Friday, May 29, 2009

Museum-Sponsored Films

It's a bit tricky to get to the bottom of this story for me, not reading French all that well, but there's enough chatter out there and the issues are interesting enough to toss it out and discuss all the same.

In yesterday's post on films dealing with art as it affects families, I noted that "Summer Hours" (by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas) was "sponsored" by the Musee D'Orsay. At first I had heard that this was a deal by the museum, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, and that all the filmmaker had to do for the money was include the museum somehow in their storyline. My first response to this was "Good for the D'Orsay." How refreshing to see an institution connect the dots like that.

In "Summer Hours," though, we see selections from the D'Orsay collection used as props. My first response to that was "Yikes...any manner of mishap is likely to happen on a film are they protecting those works?" But my second thought was that this was actually a somewhat questionable, if sophisticated, product placement: you can get money to make your film, but you have to place objets from our collection in prominent locations throughout the story.

Turns out, though, the situation is a bit more complicated. A comment on a film blog offered:
It's a strange story, as there was the idea of a Musee d'Orsay omnibus film (I think) with Assayas, Hong Sang-soo and Hou Hsiao-hsien doing each a part. This fell through because politics interfered and told the museum they were not allowed to sponsor films. The filmmakers, however, simply went ahead and secured financing in other ways and then turned up with three masterpieces (haven't seen the Hou yet, but everybody says so and I am most ready to believe it). (The latest Tsai, Visage, now shown in Cannes, actually *is* sponsored by the Louvre, though. Make of that what you will.)
Then a still confusing comment by Assayas explaining the story in this interview on WNYC in which he says
"It started as a commission of the Musee D'Orsay...and they wanted cinema to be associated with the celebration of their 20th anniversary. And so they asked filmmakers from all the over world to contribute segments to what should have been like one collective feature, and so I was the French filmmaker...and I started working on it...[but] I was disturbed by the subject. I liked the idea. I was just... [interviewer: "People giving the old pieces in their collection to a museum rather than keeping it for themselves?"] Yes, that's the story I started... [interviewer: "Which becomes only an element later in the film and I'm not sure that the Musee D'Orsay is 100% happy with the process as you depicted it."] Well, it's...I was a little nervous about it when we were shooting, because they have been nice with us. You know, they are not financially involved with the film. The feature has lived a life of its own...Basically they allowed us to take artworks out of the museum. They lent us pieces they never know, just really supportive."
leading me to conclude (although it's not stated overtly as such) that the relationship Assayas developed while working on the never completed composite film opened the door to getting selections from the museum for Summer Hours.

But what if a museum did wish to promote itself through film, just as a car manufacturer or a soft drink maker does. Is that a problem? They buy ad space ...why not buy it in films? Of course there still is the issue of safety (I cringed while watching a character in the movie wrap a Corot in bubblewrap), but is such a concept an issue or an opportunity?

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Anonymous nic said...

I think its a great idea on one hand - and if it can help a museum generate revenue [you know....without upping it's admission to say....i don't know....$20 a head...] all the better.

However - unlike putting a pepsi into a scene - there is only one of many artworks. You can buy a pepsi anywhere and throw it away, unlike a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Not to mention - what of these pieces while they are being used for filming? Stripping a museum so the pieces they are touting are not even there?

Then that brings up - should they comission "stunt pieces" - high quality copies? Then some might say - well whats the point of involving the museum in the first place then?

An interesting concept that can lead down a lot of different roads.

(although this kind of reminds me of having art on the Rauschenberg and Chihuly's on the tv show Frasier...)

5/29/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Art said...

I don't know if the artworks themselves would promote a museum well, just because most people wouldn't know where they were from. But the principle of museums paying for product placement, sure.

And now I want to see that film!

5/29/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad Assayas said that the Musee D'Orsay was pleased with the film and didn't interfere. The film asks uncomfortable questions, glad the Musee supports that. It is so refreshing to see this attitude, much missing from the US in recent times.

----- ondine nyc

5/29/2009 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cringed while watching a character in the movie wrap a Corot in bubblewrapare you sure it is the real deal, it would be hard to tell a digital print on canvas from an original on film.

5/29/2009 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Henry Bateman said...

"Of course there still is the issue of safety (I cringed while watching a character in the movie wrap a Corot in bubblewrap)"
Perhaps it was a print? Kinda hard to tell the difference in a movie.

Art works do pop in even mainstream movies. As I recall "The Island" (2005 Dreamworks) had Picasso's Femme Assise (Jacqueline)hanging in the head bad guy's office and appeared in several scenes. Considering the film's premise I reckon the Master would have been smiling.

5/29/2009 08:23:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

They use reproductions of paintings all the time in movies and on tv. It's no big deal, generally, to make a digital copy, and on film you can't tell the difference. So if they're wrapping up the originals and taking them off to film sets, it seems kind of pointlessly reckless.

As far as the product placement aspect, I don't see a problem with it. Does Miss Gioconda prefer Coke or Pepsi?

5/31/2009 09:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

If Visage is merely a film to promote the Louvre, that was a pretty intuitive choice. I'm sure Tsai Ming-Lian made a great film with it.

The Russian Arch by Sokourov was much promoted as being a pan through the St-Petersburgh's museum.

Major artworks are travelling less and less. It's time that museums design virtual tours (like in a videogame) where people can visit from another part of the world. The Louvre has made some nice experiences in that direction.

Cedric C

6/01/2009 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Oh wait...There WAS a videogame occuring in the Louvre (and sponsored by them). I have this somewhere, but never played it!

Cedric C

6/01/2009 10:36:00 AM  

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