In an era where a person like Nickelodeon’s Fred can make about $100,000 a year, thanks to videos that take longer to upload than they do to actually make, it seems positively quaint how, not so long ago, single movies would absorb years of people’s lives to make. Sometimes the result would seem worth it but, oftentimes it would not. Luckily for you, the longest of these movies would only involve two hours of your time.
10. Multiple Sidosis (4 Years)
An extremely influential 1970 music video, except music videos didn’t exist when the short was started. Essentially what happens is artist Sid Laverents takes multiple shots of himself performing the song “Nola,” with various instruments in simulated celebration of a Christmas present. The instruments range from a jaw harp, to a banjo, to his own voice pitched higher.
This sort of technique has since been widely copied for musicians for videos, such as some of Sam Tsui‘s. Of course, now it’s a fairly straightforward technique with digital editing software but, at the time Laverents was basically inventing a new type of short, at home, from scratch. Probably he was driving his wife absolutely nuts from playing the same song over and over for years too. Because of the innovation, and the short’s popularity in some circles, it was entered into the National Film Registry of America in 2000.
9. Eraserhead (5 Years)
This is the most highly-acclaimed, and widely-seen, student film in cinema history, helping such films to gain a reputation as being both incomprehensible and scary. The story of a man in a barren industrial environment with a deformed child (or something), this less-than-inspiring tale brings with it a somewhat-inspiring backstory. Writer-director David Lynch made the movie the way he wanted from 1972 to 1977, despite butting heads with financiers and other problems. His sets were destroyed multiple times over, and money was so tight that he had to take an extra job as a newspaper delivery boy just to finish it.
8. Vegas In Space (8 Years)
In 1983, Doris Fish was one of San Francisco’s local celebrity transvestites, and got it in his head to make a movie parodying science fiction of the 1930’s. Vegas in Space is about three soldiers who don dresses and makeup to visit an all-female planet. Fish spent eight years rounding up tens of thousands of dollars to make the movie.
With that kind of effort, you’d hope that, if you were in that situation, that there’d be some sort of classic at the end, right? Instead, the movie got distributed straight-to-video by Troma, where it’s considered one of the worst movies they distribute, and Troma is notorious for distributing movies at the bottom of the barrel. We’re not including a clip of it, because simply hearing the audio is torture.
7. Cronos (8 Years)
At the other end of the success spectrum, opposite Vegas in Space, is this 1992 vampire movie from Guillermo Del Toro. A grittier, but not sleazier, version of the vampire legends we‘ve become overly familiar with, highlights include intricate clockwork beetles and an elderly creature of the night having to lick blood off a bathroom floor.
It was a film which required him to sell his van and mortgage his house for special effects, and which plunged him into debt at 60% interest rates. It also put him on the filmmaking map and made it possible for him to become the director of the Hellboy films, Blade 2, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
6. Boyhood (12 Years Scheduled)
While it’s not completed, it seems safe to include this one, even if it never is finished, because of the ten years worth of time and effort that’s already gone into it, on the part of director Richard Linklater and company. Boyhood is the story Ellar Salmon, between six years and eighteen, and the influence the divorce of his parents (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) has on him. The film is basically being shot so that Salmon is authentically growing up as the story progresses. At present, the movie is two years from completion. Ellar Salmon is probably becoming really obnoxious on set now. What’s Linklater going to do, scrap all the footage with him and spend another twelve years with a different kid?
5. Blood Tea and Red String (13 Years)
Stop-motion animation is a notoriously time-consuming technique, with the Wallace and Gromit shorts taking years to do. But one San Francisco filmmaker stretched it to extreme levels by spending more than a decade on this story of fox crow puppets, albino mice, and dolls with eggs. While the animation is hardly perfect, and the story is incomprehensible without the commentary track, Christiane Cegavske’s film still has a dreamy, immersive atmosphere, in large part due to excellent music by Mark Growden.
One of the more touching stories from behind the scenes is that, at one point during the shoot, Cegavske’s mother threw all of her puppets away.
4. Pakeezah (14 Years)
A Bollywood film about a peasant girl who goes to the palace of her local ruler, becomes a courtesan, and then all of her dreams come true. That was the story that director Kamal Amrohi and star Meena Kumari set out to tell in 1958. What should have been a routine shoot in Mumbai Studios was started over, time and again.
First off, the director decided to switch from black and white to color, when he‘d already shot most of the movie. Then, later, he decided to shoot in widescreen instead. It turned out the lens he received was faulty, so the film had to be reshot again. Then the film’s composer and director of photography died, and THEN the director and his wife broke up, leaving the film again incomplete. To get her back to the shoot, Amrohi had to resort to offering to go through with a divorce in exchange. But when she came back, Kumari became ill, and had to be body doubled for scenes, or even just lie down for song and dance numbers.
When the film was finally finished and released, initially it was a box office bomb. Then Kumari died, and news of the star’s demise made the movie into a sensation.
3. The Manson Family (15 Years)
An homage to grind house films of yore, this sleazy production may not win awards, or be aired on Lifetime any time soon. Still, it must be worth something, given the dedication behind it. Writer/director/star/producer/editor/everything, Jim Van Bebber, didn’t just spend fifteen years making it. To make money to fund the film, he resorted to doing things like giving blood. And, sadly, Charles Manson probably didn’t appreciate all the effort that went into this.
2. Tiefland (21 Years)
Leni Riefenstahl is most famous for making Triumph of the Will, the grandiose 1936 tribute the Nazi party paid to itself. In 1934 she had started a script, and began pre-production for this movie, having already drawn Hitler‘s attention making these sorts of mountain-climbing movies that starred herself. This one was about a shepherd named Pedro, and his romantic adventures in pursuit of a peasant named Martha (Riefenstahl).
During most of World War II, she did the protracted shoot. Even as the Third Reich surrendered in 1945, she continued working on it. This turned out to be quite stupid, as the naturally vindictive French authorities seized the film from a promoter of an administration guilty of crimes against humanity, and it was almost a decade before she got it back. In 1954 she released the film to widely negative reviews, most in particular citing her bad performance.
1. The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Edition (28 Years)
In 1964, production was begun on a unique animated adaptation of Middle Eastern mythology. Star animator, future two-time Academy Award-winner Richard Williams, made it his life’s ambition to make this movie by assembling his favorite cartoonists from Disney, Warner Brothers, and anywhere else he could get his hands on.
By 1993, he had done thousands of commercials, several feature-length films, and endured considerable executive nonsense to get any version of his movie released, and then it lost millions of dollars. The version of the movie that properly approximates what he was going for is available only online. The version you can pick up on DVD has, by general consensus, tons of pointless songs and weird dubbing thrown in. It was such a disappointment to Williams, that he now refuses to discuss the movie.