Getting Reel: Film Screenings at Art Museums

“Does art reflect life? In movies, yes. Because more than any other art form, films have been a mirror held up to society’s porous face.” Marjorie Rosen

Ever wonder why art museums offer films as part of their educational programming? Obviously, films are considered visual art, but they also can help to illuminate different themes from a particular exhibition or reveal various influences on an artist.  Take, for instance, the fall 2011 Cities of the Future Film Series, supporting the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s exhibition Tomás Saraceno: Cloud SpecificTomás Saraceno’s work highlights his longstanding exploration of a sustainable futurist sky city consisting of pod like structures powered by solar and wind. The Cities of the Future films, Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang), Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati) and Silent Running (1971, Douglas Trumbull), played off these themes.  Both Metropolis and Silent Running present dystopian future worlds of social crisis and ecological ruin, while Playtime takes a farcical look at a future Paris full of modern architecture and technology.

Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Iridescent/Flying Garden/Airport City, 2007.

Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Iridescent/Flying Garden/Airport City, 2007.

Film still from Silent Running

Film still from Silent Running (1971)

This past spring the Kemper Art Museum offered the France at War Film Series to support Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928 – 1945, an exhibition that examined Braque’s still lifes and interiors from 1928 through World War II.  Since Braque was a Frenchman and working artist living in Paris during World War II, a film series dedicated to WWII and France seemed applicable.  The France at War films were The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir), Children of Paradise (1945, Marcel Carné) and Goodbye, Children (1987, Louis Malle).  Goodbye, Children directly explores the persecution of Jews, while The Rules of the Game satirizes upper-class French society at the onset of WWII.  Interestingly, Children of Paradise was filmed during the occupation of France by Germany and many of the film extras were Resistance fighters using the film as cover.  By presenting films that enhance thematic points in the Kemper’s exhibitions, audiences are given another way to access, understand, and appreciate art works then on view at the Kemper Art Museum.

“Find out the movies a man saw between ten and fifteen, which ones he liked, disliked, and you would have a pretty good idea of what sort of mind and temperament he has.” Gore Vidal

Often contemporary artists cite film as being very much an influence in shaping their world views or directly impacting their artistic practice. This was the case in spring 2012 when the Kemper featured the work of the British artist John Stezaker whose collages examine the onslaught of images in contemporary culture. Stezaker indicated the three films selected for the Fringe Figure Film SeriesThe Third Man (1949, Carol Reed), Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock), and Pierrot le Fou (1965, Jean-Luc Godard) – as representative of themes relevant to his practice.  Much like the characters Harry Lime in The Third Man, Norman Bates in Psycho and Ferdinand Griffon in Pierrot le Fou, Stezaker’s work subverts what is familiar to the point that it’s often simultaneously captivating, unnerving, and surreal.

John Stezaker, Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) LXI, 2010.

John Stezaker, Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) LXI, 2010.

Film still from The Third Man

Film still from The Third Man (1949)

This fall, the Kemper will present Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks and again will offer films as part of the educational programming. The three films selected by Johnson for the Artist’s Pick Film Series illuminate themes such as race, identity and Afrofuturism found in Johnson’s artwork.  Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasss Song (1971, Melvin Van Peebles), a precursor to the blaxploitation genre; Space is the Place (1974, John Coney), a science fiction film about resettlement of African Americans to a space colony; and The Brother from Another Planet (1984, John Sayles), a dramatic comedy about an escaped slave from outer space will be screened this December at the Tivoli Theater.

Hope to see you in the theater and in the galleries!

 “For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.” Alfred Hitchcock

 By Allison Taylor (Friday, August 16, 2013)

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