There were four of us on this warm Friday night; blankets under our arms, plastic bags full of snacks; we were walking down a nondescript stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard after a seemingly endless search for a parking spot. And we were not alone. One could see a few more people on the sidewalk, like us schlepping bags and lawn chairs and headed in the same direction. When we reached the imposing entrance to Hollywood Forever, the coolest cemetery in town, a long line of people were patiently waiting there, still hoping to be allowed through its gates. But they were out of luck; the cemetery was already completely packed, and I'm not talking about its peacefully sleeping permanent residents.
Inside, there was a youngish crowd of probably five or six hundred happy revelers sprawled out on the lawn, glasses of wine in hand, baskets of food on their blankets. Most of the people had gotten there a couple hours in advance to secure a spot and enjoy the sunset while listening to some DJ-spun jazz. And that was just a warm-up for the main event – the screening of one of my favorites, Some Like It Hot, the 1959 golden Hollywood classic by Billy Wilder.
Here they were: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon – young, sexy, hilariously funny: singing, dancing, and expertly making fools of themselves –all that projected on the mausoleum wall, behind which hundreds of people are entombed, including the legendary Rudolf Valentino. These festive summertime screenings have developed a cult following over the years, and talking to a few regulars, I realized that most of them either hadn't seen this movie before or were enjoying watching it for the first time on the big screen, as it was originally intended to be seen. And did I mention that it was a full moon night?
Who would believe that while a capacity crowd was enjoying the magic of movies at the cemetery of all places, a major champion of the arts in our city – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – was preparing to end its well-regarded weekend film program, which has been in existence for four decades? The museum's reasoning is that funds are scarce and audiences are dwindling, an explanation that would fly if we weren't talking, for heaven's sake, about the City of Angels, the film capital of the whole damn world!
In New York, crowds flock to screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, while here, the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Skirball Cultural Center continue to expand their film programs, with a steady increase in attendance. It certainly takes something special to draw people away from their TV sets. Just a week ago, I barely managed to squeeze in to a LACMA screening of Julie and Julia, with the incomparable Meryl Streep channeling Julia Child, and two weeks prior to that, the same theater was almost full for the screening of Ivan the Terrible, the 1940s classic by legendary Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. In both cases, the movies were given, as is typical at LACMA, a polite, but cursory introduction, and I felt it was a missed opportunity for a maybe 10-15 minute eloquent and passionate talk about the art of movie-making.
After all, when we go to commercial movie theaters, we are accustomed to sitting through commercials and previews, so shouldn't we expect that the museum would be able to find an original, inspiring way to introduce a movie – and maybe even smartly entertain the audience with a few tidbits about what's going on in the museum? It's disingenuous for the museum to blame the audience for the demise of its film program; it feels as if LACMA has lost its passion and conviction for the art form which is the core identity of this city. After spending more than a million dollars on a visibility study for the gigantic sculpture of a suspended train by Jeff Koons, supposedly a new symbol of civic pride for LA, the museum seems to be in the process of cutting off its nose to spite its face by killing its venerated film series.
Cinespia, Hollywood Forever: Cemetery Screenings Season '09
Saturday nights through August 22
Banner image: The scene on the lawn of Hollywood Forever before a screening