I went to see Alton Brown on stage last night, and at the intermission it got me to thinking about how movies don't use them anymore. Obviously this has been the common practice for about 40 years now, but it occurred to me that movies can still be long as hell. It seemed this started with Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, in which it was still in the collective memory enough that an intermission was considered, but Costner turned down the idea as not to interrupt the narrative.
Except the intermission in the past actually could serve a narrative. There were pragmatic reasons, revolving around reels needed to be switched, audiences not wanting to sit still for more than two hours, and the incentive to go to the lobby and buy snacks, but filmmakers learned to incorporate this into the structure of the film.
For instance, Gone with the Wind's big moment before the intermission is Scarlett's "I'll never be hungry again!" This signals in the second half how Scarlett will be more self-reliant and go to extreme measures to care for her family.
And as the French writer Jean-François Marmontel explained, as I learned from Wikipedia, the intermission can be a period in which the action does not in fact stop, but continues off-stage. "The interval is a rest for the spectators; not for the action," wrote Marmontel in 1763. "The characters are deemed to continue acting during the interval from one act to another."
And this got me to thinking about long movies that could benefit from an intermission in terms of massaging out the narrative. We all joke about how The Dark Knight Rises seems to miss a story beat where Bruce escapes from the pit and suddenly we're back in Gotham, and Bruce is too. Could an intermission allow for the off-screen events to be more palatable? Obviously things are still happening off-screen even without an intermission, but that break would allow the audience to feel the time passing.
I'd compare this to the sense of time passing between episodes of a TV show. With Game of Thrones season 7, for instance, a common complaint was that there was no sense of distance and that characters could seemingly teleport everywhere. This had been commonplace in earlier seasons, but due to the shortening of season 7 from the usual 10 episodes to 7 it felt like no time was passing at all. The episode when Jon Snow and his suicide squad are stuck on a frozen lake, for instance, might benefit from being over two episodes, as the break would make it feel like several days had passed rather than the hours it feels like within the episode itself.
This is kind of a separate argument, but it's a byproduct of what a recent io9 article talks about, namely that serialized television has become a disease. With the immediacy of binge watching and episodes feeling like long movies, oftentimes with a continuous narrative, there's no sense that characters are part of a living, breathing world and that anything is happening off-screen.
So back to movies, I'm not really sure how this problem can be solved. With rumors that Justice League may be three hours long, it seems studios aren't learning their lessons in terms of length. So while knowing this can't actually be fixed in reality, just to play a thought exercise, what movies would benefit from an intermission helping to alleviate the sense that events are happening without any buildup?
Edited by Bartleby_Scriven - 10/22/17 at 2:42pm