A Taste Of The Future Academy Museum: LACMA Hosts Exciting Orson Welles And Polish Series
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures isn't slated to open until 2017, but its neighbor LACMA is already bringing a taste of what's to come by screening the Academy's film programming in their Leo S. Bing Theatre. They've already screened a short series of Jim Jarmusch's work ahead of Only Lovers Left Alive and recent restorations of important American documentaries (including Penelope Spheeris' Decline Of Western Civilization trilogy). But the Academy goes big this May through June with concurrent series hosting the Martin Scorsese-curated retrospective of Polish film and a major retrospective of Orson Welles on Friday and Saturday evenings, respectively.
Director of Programming for the Academy, Bernardo Rondeau, has curated the Academy @ LACMA programs since joining in December, but he has been bringing classic film programming to LACMA for while, having been at the helm them since they were on the chopping block almost five years ago. He took the time to answer a few questions for LAist about what lies ahead for the future Academy Museum and what the audiences can learn from these two comprehensive series exploring different worlds of film. And for the neophytes this weekend brings the best introduction to both series, with Andrzej Wajda's Ashes And Diamonds (considered to be the greatest Polish film of all time) screening tonight and Citizen Kane (considered to be the greatest film of all time) tomorrow night in 35mm.
Can you explain why the Academy's programming moved from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater to LACMA's Bing Theatre? Will this be a more permanent/ongoing fixture with the Academy Museum to be opening next-door in a few years?
We want filmgoers to become acquainted with an Academy presence on site. Our museum will open on Wilshire and Fairfax in a few years and we are eager to welcome audiences from around the world, but we want to make sure and start with people in our own backyard, everyone from local Academy members to casual filmgoers. The museum, which will boast three state-of-the-art theaters, is slated to have year-round film programs. What we are presenting in the Bing is just a small taste of what's to come.
Obviously Orson Welles' reputation as one of the landmark auteurs in cinema history is well established, but it feels like he's still not known to a more broader audience beyond the man who made 'Citizen Kane' and later got fat and drunk in a wine commercial. If someone who is generally unfamiliar with Welles were to watch a few of the films in this series, what defining characteristics or themes do you think they could pick up?
The goal of the series is to remind everyone of the astounding, consistently innovative body of work that Welles created onscreen, beyond the two poles of Citizen Kane and the unfinished/lost works. Some defining characteristics to look out for? There’s always a fair amount of detective work going on in Welles' films, conspiracies coil themselves into the fabric of the narratives. Mystery and intrigue abounds, from the petty to the deathly. Stylistically, Welles’ radio and theater experience is evident in his use of overlapping, carefully orchestrated dialogue. Visually, he is renowned for the deep focus look he cultivated with cinematographer Gregg Toland in Kane but he continued to pursue it in subsequent features. Regardless of budget or location, Welles’ imagery flourishes with expressionistic touches, all canted angles and dramatic juxtapositions. Where else should shadowy tycoons and small-time crooks lurk but in the shadows?
Outside of their two most famous directors (Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieślowski, who got famous for films they made outside of Poland), Polish cinema doesn't hold as much stature as other national cinemas of Europe. What characteristics do you think there are that help define Polish cinema from other European cinemas, and what films in this series in particular exemplify these characteristics?
There's a combination of soulful urgency and graphic sophistication that is remarkable throughout these Polish films. The country's present is as tumultuous as its past. Traces of this turmoil are evident throughout the films, whether they’re allegories or direct addresses of the socio-political crises at hand.
Probably Ashes And Diamonds, which remains a canonical work in the annals of world cinema, and Eroica are the two films that deal most explicitly with WWII and its aftermath, while Man Of Iron addresses most explicitly the contemporary situation. But everywhere—from the jazz-flecked noir chamber piece Night Train to Mother Joan Of Angels, a hypnotic mediaeval drama—there are nods to surveillance, paranoia, conformity and tyranny. Whether oblique to the point of psychedelia (The Hourglass Sanatorium and Jump) or sumptuous and precisely-appointed (Andrzej Wajda’s epic The Promised Land, which is a panorama of modern Poland’s Dickensian roots) these films feature leading men torn between their constrained individualism and the state, represented in some cases by actual bureaucrats but just as often academia, industry, religion, etc. And what scores!