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February 16, 2008

Seven Samurai

I'm embarrassed and ashamed to say I couldn't even finish this film. Even after I knew that Karasawa is a legend, that he inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, that this film is considered a masterpiece. I know I should have appreciated it, but goodness it was three and a half hours long.

I'm not understanding why these older movies were so long. Let me tell you the story of Seven Samurai. It'll sound familiar, because it's been reused a number of times since then.

Weak defenseless farming village is going to be attacked by bandits. They hire a band of samurais to defend them. Samurai defend them.

This is the story! Why do they have to take so long to tell it? I don't know...

I've learned that starting in the 60s and 70s there has been a trend towards compressing movies, jumping right into the story, even if it leaves people slightly confused for a while, at least they are invigorated and excited. I think that I'm so used to this, so these older styles of filmmaking where the setup is so long are really difficult for me to watch.

So yes, I watched the end of this bad boy in fast forward. And yes, I need someone to tell me why this film was great. Because I wasn't able to crack this code.

? out of 4 - I didn't get it.

Posted by jason on February 16, 2008 10:23 PM


'cause you need to slow down. We're addicted to a fast-pace...case in point, the average camera shot has been more than halved in the last couple of decades.

As a recent experiment, I watched both versions of Solaris recently...the original 1970's Russian version and the modern remake with Clooney. The difference in emotion is remarkable and the affect on the psychological state of the viewer that the two movies produce is remarkable.

I don't think all movies should be slow, of course, but I do think there is an awful lot to be said to learning how to appreciate a very slow film or two.

Have you ever seen the New World, by Terence Malick? What about Kubrick's 2001? The recent documentary, Into Great Silence? I think what makes a great slow/quiet film is how much intent, imagery, and meditation the director puts into each shot...each moment of the film. In my mind, it is immensely harder to make a truly great slow film than it is to make a fast one...I think you could compare it to slow/simple music--perhaps it is sometimes easy to do, but hard to master and make truly great.

In a sidenote, I've heard about an intense, several hour long movie that shows a train ride to a concentration camp during WWII. The entire thing takes place only in the box car, and features a steady crescendo of drumming that builds throughout the entire thing. The effect would have to be chilling and not for the light-hearted.

I think there is a time and a place for such things.

I'd love to have you write a response that compares this film to, oh, say Cruise's Last Samurai and discusses the relative merits/weaknesses of each.

Posted by: josh on February 16, 2008 11:29 PM

I'm not so sure it's the speed of the cut, because I'm a fan of the long timed shot. For instance, M. Night Shamalyn and Woody Allen movies average 12 seconds a cut, which is longer than movies in between the 30s and 50s did (11 seconds a cut), and I appreciate both of their films a good deal.

In the Graduate, there is this really long scene with no cuts and very little camera movement, about halfway through. It's just two fantastic actors playing a scene, and I loved it. It was amazing.

And I'm not against a long film either. Actually, I used to say I preferred a longer film, felt like I was getting more bang for my buck. But only if there is the story to support the running time. Goodness, I just absolutely loved Laurence of Arabia which was just shy of 4 hours long! (And had tons of long timed shots.)

My problem with Seven Samurai, Wages of Fear, and (to a lesser extent) Some Like it Hot, is that they are starting their films "before the beginning" of the story. Meaning they are wasting my time with things that aren't needed to tell the story. Like the person telling you about something awesome that happened at the grocery store on Tuesday. Or was it Monday? No, it was Tuesday. Oh wait, I think it was Monday because that's the same day that little Jonny had his parent teacher conference and... (you get the idea) By the time the story shows up, you're beaten down by boredom and just want the conversation to end.

And in the cases of Wages of Fear and Seven Samurai, they are injecting an awful lot of filler throughout the course of the film as well.

Even the Exorcist was about 30 minutes too long before the real meat of the story started...

I don't know if I'm going to be comparing this film to anything. It had zero emotional resonance for me, the story synopsis that I gave above was about all I got out of it. So I don't think I can compare it, I'm not equipped.

And I guess that's my main problem, Seven Samurai and Wages of Fear failed to engage me emotionally. I didn't care what happened to anyone in the film, while with Laurence of Arabia and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest I was devastated when the characters suffered. So for all their "setup" time, they didn't manage me to empathize with the characters at all. (With the Exorcist, you definitely do.)

Posted by: jason on February 16, 2008 11:43 PM

well explained.

why do you think you failed to engage emotionally? what was it lacking? i'm just curious, having never seen seven samurai for myself...now i probably will make a point to see what my own response is!

also, maybe there is a difference between exposition and meditative? hmm...

Posted by: josh on February 17, 2008 01:52 PM

It's hard to say for me why it wasn't engaging emotionally, I'd basically be explaining symptoms more than cause... like I had a hard time caring for anyone, I didn't like anyone very much. I'll have to try to figure that out over time.

And by they way, I'd like to be convinced otherwise. If someone can tell me why this is a great movie, I'd like to watch it again through those eyes.

Meditative versus expositional, yes I think they are very different, In fact, they may be close to opposites? Expositional is obvious and didactic, while meditative can be subtle and rich and open to interpretation.

Posted by: jason on February 17, 2008 08:41 PM

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