As well as rereading Japanese author Haruki Murakami's entire backcatalogue for an interview that almost didn't happen, I once watched 54 hours of film for an article that nearly wasn't run. What perhaps makes the latter achievement more remarkable was that it was the work of one director, and only three films.
Edgar Reitz's Heimat trilogy (1984-2004) spans the lifetimes of several characters in the Simon family, residents of the Hunsrück region of Germany. The first, 15-and-a-half hour, film was broadcast in the UK in 11 parts: beginning in 1919 and running right up to 1982, it's an expansive saga reminiscent of The White Ribbon (2009) in its tangential take on the Third Reich.
Reitz focused on scion Hermann and his student years in 1960s and '70s Munich for the second part - at 25-and-a-half hours its 1992 cinema premiere is credited as the longest commercial screening ever. Heimat 3 (pictured) - more than 11 hours - is less satisfactory than its predecessors, perhaps attributable to the funding problems Reitz experienced in finishing his masterwork. Though the film is open-ended, Reitz told me at the time he liked the format of a trilogy; he is now 78.
The last part is the only instalment I watched in the cinema - it screened as six films at London's Renoir - while I saw the previous two on BBC2 (and rewatched them on DVD: the boxsets are very highly recommended). I did watch Lars von Trier's wonderful 265-minute drama The Kingdom (1994) in a single sitting in the Glasgow Film Theatre and have been spooked by the Danish director's spooky vision of this haunted hospital ever since.
Something of a glutton for punishment, apparently, I've also seen Hungarian Béla Tarr's haunting Sátántangó (1994), a 450-minute, gypsy frolic set in a remote part of Hungary. I have even sat through Sergei Bondarchuk's dull, eight-hour adaptation of War and Peace (1967), famous for its incredible cost and ruinous battle scenes, said to feature 120,000 participants. Well worth catching, however, is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 15-and-a-half hour adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), which Wiki places top of its list of longest cinematic releases, though it was another made for television.
Every few years, critics complain about the increasing length of cinema releases, but most films would have to go some way to challenge these behemoths. Nor, as Reitz found, are we likely to see such lengthy enterprises again.