Why is it that describing a film as an art film means it has to be interminable or incomprehensible? I just saw Double Tide by Sharon Lockhart (99 mins, 2009), at MOMA, which fits in the first category.

It opens in a beautiful, early morning, almost black and white, Maine fog, on an ocean mudflat. We hear the sounds of birds and water and an occasional fog horn. A woman dragging a sled enters, removes a basket and begins digging for clams. The mud sucks her legs up to her calves; she punches her hand almost to the elbow to get her catch. The sucking sounds are amazing.

Well, I didn’t actually watch the whole film. Actually, I left before the first shot was over. 20 minutes. The first shot, locked off on the tripod, lasted more than 20 minutes. In one minute we see how difficult the woman’s job is. In five our backs are hurting in sympathy. 10, 15, 20 minutes, she’s worked without a break. She moves farther and farther away from the camera. Is it a one shot 99 minute film?

Is that what makes it art? Can a film that tells a story in a traditional manner, one that makes us laugh and cry, that moves apace, not be art?

As for incomprehensible, let me just say mostly experimental films seem to turn away from beautiful light or good compositions as if they’re anathema and move towards “if you can’t figure this out it’s art.”

What do you think?