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Scorsese, Govan talk film preservation and hint at future collaborations

January 20, 2010 | 11:11 pm

Scorsese

On Wednesday night, Martin Scorsese recalled a time that he came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art during the 1970s to see a double bill of two Marilyn Monroe movies -- "Niagara" (1953) and "The Seven Year Itch" (1955).

Just before the latter was set to begin, he said, Ron Haver, the head of the museum's film program at the time, came on stage to explain that the print was faded and suggested that the projectionist use a filter to improve the image. The audience voiced disapproval at the idea of using a filter.

"When the image came up, our hearts sank," recalled Scorsese, who attended the screening with Jay Cocks, a film critic who later became a screenwriter. The quality of the print was so poor that "we had to leave... we couldn't stand watching it," said Scorsese.

The Oscar-winning director said that the heartbreaking experience in LACMA's screening room helped galvanize what would become his passionate commitment to film preservation.

On this night, Scorsese returned to LACMA to participate in a public discussion with the museum's director, Michael Govan, in the museum's Bing Theater. The wide-ranging conversation contained plenty of personal anecdotes but was short on specifics about LACMA's imperiled weekend film series, which Scorsese has been vocal about and which was the catalyst for bringing the filmmaker to the museum.

In August, Scorsese wrote an open letter criticizing the museum's decision to close its weekend film series, which has served as a staple for the city's cinephile community for nearly 40 years. Since then, donors have stepped in to extend the life of the film series through June, according to the museum.

Scorsese met with Govan in New York over the summer and they came up with an idea for the filmmaker to speak at LACMA, according to the museum.

Wednesday's talk covered various topics relating to the importance of film preservation, film history and the role of museums. In addition, Govan hinted at future collaborations that would bring Scorsese back to LACMA at a future date (or dates) to present newly restored films.

At one point in the conversation, Scorsese said that "film doesn't exist unless you project it. Of all the art forms, cinema depends on electricity." The filmmaker also said that it's important for film "to be shown properly. And that's why this room is important."

The conversation also touched on the paradox that L.A. lacks museums with strong film departments, unlike New York and Paris.

"Here, I really believe this will be the place for film as a fine art," said Scorsese. "Why shouldn't it be L.A., where film was not only born but continues to thrive?"

During the talk, Scorsese presented restored clips from the movies "The Red Shoes" and "Al Momia," an Egyptian film. The movies had been recently restored by the Film Foundation and the World Cinema Foundation.

Scorsese, who has leadership positions with both organizations, said that they are working on restoring Luchino Visconti's "Senso" and Edward Yang's "A Brighter Summer Day."

Govan hinted at future collaborations with Scorsese that would bring the director back to the museum. The filmmaker said you would like to screen "Al Momia" at LACMA and other restored films from the World Cinema Foundations.

"Do I have a promise?" asked Govan.

"Yes," replied Scorsese.

-- David Ng

Photo: Martin Scorsese and Michael Govan speaking at LACMA on Wednesday. Credit: Ann Johansson / for The Times

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