T.O.A.E. Booth 243
Lost in the Memory Palace is the name of the show by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller that has currently taken over the fourth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Recalling the past is also at the heart of Revealing the Early Renaissance a wonderful survey of 13th and 14th century Florentine art work two floors below. Judging by the juxtaposition of these two shows, I’m guessing the curators of the AGO want us to stop, look, listen and step out of the now and reflect on the past. Sounds and looks good to me; at the moment I could use a break from the now.
When it comes to the Renaissance; Leonardo and Michelangelo get most of the attention, but nearly a century and half before them was a man who changed the entire course of Art: Giotto Di Bondone. Before Giotto we had staticky tin box radio and after Giotto we have high definition television. If you consider yourself an art lover of any degree then it is your duty to make the pilgrimage to Padua Italy to see his Scrovegni Chapel. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but the inside is a whole other story. It is a long way to go for the 15 minute timed experience but a definite must see and while you’re in Italy you can always grab a gelato. Delicious ice cream aside, the AGO has gathered a number of pieces by Giotto’s contemporaries and a few by the man himself. The show runs the gamut from the sublime to the obvious work of an apprentice. A few key pieces stood out and an artist that (I was unfamiliar with before the visit) really caught my eye was Bernardo Daddi. Giotto’s influence was apparent, but Daddi’s alter pieces breathed with their own life and vitality and really commanded the rooms they were in.
Another highlight were the pages of the Laudario of Sant’Agnese, illuminated by Pacino di Bonaguida. The paintings are quirky and just plain delightful. The pages come from a songbook that was originally meant to be song by a choir. Music fills the gallery as you lean in close to decipher the expressions of the saints who fill every corner.
Music is also what greets you when you leave the exhibit and find yourself in the Henry Moore gallery. Placed amongst the sculptures is a circle of forty speakers facing inward. Each speaker corresponds to an individual singer. The experience of standing in the middle of the circle is that of totally being immersed in music. You can hear the piece as a whole or travel to the periphery and focus on individuals. My memory was jogged and I remember seeing this piece years ago at the Power Plant. This Cardiff/Miller artwork is a wonderful bridge between the contemporary and the 14th century.
Lost in the Memory Palace is comprised of eight installations that immerse you in a world of sound and spectacle. The first space we entered on getting off the elevator was The Black Pool 1995. You enter by a conspicuous wooden door and have to quickly adjust your eyes to a dimly lit environment filled with all manner of things. My first reaction was that of disappointment; I find the current trend of clutter installations as both uninspired and unengaging. Artists who just fill spaces with everything and the kitchen sink rarely rise above hoarders in my opinion. My disappointment quickly dissipated as I was drawn into all manner of recorded conversations coming through little speakers placed throughout the objects. Little notes gave you clues to the former occupants but provided more mystery than answers. It was both disconcerting and comforting at the same time.
Other rooms straddled this same mixed emotion (which turns out to be quite refreshing). I won’t give away any of the other spaces because it is best experienced with a sense of surprise and wonder. Getting Lost in the Memory Palace is an easy thing to do and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Oh one last thing, when they ask you to press the button – press it, you won’t soon forget.
Every decision that Baz Lurhmann made in turning F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby into a motion picture was the right one. Right, but not necessarily good. The problem with making this film is; the source material is a fundamentally flawed piece of writing that has had more greatness foisted upon it than are hidden in its pages. Don’t get me wrong, the first time I read the novel I enjoyed the world of West Egg sure enough, and having just seen the film I still enjoy it but……….. let the spoilers begin.
The world that Fitzgerald created is one of longing rather than one of condemnation. Many words have been devoted to the corruption of the American Dream and the marginalization of the valley of ashes all under the guise of an apathetic blind God … yadda yadda yadda. If that was truly Fitzgerald’s intention, than it kind of makes him a hypocrite. Fitzgerald in real life wasn’t adverse to tipping a few back and seeing where the night would take him. He surrounded himself with eccentric and interesting people who came together in one of the most decadent scenes in human history: Paris in the twenties. He didn’t stay at the party for a brief moment but rather checked out seven years later. Fitzgerald drank the Kool-Aid and then handed it to Baz. It’s the spectacle that the movie uses for its armature to hang everything around and I don’t believe this would have offended Fitzgerald in the least.
Say what you will about the American Dream; a theme that works for me is that there is nothing more exhilarating than arriving at a good party already at full steam and nothing more depressing than staying a little too long and watching the steam slowly escape. ‘The sweet life’ always ends with the party goers standing on a beach starring at an enormous dead fish. You can never recapture that initial high and if you try you will always be disappointed. Chasing the dragon is a fruitless endeavor and in Gatsby’s case his dragon is Daisy(Carey Mulligan).
The movie shifts gears from the book with its portrayal of Daisy and her relationship with Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). The love story never really translates in the book. Everything Gatsby does is for her but you never can reason why. She’s like that girl in those Twilight books: an extremely two dimensional character that the people around her are willing to move mountains for. Why exactly? Well Hollywood tried to answer that question by amping up the love story and turning Daisy into a more sympathetic character. This is all about dollars and cents; no one would go see a movie where you don’t care if the guy gets the girl. Baz knows where his bread is buttered. This leaves you with the feeling that The Great Gatsby is no longer a book or even a movie but rather an industry. It is a pop culture artifact engineered to sell fashion, sell a soundtrack, be a star vehicle, sell a technology (the first thing I thought of when I heard Gatsby was 3D!) and most importantly make money. Take that: corruption of the American Dream, pass the Kool-Aid. It feels like a movie made by a committee. You can hear the pitch meeting in every frame. It’s too bad too, I loved the style of Strictly Ballroom and didn’t even mind the Jay-Z soundtrack but I felt like I was constantly being sold something. Sad thing is, I got the same feeling when I read the book; Fitzgerald was trying to sell the idea that he was a more important writer than he was.
The book has some wonderful imagery and symbolism but feels a little inconsistent overall. The movie is more consistent but tends to spell everything out and goes a little overboard on the symbolism, especially that of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. It seems the film can’t go twenty minutes without checking in on how the green light is doing. I predict college kids will eventually turn this into a drinking game. The Great Gatsby is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator: Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). He goes along with everything that people put in front of him and then at the last minute is indignant at the results. The film doesn’t even touch upon his relationship with Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) with very little consequence. It is theorized that Nick represented one side of Fitzgerald’s personality while Gatsby represented another.
“Who is this Gatsby?” This is supposed to be the big mystery that never really is a mystery in neither the book nor the movie. Having said that,I have to admit Leonardo’s reveal would be my favourite part of the film. Baz nailed it; it was so over the top it was kind of awesome. Close-up, champagne glass, smug expression, Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background and epic fireworks all added up to one of the most perfect/hilarious entrances for any character anywhere. Gatsby: ‘the poor son of a b*tch’ (a line conspicuously absent from the film) becomes more of a tragic character in Baz’s hands than Fitzgerald’s, along with the rest of Generation Egg. We are intoxicated by their decadence and apathetic to their plight.
Both the book and the movie are unabashed constructions of their times and this is where in their greatness lies, but just like the green light off in the distance we never quite get there. ‘Pass the Kool-Aid old sport’.