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The lost art of intermission

Another summer of classic movies is over. The lineup this summer was great including 20,000 Leagues, Tron and it ended with Vertigo. Every movie in the series featured an intermission and that got me wondering if intermissions could be brought back to life.

Intermission must be done right, or not at all

The intermission is a lost art. There was a time and place when intermissions were standard in a movie and pretty much expected. The intermissions weren’t arbitrary or chosen by the movie house showing the film either. Movies were explicitly produced and cut with an intermission in mind, assuring it came at the right spot in the story. When done right, intermission is a great film making tool.

Only one of this year’s movies, The Sound of Music, had a proper intermission. All the other films were given intermissions and sometimes they were created at a good spot, and sometimes they weren’t. You can’t just put an intermission at the true half-way point in a film. You have to put the intermission in a spot that helps the story and keeps people interested and want to come back after a 15 minute break. But regardless how well intermissions are used, having an intermission is a wonderful thing.

I'm sure I'm not the only that could have used an intermission during LOTR
I'm sure I'm not the only that could have used an intermission during LOTR

The benefits of an intermission

Most of today’s movies fall into two categories – too long, or too short. A short movie is anything 90 minutes or less. A long movie is anything two hours or more, and more movies are passing the two hour easily, even action films like Transformers. I think intermissions should come back to these longer movies, giving everyone a chance to go to the bathroom, buy a drink and even just stand up and stretch. And better yet, an intermission would let all this happen without disturbing people while the movie is still going.

Another reason to go back to intermissions is that it gives the theatres a chance to make more money. Theatres and films at large complain about losing money to DVDs and the internet, well, here’s their chance to make up some of that loss. One reason I don’t buy drinks and snacks at the theatre is because I know I will have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the movie and I don’t want to miss anything. If I knew there was an intermission in the film, I would be more inclined to buy something going in to the movie. And likewise, I would be more apt to make a purchase during intermission because I could probably hold it until the end of the movie.

As discussed on CAVEradio recently as well, an intermission would give movie goers a chance to talk about what they just saw. They could debate about characters in the movie, plot points and more that would probably create more interest in the latter half of the film. Anyone confused could get caught up and hopefully enjoy the movie as it should be.

A modern intermission

An intermission would be great for the movie goer but one thing I don’t think you can do with intermission is turn it into a big commercial. I have a feeling that if the intermission was to be re-introduced to films, during that 15 minute pause the theatre would show commercials on the screen like they do before the film during the previews. I know an intermission would be a prime chance to squeeze a few more dollars out of advertisers, but I think doing so would make it feel more like television and less like a new movie. The one reason intermission works at the classic movie house is that there are no commercials. The curtains close on the screen and the organ comes out of the ground to play music for a few minutes. It’s just background noise, and nice background noise at that. You’re not annoyed by it and you’re there’s no expectations for you to do anything if you don’t want…and that’s what’s great about it.

Intermission as an experience

Intermissions aren’t right for every type of movie, but when I think about movies like Lord of the Rings and the more epic films like it, I’m sure I’m not the only one that would appreciate an intermission. Plus, if done right, an intermission would just make the movie feel a lot cooler, like it was something special, something unique. It would make the movie more of an experience. A movie with a properly executed intermission is a movie on a different level.