Sundance Institute Programmer Hussain Currimbhoy sat down with Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to discuss the shifts in the industry and how they’re affecting everything from festivals and theaters to distribution and the Academy Awards.
Rajendra Roy: It’s super timely we would have this chat. Everything is changing and everything is going to have to function in new ways. I feel like we are at the end of days for the industry apparatus/apparati as we know it.
Hussain Currimbhoy: Everything?
RR: Everything. Presently, film festivals and distribution.
HC: The Cannes question is an important one. What happened this year was frankly a little embarrassing. It all revolved around these weird rules that come down to money—and that made them treat a film by Orson Welles like this. I don’t want festivals to be irrelevant. Festivals are a home to free speech, to new ideas, and yeah, sometimes you are talking to the converted, but sometimes you aren’t. But a festival still has to be responsive. It was a bit weird because a Godard film played in Cannes and then on TV not long after, so it was like different rules applied to the American industry. So many of these films from Netflix now are going to Venice. What did they have, like six films at Venice?
RR: Look, it just goes back to this being a time of extreme turbulence, to put it mildly. The Cannes reaction, let’s call it what it is: a French film industry reaction. I want to give Thierry credit for knowing that change needed to happen. He put himself out there the year before by including Okja, Bong Joon Ho’s film, and The Meyerowitz Stories, by including Netflix titles. And we have to be realistic—he was not given an option. Either he stayed and accommodated the French film industry or he left.
HC: He was in a tough spot for sure.
RR: But the thing that is very clear is that it’s a great example of holding on to systems that are antiquated. And we will see what Berlin does, and if they hold on tight, don’t evolve or change, I fear there could be a similarly dispiriting result. And the same can be true of the Academy. They are trying to adapt. Whether they are making the right choices remains to be seen, but at least they are acknowledging that a 20 percent drop in viewership is not acceptable and not sustainable.
With Cannes, you cannot have a funding scheme, which is at the heart of this. It’s a French funding scheme, which has benefited all of us because there have been great films produced because of the ability of French filmmakers to be able to make films with these subsidies that are generated by viewership, theatrical sales, that get plugged back into production. But you can’t have a scheme that does that when it’s dependent on a three-year window between theatrical and streaming. It’s not the present or the past; its Jurassic. It’s not reality. So you have to change your scheme. And I get that that doesn’t just happen overnight. But when you start covering that real problem with nationalism, and the cloak of evil American colonial business practice—and, by the way, Netflix is also at fault for not being as flexible as needed. Individuals within Netflix, perhaps … I’ve spoken to many Netflix folks who want to be more flexible, and hopefully they will get there. But you can’t have two brick walls facing each other. So the French industry insisting on “It’s three years or nothing”—then Netflix will choose nothing. Of course they will, because it makes no business sense for them. And frankly, while they are giving every director a director’s cut, basically, and they are giving them their asking budget, why would a Bong Joon Ho say no? No one was going to pay Bong his budget, which was a big, normal, effects-laden, epic movie budget, for a movie about a young girl and a fucking giant pig. Maybe if it was a boy character, maybe if the boy was white. Would Bong have wanted a greater theatrical release than it had? Of course. It should have been the E.T. of that summer. We will never really know how far down the cultural grapevine it could have flowed because we don’t know the viewership numbers. But that movie deserved to be in Cannes. It was palpable this year. Everyone felt it. Cannes felt different this year. And Venice will be different this year because Netflix is there. Great for Venice, but only to a point, because they can’t expand, they are locked in to their scale, and that’s not the solution to everything. Anyway, everything has a knock-on effect.
HC: Isn’t it funny how everyone has gone just bananas over Crazy Rich Asians?
RR: Sorry, I haven’t seen it. Have you seen it?
HC: Me neither. But if they had gone to a streaming company, it would have happened and then faded out in a week. They actually chose the theatrical route, not with festivals, but straight to cinemas, and it’s being called not a movie but a moment. You and I can both relate to not having people who look like you on screen. But the great and positive effect this film has had culturally, sociologically, I’m really heartened by that. Look, I like filmmakers getting a paycheck, having a livelihood thanks to streamers. I love that a film gets millions of people watching [it] at the push of a button. But people do not discuss or think about a film when it’s on a streaming platform the way it is thought about when it’s in cinemas.
RR: I think this is where “curation” comes into play. I think it all depends on the work itself, whether or not a film can become a cultural touchstone. You are right, Crazy Rich Asians could not have become the cultural touchstone it has become if it was a day-and-date release. What sets it apart is it’s a blockbuster with an all-Asian cast, released theatrically.
HC: A film like this has a longer story when it’s in cinemas.
RR: Let’s face it, there are a ton of blockbuster films with all-Asian casts, they happen to be Asian movies. What makes this unique—and again, I haven’t seen it—but it’s a Hollywood movie.
But the counterpoint is Nanette, which did become a cultural touchstone. I think it’s because of the work itself, obviously, but also because it was streamable. People who wouldn’t consider watching a “comedy special” or a TED Talk, or whatever you think that is, had access to it and could watch it immediately and could talk about it. So the conversation around it became about its content and less about a woman doing a stand-up show, even an out lesbian doing a stand-up show. So you have two counterpoint examples over the summer: one a Netflix production that became a cultural touchstone and one a Hollywood film that became a touchstone, and if you flipped them they wouldn’t have worked. No one would have gone to see Nanette in the theater.
HC: I think what they have in common is that they have both taken a standard and turned that standard on its head. Nanette broke the stand-up mold and took it into a whole new terrain, in a way not seen since Lenny Bruce. When you do that, the context of the content makes it resonate beyond its format. The medium isn’t always the message. There’s a quote from David Cronenberg that I want to read to you that kind of started off this whole conversation for me. I thought of you when I read this:
“The painter Willem de Kooning said: ‘Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.’ I say, the human body is the reason the cinema was invented. The face, the body, is its true subject, the most photographed object in cinema. Cinema is the body. I’m here today because I’ve made some movies. But because of the internet, Netflix, streaming, cinema is dissolving, the big screen is shattering into many little screens, and this is causing much stress amongst movie-nostalgia hardliners. It doesn’t matter to me. In fact, it pleases me. Because the human body is evolving, changing, and since the cinema is body, it makes sense that the cinema is changing, evolving as well.”
I had to fly the Canadian flag at some point in this conversation.
RR: My colleagues make fun of me, not that I’m being Pollyannaish, but recently I have found this to be an entirely positive and inspiring moment for our art form because it’s finding ways, as Cronenberg says, to evolve, to morph, and to push forward. When Netflix began as a DVD mail-order service, it was developing a whole new generation of cinephiles, teaching them how to develop taste and to be curious, and to “curate.”—an overused word, I know, but if you had a Netflix queue, which doesn’t exist any more, but at the time you had a list of films that you wanted to see. And somehow, either through word of mouth, conversations, and ultimately algorithms, you were teaching yourself cinema history. In our generation it was the video store. The algorithms are the Achilles’ heel of the streaming movement. And it doesn’t need to continue to exist. I mean, I’m not fluent in blockchain technology, but I think the transparency that blockchain offers is super interesting because it brings it back to critical thinking and choice rather than robotic push, rather than content being pushed at us and choices being made for us, we will be pulled in again. Again, the video store analogy or even the cinema: you are being pulled into a space where you have to make a choice. And festivals still offer a critical opportunity for that. You are being pulled into a scenario, being given a menu of options, from which you have to choose. I want to see festivals continue to thrive, but I have to say, and I have been thinking about this more and more, and obviously my own institution and its long history, but the emergence of more brick-and-mortar film centers, including the new Academy Museum, the Olympus Museum, and I’ve had off-the-record conversations with your colleagues about Sundance building more permanent facilities, obviously the Light Box, the Eye in Amsterdam, that I see as the present and the future of cinema, weirdly. I think the “museumification’,” building actual locations of cinema, will be critical for the perpetuation of a culture and a tradition.
HC: I agree. And I say that without having seen the evidence.
RR: All you have to do is spend a few months at MoMA to see we have rabid fans. We have better attendance percentages than any multiplex. With work, the demographic challenge that every cinematheque faces—by that I mean the aging population of cinephiles—is solvable. You can get younger, more diverse, busy people, into your cinematheque with work, and that’s very different from marketing and promotion. Its hyper-specific to content. Previous generations of cinephiles would literally come to anything, because they are curious and used to a repertory style of programming and they trusted a branded curator and their vision. Now, and I think it’s because people have been trained to be their own curators, they know what they are interested in. Not that they are less curious—they will be adventurous but they want to know what the relationship is between what you are proposing and what they already know and what they identify with and how they can place themselves in the context of the work. People need to make sure that they are invited. That was a huge problem 10 to 15 years ago. People like you and I, though we were deep into film already, we just didn’t feel like these programs were for us. Even if we were potentially interested in the content, they weren’t organized for us. People are jonesing for the cinematic, collective, in-the-dark experience. They want to have that experience with other people.
HC: You mentioned a trust between audiences and curators. Do you think that trust is fading? Considering blockchain or the advent of VR, you can now decentralize where your stories come from. Why do they need people like us to tell them what to think? I ask because I worry about that. Are we irrelevant?
RR: They don’t need you in the same way. But I feel it’s more conversational than a lecture. It used to be: you are the curator, you are standing on the pedestal, looking down and gifting to an audience. Now it’s much more conversational. Audiences show up more informed these days. Look at the Rotten Tomatoes phenomenon. That didn’t exist before. You didn’t have audiences literally driving the critique of cinema to that extent. Word of mouth, sure, but not literally thumbs up or down from thousands of people that filters into a system that affects what films get seen or not. You can’t expect people to turn off their brains. You can’t expect people to go to a Black Panther or a Lady Bird because it has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score and then turn that brain off when they go to a cinematheque experience and go: “Oh, now my informed opinion doesn’t matter.” It still matters. And as long as institutions are willing to accept that new, informed audience and relate to them and speak to them in a respectful manner, we have every chance of succeeding.
HC: I feel that even the idea of criticism is being sidelined. Festivals not wanting press about a film to come out until after its screened, it’s like they are almost afraid of criticism.
RR: I agree, but in a way that betrays the vestigial idea of criticism that I still love. I really love the idea of a really smart person like Manola Dhargis, that I could read her take on a film. The truth is I haven’t read reviews before I see them for over 10 years. I just will not read a review of a film I know I’m gonna see because I want to inform myself first, then I will ravenously read them. So if we are doing that, why would we expect that anybody else would depend on the voice of God ordaining this film as worthy of my attention? I think potentially not having a review for a film before its premiere could work if it’s contextualized and so that we are all surprised, rather than “a bad review will kill it”—that doesn’t always happen. Can we agree that it’s more exciting to see something where you have no idea about it? We know the director, we know they have made some interesting work, we love the star in it, but oh my god, it’s set in space. What is that going to be like? I think at Cannes it came off as really heavy handed, really snobby, and a big dis on critics, when it didn’t have to, because I don’t think that was the ultimate goal. I think the goal was to keep people engaged and excited.
HC: It’s this idea of control I don’t understand. You can’t control people’s viewing habits, you can’t maintain this barrier of exclusivity.
RR: Its funny, but let’s face it: it is possible to kill a film before it sees the light of a screen. People will say stuff not because of quality but because they might have a grudge. I, for example, was invited to a preview screening for a film by a director who was a friend of mine and stars a close friend of mine, and I loved the film. We had been told before: no tweeting or social media about the film, please. And I get it. After the film, I was so enthused by it—and part of me knew that my appreciation for the film would not be universal—I couldn’t help myself. All I did was I tweeted out the name of the film with three or so exclamation points. And that doesn’t even indicate that I had seen it—maybe that means I’m super excited to see it. And the tweet caught fire—and I am not that big on Twitter but I didn’t know that one of the stars of the film has a fucking massive Twitter following and was stalking any mention of this film and they picked up on it. And the studio emailed me right away and said, “Oh, could you take that down?” And I know it would have been hard for them to ask that of me but I said, “I just loved the film so much I had to say something.” They said, “We love your enthusiasm but please take it down.” That’s crazy right? But that’s where we are.
HC: Turning to docs a bit—you had a great doc panel recently with Kat Zizek and Sarah Wollin, talking about how docs can be a social tool and about how they use technology. Tell me why that was an important part of the programing for Doc Fortnight this year?
RR: Our commitment to nonfiction filmmaking is one that, once you acknowledge that it has creative roots, too many people look at doc and look at what’s happening in true crime and they forget there is actually a craft behind it. And while it’s super important to acknowledge the impact that docs can have, even more than narrative filmmaking, because it can be a direct political catalyst or a megaphone for the marginalized, there is still an artistic legacy to the work. The most successful docs engage with that by either subverting it or embracing it. For us, that is a field that is thriving and can continue to be a place of engagement for MoMA. My inclination is to show more and talk less. But sometimes talking through things can be critical. And certainly after you have shown a doc, the conversation should flourish. We just had a doc play that became a mini-event in New York: The Rest I Make Up, a doc about a forgotten New York playwright, and The New York Times picked up on it and did a piece not just about the doc but about this playwright and her legacy. Every screening has experienced these amazing moments of—and I’m sure you have experienced this—of “me too,” in a positive sense, in a sense of, “Yes, I remember that moment, I was there, and this is what it led to.”
The conversations I’ve had with my colleagues over the years as we thought about documentary programming, is that MoMA has this amazing opportunity to only dowhat is necessary—meaning we don’t have to care about premieres, we don’t have to care about anything else that is happening in the field that is popular. We can replicate that if we want, or we can plough new terrain, and that has been, generally, our impulse. With docs as they’ve found the audience has broadened, through streaming— But a bigger challenge for us isto be aware of what’s not clicking with audiences and what aren’t people talking about? Let’s go work over there. We have that privilege. We don’t have to worry about box-office receipts or lines around the block, although generally, given the opportunity, New York audiences are thrilled to take a risk. It’s a convoluted answer but …
HC: Well, it’s important because MoMA’s programming roots are in the Hollywood system. The archive has some of the best of Hollywood. You made a comment once about Jack Ass as being a perfect market that carries on the tradition of classic comedy.
RR: Of slapstick.
HC: Right. So with docs being such a hot property right now, and being made not as part of the studio system, how does that affect what you will include in the collection? Would you include films from streamers? Is this a continuation or a schism to you?
RR: Its 100% driven by the work. We want to prepare ourselves on an infrastructure level to be able to collect and present great works of art as artists are innovating. But we are not going to say, set up a VR repository, then do that, then need to fill it. Meaning, I don’t want to build an ark and then go, “Shit, I better fill it, even though what i’m filling it with is crap.” So it’s a case of not getting ahead of ourselves, but also being prepared. There’s a ton of challenges working for a big institution—an institution that was visionary in its embrace of the moving image as, let’s face it, the modern art form—certainly the most innovative art form of the 20th century and arguably the most impactful of the modern arts apart from say, architecture. But popular arts are easy to shove aside. I feel confident saying that we have certainly moved the film back to the center of the discussion at MoMA and that resonates in the field. The thing my boss Glenn Lowry, the director of MoMA, talked about when I started 11 years ago was that film had become this satellite department and it was safe over there. It was cloistered and it did its own thing and nobody was messing with it. But it wasn’t a central part of the conversation. So we moved it to the center. But that means you have to take all the licks and be engaged. And you have to fight hard for every ounce because you are fighting with everybody else.
HC: Which is healthy.
RR: I bet Hans Ulrich Obrist would not even question that the moving image is critical to his practice and it would be absurd that you could have a conversation about contemporary art without engaging with the moving image.
HC: Thank you for saying that.
RR: And let’s embrace the spectrum of that. It’s easy to be snobby about popular film—Ethan Hawke said some intelligent stuff about being critical of superhero movies, and it was taken as a high/low criticism, which it wasn’t. But that’s such an easy thing. A lot of innovation has happened in the popular sphere and trickled. Maybe it’s more often that the avant garde influences the popular sphere, but it definitely goes both ways and we can’t ignore either end of the spectrum.
But one of the great advantages of the big institution, is once you’ve gotten everyone to agree that your art form is critical, is the resources that go into preserving and collecting. We are one of the few moving image archives certainly that has a digital image repository that was built with all the redundancies and migration capabilities for long-term preservation of digital assets. Its scary—it’s like going back to the days when things were lost because there was no infrastructure set up to save film. People think digital is a godsend, which it is in a lot of ways, but on the preservation level it’s a total fucking nightmare.
HC: Nineteenth-century technology has lasted to this day! Trams, escalators, film cameras—they still work! They’ve stood the test of time. I don’t know where you would start to try to preserve digital. Thumb drives were ubiquitous and now irrelevant in a few years because of cloud storage, for example. Where do you start?
RR: The life cycle has gotten so fast. The good thing is people are thinking about it, and the great thing at MoMA is we are thinking about it, not just because of our massive film collection, which is an international treasure, but because the “media works,” the editioned moving image works, that were made, starting with the invention of the porta-pack and moving forward, now we have these massive, hugely expensive media installations, like Matthew Barney’s work, all this stuff in the contemporary art world, especially in the ’90s, that MoMA and many museums bought for millions of dollars in some cases, that arrived on, let’s say, a laser disc. Now you’ve got a multimillion-dollar piece of plastic. So we are going to build something that gets that art work off that piece of plastic and into a system that will last. Basically you expand the capacity of that system. It’s a challenge but we are on the path. We will build the infrastructure to build great works as they emerge, but we are not building it and then back-filling. We want to be ready to collect the great works of virtual reality—maybe that’s Lynette Wallworth, maybe that’s Alejandro Iñárritu. But that’s gonna be a huge challenge. Take Carne y Arena. How the hell are you gonna collect that? Thank god we have Alejandro around. We’ll figure it out. You collect all the apparatus—you need sand, a room—but like, the backpack? Does it have to be that backpack? Do you have to wear that thing if technology evolves—and it already has since that piece—to the point where you don’t need that backpack? Is that OK? These are the questions you have to ask artists.
HC: Not to mention the photographs and the cold room. The reason why it was such a moment for VR is because of how it was placed at LACMA. They acknowledged it was an important story and an important medium in the context of a museum. Immigration had been in the media a little bit, but it was something that was told, not felt. In this case you can feel what it was like to be an immigrant. That’s what I want this moment in VR to represent what the medium could and can be. Do you think MoMA is opening up to having more mixed reality exhibits as part of its program?
RR: We want to be ready.
HC: Magic Leap has been released—I mean, you won’t need a screen anymore because whatever you need will just be in your reality—and I can’t wait to see what artists do with that, with holograms, live interactive factors within art.
RR: We are preparing for that. Moma has that vestigios system—you have hyper-specialization within media, where as in contemporary worlds those lines are evaporating. Alejandro as a filmmaker, and installation artist, a VR creator, he’s an artist. So MoMA is reopening in October 2019 and the big shift is not that there won’t be specialization, but that that specialization will be shown in the context of the other areas that MoMA has focussed on. There won’t be as much segregation. It will be more honest telling of modernism. Modernism didn’t start with painting.
HC: Then what did it start with?
RR: I’ll argue it started with industrialization and migration. It started with the proliferation of images and the ability for people to understand worlds and realms and ideas beyond where they were from.
HC: That’s heresy. But I love it.
RR: But mobility is modernism. Film obviously had a massive impact—but photography, the reproducible image, that would definitely be a kickstarter for modernity in terms of art creation. And industry goes hand in hand with that. We need industry to create the types of architectural production. Obviously the printing press pre-dates modernism, but wow did it fucking take off! All that is to say is that are getting ready for what comes next but we are doing our darndest not to create boxes where new things don’t fit.
Location is critical. As things become decentralized, as you described Magic Leap and the need for screens, I believe, and maybe it’s because I was born in an analog era and i’m still pretty analog, people still gravitate towards actual locations. I don’t want everything to disappear. I don’t want to live virtually. Look, with Alejandro’s work specifically, we weren’t able to show that because—and we could have found a location in midtown Manhattan—but I went through the experience and its a solid 10 to 15 minutes minimum, and Alejandro wanted it to be longer and for people to linger—and how many people can experience this? They were suggesting 50 to 60 per day. On average we get 10,000 people a day on busy days, which happens often—we get upwards of 20,000 people a day. So that suddenly becomes this hyper-elitist thing. I was totally honest with Alejandro and said, “So you are gonna have the kids and cousins of trustees basically get to see this.” And that’s not the point of the work. I felt very strongly that you fundamentally disrupted the whole intention of that piece that basically no one who came to MoMA could experience. You would have had to have 10 of them and even then it’s like 500 people. That’s got to be part of the equation too. It’s not just that we want to accommodate everything. We want to accommodate everything within a context—moving back to Nanette and Crazy Rich Asians conversations,, yes, you can build a box or a platform but are you putting work into that platform that will create the biggest benefit and create a cultural moment? And you are right, Crazy Rich Asians just on Netflix wouldn’t have been the same thing at all.
HC: They are even making a sequel.
RR: But Netflix promised them three sequels! That was part of the deal and they said no. And it’s fine, it all worked out. But we will be ready and we will evolve and that’s the responsibility of institutions like MoMA to bend over backwards and squeeze an ounce of juice out of the organization to try to accommodate what an artist will come up with. But when it’s not right, you have to be able to say it’s not right.
HC: I like your point about it being for the elites only. I like the streaming revolution because it makes film so easy and so affordable that everyone has the chance to see great films. And it tears me up because I’ve always pushed and encouraged people to come to cinemas and see a doc on the screen and experience a live Q&A and have a moment with the director.
RR: But don’t you feel like people do want that?
HC: Yes, but in the 10 years before that it was not really the case. A doc would play at a festival and disappear—unless a distributor buys it, in which case you might see it in a year. Now it’s available for everyone and that’s very exciting to me. Anyway, my last question is about a painting you once mentioned being a Picasso.
RR: I did? Which one?
HC: I don’t recall the name, but it’s a painting of a group of prostitutes in a brothel and you said it’s what keeps you grounded. And I wanted to ask how that painting keeps you grounded?
RR: I do recall saying that now. The thing that keeps me grounded about that painting, working in the same building, is that painting literally changed the course of history. It was less about the content and more about the perspectives he was engaging with through this cubist gesture—and, to a certain extent, the appropriation of African art. But being in a place where the vision of an artist is present enough that you can be inspired enough to be uncomfortable.
HC: To not be complacent.
RR: looking at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, through the lens of Nanette, of Me Too, a moment I hope we come out of better on the other side,brave women igniting fires,saying “Fuck you” if you think I’m anything less than you because I’m a sex worker and I deserve to be respected as a human being
It’s OK to be grounded in the fact that you can always learn. I certainly look at that painting differently. That painting would be huge discussion and a revelation if it were to be reopened in how it would be contextualized because it is so iconic for MoMA. It’s like our “Starry Night” in a way. People fly from around the world to be in front of it. And now when they are in front of it, or at least when I’m in front of it, I think more about the women in it. And I think about his relationship to them. Not their “victimization” but more about the fact that he was a womanizer, he was an abuser. Was he literally objectifying prostitutes in his life? Or did he have affection for these women—would they know they had become these icons of modernism and would he have wanted that acknowledgement? Super important questions to ask. And sometimes I think: Why am I fighting this battle again? Oh,because this person doesn’t think film is as important. I’m lucky I get to think about an art form I love and I’m invested in, in the context of other art forms. It’s a pretty rare thing.
I promise that MoMA will be last place on earth that you can view a projected film exactly how the artist intended it. We still have the film, that’s transferred to a next-generation film print. We will always be able to show 35mm. We are gonna fight. We are gonna manufacture parts if necessary so we can always do that. And I think eventually, if we end up being the last place on earth, that will have been as important and as grounding for my successors for future generations. They—post-gender—will be able to say: it’s really super grounding that I’m able to go downstairs and see All About Eve in the film program.
HC: I saw that painting as something that reminded me of the fact that art should be subversive. It should be “punk” as much as possible and find the fringes underground and explore them and put that on a canvas or a screen. But when it gets so commercialized, especially now with the streaming revolution, it almost becomes commercial art, and perhaps we are losing something with that.
RR: Again, the commercial element of our art form is actually super important because they’ve risen simultaneously and have always existed together, it means everyone has an “in” with our art form. You have no idea how antagonistic some people are towards painting because they have no experience with it or personal investment in it. And actually because there is an industry behind it helps compel it. But that’s also true in the art world; it’s just that nobody acknowledges it. I think the transparency of having commerce involved so closely with our art form is that there is more truth. Like, I worked at the Guggenheim for a number of years, and there was just this kind of enforced acknowledgement of the relationship between commerce and art. And I think MoMA is adept at acknowledging that market forces inform taste and what people think has value, especially in the contemporary art world, that unless you are really rigorous, that can affect decisions. Meaning if something is popular at an art fair then somehow it has actual artistic value. And because we have a history of commerce and art there’s more transparency, more acknowledgment.
Is Black Panther a good work of cinematic art because it’s popular? Or because it’s a well-made work of popular art? Those are different questions and both can be true. Those conversations don’t happen as easily in the art world because people want to hide the fact that there are billions of dollars changing hands and collectors have a massive financial investment in their work being lauded and valued and celebrated. But if you don’t talk about it, it can infect decision making in really nefarious ways. While sometimes it’s tough to stand there in a room and say cinema is art, film is art … there was this weird quote about Klaus Basenback going to MOCA and his involvement with commercial artists, that was something like art can be entertaining but entertainment can never be art. And I’m like, you are fucking wrong. I think when you have a system like in the art world, it’s more easy to stand there and say something that’s full of shit. “I’m not influenced by money.” Yes, you are. Your trustees have art collections and your trustees influence what you do, whether you admit it or not.
HC: I guess what makes it harder is that we don’t actually know how popular some of these films are on streaming platforms.
RR: And that would be something to try to convince Sarandos or get behind blockchain technology as a new distribution model. So we have that transparency.