Lost Angeles: City of Angels Losing Two Important Icons

Los Angeles has been hit with two sad losses this past week. Police Chief Bill Bratton stepped down midway through his second term after really reshaping and improving the Los Angeles Police Department. He did an amazing job, and when I heard the news I cried a little. I worked with the LAPD during 2008 as the liaison for a group of free speech demonstrators, and found the offices from the COs to our assigned patrol officers  to be fair, just, very willing to communicate and reasonable.

It wasn’t what I had expected when I took on the "Hey, I’ll call the cops, keep them informed and be the person they talk to on the ground," but being raised on Dragnet and the belief the the police are here to protect and serve, it was everything I had hoped for and more. Chief Bratton’s leadership is directly responsible for this, for improving the LAPD’s self-image, and self-respect so that they could work with public. And for demonstrators, it gave them a unique firsthand appreciation of the LAPD.

Thank you Chief Bratton.

It was far more even sadder to read that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) decided to shutter their weekend film programs. Michael Govan, the museum’s director told the Los Angeles Times

We are getting diminishing audiences. This is a good time since we are shrinking to spend time thinking and rethinking. We do have to stem our losses.

Govan cites a million dollar loss, but as the LA Time’s film critic Kevin Turan points out:

Take the question of the program’s million-dollar loss. That’s a nice round number, but it turns out to be a cumulative loss over a 10-year period. Broken down to $100,000 a year (and several museum sources tell me it has been more like $70,000 in recent years), it’s a drop in the bucket in an annual budget of more than $50 million. Especially in a city with the powerful connection to film Los Angeles has.

Turan has another good point:

Would LACMA shutter its collection of Etruscan art if not enough people came? Probably not. Would it consider packing up its European paintings because excellent reproductions are available in books and online the way DVDs are available in stores? No, that kind of art is considered too central to the museum’s mission to be dismissed in such a cavalier manner.

It’s really tragic that a museum in Los Angeles would walk away from the industry that really built and defines the city: the movie business. But film fans have rallied with a Facebook page that has over 1,400 fans and a petition signed by aover a thousand, including acclaimed directors John Landis, Paul Schrader and Alexander Payne.

 That has made Govan and LAMA sit up and take notice. The LA Times reports:

In a little more than a week, the controversy over LACMA’s decision to ax its 40-year-old film program has grown into a full-blown online debate, with the museum starting its own electronic forum Tuesday…moderated by members of its press department, is designed for staff members — including museum director Michael Govan — to respond to questions and concerns from the public. (The museum said it will shut down the film program after its Alain Resnais retrospective scheduled for Oct 2-17.)

So far, Govan has posted one comment on the forum. "We wouldn’t be LACMA without film," he wrote. "In the last years, LACMA’s attendance and contributions have risen steadily — but not for the film program. It’s clear we need some extra thinking and action in the film area to give it more support and outreach.

I began going to the LACMA film program when I was 14, have seen films in their beautifully appointed theater on a regular basic, and have been a LACMA member on and off for ten years. I was surprised  moved that LACMA held a retrospective of films directed by the late Richard Quine, a quirky director who was a dear family friend, and thrilled to see other insightful, cinematically aware programming. In the same way not every person in Los Angeles wants to look at at a textiles exhibit, not everyone might want to attend Polish director’s Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ambitious 10-hour film The Decalogue. But it’s definitely not all high arty stuff at LACMA (as the Quine retrospective shows!). American and European classics, unappreciated treasures and yes, even Valley of the Dolls have screened there.

Growing up here I ‘ve seen film production slip away from my glorious city as film scholarship and restoration increased. Surely it’s a function of museums to preserve and celebrate art forms. And it cannot be denied that film is an art as well as commerce–heck, art has always been commerce–look at ancient Greek wine and oil urns, decorated with black to indicate point of origin, statues and medallion of Artemis of Ephesus sold at her temples, Faberge eggs and Bernin sculptures, commissioned portraits of royalty and wealthy (and their pets) which now hang in museums.

 Govan is hinting that if a donor or endowment can be found, the film program may go back up–and says it’s currently being retooled to relaunch in the spring. Well goodness knows there’s enough in money in Los Angeles both within and outside the film industry to make that happen. If LACMA’s film program only has cumulative ten year loss of $1 million, surely someone can step up and give the missing million plus an additional million to kick start advertising and publicity.

But in the end, that shouldn’t be necessary. The museum has a huge budget and film is as important as the other collections and exhibits at LACMA.

Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.

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