“The Serpentine Dance,” the Lumière Brothers (c. 1899) (still).
[Update 30 Jan 11: I’ve since written a follow-up to this post: “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?”]
“The movies” used to mean one thing—or we acted like they did. “I’m going to the movies.” “I saw a great movie the other night.” “You really ought to watch this movie.” But even though we often talk about “the movies,” or “films,” or “cinema,” or “the cinema” as a single, homogeneous thing, there is not just one thing, and never has been—a fact that grows increasingly apparent every year.
When most people say “the movies,” they mean “feature-length films.” These have existed since the early 1910s, and can be considered cinema’s most successful form—they’re the stereotype of motion pictures. They run somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours, perhaps a bit longer, and they debut (most of the time) in movie theaters. Then they become available on DVD; later they broadcast on TV, with commercial interruptions. That said, even this familiar model is changing; the length of time between theatrical run and DVD release has been shrinking, and we can see how DVDs themselves are doomed, the way that CDs have long been doomed: you don’t need little plastic discs when you can stream a feature directly to your computer or your TV, via Netflix or Hulu.
In this month’s issue of The Brooklyn Rail, poet and art critic John Yau has an entertaining and thought provoking retort to Jerry Saltz’s recent praise of Jeff Koons’ massive fin de siècle sculpture Puppy. Yau basically challenges Saltz for over-enthusiastically associating Jeff Koons’ artistic vision with what Saltz calls “our America.”
This is Saltz’s appraisal of Koons (which comes from the pages of New York Magazine):
Koons’s work has always stood apart for its one-at-a-time perfection, epic theatricality, a corrupted, almost sick drive for purification, and an obsession with traditional artistic values. His work embodies our time and our America: It’s big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted—while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy.
And this is Yau’s critique:
I wasn’t bothered by Saltz’s overheated imitation of Frank O’Hara’s prose, its bad alliteration and doubly obvious onomatopoeia. His goo-goo eyed, love-struck declaration that Koons was “the emblematic artist of the decade” was predictable, but not depressingly so. It was his blithe characterization of “our America” that I had trouble with. When he ticked off “big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat seeking…” it seemed to me as if Saltz were talking about what personality traits he and Koons have in common, their ideal attributes, and that America was actually nowhere in sight.