On being ... too long
By Ingrid Sapona
Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that I’ve always prided myself on having a long attention span. As a child I could pass hours making things, and I don’t ever remember complaining about being bored. And at work, when a deadline required us to work into the wee hours, I didn’t fade or poop out the way my colleagues did. So, based on all these things, I’ve always felt I have a better-than-average attention span.
But lately there have been so many things that just seem too long, I’ve begun to think my attention span isn’t what it used to be. The movie The Iron Lady is a perfect example. Though Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher was truly remarkable, I couldn’t unequivocally recommend the film because I thought it was too long. I think they could have easily edited out half the scenes where she’s talking to her dead husband without realizing that he’s dead. I couldn’t help feel that the director must have thought that the audience would be slow to catch on to the fact that Thatcher was losing her marbles.
My attention span (and patience) was similarly challenged at a recent documentary that was screened as part of a documentary series a friend and I subscribe to. Going into it we only knew that the Chinese-born documentarian had filmed it over two years while living on this one street in Sichuan, China. The first few minutes of the documentary focused on the daily routines of some seniors that lived on that street. At the beginning the slow pace was tolerable; I figured it was meant to reflect the lives of the seniors.
Twenty or so minutes into the film, the focus shifted to one old woman who had become bed ridden after a stroke. Then, for the next hour or so we basically watched her lying in bed suffering for days until one night she finally died. I tell you, by the end I felt more than frustrated at having sat through the 90+ minute documentary.
Afterward I read a review that said the documentary was about conflicts within the family emerging as a result of the elderly woman’s illness and the family’s struggle to avoid collapse. Well, all I can say is that certainly didn’t describe the film I felt subjected to. Obviously, the fact that the subject matter was pretty depressing didn’t help, but I left feeling resentful that we had been made to sit there and watch that poor woman die.
When I’m sitting in a film or documentary and feeling restless because it seems too long, the writer/editor in me seems to go into overdrive. I start thinking about changes I’d make -- things I’d cut (without harming the story, of course) to keep it moving along. Unfortunately, I suspect such thoughts only make the films seem even longer…
But it isn’t just films and documentaries that I’ve been feeling this way about. I’ve found dance performance and concerts are often too long too. The big difference with these kinds of performances is that when I find myself squirming in my seat, I can’t even pinpoint what pushes me over the edge. With an abstract performance (like dance or music), I have no analytical framework to apply to justify concluding that it’s too long -- all I have is a feeling that my patience and graciousness as an audience member have been tested, and I’ve had enough.
I know finding more and more things too long isn’t that big a deal, but I can’t help wonder whether other people feel the same. I sure hope so, otherwise I might have to admit to myself that my attention span has actually slipped -- dare I say it -- below average.
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona