Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leonardo's Last Supper:A Vision By Peter Greenaway

If you are in New York and can manage to find the time between now and January 6th you really should make an effort to see the installation at the Park Avenue Armory. It's a multimedia piece by film director Peter Greenaway involving a clone of the Last Supper. It is quite simply an experience you will never forget.

I had been told that the piece was set in exact replica of the building where the Last Supper is, but that isn't really the case. The wall that the painting resides on is an exact copy, but otherwise it's an frame work recreation with a long white table that is set as in the painting.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I'm not sure where to begin.

Perhaps with the beginning.

This morning my friend Lou and I went to the armory to hear Greenaway speak. We are huge fans of his work and any chance we get to hear him speak is one we'll take. My first trip to the New York Film Festival was to see his Prospero's Books. (In a side note when I met Mr Greenaway after the talk I had him sign the copy of the DVD sleeve for that film) and his way of making films has held an evil sway over me since I first saw The Cook,The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

The talk was a heady mix of the history of art, architecture, history and film. It was the sort of talk that you really wish you had on tape so that it could be played back because you missed so much. Time flew by. I can't really go into what he said since I'm still processing it. Much of the talk related to the exhibit and some to his contention that film (as in movies) is dead. I understand what he is getting at, but at the same time, and he's the first to admit the paradox, he still uses film and the notion of film.*

After the talk we filed out into the hallway and Greenaway was surrounded by people wanting to talk and get signatures. I got a big smile from him when he saw the DVD cover since it was clear I had come prepared. Most people just had materials from the exhibit signed.

The man is utterly charming and willing to give and take in any conversation. He was thrilled when he got into an argument with a man over the notion of the death of film. When the man finally left Greenaway commented that he was so happy to have someone argue with him who actually could argue his point clearly.

After talking to a couple of people about where to go to get some of Greenaways's films (Diabolik has a nifty box set of 7 films and a documentary from Australia) Lou and I went off to wait until 1 Pm and our scheduled time to see the presentation.

Waiting on line to get we noticed Greenaway walking around with everyone oblivious to who he was. It was amusing and frustrating since we both saw an opportunity to talk to him for a little while uninterrupted. Had we not started to move into the exhibit just as a couple engaged him in talk we would have gotten off the line and tried to really speak with him.

As you enter the armory drill space a huge screen is in front of you on which a man danced. Doves flew. We were directed to move around the screen into a "room" where screens made up the walls, , part of the floor and hung from the ceiling. Chapel bells rang.

As everyone moved into the room, some sitting on two large benches the man danced around the room. Birds flew and some colored lines circled us.

I have to tell you flat out this is a 360 degree installation. Things are happening all around you at all times and if you really want to see it you MUST keeping looking around you. (I was annoyed by how many people just sat there and looked at only one wall- why? Things are happening all around you.)

The bells and the dancing man gave way to scenes of Italy and music. Then we began to see images from art...images moved in and around. I got a bit of vertigo and motion sick because I stood too near the floor panels and the motion of the images on the walls and floor messed with my sense of equilibrium.

We then were allowed to go into see the Last Supper. As I said the frame work of the room where it stands gives a sense of space. Down the center of the room a white table.

More and and light. This time there are projections onto the painting which suddenly becomes three dimensional. The table glows, the back wall shows hyper close ups of the wall the actual painting is on. The light shifts, portions of the painting are highlighted...and things repeat...what are we looking at? What is real?

Why are tears running down my face? Somewhere in the final moments I find I'm somewhere beyond words. I am moved beyond words. This part of the installation is done and I, and several others are just staring at the painting not moving...except to wipe away our tears.

We are moved into the first room and things continue. No longer focusing on the Last Supper Peter Greenaway is now talking about the Veronese's Wedding in Cana. Its the story of another meal and it's many characters.

It is good but not quite what we've just seen, and it is a bit of a let down. (It is more intellectual then visceral, it is that one thing Greenaway argued against a text based presentation)

When its done everyone just stands not moving just looking at the final image.

When the staff sees no one moving they gently tell us we can go.

Slowly, quietly we exit.

Some people loved it, some didn't. I catch pieces of conversations, people are trying to find words even if it is to use the words of other people.

Lou and I don't speak until we get on the street.

For me it is unlike anything I've ever seen. It is an experience. I'm not sure what I feel towards it I only know I feel. I knew I was going to have to tell people to see this, I know I think I should see it again.

It is in it's way truly amazing.

A couple of quick pieces of information.

The piece is in three parts. The Prologue is called Italy of the City and was created this year. The second part is the Last Supper and was put together in 2008. And the Epilogue is the Wedding at Cana and was done in 2009. (the info is from the hand out program).

If you go you need to be aware that for the most part you're going to be standing for the better part of say 75 minutes from your time on line to the time inside to when you walk out. Yes, there are a couple of benches inside the exhibition space but you'll want to stand so you can attempt to see all of the images.

Lastly the cost is 15 dollars and worth every penny. Its not something you'll ever see at home, or anywhere else for that matter. As Peter Greenaway said to someone who had seen some of the video images on TV, that was all well and good but seeing it on these screens was something else entirely.

If you can go see it, it will astound you.

Information on the exhibit can be found here.

*- For those who want to know what his argument against film was- he said- if I can remember this correctly- that film never achieved its full potential since it was created. Since we think and act in a certain way we do not use film as it should be used. Part of this problem is that almost all films made are text based either coming from a script or a novel. The medium is not wholly visual which is how he feels it should be. He said that his use of text in films is an effort to try and drive us away from thinking of text.

I've probably gotten that wrong on some level but you'll have enough to chase down more if you want to.

He said that what ever film was suppose to be has now fallen to TV, however I see TV as an extension of film so I'm at a loss to explain buy into what he's saying (at least as far as the death of film)

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