I took a day off today, away from the Land of Becky, and took a trip into Toronto to see the “Russian Avant-Garde” art exhibition currently running at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). It closes in about a month so I thought I’d better get a move on or I’d miss it.
Did you know that there was a connection between the artist, Marc Chagall and “Fiddler On The Roof”? Neither did I until today. Apparently, the whole inspiration for Fiddler On The Roof, came from the work of Chagall. He included a fiddler in many of his works because the musician was such a key person in his life. They played at funerals, weddings, christenings, and every important community event. Chagall depicted them in various aspects of rural life, and occasionally on roofs.
While Norman Jewison was in London, England, preparing to film “Fiddler On The Roof”, a Chagall drawing came on the market which beautifully illustrated the inspiration for his film. Naturally, he acquired it. Mr. Jewison took the drawing of the ‘Fiddler On The Roof” to show the orchestra as they were rehearsing. The story goes, that Isaac Stern, who plays the music for the fiddler in the film (I think?) was inspired by the Chagall, and felt he was playing with him. An interesting crossover of music, art, and film, I thought, and a wonderful opening story for the exhibition.
There were several Russian artists included in the exhibition, including Kandinsky, but the big draw was Chagall. I didn’t know much about him or his work, so it was mostly new to me. He had an interesting life, lived in several countries, and appeared to have loved only one woman. In his works, he depicted his spirituality, passion, joy and sorrow. Despite living in exile for much of his life and losing his wife in 1944, Chagall managed to live a full and active life to the age of 97. The large canvases of his that they had on display were amazing. So colourful, so full of energy.
There was also a 70 minute film of Russia in 1920/21. It was mesmerizing. We think of our lives being fast paced, but so did the people back then, and to be quite honest, it was. They showed a view of a street with streetcars going up and down, cars were swerving across the road at right angles whenever there was a space, and pedestrians were playing slalom with all the vehicles. It was chaos! There were no traffic lights or stop signs. There was a man standing in the middle of an intersection holding a sign, which he turned to direct traffic. I don’t know how, because everything seemed to be zooming past him in all directions, but that was his job…all day…turning a sign in the middle of the street.
This was only a small fraction of the whole. The film goes on to show factory workers, steel foundries, and coal mines. Everybody was fast, fast, fast, the machines were buzzing around, and around, and the spaces were confined and dirty. Then all of a sudden, it stopped. The machines stopped, and the people stopped. The whistle blew, and everybody went home. Then they showed a beach, where I suppose the average worker went to relax on their day off. It was a zoo!! There wasn’t a square inch of sand left.
It reminds us perhaps, that we always think the pace of life is too fast, no matter what age we live in. Our lives are not necessarily any different, in terms of stress and pressure, than the lives of people who lived one hundred years ago. I came away with more questions and conversation than when I went in, which to me, is a good thing. I’d love to hear from others who have seen this exhibition or something similar. Anyway, I feel a song coming on; as I wave my arms in the air and shake my belly, “If I were a rich man…”