Friday, February 27, 2009

It has been a busy week. Spent three days at press screenings for the annual Rendezvous With French Cinema, saw "The Joy of Singing", "Seraphine", Costa-Gavras's "Eden Is West", Chabrol's "Bellamy", Benoit Jacquot's "Villa Amalia", Techine's "The Girl on the Train" and Daniel Thompson's "Change of Plans". For better or worse, it wasn't a bad group. Then on Thursday, saw restored films by the Kuchar Brothers at Anthology: "Lovers of Eternity", "The Thief and the Stripper", "A Woman Distressed", "Night of the Bomb" and "I Was a Teenage Rumpot". Nothing like grungy, no-budget underground films to make you feel good.

But the important thing is that there has been a cultural meltdown in the northeast. The Bernard Madoff affair hasn't even begun to have its effect, because so much of NYC cultural life is dependent on Jewish philanthropy. If there was ever a plot to destroy the art of this city, this would be perfect.

But it's not only that. There are so many shakeups and upheavals that it's dizzying. Right off the bat: the stasis about the New York State tax credit program for film and television production, which has already started to claim some productions (the Fox show "Fringe" is leaving NYC for Vancouver; it would, of course, be a Fox production, another reason to take away Rupert Murdoch's waiver from the FCC, if he can take away production, we can take away his damn licenses). California has pushed through a tax credit program: they're trying to take production back.

The Filmmakers Coop has had its offices in the Clocktower building since 2000; Alanna Heiss signed on with MoMA in 1998. Alanna was forced to retire at the end of 2008 (there is a mandatory retirement age) but in order to sweeten the deal, MoMA allowed her to retain the lease from the city on the Clocktower building. And when that happened, she looked at the Clocktower and found that she had left in space for the Coop. So (in a fit) she decided to spite MoMA by evicting the Coop (the Coop had come into the Clocktower through a deal with MoMA's Department of Film). DCA can force Alanna to keep to her original plan for the Clocktower; DCA can, in fact, take away the Clocktower from Alanna (which would be the best thing, really, just make her go away). But who knows?

The Rose Art Museum is being dismantled by Brandeis University. It's been written about by many people (including Roberta Smith in The New York Times) and i don't want to rehash it. But Brandeis, where most of the people on the board are Jewish, lost a huge amount of its endowment (rumored to have been almost 3/4 of a billion dollars) because of Bernie Madoff, and so the response was: what can we sell (fast)? And the collection at the Rose Art Museum was valued at over half a billion dollars, so....

Except that the Rose Art Museum has its own board, and it actually runs itself, basically Brandeis houses the collection and pays for utilities, all other expenses are handled by the Rose Art Museum itself. Again, who knows?

New Yorker Films closed up shop this week. Another long, complicated story. Dan Talbot actually sold New Yorker Films a number of years ago, and the new parent company has defaulted and is bankrupt and its assets are going on the auction block, and that means New Yorker Films.

What's frightening about all of this is that the fallout is happening to "innocent bystanders". In short: The Filmmakers Coop had nothing to do (really) with the bad feelings between Alanna Heiss and The Museum of Modern Art, but the Coop is getting the fallout. New Yorker Films has been operating very carefully, there really weren't many debts, but it was the company that bought out New Yorker Films that went belly-up, and New Yorker Films (and all the people that work there, like Jose Lopez) has to bear the brunt.

In term of the Rose Art Museum: Michael Rush (who has been the director for about four years) has been incredibly responsible, there have been no deficits. But he's being punished for the problems of others: he did not invest in Bernie Madoff, the Brandeis board of directors did, but their solution is just incredibly destructive.

And talking about incredibly destructive: you've got the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which last week announced that the new Executive Director, Mara Manus, has summarily fired a large part of the staff of the Film Society. Like that. And the firings included people like Sayre Maxfield, Joanna Ney, Will McCord... some of these people (like Sayre and Joanna) have been with the Film Society for decades: the Film Society was their life!

It's very upsetting to me, because so many of these people i've known for so long (let's not even get into how long i've known Jonas Mekas) and things seemed to be settling down, then there was this economic downturn, and now, so many friends and associates are being threatened.

It's not even the same as the mass firings of critics (not just film critics, but dance, theater, book critics) which started over the summer. This is just a mass detonation of so many cultural institutions, there's a scorched earth mentality going on, and so many people are just getting mowed down. It's like the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, only on an unimaginable scale. And it's not over yet!

I grew up in New York City when it was a city that was becoming the center of the art world: painting and sculpture, "happenings", dance and music, all these were just bursting. And in terms of film: there wasn't Hollywood, but there were small-scale independent films, underground films, experimental films. Though i grew up watching Hollywood movies (who didn't?) by the time i was about 10, i was aware that i had no interest in working in Hollywood, but i wanted to work in my hometown, in NYC.

And the artists! It was the end of the Abstract Expressionist era, the beginning of Pop and Minimal Art, and going to galleries, you could see new work by Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko or Agnes Martin along with new work by Donald Judd or Robert Morris or Claes Oldenburg or Red Grooms.

And now, this period is becoming historical, and people are writing histories of this period, and the kicker is, most of those people weren't even around! But nobody seems to want to ask those of us who actually were around what it was like.

And now it's all going, and fast! This is a new Depression, and this time, there might not be an Orson Welles to rise up from the WPA Federal Theater project.

I wish i could write about the movies i saw this week, but i'm too bewildered by what's happening to so many of my friends.


Blogger joe baltake said...

Not Joanna! A truly great woman and the definition of professionalism.

4:00 AM


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