Friday, September 18, 2009

Blaming the Audience

The grassroots protest that embroiled a segment of our community over the past month has resulted in the continuation of a museum program that occupies a unique historic position among Los Angeles's rich repertory film offerings. This has been a wonderful, even thrilling, self-defining moment for our city and its culture.

Not surprisingly, different takes on the “problem” and how to provide a solution to the problem are surfacing.

LACMA's current Hong Sang-soo series has been a misery, cries Scott Foundas in today's L.A. Weekly. Shame on the bad audience! Only one hundred customers per show! And yet, a 2002 screening of Hong's austere, black-and-white Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors enjoyed a full house at USC’s 340-seat Eileen Norris Cinema Theater.

What was different? USC’s Korean studies department, along with the Korean Film Council, marketed their event well. (The Council is also co-sponsoring LACMA's series but you wouldn’t know it from their current website, which mentions neither the series nor Hong's appearance.) The cross-selling opportunity with LACMA’s “Your Bright Future” South Korean art show should enhance audience, not diminish it.

But in any case, Mr. Govan and his team of LACMA executives have made it clear that ticket sales will not ensure the program’s future; only a patron providing a long-term endowment will save it from extinction. Film, now officially coexisting with other art forms at LACMA, will no longer be held to a different standard than the museum’s other programs that do not have to justify their existence by foot traffic. To which we say bravo!

LACMA is a museum. It’s not a commercial entity; it’s not a movie theater. It is a non-profit culture palace staging a wide range of exhibitions, some which generate solid income, and others which are subsidized, as it were, by the revenue generators. The presence of the film program as part of the mix, and indeed the make up and composition of the film program, replicate this model. Popular programs (e.g. Hollywood classics) are there to support and build audience appetite for lesser-known, challenging programs (e.g. Hong Sang-soo). This all seems pretty obvious and should go without saying.

The truth is that LACMA has gradually starved the film program of a significant marketing budget. The series had become a secret divulged only to museum members in a quarterly newsletter. Many young film students enrolled at USC and UCLA degree programs tell us they did not even know about the screenings. There is no print calendar or program material, other than a one-pager available at the Bing the night of the screening.

Save Film at LACMA believes the museum now has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage from our (copious and free) publicity to rebuild its program; given the outpouring of interest, why wouldn’t the film series enjoy strong participation if properly promoted? One theory is that it will fail because audience members are lazy petition-signers. We disagree. Shaming the client is not a good starting point. A more winning strategy would be to embrace our community and its love of film.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'Save Film at LACMA Night' Celebrates Taiwanese Masterpiece on Sept. 26

Crisp new print of A City of Sadness, a film never released in the U.S. or on DVD, represents the importance of a vital film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 16, 2009 — Save Film at LACMA, the grassroots group dedicated to the uninterrupted presence of curated classic and international film screenings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has designated the Sept. 26 screening of a new print of Taiwanese classic A City of Sadness as "Save Film at LACMA Night."

Save Film at LACMA activists, members, Facebook fans and petition-signers are invited to attend the Saturday evening screening to celebrate LACMA’s eight-month extension of the beloved program.

“We encourage all film lovers to share this special Saturday evening together. Our movement was spawned by a love of cinema and recognition of the unique historic relationship Los Angeles holds with this great art form,” says Save Film co-founder Debra Levine.

Museum Director Michael Govan recently told the Wall Street Journal that LACMA’s ongoing presentation of film, “will be realized if patrons and the public believe it worthwhile and contribute to its realization." Save Film at LACMA wishes to demonstrate that the series enjoys a robust and passionate audience when properly marketed. The group also wishes to use this occasion to express appreciation for the museum’s talented film programmers, Ian Birnie and Bernardo Rondeau.

About A City of Sadness

A City of Sadness (1989), from director Hou Hsiao-hsien, is a landmark of the Taiwanese New Cinema depicting the impact of the country’s history on ordinary lives. Despite great popular success in Taiwan and being voted one of the five greatest Chinese films of all time by the Hong Kong Film Awards, the film has never had a U.S. distributor nor has it been released on video or DVD. It has not been available for any public screening for almost a decade.

This brand new print, created at LACMA’s initiative, was financed by the Taipei Economic Cultural Office, and will subsequently tour important art-film outlets across North America, including Yerba Buena in San Francisco, Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and cinematheques in Cleveland, Vancouver and Toronto, among other cities this fall.

The intimate epic traces a family’s story from 1945, when Japan ended its half-century occupation of the island-nation, to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government retreated from the Chinese mainland to Taipei. The film is celebrated for its long takes and complex narrative structure.

“Hou Hsiao-hsien is widely regarded as one of the most important filmmakers of our era,” notes Save Film co-founder and film critic Doug Cummings. “This print would not exist -- or be screening in Los Angeles -- if not for LACMA’s film program. It’s a rare opportunity to see this masterpiece projected on the big screen.”

Derek Hsu, senior press officer at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office adds, “We’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of a rarely shown film depicting a tragic chapter in Taiwanese history. It concerns what happened to the Taiwanese people when the Japanese occupation ended.”

About Save Film at LACMA

Save Film at LACMA is an open group; anyone can join via the Save Film at LACMA Facebook page or follow the savefilmlacma Twitter feed. News about the screening program is regularly posted on our blog,

Save Film at LACMA comprises key individuals concerned with improving the museum's film program, its marketing and financial support in order to protect a treasured program from future dismantling.

The grassroots movement enjoyed a great success when the public outcry over LACMA's July 28 suspension of the film program prompted museum officials to reconsider and extend the program through June 2010.

# # #

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lacma and the Cinéastes

After protests, a museum reprieves its film program


Call it the revenge of the film nerds, if you must. But jokes aside, the surprising triumph of several thousand mostly ordinary film lovers over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has inspired grass-roots organizations everywhere. And so it should, for it demonstrates that sometimes those who wield cultural power must listen, and heed, the concerns of regular folk.

In this version of the David versus Goliath tale, the museum's scruffy, decades-old weekend film program—long regarded within the institution as less than a stepchild, if not quite an orphan—was headed for oblivion thanks to a decision by the museum's director and CEO, Michael Govan, who arrived at Lacma (as the museum is widely known) 3½ years ago after a dozen years running New York's Dia Art Foundation.

I have strong feelings about this program because my mother often took me there on weekend nights when I was young. Then, as now, patrons would gather in the 600-seat Bing Theater, the least changed part of the museum, which opened in 1965. In the dark-paneled Bing, with its backlit swag curtain and always-uncomfortable seats, I saw films starring Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. And as my mother must have hoped, I fell hard, just as she had, for movies.

Back then, the legendary Ronald Haver—equal parts scholar and enthusiast—ran the program, and after he died in 1993 it was eventually taken over by Ian Birnie, who just lost his full-time job as the head of Lacma's film department after 13 years.

Mr. Birnie will remain at Lacma as a consultant through June 2010—and maybe even longer. He had previously been told that his services would no longer be needed after October of this year, when his series on Alain Resnais will have run its course.

What changed? An irate public, frankly.

News of Mr. Birnie's departure and his department's imminent demise were announced in a museum press release on July 28. The usual explanation for such things was offered: falling attendance, rising costs, a desire to start something bigger and better. But none of it rang true for the film program's longtime denizens, who knew that the operation was always run on a shoestring ($60,000 annually lately, excluding salaries) and that even years ago screenings only rarely sold out.

When the story broke in the Los Angeles Times the following morning, many were appalled to find a beloved fixture of their cultural lives suddenly imperiled. But a few went beyond clucking and acted, including two cinéastes who had never met. Both, not incidentally, were bloggers.

Doug Cummings, a graphic designer at Caltech, posted a short essay decrying the shuttering. Debra Levine, a dance critic, praised his cri de coeur and linked to it. And so was born—with a few intermediary steps—Save Film at Lacma, as grass roots an organization as can exist in the era of Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, both those social-networking sites proved pivotal in the campaign to reinstate Lacma's film program. So did an online petition that has attracted more than 2,700 signatures. Most of the names, including a significant number of film programmers and critics, didn't seem to faze Lacma. But some had the potential to draw the sort of attention any public institution would rather avoid, among them the Oscar-winning filmmakers Alexander Payne (No. 1,117), Martin Scorsese (No. 1,532) and Curtis Hanson (No. 1,606). Even Hugh Hefner (No. 1,829) joined the chorus.

On Aug. 10, Save Film at Lacma asked to see Mr. Govan. He consented, though a previously scheduled vacation delayed the meeting until Sept. 1. By then, Mr. Scorsese had written an open letter to him, published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 12. Pressure was mounting. Aug. 26 found the museum crowing that donations of $150,000 from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable had secured the program through the current fiscal year, ending June 30, 2010.

But the so-called popcorn summit between Mr. Govan and his Save Film foes didn't prove quite the capitulation some had anticipated. The protesters had clearly won the battle—the weekend film program was given a reprieve and Mr. Birnie will select its content—but its long-term future remains murky. Mr. Govan, according to those present at the meeting, spoke in grand terms of a revivified film program, but with a focus on art rather than cinema. And he insisted that millions be raised to keep the program sacrosanct.

He also unveiled CineClub, which the museum refers to as "a new membership opportunity." Lacma's film screenings are still open to anyone who buys a ticket, though museum membership slightly reduces the cost. CineClub asks museum members to donate a further $50 earmarked for the film program. But there is little incentive to do so short of funding a worthy cause, especially because Mr. Govan has not committed to keeping the weekend film program beyond June, even with the influx of such funds.

More vexing—to both the program's fans and outsiders—is the dichotomy of Mr. Govan crying poverty while simultaneously raising funds for grand projects like Jeff Koons's "Train," which will dangle a full-scale, 70-foot-long replica of a 1943 steam locomotive from a 160-foot-tall crane. The cost of what is being reported as the most expensive work ever commissioned by a museum? Twenty-five million dollars.

With such lavish indulgences well beyond the planning stage, according to the Art Newspaper, it's hard to imagine that Mr. Govan and the museum's trustees couldn't raise the much smaller amount necessary to run Lacma's modest film program if they really wanted to. For now, the life of that program has been extended. But there could be strife again come June. L.A.'s film fans have already risen to the occasion. Now it's Mr. Govan's turn.

—Mr. Mermelstein writes for the Journal on film and classical music.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cine-club round-up

In response to the launch of CineClub, LACMA’s new cinema-focused membership add-on, Kyle Westphal, Programming Chair Emeritus, Doc Films at University of Chicago who attended the Popcorn Summit, provides comparative data on similar film memberships around the country.

Westphal concludes that LACMA should be praised for taking the initiative to quantify public support for its film programming; if a significant number of members sign up for this premium it will certainly send a strong message to trustees, fundraisers, and friends of the museum that film has real and substantial support among its core constituents. This action represents a level of commitment beyond buying a ticket, but (well) short of endowing the program.

The lowest individual membership level LACMA currently offers (other than the $25 annual student membership) is a $90 tax-deductible 'Active' Membership. This $90 contribution already accords members a discount for film and music programs, so the $50 CineClub premium cannot offer that. Its appeal lies in 'priority ticketing,' an e-newsletter, and, most importantly, the promise that "dues will help support film events, outreach, and efforts to increase overall awareness of LACMA's film department."

Whether that's worth $50 to museum members remains to be seen.

It's not an unprecedented move, as many museums with substantial film programs offer something similar. For the sake of comparison:

Museum of Modern Art in New York offers a staggering deal: Annual memberships as low as $75 give you free admission to every film screening and MoMA presents several a day.

Museum of Fine Arts in Boston offers a stand-alone Friends of Film buy-in for $80 that gives you six free admissions, invitations to sneak previews and special Friends of Film events, and, again, an e-newsletter.

Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio--an avowed model for Govan--doesn't offer a specific way to support the film program, but a $50 membership includes four free film tickets and other perks.

Cleveland Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art offers a $35 Cinematheque membership which gives a $2 discount on all film tickets.

George Eastman House in Rochester, New York offers a number of options. Museum members (the lowest entry level is $50, $35 for students) receive a $2 discount on all film tickets, and $15 discount on the already discounted Take-10 pass. Additionally, museum members can add $200 to become part of the Dryden Film Society, which promises: "you are invited to hush-hush private screenings; you can shmooze with visiting artists, and you have privileged access to the knowledge of curatorial staff, which covers just about every facet of film history you ever wanted to know about (and more)."

Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a robust film program and a study collection. No specific film support option, but a basic $60 gives up to a 50% discount on event tickets, which presumably includes film.

Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has its own $50 membership. One of its perks is actually a $10 discount on a general Art Institute membership! Also: $5 admission to all films, $4 admission to the Film Center lecture series, and four free popcorns. Art Institute membership offers no Film Center benefits.

Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive members ($50) receive discounted film admissions. Their Cineaste Circle (minimum donation: $1,000) offers you a chance to "share your passion during Cineaste programs focused on films and filmmaking and with the actors, directors and cinematographers who regularly visit the Pacific Film Archive." You also receive two invitations to filmmaker events, recognition on the PFA donor wall and in its newsletter, and a panoply of other general benefits.

In conclusion, Westphal agrees with Michael Govan that the introduction of a CineClub membership option is a step in the right direction. CineClub will bring LACMA's membership options in line with other museums with strong film programs. CineClub memberships alone, however, cannot underwrite the film program, nor were they designed to.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Save Film at LACMA Learns LACMA’s Intentions at Popcorn Summit

At Sept. 1 meeting Museum reveals its renewed search for funding to reinstate a full film program.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Sept 2, 2009 – In an 80-minute meeting with Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, representatives of Save Film at LACMA campaign were told that significant donor support – not ticket sales – is the determining criterion for ensuring the program’s nebulous future.

Save Film at LAMCA, a grassroots group that is vigorously campaigning to preserve the museum’s 41-year-old film program, presented Mr. Govan with its petition bearing 2,700 signatures. The museum abruptly announced on July 28 that weekend screenings would end in October, but reversed its decision when a broad outpouring of local, national, and international protest compelled LACMA to find stop-gap funding. The film program now has a temporary extension through June 2010.

“The prognosis for film at LACMA is by no means guaranteed,” said Debra Levine, who heads the coalition. “We learned that Mr. Govan wishes to reconfigure film as an endowed department coexisting with other art forms at the museum. That’s wonderful. But film will only enjoy a long-term presence at the museum’s Bing Theater if the director is able to secure significant, high-profile donations or patronage. Without such a rescue package from an external source, there will be no film program in one year. Mr. Govan unambiguously warned us of this possibility.”

In his meeting with the activist group, Mr. Govan thanked Save Film at LACMA for raising the alarm about the endangered film program, and said that the headline-grabbing issue – the story has received national media attention – has opened doors to potential corporate and philanthropic supporters. Soon after the meeting he specified to the Los Angeles Times that $5 million to $10 million in donations will be required.

The “popcorn summit” between Mr. Govan and Save Film at LACMA included several experts in repertory film programming, including Shannon Kelley of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Kyle Westphal, formerly of the film society Doc Films; Margot Gerber, director of publicity and promotions at the American Cinematheque; repertory film executive Jared Sapolin; and Michael Schlesinger, a veteran executive of classic film distribution.

Also following the meeting, LACMA launched CineClub, a $50 add-on to museum membership. But it was clear from the financial figures raised in the meeting that such low-level support will not turn the tide. “It was presented to us as a done deal, with the press release written and ready to go out,” noted Schlesinger.

“The fact that LACMA’s CineClub press release implies audience members are not loyal enough unless they ‘follow the examples set by corporate donors’ is another development that leads us to question LACMA’s interest in addressing the concerns of the community,” added Westphal.

The CineClub plan also bears a marked contrast to one of the nation’s most successful museum film programs -- that of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in which museum members are automatically given free admission to daily film screenings.

Programming content for the re-envisioned film program is still undetermined, although Mr. Govan affirmed Hollywood history should figure in the repertory of a Los Angeles institution. He expressed an eagerness to introduce cutting edge video and digital art into the mix as well. He alluded to outdoor screenings in the park adjacent to the County Museum and he cited the integrated gallery screenings of the “Dali: Painting & Film” exhibition as a successful model.

“The museum’s pursuit of a grand vision for film funded by major donors marginalizes the average Angeleno’s stake in the cherished and longstanding program,” said Save Film at LACMA co-founder Doug Cummings. “The CineClub plan is an expensive option for common moviegoers who will prove reluctant to donate funds to a program that is still largely undefined.”

The future of Ian Birnie, LACMA’s internationally acclaimed film programmer, remains in the hands of museum leaders. Birnie lost his full-time position when the program was initially canceled, but was later reengaged on a contract basis.

“It is important to maintain a sense of urgency,” said Levine. “Because of the outcry from impassioned Angelenos, the museum has, for the moment, made film a fundraising priority. Mr. Govan has a strong track record as a fundraiser, so we hope he seizes this opportunity to secure the existing program and then grow it from there.”

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

Monday, August 31, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

In the final chapter of our five-part tribute to Ian Birnie's program over the past 13 years, we would like to highlight some of the many Preview screenings at the Bing Theater.

• Match Point (In person: Woody Allen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Lisa Guerrero, and Rachel Roberts)

Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog in person)

• Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney in person)

• Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bennett Miller in person)

• Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh in person)

• The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky in person)

• Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell in person)

• Tokyo Sonata (Kyoshi Kurosawa in person)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Movie Buffs vs. Museum in a Dispute Over Cuts

People across the country are reading about our campaign in today's New York Times. Writer Larry Rohter notes that although LACMA reversed its decision to end its weekend film program, questions remain regarding its specific content and long-term future.

"On Wednesday the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV announced combined donations of $150,000, enough to keep the program running through next June in the city that is the financial and creative center of the world film industry. Problem solved and crisis averted? Not exactly."

Read the full article here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Another high point of Ian Birnie's programming has been the many exhibition-related film series he has provided over the years (part four of five):

One of our favorites was the six-week 2007 film series, "Through the Looking Glass (and Down the Rabbit Hole...)" that coincided with LACMA's popular Magritte exhibition.

It featured a very diverse roster of films: Hollywood classics The Wizard of Oz and Vertigo, edgy thrillers Point Blank and Rosemary's Baby, hard-to-see foreign masterpieces Woman in the Dunes and Celine and Julie Go Boating, and recent gems Eyes Wide Shut and Mulholland Drive, among many others, and helped us appreciate the ways in which these films compared and contrasted to the works of Magritte. The film notes pulled us into the enigmatic spaces of these movies:

"For filmmakers like David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, and Jacques Rivette, the 'looking glass' is the cinema itself, and the silver screen is the mirror through which we, the audience, pass."

The series was only one exhibition-related film program of many, including:

• "Torn Curtain: The Two Germanys on Film" (four weeks with LACMA's "The Art of Two Germanys")

• “French Surrealist Film and the American Avant-garde Cinema” (five weeks with "Dali and Film")

• "Freud in Hollywood" (two weeks with "Dali and Film")

• “Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst and Hollywood" (two weeks with "Hearst as Collector")

• “A Film Guide to the America of Diane Arbus” (four weeks with "Diane Arbus")

• "Cigarettes & Alcohol: Eight Films by Hong Sang-soo" (two weeks with "Your Bright Future")

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Special screenings and one-night events were memorable gems of Ian Birnie's Film Program at LACMA (part three of five):

• Rebel Without a Cause (45th anniversary cast reunion)

• The Chelsea Girls (two-screen presentation)

• The Decalogue (Kieslowski's complete series)

• US Postal Service Memorial Stamp (release in conjunction with Charles Chaplin and Bette Davis retrospectives)

• Abel Gance’s Napoleon

• A Tribute to Faye Kanin (writer/Academy president)

• Laszlo and Vilmos (American Society of Cinematographers night with Peter Fonda, Vilmos Zsigmond, Richard Donner and Haskell Wexler)

• An Evening with Ellen Burstyn

• A Valley of the Dolls Weekend (with Barbara Parkins)

• The Manchurian Candidate (with Angela Lansbury and John Frankenheimer)

• Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic ( with a live performance using gels and slides, presented in association with the Getty Museum)

• French Crime Wave (guest Alain Corneau, director)

• Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

• Silent Light (sole Los Angeles screening)

• Being Jewish in France (Los Angeles premiere)

• Susan Sontag Selects 1 & 2: Eight Japanese Classics

• Satantango (renowned 8-hour film by Bela Tarr, sole Los Angeles screening)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grassroots Protest Forces LACMA to Reverse Decision to Cut Film Program

'Popcorn Summit' between Save Film at LACMA and museum director slated for Tuesday, Sept. 1 will address screening program's future

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Aug. 26, 2009 – The month-long grassroots campaign to save a beloved 41-year-old film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) scored a major victory Wednesday, when the museum announced it would continue the program through at least June 2010.

The swift and fierce reaction from film lovers in Los Angeles and around the world swayed LACMA to reverse its July 29 decision to suspend the repertory and foreign film program. Save Film at LACMA, which spearheaded the effort, gathered more than 2,600 signatures to an online petition, garnered "fan" support from more than 3,500 people on Facebook, and urged supporters to convey their concerns directly to the museum. Filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Bertrand Tavernier took up the cause, as did nationally known film critics.

Save Film at LACMA is still meeting with museum director Michael Govan on Tues., Sept. 1, to discuss the details of the film program going forward. The coalition has assembled a panel representing film programming, criticism, scholarship, repertory and distribution talent to meet with Mr. Govan.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Debra Levine, founding member of the grassroots coalition. “Our aim was to reverse LACMA’s decision that hurt our community. We commend Michael Govan on his ability to listen well. We look forward to working with him to ensure that film is permanently showcased as high art at the premiere museum in Los Angeles, the birthplace of the film industry.” Levine is a marketing consultant and arts journalist.

On Wednesday, LACMA announced it had secured $150,000 in the form of grants from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV to fund programming through June. The donors also are providing promotional support for the film series. LACMA also stated its intention to create a new film department in the museum's curatorial sphere and to see more philanthropic support for film.

"It's exciting news," said co-founder Doug Cummings, editor of "But we still have unanswered questions, such as how many screenings will occur, and whether or not repertory and foreign film classics will be the focus. We also want clarification on the future role of Ian Birnie, our highly respected programmer.”

Levine and Cummings will be among those addressing such concerns in the Tuesday meeting at LACMA. Other participants include Brent Simon, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; Margot Gerber, director of publicity and promotions at the American Cinematheque; Shannon Kelley, head of programming for the UCLA Film & Television Archive; three-time Oscar winning costume designer James Acheson; film critic Lael Loewenstein; repertory film executive Jared Sapolin; Michael Schlesinger, a veteran executive of classic film distribution; and Kyle Westphal, the programming chair emeritus for the film society Doc Films.

About Save Film At LACMA
Save Film at LACMA is an open group and anyone can join via Facebook at “Save Film at LACMA” or at: Interested parties can also get updates via Twitter at savefilmlacma. Save Film at LACMA is composed of key individuals volunteering to participate in the film program's improvement and contribute to fund-raising and marketing/publicity efforts to increase the audience size and protect a treasured program from future dismantling.

Media Contact:
Robin Rauzi, 323-219-1230

LACMA's Exciting Announcement

"The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced today gifts of $75,000 each from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable, in partnership with Ovation TV, to extend continuous film programming through next summer. In addition, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV have made an in-kind contribution of over $1.5 million to market the film program across their multiple media platforms, both locally and nationally."

More from the Los Angeles Times, here.

What We Must Reinstate

A partial list of Ian Birnie's centennial or career retrospective screenings (part two of five):

• Ingmar Bergman

• Humphrey Bogart

• Charles Boyer

• Robert Bresson

• Lee Chang-dong

• Jean Cocteau

• George Cukor

• Bette Davis

• Brian De Palma

• Arnaud Desplechin

• Rainer Werner Fassbinder

• Cary Grant

• Katharine Hepburn

• Bob Hope

• Hou Hsiao-hsien

• Abbas Kiarostami

• Gregory La Cava

• Fritz Lang

• Carole Lombard

• Anna Magnani

• James Mason

• Joel McCrae

• Kenji Mizoguchi

• F. W. Murnau

• Nagisa Oshima

• Yasujiro Ozu

• Sergei Paradjanov

• Elio Petri

• Richard Quine

• Eric Rohmer

• Robert Siodmak

• Preston Sturges

• Erich von Stroheim

• Edward Yang

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What We Must Reinstate

Over the past 13 years, film programmer Ian Birnie has staged memorable in-person retrospectives and tributes to our great artists of the cinema. These were extraordinary moments with living legends of our art form at LACMA. (first of a series of five posts)

Michelangelo Antonioni

Jules Dassin

Olivia DeHavilland

Elmer Bernstein

• Robert Altman

• Blake Edwards

• David Lynch (with Dennis Hopper)

• Satyajit Ray (Shamila Tagore in person)

• Jeanne Moreau

• Walter Mirisch (with Sidney Poitier, Julie Andrews, and Blake Edwards)

• Gus Van Sant

•  Norman Jewison (with Cher, Eva Marie Saint, Faye Dunaway, Haskell Wexler, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman)

Monday, August 24, 2009

LACMA and the Crisis of Repertory Cinema Advocacy

Programming Chair Emeritus of Doc Films K. A. Westphal, at motion within motion, has written the most comprehensive and technically informed article to date regarding the LACMA film crisis and its relation to larger ongoing issues of repertory cinema in this country.

"The future of the film program at LACMA is not at the mercy of individual donors and their heroic deeds. The dismantling of the film program, which requires a truly miniscule portion of the Museum’s operating budget, is not an unfortunate accident but instead an ideological prerogative. . . . Literally every venue capable of screening archival prints with professional standards is essential to the whole delicate infrastructure of repertory cinema. "

Take the time to read the article in its entirety, here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bogdanovich lends us his voice

Longtime film historian, director, writer, actor, producer, and critic Peter Bogdanovich writes Save Film at LACMA:

"Definitely add my name to the list of protesters! This is certainly not the time for the Museum to flake out, when American film culture is at such a low ebb. Now is the time for cultural institutions to step up and be counted, not run away. I vehemently protest."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

LAFCA joins the chorus

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Declare their Support of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Film Program

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association deplores the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s decision to suspend its long-standing and invaluable repertory screening program and to remove its gifted program director, Ian Birnie, from its full-time staff. For more than 40 years, this series has been essential to the interests of Los Angeles’ diverse filmgoing and filmmaking communities, providing a unique, centrally located resource for the study and appreciation of world and Hollywood cinema through the decades. In the international movie capital, it is brutally ironic that this indispensable program should be suspended at a time when the serious study of films and filmmaking—particularly on large screens, in 35mm prints—is threatened everywhere.

We are heartened by the sustained public outcry that has greeted this news, and encourage everyone who cares about film to redouble their efforts to urge LACMA to rescind its dubious decision.

Cinema is an art no less important and meaningful to the public than painting, sculpture and the other arts that the museum holds and displays, and its great artists are no less worthy of our respect and admiration than those working in more traditional media. We also observe that the cost of maintaining LACMA’s film program is quite modest and we agree, as well, with museum director Michael Govan’s stated desire to expand both the program and its funding. LAFCA will do everything in its power to support that effort.

To that end, we urge the formation of a public committee, composed of “Friends of Film at LACMA,” to work with the museum to enhance the funding and the community outreach of LACMA’s film programming, with the aim of establishing an ever more vibrant, vital resource that will benefit both the museum and its public.

As both an art form and an industry, film has been of incalculable value to the economic development of the City of Los Angeles, and to the growth of its culture. In that context, LACMA’s recent decision is not only puzzling, but tragic in its larger implications. It demands close, passionate, urgent and untiring reconsideration.

- The Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Robert Abele
David Ansen
Charles Champlin
Justin Chang
Peter Debruge
Alonso Duralde
David Ehrenstein
Stephen Farber
F.X. Feeney
Scott Foundas
Todd Gilchrist
Mike Goodridge
James Greenberg
Ray Greene
Tim Grierson
Kirk Honeycutt
Mark Keizer
Len Klady
Andy Klein
Robert Koehler
Sheri Linden
Christy Lemire
Emanuel Levy
Lael Loewenstein
Wade Major
Leonard Maltin
Willard Manus
Todd McCarthy
Myron Meisel
Joe Morgenstern
Amy Nicholson
Jean Oppenheimer
H. J. Park
John Powers

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TIME: "It's the museums that got small."

"It would also be a kind of public service to the rest of us for LACMA to keep classic films in the cultural conversation of the city that produces the movies the rest of us have to see," writes Richard Lacayo, "to remind film makers there that it's not all about Transformers and G.I. Joe. Can it really be so hard for a museum with a budget of $74 million last year to cover a loss that averages out to $100,000 a year?"

Lacayo, the art and architecture critic for TIME, has added his voice to the rising local, national, and international chorus calling for LACMA to reverse its decision to cut its weekend film program. "[Y]ou can't fully understand modern art without a working knowledge of the films that were being made at the same time," he asserts, encouraging his readers to sign our petition. You can read his article in full, here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Deadline Hollywood

Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily, which casts an eagle eye on the "business, politics and culture of the infotainment industry," posts an update to our efforts--here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The silence is deafening...

Save Film at LACMA has secured a date to meet with Michael Govan—Sept. 1. This so-called "popcorn summit," has as its stated goals to convey the critical importance of the LACMA film program for our community; help find ways to reinstate and enhance the museum's commitment to film; and present Michael Govan with our petition. The meeting location is still unconfirmed. Present at the meeting will be film scholars, movie critics, film lovers and others deeply affected by the museum's decision. We are pleased Mr. Govan committed to this meeting.

At the same time, we are puzzled by LACMA's lack of response to Martin Scorsese's passionate letter published in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section's front page (Aug. 13). This letter was a moving plea to LACMA leadership to come to its senses and recognize the error of cancelling the film program. Scorsese also asked the museum to declare its commitment to film as an art form, calling LACMA's action a "serious rebuke to film within the context of the art world."

We wonder about the meaning of LACMA's silence. Given the outpouring of dismay over the cancellation, LACMA owes it to our community to engage in open, honest, civic dialogue.
So far we've seen form letters and boilerplates filled with double-speak from LACMA—even on their so-called Discussion Forum. Damage control is not enough. We demand to know what the museum's intentions are for the film program.

While we look forward to hearing, in our meeting, Michael Govan's thoughts on the subject, the museum—a public institution—owes Los Angeles, and now, the world, a public response. LACMA needs to communicate to its constituents its answer to Scorsese's letter and a recognition of the many voices of dissent.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Movie lovers unite

Commentary in the blogosphere is growing in leaps and bounds this week, particularly in the wake of Martin Scorsese's passionate and well-researched open letter (see our previous post), published online and in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times.

• Anne Thompson at indieWIRE writes: "Govan is talking about focusing on new directors and experimental cinema, which misses the point of building a large following for serious classic programming. The point is, this kind of program can only work with support from above and a clear direction."

(Note the comment by Chop Shop's acclaimed filmmaker Ramin Bahrani that follows her piece.)

• The MSN Movies blog asserts, "This decision, one that should be reversed, is sad, bad and needs help."

• The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City extends a hand in solidarity: "We here at the filmlinc blog were saddened to see our left coast brethren lose such a precious venue through which to experience cinematic rarities. . . . film lovers coast to coast are up in arms."

• Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed feels "a twang of envy" at our success so far as he recalls LACMA's defunct Monday Evening Concerts: "Saving the film program at LACMA without significant institutional support won’t be enough. LACMA has to first care as much about once more bringing together a broad arts community as it does about getting its hands on Eli Broad's bank account."

• David Hudson at The Auteurs Daily encourages readers to sign our petition, then notes: "Today marks Alfred Hitchcock's 110th birthday and what better way to celebrate than to revisit a tribute from, yes, Martin Scorsese, in which he 'restores' a film that was never made: The Key to Reserva."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Open Letter to Michael Govan and LACMA

Photo Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press

From the Los Angeles Times:

I am deeply disturbed by the recent decision to suspend the majority of film screenings at LACMA. For those of us who love cinema and believe in its value as an art form, this news hits hard.

We all know that the film industry, like many other institutions and industries, has to be radically rebuilt for the future. This is now apparent to everyone. But in the midst of all this change, the value and power of cinema’s past will only increase, and the need to show films as they were intended to be shown will become that much more pressing. So I find it profoundly disheartening to know that a vital outlet for the exhibition of what was once known as “repertory cinema” has been cut off in L.A. of all places, the center of film production and the land of the movie-making itself.

My personal connection to LACMA stretches back almost 40 years to when I lived in L.A. during the '70s and regularly attended their vibrant film series, programmed by the legendary Ron Haver. It was actually at LACMA, during a 20th Century Fox retrospective, that I first became aware of the issues of color film fading and the urgent need for film preservation. Ian Birnie, a programmer of immaculate taste and knowledge, has continued in the tradition of Ron Haver, who was so well-versed in cinema past and present. I do not understand why this approach to programming needs to be re-thought. I am puzzled by the notion of pegging future film programming to “artist-created films,” as stated in the letter announcing this shift – to do this would be tantamount to downgrading the worth of cinema. Aren’t the best films made by artists in the first place?

Without places like LACMA and other museums, archives, and festivals where people can still see a wide variety of films projected on screen with an audience, what do we lose? We lose what makes the movies so powerful and such a pervasive cultural influence. If this is not valued in Hollywood, what does that say about the future of the art form? Aren’t museums serving a cultural purpose beyond appealing to the largest possible audience? I know that my life and work have been enriched by places like LACMA and MoMA whose public screening programs enabled me to see films that would never have appeared at my local movie theater, and that lose a considerable amount of their power and beauty on smaller screens.

I believe that LACMA is taking an unfortunate course of action. I support the petition that is still circulating, with well over a thousand names at this point, many of them prominent. It comes as no surprise to me that the public is rallying. People from all over the world are speaking out, because they see this action – correctly, I think – as a serious rebuke to film within the context of the art world. The film department is often held at arms’ length at LACMA and other institutions, separate from the fine arts, and this simply should not be. Film departments should be accorded the same respect, and the same amount of financial leeway, as any other department of fine arts. To do otherwise is a disservice to cinema, and to the public as well.

I hope that LACMA will reverse this unfortunate decision.

--Martin Scorsese
New York, N.Y.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Govan agrees to meet this week

After a little over a week of running a highly visible internet campaign to convince LACMA's Michael Govan to reverse his unpopular decision to cancel a respected, long-running film program, Save Film at LACMA issued Mr. Govan an invitation to a "popcorn summit." The summit will include a core group of the broader Save Film at LACMA coalition. The Los Angeles Times reports on the progress here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dylan channeled in video short

The Los Angeles Times writes today that it "doesn't usually like to single out promotional videos from special interest groups, but over the weekend we received one from Save Film at LACMA that grabbed our attention for its creativity."

We're getting lots of good feedback from people who have watched the video, and we're especially grateful to our volunteer production team. Be sure to forward the video to your friends!

A protest video

Written by Ken Windrum
Filmed and edited by Tony Peck
Recorded by Sam Langford

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Govan says donors step forward

Very exciting news from the Los Angeles Times this morning:

"In the wake of the chorus of disapproval that greeted last week's announcement that he was red-lighting the 40-year-old weekend film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, museum Director Michael Govan has some good news: Potential donors have stepped up, interested in helping underwrite the series."

Full story here.

Suffice it to say, we are thrilled at the possibility that donors may step forward to save the film program at LACMA. However, until until we're assured that the film program is staying in place, we'll continue to collect signatures (currently numbering 1,250 supporters!) and build our protest on Facebook in full force.

Friday, August 7, 2009

More voices . . .

• Los Angeles critic Tim Grierson laments a beautiful list of loss: "Sitting a row in front of Chris Parnell a few weeks later for Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light. The film's flaws aside, this is the sort of movie whose power simply cannot be duplicated on DVD."

• Edward Goldman on KCRW's Art Talk: "It's disingenuous for the museum to blame the audience for the demise of its film program; it feels as if LACMA has lost its passion and conviction for the art form which is the core identity of this city."

• And from the archives, two portraits of Ian Birnie, ten years apart:

LA Weekly, 1999: "It's a tribute to Birnie's sense of adventure that LACMA's film offerings roam the cultural map, from the high end of popular culture (Charlie Chaplin, Jerome Kern, the films of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) and the bracingly low (John Waters, Roger Corman), to art house series such as the recent sold-out Robert Bresson retrospective and Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Decalogue. 'In the three years since Ian took over,' says the American Cinematheque's uber-programmer, Dennis Bartok, 'he's built on the museum's traditional strength, which was classic Hollywood films, but he's also expanded to do things like the Valley of the Dolls series. Between him and us and the smaller outfits that program specialist film festivals, there's more great exhibition in L.A. than anywhere in the country, including New York.'"

Artillery Magazine, 2009: "For Birnie, it's not about good or bad, it's about the different trips each film takes you on. It's about the directors, a lot of whom he entices to LA. Or it might be about the film career of a single actor. . . . Birnie has turned the Bing Theater at LACMA into a temple where we filmgoers can worship in the dark over and over while bemoaning the onslaught of summer blockbusters. He has also turned the Bing into a library where, if you are patient enough, you will see something you never saw before or thought you would never see again. But most of all, the Bing can be proud it is part of LACMA because, thanks to Birnie, its movies belong in a museum."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

LACMA getting an earful about axed film program

Film critic David Ng, writing for the Los Angeles Times, caught up with the work of Save Film @ LACMA this evening:

"Who knows the wrath of a film community scorned? The Los Angeles County Museum of Art does.

In a little more than a week, the controversy over LACMA's decision to ax its 40-year-old film program has grown into a full-blown online debate, with the museum starting its own electronic forum Tuesday in response to an aggressive Facebook campaign and online petition seeking to restore the much-loved but debt-ridden program."

Full story here. We're delighted that the conversation is building day by day.

The Times also posted Kenneth Turan's Critic's Pick--LACMA's upcoming roster:

"With the film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art heading into the sunset, this weekend and the next provide a chance to do three good things at once: (1) experience the soon-to-be-empty Leo S. Bing Theater, one of this city's great movie venues, (2) see some wonderful films -- "Being Jewish in France," a compelling documentary, from Friday to Sunday, and "Leon Morin, Priest," a rare Jean-Pierre Melville classic on Aug. 14-15 -- that would not be in Los Angeles at all if it weren't for LACMA, and, finally, (3) show support for a fine program that is falling victim to painfully shortsighted and craven behavior. Thus pass the glories of the world."

“Toward the dictatorship of ignorance …”

French filmmaker (and president of Institute Lumiere) Bertrand Tavernier has signed Save Film @ LACMA's petition. His comments:

"LACMA is (I cannot write was) one of the most important, creative institutions. Its film programming was always exciting, challenging, different. LACMA was one of the only places where you could have a program about the French films made during the Nazi Occupation, a great [opportunity] to speak of the Resistance and the selling out.

You could see great American masterpieces and underrated gems. For me, LACMA was the pride, the honour of Los Angeles. It was an Oasis remembering us that the past is not dead. It is not even past. To cancel the film program is a very important sign and symbol. An act of allegiance, submissiveness towards the dictatorship of the present, towards the dictatorship of ignorance."

You can read more about this wonderful filmmaker here at Wikipedia.

Today, Aug. 5th, Save Film @ LACMA asks you to donate your Facebook status to support film in Los Angeles. It's easy, just insert the text below and include a link to the petition to restore the cinema program at LACMA. We appreciate your support.

Proposed text:

Did you hear? LACMA is terminating its 40-year old film program. That's right! In L.A., home of Hollywood, the city's major museum will no longer have a regular film screening program. Show your support to keep film alive in L.A. -- please sign this petition -- we are growing strong.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Associated Press has noticed the work of Save Film @ LACMA and published a story that is now circulating in many newspapers:

"A group of film enthusiasts posted a petition online Sunday trying to get the museum to reverse its decision. By Tuesday, 379 signatures had been collected, said Kathleen Dunleavy, a spokeswoman for Save Film at LACMA.

"That a museum as prominent as LACMA would cancel its popular film program and turn away its loyal constituency is sad. That it would treat cinema so shabbily is unthinkable," film critic and author Leonard Maltin said in a statement of support released by Dunleavy."

Full story here. As far as we're concerned, Michael Govan continues to make contradictory statements: "Film is special," he muses. "We need to make it clear it is a big deal and we won't live without film." But then he says, "It's just a matter of how long it takes to build something significant." (Hundreds of our petition signers seem to think the 40-year-old LACMA Film Program is pretty significant as it stands.)

One statistic of note: according to Govan, the average Friday or Saturday night crowd for the past 10 years has been about 250 people! (Keep in mind this is with very little advertising.) That's a very respectable number for any art house in town; certainly a major art museum should be able to sustain a program with such a loyal following.

Group Forms to Save Film Program at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Media Contact: Kathleen Dunleavy

Powered by Internet social networking site, group of diverse stakeholders band together to demand rescue of LACMA film program

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Aug. 4, 2009 – To combat the July 28 decision by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to suspend its 40-year old film program, a group of concerned citizens, museum members and passionate film lovers--responding with blazing speed--has formed to help save film in Hollywood’s backyard. This group, known simply as Save Film at LACMA, boasts over 600 members including prominent movie critics, university professors, film-makers, film programmers and other art, culture and industry leaders. The online petition ( gathered over 250 signatures since it was posted on Aug. 2.

"That a museum as prominent as LACMA would cancel its popular film program and turn away its loyal constituency is sad. That it would treat cinema so shabbily is unthinkable. I hope the powers-that-be will reconsider their decision,” said Leonard Maltin, prominent film critic, author and historian.

“It should not be assumed that Los Angeles is only concerned with big-budget Hollywood cinema. Los Angeles has a long history of fostering and hosting various forms of alternative cinema,” said Berenice Reynaud, Co-Curator, Film at REDCAT and Faculty, California Institute of the Arts School of Film/Video. “LACMA’s film program created a dialogue about classic and international cinema and I hope the LACMA leadership will rethink its demise.”

About Save Film At LACMA

The mission of Save Film at LACMA is to prevent the elimination of the film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The grass-roots group wants LACMA Director Michael Govan to reconsider his decision to terminate the current film screening series and to restore the film program under the leadership of popular long-time programmer, Ian Birnie. Save Film at LACMA is an open group and anyone can join via Facebook at “Save Film at LACMA” or at: Interested parties can also get updates via Twitter at savefilmlacma. Save Film at LACMA is composed of key individuals volunteering to participate in the film program's improvement and contribute to fund-raising and marketing/publicity efforts to increase the audience size and protect a treasured program from future dismantling.


Download Save Film @ LACMA Flyer

Feel free to download, print, and distribute this high-resolution JPG of Save Film @ LACMA's promotional flyer. (Click for larger size.)

Community protests are growing

Articles and podcasts are appearing daily, registering the dismay so many Angelenos are feeling regarding LACMA's decision:

• FilmWeek's host, KPCC's Larry Mantle, shockingly advocates staying home and watching DVDs, but film critics Lael Loewenstein and Claudia Puig communicate the severity of the loss for our city (about 2/3 of the way into the program).

• Kenneth Turan discusses his excellent Los Angeles Times op-ed on KUSC's Arts Alive podcast (about 16 minutes into the program).

• Tales of a Cinesthete decries "A New Low for LACMA."

• Variety's Todd McCarthy joins the chorus: "A generation ago, Los Angeles had an abundance of revival houses and institutions devoted to showing older, foreign and specialized fare: the Nuart, Fox Venice, Sherman, New Beverly, Vagabond, UCLA Film Archives, frequently USC, the Tiffany on the Strip and others that came and went. . . . But LACMA has always had the most central location and a certain cachet as a high art venue that set it apart."

• Variety's Anne Thompson notes: "LACMA said the program lost $1 million over the last ten years and had failed to build an audience. Sorry, I thought the room was usually packed when I attended. I loved the programming, but it was arcane and eclectic, as a museum's should be, not designed to 'build an audience.'"

• asserts: "I’m still incensed by LACMA’s decision to maim its film department under what seem like increasingly flimsy reasonings."

• Kino Slang's esteemed Andy Rector vents at Girish Shambu's discussion site:

Did anyone do the basic math on that? LACMA Film Program = 1 million dollar "loss" over a 10 year period. Nix the worthless 450 million dollar Renzo Piano re-design and that would pay for 4,500 years of the LACMA Film Program. No, Govan wants the ice age NOW. I put loss in quotes because that's how the discovery of cinema (not artfilm) by hundreds of thousands of people is being described. I can't tell you how devastated and outraged I am about this. LACMA was as close as I and many others had to a Cinematheque in Los Angeles - steady, reliable, sincere, mixing classical and modern cinema, without elitism, without superfluous commentary, without the disgusting ceremonies of spectacular contemporary art and museum practice, or the groupie-ism of cult houses. Incidentally, it was a place where you might meet a bunch of teenagers (urged, maybe even required, to attend a film there by their teachers, but still) from Ingelwood who really liked WOMAN IN THE WINDOW and discussed it. . . .

Monday, August 3, 2009

Venues for Film Appreciation Diminish in Los Angeles

By Ken Windrum
Adjunct Professor, Los Angeles Pierce College

The decision by Michael Govan of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to close down the almost 40 year old film program is an ominous sign for those who wish to appreciate cinema as an art form under the proper conditions.

Theatrical screening may be only the tip of the iceberg profit-wise in these days of synergy and convergence culture but remains the only way to fully experience films. Sadly, opportunities to see movies, with the exception of current releases, on the big screen with an audience are diminishing. Ironically, the forces of DVD and cable which provide an inferior viewing experience, although they may have an advantage acoustically, are creating this circumstance. A for-profit theater owner closing down as a result of this
competition is sad and understandable. For a museum, ostensibly dedicated to art, the hegemony of DVD and cable should be all the more reason to prize and nurture the screening of film in its 8, 16, 35 and 70mm formats.

At the Bing Theatre at LACMA one can see good prints on a large screen with good sound and a generally quiet and focused (i.e. not concurrently text-messaging) audience. The emotional charge of this experience is noticeable when seeing a film theatrically one had only experienced before on TV or video/DVD. The movie seems to come alive in scope, power, humor and almost every other variable.

Other venues around Los Angeles may provide this service but none of them is sponsored by an art museum. LACMA is also unique in scheduling a far more catholic, broadly considered programming schedule which highlights films old and new, domestic and international, canonized and unfamiliar. Only UCLA's Film and Television Archive, currently hobbled in a cramped, uncomfortable space with a smaller screen than their old on-campus venue, offers this broad range. UCLA's programming often tilts towards more outre and obscure choices than LACMA which, albeit extremely valuable for specialists and hardcore cinephiles, may not help provide viewers with access to as many canonical and classic film screenings as LACMA. This specialist tendency of UCLA is certainly amplified by the genre and camp-obsessed programming at American Cinematheque at the Egyptian (less so at their Aero venue) and Cinefamily.

Only the homely, miraculous New Beverly Cinema continues to soldier on providing theatrical viewing of the basic repertory. The point is that all these theatres are valuable and each plays a part in providing Los Angeles with a halfway decent repertory scene. LACMA plays the part of backbone, via focusing on canonical titles, and yet provides the most consistently varied programming across the spectrum of film practice.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lolita at LACMA

Last night, we went to LACMA and handed out information sheets -- with names, e-mail addresses, etc. (see below). Everyone was very supportive of the effort to keep films at LACMA--except the security guards who told us that we had to leave "private" property and stand on the sidewalk.

Here is a good article:

And, here are some handy names/e-mails to write to:

LACMA Board of Directors

Michael Govan, Director

Melody Kanschat, President

Andrew Gordon, Chair

William Howard Ahmanson, Vice Chair

Lynda Resnick, Vice Chair

Terry Semelm, Vice Chair

Ann Rowland, CFO

LA County Supervisors

Mark Ridley Thomas, 2nd District
(LACMA’s in his district)

Gloria Molina, 1st District

Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District

Don Knabe, 4th District

Michael Antonovich, 5th District

CONSIDERING membership or renewal???

Let them know that you will NOT renew and will CANCEL your membership if the film program dies.

Alvaro Vasquez
Assoc. VP, Membership

Saturday, August 1, 2009

LACMA's Cruelest Cut

Hi Everyone--Today in the Los Angeles Times, this Op-Ed appeared. If you have an opinion on LACMA's decision to cut film...please write to the LA Times editor!

What does shutting down its film series say about L.A.'s premiere art museum?

By Richard Schickel
August 1, 2009

I was at LACMA three weeks ago and joined about a dozen people wandering grimly through an ugly, off-putting exhibition of contemporary Korean art. I understand the rationale for the show; Koreans are a significant minority in our community and are entitled to attention from our premiere art museum.

After that, I joined about 300 others for a screening in the Bing Auditorium of "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman." As art, it was in no way superior to the Korean daubs, except that this weirdly pretentious 1950 movie is also rarely seen. And it was part of a series of films starring James Mason, now a half-forgotten actor but, as the series proves, a powerful and skillful one who deserves our awed attention.

As important, the film, however silly it was, had much to teach us about the fantasy life of the American 1950s. Louche idlers on the Spanish Riviera, a cruel and decadent bullfighter, a guy trying to set a land speed record in a wonky-looking sports car and Ava Gardner lusting after the mythically wandering seafarer of the title. I mean, really, can you ask for anything more?

And that's my point. It is the duty of museums to place before us the accumulated works of the ages, movies definitely included -- old and new; obscure and well known; good, bad and absurd -- in order to keep us in touch with the rich and ever-informative history of an ever-evolving, yes, I'll say it, art form.

Which is why the news that the L.A. County Museum of Art's director, Michael Govan, has decided to close down the museum's expertly managed film program is so dismaying -- and don't believe for a moment that this hiatus is designed to refresh and strengthen film at LACMA. As Times' movie critic Kenneth Turan observed in his angry, excellent article Thursday, that sounds like a slick rationale from a culturecrat in a smart suit.

Some simple truths need to be stated here: Film may often be marred by goofy plots and preposterous characters, but it is no less a visual art than painting or sculpture. The fact that good movies arise out of a corrupt commercial system makes it more, not less, worthy of our attention. How in the world does a "Chinatown" arise out of that unpromising soil?

For that matter, what about something like "Police Python 357"? It was for me the great discovery of the brilliant "French Crime Wave" series that LACMA film curator Ian Birnie, now demoted from full- to part-time status, mounted earlier this summer. Though I like to think of myself as a knowledgeable film historian, I had never heard of it or of its auteur, Alain Corneau.

Something similar could be said of about half the other films in that series. If nothing else, you could have found in it the roots of the French New Wave -- a phenomenon I'm sure even Govan has heard about. And you could have witnessed the great Jean Gabin (weary, taciturn and the kind of actor Spencer Tracy aimed to be but never quite became) in "Touchez pas au Grisbi," experiencing a screen portrayal at its highest and most subtle level. And, no, folks, it is not available on DVD in the U.S.

Nor is it likely to be re-shown in Los Angeles any time soon. We may or may not be, as the annoying KUSC tag line has it, "the creative capital of the world," but we are surely the movie capital of the world. And once LACMA closes down its film program, we will not have a serious, well-planned repertory series. Sure, there's UCLA and the Aero and the Hammer Museum and the odd one-week runs of classics at the Nu-Art -- worthy venues all -- though none of them offers what LACMA has for 40 years presented. Or what is available in our true "creative capital," New York, where three imaginative repertory series constantly run.

We are exploring a bitter irony here. Huge advances have been made over the last 50 years in film scholarship and teaching, and even in film restoration. But LACMA, despite its pretense of being a world-class arts institution, has always treated film as a stepchild, operating its program on a minuscule budget, as Turan reported, making only small efforts to find subsidies that would cover its modest deficits. It has always regarded its film audience as not quite full members of the artistic community, as "movie bozos," in film scholar Jeanine Basinger's weary, devastating description of that earnest breed.

Govan is right about this much at least -- they deserve better. They -- we -- may be a minority, but the devotees of James Mason and Jean Gabin are no more outlanders than the devotees of Korean art. Certainly we do not deserve to be summarily cut off from the pleasurable and intellectually profitable contemplation of this great, infuriating, richly ambiguous art form while Govan thinks over some so-far-illusory plan for a movie renaissance at LACMA.

For the moment, his decision signals that we are far from being a "creative capital." It signals that we remain a provincial outpost, braying boosterism while heedlessly diminishing the expressive form of which this city is the most significant avatar.

Richard Schickel is the author, most recently, of "You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story."