I just returned from a week away in Maine and Canada, and one of the major highlights of the trip was seeing Robert Lepage's installation, Moulin a Images (The Image Mill), projected onto the grain elevators of Quebec City's grain elevators in honor of its 400th anniversary (Do most people in the U. S. even know that the city is 400 years old this year? I didn't, to my embarrassment).
Robert Lepage has been one of my favorite theater directors for years. One of the most amazing pieces of theater I have ever seen is his Far Side of the Moon, which he later made into an (inferior) movie.
I say inferior because I don't know if it is possible to translate Lepage's stage magic into film. Lepage runs a company called Ex Machina, and they specialize in modern technology and special effects for theater. But Lepage's effects are not special because of technology alone. The most effective are often the most simple--I think of him lying on the stage floor , covered with projections of stars and just moving on the ground while seeming like he was floating in space. Simple but brilliant.
In film, of course, special effects like that are almost more commonplace. Tricks of post production can produce effects far more elaborate, and thus much less amazing.
Of course, Lepage's work is not trickery alone. It is trickery which is first and foremost in service of telling a great story, filled with emotion.
Moulin a Images reminded me of many animated films I have seen, and in a way that's exactly what it was--a huge animated film projected on grain elevators, with a couple of special effect tricks thrown in. Lepage divided the history into the four elements (an Age of Water, an Age of Fire, etc), and that one concept was useful as a framework of the whole.
What struck me, watching it. was the similarity of all history of the last 400 years. In some ways, the story of Quebec City could be any North American city's story (though none are so long-lived). In others, the story of a walled city that has served as the center of French-English controversies for centuries is a very unique one, especially for North America.
Was it the same as seeing a live performance of a Lepage piece? How could it be. But it was something I was glad to see, nonetheless. Outside, watching Lepage's work with awe, were many native residents of Quebec. I couldn't help envy a little the awe in which a stage director from outside the U. S. can be held in his own country.
Connect to the links above for some glances, if you like. There are some good images on his web page and the official 400th anniversary web site.
17 hours ago