Director, museum topper embrace film in context of art history

Last summer, Martin Scorsese took Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan to task after the org announced plans to shutter its film program. On Wednesday night, museum director and film director faced off before a packed house, only this time, both were on the same page.

When it comes to film’s place in a museum context, Scorsese’s position will come as no surprise. “I don’t know how we can develop new artistic energy without a connection to the past,” said the helmer, whose experience watching faded prints at LACMA in the early ’70s transformed him into an advocate for film preservation.

Govan, however, used the opportunity to correct the perception that LACMA prizes classical paintings above motion pictures and publicly declare his respect for cinema as art. He cited several turning points in art history — the introduction of perspective, the invention of photography — and noted how they changed the way people saw the world.

“Perhaps our whole 20th century art history will have to be revised with that awareness that maybe film comes first,” Govan said.

Ready with examples, Scorsese detailed how cubist painters Pablo Picasso and George Braque were influenced by film and referenced director King Vidor’s 1980 short “The Metaphor,” which explores how Andrew Wyeth’s admiration for “The Big Parade” surfaced in his work.

Film goes farther than painting or sculpture, Scorsese argued, explaining how editing and montage create additional levels of meaning. “Don’t forget, film doesn’t exist unless you project it,” cautioned the helmer, who suggested that 3D innovation could transform the medium yet again. “I’d like to shoot in 3D,” he said.

Missing from the conversation, however, was any indication of how LACMA could elevate its film program to match museums in New York and Paris. Donations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Time Warner Cable have extended the rep program, though ambitious changes could prove cost-prohibitive.

“It seems so obvious that we should make a major effort,” Govan said.

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