8½ SCREENS (Atom Egoyan)
A virgin cinema is a tempting place for an installation. A room dedicated to the viewing of films is full of promise and anticipation. In this room—Cinema 4—there will be myriad private experiences formed between future filmgoers and artists. This work is about watching. The original idea was to compile a selection of classic images of characters viewing films; a mosaic of screens from such diverse sources as Taxi Driver (watching porn), A Clockwork Orange (watching horror), Cinema Paradiso (watching old movies), Sunset Boulevard (watching oneself)… The list is long and full of possibilities. When I came across the screening room scene near the end of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2, the original concept shifted. Here was possibly the single densest sequence of collective watching ever staged. The complexity of therelationships between the viewers (a director, his frustrated producer, his luminescent muse, his alienated wife, her bemused friend…) and the screen auditions they were viewing (for the part of an alienated wife, a frustrated mistress, an idealized prostitute…) was overwhelming. Rather than a compilation of clips from various sources, the installation became a deconstruction of a key scene from one of the greatest films about filmmaking (and film watching) ever made. By the end of this scene, as the director’s wife Luisa leaves the theatre, the marriage is effectively over. Marcello is metaphorically hung out to dry, and so the billowing sheets—a recurring motif in Fellini’s cinema—became an essential part of the installation. 8 1/2 Screens is a fantasy fuelled by one of the greatest imaginations of cinema’s golden age. I offer it with deep respect, more than a little nostalgia, and tremendous excitement about the opening of this magnificent new home for a cherished institution.