IS IT ART? IS IT ADVERTISING?
By Holly Daggers
The Forward Motion Theatre
Bill Jones and Ben Neill premiere
PALLADIO: a playable film
"In the future there will be no photographs. In the future there will be no objects at all.... In the future there will only be Art," says the bombastic unseen narrator of Palladio, a new film by Bill Jones with live music by Ben Neill and live video remixing by Jones. That's Art as Lifestyle apparently: The kind of Art which is experienced through portable media players..., Art as Style..., Art in the age of Steve Jobs where iPods are as cool as the commercials that sell them....
Johnnie is an Artist. We know this because he is seen brooding around NYC in stylish black jackets standing against shop windows and posing like a model in Central Park — pretty, young, and moody. Though we never actually see him create anything he is by turns a VJ, a painter, and eventually a rock guitarist. Picture Morissey as a VJ, but squint until he becomes a shameless label-whore. In his first scene he plays a concert at downtown’s a/v cabaret Remote Lounge, and his self-centered melancholia is compromised by his video accompaniment: a VJ remix of sampled television commercials — but not the pretty parts, just the advertising…, the parts where the corporate logo fades in and an announcer reads the market-researched ad-slogan. A tongue-in-cheek bite at sampler-culture.
Mal is a disillusioned advertising executive (coincidentally the same ad exec responsible for all those sampled ads) who loves seeing his corporate soap-selling transformed into a profound new artform. In fact, he is inspired to dump the trappings of his Madison Avenue office and reinvent his company in the image of Johnnie’s art. He assembles a colony of media stylists at his palatial Hudson Valley estate Palladio, then releases a large coffee table book (also called Palladio) and sets out on an international book tour to herald his edgy new discovery to the world. With the intent of ending the trend of irony in advertising, he hopes to convince corporations to throw their advertising dollars behind the sincerity of Art.
Molly is “the girlfriend”, the woman who inspires creativity by virtue of her inability to commit in a relationship. She was Johnnie’s girlfriend back in art school, but dumped him when he got too serious. She becomes Mal’s girlfriend briefly only to be stolen away by Johnnie again while Mal is abroad on his publicity tour. “Sometimes I feel like just a body” she confesses to the camera, and that about sums up her character. Molly talks endlessly into her cellphone about drifting through life and unsatisfying sexual encounters to an unseen friend, therapist, or possibly one of those 1-900 confession hotlines.
Bill Jones and Ben Neill mix live a/v with cinema in Palladio
These characters are well-acted but superficial sketches, intentionally so as Palladio the Movie constantly breaks into commercial interruption. A drive up to Mal’s estate in a yellow hummer segues laughingly into a series of Hummer ads including the slogan “Nothing feels like a Hummer”, and a sentimental reunion between Johnnie and Molly breaks into a sacherine MasterCard ad with almost identical characters and staging. As Mal’s dreamteam of young creatives is assembled, Jones cuts away to the steamy opener of a daytime soapopera and the analogy is immediately obvious. Who has time for character development in the age of fast downloads and screensaver art? We know what these actors represent, no need to bore us with the details. Is it surprising that an audience can dispose of the backstory trappings that make characters three-dimensional, when we don’t need any overworked effort to recognize romance in a 10-second diamond commercial, or the jungle-thrill of driving a Hummer to the supermarket…? In the age of laptop music and iMovie masterpieces, time and effort are of the past. Quality is now measured in megapixels and value is directly related to the price of plug-ins.
The logo saturated televisionworld that baby boomers have created — the very same instant-gourmet existance Mal wants to defeat — is the only world Johnnie and Molly have ever known. They are nothing but labels, commercials, product placement. Reputation is replaced with brandname recognition. They don’t know who they are or why they’re here, and they certainly don’t extend any effort in finding out, but they know they want to be stars. Their lives are measured in page hits and blogger-like confessions; their audience is anonymous downloads, and Johnnie’s final concert-by-cellphone is cut tragicly short when he implodes from a network overload of wireless callers…. Mal is the real hero here, trying desperately to bring sincerity to advertising, and find friendship in a generation that does nothing but sell him out. Ultimately he makes the mistake of trusting Johnnie, who selfishly steals his girlfriend as quickly as he pirated Mal’s commercials. Don’t trust anyone under 30!