Marty Scorsese & the Great LACMA Crusade


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.

Posted by

Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

2 thoughts on “Marty Scorsese & the Great LACMA Crusade

  1. Go Marty! I can’t believe that LACMA is doing such a thing. How disturbing. And with as much money that is in the Hollywood community I can’t believe a few of the actors, producers, directors, etc. – the one’s that make 5, 10, 15, 20+ million dollars a picture – not a just a year – but per film – cannot donate enough money to keep such programs alive. Ridiculous.

    1. it is THOROUGHLY ridiculous, Robby.
      and it makes LACMA look just plain laughable when every other major city has a serious film program. not saying anything against Cinefamily or American Cinematheque, but if New York City has the Film Society of Lincoln Center, The MOMA and the Whitney, then the LACMA should certainly have a program of its own!

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