Long, Strong, and Down to Get the Classics On: The Insanely Long Movie Checklist

Despite the fact that Sir Mix-A-Lot’s knighthood is clearly invalid, I’ve still opted to quote him because his long/strong/down to get the friction on line from the timeless “Baby Got Back” perfectly pertains to several fantastic bits of cinema. These are films that show up on “Greatest” lists all the time. They’re influential, and some of the best movies ever made. They’re also, unfortunately, endurance tests that require 4 hours or more of viewing. In at least a few cases, it’s best to think of them as a mini-series, viewed an hour or two at a time. Here’s my checklist of insanely long movies that I have seen or that I intend to see.

La Roue (1923)
Not surprisingly, Abel Gance’s 4.5 hour sweeping silent French epic about… um… wheels is very challenging. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. Gance’s camera techniques were mind-blowing, the narrative structure is neatly organized, and the symbolism is rich. I can’t deny that I was gasping for air around the 3 hour mark, but the film’s conclusion was satisfying.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
Fassbinder’s “15-1/2 hour episodic exploration of the character of Franz Biberkopf” (IMDb’s plot description) was cut into bite-size portions of an hour to an hour and a half apiece. It took me a few weeks, as watching nearly 16 hours all at once would have been insanity. I wrote in greater depth about it upon completion last June. What impresses me about it, in hindsight, is how well Fassbinder paced everything. You can clearly delineate Biberkopf’s character arc by whichever one of his many women he’s involved with at the time. When you’ve got 16 hours to play with, displaying a gradual descent into madness takes a deft touch. Jump the gun, and you’re left with several hours of useless footage. Take too long, and you’ll lose your audience.

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
When I first mentioned that I had seen this film, my friend laughed and said, “That sounds like one of those movies they’d go to the theater to see on Seinfeld“. At 251 minutes, it’s not at all for the faint of heart. What makes it so impressive to me is the totality of the subject covered. For four hours, you get to see the occupation in France via the perspectives of politicos, Germans, Nazi sympathizers, resistance fighters, the British, the Jewish, collaborators, informants, the man on the street… just about any type of person involved in the Nazi occupation of France is interviewed. Director Max Ophuls weaves propaganda films from the era with interviews and other footage to paint a painstakingly detailed portrait of mistrust, xenophobia, anti-semitism, paranoia, and raw apathy in the face of evil. It’s a telling film that portrays a France that was politically splintered, and ripe with unstable politics.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Bergman created two versions of his most autobiographical work- a theatrical cut, and a television mini-series. The mini-series includes everything from the theatrical version plus a whopping two extra hours, for a grand total of five hours. Just when I thought Bergman couldn’t knock me off my feet any more because I’d seen so much of his work, it happened again. The extra two hours allowed Bergman to flesh out the ancillary characters more and it gives the film a much larger punch. That’s quite a feat, considering how much of a punch was packed into the theatrical version to begin with. Additionally, there are some artistic scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor in the transfer from TV to theatrical. As great as the theatrical version was, the TV version was that much better. If you’re trying to decide which version to watch and you haven’t seen either, do yourself a favor. Spend the extra two hours and go for the TV version.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

At just under four hours, this is one of the shorter films on the list. Gone with the Wind is a must-watch for movie nerd street cred,  the stunning visuals, and the heart of the story is excellent. I’ll confess, Scarlett O’Hara might be my least favorite movie character of all-time but there’s no denying her endurance in cinematic history.

Napoléon (1927)
Gance strikes again, this time with a technically innovative masterpiece. There are several versions, each of varying length. The copy that I saw was “only” 240 minutes, right at four hours. But there are 5+ hour versions available somewhere in the world. I couldn’t believe how quickly the four hours went, and Gance unveiled one new camera trick after another as the film unfolded. “Impressive” comes to mind as the best adjective to describe this movie and it instantly rose towards the top of my personal list of favorites.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Nobody did the sweeping epic quite like David Lean. The list of Lean films includes The Bridge on the River Kwai, 161 minutes; Doctor Zhivago, 197 minutes; The Greatest Story Ever Told, 199 minutes; A Passage to India, 164 minutes; and Ryan’s Daughter, 195 minutes. Perhaps his best was Lawrence of Arabia, which comes in at a tidy 216 minutes. Lean’s acting troupe- Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and Alec Guinness- shines brightly, as does the cinematography. One of the first extremely long film selections that I watched was also one of the films that made me realize just how much you could get out of the experience.


There’s also a batch of incredibly long films that I haven’t seen, but intend to see. I recently came into possession of the 10-hour film serial, Les Vampires (1915). With any luck, I’ll tackle it in the next few weeks.

The uncut version of Das Boot (1981) weighs in at 293 minutes and is a noticeable gap in my film-viewing.

The standard version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 is 245 minutes, and the uncut version is over 5 hours. I’ll attempt to tackle it at some point.

The Human Condition (1959) is a trilogy of films that times out at a whopping 579 total minutes, placing it around Les Vampires and Berlin Alexanderplatz as the longest items on the list.

I made a very weak attempt at tackling Louis Malle’s 6-hour documentary, Phantom India (1969). I cracked the two hour mark but no further despite the high quality of the documentary. I will finish it some day.

Shoah (1985) comes in at 9 1/2 hours and may be the most gut-wrenching film on the list. 9 1/2 hours of Holocaust survivor interviews, while obviously important, will not be an easy watch.


Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, German Films, Ingmar Bergman, Louis Malle, Movies, Silent Movies, Swedish Film

24 responses to “Long, Strong, and Down to Get the Classics On: The Insanely Long Movie Checklist

  1. Phil

    Good topic… I’ve got a long movie list too.
    I’ve seen Shoah, Das Boot, and 1900. They’re all great, Das Boot would be my favorite of the bunch.
    Human Condition is on my list, along with the Italian film from a couple of years ago, Best of Youth.
    First up for me is Satantango by Bela Tarr. I love,love,love Werkmeister Harmonies and went out and bought Satantango a year ago, but still haven’t gotten to it. If I have a free 7 hours, I might watch it on President’s Day.

    • Ah, I wish I’d included Santantango and Werkmeister. I’ve seen Damnation and The Outsider, and the other two (Santantango/Werkmeister) are definitely on my list.

  2. rtm

    Props for putting Gone With the Wind. I’d add Ben-Hur also as that’s one of my favorite long movies. There’s even an intermission in the middle, but I absolutely love that movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

    I still got to see Lawrence of Arabia in its entirety.

    • I initially said a whole bunch of not-very-nice things about Gone with the Wind and then deleted them, because the list really shouldn’t be about me whining.

      Of the Lean films I’ve seen, I prefer Bridge on the River Kwai over Lawrence of Arabia. But that’s sort of like saying you prefer ice cream over cake. Because they’re both fantastic.

      • rtm

        Not very nice things?? How could you! 😀 Well I know lots of people aren’t crazy about GWTW. I probably have a soft spot for it because it was one of the first few Hollywood movies I saw growing up.

        Oh I think I remember seeing River Kwai when my brothers were watching it, but I’m never into war movies so I never saw the whole thing. I think my brothers really like William Holden.

        • River Kwai is very, very good. I’d say it’s more of a drama in a war setting than a war movie, if that makes sense. The war gives it a backdrop but fighting and fight scenes really don’t come into play.

  3. Don

    John Adams qualify? My wife and I saw that last summer. I purchased it for her this Christmas. Will re-watch in the next few months. Great depiction of our county’s early history, and just how weird war is. You just step out your door, walk down your lane and people are getting killed. Very interesting.

    • That intro music gets me every time. And Laura Linney is probably my favorite actress. And Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin) is one of my favorite actors. I enjoyed the hell out of John Adams.

  4. Oh sure… just keep adding films to my “haven’t seen that yet” list! Of all the movies listed above, I have only see most of Napolean (I saw it in the theater when it was restored by Coppola and company in the early 80’s) , bits of Lawrence of Arabia, and the original version of Das Boot (saw it when it came out. Great movie!).

  5. Of all the movies you mention, of which I’ve only seen three, Das Boot was the best. Nice post!

    • Thanks for coming by and commenting! Which other two have you seen?

      I’ve been on a little roll lately with higher quality movies and I get the feeling Das Boot will be the next one I see off of this list.

  6. Pingback: Thoughts About Les Vampires (1915) |

  7. Kristal

    I guess all the Griffith films like Intolerance and Birth of a Nation come in under 4hrs but I still consider them kinda insanely long, or at least they felt that way when watching…

    I try to stay away from too many movies over 4+ hours but I wouldn’t mind seeing the extended version of Greed just because it felt rather disjointed with the missing scenes in the version I saw.

    I have however seen all of Les Vampires, La Roue, Gone With the Wind and The Human Condition. I don’t really count The Human Condition though partly because I saw each movie months apart due to the lack of availability (this was before the Criterion dvds) and I believe at least the last one was filmed a year or 2 after the others.

  8. Was rereading some of your posts in the weekend and decided to have an ‘Insanely Long Movie Week’ in Your Honour. I’ll probably only watch seven movies (maybe only six), but I know I’ll enjoy myself. First up: Fanny and Alexander. Great! I haven’t seen nearly enough Bergman as I should have (this will be my fifth IB film.) Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Oh wow, you’re in for a treat. Are you doing the TV version or the theatrical release? Both are very, very good.

      • I scoured the archives of my local DVD rental store for the TV version, but alas, could only find the theatrical one, but hey! So long as they’re both really good, I’m happy. I also managed to track down two earlier Bergman movies I’ve been wanting to see, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Will be watching them at some point. I’ll probably write up a post on my blog and say what I thought of them. Thanks.

        • One of these days, I’m going to tackle the impossible task of ranking all of the Bergman films I’ve ever seen. The Seventh Seal would easily be a top 5 and probably a top 3. It makes me a movie geek cliché but Bergman is my favorite filmmaker and it’s not even really close between Bergman and the #’s 2 and 3 directors (the two Louis/Luis’, Malle and Buñuel).

          • I have a personal goal to watch as much Bergman as I possibly can. It was only a few weeks ago I saw his Absence of God trilogy and I loved it. Then I watched Persona and I knew he was special. My Top Directors list is wobbling a bit. It seems a bit pointless ranking them when every time I examine the list it doesn’t feel right. I might just write a list of twenty/twenty five directors in alphabetical order rather than ranking them.

  9. Pingback: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: The Update |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s