This weekend, I finally cracked open my copy of How the West Was Won, a massive epic produced by MGM and Cinerama. Released in 1962, it had three (!) directors and, of course, used the Cinerama technology that you can look up elsewhere because it’s really cool but not the point of this post.
The point of this post is about something that was included in the film that we don’t see in new releases anymore. This 2-hour-and-44-minute sweeping epic had an intermission. Blessedly, in this release, it included the Intermission cue and the Entr’acte cue as well. (It also had the overture, but the odds of that ever coming back as a film feature are very slim.)
Avengers: Endgame was a whopping 3 hours and 1 minute. That’s a full 17 minutes longer than a film that utilized FOUR directors of photography, a technology that shooting with three 35mm cameras sharing a single shutter, multiple locations, and – again – THREE directors.
How the West Was Won also starred just about every name that could be cast in Hollywood. In one scene alone, in the segment directed by the legendary John Ford, George Peppard kills Russ Tamblyn to prevent him from assassinating Harry Morgan (as Ulysses Grant), who’s talking with John Wayne (as General William Tecumseh Sherman). That’s just one scene, and of those four actors it’s George Peppard that has the only role that goes beyond that segment of the film.
I don’t want to digress into further specifics. The point is simply that these two films are of a similar type.
They were both giant, spectacular blockbusters with large and popular casts placed into epic stories to get people to pay money. One, however, will be remembered as The Greatest Movie of All Time until the next Marvel™®© movie comes out.
Branagh also had the decency to put an intermission in his sublime adaptation of Hamlet.
The Intermission is the Difference
How the West Was Won had an intermission, whereas Avengers: Endgame was constructed with the modern philosophy of the Film as Endurance Test. My biggest question is, “Why?”
I’m not saying every film needs to be a three-or-four-hour epic. I’m saying that intermissions make sense for longer films. Aside from giving the audience a break to get to the bathroom, digest the film up to that point, and even carry on a fine tradition from live theater, it gives the audience permission to discuss.
Instead of asking talkative people – especially in the social media age – to go three hours without telling the world what they thought of the last fifteen minutes of their lives, an intermission gives them time to go out and indulge the gift of endless gab. Social media addicts will be more likely to attend a long film if you bake in a promise that they aren’t expected to be quiet for the entire run time. It’s a polite agreement to prevent a war.
(To be honest, an overture is still a good idea to give people time to settle down. I know I said earlier it was even less likely to come back, but I think if you had a built-in time to allow everyone to get the “shushing” out of their system when the dialogue wasn’t happening, it would be better.)
It also gives you the opportunity to leave if the film isn’t working for you, without causing a ruckus. Imagine the relief to know that you’ll be given a chance to politely exit if you think something sucks. As an added bonus to the aforementioned social media addicts, you can get a jump on the hashtags on opening night!
Tarantino had the decency to put an intermission into The Hateful Eight. Sure, it was part of his whole throwback philosophy. But it worked.
If theater chains balk, remind them that people at intermission are also more inclined to buy more concessions. That’s a great thing for them.
So let’s bring back the intermission!
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