Scorsese and Govan: All warm and fuzzy about future of film at LACMA


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A diverse crowd of stylish hipsters, film buffs and art lovers filled the seats of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater on Wednesday evening, when the museum hosted a conversation between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and LACMA Director Michael Govan.

Though the two appeared congenial, they had a seemingly more contentious relationship last summer, when Govan announced the museum would have to suspend its film program due to funding issues. The news sparked an outcry from the public as well as from Scorsese, who in August wrote an open letter published in The Times urging LACMA to keep the film program running. That letter prompted the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. to donate $75,000 to save the film program, and Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV donated an additional $75,000 that will allow the program to run until the end of June.


Though Govan has previously laid out his intentions to increase the program’s annual budget by about $150,000 and raise a $5-million endowment, the museum director did not go into further detail about the fundraising efforts during Wednesday’s discussion.

Instead, the conversation mostly centered around Scorsese’s devotion to the art of film preservation -- a passion he said was ignited back in the 1970s in the very theater in which he was seated.

He recalled attending a double-bill screening of the Marilyn Monroe films ‘Niagara’ and ‘The Seven Year Itch’ at the museum. But when it was announced that the print of ‘Itch’ had faded and would need to be viewed with a filter, the audience groaned.

‘As soon as the first image came up, our hearts sank,’ Scorsese said. ‘People were shouting to take off the filter, and then watched it in faded pink or blue. We had to leave because we couldn’t take it. We were crushed.’

The event led him to found a film preservation organization called The Film Foundation with fellow filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Since then, the foundation has restored 525 films. Scorsese showed clips from a few of the movies, including recent work on ‘The Red Shoes.’ The audience, which welcomed the filmmaker with a standing ovation, gasped audibly as before and after clips in which color and picture quality drastically improved were shown side by side.

Though Govan did not broach the subject of the program’s future, he and Scorsese did promise the audience that the filmmaker would return in the coming months for another discussion. They also talked about the possibility of screening some of the films Scorsese’s Film Foundation has restored, implying that the relationship between the filmmaker and the museum will be ongoing.

‘The issue is, this is Los Angeles. This is where the narrative style and language was created,’ Scorsese said. ‘This will be the place to create a real foundation for film as a fine art -- here, in this museum. New York and Paris have good representation of film in their museums too. Why shouldn’t it be Los Angeles where film not only was born, but continues to thrive?’

-- Amy Kaufman

Martin Scorsese, left, speaks with LACMA director Michael Govan about the future of film, in the Bing Theater at LACMA in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Credit: Ann Johansson/For the LA Times