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Tim Wilson: A short history of performance

opinion

By Tim Wilson

Published: 8:57PM Thursday April 19, 2012

In a very recent, but now hopelessly naive-seeming era, the entertainer usually knew what they were doing.

If you watch, say, Dean Martin pretending to be drunk while reclining (no other verb is permissible) amidst a song, you'll know what I mean.

Here he is, liquored-up, as smooth and implausible as butter, all teeth and tux sometime in the 50s, singing. Well, he gets to the singing. The joking comes first, and how easy it is, how raffish.

The lines fall like cigarette ash, gently. And then the orchestra strikes up ...

Of course, Elvis came along later. I'm not going to show you Elvis, because shortly after Dean assumed his descent, the world was swamped - it seemed - by Presley's bastard children, those ingenues only half in control of their instruments, and selves.

I mean Jim Morrison, Van Morisson, Janis Joplin, etc. These artists' names need not necessarily end in an 'n', btw. Abstract Expressionist totem Jackson Pollock was the same kind of semi-shaman.

Some would argue he failed to see his own demise, others that he painted nothing else.

Certainly, there is an agreeable quality to watching a performer who doesn't understand that a performance is occurring, someone throwing his or herself off the ledge over and over again, hoping to fly.

Looking at this video you see whole careers in entertainment being enacted in a matter of seconds. Cats, supposedly, are intelligent creatures.

The plain fact is that the baseline for this assessment is those poor fools who deify them. Scratch a cat-lover, and you'll quickly see the colour of twit-blood. 

From the audience's point of view, the excitement really commences when the performer discovers self-knowledge.

A glint ignites in their eye, and they realise they're giving someone other than themselves pleasure. In this gift, a certain levity is extended from the audience.

Stars are different, which may be why they often behave so well before behaving so poorly. The exact moment in which this self-awareness combusts is rarely caught on camera. No longer.

Watching the following, we may only think, 'And the Oscar goes to'

Finally, we arrive at what seems a prevailing contemporary mode: self-awarenes and little else.

Double Take is likely a joke, though they have a point. Hot people are no different to you and I, except they're, well, hot.

We know it's satire, but it's almost a satire of satire : the corpse drained, the bones already picked clean; the vultures (us) disappointed.

The difference between this and venerable, soft, hard, smarmy, leering, smirking Dean Martin is much more than several generations, and a nice baritone.

 

To read more Tim Wilson opinion click here

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