Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Richard Schickel: Time Magazine Critic Prefers Jean Gabin to Spencer Tracy (Yes!) and Says Goodbye to LACMA's Film Program

In October 2009, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will shutter its 37-year film program, which included a popular twelve-film 2002 tribute to Jean Gabin.

by Charles Zigman, August 5, 2009.

On July 28, 2009, Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, announced that his museum's prestigous Friday and Saturday night film screenings, a Los Angeles mainstay for more than thirty-seven years, will be shut down, in October, due to lack of financing and because it's been bleeding money: The program has lost, according to Govan, more than $1 million over the last ten years. (During a bad economy, as this author has discovered elsewhere, the arts -- especially film -- is the first thing to go.)

It's tragic, because LACMA is one of the few places left in the entire country where one can regularly go to see great old movies, projected in a theater, and the films programmed by former curator Ian Birnie were often brilliant and neglected. (How long before L.A.'s American Cinematheque and N.Y.'s Film Forum are boarded up?)

On August 1, Time Magazine's illustrious film critic Richard Schickel wrote an Opinion piece for the L.A. Times, entitled, "LACMA's Cruelest Cut," in which he decried LACMA's savage cut. In the same piece, he extolled some of the great movies and filmmakers he had witnessed at LACMA's Leo S. Bing Theater over the last many years.

Especially, in his Times piece, Schickel celebrated the great French actor Jean Gabin, the subject of this author's two-volume biography/filmography WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, which was released on July 20, 2008 ( The all-new, expanded/revised version of the book will be released on September 1, 2009.

In his L.A. Times piece, Schickel wrote:

"[At LACMA], you could have witnessed the great Jean Gabin (weary, taciturn and the kind of actor Spencer Tracy aimed to be but never quite became) in Touchez pas au Grisbi, experiencing a screen portrayal at its highest and most subtle level."

Above, Schickel has referenced the fact that American journalists have always called Jean Gabin "the French Spencer Tracy," but that, in his opinion, Gabin is superior to Tracy. (This author loves both actors, but has to agree with Schickel.)

LACMA's 2002 twelve-film tribute series to Jean Gabin was, principally, what lit the fire under me to write my book about Gabin. I had seen a number of his films before, but LACMA screened some of the actor's films which had rarely been screened in Los Angeles, in beautiful 35 millimeter prints, and I couldn't wait to write about them.

And of course, while I'm devastated to see LACMA's film series go, and while I try to stay away from editorializing on this blogsite (as well as in my life), I can also see the other side of the picture as well, in the sense that, while LACMA's Friday and Saturday night film presentations are one of my favorite things about L.A., I'm also hopelessly pragmatic; I understand that the series had lost more than $1 million over the last ten years, because of underattendance. (Usually, only 250 out of the theater's 600 seats are sold.) So while I feel horribly that LACMA's film series has to be axed, I have to say that I also agree with director Govan. Some people, on line, are "making petitions" in the hopes of restoring LACMA's film program, but if the petitioners are really interested, what they should really do is send LACMA some money, instead of some signatures. I try not to add any vitriol to this blog site, but it always infuriates me, to no end, when groovy artsy-craftsy people want something done, but they always think it should come out of somebody else's pocket, and I am guilty of this grievous sin sometimes, too. If you want LACMA to continue its series, as I do, you should be thinking, as I am thinking right now, about writing LACMA a check, because the arts don't run themselves, especially during a Recession. Just like anything else worth doing, you have to fight for it, and the way we fight, here in America, is with green paper with pictures of presidents on it, and not by signing a passive-agressive petition. And, yes, I am completely serious about this.

What I'm trying to say, most ineffectively, is that I hope LACMA can restore its Friday and Saturday night film presentations, but if it can't, it can't. Money talks. I thank the Museum for the years of pleasure its film screenings have given me and others in L.A.

And I thank Richard Schickel for pointing out, correctly, in his Los Angeles Times piece, that Jean Gabin is "the real Spencer Tracy!"

Rene Dary and Jean Gabin starred in Touchez pas au grisbi, which was screened at LACMA, in 2002, as part of the Museum's Gabin Film Festival.

The all-new 2009 edition of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO, will be available on September 1, 2009. Check this blogsite for updates!