Mediamatic Magazine vol 3#3 Preikschat, Wolfgang 1 Jan 1989

Everything that moves...

3 New York Museums

The media are about to disappear, or that’s what ADILKNO argued so convincingly in our last issue. Film is on its last legs and with one foot in the museum. Television and video still seem alive and kicking although the art world has been trying for more than 20 years to entice them into its whitewashed mausoleums. On our behalf WOLFGANG PREIKSCHAT visited the New York outpost of the avant-garde of media conservation. We hope that reading his report will facilitate the decision concerning the benificiaries of your video collection.


Everything that moves... -

Winter in New York was again bitterly cold and wretched beyond belief. Once upon a time when the central heating packed up, the cinema provided one of the cheapest and warmest places of division. Although nowadays the numbers of cinemas are decreasing, the reasons for seeking refuge there are actually multiplying, despite the rising price of tickets. But we are no longer living in the Thirties or even in the 1970s. In this city, which as we know has a memory that lasts approximately as long as it takes to write off an office block, film is viewed as being the pre-history of television. Hence it is all the more amazing (and gratifying) that two new venues have recently opened where the shadows of the silver screen can be once more brought to life behind historical facades. We are talking about the ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES and the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE.

The American museum of the moving image

The American museum FOR the moving IMAGE is in Queens on the corner of 35th Avenue and 36th Street and was opened to the public on 10 September 1988. It is a fantastic building, the first real American filmmuseum with somebody in charge of video (johann HANLEY). Hence it has more to offer than the average film museum, as assistant film curator DAVID Schwartz puts it: We show everything that moves. It has an extensive film program (in various formats and including nitrate films), television films and video art, with a retrospective of the VASULKA’S coming up soon.

Hulk-like tube cameras and TV sets are also exhibited amongst the memorabilia of cinematographic hardware such as film cameras and cinema projectors.

pair’s Get-Away Car on the first floor throws some electronic light on the museum’s concept, that clearly goes beyond dimensions of the projection screen. The credits also go way beyond these horizons and are positioned by the exhibition’s entrance also on the first floor. Anyone who ever wondered what focus pullers or executive producers do or what weird creatures are best boys and gaffers will find the answer here. In this museum where everything seems to be about fun, fun, fun, great importance is attached to background detail. There is a series of PR photos that shows the way in which GARBO’s image was groomed for stardom and a building in PAUL newman’s Glass Menagerie communicates the suggestion of work in progress. Where there’s light, there’s shadow. Unfortunately only a small proportion of the 60.000 items of memorabilia are actually exhibited. These include costumes (from don Johnson in Miami Vice), lunch boxes with photos from famous children’s films and covers from film magazines - objects that are as American as the iconography they project.

The magic mirror fascinates not only the transvestite who can admire his alter ego robin O’Hara in full regalia. It seems as if the kaufman-astoria studios are just a stone’s throw away, the place where film history began. After years of oblivion the monstrous limos have been drawing up once again and disgorging stars whose images are captured on the magic mirror of the new renovated entrace. Myth and reality rub shoulders. So let’s present ourselves at TUT’s PALACE, the small theatre where artists RED GROOMS and LYSIANE LUONG have paid tribute to the world of celluloid. MAE west serves us refreshments in the pseudo-Egyptian version of the Pharaoh’s Tomb and we thrust ourselves on RITA heyworth who is amply portrayed on the textile back-rests of 40 fold-up chairs.

The anthology film archives

The MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE and the ANTHOLOGY FILM archives are miles apart - and not only geographically. It’s as if we’ve left Western capitalism and beamed down behind the Iron Curtain. We waited in an empty and bitterly cold lobby until we were received...underground film and the difference of 13 million dollars. Robert frank’s Cocksucker Blues, the one film that’s actually worth seeing here, has been sold out long ago. A woman who omitted introducing herself, took us on a tour of the building where construction still seemed to be in full swing some two months after the opening (on 11 October). The stock of films that the archives are known for (5000 titles including a large collection of historical and experimental films from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies) are not available for viewing. Our guide found our interest downright indiscrete. Is this film in its most untransparent form?

Ten years after jonas mekas, peter kubelka, stan BRAKHAGE, JEROME HILL and P.A. SITNEY Set up the ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES in 1969, the indefatigable MEKAS bought this courthouse on the Lower East Side at an auction for the small sum of $ 50.000. It took ten years to get the two million dollars needed to refurnish the building with its two cinemas and library. Meanwhile the ideal of black film cherished by peter kubelka has long since become a part of history as has the New American Cinema with which JONAS MEKAS, the tireless Lithuanian director and filmmaker, found his niche.

At the opening KUBELKA’s Arnulf Rainer and films by the LUMIERE brothers were shown in the 200 seat courthouse hall along with the American première of the zdf production Sieben Frauen - Sieben Siinden. The smaller MAYA DEREN cinema opened with deren’s Study in Choreography for Camera and brakhage’s Art of Vision. This hall with its 66 chairs is intended for film categories such as essential cinema (313 titles) and the representative collection of art films which the founders have built up over the years. The AFA that reserves 10% of it annual budget of 1.8 million dollars for conservation, views Independent films as constituting the most important part of its programming - a genre with no screening possibilities elsewhere yet one that is constantly growing. Although mekas’ office is in a former prison cell he is not confined to the pure doctrine of the Independents. Along with underground films his programming consists of historical prints of TATI and bresson and last October he organized a retrospective of Alexander KLUGE which attracted great interest. The projectors show everything: from 8 mm to video.

The museum of broadcasting

And so we end up with television because that’s an area where things are changing too. The possibility of rehousing the MUSEUM OF broadcasting (53rd St./5th Ave. - Madison Avenue) was already being discussed two years ago. william paley, the powerful godfather of American TV and the former director of CBS, had arranged in 1976 for a building and five years’ financing to start a visual and sound archive. When the museum opened on 9 November 1976 it had 718 recordings all told. This was doubled within a year and there were 17.000 visitors, paley won over the two other Networks who donated a collection of 175.000 records of radio broadcasts in 1978 which the museum copied on tape and made available to the public. The earliest recording dates from 1920. The oldest TV document was made in 1928 using a technique that required the construction of special equipment to show it. The oldest Tv production in the collection is a copy on film of the variety show The Streets of New York made in 1939. The museum’s pride and joy is its compilation of rare recordings such as James dean in a pepsi ad. The list of the most requested programs includes the pilots of I Love Lucy and All in the Family and the coverage of the MCCARTHY hearings in 1954. All this for one million dollars a year. The nine storey building houses two cinemas (one with 63 seats and the other with 40) and 23 alcoves for watching and listening to video and other visual aids.

On the museum’s tenth anniversary paley expressed the hope that it would soon be possible to rehouse the collection. No wonder considering the alarming state of the present building. As the monument to the history of American radio and TV it really should have some special aura. God willing, the now aged paley hopes to arrange the opening of the Mid Town building that will rise up on land worth 12 million dollars. NBC, ABC and CBS have each donated 2'/i million dollars, SONY has forked out 3'/2 million. The list of potential sponsors is long but the film industry (which gave a cool 15 million to ammi) has in this case politely refused to cough up and should be ashamed of itself. How long it will take the MB to attract the necessary 45 million dollars is irrelevant. Judging by the changes occuring in the media universe this building will anyway soon become a place devoted to the grey past, a beautiful and predictable contribution to the cultural necropolis of this city.

translation Annie Wright