Let’s go to the terminal end of the continuum.
“‘Sleep’ is a 1963 American film by Andy Warhol consisting of long take footage of John Giorno, his close friend at the time, sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes.”
Now that’s real.
Deliberately created as an “anti-film” eschewing all visual and narrative contrivance, Sleep was understandably not popular. Of the nine people who attended the premiere, two of them left during the first hour.
Really? They stayed for close to an hour!?
What about the other seven? Imaginably, a number of them fell asleep. There were probably also close friends and family members invited, and, you know, you are kind of obligated to stick it out because they got in there for free. Perhaps one audience member needed a ride home and Warhol was the only one with a car.
I wonder if even he stayed up to watch the whole movie?
A.W.: “It gets better with every viewing.”
Not venturing into “Art Criticism” – where, if there were an available “Artist’s Hat”, as in, “Putting on my ‘Artist’s Hat’”, there’d be a poster with my picture on it saying, “Not him.” – Andy Warhol, who famously painted a literal replica of a Campbell’s Soup can, was shooting for absolute “real” – his inusual movie, a (snoozing) clamoring statement against the pitfalling pretentiousness of cinematic “contrivance.”
I totally “get” Warhol’s intention. (Even if I’m wrong. Leaving me, “I totally ‘get’ my own interpretation of Warhol’s intention. And why wouldn’t I?)
Hearkening back to yesterday’s post, during my early apprenticeship in sitcom writing, the inescapable mantra was “real situations”, “real jokes” and “real characters.” (The conflicting exception being those interminable rewrite nights, when the standards of inclusion were, mercifully, relaxed. The definitive line about that being, a joke is pitched, the show runner rejects it, explaining, “Too broad” or “Too ‘out of character’”, at which point Rewrite Man extraordinaire Bob Ellison points remindingly to his watch and says, “Two-thirty.”)
We – as an unbendable rule until we bent it – were instructed to “Write real.”
The thing is, it was never sufficiently clarified,
And being a congenital “Good Boy”, I inferred, without confirmation,
“Totally real” made literal sense to me. I mean, if you are driving west to Los Angeles, do you suddenly hit the brakes at Pomona? (Not quite Los Angeles, but close.) No. You go all the way to L.A.
(Personal Example: In one of my series, Family Man, hewing assiduously to “Keeping It Real”, the premise of every episode story was an experience that had happened to me.)
The logical conclusion, however, if “One hundred percent real” is your unalterable standard,
is a sleeping man in a movie for five-and-a-half hours. (Including the previews, which may include a heart-stopping “Teaser” from Empire – eight hours, looking at the Empire State Building. By the way, Family Man lasted only seven episodes. Imaginably, in large part, for a similar reason. The recipe was overly seasoned with “Verisimilitude.”)
Yesterday, I criticized sitcoms in which capable actors played Senior Citizens as buffoons. (I cannot get enough of that word. “Buffoon.” “What see ye, matey?” “Buffoon at ‘Twelve O’clock’, Cap’n.” I see a Macy’s Day Parade float, looming ominously on the horizon.)
How would I want them to portray old people on television? As they actually are? Sorry. As we actually are?
“Television viewers love seeing themselves on the screen.”
Not us. At least not totally accurately. A half-hour program of what the recently departed (at 98) genius comedy writer Bob Schiller painfully described as, “Deteriorating on schedule”? I don’t need targeted programming. Just give me something persuasively credible. And, barring soap opera components, you have got my televisual business.
You cannot do “all-out” real. In anything. A man sleeping for five hours? Throw in some sporadic “Restless Leg Syndrome.” Dub in “Aberrant Snoring.” Something to temper the monotony. Not ”He sits bolt upright in bed and sings, ‘I Love A Parade.’” But something.
Do not stick me with unadulterated “real.” We are not there for “Surveillance Videos.”
We are looking to be entertained.
You know, at least one reason – though I am not sure it’s the most salient reason – for this blog’s, how shall I put this, “under the radar” popularity, is that, unlike blogs people visit in voluminous numbers because they offer “Valuable Tips For A Flaky Pie Crust”, and other helpful “How-To” advisories, I am substantially a “Generalist”, and, more to the point, often, instead of “Print this and tape it to your refrigerator” answers, I leave the reader with open, imponderable questions.
Like this one.
In art – by which I mean all forms of creative communication –
Where, specifically, is “The Line”?
How real is too real?
And how real is not real enough?
Or is the actual answer to that question the one my then-young stepdaughter Rachel once gave me when I berated a comedy she was watching as “Not real.”
“So what if it’s not real?” she responded. “It’s funny!”
I really hated that answer.
But I have remembered it for thirty-five years.