“Who knows the wrath of a film community scorned?” writes David Ng for the Los Angeles Times. “The Los Angeles County Museum of Art does. In a little more than a week, the controversy over LACMA’s decision to ax its 40-year-old film program has grown into a full-blown online debate . . . in response to an aggressive Facebook campaign and online petition . . . “
Last weekend, a LACMA regular commended me for my previous blog entry protesting the cancelation of the museum’s film program, but she added, “What’s the next step? Are there any precedents for this kind of thing within the film community?” A beloved programmer . . . an indifferent institution . . . outraged movie fans: I immediately thought of the famous 1968 demonstrations in Paris in support of Henri Langlois, who was fired by the French government from the Cinémathèque that he co-founded and represented for decades. Cinephiles, filmmakers, and industry people worldwide were outraged by his dismissal, and their protests lasted from February to April until Langlois was eventually reinstated.
Hoping to avoid grandiosity, I would caution against making too strong a comparison between the Cinémathèque and the LACMA protests. L’affaire Langlois clashed with riot police, for one thing, and it also honored a titan of film collection and signaled a growing dissatisfaction with the Gaullist government in general. (Many have cited the Langlois protest as warm-up for the larger student/worker demonstrations the following May.) On the other hand, as a model of what a film community can do when a respected member or program is ousted, the events of ’68 still cast inspirational reverberations.
The Cinémathèque Support Committee operated directly out of the Cahiers du Cinéma‘s publishing office. In the somewhat rambling but nevertheless fascinating 2004 documentary Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque, critic Jean Narboni describes the scene: “That became our command post. Everyone who defended Langlois passed through. The magazine was mobilized around the clock. Phone calls radiated out, telegrams arrived from filmmakers threatening to withdraw their films if Langlois wasn’t reinstated.”
Earlier this week, I was recruited to edit the blog of Save Film at LACMA, and the last few days have been tremendously exciting for reasons Ng states above–a whirlwind of Facebook, Twitter, email, and phone conversations that are bringing a diverse community together. I’ve been active on the Internet since the Usenet days of the early ’90s; I’ve published online reviews for twelve years and blogged for eight. I’ve participated in blogathons, link sharing, and more discussion fora than I can adequately recall. But I’ve always felt that local film culture should never be dismissed, that cinephiles should share, enjoy, and argue about movies with our neighbors. If we can make new technologies work for us, we don’t have to become a virtual community unified in bytes alone, but a community that extends into local venues. Whether or not LACMA reconsiders its decision to dismantle Ian Birnie’s operation and shut down its screening room in October, I’m excited to see where this new momentum leads.