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What is the current value of these films for contemporary audiences? Educational, entertainment, or something else?
I think there's all that, but also this is the Museum of Modern Art, which from its inception has considered film to be an art. To the extent that art is entertaining fine, and to the extent that it is edifying in other ways fine also, but I think it also has a spiritual element. In one of the commentaries I am posting online for the series I refer to film as an alternative religion for the 20th century. That may offend a lot of people, but for me and many, what one feels from film is a religious experience at its very best.
I am also hoping to show really good 35mm prints. A lot of people have seen these films on video or DVD, but that's not really seeing them. If you look at a film like Josef von Sternberg's Morocco
, for example, you see it on the big screen and it's a totally different experience. There's also this whole factor that we don't always deal with, which is that there is always a whole new audience of younger people who have come along and haven't seen these movies. So, there is an educational function there, of making people aware of what has come before and contrast that with what is being made today, which may be highly imitative and inferior to what was maybe fifty, sixty, seventy years ago.
What changes have you seen in the NYC film scene in the time you've been at MoMA?
It used to be easier to see films, at least the ones that I wanted to see. There were several repertory houses going all the timeâ€“the Elgin, the Thalia, the New Yorkerâ€“and essentially that scene is gone. There were a lot more foreign films opening. It's now so expensive to open a film in New York, in terms of publicity and such, that we're missing out on a lot of things. At the same time, back in the 1960s and 1970s it was a very exciting timeâ€“the time of the New Wave, and great things were also coming out of England and Italyâ€“so there was a lot more reason for foreign films to be available. MoMA has always been a sort of bastion for film lovers and it remains constant, but in general there was a greater variety of cinema in the city.
(photo credits: Museum of Modern Art)