Series: Celebrating Classic Cinema: Curator and Audience Favorites
July 5, 2011–July 30, 2011
This July series is special in several ways. As I move forward with my career, the museum offered me the opportunity to revisit individual films and film series that I have organized since the summer of 1996; and in so doing to give the audience that has supported the LACMA film program over the past 15 years a chance to re-experience and discover some individual gems of film history, and to recall retrospectives and special screenings that they hopefully enjoyed. As we savor the diversity of great cinema by embarking on this four weekend voyage down a celluloid river from Sunrise to Late Autumn, viewers may note that there is irony—or if one prefers, subtext—in the choice of these two particular masterpieces to open and close the series.
Though the selection of films in Celebrating Classic Cinema was certainly personal and includes films I hold in high regard, I side-stepped the task of devising a list of ‘favorite’ or ‘desert island’ films—a soul-baring, mind-altering exercise for any film buff—in favor of a nostalgic look back at the program itself. The ground rules were simple: that the series as a whole would reflect the tradition and format of film programming at LACMA; that the titles selected would have played one or more times: and the films or series had been well attended. Given the finite number of screening slots, I decided to include only narrative feature films in the ‘classic’ tradition, notwithstanding the fact that both the audience and I have embraced many documentary, experimental, animated and conceptual films over some long nights (and days) in the Bing. An edgier series will have to wait for another time.
No matter how unique or original a programmer’s ideas, there are a multitude of informed individuals and organizations that become essential partners in the conceptual and practical presentation of films; and I feel that LA is particularly blessed in this regard. Thus it is a pleasure to acknowledge some of the key players: the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, both the Archive staff and its Special Events and Exhibition co-ordinator, Ellen Harrington; the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and in particular Todd Weiner; James Quandt of the Ontario Cinematheque whose ongoing advice and experience was invaluable; plus archivists at Sony, Fox, Universal, Paramount and Disney who, time after time, went out of their way to make rare prints available. Cultural and government representatives—notably Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Korea and Sweden—have been great friends to this department. However, my most valued partner is the French Film and Television Office: the resources made available by the French government in terms of prints and information is equaled only by the passionate and knowledgeable staff in their Paris, New York and LA offices. Without the efforts of Lise de Sablet and Mathieu Fournet (and his predecessors) in Los Angeles, French cinema at LACMA over the past fifteen years would not have enjoyed the prominence and success that it did.
All notes by Ian Birnie, Curator and Department Head