Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
What does it say about a film if it puts you to sleep?
Better watch my own wording here, since whose fault actually is it: the film's or yours and mine? Or maybe, as with Andy Warhol, it's something to be sought after, a matter of stylistic intelligence—like, aren't you totally off your gourd if you don't start snoring in the middle of Empire? Or for that matter, a couple of reels into Sleep?
But this is about nodding off in spite of yourself—"against your own volition" as the common myth describes it, our momentary leave-taking—since if a film's any "good," then staying awake seems pretty basic: what can "good" possibly mean if not at least that much? Yet there's a paradox, because some films I'd define that way, as maybe you would too, I haven't been able to keep my eyes open for. And it's not just a matter of "Well, the critics say it's something special, so I guess it really must be, but all I want to do right now is doze." No, those films don't count: there's a fundamental disconnect, they're not really speaking to you or to me—at least not now, though in fact someday they might. As our willingness to pay attention will let us know, when said hypothetical day arrives. So who's being mythical now?
Still there's the occasional dissonance between what I know (or think I do) and what my physical senses tell me. Which has probably never been more blatant than with Theo Angelopoulos's The Hunters (1977)—hands down the "greatest" film I've ever gone to sleep on. "So how do you know it's 'great' if you weren't around to watch it, pod'ner?" But I was awake through most of it, and some of those scenes are indelible, even 20-odd years on. Like the screaming vocalist sinking onto the parquet dance floor—part Diamanda Galas in echolalic transport, part Margaret Hamilton's witch in full castle meltdown—a kind of incremental/slo-mo evolutionary hysteria. Or the funeral flotilla under black and red sail, embarking on wordless memorial voyage. Two utterly magnificent episodes, among the most memorable long-take sequences I've been witness to, and there are other bravura bits as well. But the body in the snow left me nodding in my seat . . .
And what about y'all: any "great" films you've slept through, either wholly or in part? Best come clean now—it's supposed to do wonders for the soul.