April 09, 2003
Interview art

Carrying on with this pleasure/art thing, I was watching a documentary about James Stewart while finalising the posting below, and they included clips of him being interviewed by Michael Parkinson.

Michael Parkinson is a classic pleasure merchant. Art is art, and chatshows are just chatshows. It's seldom said. It is simply assumed. A James Stewart film, provided it's good enough, is art. But an interview done by James Stewart with Parky is just an interview.

Yet this interview, like a film, is also now a permanent thing. It's some kind of superior BBC variety of video tape, or some such. So this interview passes the physics test.

How about the other test, the "how good was it?" test? Well, it is now very clear that James Stewart presenting "himself" on a chat show was every bit as much Art as any of his other performance creations. The story about Pie the horse doing a scene in one take, after Stewart had talked with him for a while. "This is not going to be easy for you … because you're a horse", etc., all timed to perfection, and surely honed during many private hours with friends and acquaintances, just like any other performance. Art, surely.

Or what about that fabulous interview that Alec Guinness did with Parky, when he performed a brilliant impersonation of a big bird in a zoo, which stood absolutely still whenever you were looking at it, but which, as soon as your back was turned, adopted a quite different pose, so when you looked back again (Grandmother's Footsteps style), there he was, standing motionless again, but differently. Classic. Guiness even gave the cameramen directions, so that they too were looking away when the bird moved.

Or what of Oliver Reed, giving Parky (again) a master class in what being a film actor actually consists of, by actually doing a scene for everyone. "If you think it's so easy, you do it."

And what of Parky himself? Can it be coincidence that these film and theatre giants seem to give of their very best to posterity, when he just happens to be sitting next to them mumbling his way through his non-questions until they interrupt him with their artful self-presentations? He too may be judged by Posterity to have been more of an artist than he's now reckoned to be.

But the bad news for Parky is what these three much loved actors now have in common. They're dead. We treasure their conversational relics the way we never did when they were still around to add to the pile. So, drop dead Parky. As soon as you do, you'll be a True Artist.

Tracey Emin, on the other hand, seems likely to head in the exact opposite direction. As soon as she stops being around to tell us all that she's an artist, she'll stop being thought of as one. Well, not an art artist anyway.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:20 AM
Category: Modern artTV