Lisa Schwarzbaum explains why three hours with 'Meet Joe Black' feels like a lifetime

By Josh Wolk
November 17, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST
Warner Bros.
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Lisa’s Theory of Relativity

Contrary to what they tell you in mail-order catalogs for party novelties and professional movie-critic supplies, most critics I know don’t use lighted pens to write in the dark. Our preferred accessories are ballpoints and spiral-bound reporters’ notebooks, in which we scribble in such slanting, cryptic shorthand that should a pad ever be lost or stolen, no enemy publicist could ever make sense of a word. On the other hand, most critics I know do use illuminated wristwatches. In fact, we live by them, slavishly, with the result that screening rooms sometimes resemble art installations as pin dots of Indiglo flash on and off in an eerie light show while Jennifer Love Hewitt screams on screen.

The amount of Timex-popping I succumbed to recently during “Meet Joe Black” has got me thinking about Albert Einstein’s enduring contribution to film studies. You perhaps know his work better as the Theory of Relativity. But Einstein was the first one to realize that 194 minutes spent engrossed in the sinking of a big ship after it hits an iceberg actually passes MORE QUICKLY than 180 minutes spent watching Brad Pitt’s hair glow golden in the sunlight. The brilliant scientist was the first to understand why 197 minutes devoted to the story of a German businessman who saves a lot of Jews from Nazi gas chambers actually adds up to less time than the 180 minutes it takes for Brad Pitt to play a man who likes peanut butter. He could explain, far more elegantly than I can, why the 218 minutes I spent last week watching a director’s cut rerelease of “The Last Emperor” passed effortlessly, while the 180 minutes I gave to watching Brad Pitt play death ticked by so slowly, the only fun I had was watching my colleagues fiddling with their own timepieces. I can only assume they were flicking the lights on and off in homage to Einstein’s genius.

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