July 19, 2006

"It's humanly intolerable, ugly, dramatic, with its images of destruction."

"Whatever you think, for me it’s not art, it’s a provocation." So says Mayor Pierre Dumont about "The Abode of Chaos," a $5 million house project that the neighbors don't like too much.
Together with artists from several countries, [Thierry] Ehrmann, who occupies the house with his two Great Danes, Saatchi and Reuters, has painted the two-story house and the wall around it black and arrayed them with giant black-and-white portraits of noted personalities, including eight popes, as well as President Bush and Osama bin Laden.

The garden is strewn with sculptures, mainly by Mr. Ehrmann, including a crashed helicopter, a wrecked oil truck marked “Halliburton” and a model of the jagged steel remains of the World Trade Center. A reproduction of an oil platform perches on the roof, which is draped with camouflage netting.

Mr. Ehrmann, who is married and has two children, began the project in 1999 as a kind of monument to his eclectic religious beliefs, which range from Roman Catholicism to alchemy. Hence the popes, but also numerous salamanders, an animal sacred to the alchemists, cut in steel and affixed to the walls of the building.
This monstrosity is in France, in St.-Romain-au-Mont-D'Or (which means Saint Lettuce on the Mountain of Gold). We here in Wisconsin understand the mentality of the house artist. We've been to The House on the Rock.

Anyway, yesterday we were talking about the neighbors who wanted to stop the woman who got the city to agree to cut down three nut trees on her property that were messing up her swimming pool and threatening the life of her grandson. So today, let's talk about a new set of neighbors who are offended by the preferences of a property owner. Let's see if you readers maintain a principled consistency, you who chided me yesterday for taking the neighbors' side and left me exposed as a tree hugger.
... Mr. Dumont has taken Mr. Ehrmann to court, arguing that he has violated laws concerning building within the town limits. In June, the court ruled against Mr. Ehrmann, fining him and ordering him to restore the house to its original state. A final verdict by an appeals court is not expected until September.

When Marc Allardon, a neighbor, peers across from his yard at Mr. Ehrmann’s house, he sees the crashed helicopter and the oil platform, but they do not disturb him. He considers Mayor Dumont and Mr. Ehrmann equally stubborn. “I try to mediate between the mayor and Thierry,” Mr. Allardon said. “Both are born hardheads.”

Indeed, Mr. Allardon has begun parodying Mr. Ehrmann, decorating his own home and declaring it a monument to a mock religion. Atop a stone column in his front yard stands a statue of the Virgin Mary arrayed in a rainbow-colored garment. A serpent made of pipe wraps its curls around her; in its mouth a sign says, “Let’s Be Tempted.”

On the roof of Mr. Allardon’s house are signs with uplifting words like “Tolerance,” “Utopia,” “Joy,” “Hope.” Artificial flowers sprout from the chimney, which is wrapped in green paper.

Mr. Allardon said he would do more, but his wife, a historian, brakes him. “She tells me to slow down,” he said. And what does he think of “The Abode of Chaos”? “At the start it was shocking,” he said. “Now I like it.”...

[Ehrmann] speaks dismissively of his opponents. “I told them, ‘Don’t commit the irreparable,’ ” he said. “ ‘In your resistance,’ I tell them, ‘you are contributing to this work. This work is encapsulating you, absorbing you.’ ” His friend Mr. Allardon is confident. “It’s like the Eiffel Tower,” he said. “At first, people were against it. Here it will be like that. Some day the Japanese tour buses will come.”
Okay, discuss the legal question. It's in France, so you can completely make stuff up.

Me, I'd just like to see the movie of this. My favorite character is Allardon. Ehrmann's ridiculous provocation is one thing, but the contrasting responses of Dumont and Allardon are what really makes it. Let's set this movie in America, so we can cast American actors. Ideas?

22 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

And let me just say that Dumont is a great name for the officious upholder of propriety, as fans of American movies should recognize.

JohnF said...

A great movie idea! Neighbors competing to out-ugly each other! Retaliatory stuccoing! Artificial lawn ornamenting!

Where is Sen. Blutarsky now that we need him?

Wurly said...

Ehrmann - Christopher Walken
Neighbor - Robin Williams
Dumont - Fred Thompson

Ann Althouse said...

Not to mentionEarl Keese.

Doug said...

I picture Peter Fonda as the crazy artist and to make it interesting, I would have his wife be sanctimonious, which just begs that Susan Sarandon play her. Since the neighbor is such a wiseacre, my first thought is Bill Murray, but he just doesn't seem right of the role.

The Mayor seems like a hardass, which Paul Gleason from the Breakfast Club was great at playing, but he recently passed away, so I would go with Fred Thompson.

Ann Althouse said...

For some reason, I think the mayor needs to be very short. I keep picturing Danny DeVito.

For Allardon, I like Jim Carey.

For Ehrmann, I thought of Christopher Walken too.

Abraham said...

For Dumont, I much prefer Jon Voight or maybe Ronny Cox. And Walker is just too scary creepy for Ehrman, who just sounds really eccentric...how about Christopher Lloyd instead? Just the right amount of insanity and absurdity. Tom Hanks would make a good Allardon.

Abraham said...

Actually, looking at the photo in the NYT, doesn't Ehrmann look vaguely Kevin Spacey-ish?

PatCA said...

You know, this post relates to the one prior. It's all about the aesthetization of ordinary life. Marilyn Monroe, one's home, one's body--all fodder to be smothered in words and faux meaning.

I think this movie needs Roman Polanski as director. In the end, everybody will be quite mad and probably dead.

Marghlar said...

I recently visited House on the Rock for the first time. It took weeks to heal the psychic damage.

As we were leaving the parking lot, a nice group of ladies drove up and asked if this was where the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings were. All we could do was frantically shake our heads no, and point in the direction of Taliesin. We tried to make them understand the horror, but I'm not sure it could be conveyed in words. I think they just thought we were weird.

jeff said...

I love the last line in the article - it seems the highest honor the French now aspire to is... Japanese Tour busses.

J said...

Walken as Ehrmann, John Cleese as the mayor (though Thompson's a good choice too) with Estelle Harris as his wife, and Larry David as Allardon (the neighbor) with Sarandon as his wife. Christopher Guest should write it.

I was surprised by how different the photograph was from what I imagined reading the post.

P. Froward said...

I want to see Norman Mailer in all three roles, à la Peter Sellers. He would then review it, too.

You want provocative? You want art? It's all right there, baby.

Ann Althouse said...

PatCA said "You know, this post relates to the one prior. It's all about the aesthetization of ordinary life. Marilyn Monroe, one's home, one's body--all fodder to be smothered in words and faux meaning."

You say prior, I say subsequent. You're still in book world, not blogworld.

But, yeah, I'd noticed there was an emergent theme today. Thinking about vlogging about it...

Tibore said...

"Actually, looking at the photo in the NYT, doesn't Ehrmann look vaguely Kevin Spacey-ish?"

Actually, I see more of a younger Anthony Hopkins in his facial structure and pose. It's not exact by any means, it's only a vague resemblance, but that's what I see.

Elizabeth said...

Why all these American actors? Give me Jean Reno!

Also, I'd love to see Dumont's art, reflecting his "certain sensibility." I think I love him.

My favorite line is Ehrmann telling his critics that their obsession makes them part of the art. How French!

On the serious side, this is a 17th C. house! Are there no historic designations in France? If someone did this to an 17th or 18th century home in the French Quarter, hellfire would rain down on them. The restrictions keep the Quarter from becoming an ugly Disneyland version of history, but many are just inane. If you have outside steps, you can't put no-slip strips on them; you have to go with something contemporaneous with the home's origins, so crush some walnet shells into the paint. Ridiculous! Our ancestors would have loved a safe way to keep themselves from going ass over teakettle down the steps on a rainy day.

P. Froward said...

Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef.

Film it in Spain. Imagine Eastwood as the neighbor, adjusting his poncho under the blazing sun, whispering ominously: "You'd better take that helicopter down. I don't like lookin' at it."


Or Brando as the "artist", Dennis Hopper as the mayor, and Martin Sheen as the neighbor!

"His tastes are... unsound..."

Tibore said...

Thank you blogger.com, for hosing my first attempt to post this.

As long as we're playing the "who'd you cast in the movie?": I think we should break away from casting the quirky type actor and go with something really off the wall. Like, say, casting Vinnie Jones as Ehrmann. Think about it. We'd really, really be thinking outside the box by doing that, we'd give a normally action type actor a chance to play a role outside his typecasting, we'd actually stay somewhat close to the real-life subject's look and physicality (I said "somewhat close", as in gross characteristics; I know Vinnie Jones would be bigger and more hulking, but Christopher Walken or Christopher Lloyd, as much as I love their work, just wouldn't even be close in appearance), and we'd really create a challenge for the casting director to find a pair of actors who could play opposite him and not be discordant.

Yeah. That'd make for something interesting.

Jennifer said...

Nobody's going to laugh at the St. Lettuce joke? Well, I will. Ha ha ha.

Mr. Ehrmann looks exactly like the guy in the Producers opposite Matthew Brodrick - Nathan Lane? That's who should play him.

Wurly said...

The answer to the casting question was staring me in the faca all the time. The crazy-looking guy in the add at the top of Ann's blog "join my class action suit" could play any of the three lead male parts.

J said...

I thought that was Fred Thompson.

Mary said...
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