Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
A true hallelujah, though more fakery needed
It is yet to be seen if the ol’ razzle-dazzle works in a modern context, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.
“Art,” said Picasso, “is a lie that tells us the truth.” For patrons of the reconstituted Luna Park, though, it’s all about telling a true lie from a false one. And in the end, they will do it with their feet.
Picasso’s paradox was cute and round, and would later enrapture the postmoderns French theorist Baudrillard, for example, who insisted that art is neither true nor false but simply “the truth which conceals that there is none”.
But even in Picasso’s time the dilemma was nothing new. Truth and artifice had nested together at the core of art since Pithecanthropus scrawled on caves. History does not record whether, in a world oozing contradictions, those early hominids worried over the is-this-a-real-rock-painting-or-a-pseudo-mammoth question. Likely not. But by the 18th century, with its craving for truth as singular and rational, the veracity of art had become a problem.
So, ask yourself what would a “real” reproduction of Luna Park entail.
Even heritage is tricky, its relationship to “truth” being troubled at best. Witness the Japanese temples in which every stick of timber has been replaced multiple times, but the temple still counts as the same, 2000-year-old temple, because the inauthenticity is so authentically done. It’s a belief thing.
Luna Park, physically primitive by comparison, also relies on belief or at least, suspension of disbelief. But here the complexity ratchets up further still, since the Luna “original” of the 1930s was itself no more than a smoke-and-mirrors fantasy; one whose apparent innocence (lacking pretension, but maximising pretence), allowed it to engage fully in
the ghost-trains-and-greasepaint make-believe of which nostalgia is so richly comprised.
In fun-fair world, then, realness is no longer about truth. It’s about gusto. Faking it is real, as long as the screams are loud enough, long enough, vivid enough. The very tawdriness itself intensifies the excitement; the underbelly whiff of mystery, even danger, gives the park its edge.
But that’s the rub. Can this untame gypsy quality, this wild-edged mystery, actually be reproduced in an era of neighbourhood litigation, user pays and public liability insurance?
After the gruesome deaths of Wonderland, Sega World and Fox’s Back Lot, will the latest Luna Park revamp be up to speed in the feel department?
Probably yes, at least in parts. Much is in the graphics. A wonderful Arthur Barton mural just inside the Face captures precisely that chaotic mix of Ginger Meggs misspelling and mad-eyed uncontrol that the safe and sanitised Luna Park yearns for but cannot quite bite.
The Swiss carousel, all gilt and horse tails, is a loved and lovely thing and the dodgem-hall graphics have a suitably underground edge, but Luna Park’s undeniable centre of energy is Barton’s Coney Island, where the slippery dips and the sex-o-meter
lies horribly or so we hope.
There are the remaining rides the Rotor, the Tumble Bug, the Wild Mouse (now sadly plywood-encased). There’s even the occasional sideshow, from which time may yet scrub that freshly exfoliated feeling.
As for the rest, the brand-spanking elements like the Big Top and the cafe, here you can almost feel the architect’s reluctance nay, refusal to mess with paint and pasteboard. Hassell’s Ken Maher, ever the good modernist, can’t quite bring himself to bauble and bedeck, to garnish and gimcrack, to (in a word) fake it.
But heck. More rides, more vim, more gusto more real, authentic fakery might have been nice. But just to have Luna Park back and recognisably working the Face lit and the Mouse careening is a true Sydney hallelujah. There’s a Milsons Point moment where the icons all line up: Opera House, Bridge, Luna Park. High A rt joined to L ow A rt. This tension, not always so gorgeously symbolised, is fundamental to great cities. Luna Park, out of limbo at last, just needs to show it can go low enough for long enough to keep its end of the snake charmed.
Illus: Lip-smacking .
the colour is back.