Summer of Silents at The Academy

Attention Los Angeles-based Pictorial readers: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced a summer long celebration of silent film with their new screening series Summer of Silents.The focus here is quite intriguing: Photoplay magazine, once the undisputed king of movie fan rags, bestowed upon America’s most popular films an award called the Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor. This is widely considered to be the first significant annual award in the film industry. Photoplay readers voted on the best film of the year, based on “the ideals and motives governing its production…the worth of its dramatic message.”

The Academy has chosen to screen a collection of these Photoplay-winning films, and in my mind it is a great decision: just as we use the Oscars as a barometer for our collective mindset, the Photoplay Medal of Honor award should prove similarly instructive.

From the Academy website:

Today these films tell the story of the American film industry’s first true Golden Age and offer now overshadowed work by some of Hollywood’s most influential directors and performers.

The nine evenings will feature the best available prints, music performed and composed by a variety of accompanists specializing in the period, a comedy short featuring a different silent screen comedian each week, and surviving fragments of lost films from the era, introduced by film historians including recent honorary Oscar recipient Kevin Brownlow.

Tickets are only $5 per film ($25 for a pass) and the lineup is as follows:

June 13 – HUMORESQUE (1920)

June 20 – TOL’ABLE DAVID (1921)

June 27 – ROBIN HOOD (1922)

July 11 – THE COVERED WAGON (1923)

July 18 – THE BIG PARADE (1925)

July 20 –  THE GENERAL (1927)

July 25 – BEAU GESTE (1926)

August 1 – 7TH HEAVEN (1927)

August 8 – FOUR SONS (1928)

(I missed Monday’s screening of Humoresque, but am much looking forward to seeing Richard Barthelmess in Tol’able David ..

A Walking Tour of Silent Hollywood

Excerpt from John Bengtson's "Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin"

Entertainment journalist Jonathan Melville writes for the Guardian Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Evening News and ReelScotland. That is to say, Melville is quite proudly Scottish. (brownie point#1) Recently traveling the three thousand miles from Edinburgh to Hollywood for the TCM Classic Film Festival (brownie point #2), one item at the top of his itinerary was to retrace silent film history with a walking tour of historical Hollywood (brownie point #3). And who better to lead this noble pilgrimage than the Sire of Silent Hollywood, John Bengtson.

Older, wiser, more mature cities have duly dedicated plaques memorializing places of historic import, whereas Hollywood…. well … we have John Bengtson. For much of the late 20th Century, the City of Los Angeles went out of its way to systematically raze its precious architectural heritage from existence. A fairly recent and resounding call to arms has resulted in a Civic consciousness that has taken great strides to  reverse the pattern to try and preserve what’s left. Or at least, reverse the indifferent attitude that made demolishing history so easy. Which is why  Bengtson’s books, Silent Traces and Silent Echoes, are so vital. A prodigious work of obsessive research,  Bengtson has resurrected early Hollywood with a meticulously curated collection of then-and-now shots of filming locations from the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and (coming soon) Harold Lloyd. Writer John Patterson called it a “mesmerizing lost geography of the emergent city of Los Angeles” and it is with considerable envy (of the most amiable sort) that I post Melville’s walking tour with  Bengtson.

And do be sure to check out Jonathan Melville’s blog– an insightful treat for classic and modern film fans alike.

Mirrors of Silent Hollywood

Those countless hours spent mining through antique shops are well worth the effort, even when you leave empty handed. And since I do normally leave empty handed, this morning I was rapturous to have discovered an antique slim volume from 1925. The salesman let me have it for a fiver. I would have paid ten times that much for it.

Mirrors of Hollywood was published in 1925 written by one Charles David Fox. Its prose, duly overinflated and swimming in saccharine, is nonetheless revelatory. The world of silent Hollywood leaps to life in every fawning flourish, we take a tour of the studios, and what’s more, Fox provides stats that, for LA history enthusiasts like myself, are absolutely priceless. Not only census information, but, as Fox puts it, “Film Folk” vital stats. Most of them are terribly inaccurate (Chaplin born in Paris?) and one suspects Fox got his so-called “facts” from movie fan magazines but it’s a lot of fun regardless.

And since I live smack in the heart of Hollywood (across the road from the Roosevelt Hotel) it is strangely bittersweet: that sleepy farm town that I would have so loved now littered as it is with trannies and tourists and trash.

It truly was another universe then…

Fox's "Famous Film Folk"

John Barrymore: Born February 15 1882. Height 5 ft 10 in; weight 160 lbs; brown hair, light brown eyes.

Charles Chaplin: Born, Paris, France. eight 5 ft 4 in; wight 125 lbs; brown-gray hair, blue eyes.

Dorothy Davenport: Born, Boston Mass., March 13rh, 1895; educated Roanoke, VA; Height 5 ft 7 in; wight 130 lbs; black hair, brown eyes

Doris Eaton: Born, Norfolk, VA; educated Washigton D.C.; Height 5 ft 2 in; weight 112 lbs; brown hair, hazel eyes.

Douglas Fairbanks: Born Denver, Colorado, May 23rd 1884Height 5 ft 10 in; weight 165 lbs; dark brown hair, brown eyes

Buster Keaton: Born Pickway, Kansas, October 4th 1896; Height 5 ft 6 in; weight 160 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.

Rod La Roque: Born Chicago, Illinois, November 29th, 1893; educated Nebraska. Height 6 ft 3 in; eight 181 lbs; black hair, brown eyes

Mabel Normand: Born Staten Island, New York; Educated St. Mary’s Convent at Northwest Port, Mass. Height 5 ft 4 in; weight 120 lbs; dark hair, laughing brown eyes.

Gloria Swanson: Born, Chicago Illinois, March 27th 1898; educated Chicago Illinois. Height 5 ft 3 in; weight 110 lbs; brown hair, gray-blue eyes.

Rudolph Valentino: Born, Castellaneto, Italy, May 6th, 1895. Genoa, Italy. Height 5ft. 11 in; weight 160 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.

Anna May Wong: Born, Los Angeles, Calif; Height 5 ft 4 in; weight 120 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.

Gotta love it.

Here are a few of the more enthusiastic excerpts from the book and a selection of  stills:

Mirrors of Hollywood, 1925

No romance that has ever unfolded on the silver screen, no fantastic tale from the pen of a Jules Verne has ever depicted the glamorous drama of Hollywood, America’s real live Fairyland–the dreamer’s dream come true. Brilliant as the eternal California sunshine, soft and languid as the Cailfornia moon, the beauty of Hollywood is the glorious envy of the artist, the never-to-be-obtained goal of the poet.

Woven of the fabric of genuine romance, as absorbing and dramatic a tale as has ever been told, is the story of the transition of this one-time sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, to the present-time thriving and well populated city of Hollywood.
.

"A Typical Hollywood Street"

Hollywood, to you, is Los Angeles, California– home of the motion picture. Hollywood, to me, is a little garden, nestled at the foot of hills of purple loveliness, reaching for–almost touching, the deep blue of the vast pacific.

"The Thomas Ince Homestead"

Nor is it a settlement of motion picture studios, though it is perhaps the geographic center fo screen production in the West. There are studios in Hollywood, of course, but these studios, widely scattered as they are, must be sought out with a guide if the casual visitor to America’s playground is to see them. The studios, if we expect a few, bear no resemblance to what you would expect them to be, and so, you would pass them by unnoticed, were not the inititated to stop you to say: “Here’s the Lasky studios” or “This is where the Metro pictures are made.”

Miles and miles of quiet residential streets, busy shopping ceters, well populated grammar and high schools, thriving banks, wealthy churches, neautiful hshops ranging in size from tiny band-boxes to Robertson’s Department Store, two newspaper plants, theaters, real estate offices, hotels, and gardens, make Hollywood distinctly a city of homes.

The View from Universal City

Green hills shelter the town, while here and there atop them, somewhere up on the skyline, venturesome folk have build their bungalows and lodges, the dwellings looking for all the world like neighbors to the stars.

Framed against the backdrop of Hollywood’s hills, the whole city– all the palm-lined streets, with their impossibility picturesque and gayly colored bungalows, forming a veritable riot of color with here and there quaint windows peering sightlessly from air spaces under low roofs– looks more like one of the huge movie sets that have brought it fame, than it does like the peaceful city of normal community activities and interestes, of children, of mothers and fathers, of sisters and brothers, which this magic city of the West really is.

Inside the Lasky Studios

The Jean Harlow Blogathon: Day 6 & 7

Bye, bye pretty baby

I really can’t believe the last day of the Jean Harlow Blogathon is here. So much thought and planning and preparation and excitement and now… it’s nearly over. It’s been a heck of a great ride, and the contributions that poured in from all over the world have been, in a word, superlative.

The entire point of this Blogathon has been to help keep Harlow’s legend–and Harlow’s  Hollywood– alive. And even though 7 decades have passed since her final film, this Blogathon has proved that Harlow’s white hot flame is as bright and clear as ever–  something that could not be possible without bloggers like all of you who participated this week. The depth and complexity of her personal life freed from the shackles of sensationalism and her body of work the subject of serious appreciation and study. Finally, it truly feels like Harlean Carpenter’s life and legacy is being treated with the respect that so sadly eluded her in real life.

What a stirring tribute this week has been– I only hope it has been as much fun for all of you as it has been for us.

And to Harlean herself… we all love you!

Right, enough of the eulogizing, on to the fun stuff:

Harlean’s Heyday

What can I say about Riiki at Harlean’s Heyday? She is such a terrific blogger and her contributions to this Blogathon have been superb. Her last entry fot the Blogathon is her best. “Like an Uncensored Movie” is a fascinating history of the Production Code:

Red-Headed Woman features content that might come away as shocking even to contemporary audiences. It not only depicts vice but also glorifies it, a fact that is emphasised by its unapologetic ending. As Doherty puts it: “Virtually every diegetic ellipsis in the film is occupied by the certainty that Lil and the man she was with in the prior scene have spent the interim in an illicit sexual encounter.” Any imaginative gaps are filled by subsequent, sexually suggestive dialogue. “There we were like an uncensored movie,” Lil gloats in one scene.

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The Platinum Page
If anyone has been a champion of this Blogathon, it’s been Lisa Burks. This truly lovely lady and all-around superstar has, for her final entry to the Blogathon, rounded up a collection of her personal favorite YouTube video tributes to Harlow.

Don’t wince at the term “youtube tributes”– Lisa’s selection of videos are extremely well done!

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Vintage Powder Room
It is highly fitting that Vintage Powder Room, a blog dedicated to vintage cosmetics and accessories, conjure a  post all about beauty… Harlow style. Joan is with The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and her proclivity for prose makes for a highly enjoyable read:

Jean Harlow was a cotton candy confection of a woman, but she never seemed aloof or unapproachable. She often wore a smile, if little else, and her eyes were full of intelligence, warmth, and humor.  She will be forever mourned.

Hear, hear!

(read more)

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Clarosureaux

More photos from the prolific Kevin at Clarosureaux. He’ll be dedicating most of the month of March to Harlow, so just because the Blogathon is ending doesn’t mean Kevin’s work is done! MUCH more beautiful work to come from his inspired hand. Have fun checking out the latest!

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Old Movie Nostalgia

Old Movie Nostalgia joins in for the final day of the fete with a Tribute to Harlow that brings attention to how dearly loved she was by her crew, co-workers and, really, anyone who happened to know her:

A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Although she was never motivated by stardom or fame, if Emerson’s quote was being applied to movie stars, it seems that Jean Harlow could be considered one Hollywood’s biggest stars. The kind words that have been spoken of her over the years by her many friends speak to what a wonderful person she was…

(read more)

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Rob Stevens

Rob Stevens from Holland also jumps in with a last minute nod to the baby. Thanks, Rob!

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Shadowplay

Shadowplay, wonderful Shadowplay, is back and giving its much-loved Intertitle of the Day to a Laurel & Hardy/Harlow silent Double Whoopee. “Might I presume that you would condescend to accept my escortage” Ollie asks of Jean. And if you’ve seen this classic short, you know what happens next…

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Row Three

Oh, Row Three… how I do heart thee. Jandy, one of Row Three’s regular contributors, stepped up to bat for Harlow with “Jean Harlow- The Original Smart Blonde“… a title that is, absolutely, my favorite of the entire week.

If  Hollywood luminaries’ lives lasted a length commensurate with the brightness of their stars, Jean Harlow would have been blowing out her own candles for her 100th birthday yesterday. As it is, the opposite is often true, and Harlow died much before her time at the age of 26, leaving behind a timeless legacy in her brief nine years as a Hollywood actress, comedienne, and sex symbol. ..

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The Hollywood Revue

Angela from The Hollywood Revue has been one of the biggest supporters of this Blogathon and we give her a hearty THANK YOU. For her final entry, she reviews Bombshell, a film generally regarded to be one of Harlow’s finest films. (I happen to agree with Angela’s preference to Libeled Lady. Glad to know I’m not the only one!)

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The New Jersey Star-Ledger

Stephen Whitty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger has been so kind as to submit a solid profile of Harlow in honor of her centenary. We are absolutely delighted that the Star-Ledger is interested in the Blogathon and proudly add them to our Blogroll:
Once Hollywood invented itself, it began to invent archetypes. William S. Hart was the Good Bad Man. Rudolph Valentino was the Latin Lover. Gary Cooper was the Quiet American.

And Jean Harlow was, simply, the Blonde, the woman who wasn’t as dumb as she looked (or any better than she had to be), the kind who was willing to take a man as he was (or maybe just take him) — a laughing, brassy, no-regrets bombshell.

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Comets Over Hollywood

Comets Over Hollywood gets a post in just under the wire and I’m quite pleased: it’s the only entry that tackles the infamous 1965 film Harlow. The post begins with the words “I have just finished the worst movie ever.” Heartily agreed, mate. Even if the film’s subject hadn’t been about Harlow, it would still stand out as probably the worst period film ever made. If you cringed at the Victorian costumes in the 194o version of Georgian-era Pride and Prejudice… Harlow will send you into convulsions. Bouffant hair? Check. Austin Powers rotating bed? Check. 60s muzak soundtrack? Check. Read The Battling Carols for a full critique.

City of Dreadful Joy: Random Ponderings on the Paradoxical Mechanics of a City in Search of Self.

Confession: I love Los Angeles. It’s not my favorite city in the world– that crown rests in the heart of my old home across the Pond– but I’ve pretty much reconciled to the fact that I do love Los Angeles.

Problem is, I hate L.A.

Yes. There is a difference.

For me, Los Angeles is the tangible city:  its sun kissed sloping hillsides and stretching curves of blue coast; its whimsical architecture that blends neoclassicism, deco and Moorish sensibilities with carefree abandon; the farm town framework disguised under a bustling metropolis; those knockabout formative years with the industry that would one day come to consume it ….  I love all of it.

Real Los Angeles - Angel's Fligh

However, a key factor in the definition of a city’s character is the people who live in it. They are the ones who choose what to make of the tangible city, and what not to make of it. And modern Los Angeles has amassed a considerable part of its population that does not seem to be remotely interested in that tangible city– but rather, the image it projects.

A problem, because a city cannot be truly great unless its organic self is allowed to become a part of the flesh of the people who live there. Perhaps this great distinction is what leads many a visitor to Los Angeles to label it  ‘fake’ – the absence of the organic city as an inherit part of its people is perhaps both obvious and inexpressible and therefore described as, simply, a “feeling” one gets.

Fake L.A. - Plastic Fame

Perhaps, however, this is something that has more to do with Father Time than anything else. Los Angeles is, after all, just a toddler. (History Alert: restless readers are hereby forewarned and apologies sincerely offered for any gross factual inaccuracies… the title of this post, after all, is random ponderings…) Sure, Los Angeles has Spanish roots that reach as far back as the 16th Century, but it has only been an incorporated city since 1850. At 160 years old, Los Angeles therefore trails her East Coast counterparts in both experience and maturity by some two hundred years—and by her European counterparts, upwards of a millennium. By way of perspective: when her shores were first spied by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542 (which he rightly dubbed Baya de los Fumos– that smoke-like morning fog still a natural fixture) , his Spanish home had long been a formidable world presence, and was soon to battle her mortal enemy, the powerful, proud England, in the naval battle of the millennium.

The wilds of Baya de los Fumos was not to be officially recognized as a civilized township for some 300 years.

And even then, from the very beginning, Los Angeles was a North American curiosity. It should not have been a metropolis, this arid chaparral. And yet, America had fought for it. The  Mexican American War claimed California as its own, and with it the progressive reality of transcontinental railroads, the unsavory-but-necessary enterprise of irrigation, and the delicious reward of Oil.

Even so, this outpost of American civilization quite literally had to will itself into being– its purpose and place in the American tapestry very carefully curated by its boosters and backers. Well into the early 20th century, this city without a solid identity was being furiously fought for. The Los Angeles Times power players and the wealthy Maritime institutions fancied it a WASP wet-dream  … a delusion not to materialize (at least, not permanently) thanks to a vibrant, unstoppable ethnic population and a sleepy little farm town hamlet to the west called Hollywood. This pepper tree-lined enclave suddenly became the center of Los Angeles’ foremost export:

Motion Pictures.

Hollywood pre-1920 was a small-town USA community steeped in strict Conservative morals. Winding dirt roads and General Stores and church picnics with sweet lemonade and knitting bees. On the other side of the spectrum was the motion picture industry which had been birthed a million miles away, in the bowels of New York City and New Jersey, by immigrants– many of them Jewish. Los Angeles fought its newly forced upon identity as the entertainment center of the world, and even into the Sound-era, only Conservatives such as Cecil B DeMille were admitted into the city’s established circles.

The rest created their own.

It was from these Garden of Allah dens of devilish delight that the incoming thronging masses from the world over– Iowa to Istanbul– fabricated their own realities in a city of conflicted identity. The respectable Theodosia Goodman from Ohio became the vampiric Theda Bara and circus performer Archie Leach from Bristol became the debonair Cary Grant.

The city’s reputation was now beginning to precede it. Los Angeles was not the sleepy Spanish hamlet of Jacaranda and Pepper Trees; the wide-eyed Chicago of the Pacific with its Downtown sky-climbers; not even the Riviera of the West with its dramatic coastline so very similar to Cannes and Monte Carlo. Los Angeles was now synonymous with one word: showbiz. And Hollywood was its fated patron saint.

There is to this day, a very tangible dichotomy.  Those who emigrate here desperately, searching for the smoke-and-mirrors dream of a selective reality, and those who simply live here

Novelists from Raymond Chandler to F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway belabored their frustrated romanticism of it.  Aldous Huxley’s observations were rather more acidic. He wrote of it in 1926: “Thought is barred in this City of Dreadful Joy, and conversation is unknown.” And, of course, there’s Woody Allen famous summation of the City: “I cannot live in a city where the only cultural advantage is making a right turn on a red light.”

Funny as hell. And true too– if you’re judging on appearances.

The dichotomy here is tangible and one can find truth absolutely in both sides. Those who emigrate here desperately, searching for the smoke-and-mirrors dream of a selective reality, conduct a conspicuous manner of ‘living the life plast-astic’ so loud that onlookers can’t help but assume ‘that’s all there is’.

But… it’s not.

You just gotta do a bit of digging.  The real Los Angeles belongs to boarded up crumbling black alleys, old Spanish estates, the foothill wilds and reaching Deco spires. Its a past that time has yet to blacken over completely. It’s still there, living and breathing and waiting to be discovered…

All you gotta do is know where to look.

Through the tireless, passionate efforts of nonprofits like The Los Angeles Conservancy, The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation and the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, and their fight to protect and preserve, there is a bright hope that this tangible city will indeed remain just that.

Westwood Village in 1941 (via the Neat Stuff Blog)

The Bendix Sign today, Downtown LA. Copyright James Herman

Pershing Square, Downtown Los Angeles in 1965

The Vine Manor Hotel, at Vine and Yucca St. 1953

Sunbathers at The Hollywood Roosevelt, 1956 (via ElectroSpark)

Downtown's beautiful Eastern Building, today. Copyright A.C. Thamer

La Cienea Blvd at sunset during the 1950s

Towards the Pantages at Hollywood and Vine, 1962

Musso & Frank's Restuarant today, with its legendary bartender, Manny. Copyright Arturo Sotillo.

View of Hollywood Blvd and Hills from the Roosevelt, 1956 (via ElectroSpark)

Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary

A fixture on my bookshelf is a sweet little curiosity entitled Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: private letters from inside the studios of the 1920s. Edited and annotated most attentively by film historian Cari Beauchamp, it is a collection of letters penned by a young woman named Valeria Belleti who moved to Los Angeles from her New Jersey home in 1924. Valeria was 25 years old and had landed smack in the midst of a modern boomtown—the burgeoning movie biz making Hollywood its unsanctioned core.

She landed a job as Samuel Goldwyn’s personal assistant which means that her letters are the sort of primary source material that Hollywood history lovers (like yours truly) absolutely salivate over. By Valeria’s own admonition she was a bit “prim” and, although this collection of letters span the very apex of the jazz age, the pages are not inked with the sort of hot-jazz prohibition party-hardy hedonism we tend to associate with the period. Cari  Beauchamp, the womens interests champion and versed Hollywood historian, writes that Valeria “was always on the lookout for a good time—within the bounds of propriety of course—and for a man to enjoy it with. She was very much a young woman of her times, proper but curious, taking her work seriously and ambitious to a point, but always wondering if the next man she met was husband material.”  So, instead of a steamy Fitzgerald-esque diary, we have instead the gift of a revealing, detailed journaling of the daily cogwheel workings of a Hollywood studio in the 1920s. 

They are also painful proof of just how much our society has lost in our collective neglect of the hand-written letter. There is a candor and intelligence in Valeria’s heartfelt pages that our emails and tweets and texts can never hope to convey.

Towards the end, Valeriea’s letters do become bogged down with accounts of her personal love interests– the stories of which are largely under whelming—but how could one possibly find fault with this? These were, after all, Valeria’s private letters and had she known they would have been published for posterity’s sake eighty years after their composition I’m sure they would read dramatically differently.

Wouldn’t yours?

With a roster of supporting players to put MGM to shame, including Frances Marion, Rudolph Valentino, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary is essential reading for any Hollywood history enthusiast.

The following entry is precisely the sort of account that turns me pea-green with envy. Why oh why couldn’t I have been Valeria Belleti?

“Dear Irma …

All your good wishes have come true—I have had the most happy Christmas I’ve ever had, that is, so far as material things are concerned. Naturally at heart, I still my miss my mother and all my friends and I can never be really happy until there is someone who can in a measure fill this gap.

Everybody at the studio was wonderful to me—Ronald Colman gave me a lovely underarm bag, Frances Marion gave me a gorgeous French beaded pocketbook, Mrs. Goldwyn gave me a orgeous satin mules trimmed in green ostrich feathers, Mr Fitzmaurice gave me a huge box of candy, Mr. Lehr gave me a gold cigarette holder (I smoke occasionally now-but it’s not a habit as yet) and I got things from about 5 or 6 other men at the studio. The office gave me a week’s salary.

The day before Christmas we had a little party at the studio in the afternoon—of course everybody had been drinking but me—I had to remain sober because I had to send about 75 telegrams out for Mr. Goldwyn and flowers to wives of his business friends. Mr. Goldwyn left about 3 in the afternoon and then the fun began. I had about 5 assistant directors in my office, our production manager, Jack Pickford, a few minor actors and then Ronald dropped in. As I said before, I was the only sober one in the lot, however they were not disgustingly drunk—just funny. Ronald is making a picture with Norma Talmage—“Kiki.” … Ronald came off the Kiki set and he was still in his make up and feeling pretty good. It was the first time I have ever seen him like that—he’s so quiet and reserved and almost unapproachable. He put a cap on me and wound a muffler around my neck and then I put on my black satin mules with the ostrich feathers and Ronald and I were playing “Kiki”. … Then Ronald was trying to do the Charleston and couldn’t—he looked awfully funny….”

Marty Scorsese & the Great LACMA Crusade

Marty

Marty

I heart Marty Scorsese.

And when he goes and does things like this, well, it just sends me all aflutter.

First, a bit of background.

For nearly four decades, the film program at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art has been a primary venue for film lovers to gather for some of the most engaging retrospectives in LA.

But LACMA director Michael Govan has decided to pull the film program, citing declining audiences and $1 million in losses over the past decade. Govan claims that the move will allow them to “pause for re-thinking.” But you, me, Marty and just about everyone else who gives a damn about film history can see through that one like an episode of Gray’s Anatomy.
Over the past two weeks, a slew of damning op-eds have appeared from some of the most powerfully persuasive pens in the industry—Richard Schickel and Kenneth Turan to name the few.

Mr. Schickel states “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 …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?

And now, a letter to Mr. Govan from that preeminent film crusader, Martin Scorsese.

“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.

I hope that Mr. Govan reads Marty’s letter without the sort of culturecrat piety that seems have crippled his powers of reason on this particular decision.