Bruno Mars put on a tremendous halftime show at Sundays Super Bowl. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers were fun, even if some folks objected to 50-year-old guys going shirtless (hey, its rock n roll).
Mars is old-school. Hes a versatile showman who can play the drums, dance like crazy and backed himself with horns and other vocalists. There was a moment Sunday night, as he performed his soaring hit Locked out of Heaven, that it seemed as if we were watching the Temptations circa 1967.
But Ill tell you what really made Bruno Mars Super Bowl halftime show great: It was totally new school. It was frenetic, high-energy, there were no dead spots. It was so 2014 despite the glimmer of 1967.
Thats the thing about entertainment today. It is all action, action, action. There is no fat.
Maybe thats a problem. Maybe its not.
But it seems like progress.
Always, one supposes, the modern world has been criticized as unnecessarily frenzied. When trains replaced wagons, when cars replaced horses, when phones replaced letters when minstrel shows replaced chautauquas, when movies replaced vaudeville, when television replaced radio there must have been laments of, Hey, whats the rush?
But, want to be bored? Check out out a classic movie from the 1970s. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Five Easy Pieces. Theyre so slooooww! There is so much nonaction, nondialogue, dead spots.
There is a scene in McCabe and Mrs. Miller where the camera tracks Warren Beatty as he walks across a room, then up a staircase. Nothing happens on the walk. Beatty says no dialogue and expresses nothing with his body language. The director just had to get him upstairs to speak with Julie Christie. It must take 30 to 40 seconds. Today, a director would literally cut to the chase: Beatty turns, hes in Christies room, they talk. Perfect.
One of my favorite TV shows of the 1970s I thought was The Rockford Files, with the great James Garner as a wisecracking private investigator. But a recent effort to watch a DVD of 1974s first season bored me to tears. Garners wisecracks came about 15 minutes apart. He followed cars for hours without catching up to them. The camera often pans the beach for 10 seconds before a character appears. In one episode, Rockford searched through a dresser looking for clues opening and closing six drawers without finding anything. Six drawers! We got the idea after two drawers, Jim, move on.
In todays world, movies and TV shows are always pushing forward. Every line of dialogue advances the plot. Every scene has people and action. If there is a car chase, something happens. There is no aimless panning of the landscape or pointless scenes. Movies and TV shows today are concise, pithy, moving at all times which is what viewers have come to expect from their entertainment.
We turn on the TV, and if something doesnt happen in the first few seconds, were channel-surfing. We TiVo shows so we dont have to watch commercials. We pop in a movie from Netflix, and if it doesnt grab us in the first 10 minutes, out it comes. If we go to a music concert, we welcome video clips and light shows to fill the moments between songs.
Professional football is the nations favorite sport, in no small part because you can set your watch by the games: 3½ hours, give or take an overtime. Say what you want about how boring it was to watch Seattle rout Denver in the Super Bowl, the game moved along swiftly.
Some might criticize these developments as a dangerous decline in our attention span. They might suggest we are becoming too impatient or shallow to enjoy art and, by extension, life.
In truth, there is still plenty to savor. There are still hour-long TV shows, still three-hour movies, still 10-minute songs; baseball is still played at a snails pace.
But in entertainment, we have learned to hone the awkward and slow, delete the unnecessary and boring. We make every moment count. Were making the product better. Like advances in electronics and cars, each iteration of entertainment is better than the previous iteration.
Super Bowl halftime shows, constrained as they are to 12 minutes, are a barometer of that progress. The first one in 1967 featured two college marching bands and a high-school drill team. In 1975, they featured the straight-laced Up With People.
But for the past 20 years, theyve been on a steady upward climb, showcasing the best of the music entertainment world, from Michael Jackson to U2 to Madonna to Beyoncé.
Next years Super Bowl halftime show may be even better. But for now, Bruno Mars is the state of the art. And he was killer.