CHAPTER 12: Baroque Theatricality and Scripted Spaces: From Movie Palace to Las Vegas Casinos

By Ndalianis, Angela | Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

CHAPTER 12: Baroque Theatricality and Scripted Spaces: From Movie Palace to Las Vegas Casinos


Ndalianis, Angela, Postmodern Studies


In his Life of Forms in Art (1934) Henri Focillon understands form in art as an entity that was not necessarily limited to the constraints of time or specific historical periods. Quoting a political tract from Balzac he stated that "everything is form and life itself is form" (33). For Focillon, formal patterns in art are in perpetual states of motion, being specific to time but also spanning across it. (32) He states: "Form may, it is true, become formula and canon; in other words, it may be abruptly frozen into a normative type. But form is primarily a mobile life in a changing world. Its metamorphoses endlessly begin anew..." (44). While the historical baroque has traditionally been contained within the rough temporal confines of the Ci7th, taking my lead from Focillon, what I'll be arguing in this essay is that baroque form has dynamically and consistently made its presence felt across the centuries, sometimes with greater intensity than others, and it's these eruptions of intensity that fascinate me. This essay is concerned with analysing the metamorphic states that the baroque underwent in the u.s. and, in particular in Hollywood and Los Angeles, in the i92os-3os in the form of the movie palaces, and new Urban Entertainment Destinations of the i99os-20oos, particularly those of the Las Vegas Strip. While the baroque is associated with a myriad of traits and strategies, here, I focus specifically on a theme often associated with the historical baroque-namely, the concept of teatrum mundi, or theatre of the world.

Bernini, for example, was concerned with exploring the theme of abolishing "the distinction between life and theatre" (Molinari, 149). In addition to staged, multi-media spectacles like the Ecstasy of St Teresa (Cornaro Chapel, 1647-52), his production of Mars and Mercury (performed to inaugurate the Teatro Farnese in Parma in 1628), spilled off the stage and into the space of the audience. The whole performance concluded with the pit being completely flooded, while the combat between soldiers ruptured the stage boundaries to enter the space of the auditorium, immersing the audience in the performance. The baroque delight in spectacle as theatre invited the entry of theatre into the social realm. Most famously, public spaces like those of the Piazza del Popolo and the Porta Flaminia (now called the Porta del Popolo [see figure 12.1])- which was designed by Bernini and commissioned by Pope Alexander vii for Queen Christina of Sweden's entry into Rome-and its twin churches, Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), not only define the points at which the three streets-via del Corso, via del Babuino and via di Ripetta-branch off into the depth, but the porta, churches, streets and piazza combine to transform the entrance of Rome into an enormous stage set [figure 12.2] that recalls the architect Andrea Palladio's trompe l'oeil Teatro Olímpico (Vicenza, 1580-85). Here, the piazza and the Palladian set-inspired churches and streets invite the breakdown between reality and fiction. Stage and auditorium now become one, fluidly spilling into each other, and performance and reality mingle and generate event places marked by spectacle and performance. The grand baroque palaces, churches, and piazzas stood as monuments to the grandeur of their aristocratic patrons and the Church that sustained them.

The majestic movie palaces, on the other hand, stood as monuments to the young Hollywood studios, their stars, their producers and their audiences. They were renown for their exuberant, themed interiors; emphasising illusionistic designs, these spaces remediated palaces, temples and ancient cities as backdrops to the performances both of the movies and the moviegoers who visited these repurposed cathedrals of the masses in the millions. More recently, Urban Entertainment Destinations, which are multi-use complexes that can include cinemas, restaurants, casinos, and other retail-leisure services, have upped-the-ante on fantastic theming, performativity and theatricality. …

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CHAPTER 12: Baroque Theatricality and Scripted Spaces: From Movie Palace to Las Vegas Casinos
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