Hitchcock,_AlfredSir Alfred Hitchcock was credited with saying, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”* Hard to argue with that, especially since its source is arguably the least boring filmmaker of them all. Still, I’ve always wondered what happened to those “dull bits.”

This week, I think I found out.

boyhoodThis post could get me into trouble, but I have to get this thought out of my neurons. The Academy Award nominated Best Picture, “Boyhood”, while a laudable piece of logistics, makes for agonizingly boring viewing. You’d think you could find 2¾ hours of material in a 12-year span of a kid’s life that would be gripping enough to keep my attention.

You’d be wrong. Thank goodness for the fast forward button.

There’s a certain hubris required to make a movie that’s almost three hours long. Some directors have (or had) it and pulled it off: Kubrick and Peter Jackson, to name a couple who succeeded. The former because of his genius, the latter because of his rich source material, courtesy of Tolkien who supplied the genius in that case.

Others are less successful. I’ve already noted Mr. Nolan in these virtual pages. I think I can now safely add Mr. Linklater. Both are obviously gifted filmmakers. They’ve proved as much in previous films.

I’m not suggesting that “Boyhood” is a bad film. Who the heck am I to make such a presumptuous claim? I’m just saying it’s dull as dirt. It makes me wonder, who was this movie made for, the creator or the viewer?

The concept is undoubtedly exceptional. Much of the obviously improvised dialog is engaging. But it’s the “dull bits” of life. There’s nothing really new being said. The film’s notoriety seems to be riding on a single gimmick, albeit a brilliant gimmick. If this film had been shot all at the same time with different actors playing the aging youthful roles (the only ones that show marked change), would it have received the acclaim it has? I’m guessing no. It would be just another tired coming-of-age story.

russianarkThere’s another, less well-known film that deserves similar praise for its use of an even more innovative device. “Russian Ark” is a 99-minute movie that was made in one continuous shot. That’s right, no “cut”, no edits, no stopping the camera at all. It’s ingenious, inventive, amazing. It’s also excruciatingly tedious to view. The Mona Lisa is fantastic, but I don’t want to stare at it for 99 minutes, never mind 165.

I’ve seen longer and slower movies that didn’t bore me. The aforementioned Mr. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the classic example. (That’s why a clever Mad magazine spoof of it was called “201 Minutes of Space Idiocy”.) It’s long and it’s slow, yet I’m entranced by its entirety.

straightstoryI adore movies that take time to tell their stories. If that story is compelling, if the characters are engaging, they can take all the time they want.

  • The Straight Story
  • The Trip to Bountiful
  • The Conversation
  • The Elephant Man
  • Koyaanisqatsi

These are all among my favorite films. They all unfold at a leisurely – some might say plodding – pace but never bore me for a second. Why? Maybe it’s just me.

“Boyhood” feels a lot like life – an admirable accomplishment – but hardly groundbreaking. Every good movie should feel like life in some way or another. The problem is, if I want to view life as it presents itself, I don’t have to go to the theater or watch TV.

It’s happening all around me, with far more interesting people than populate “Boyhood”.

*The great auteur also made the observation that, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” A lot depends on the bladder of the viewer. In my case, “Boyhood” failed that test as well.

Boring conversational topics

boringA writer should be a student of conversation. Paying close attention to a variety of verbal exchanges helps us compose quality dialog. A sparkling conversation educates not only writers but all who are involved. A dead conversation simply put its participants to sleep. You wouldn’t put boring lines in your book/movie/story/poem. It’s a good idea to leave them out of real life, too.

Here’s a sampling of topics that cause my head to sag, my shoulders to slump, and my eyes to glaze over.

  1. Pretty much anything about the weather is conversational poison, especially when it regards any forecast more than 24 hours into the future. You might as well discuss possible lottery outcomes. Even worse, talking about how often weather forecasts are wrong… which I think I just did.
  2. Any reference to the supposed fact that Saturday Night Live isn’t funny any more is so much fertilizer. It seems as if everyone has their favorite SNL era. Anything before or after that must be lousy. It’s just a matter of taste and timing.
  3. Please don’t tell me how expensive things are now compared to when you were young, unless you’re prepared to discuss said costs in conjunction with average salaries for the given time period.
  4. So they don’t make good, family movies anymore, right? Well, yes and no. There are actually plenty of family movies. It’s just that, for the most part, no one goes to see them. They’re out there, but they tend to get lost in the shuffle of remakes of reboots of sequels made about comic books or candy bars. When I hear this comment, I like to ask the gripers when the last time was that they went to the theater to support those family movies. That usually leads to a series of grunts and shrugs, mercifully ending a boring exchange. (On the other hand, you can have an interesting discussion about why so many R-rated movies have been made when PG and PG-13 movies have historically earned more at the box office.)
  5. Any description of one’s dreams should be banned by law. I’d prefer a root canal without any painkiller.
  6. The workplace is rife with dull comments, such as, “Working hard or hardly working?” The worst of all is when a person walks into an office and finds someone other than its usual occupant. The typical inane reaction is to say something in the vein of, “Wow, you’ve changed!” This is especially painful when the person in the office is of a different gender than its normal resident. Please refrain.

This next one happened to me recently. It’s probably the reason for the post. At a funeral or other such somber event, it’s almost required that we say to one another, “It’s so great to see you. Too bad it’s under such sad circumstances.”

You say it, I say it. The question is, do I mean it? If it’s that great to see you, why don’t I call you or visit you under better circumstances, such as, say, out of a desire to see you?

I guess that brings me to a meta-observation on bad conversational topics. Maybe anything that is insincere or untrue doesn’t belong in a conversation between people who are anything more than casual acquaintances. Save the subtext for the novels and screenplays.

Which reminds me of a dream I once had… scream