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August 2000, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
michael newman <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 3 Aug 2000 14:11:22 -0600
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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>"I say too bad about foreign films. If they can't make it, tough. I stopped
>going at the same time I threw away my black turtleneck . . . I went to
>those Bergman things and felt bad, and felt good about feeling bad, and the
>'80s was good medicine for that."
>Former secretary of education, WILLIAM BENNETT, on why foreign films don't
>succeed commercially in the United States

>I do hope this list does not get political but the following biased
>remark cannot go unanswered.  Get your blinders off and stop blaming
>everything on conservatives.  If you want tax monies to pay for the
>arts you will have to assume the restrictions that come with the
>funding.  As far as the Bergman quote, Bennett like anyone else has
>the right to his own opinion.  I for one have always thought that
>Bergman was too overrated...but that doesn't mean that I disrespect
>someone else's opinion.

Well, the list has become political, which I have been hoping for some time
it would.  (I love to read about aspect ratios and movies with subways as
much as the next person, but why not the occasional debate?)

The criticism of those who support public funding of the arts is off the
mark.  No one thinks this funding should be unrestricted, unregulated,
random -- free handouts to radicals who paint worse than 4 year-olds and
are liable to lead the innocent children of America astray.  Of course
there needs to be restrictions that come with funding.  This doesn't mean,
however, that largely liberal arts communities should accede to a
conservative ideological programme for the arts that would maintain funding
only for the safest, most traditional forms of expression.  A central goal
of public arts funding in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is to give support to
artists who offer alternatives to the common-denominator culture industry.
This includes both traditional, official culture of the classical
music/museum variety, and more challenging, avantgarde, experimental or
difficult artworks.  Both types of culture would be much worse off without
public support.  Public arts funding streams into both more conservative
artistic institutions like symphony orchestras that can keep their
audiences only by sticking to the  safe, familiar repertory, and into more
edgy ones like the recent exhibit in Brooklyn (its title escapes me) that
got Rudy Giuliani into such a lather.  I don't have statistics before me
now, but I'm sure a substantial portion of public arts funding in the U.S.
goes towards keeping the costlier bastions of official culture like opera
and ballet companies from going too far into the red.  The portion awarded
to the singled-out counterculturalists -- the shit-smearers and Piss
Christs -- may be quite modest.  The point is that public arts
administrators make choices about where the money goes that need to reflect
a diversity of interests.  Both official and vanguard forms of cultural
expression merit public funding, and the question of which artists and
institutions are awarded what is, of course, political.  But the position
Bill Bennett takes is that of a philistine.  Foreign films?  "If they can't
make it, tough."  I'd like to hear him say that about Lincoln Center, which
is in the process of receiving something like $100 million of public funds
towards its forthcoming facelift.  By connecting foreign films to Bergman
and the 60s, Bennett makes the case that they represent a bygone slice of
American experience better left to the history books, tarring all foreign
films with a brush tainted by other manifestations of 60s rebellion,
alienation and excess.  He reveals himself to be ignorant and
closed-minded.  He also confuses a stance on a matter of policy with one of
taste.  It's a pretty safe position; the zeitgeist has been anti-Bergman at
least since the Diane Keaton character in Manhattan said (I'm paraphrasing)
"His view is so Scandinavian!  All that Kierkegaard!  The Silence -- God's
silence -- I loved that stuff when I was at Radcliffe, but, I mean, you
outgrow it!"  As anyone who has seen even a handful of foreign films since
circa 1967 can attest, there's a lot of different movies being made in a
lot of different places.  Almost none can make much profit in the
contemporary American mediascape.  If you are going into business to make
piles of money, even the most rabid cinephile will advise that you'd be
crazy to try selling foreign films to Americans.  Without institutions
outside of the ruthless marketplace, few of us would ever see films by
Kiarostami, Godard, and dozens of other interesting film-makers.  Bill
Bennett and the rest of the conservative camp are content to say, "If they
can't make it, tough."  By the same principle that I think governments
should ante up for stuff like fireworks on the 4th of July and public
parks, I think they should fund the film societies and cinematheques that
show foreign films: these are things whose value cannot be measured only in
dollars.  The issue of what sort of restrictions should be placed on public
arts funding is complex because resources are (woefully, for such a
fantastically rich country) limited.  But the "if they can't make it,
tough" perspective is anti-intellectual, anti-art, anti-culture.  It's a
caricature of the conservative position on arts funding.  And it's ironic
that Bennett's statement comes in reponse to a dismissal of Bergman, a
filmmaker whose career was financed by a generous socialist government.
"You will have to assume the restrictions that come with the funding."  Ok,
but those of us who support tax monies going to pay for the arts are part
of a public that determines both the quantity of those monies (which we
feel should be much greater) and the nature of those restrictions.  It's
not up to the Bill Bennetts alone.

Mike Newman

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