June 20th, 2007

Remember short?

The other night we watched The French Connection, and it was even better than I remembered, especiallly in the crisp DVD transfer. But it also depressed me for two reasons:

1) It made me remember a time when people recommended movies to each other because there were really good, not because they were marginally better than the last three pieces of tripe they endured.

2) It was one hour and forty minutes long. When was the last time you went to the theater and saw a movie that was only a hundred minutes? At least a movie for adults? What's with the double-aught bloat?

Then at the store we acquired a collection of vintage Donald Westlake/Richard Stark books, and I saw that none of them went over 150 pages; several were under 120. It reminded me of the fact that many of the books I grew up loving - like Fahrenheit 451 or Some of Your Blood of I Am Legend - were also quite short.

Books, in other words, that would be unpublishable nowadays, when we demand 90,000 words or more for our paperback novels.

What's happened to the length of books and movies over the last thirty years? As the running time/page count goes up, the quality seems to go down, and we accept it. We buy the books, see the movies, and are apparently happy to come up with "well, it was better than the last few" as an acceptable measure of quality. Is the bloat due to the notion that publishers and producers think they can charge us more if it just looks like we're getting more?

I want short again. I want stories for adults that don't have padded subplots about somebody's ex or somebody's kid or that case in the past that's now dogging the protagonist or whatever. Who cares? Not me. I'm guessing not you, either. Because if it did matter to you, you'd be telling me the last movie you saw or book you read was really great.