Time Frames

Films for our speed-crazed times

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You’re probably tempted to skip right to the list because, frankly, who has the time? Not so fast. These films about the speed-crazed times we live in may not give you all the answers to finding a balanced pace in your life, but at least you’ll probably sit down long enough to watch them.


1. The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928). How did time-pressed 1920s urban professionals view the work week? Pretty much the way we do now, just in black and white and with no sound. If Vidor’s shot of row upon row of office desks filled by mostly defeated clock-punchers doesn’t make you jumpy, then you must be a charter member of Prozac Nation.

2. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936). The Little Tramp’s last and greatest appearance offers a sanguine portrait of mechanized society. When you stop laughing, you’ll feel the power of the metaphor of Chaplin being run through the gears of the great modern factory. At the end, he and future ex-wife Paulette Goddard walk down an empty road to an uncertain future, leaving us with the hopeful if not very reassuring, “Buck up. We’ll get along.”

3. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) The film, shot in one continuous take, is the closest a Hollywood movie has ever come to Aristotle’s unities of time, space, and action, forcing the watcher to slow way down and experience life—or boredom—at the same pace as the protagonists on the screen. As usual, Hitchcock was way ahead of the crowd.

4. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1948). Cary Grant and Myrna Loy decide to duck out of the frenzy of New York City by moving to supposedly idyllic Connecticut. A hilarious cautionary tale for those who think they can have it all and are vain enough to try.

5. D.O.A. (Rudolph Mate, 1950). You think you’ve got a hectic schedule? Edmund O’Brien has been given a poison that will finish him off in a matter of hours. This is the film that answers the age-old philosophical dilemma. “What would you do if you only had hours to live?” (The solution: “Hunt down the bum who slipped me a mickey and kill him.”)

6. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1983). In this reductio ad absurdum visual feast about the ills of urban living vs. the good old natural way, Reggio, a former monk, investigates the Hopi term “life out of balance.” His ideas are best captured in the surrealistic time-lapse sequences of traffic in New York City and Los Angeles. This movie will leave you with a sinking feeling that if you look at The Big City with any longing at all, you’ll soon join Lot’s wife on the condiment shelf.

7. Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983). With a high-rise Houston apartment, a high-maintenance oil company job, and a high-stakes deal in the offing, merger-meister Peter Reigert’s life has all the modern cons, but no soul. A dreamy Scottish seaside village—which he’s trying to buy—unlocks his doors of perception and calms his workaday heart..

8. Clockwise (Christopher Morahan, 1986). In this version of The Wizard of Oz as Salvador Dali might have imagined it (minus the melting clocks), John Cleese plays a person who is prompt to the point of rudeness and tempts the ire of Father Time and his all-girl orchestra. For serving the false god of punctuality, Cleese is, of course, damned to lateness like everyone else.

9. The Paper (Ron Howard, 1994). City editor Michael Keaton is staring down the barrel of a nasty deadline, his editor in chief is seriously ailing, the New York Times is dangling a job offer in front of him, and his pregnant-at-home wife really needs his attention. Does journalism stand a chance?

10. Nick of Time (John Badham, 1995). This film provides an extreme definition of the word “deadline.” Johnny Depp has been given the choice of killing the governor of California or seeing his daughter killed instead. Talk about pressure. If you feel restless, that’s the point. Never one for subtlety, Badham throws in clocks everywhere so you won’t forget that time is not your friend.