Israeli Multimedia Artist's Cinema Paradiso

Honi Hama'agel pays homage to the movies and neighborhood movie houses of his youth in a new installation in the lobby of the Habima national theater in Tel Aviv.

Wonder Woman, with Spider-Man hot on her heels, fills up the screen, but a dust-covered Bomba Tzur ignores the American superheroes and starts digging up Allenby Road in Tel Aviv, in the Israeli movie "Te'alat Blaumilch" ("The Big Dig." Bruce Lee conquers the silver screen in a series of karate moves and is immediately replaced by the cross-dressing pair played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in "Some Like It Hot." Soon we see Daryl Hannah as the one-eyed nurse Elle in "Kill Bill," whistling happily as she prepares viewers for the bloodbath to come. Next up: Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," with its elegant minimalism.

The multidisciplinary artist Honi Hame'agel devoted the past year to these scenes and others. The resulting project, "The End," takes as its subject the end of the era of the old urban movie theaters, and is a kind of farewell to cinema culture. Dozens of clips from movies made in Israel, America and other countries flash across the screen in quick succession. All the while, men and women in an ever-changing series of theatrical costumes mount and leave the stage, dancing, dangling from strips of fabric and interacting with the films screened behind them.

Honi Hame'agel is a prolific artist, with 40 solo exhibitions in his resume as well as several appearances in the Israel Festival and nearly 20 performances at the Acre Fringe Theater Festival. He founded the avant-garde Dadaist performance group Smartut ("Mop"), active since the 1980s; a nonprofit organization for Israeli performance artists and the annual Degenerate Festival, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. In addition, he established Tel Aviv's Chelouche Gallery for Contemporary Art and the shelter for contemporary art in the city's Neve Tzedek neighborhood.

While he often receives project funding from the Israeli cultural establishment, Honi Hame'agel often piques its antagonism, as he relates in our interview.

"In 2000, when I was invited to the International Installation Triennale at the Haifa Museum, I crucified a beautiful, sexy girl as a millennial sacrifice and I placed a firing squad around her because the woman is the victim of the fanatical and primitive Israeli man," Honi Hame'agel says, adding, "But they took it down after some Christians almost burned down the museum. I hightailed it out of there and nobody backed me up."

"The End," which was on display in 2012 at the Janco-Dada Museum in Ein Hod, opens Wednesday in the lobby of Tel Aviv's Habima Theater. It is scheduled to continue from there to Jaffa's Hasimta Theater within a few months. Honi Hame'agel is in the final stages of making a documentary, also called "The End," that is conceived as a farewell to the old neighborhood moviehouses that shaped Tel Aviv's cultural milieu for decades.

"I grew up in Tel Aviv's Shabazi neighborhood, and our movie theater was the legendary Eden Cinema," Honi Hame'agel relates in an interview this week in Tel Aviv. Shabazi is better known today as Neve Tzedek. "The Eden was completed in 1913, exactly 100 years ago," he points out by way of explaining the timing of his new project. "We are now at the end of the moviehouse era. All that remains are theaters the size of a postage stamp."

From Wednesday Habima theater patrons will be greeted by part of the installation that had been at the Janco Dada Museum. There will be numerous movie posters, hanging on clotheslines side-by-side, as well as a red carpet with the images of screen legends such as Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, to name a few. Visitors will be invited to step on them as they enter.

Honi Hame'agel says he used more than 100 scenes in his film collage, edited in a way that gives them new meaning.

"For example, I jump from Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Ten Commandments,' when Charlton Heston raises his hands and the Rea Sea parts before him, to the scene in 'The Big Dig' in which Tzur drills the Blaumilch Canal. In this way I create a new dialogue, a parody of the pathetic nature of those old movies, with impossible juxtapositions that present the miracle of film."

In his pastiche the shower scene from "Psycho" is paired with the famous, whistled theme from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" – in order "to create tension," Honi Hame'agel says. For Martin Scorcese's "Raging Bull," Honi Hame'agel explains, "I brought a woman boxing champion to conduct a fight onstage while a scene from the movie is showing."

The artist has an even grander project planned for next year. "I'm a movie freak and I document obsessively," he says. "For years I've been going to the beach every day with my camera, and have nearly 1,000 hours of film of Tel Aviv from the past 30 years. I want to set a Guinness World Record for the longest movie. It will be a documentary more than 200 hours long It will show Tel Aviv, how its urban scenery has changed, how the gardens are being covered bit by bit with asphalt, concrete and towers, how the beaches are changing, how people age in front of the camera and the plaster peels away . It will be the longest movie in the world."

Uri Gershuni
Daniella Missen
Daniella Missen