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Museum Movies

Museum Movies: The Museum of Modern Art and the Birth of Art Cinema

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 327
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  • Book Info
    Museum Movies
    Book Description:

    Haidee Wasson provides a rich cultural history of cinema's transformation from a passing amusement to an enduring art form by mapping the creation of the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, established in 1935. The first North American film archive and museum, the film library pioneered an expansive moving image network, comprising popular, abstract, animated, American, Canadian, and European films. More than a repository, MoMA circulated these films nationally and internationally, connecting the modern art museum to universities, libraries, women's clubs, unions, archives, and department stores. Under the aegis of the museum, cinema also changed. Like books, paintings, and photographs, films became discrete objects, integral to thinking about art, history, and the politics of modern life.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93783-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Making Cinema a Modern Art
    (pp. 1-31)

    In 1935 the fledgling Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, announced the formation of the Film Library, a department tasked with saving and exhibiting films that were in danger of being forever lost to public view. At this point in American history, the life cycle of a typical film was extremely brief; the bulk of commercial features disappeared quickly from movie screens, never to appear again. Viewing art films and what we today call movie classics was still a highly unusual activity, confined to major urban centers and only a handful of theaters. As such, there was widespread skepticism...

  6. 2 Mannered Cinema/Mobile Theaters: Film Exhibition, 16mm, and the New Audience Ideal
    (pp. 32-67)

    In 1943 , Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced an issue of Passing Parade, a newsreel series hosted by John Nesbitt and distributed to MGM theaters to be exhibited before its feature films. EntitledForgotten Treasure,the episode resulted from collaboration with MoMA’s Film Library, established eight years earlier.¹ Acknowledging the invaluable contribution of film to the storehouse of human records,Forgotten Treasuredocuments and dramatizes the plight of film images. While doing so, it asserts the uniqueness of film as a precious record of human activity and thereby implores that these decaying pieces of human experience be saved, that they be rescued from...

  7. 3 The Mass Museology of the Modern
    (pp. 68-109)

    When Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to MoMA as a “living museum” in 1939 , the idea of a vital and sentient storehouse was not new. Indeed, the possibility of a museum that actively conjoined the objects it housed and the public at large was an increasingly prominent theme among museum professionals from the turn of the century forward.² The metaphor of “living” performed a complicated kind of work. On the one hand, it responded to the generally held belief that museums were more like mausoleums, isolated outposts where dead things stared down time. On the other hand, it named a...

  8. 4 An Awkward and Dangerous Task: The Film Library Takes Shape
    (pp. 110-148)

    When Iris Barry took up her role as the first curator of MoMA’s Film Library, her work was just beginning. Barry did not share the deep skepticism about film’s value that pervaded the museum’s board of trustees. Neither did she wholly share the Eurocentric leanings of the museum’s first director, Alfred Barr. Barry was a dedicated cinephile who even in her distaste for particular films betrayed her general passion for all things cinematic. This included an approach to Hollywood films that demonstrated a considerable range, from dismissive edicts to unbridled enthusiasm.

    Although the Film Library had gained official status and...

  9. 5 Rearguard Exhibition: The Film Library’s Circulating Programs
    (pp. 149-184)

    As a small and ill-fitting piece of the much larger museum puzzle, the Film Library lacked a secure foundation on which to grow. During its first four years, the library was not housed in the larger museum building and did not have its own theater. All other museum departments were located in an impressive three-story Rockefeller brownstone at 11 West Fifty-third Street, which only several years later would be torn down to make room for the much larger, iconic Goodwin-Stone building (1939 ). The young Film Library was structurally and spatially dislocated from other museum departments. Its finances were managed...

  10. 6 Enduring Legacies
    (pp. 185-194)

    In his well-known book,The Tastemakers(1949 ), Russel Lynes charts a curious yet compelling phenomenon. In an effort to wrestle with the vexing movement of cultural value, he proposes to map the shifting assignations of select objects. Among them, there are two items of particular interest. On the one hand, he asserts that James Whistler’s paintingArrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1(commonly known asWhistler’s Mother) began as a highbrow object, born into the precious reserve of fine art. Yet from the last third of the nineteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century,...

  11. APPENDIX: Film Programs of the Museum of Modern Art, 1934–1949
    (pp. 195-208)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-274)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-298)
  14. Index
    (pp. 299-314)