“I found that in making plays, I get to make community and it can be
different kinds of community. But that’s the thing ultimately, to get people to
talk about important and difficult issues, by entertaining them and then
Western, religious, literary and cultural, and that’s what makes it different
from any other object. It’s the whole spectrum from the trivial to the
transcendent, the sacred to the profane.”
Last week, SAM announced the launch of the public phase of a $150 million campaign to support all aspects of the museum’s mission. To date, the campaign has raised more than $125 million towards its goals. Artnet and Patch.com shared the news.
Bones! Feathers! Forklifts! Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times gets a behind-the-scenes look as the team at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture move their collection into its new “inside-out” digs.
“The coolest thing I found? I don’t want to admit it,” he said. “Mostly evidence of my co-workers from decades ago—someone had been sitting at a desk, smoking while working on specimens, and used one of the shells for an ashtray! They should give it a label: ‘archaeological tool used by museum employee 30 years ago.’”
“Over the past 20 years, he and his wife have built one of the great American collections of contemporary art, and he has quietly become one of the art world’s most important power brokers, a singular advocate for artists in an industry that often exploits creativity for the sake of the bottom line.”
SAM and the Nordic Museum continue our centennial celebration of Swedish writer-director Ingmar Bergman, who explores deep existential questions, and reveals the abiding mystery and beauty of life. All the films were photographed by Oscar-winner Sven Nykvist. Films in Swedish with English subtitles. Get your tickets to the series today!
Jan 10:Sawdust and Tinsel/The Naked Night (1953)
Things get complicated when a circus owner (Ake Gronberg) and his mistress (Harriet Andersson) visit the town where the wife and children Gronberg abandoned still live. Bergman felt that Andersson “radiated more erotic charm than any other actress.” Digital restoration, 93 min.
Jan 17: Winter Light (1961)
A village pastor (Gunnar Bjornstrand) brings little comfort to his mistress (Ingrid Thulin), a widow (Gunnel Lindblom) and a fisherman (the majestic Max Von Sydow) afraid of nuclear annihilation. Perhaps learning to truly give of himself can make true, communal consolation possible. Digital restoration, 81 min.
Jan 24: Hour of the Wolf (1966)
When artist Max Von Sydow has a bad dream he sketches it on his pad, and the demons of his art gradually become real for both he and his wife (Liv Ullmann). They confront the shadow side of life, and art, at a dinner party at a lonely castle, where Von Sydow’s “dead” former mistress (Ingrid Thulin) is in attendance. Digital restoration, 93 min.
Jan 31: Shame (1967)
What would you do if the comforts, and protections, of civilization, were gone? In an unnamed country, a civil war rages, and concert musicians Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann flee to a peaceful island. Ironically, they still have to fight for what they believe in and wrestle with the hard truths of their marriage. With Gunnar Bjornstrand. Digital restoration, 103 min.
Feb 7: The Passion of Anna (1968)
A chance encounter with a beautiful woman (Liv Ullmann) embroils him in the personal dramas of her, an architect (Erland Josephson), and his wife (Bibi Andersson). Von Sydow knows it can be dangerous to get involved with others, but how can he resist? As mysteries of tangled emotions and wicked actions proliferate, Ullmann dreams of “Living in the truth.” Digital restoration, 101 min.
Feb 14: Cries and Whispers (1971)
In a mansion in a park, two women (chilly Ingrid Thulin, earthy Liv Ullmann) are comforting their dying sister (Harriett Andersson), who is anticipating her “new voyage.” Mysteries of eroticism, personal and family pain, and tension are in the air, but, as critic David Thomson says, “It evokes a sense of a time when three sisters were as one in a summer of joy.” In 35mm, 91 min.
Feb 21: The Magic Flute (1974)
Aglow with light, love, humor, and Mozart’s sublime music, this operatic masterpiece tells the enchanting tale of friends Tamino (Josef Kostlinger) and Papagano (Hakan Hagegard) who try to rescue Pamina (Irma Urrila) from the evil enchanter Sarastro (Urik Cold). Will we see a dragon in a Bergman film? Yes! In 35mm, 135 min.
Mar 7: Autumn Sonata (1977)
A renowned pianist (Ingrid Bergman) comes to visit her estranged daughter (Liv Ullmann), the wife of a humble country parson (Halvar Bjork). Bergman has put her art and career above her child, and in their mesmerizing late night talk, resentments and humiliations, as well as the hope for love and forgiveness, come pouring out. In 35mm, 93 min.
Mar 14: Fanny and Alexander (1982)
This festive, warm-hearted celebration of the joys and dramas of family life centers on a large 1907 family that runs a repertory theater. The film is vibrant with Bergman’s great life lesson that imagination and performance can restore balance and hope, and it conjures the wonder of everyday life. As Bergman says, “I moved in complete freedom between magic and oatmeal porridge.” With Pernilla Allwin, Bertil Guve, Harriet Andersson, and members of Ingmar Bergman’s family. In 35mm, 188 min.
Once again our summer series celebrates Cary Grant, witty, handsome, elegant gentleman, and superb actor. Comedy, romance, action, suspense—Grant handles it all with incomparable grace and a wry grin.
July 13: Mr. Lucky (H.C. Potter, 1943)
Archie Leach of Bristol, England, rose from his humble, impoverished origins to become Cary Grant of Hollywood, “the man from dream city.” In Mr. Lucky, Joe Aden’s (Grant) life follows a similar arc, rising from lower-class British obscurity to stellar American success—but on the shady side of the law. World War II is raging, but Joe has more immediate concerns: he needs more money to run his floating gambling casino, so he steals another man’s identity to avoid the draft and launches a fail-proof scheme. He’ll charm War Relief society ladies, including delectable Laraine Day and her crew of elders, into letting him run a gambling operation at their charity ball. But Joe’s more than met his match as the women put him to work knitting with needles and yarn in a downtown window, where men walking by on the street can see him. With Charles Bickford, Gladys Cooper, Paul Stewart. In 35mm, 100 min.
The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (1947)
July 20: The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer (Irving Reis, 1947)
This is the first film to make Grant’s capacity for bedazzlement its subject. When visiting artist Dick (Grant) lectures her high school class, student Susan (seventeen-year-old Shirley Temple) envisions him as a knight in shining armor. Dick wants no part of her dream, but after he’s found in a compromising position by a judge, Susan’s older sister Margaret (Myrna Loy), he’s sentenced to squire Susan about until her crush subsides. Grant is marvelously silly as he dresses cool, talks jive, and competes in a three-legged race at a teen picnic. Is Susan still feverish? Of course, and now solemn sister Margaret is getting weak kneed. With Rudy Vallee. In 35mm, 95 min.
I was a Male War Bride (1949)
July 27: I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks, 1949)
In his roles Grant could suffer frustrations and humiliations hilariously, and a spirited, independent-minded Howard Hawks woman like Air Corps officer Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) can dish them out. During World War II in occupied Germany, Catherine and French officer Henri Rochard (Grant) find each other obnoxious, presumptuous, even dangerous—so of course they fall in love and marry. But the much-desired consummation of their marriage, and their entry into the United States, must wait for Grant to put on a dress and a wig and convince the world that he’s a woman. With Marion Marshall, Randy Stewart. Digital restoration, 105 min.
August 3: People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951)
Powered by Mankiewicz’s wise, witty, literate script and one of Grant’s best performances, People Will Talk celebrates non-conforming, quirky individuals who put their provocative ideas into practice. Plus, it’s a romantic comedy! Grant is a non-traditional medical professor who believes that emotions effect physical health, whose best friends are a convicted murderer (Findlay Currie) and an atomic physicist (Walter Slezak) who plays with toy trains. And he thinks maybe he should marry one of his students, a suicidal pregnant woman (Jeanne Crain) who has no partner. All this is just too much for a sour, spiteful academic (Hume Cronyn) who launches an investigation of easygoing Professor Grant. With Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch). In 35mm, 109 min.
August 10: Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952)
In this comic masterpiece, director Hawks and screenwriters Ben Hecht, I.A.L. Diamond, and Charles Lederer take America’s obsession with remaining youthful to delightfully absurd extremes. The marriage of chemist Cary Grant to physicist Ginger Rogers is a dismal, rocky affair of boredom and smoldering resentments. When Grant, with the help of a laboratory chimpanzee, develops a rejuvenation drug and samples it, he suddenly gets a crew cut and a sports car and flirts with his secretary (Marilyn Monroe). Rogers gets her own turn at being an adolescent again, with the dangerously unruly anarchy of childhood soon to follow. In the wacky way of screwball comedy, maybe indulging your inner savage is a sign of true love. With Charles Coburn and George Winslow, famous in the 1950s for his “foghorn voice.” In 35mm, 97 min.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
August 17: To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)
This Hitchcock jewel sparkles with the glamor of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and the French Riviera, and the allure of ill-gotten gains. Grant, a retired high society jewel thief called “The Cat,” is suspected when priceless trinkets start disappearing all around Cannes. The gendarmes want to catch him in the act, while Grant wants to prove his innocence by nabbing the real culprit. Prime targets for plucking are a wealthy American heiress (Jesse Royce Landis) and her daughter (Grace Kelly), so Grant stays close to them, hoping the thief will make a move. Kelly appears to be a remote ice princess, but inside she gets an erotic thrill from the idea that Grant might want to steal from her. Kelly and Grant’s coy approach to seduction is a delight, as when Kelly unpacks a chicken lunch and says, “Would you like a leg or a breast?,” striking Grant speechless. With Brigitte Auber and John Williams. In 35mm, 97 min.
In 2013, an institutional archival assessment was performed that brought to light the Seattle Art Museum’s Historic Media Collection, held in the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library. The collection contains valuable SAM-related content from the 1930s to the present, held on media in various time-based formats, such as reel film, cassette tape, and DVD. Due to the importance of the content and the fragility of the media, it was determined that this collection had the most urgent needs for preservation. The Historic Media Collection has the ability to raise community awareness of SAM’s activities and involvement in Seattle and the region since 1933. Recognizing the community impact and institutional value of the collection, a donation from an anonymous donor and a grant from 4Culture’s Heritage Collections Care have assisted in creating a stewardship project to develop and preserve this notable collection.
The project consists of three phases: surveying and planning, preservation and digitization, and public access. I am currently involved with the first phase of the project, an institutional discovery phase. For the past two months I have interviewed SAM staff at the Olympic Sculpture Park, Asian Art Museum, and Seattle Art Museum to locate any media relating to SAM and institutional history. Through discussions with various institutional departments and tours of the three museum sites, the scope of the collection has grown and the necessity of the project has been substantiated.
Including the items that were known in the Bullitt Library’s holdings, over 2,000 items have been found thus far. An investigation of the nooks and crannies of SAM’s buildings uncovered four film canisters containing thirty rolls of 35-millimeter film in a closet. The search of a storage facility revealed fourteen boxes containing Beta-format tapes, cassettes, VHS recordings, and CD/DVDs. A number of the tapes and CDs found in these boxes were unfortunately ruined due to lack of climate controls in this warehouse, further emphasizing the critical nature of this project.
Another aspect of the project is an appraisal of the materials—what’s on the media and what condition is it in. With the assistance of a personal VCR, cassette, and DVD player, a survey is currently underway of media within this part of the collection. The material that has been discovered has already proven to be rewarding. A CD simply labeled “Data” contained an audio recording of SAM founder and president Dr. Richard Fuller giving a lecture at a Rotarian luncheon in the 1960s, as well as a “Museum on the Air” radio recording with former Educational Director Edith Thackwell (Mrs. A.M. Young).
A number of the videocassettes have contained a treasure trove of news stories and clips relating to the museum. A KIRO News special from 1987 (“Nightsight”) captures a pivotal time in SAM’s history, documenting the transition from the Volunteer Park location to the opening of the current Downtown location. It features interviews with former SAM director Jay Gates and Seattle arts patron and SAM champion Virginia Wright. Other important findings include recordings of interviews and lectures featuring docents of the Seattle Art Museum, who share their stories of SAM. These recordings offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the amount of time and work SAM docents devote for preparation of their tours and presentations. Finally, the recordings capture the contributions of staff and volunteers, many who no longer work at the museum, showcasing a glimpse into the amazing work (from exhibitions to educational programs) that SAM continually provides for communities in the Pacific Northwest.
Another dimension of the project is outreach to local experts in the community to aid with the next two phases of the preservation process. I interviewed John Vallier, Head of Distributed Media at the University of Washington’s Media Center to ask questions regarding best practices for preservation and to provide recommendations to local community experts that could assist with the project. A meeting followed this session with Rachel Price and Libby Hopfauf at MIPoPS (Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound). At least 400 items in the collection are Beta-format, a format not readily viewable on available equipment at the Bullitt Library. Also a recipient of funding from 4Culture, the team at MiPoPS has graciously offered to assist with the appraisal of these materials and to provide budget recommendations for the digitization process. Finally, an interview was conducted with Grammy Award winner and audio wizard Scott Colburn, who graciously offered his time and advice regarding a number of sound recording tapes and cassettes within the collection. The advice and support of these community experts has been invaluable, and will hopefully lead to further collaborations with latter phases of the project.
This blog will be the first of several continual updates into the surveying and planning for SAM’s Historic Media Collection. Interviews with departments throughout the institution, the appraisal of media materials, and discussions regarding policies are still underway. Once the first phase of the project is completed in December, the next projected steps of preservation and access will begin, with the goal to preserve these valuable cultural materials in order to sustain SAM’s rich history and provide access to these public resources.
If you have any questions about this project, please post them in the comments section below.
–Michael Besozzi, Project Coordinator: Historic Media Collection
Film/Life: Shadowland: The 39th Film Noir Series
Thursdays, Sep 29-Dec 11, 7:30 pm
Seattle Art Museum
Shadowland, where the past is haunted, but the future’s bright with big-money schemes. Where tough dames and wise guys live for midnight and hope to see the dawn. Where fate sings a blues tune and laughs in the dark.
Film noir is low-down, sexed-up, over the speed limit. It’s the juvenile delinquent child of brooding German Expressionist cinema aesthetics, French poetic realism, and American pulp fiction, godfathered by post-World-War-II malaise and timeless moral corruption.
The world’s longest running film noir celebration, called “the best series in Seattle film history” by Charles R. Cross, features a Top Pot doughnut opening night party.
September 29: Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947). “Film noir” is a French term, but it speaks eloquently to the American ethos of success at any price. Romantic matinee idol Tyrone Power stunned the world with his deep-delving portrayal of a carnival hustler who manipulates women and a gullible public to gain all the glittering prizes in life. Years ahead of its time, the film holds up a dark mirror to the show business of religion, and it gives a frightening whiff of a cunning animal hiding behind a respectable façade. In 35mm, 110 min.
October 6: The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946). Haven’t been to Cuba yet? Have we got a trip for you. One of the most evocative adaptations of master noir novelist Cornell Woolrich’s fictional world, The Chase centers on downtrodden war vet Robert Cummings. In Miami he finds, and returns, mobster Steve Cochran’s wallet. Hired to be Cochran’s chauffeur, Cummings meets the racketeer’s melancholy, victimized wife (Michele Morgan) and creepy henchman (Peter Lorre). Cummings is stirred by Morgan’s beauty, and her plight, and the film becomes a fever dream of escape to Havana, speeding cars and lurking menace. UCLA Film Archive 35mm print, 86 min.
October 20: T-Men (Anthony Mann, 1948). This gritty gem established the artistic reputations of director Anthony Mann and wizard noir cinematographer John Alton. Attempting to crack a Detroit counterfeiting ring, Treasury Agents Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder descend into a dangerous night world. Mann shows that there’s a thin line between the law and the lawless as the agents pose as hoods to infiltrate the gang. Alton’s camera bathes everything in cold shadow and hot light, and Wallace Ford has the cinema’s most memorable steam bath. With favorite gravel-voiced bad guy Charles McGraw. Library of Congress 35mm print, 91 min.
October 27: The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, 1947). Cultured and refined, the silky voice of Claude Rains tells tales of mystery and murder on his popular radio show. Obsessed with death and deception, as well as the need to gain control of a fortune and his niece’s opulent mansion, Rains plans to kill to get what he wants. And of course he will do it with finesse, as an exercise of his brilliant mind. Still, no matter how carefully he plans, blackmail, amnesia, and femme fatale Audrey Totter are beyond his control. Library of Congress 35mm print, 103 min. Screening includes a film discussion with critic Richard T. Jameson.
November 3: The Red House (Delmer Daves, 1947). This rare pastoral noir features the superb Edward G. Robinson as a crippled farmer who’s cared for by his devoted sister (Judith Anderson) and adopted daughter (Allene Roberts). Roberts has always been told to stay away from a strange, abandoned red house somewhere out in the woods, but one day she and hired hand Lon McCallister set out to find it. Twisted psyches, dark secrets and Miklos Rosza’s haunting music are sure to follow. Library of Congress 35mm print, 100 min.
November 10: Flaxy Martin (Richard Bare, 1949). An honest attorney (Zachary Scott) starts working for a crime syndicate. It’s not for the money—it’s the woman. He can’t resist mob boss Douglas Kennedy’s luscious girlfriend (Virginia Mayo), and she feels the same about him. But soon Scott’s trapped in a web of underworld machinations and sudden death. Maybe librarian Dorothy Malone can help. With the great Elisha Cook, Jr. as a small-time hood. Library of Congress 35mm print, 86 min.
November 17: The Prowler (Joseph Losey, 1951). Van Heflin appears to be a model policeman, but he’s out to get everything he can out of life, any way he can. The report of a prowler takes him to an affluent neighborhood, where he meets the lonely wife (Evelyn Keyes) of a popular, wealthy radio disc jockey (the voice of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo). Heflin sees the sad and shapely Keyes as a ticket to the good life, and starts scheming on the wrong side of the law. UCLA Film Archive restored 35mm print, 92 min. Screening includes a film discussion with critic Richard T. Jameson.
December 1: Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). Powerhouse Burt Lancaster plays a ruthless Broadway gossip columnist who has more than brotherly feelings for his sister (Susan Harrison). “Susie’s all I’ve got,” he tells nervous press agent Tony Curtis as he orders him to ruin the career of Susie’s jazz musician boyfriend (Martin Milner). This proves to be no easy task, even in “a dirty town” where brutal power rules and souls are for sale. With poetic dialogue by Clifford Odets, James Wong Howe cinematography and hot Chico Hamilton Quartet jazz. Digital cinema restoration, 96 min.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014) Directed by Dan Gilroy
December 8: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014). From the acid-dripping gossip columns of Sweet Smell of Success to the late-breaking video footage of Nightcrawler, the cynical, dark side of human nature makes news. An LA loner (Jake Gyllenhaal) fascinated by TV news starts shooting car wrecks and homicide scenes after the action’s over, and selling his footage to struggling news editor Rene Russo. His good artistic eye and gutsy pursuits advance his career, and one night he comes upon a crime as it’s happening. Does he pause to consider professional ethics, human decency and personal safety? Not for a second. Digital cinema, 104 min.
In this political year we celebrate the fun-loving intelligence and casual, stylish charm of Cary Grant, who critics, authors, and Clint Eastwood call “the best, most subtly brilliant actor in the cinema.” To put it simply, he’s comic perfection.
Of course perfection takes hard work, even for the man who makes everything look easy and elegant. We picture him at age eighty-two, impeccable in a cashmere sweater, lounging in his Beverly Hills garden. Or fifty years earlier, nonchalant in a formal tuxedo, laughing with Katharine Hepburn at a chic Hollywood soiree. But who’s this nine-year-old Archie Leach of Bristol, England, a child of working-class poverty and a traumatic home life? How did Archie grow up to be Cary, “the man from dream city,” as a character calls him in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer?
A lonely child weary of his parents’ battles, Archie at nine was astounded to come home from school one day to find his mother gone—forever. Unbeknownst to the boy, his father had committed her to a mental institution and Archie had to live with the mystery of her absence. Alienated from his emotionally distant father and bored with school, Archie was a latch key kid fending for himself. Visiting backstage at a vaudeville stage show, he felt at home amid the “smiling, jostling people wearing costumes; they were cheerful and carefree; I had found a place to be, and people let me be there.”
Cary Grant in 1940
Escaping from spiritual darkness, Archie made his way into the light-filled world he was born to inhabit. Mature for his thirteen years, bright, tall, good-looking, athletic and graceful, he began touring Britain with a vaudeville troupe, reveling in audience applause, and, eventually, his father’s pride. Archie performed in New York at age sixteen, and the can-do American spirit, plus the exuberant, self-confident persona of swashbuckling US movie star Douglas Fairbanks, reinforced the English youth’s quest to discover and become his best self. And just as Archie’s vocal accent would become a unique blending of American and English tones, the English wit and sartorial paragon Noël Coward joined Fairbanks as an inspiring example of how to make one’s way through life.
Archie flexed his artistic muscles on the New York stage, singing, dancing, acting, doing magic tricks and acrobatic stunts, and getting laughs. He identified wet, cold weather with the emotional malaise of his Bristol childhood, and he vowed to always live where the sun shone. It was time. The movies were being made in California, so he got in his used Packard and drove cross-country to Hollywood. He knew where he was going and he was about to take a world of delighted moviegoers with him—but he had to do something about that name. He was Archie Leach, but he chose to be Cary Grant. “I played at being someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me.”
Bringing Up Baby (1938) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Katharine Hepburn (as Susan Vance) , Cary Grant (as Dr. David Huxley)
July 7: Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938). Our series begins at the pinnacle of screwball comedy, with serious-minded paleontologist Cary Grant at the top of a ladder putting together a dinosaur skeleton. His life is carefully planned: complete his project, get married tomorrow. But can the intrusive, chaotic whirlwind that is Katharine Hepburn and her pet leopard, Baby, show him a more wonderful life? Library of Congress 35mm print, 102 min.
July 14: My Favorite Wife (Garson Kanin, 1940). Bigamy was never so much fun as when Irene Dunne, lost at sea years ago, returns to find her husband (Grant) married to Gail Patrick. Juggling this crazy, comically contentious situation is difficult enough—and then hunk Randolph Scott, who Dunne was shipwrecked with, enters the picture. Library of Congress 35mm print, 88 min.
July 21: The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940). In this witty triumph for Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart, we join Philadelphia aristocrat Hepburn on the eve of her wedding to tycoon John Howard. Her ex-husband Grant, with a bemused light touch, hangs around the periphery letting her know that she’s making an unwise marriage. And newsman Stewart plunges right in, falling for the magnificent woman he’s been sent to report on. Which man Hepburn will choose remains a beautifully sustained question. Features a famous scene sparked by dialogue Cary Grant improvised. In 35mm, 110 min.
July 28: Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944). Grant’s a master of polite reserve, so it’s a delightful contrast when he cuts loose and dithers about. What’s driving him to distraction? His wacky Brooklyn aunts just might be poisoning visitors and burying them in the cellar. And then sinister Peter Lorre and Raymond Massey come to call. In 35mm, 118 min.
August 4: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1948). Jammed into a tiny Manhattan apartment with his wife (Myrna Loy) and two daughters, Grant dreams of a serene house in the country. He impulsively buys an ancient farmhouse, and gets cheated by the real estate agent in the process. Then, as he deals with a deluge of construction problems, the frustrated Grant has to listen to the wry comments of his friend Melvyn Douglas, who has a flirtatious eye for Loy. In 35mm, 106 min.
August 11: Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963). Grant always worked with the best performers, and his only pairing with Audrey Hepburn is a high-style comic thriller. Hepburn has a lot to be puzzled about: her husband is mysteriously dead, there’s stolen money, and menacing James Coburn and George Kennedy don’t wish her well. But one thing’s for sure—at one point she says to Cary Grant, “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing.” With music by Henry Mancini. In 35mm, 113 min.
Desire was never more perfectly pictured. Photographer George Hurrell captured a magic moment between the lovely Greta Garbo and debonair John Barrymore on the set of the 1932 film Grand Hotel. Here’s hoping your Valentine’s Day is just as dreamy!
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
Image: Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, ca. 1932, printed 1980, George Hurrell (American, 1904-1992), gelatin silver photograph, 16 1/6 x 18 7/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Dr. Farel Rosenberg, 84.220.9.
One of the abiding pleasures of my job is that I get to spend so much time in museums—not just the Seattle Art Museum, but great institutions throughout Europe and the United States. That’s where I spend my business trips, and many vacations too. Working in a museum, I am familiar with the teamwork and myriad decisions that go into creating collection installations and exhibitions. Now a gorgeous new film, Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery (playing December 5-11 at the Northwest Film Forum), invites viewers to watch the activity behind the scenes at one of the finest collections of European art in the world, London’s National Gallery.
Wiseman edited down hundreds of hours filmed on-site to craft a paean to the art of looking. We observe masterpiece after masterpiece–close-up, within the grand architecture of the galleries, and unframed in the attic conservation studio. We observe people—the professional staff of the Gallery, which includes the director Nicholas Penny, curators, educators, marketing specialists, scientists, framers, conservators, art handlers, maintenance staff—as well as studious visitors who scrutinize these paintings looking for answers or just marveling at the talents of great artists of the past.
In contrast to many documentaries, there is no narration, no interviews, and no identification of the speakers. We take a fly-on-the-wall position and watch the business of the museum unfold in a non-hierarchical way. The closest thing to a dramatic crisis is a series of conversations among museum staff about whether the august Gallery should succumb to marketing opportunities to appear more hip and reach a broader audience. I was fascinated to recognize that the National Gallery–which has free admission and welcomes over five million visitors annually—is as concerned as we are at SAM to understand our audiences and develop programs with their needs in mind. But in a film that lasts nearly three hours, this is just one of many activities that hum through the museum, seemingly no more or less important than installing a new lighting system, managing a blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, or conserving paintings.
The curators and conservators have unparalleled knowledge about the works of art in their care, but their conversations here are often quite insular and subtle. For me the heroes of the film are the talented and passionate gallery educators who are marvelously effective in helping visitors to understand what the artist was trying to do all those years ago under circumstances that feel quite foreign to us today. All of these dedicated professionals prize active looking, as does Wiseman. He lets scenes unfold in real time, which will require an adjustment from viewers used to quick-paced, plot-driven films. But patience has its rewards, and in the final scene the film achieves poetry as a pair of dancers perform in an empty gallery before two of the most moving works that Titian ever painted. These wordless moments where music, dance, and painting come together resonate with a power beyond all of the eloquent words that came before.
–Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture