Written by Sandy Summer, a devoted cineaste and set decorator living and working in Los Angeles.
October 22, 2009
RE: Film Department
Dear Mr. Govan,
When I heard about the hiatus of the film program at LACMA, I assumed it would be for a short period. Soon as I realized it was going to be cut altogether I had a Lisa And The Devil/ Mario Bava moment, similar to Elke Sommer wandering around the derelict mason of thinking Ôthis canÕt be happening to meÕ. Later, when I ascertained you were serious, I tumbled into The Nickel Ride and like Jason Miller found my world full of tragedy and injustice. Then, just like Jimmy Stewart in ItÕs A Wonderful Life, I get saved by the community - The Hollywood Foreign Press, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV.
I donÕt believe this is just about the film departmentÕs loss of 1 million over ten years. Does any LACMA department other than the bookstore and art rental/sales make money? Why are members being asked to give extra money to save the film department? Sure weÕll pay, but why is film being singled out from the rest of contemporary art as if film exists on a second tier of relevance?
If film isnÕt going to be part of the Los Angels County Museum of Art, you might as well relocate to Riverside or Orange County. This is Los Angeles, movies define this town. ItÕs not static art that differentiates Los Angeles from every other city in the world, itÕs moving pictures, itÕs film art, itÕs Hollywood.
The rumor persists that the future programs will be geared towards more Ōartist-created filmsĶ. Do you really want to turn the Bing Theatre over exclusively to that genre? Currently the Bing Theatre is free Sunday through Thursday nights for Billy Viola, Nam June Paik, Kara Walker, et al. I feel the greatest films are made by artists who arenÕt afraid to be labeled filmmakers, people who are impassioned by the medium, those who have practiced, refined and defined the art.
Your film department curator Ian Birnie did a fine job. Elio PetriÕs films enriched my perceptions. Thanks to LACMA I saw his work not readily available on DVD. Rachael Welch was a hoot reminiscing about the filming of Myra Breckenridge, only in LA, only at LACMA (that event sold out). The film selection is not at fault for low turnout. I noticed few years back the film programÕs marketing dried up. Why?
Additionally, any time LACMA can get Sony or Fox or any studio to strike a new print with their own money for a LACMA retrospect, preservation is taking place and thatÕs what museums do best, preserve, protect and make available to the public.
Movies change our world, they wield more influence than any other art form in the last century. Movies are one of the youngest/hippest contemporary art forms available for exhibition. Even a 1920Õs silent movie is ultra modern juxtaposed to the lengthy legacy and continued exploration of painting. And yes, I do mean movies, all movies, not specific films that are demined more artful or less commercial. Why punish movies because of popular success? IsnÕt the goal of all new young artists to sell, to gain fame and legitimacy monetarily? Culturally thatÕs where weÕre at, and post modernism/capitalism will morph into whateverÕs next.
With the invention of pop art, the shoe dropped. The ÔWhat is art?Õ question no longer applies; the gatekeepers went rogue and now itÕs up to each individual to decide. Besides, where would Andy Warhol be without Marilyn or Elvis? I see no difference between Haeque YangÕs Storage Piece (2003/2009) recently on exhibit in Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artist from Korea being richly describe by the curator, in the very expensive accompanying brochure, printed in 4-color on slick card stock, as Ō this amusing act also illuminates an emotionally fraught situationÉand underscores the disconnect between the publicÕs expectations for artistic expression and her personal storage problem.Ķ and Jive Lady, played by Barbra Billingsley, known lovingly as June Clever, translating urban slang for a couple of fellow passengers in Airplane!. Writers/directors Jim AbrahamsÕ and David ZuckerÕs scene can also be described as an amusing act that illuminates an emotionally fraught situation exploring the racial divide in basic communication between black and white Americans. And they both sold!
Sure I could have written a Ôsave the film program it means a lot to meÕ letter, but IÕm concerned about LACMAÕs motives. Please continue funding the film program, hire a curator and a marketing specialist. And please give them enough money so they can print out some 2-color schedules on cheap paper. Enough to distribute to your members and give them out in other places that care about film like the Egyptian, Silent Movie Theatre, The Nuart and Hammer, etc. so people who go to films know whatÕs going on at LACMA and support the screenings.
If movies do not continue as part of LACMA, Mr. Govan, you will chip away at why Los Angels is a marvelous place to live and bring us ever closer to living Noir, where no angel gets his wings.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073451/ The Nickel Ride