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5 Mind-Numbingly Long Movies

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Although you might think Andy Luttrell is majoring in film, you'd be wrong. He's a sophomore psych major at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. Not only can Eastern Illinois claim Andy as a future alum, they also get to claim John Malkovich; Tony Romo and not one, not two, but three NFL head coaches - the Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan, the New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton and the Minnesota Vikings' Brad Childress. -Stacy Conradt

5 Mind-Numbingly Long Movies
by Andy Luttrell

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I'm sure I won't single myself out if I admit that I've seen all three Lord of the Rings films back to back to back"¦yes, the extended editions. That's more than eleven hours in a row in front of a screen. Though Peter Jackson's films are long (a late-night showing of King Kong was a bad idea), some filmmakers have had the gall to produce even longer ones.

So in celebration of excruciatingly lengthy cinema, here are five horribly long films that put Mr. Jackson to shame.

1. The Cure for Insomnia
5220 min (87 hours)
United States, 1987

lee.jpgThe next time you've got four days straight of nothing to do, go ahead and pick up The Cure for Insomnia. Unfortunately, Amazon.com doesn't seem to carry it"¦I guess they're still recording the director's commentary.

The movie was shot on video by director John Henry Timmis IV and doesn't have any plot. Rather, the movie stars artist Lee Groban reading his epic poem, "The Cure for Insomnia," which is a 5,000 page work of art that Groban says he wrote almost entirely by hand. You can read an excerpt here. If the movie is anything like the excerpt, I'm sure it's riveting. Apparently, footage of the poetry reading is spliced with clips of heavy metal and pornographic material.

The purpose of the movie—yes there's a reason for this nonsense to exist—is to be so boring that it would put its viewers to sleep. It was first played in its entirety at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and holds the Guinness World Record for "World's Longest Movie."

2. The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World
2880 min (48 hours)
United Kingdom, 1970

Here's a movie that gets right to the point"¦ that it doesn't have one. Produced by Anthony Scott and directed by Vincent Patouillard, TLMMMitW was screened only once in its entirety in 1970 at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. After its initial release, the film was cut to a more palatable 90 minutes. While it was no longer quite so long, it remained just as meaningless seeing as the film is nothing more than an endless presentation of newsreel and stock footage. I've wasted a lot of time in my life, but the ambition to create the longest, most meaningless movie in the world makes you question this fella's priorities.

3. The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple
1620 min (27 hours)
China, 1928

red_lotus.jpgFinally we get to a film with a plot! The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple is a Chinese silent film directed by Zhang Shichuan. The film is based on a novel that was based on a newspaper series (that must have been based on something else). It tells the story of rescuing a commander trapped in the Red Lotus Temple "“ a temple tricked out with lethal traps like fire-spitting Buddhas and spiked floors. Sounds kind of like my dream house.

Though the film is really 27 hours long, it was released in a series of eighteen installments. I don't care how good your story is; you don't have my attention for 27 hours. Well, now that I think about it, I did watch the first three seasons of Lost (more than fifty hours of material) last summer"¦but at least Lost has dialogue.

4. The Journey
873 min (14.5 hours)
Sweden, 1987

Considered one of the longest documentaries to date, Peter Watkin's The Journey (sometimes referred to as Resan) explores the subject of nuclear warfare. Watkins spends time with families and nongovernmental organizations from the United States, Canada, Norway, Scotland, France, West Germany, Mozambique, Japan, Australia, Tahiti, and Mexico to discover the public's opinions regarding nuclear weapons, military spending, and poverty. The film presents stories told by World War II bomb survivors and dramatizations of evacuation procedures.

The Journey has found its place in New Zealand where it is sometimes used in high schools and other educational programs. One New Zealander said of the film: "14½ hours is just long enough to let a picture of the real people involved sink in. Was surprised at my ability to stay awake through a movie with no plot, suspense, etc. "“ decided I could because it was about real life, people, and opinions I recognised."

5. War and Peace
484 min (8 hours)
Russia, 1968

war-peace.jpgIf you're just itching to watch one of these notoriously long movies, you can get War and Peace on DVD to hold you over until the 450-disc The Cure for Insomnia: Collector's Edition is released. With the original Russian version clocking in at just over eight hours, it's significantly shorter than the aforementioned films, but you still could have gotten a full night's sleep instead. Based on the infamous Tolstoy novel, War and Peace was directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, produced with full cooperation of the Soviet Union, and took seven years to make. The work paid off, though, when this eight-hour epic won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1969.

While it may not be the longest movie ever, War and Peace still holds a number of records. With a production cost of $560 million (in today's dollars), the film is the most expensive one ever produced; it received a Guinness World Record for being the longest film broadcast on T.V.; and finally, the film ranks fourth in most-extras-ever with a startling 120,000 (Gandhi, with 300,000 extras, will be tough to top.)

Following in Woody Allen's footsteps, I decided to watch the film in fast-forward. All I can tell you is that it involves Russia.

Check out the rest of our College Weekend festivities.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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