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All Art Should Be Urgent

Times is weird, aren’t they? We have a nightmare president and a nightmare government who keep lobbing more shit onto the shit pile as the world prepares to burn away. Lovely times, really.

Such dire straits are a reminder of the pressing need to keep on keeping on, to hunker down on the ride along toward freedom city – and this is particularly true in art. Who wants to read or watch or play some slow ass shit in 2017? Not I, said I. There is a time and a place for the slow, for the atmospheric – and that time is not now.

I’d say all good art speaks to this notion too: we can create moody and paced works but a viewer, the audience, should always feel pressed. This is to say that all art should be urgent, with a deadline, as if something is ticking behind the scenes, whether literally or not. You should feel a minor sense of dread when encountering art – Any art! – as that represents the thinking mind. There should be a button that everyone wants to push and the tension is our waiting to watch it get pressed and pressed and pressed. You should feel like you are building toward a painful or pleasurable climax. You could be watching a blockbuster movie or listening to a Top 40 song – it does not matter. All successful works have this urgency, this drive, this need to be experienced: they push our buttons.

This thought came up recently in comparing two very similar horror movies: A24’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Focus Features’ Raw. The movies are vaguely similar – school girls go to school without parents, creepy antics ensue – but both come out on the end leaving viewers in two different yet similar states: empty and hungry.

In Blackcoat, the movie meanders for an hour and a half around Kiernan Shipka’s face as she transforms into…something boring? You are into the movie over an hour before something happens. The movie ends and you wish you had fast forwarded to the soft, flat, mundane ending. You are left empty, as if you just ate ten pounds of black cotton candy.

Comparatively, Raw is consumed by the tension of vet school student Garance Marillier’s need to succeed as her morals are compromised. Sex and violence, feast and famine, human and animal wander each other, a circling that is both confusing and captivating. The movie feels urgent because this character is clearly having a meltdown of sorts. Compared with Shipka’s dawdling around an icy environment trying to resonate a menace, Marillier slinks creepiness so throughly although the movie is really only a hair better than Blackcoat.

But the difference is urgency: one movie felt like it was observational while the other felt involved. That’s the difference between Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”: Perry placed her substance in the backseat via a passing point of view while Swift – who, in many ways, is subpar but is ultimately the forever victor – places herself in control of this situation, crafting something as a fight. It’s the difference between passive voice and active voice, passive aggression and straightforward aggression: one is a driverless car and the other has an vehicular jockey behind the wheel.

This is a necessary difference. As I was discussing with a friend, the difference is an itchiness. We had this discussion and he pointed out how often the work of David Lynch lack a point, a motivation, or an urgency but exists in a singular realm of acclaim. This is true. But the difference is that itch. Something is off that he addresses in a very roundabout way. Something isn’t right – and therein lies the urgency.

This is of the utmost importance now, in 2017: everything must be urgent. Precious? No. Heavy handed? No. Preachy? No. Hyperbolized? No. Confrontational? No. The difference is being yelled at about a bomb versus watching the bomb’s fuse burn away. It’s like a writing instructor demanded of a class on novels I took: every story needs a deadline within the story. Not a delivery date but a deadline, a distant arrival that everyone can see unclearly and has no clue how we shall arrive at that point. That is urgency.

That is the point of art. Otherwise, why make anything? We might as well resign ourselves to the mall works of Thomas Kinkade, bending to over the ways and means of the mediocre in a society becoming increasingly grim. We are all better than that.

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