhibitionism in the first half of the film. It was all compassion.

The second half begins and a lot of time has passed. The reporter from Lawrence's funeral is now asking Prince Faisel for permission to cover Lawrence and the film's structure has shifted significantly. You're presented with the view of Lawrence from this reporter who sees him as one thing but portrays him as another thing in the news.

And then the massacre of Turkish troops happens and you wonder if the Lawrence you saw in the first half and this Lawrence are the same.

The Intermission is the only thing that made this film possible at all. It would be too long and it would be much more difficult to switch structures like that.

And movie theatres should be begging for films with intermissions. For instance, what if King Kong had an intermission? They would have doubled their popcorn sales and still been able to fit the same three showtimes per screen per day.

If movies are going to be that long, they owe it to the audience as well. It's hard to not pee during a three hour movie. If there was an intermission I could have watched an hour and a half of it and hit the break. I could run to the bathroom, refill my bottomless tub of popcorn and buy some more red vines.

I worked at a theatre that got one of the anniversary prints of Gone With the Wind a few years back and during the Intermission popcorn sales went through the roof.

Intermissions also create an enhanced social experience. You just witnessed the first half of something with two-to-six-hundred other people. Suddenly you have ten minutes to discuss and digest what you've seen with them. It would be great to see that again.

Theatres should be begging for Intermissions and Overtures. If movies were classy social experiences again, instead of shitty remakes of old TV shows, people might start going to the movies again. It's no wonder the older generations stop going, all the things they liked about movies (quality for example) don't go to movies.

I think I might be on to something. Anyone else have something to say about this?


Joe Vogel said...

Yeah, I totally agree. The overture and intermission still exist with plays and musicals, but for some reason (probably having to do with our generation's ADD and obsession with money/efficiency)it's been dropped with movies.

Anonymous said...

i whole heartedly agree! i stumbled upon this blog while searching for a list of movies with intermissions... i know i've seen some but i can't remember what they are. i hope to find out and then when i see them playing in a revival theatre somewhere i can bask in the glory that is intermission.

Anonymous said...

If I had to guess, it's because all the theaters are owned by big chains trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of each movie. "10 minutes of intermission! Just multiply that by the number of theaters we own! Let's see, that's about a hundred thousand million combined minutes of downtime! Are you insane?"

Someone needs to tell these yahoos that that's 10 extra minutes of selling popcorn at 5 - 10 bucks a bag. I wonder what the last major motion picture with an intermission was anyhow... Reds (1981), maybe? Did Once Upon a Time in America (1984) have one? I've love to see some others post movies they've seen with intermissions!

Lee said...

Titantic did, at least when it was shown at the movie theater in Gainesville, FL