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.

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