Anyway, I commented a little bit about the Tim and Eric show on a message board and I wanted to use one of the responses from there to anchor this post. "The Atlas Boy" wrote:
I like their live performances, but to be honest, I've never been very fond of any of their recorded material -- I see it as kind of like Napoleon Dynamite or that sort of thing without characters, structure, or (for the most part) punchlines. And you know how I am about punchlines. I think they do a good job creating an atmosphere, but either fail to or aren't interested in doing anything with that atmosphere. (They're better in this regard live, obviously.)
And they have a bit of that deliberately-grotesque-and-unpleasant edge that I've never been able to endure.
But as I said, I do like their live work for the most part (though I don't know what they're doing on this tour, or if it has any relation to anything I've seen), and Tim is a really nice guy. (I don't mean Eric isn't. I don't know Eric.)
First, Tim certainly seemed like a nice guy at the show. Towards the end of their act, Tim and Eric come out on stage in bathrobes and show a super secret behind-the-scenes clip from their first Cartoon Network series Tom Goes to the Mayor. I was impressed by how "off" they were: that is, they didn't seem to be performing and it was a weirdly comforting, in a "these are just regular guys" kind of way. That's not a feeling I generally get watching comedians.
Of course, Tim and Eric aren't really comedians. "The Atlas Boy" is right that their bits either don't have or don't emphasize punchlines. There wasn't a memorable one all evening, and, on their Adult Swim shows, any that are there seem like throw-aways or head-scratchers.
And he's also right that there is something like an unpleasant edge to a lot of their stuff. I'm not sure if I would use the word "unpleasant", but there's something willfully off-putting about a sketch like Uncle Muscles, where Tim plays an incompetent singer, sweating buckets under the lights, and the poorly lit video emphasizes the character's bad make-up job. ("Bad make-up" is a recurring Tim and Eric motif.)
What's interesting to me, though (this week at least), is the way Tim and Eric (who met in college and made their first videos for film classes) ransack the realm of performance/video art in order to find material and techniques for their comedy. And I was thinking about Tim and Eric when I read this post about "not films" on Andy Horbal's blog.
There, Andy gives as an example of a "not film" a broadcast of a basketball game that made heavy use of the instant replay in order to figure out a close call. The producers of the broadcast keep replaying - from different angles, at different speeds - a key moment of play. Andy argues that the effect - the way it calls attention to the technique of TV broadcast production - is similar enough to the effect that some avant-garde films aim at - calling attention to what is normally "invisible" in conventional, narrative cinema - so that it would make a useful teaching tool.
There's always going to be a very select audience for long-form, non-narrative films. They ask a lot out of a viewer (in time, attention, etc.) and what they deliver (an abstract, aesthetic experience) is not what most people go to the movies for.
I think the problem facing a lot of long-form avant-garde films is the same problem that Spengler diagnoses for modernist music in this article. That is, modernist painting/sculpture is more accessible (or at least bearable) than its film/video equivalent partly because you aren't trapped in the experience.
(One of my own issues with existing avant-garde films is that they're often in danger of being more interesting to think about/write about/read about than they are to actually watch. It's almost like you have to sit through them in order to earn the right to talk about them afterwards, like some kind of weird, intellectual hazing.)
But, and here I'll go back once again to this recent post from 2Blowhards and connect this seeming digression to what I was talking about at the beginning of this post, I think that the kind of "accidental" avant-garde videos that Michael Blowhard points to on YouTube and the little movies on Tim and Eric's website seem to suggest the emergence of avant-garde-ish video making as a "lively" art, one that not only Andy's hypothetical film students but actual everyday people will find (relatively) accessible.