Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Appeal of The Killing

Bambino and I love, love, love our Law and Order. It's kind of like Sex and the City in that one of the main characters of the TV crime drama is New York itself. Nearly half the fun is identifying where they're shooting and whether or not they're being true to the location (I recall an episode where they actually had to spruce up a spot I used to hang out in to make it a convincing "dive bar").

But in watching the two-hour premier of AMC's The Killing the other night, I began to better understand what's wrong with Law and Order (besides the bad acting) and other popular dramas in the US and, to a larger extent, our expectations in all our diversions (art included).

Based on the wildly successful Danish television series
Forbrydelsen, The Killing takes things really, really slow. Exploring a crime that would not only have been solved and brought to court, but had three or four plot twists thrown in for good measure on Law & Order in 1/20th of the time, The Killing barely moved at all in its first two hours. There's a murder revealed and a host of suspects introduced, but you know you're very far away from learning who did it. Still, what grips you in this series (and it's insanely gripping) is that they slow down long enough (and have good enough actors) to let you feel the agony of the family, almost smell the fear of the suspects, really understand the torn allegiances of the cops (to their families vs to their jobs) in a much more convincing way than they do in all the other films and TV shows that seem to have long ago traded in good storytelling for a bag of quick tricks.

Just one gorgeous example was the scene in which the parents of the murder victim tell her young brothers that she's dead. It was devastating, because it was so true to that moment and it took all the time you really would in real life to share such horrific news. Rather than setting up the next bad one-liner pun for the lead cops, The Killing is busy setting your hairs on end by placing you in that position...showing you (rather than glibly telling you) how it feels to be that person.

So how do I connect this to art? Essentially, it's made me more seriously wonder if we're too accepting of punny one-liners and/or simply rushed-through explorations, when what would really knock our socks off is some slower, more carefully considered, more conceptually rich and engaging efforts. This ties in, in my opinion, to how we've let expectations develop that a recent MFA grad should be able to live off their art shortly after graduation. How can you possibly offer up slowly considered, deep work if you've barely lived outside your parent's home and you've barely had time to let the varnish dry on the new series you've rushed to market? Perhaps if you're a phenom you can, but how many of those are there really?

The problem with expecting consistently high quality (in both the art and TV realm), I know, is how much time and space there is to fill up. If there were fewer galleries, fewer museums, and/or fewer channels, would we see better work in them?

Arguably yes.

Also complicating this is how freaking expensive it is to produce and/or present any such efforts, leading to the lowest common denominator winning the day as just common sense in recouping one's investment.

And yet, there it is...The Killing...stealing rave reviews from nearly every quarter...let's hope it sets a trend.

Labels: art viewing, tv


Blogger Aequitas said...

I've been addicted to Forbreydelsen, the Danish original. I'm watching 3 episodes an evening its totally addictive. I found it on Usenet. I watched about 5 minutes of AMC's version and decided I will watch it when Im done with the original. I read they have a different killer and a different motive which is good. It was shown on the BBc with the subtitles over the winter and was a huge success. I wonder of that would fly here. Are we ready for 20 episodes of subtitled tv? Are we ready for historic art? Will museums get lines or even banners and ads for a transcendent watercolor exhibit from a non art star?

I wouldn't worry about recent graduates taking their time. The market loves the NCIS and CSI artists. The art is punchy and immediate and it sells soap. If you are looking for something longer lasting I have no doubt someone is making it. The fact that they aren't getting paid is probably good for the art.

Good article by Jonathan Jones here:, There is a palpable tension between painters and the current – inaccurate – British idea of what modern art is. If you reject the notion that physical skill, natural talent or technical training have any value as art in themselves, then painters are screwed.


I recently advised a new writer to have something he is working on which he intends to last a lifetime. A piece which is not for publication. I will attempt to take up my own advice. As soon as I'm done my flashy new Augmented Reality installation :)

4/05/2011 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are the makers of art the only ones to question? The viewer is an enormous component of this equation. One can make 'slow' art, but that does not necessarily mean it will be looked at under the same circumstances.


4/05/2011 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The viewer is an enormous component of this equation.

Granted. Touched on that just the other day.

But the viewers of The Killing didn't have to bring any extra patience or attention to that show. The creators kept them engaged from the beginning.

Which is not to say that in and of itself guarantees quality or that it's completely the fault of the creators if they don't do that across the board...just that in a world where you have Transformers or Fast Five dragging audiences to ever-more-frantic viewing experiences, it's amazing to see something so methodical and slow be so much more compelling.

4/05/2011 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the 'usenet' info Aequitas, I really want to see the original.

I agree Edward, The Killing was fascinating to watch. It's going to be a very slow, interesting ride.

---ondine nyc

4/05/2011 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Joanie Gagnon San Chirico said...

I felt such empathy with the parents for their loss, it was as if I knew the girl. I've never felt that way from watching a tv show before and I have to compliment AMC for developing work that speaks to intelligent watchers, not the trite crap that's on many other channels.


4/05/2011 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried downloading the Usenet episodes but I must not have the right software to view it. Does anyone know what you need (I'm on a Mac)?

---ondine nyc

4/05/2011 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Edward wrote:
"If there were fewer galleries, fewer museums, and/or fewer channels, would we see better work in them?

Arguably yes."

Okay, I'll take that bait -- lol!

Arguably no, and there are many reasons why. With fewer outlets controlled by fewer "editors", the gatekeepers have a controlled stranglehold on what is delivered as "better work". Their personal taste almost always factors in to what is considered "better work", totally dismissing what might actually *be* "better work", albeit to a different taste profile. Plus, once the power position is held, the taste profile of the gatekeeper will continue to enforce the long-past-it's-expiration-date "better work", and we are then only presented with old toaster-leavin's and nothing truly contemporary (until they die, of course).

Back in the day, there were far fewer channels (for both television AND "Art"), and one can hardly exclaim that all that was ever shown were gems. Seriously.

Much of what is acclaimed as the best work in television is on cable, not network (to refresh the memory, there was network tv first, with fewer channels). AMC is a cable channel.

A very good case can be made for art venues as well -- the more you have, the more you expose and educate people about how to perceive/like/love art. By educating the masses, you get a more discriminating audience who learns what "better work" actually *is* in art.

I kind of think you must have been joking when you wrote this (are you a fan of the feudal system, too? LOL!)

I'd be interested in your argument, in a friendly-like way. : )

4/05/2011 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Sowa Mai's dog said...

I'd have to agree with Terri. The more choice we have the more chance we can have a gallery devoted to taking chances such as the wonderful Winklemen Gallery. :)

BBC is releasing the original on dvd shortly

I am a big fan of the less popular stuff. Music, movies, tv, books. It seems my tastes do not match up with what is popular most of the time. Not always though.

I remember in Dylan's bio he talked about reading epic poems in order to train himself out of the media driven short attention span. He wanted to write long songs. I guess if I want to make masterpieces I better take it slow and put a lot of attention in to practicing skills. I love abstract expressionism but the genius of a furious session comes from years of preparation.

As was mentioned here before child prodigies are harder to find in writing . While not entirely true it does seem you gotta pay your dues before you can play the blues.

then again

Maybe the young artists I love (mostly musicians) got co-opted by the system. Started to believe their own press. Once in a while you'll get a great comeback record but for the most part their great stuff was early on.

4/05/2011 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's best if the gallery's stay away from the slow art until it becomes an estate simply because it is not complete until that point--the market place is driven by the interests of the customers even in the case of the art world. If the slow art in question is the real McCoy, it must be entirely artist driven at all times and the pressures of the marketplace only make that more difficult. If you need rent money and you know the dealer can sell something you've essentially made before, it might seem easier to take that route rather than working a day job but such deviations alter the body of work (happens everyday whether the artist will admit it or not). For artists who produce slow art, the endeavor must be a calling rather than a career--callings are not about money, galleries are. The marriage can work but the kids have to be fully grown.

4/05/2011 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah you got to watch the original, completely superior. Either that or Spiral, the French equivalent.

4/05/2011 06:49:00 PM  

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