La Chienne (The Bitch), by Jean Renoir, screened at LACMA last month.
For a month last summer, it looked like the venerable film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was going to disappear. Then, in late August, thanks to the grassroots efforts of activists like Save Film at LACMA and the injection of funds from two major media sources, LACMA declared that the program was safe through June 2010.
We haven't heard much about the state of things since, but now, in a new post on their blog, Debra Levine and Doug Cummings of Save Film at LACMA have tallied up the positive and negative progress of the interim.
The good news? Attendance is up, famous names such as Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese have publicly aligned themselves with the cause, and LACMA director Michael Govan — the man behind the planned shutdown of the program, who previously pledged to “reset” LACMA Film — has changed his public tune. And yet, the increased box office profits are going into LACMA's “general operating fund” and not back into the film program; those high-profile supporters have not come through with significant monetary contributions; and whether or not his own mind has changed regarding the worth of the program, Govan's own fundraising efforts have, according to the blog post, “thus far come to naught.”
Maybe most interestingly, Save Film at LACMA's post calls bullshit on the contention, always implied in this fight when not directly stated, that film is a lesser art. As of this writing, LACMA Film has recently wrapped a long weekend series devoted to the films of Jean Renoir–a kind of sidebar to the museum's big-ticket show attempting to rehab the rep of the “misunderstood” later works by Jean's father, the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. SFaL quotes the LA Times review of the painting exhibit, through which, critic Christopher Knight contended, “Conventional wisdom is confirmed, not denied. Late-Renoir is mostly bad Renoir.”
Meanwhile, writing in the Weekly last month, Mike D'Angelo praised the Jean Renoir program for defying the High Art doldrums: “That the series unspools at a museum may inspire further assumptions of dull mustiness,” he wrote, “But pop your head in even briefly and you'll discover that Renoir's pictures have endured not merely by canonical fiat but because they're all so gloriously, messily alive.” If Daddy Renoir's show was intended to overturn the impression of irrelevance, his filmmaker son's show accomplished it. As the SFAL post puts it, “where's the significant fine art?”
So what's gonna happen? Time will tell. The program is funded for another two and a half months, and the Save Film post gives the impression that its financial status/prospects will be assessed at the wire. If you happen to have a couple hundred thousand dollars you could stand to invest, Save Film at LACMA has contact info for Govan and various other relevant parties on its website.