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Unless you’re Bruce Springsteen, try to wrap it up before the three-hour mark

Bruce Springsteen   E Street Blive concert Friday night Wrigley Field.  | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band live in concert Friday night at Wrigley Field. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:20AM



Let’s get the easy joke out of the way.

When Bruce Springsteen was in concert last Friday and Saturday in Chicago, the Wrigley Field crowd finally had the chance to cheer for somebody spraying meaningful hits all over the field in September.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Springsteen knocked out some 28 hits in all in Friday night’s show. (OK, so maybe “The Ghost of Tom Joad” didn’t exactly contend with “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Waterfalls” for top-selling single of 1995, but you know what I mean.) Kicking it off with “Prove It All Night” and saying good night via “Twist and Shout” with guest vocals from Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello, the non-Daley Boss reportedly rocked the crowd with a set stretching some 31/2 hours.

I didn’t attend either of the Wrigley concerts, but I’ve seen Springsteen a half-dozen times over the years, and I can’t recall a single show that didn’t top the three-hour mark. That’s the way it’s been for more than 30 years with the Boss. The set list for Springsteen’s concert on Dec. 30, 1978, at Detroit’s Cobo Hall includes 30 songs, starting with “Badlands” and finishing with … “Twist and Shout.”

Most veteran superstar acts will give you about 18 songs and maybe two hours onstage, and that seems fair enough and long enough. (Madonna was booed in Paris last July when her concert “to promote tolerance” lasted just 45 minutes. There are certain things fans won’t tolerate.) Springsteen can get away with playing for 31/2 hours because he’s Springsteen and he’d rather jump off one of the rooftops surrounding Wrigley Field than phone it in.

But he’s one of the few acts I’d want to see for 210 minutes straight. Whether it’s a concert or a Broadway musical or a movie or a stand-up act, longer isn’t necessarily better.

I’m not in showbiz, but any time I’m asked to host and event or give a speech, I tell the organizers the same thing: Nobody ever leaves an awards show or a charity dinner chock-full o’ speakers and says, “Geez, I wish that had gone on for another three hours.”

Running in place

As soon as a movie screening is set and I’m adding it to my calendar, one of the first things I look up is the running time. How long is this baby going to run for?

Part of that is a practical consideration. I need to know if the running time fits into the pocket of availability I have for that particular day.

But it’s also about the experience. Unless a Scorsese or a Tarantino or a Christopher Nolan or a Ridley Scott is directing the film, if I see a running time exceeding 120 minutes, the first reaction is to groan. Really? Adam Sandler needs nearly two hours to tell the story of “That’s My Boy”? “Annie Hall” was 94 minutes!

With maybe half the films I see these days, I’d say about 15 minutes could be cut and they’d have a tighter, stronger story. Around the one-hour mark, there’s inevitably a moment when you look at your watch and wonder when they’re going to get on with it.

Now, as Roger Ebert once pointed out in the screening room years ago, the same people who complain about a movie’s running time will sit and watch football for nine hours straight. Point taken. And if you make a list of some of the longest American movies ever made, it’s filled with classics, from “The Right Stuff” (193 minutes) to “Dr. Zhivago” (197 minutes) to “The Godfather Part II” (200 minutes) to “Lawrence of Arabia” (227 minutes). When the material is so rich, complex, multi-layered and epic, of course the extended running time is warranted.

I could watch 200 hours of “The Godfather Part II” and still be left wanting more. When I screened “30 Minutes or Less,” which had a running time of only 54 minutes longer than 30 minutes, it still felt too long.

When former President Bill Clinton took the stage at the Democratic National Convention last week, he managed to give an electric speech about policy. For 20 minutes, he killed.

Problem was, Clinton wasn’t finished. He owned the arena — and then it felt like he was holding us all hostage.

If it’s Springsteen doing “Twist and Shout,” we’ll stand and cheer. If it’s an extended version of “Do the Math,” we’ll sit and squirm.



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