In this age of narrowcasting, architect David Rockwell argues that spectacle draws its power from being ephemeral, exuberant and epic in scope. That means he deliberately downplays the motion picture industry and its publicity stunts in favor of the performative and the unique. Nonetheless, by exploring all that is grand and hyperbolic — from Brazil’s Carnival to Spain’s Tomatina festival, aka the world’s largest food fight — Rockwell offers a number of insights particularly relevant to filmmakers and producers alike.
This may be the first coffee-table-styled book to draw comparisons between the Nuremberg rallies, the Oscars, Kim Jong Il’s military parades and King Kong. Among the observations proffered: Vegas titan Steve Wynn argues that new technologies have raised the bar for complexity and sophistication; David Zolkwer of Jack Morgan Public Events maintains that the human element becomes increasingly important as the scale of spectacle increases; and helmer Julie Taymor explores how spectacle’s power comes from defying laws of every sort.
What’s more, Rockwell, a former actor and the architect behind the Kodak Theater, the W New York and Nobu, argues that the need for spectacle is something innately human. In interview after interview, he reiterates the book’s main theme: that we feel most human when we are confronted with awe and completely outside ourselves.
In other words, in this age of increasing isolation, Rockwell argues convincingly that we need spectacle now more than ever. “In matter of style,” writes Rockwell, “excess is no error. To revolt against reserve is necessary.”
However, the tome continually falls short of the intellectual depth that Paul Virilio, Susan Sontag, Jean Baudrillard and Norman Klein have already brought to the subject. The radical thinker Guy Debord, who argued that spectacle engenders widespread passivity and thus is something to be avoided, gets a mere mention.
Rockwell does expose the dark side of mass entertainment, mostly by interviewing folks like John Waters, who gags when he hears the word “spectacle.” “Spectacle brings out patriotism,” explains Waters, “something that I generally find incredibly suspicious and offensive, even through I do love America.”
Nonetheless, the amply illustrated book tackles a rich subject, suggesting that a documentary on the same subject would be spectacular to say the least.