Posts Tagged ‘French New Wave’

FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Two

tgc5Eric Gibson, in his WSJ review of a new wing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, writes “…museums are about collecting as well as building…” That is a prime issue in this series covering The Norton Simon Museum, The Getty Center, and LACMA. In the first part of this series I praised the Simon Museum for its intimacy and experience combined with its depth of art. In each of these articles, I come as a stranger to a new city…filled with bias and anticipation…and trying to record what I see as I see it…without anymore expertise than a horny sailor at a fifty-cent peep show.

PART TWO:  THE GETTY CENTER

For me The Getty Center is the quintessential Los Angeles museum: impossible (or at least exceedingly impractical) to get to without using a car. You must wind your way through the Sepulveda Pass and the Santa Monica Mountains that separate the Westside from the Valley. Finally you see it…The Getty Center sitting on a peak, accessed via—what else—Getty Center Drive. Attendants wave you into a gray concrete bunker which becomes a winding Dr. Strangelove-like descent into  the seven-levels of Dante’s parking garage. None of this, however, inhibited the throngs of people who joined me for a brisk elevator ride back up to the planet’s surface.

Bathed in Southern California sun, the tram station looks born in the New Wave French cinema of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. Inside a plastic spaceship-subway pod we bumped and curved our way through Salad Nicoise landscapes interspersed with aerial views of the 405 Freeway.

At last we reached Getty Center’s mountain-top main entrance where white stone and chromed steel and blue skies announced that this was Olympus and we should be prepared to walk with the Gods. Yes arriving at The Getty Center is a visual show all its own. The complex of multiple buildings seems even larger because there is nothing else next to it except the wild home of deer and coyote and mountain lions. Los Angeles exists as a far away dream sculpture seen from enormous windows and imposing observation decks.

In addition to the four main halls (named for points on the compass) there are multiple gardens and administrative and research buildings plus studios and an Exhibition Pavilion and a Lecture Hall and an Auditorium and to keep on naming all the features is needless.  I glance left and right…people seem to either rush or move slowly…umbrellas and tables always available for shade and rest…I look up at Giacometti’s enormous Standing Woman I…(my Giacometti is bigger than your Giacometti?)…and for a moment I feel no need to even enter a building. But I do because that is what you do with Museums; you enter to worship the ghosts of your civilization.

In the entire western world, museums must be divided between those that feel compelled to show The Renaissance and those that do not. Yes it was a great time in human history…blah blah blah…but why does so much Renaissance art make me think of cheesy political commercials? (Perhaps because that is what much of it is was?) But this time was different on my trip to The Getty Center—whether it was the specific examples or the setting or the day or the pretty young Asian school girls swirling around like excited butterflies, whatever—I fell under the spell of art that I usually walk quickly past. For now, let me chalk it up to the Getty’s selection. I settled back and enjoyed the details of labor and skill in the amazing varieties of Jesus and his gang and their stories of good and god vs. evil and desire. This was the hip-hop Hollywood of its day and now because it is old and fragile we store it in giant temples such as The Getty Center and we come and look and maybe we even see ourselves in this old stuff. Later we think about it silently while answering email or maybe make a passing remark about it the next day.

Of course, as it was at the Norton Simon, when you turn away from the religious hoopla and sneak into the shadows of humanism, when art and sex conquer Religion, then the Renaissance really comes to life. And in this where The Getty Center excels. The sensual lust that artists masked behind Greek and Roman mythology seduces the viewer and cannot be talked away. It is about being naked, being ripe with desire. It is about blood and the human smells of hate and love.

It is the Getty’s Northern Renaissance works, however—and three by Rembrandt—that left me breathless, specifically An Old Man in Military Costume, Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak, and Saint Bartholomew (this last is a direct link to Vincent van Gogh). And here, for me, is the fascinating conflict between the anti-religious Northern Renaissance and the Holy Roman Catholic Renaissance of southern Europe. All the sexy, exciting stuff is from the heavily religious south and all the beautiful but dry, pinched, tight-ass painting is from the north. And maybe that reflects the modern European political world today—in Germany we have Angela Merkel, a prim matronly woman, and in Italy we have Silvio Berlusconi, a vain lecherous old man. Yes the Renaissance is alive and well in the 21st Century.

If you like modern decorative art (small d and small a intentional) then you can browse La Brea Avenue’s pretentious second-hand stores full of 50’s junk. But if you want to see Decorative Art so insanely beautiful that it drove a nation to murder its King and Queen, the furniture and French Tapestries at Getty Center are awe inspiring.  No Swanson frozen TV dinner short cuts, no phony San Fernando Valley McMansions, no Facebook/IKEA disposable software/hardware…here you will gain a hint of just how grand that period called “long ago” could be. Warren Buffett and Justin Bieber and Mark Zuckerberg all live in Pimple Land in comparison. And until you see this, you don’t know what the word rich means.

For all that Getty Center has, there is also something that it does not have. By the time I reached the art of the 1800s the curators seemed to have run out of inspiration or inventory. Up to that point Getty Center was a thrill ride…and then the ride sort of just…slowed…down.  Yes they have impressionists and post-Impressionists and van Gogh’s Irises, but for this period of art history, the energy just wasn’t there for me.

All museums acquire what they can afford at the time they buy it. That is why West Coast museums just don’t have the…juice, the big stuff you see in East Coast and European museums. The West Coast came late to the party. That’s the reality. And that said, The Getty Center is a wonderful museum and a wonderful experience. If you love art, do not deny yourself a visit there. I went looking for one thing, and was surprised and enthralled by something else.

- By John Ireland

For more information on The Getty Center go to www.getty.edu.

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Depths of Inferno

inferno_image02Director Serge Bromberg meets a woman named Inès de Gonzalez in a broken, Parisian elevator. The two get to talking, and Bromberg learns that she is actually the widow of famed French director, Henri-Georges Clouzot. Over the course of their two-hour conversation, Gonzalez reveals that there is over 15 hours of existing footage from Clouzot’s notoriously unfinished film, L’Enfer, or Inferno (or Hell). One imagines a light-bulb flickering on inside Bromberg’s mind just as the elevator rattles back into operation.

It’s a scene straight out of a French thriller, maybe even one directed by Clouzot himself, who, 33 years after his death, is widely regarded as one of the great filmmakers of all time—his dark, psychological crime dramas, The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, garnering frequent comparisons to Hitchcock’s finest work. This Friday, July 30th, at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, a semi-documentary directed by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, will make its Los Angeles premiere.

The event marks the first time in which scenes from the disastrous, aborted film from 1964 will be widely screened to West Coast audiences, though gossip from the infamous set has remained a hot topic of debate amongst film nerds and historians for some time. The basic story is as follows:

Columbia Pictures, fresh off the relative success of Stanley Kubrick’s artsy (and blank-check budgeted) satire, Dr. Strangelove, decides to invest in another high-minded flick, this time from a commercially viable French director. Amazingly, they hand over a basically unlimited budget to one Henri-Georges Clouzot, who, despite considerable success from both critics and audiences, had been receiving harsh backlash from those rascally kids of the French New Wave. Clouzot, in turn, was eager to prove his worth. He set about devising a dark, surrealistic psycho-drama—with embedded allusions to Proust and Dante’s The Divine Comedy—about a husband’s extreme jealousy over his seductive wife. International  film star Romy Schneider was cast as the leading lady, and Serge Reggiani was to play her brooding husband. But only a couple weeks into filming— with the increasingly temperamental Clouzot employing three separate crews and over 150 technicians—Reggiani dropped out, the location of the set suffered a record-breaking heat wave, and an artificial lake (essential to the production) was forced to be drained by French authorities. At last, the entire film was shut down when Clouzot was hospitalized due to a near-fatal heart attack.

Such stories of the genius, maniacal film-director making their doomed masterwork  have been told before, and well (The Burden of Dreams, Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha, Overnight, etc.). But what Bromberg’s movie brings fresh are simply the brilliant—though limited—images from Clouzot’s failed venture. Part black-and-white, part color, the fractured scenes are so stunning and highly experimental for their time, it’s a wonder (and a relief) it was filmed before the advent of digital technology.

It’s a tragic fact that Clouzot never returned to complete L’ Enfer after his recovery, but there’s beauty to be had in the unfinished, the what-could-have-been. After all, if that elevator had not broken down, if it had completed its intended journey on that fated Parisian day when Serge Bromberg met Inès de Gonzalez, there would be no Henri-Georges Inferno—those hours upon hours of gorgeous footage left to rot in some sterile vault—and more importantly, we would be  left with one less choice of what to see this weekend at the movies.

- By Joshua Morrison

Henri-Georges Inferno opens on Friday, July 30th at the Laemmle Music Hall and the Laemmle Sunet 5. For more information, please visit www.clouzotsinferno.com, or www.flickeralley.com. A DVD release of the film is Janurary 2011 through Flicker Alley, LLC.

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