Even though the teaser suggests otherwise, it’s generally understood that Sam Mendes‘ 1917 (Universal 12.25) will be presented in a single unbroken take a la Birdman. But until this morning, I didn’t realize that the film will also occur in “real time” — the running time corresponding more or less precisely to the time span of the depicted action.
I realized this when a friend sent me a 4.26.18 PDF draft of the script, co-written by Menzes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and I saw the following on page 3:
1917 is therefore joining a small fraternity of distinguished real-time films. Here’s a list of the best known, starting with the most highly regarded and working down. I’ve thrown in an estimate of the stopwatch accuracy of each:
1. Fred Zinneman‘s High Noon (’52) — The action doesn’t occur in actual, real-deal, stop-watch time, but it comes close. Will Kane and Amy Fowler’s marriage ceremony ends at around 10:35 am on a Sunday, and the telegram notifying Kane about the pardoning of Frank Miller is delivered at 10:40 am. The climactic shoot-out happens right after the arrival of the noon train, and by my calculations Kane throws his star into the dust about 12 minutes later. Add the opening-credits footage of the Miller gang meeting up and riding into town (roughly 140 seconds) and High Noon should last a minimum of 102 minutes, give or take. And yet it only runs 85 minutes.
2. Sidney Lumet‘s 12 Angry Men (’57) — The judge reads instructions to the jury sometime in the late afternoon, the jury retires to the deliberation room, and after some small talk and bathroom time they get down to business about 10 minutes later. They deliberate long enough for the sun to go down, for a rainstorm to hit and pass, for a discussion about ordering dinner, and for Jack Warden to miss out on his early-evening ball game. By my calculations this would take a minimum of two hours if not three, and yet the film runs 96 minutes.
3. Paul Greengrass‘s United 93 (’06) — In actuality the flight of United 93 from Newark Airport to Shanksville, Pennsylvania lasted 81 minutes — departure at 8:42 am, ground-slam at 10:03 am. The film lasts 110 minutes but that covers the hijackers saying early-morning prayers, the passengers waiting in the lounge and being seated, and the flight being delayed before takeoff. If you forget about the morning prayers the real-time count is fairly precise and on the money.
4. Robert Wise‘s The Set-Up (’49) — 72 minutes, all in. The fight lasts four rounds before Robert Ryan is declared the victor, and then comes the beating and the aftermath with the wife. A reasonably accurate real-timer.
5. Cristi Puiu‘s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (’05) — A dying alcoholic is passed from one Bucharest medical facility to the next, four in total. By the ending Lazarescu has been operated on for a blood clot in the brain. The film runs 153 minutes, and it feels right.
6. Agnes Varda‘s Cléo from 5 to 7 (’62) — The title obviously indicates a two-hour running time, although the film ends at the 90-minute mark.
7. Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rope (’48) — The Leopold and Loeb-like killers (John Dahl, Farley Granger) strangle their victim, put his body into a chest, entertain sophisticated party guests, bid the guests farewell and are busted and condemned by James Stewart in a fast 80 minutes. Not believable — 100 minutes or even 110 would be more like it.
8. Richard Linklater‘s Before Sunset (’04). In 80 minutes Jesse (Ethan Hawke) reads from his book at Shakespeare and Co., the famous Paris bookstore, meets Celine (Julie Delpy), they walk and talk, they talk some more on a cruise going down the Seine, the cruise ends and they finally wind up back at Celine’s apartment and about to “do the deed.” This would take a bare minimum of 2 hours (if not 2 and 1/2) in real life.