The Guardian’s View of the Six-Hour Show: The Curious News of Long Art | Editorial

The Guardian’s View of the Six-Hour Show: The Curious  News of Long Art |  Editorial

On the other hand, length is a curious business in time-based art. The speed at which minutes appear to pass has little to do with the actual progress of hands round a clock face. In the right hands, a work as mighty in scale and length as The Valkyrie – as evinced by its recent reappearance on the stage of the Coliseum in London with English National Opera – can slip by, although the official run time was five hours. Wagner’s opera is full of twists and drama, and – perhaps unlike some of his other works – never drags. But scale isn’t everything. Caryl Churchill’s latest play What If If Only, staged at London’s Royal Court, occupied 20 minutes – and yet, in its brief and concentrated span, as it explored loss and bereavement, plumbed depths. The reality is that great artworks find the length they need to be. Getting that right isn’t easy: but it is part of the artist’s job.

The potential freedom for artists to be liberated from the strictures of scheduling and “acceptable” lengths is not necessarily a good thing, of course. Nobody wants to watch a maundering, meandering, overlong artwork that could have said all that it needed to say within 30 minutes or could easily have had an hour sliced out of it. The most recent James Bond film, at two hours 28 minutes, was felt by many people to be “too long” for its material.

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