Science Fiction after Kubrick: Saul Bass’ Phase IV

March 19, 2013

In conjunction with Stanley Kubrick, LACMA is screening the film series Beyond the Infinite: Science Fiction after Kubrick. This Friday you have the chance to see Saul Bass’ one and only foray as a feature film director, Phase IV—including its “lost” ending. As a special to Unframed, Sean Savage, film archivist at the Academy Film Archive, traces the origins of Bass’ film and its psychedelic conclusion.

London, early 1973. A reporter visits the film set of Phase IV, an ambitious ecological parable disguised as ant invasion thriller:

In the studio where the movie is being shot, a small boy leaps up joyfully 20 or 30 times from a pool of heated water against a blue sky background, as the slow motion cameras roll. This is part of the montage epilogue, which shows man being born free and living free. Bass and company are a couple days over-schedule, but Paramount loves the montage idea, so it’s okay.

A year later this abstract ending—which earned comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey in early notices—was cut almost entirely, vanishing from public view for nearly four decades. It would be Saul Bass’ only feature film, made in the middle of an accomplished career as a graphic designer, short film-maker, and probably the closest thing to a household name in the craft of movie title sequences (for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, and Martin Scorsese). Upon its release, Phase IV was met mostly with indifference from audiences and only a smattering of favorable reviews. Bass had to compromise many things on the film, and was completely shut out of its marketing—ironic for a man so accomplished in poster design, and the fact that executing such campaigns was his first job in Hollywood.

Still from Phase IV

Still from Phase IV

Shortly after Bass’ death in 1996, his family donated his personal papers and film holdings to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—storyboards and other original artwork, as well as production files and correspondence to the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, and a wealth of film material to its Film Archive—all together a stunning monument to more than a half century in the business. Processing a collection of this scale is slow, painstaking work, so while the easily identifiable material was promptly inventoried, many more items requiring further investigation were put on hold.

Meanwhile, Phase IV had slowly gained more admirers over the years, and lead actor Michael Murphy introduced a screening of the released version at the TCM Classic Film Festival last April. He spoke of an absent sequence visualizing the next evolutionary “phase” of mankind as “brilliant, psychedelic, fabulous stuff.” Keen-eyed fans noticed some of this imagery in the theatrical trailer that was not seen in television airings or circulating prints.

In June 2012, the Los Angeles non-profit moviehouse Cinefamily was about to launch a full weekend of Saul Bass programming, including a well-worn 35mm distribution print of Phase IV. The Academy Film Archive had been advising on programming, simultaneously looking for quality screening materials as well as finishing the processing of the collection. Serendipitously, a faded reel of the original Phase IV ending was found in the Academy’s holdings, and with the Bass family’s blessing, was quickly added to the program. Though other changes were made to the preview version to arrive at the theatrical edit, the film’s tour-de-force—as pure an actualization of the imagination that’s ever (almost) made it to the screen—was Bass’ phantasmagoric epilogue. Happily, the original elements weren’t truly “lost” either, but were safely intact in Paramount’s holdings, quietly waiting to be rediscovered.

The reported early confidence in the film from the production set was short-lived, and battles with the studio are evidenced in surviving correspondence in the Saul Bass Papers. Notes in Bass’ own hand document a phone call with then studio head Robert Evans and their conversation about poor preview responses and possible solutions. Legend suggests the movie was taken away from him, though Bass remained directly involved in the reediting of the film. While still shooting a year earlier, Bass was asked about the film’s prospects, and the already seasoned veteran soberly noted: “Today a film either takes off or it dies—but dead. It opens its mouth and never gets a word out.” Not unlike the themes of rebirth played out in the conclusions of both 2001 and Phase IV, the latter movie might enjoy a new life after all.

Sean Savage, Academy Film Archive

Quotes from the article: “The Anty Hero,” Bart Mills. Arts Guardian (London), February 10, 1973. p.10.

A new 35mm print of the theatrical version of Phase IV, followed by a digital presentation of the reconstituted original montage ending screens in LACMA’s Bing Theater on Friday, March 22 at 7:30pm. Print and DCP courtesy of Academy Film Archive, with thanks to Paramount Pictures.


What You’re Looking For

March 18, 2013

Doing social media at the museum, one of the things I do every day is keep up with who’s tagging @lacma / #lacma on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and elsewhere. Most often people are posting pictures from their visit to the museum, which usually means loads and loads of great pics of Chris Burden’s Urban Light  and Metropolis II, Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, José Rafael Soto’s Penetrable, or pics from inside Stanley Kubrick or the modern galleries. That all changed last week when we announced our new collections site, which holds roughly 80,000 images from our collection–20,000 of which are available as restriction-free high-resolution downloads. Ever since that announcement there has been an cascade of images from our collection proliferating on social media (partly because there is now a handy little “share” button on many of the entries on the site). Nothing against the usual suspects, but it’s been really fun and refreshing to see what artworks you all have been sharing. The imagery has been across all eras, cultures, and media. Here are just a few of the highlights–click on the images to see their collections entries.

Layla Vistits Majnun in the Palm Grove; Page from a Khamsa of Nizami, Iran, Shiraz, 1550-1575, the Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, gift of Joan Palevsky

Layla Vistits Majnun in the Palm Grove; Page from a Khamsa of Nizami, Iran, Shiraz, 1550-1575, the Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, gift of Joan Palevsky

Page from a manuscript of the Qur'an (11:111-12:1), Iran or Iraq, 11th-12th century, The Madina Collection of Islamic Art, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Page from a manuscript of the Qur’an (11:111-12:1), Iran or Iraq, 11th-12th century, The Madina Collection of Islamic Art, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Perhaps thanks to the Persian New Year I’ve seen a great deal of objects from our Islamic art collection. (Tumblr users, follow Purple Fig Tree for a bunch more where this came from.)

Jayateja (active Nepal), Mandala of Vishnu, Nepal, dated 1420, the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, Museum Associates Purchase

Jayateja (active Nepal), Mandala of Vishnu, Nepal, dated 1420, the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, Museum Associates Purchase

The Hindu God Vishnu Riding on His Mount Garuda, India, Rajasthan, Bundi, c. 1750-1775, gift of Paul F. Walter

The Hindu God Vishnu Riding on His Mount Garuda, India, Rajasthan, Bundi, c. 1750-1775, gift of Paul F. Walter

Traveling east, I’ve seen a number of works from our collection of South and Southeast Asian art., including multiple depictions of Vishnu.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Empress Jingū and Takenouchi no Sukune Fishing at Chikuzen, from the series A Mirror of Great Warriors of Japan, c. 1876, Herbert R. Cole Collection

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Empress Jingū and Takenouchi no Sukune Fishing at Chikuzen, from the series A Mirror of Great Warriors of Japan, c. 1876, Herbert R. Cole Collection

Iga Flower Vessel, Japan, Momoyama period, 1573-1615, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Iga Flower Vessel, Japan, Momoyama period, 1573-1615, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

I’ve seen a variety of Japanese prints and objects, such as this 19th-century work by Yoshitoshi or this Momoyama-period flower vessel. Depending on your interest–say, you like the prints but not the decorative arts–you can narrow your search by selecting a curatorial area and then choosing types of artworks or eras.

Ambrosius Bosschaert (Holland, Middelburg, 1573-1621), Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge, Holland, 1619, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter

Ambrosius Bosschaert (Holland, Middelburg, 1573-1621), Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge, Holland, 1619, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter

Jean-Antoine Houdon (France, Paris, 1741-1828), Seated Voltaire, France, c. 1779-1795, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation

Jean-Antoine Houdon (France, Paris, 1741-1828), Seated Voltaire, France, c. 1779-1795, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation

So you found a flower vessel from Japan? I guess it needs filling with Dutch flowers. I’ve seen a lot of knockout European pieces around the web. Another nice feature of the new site is on display in this Houdon image–you can choose from up to six different views of the sculpture, from different angles of the full piece to close-up details like this one.

Standing Female Figure, Mexico, Guanajuato, Chupícuaro, 400-100 B.C., gift of Constance McCormick Fearing

Standing Female Figure, Mexico, Guanajuato, Chupícuaro, 400-100 B.C., gift of Constance McCormick Fearing

Vladimir Cora, Untitled, 1984, The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art

Vladimir Cora, Untitled, 1984, The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art

It’s been great to not only see works from our Latin American collection show up on various sites, but to see works from across time periods, from an ancient figure made more than 2,000 years ago to a 1984 painting by the Mexican artist Vladimir Cora (well-represented in LACMA’s collection, by the way).

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Eleanor Rigby, Scotland, c. 1840, printed c. 1910, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Eleanor Rigby, Scotland, c. 1840, printed c. 1910, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Gordon Coster, The Spigot and the Shadows, United States, 1927, gift of Gordon H. Coster

Gordon Coster, The Spigot and the Shadows, United States, 1927, gift of Gordon H. Coster

Erich Salomon, Ernst Lubitsch, Hollywood, Germany, 1930, gift of Nancy Nigrosh

Erich Salomon, Ernst Lubitsch, Hollywood, Germany, 1930, gift of Nancy Nigrosh

Jane O'Neal, Untitled, 1978, gift of John Feidler

Jane O’Neal, Untitled, 1978, gift of John Feidler

Likewise I’ve seen a variety of photographs from LACMA’s collection, from the earliest years of the medium to more contemporary works.

This is just a small sample of the things you all have been sharing. Wherever you’re sharing, be sure to tag us (@lacma / #lacma) so we can see (and maybe retweet/reblog) too!

Scott Tennent


This Weekend at LACMA: Farhang Short Film Fest, Nowruz Celebration, and More

March 15, 2013

Celebrate the Persian New Year with two different events at LACMA this weekend. First, on Saturday, LACMA and the Farhang Foundation are partnering to present the 2013 Farhang Foundation Short Film Festival, featuring works from emerging international talents. A private reception with the winners  of the contest and other filmmakers will follow. You can visit farhangfilmfest.org to view all the nominees’ films and lacma.org for ticket information.

Continuing the spring equinox festivities, Sunday is the Nowruz Celebration at LACMA. For five consecutive years the Farhang Foundation has hosted one of the biggest Iranian New Year’s celebrations in town and this year it has only gotten bigger. There’s a full day of exciting activities throughout the campus, including a world-premiere music-dance-video performance created by Shahin Yousefzamani, a free live performance by Rana Mansour and Erwin Khachikian, free story reading and calligraphy for children, and a traditional Nowruz display known as “Haft Sîn.” Visit the event page for more details and ticket information. Nowruz at LACMA runs from 11:30 am–7 pm. While you’re here celebrating Nowruz, be sure to visit our galleries for Islamic Art in the Ahmanson Building and objects from the ancient near east in the Hammer Building.

Plate with a Portrait Medallion of a KingIran, 224-651, anonymous gift

Plate with a Portrait Medallion of a King
Iran, 224-651, anonymous gift

Also in the Hammer Building is the just-opened Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum, which features a beautiful representation of 15th and early 16th century Ming dynasty court painting. Earlier this week the L.A. Times characterized it as “a rare opportunity for American audiences.”

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

Elsewhere in our galleries, you’ll find Stanley Kubrick, Ends and Exits: Contemporary Art from the Collections of LACMA and The Broad Art Foundation, and Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ—the latter comes to an end on March 24, next Sunday!

Robert Mapplethorpe, Irises, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio), 1977, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Irises, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio), 1977, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Closing out the weekend, Sundays Live presents violinist Phillip Levy, cellist Andrew Shulman, and pianist Rina Dokshitsky at 6 pm with their rendition of Debussy: Violin Sonata and Ravel: Piano Trio. Sundays Live is always free and open to the public. We hope to see you here!

Roberto Ayala

 


What Do Cats Have to Do With It? Welcome to Our New Collections Website

March 14, 2013

Two years ago, we launched an experiment: an online image library where we made 2,000 high-resolution images of artworks that the museum deemed to be in the public domain available for download without any restrictions.  This week, we’ve exceeded ourselves with the launch of our new collections website, giving away ten times the number of images we offered in the initial image library. Nearly 20,000 high-quality images of art from our collection are available to download and use as you see fit (that’s about a quarter of all the art represented on the site). Just look for the “download” option beneath the photo of the artwork. (If you want to see all of the public domain artworks in the collection, run a search and then select “Show only unrestricted images” at the top of the page.)

Image1

Why would a museum give away images of its art? As Michael Govan often says, it’s because our mission is to care for and share those works of art with the broadest possible public. The logical, radical extension of that is to open up our treasure trove of images. When we first launched our early experiment with giving images away online, we heard a resoundingly positive response from many quarters: school teachers, parents, graduate students, journalists and the occasional creative person interested in printing their own Mother’s Day cards. So far, we have yet to hear of a situation where one of our public domain artworks has been misused or abused.

The new collections website does more than just give images away. It also uses a powerful open source search technology to create an interface that makes it easier than ever to sift through the roughly 80,000 works of art we have online. Whereas our old website privileged curatorial distinctions as the primary way into the museum’s treasures (“American art” versus “Art of the Pacific” and so on), the new site lets you decide where to dive in.

HomepageOne of my favorite features is the “On View” facet. Select a location in the museum, and you can see all of the results in our database that are on view in that location. It seems so obvious, right? But this is the first time our visitors (and our staff!) can go online, or whip out an iPad in the galleries, and quickly see, for example, all the works on view in the Ahmanson Building on the second floor—from Roy Lichtenstein’s Cold Shoulder,  to Lee Bontecou’s fantastic Fish,  and Marino Marini’s Horse and Rider.  The location information updates every night, so you’ll know about a new work on view almost as fast as we do.

Faceted search, which is what this is called, combines the ubiquitous direct search (an open search box, like Google) with navigational search (structured hierarchies and taxonomies, derived from library and information science). The end result is that you can now indulge your personal idiosyncrasies on our new collections website running lightning-fast searches for anything you can think of.

Cats

And apparently a great many of you are thinking about cats, because “cat” has regularly come up in our web usage report as a highly popular search term. If I enter “cat” in the open search box on our new website, in a fraction of a second, I’m faced with 210 LACMA cats. If I then scroll down to “chronology” on the left side of my results, I can see that these cats span the range of human history. This particularly jaunty statue with his pierced ear dates back to sometime between 1081 and 525 BC.  He makes a fine companion to this mid-twentieth century Japanese example.

By the way, if you want to save your favorite records all in one place, choose “My Gallery” beneath any image. You’ll be prompted for a simple login username and password. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to save your favorites for future reference. You can even add comments, and help us tag the collection to make search smarter and more responsive to the way the public uses the site.

Have a question about a work of art you see in our collection? Log in and share your question in the comments section–our curators and research library staff have offered to field these questions, creating an open online dialogue about our evolving knowledge (and yours) regarding the works of art at LACMA.

Enjoy!

Amy Heibel

P.S. Special thanks to our Drupal developers, Urban Insight; our collections information team led by Robyn Sanford and Robin Chung; our in-house developer James Vitale; and our digital asset manager Heidi Quicksilver!


Designs for Nowruz: Q&A with Sheida Koufigar

March 13, 2013

This weekend, the Farhang Foundation welcomes the spring equinox with the fifth annual Nowruz (Iranian New Year) celebration at LACMA, the largest event of its kind in Los Angeles. Over two days bustling with activities, the museum plays host to a short film festival, special presentations of artworks, musical and dance performances, family programs, Persian food, and more. You may have noticed Nowruz street banners strewn around Los Angeles and wondered about their symbolism. Sheida Koufigar, an Iranian-American graphic designer currently studying at California State University, Long Beach, was named the winner of the Farhang Foundation’s 2013 Nowruz Festival banner contest, which called upon the public to submit designs that visually represent the spirit of Nowruz. Unframed’s Stephanie Sykes caught up with Koufigar to learn how she came up with the prize design.

Sheida Koufigar, winning design for LACMA's Nowruz Festival street banner

Sheida Koufigar, winning design for LACMA’s Nowruz Festival street banner

You were born and raised in Iran but are currently based in Los Angeles. Have your Nowruz traditions shifted within the context of a new city? What is the tradition that resonates with you the most?

The whole experience of Nowruz is completely different here compared to Esfahan, where I grew up in Iran. Over there, one can smell the Hyacinth flowers everywhere. There are little vendors selling goldfish at every corner, and basically the whole country celebrates. I really miss that feeling here. However, I am pretty lucky to be living in a city where there is a large Persian community celebrating this great tradition. Having different events celebrating Nowruz here in Los Angeles makes it easier for me to forget about not being home with my family during this holiday.

For me, Nowruz is all about setting up the Haft-sîn (the traditional table setting), shopping, and visiting family and friends.

Can you walk us through the process of developing your winning banner design?

My design process always starts with research. Even though I had a good idea about the history and traditions of Nowruz, I still could not skip this step of my process. I had to figure out how Nowruz has been introduced in other non-Persian communities before. In other words, I needed to study how Nowruz advertising has been done before outside of Iran. After that, I just sketched and worked with all the visual elements—for instance color, type, and illustration style—to make sure everything worked together to make sense for the public.

When designing this banner, my goal was to show a specific Nowruz tradition in a very contemporary and minimal style. Haft-sîn, which literally means “seven S’s,” is the traditional Nowruz table-setting which includes seven items starting with the letter Sîn, “S.” Each one of these items symbolically represents something in life. For instance, an apple, or sib in Persian, symbolizes beauty and health. Haft-sîn is probably one of the most major traditions of Nowruz that has stayed with people for many years.

At first, I decided to work with a specific Nowruz tradition from older times when the Haft-sîn was placed on a special tray called Tabagh, and the tray was carried by dancers in elaborate costumes.

Sheida Koufigar, early design for Nowruz street banner

Sheida Koufigar, early design for Nowruz street banner

However, this image looked very specific and there was a risk that it might not have widespread appeal among non-Persian citizens. Therefore, I changed my design to something more recognizable and familiar. I decided to minimally represent Nowuz by focusing on the Haft-sîn itself and illustrating the goldfish as the hero.

Of all the traditional components of a Haft-sîn display, why did you specifically choose to represent the goldfish?

Mahi va Tong (goldfish and the bowl) is one of the Haft-sîn items which stands for life and all living forms. Also, it’s one of the most recognizable elements on the table. In addition to its symbolic meaning, personally, goldfish are one my favorite items on the Haft-sîn. Some of my most exciting memories of Nowruz stem from buying goldfish and setting up the Haft-sîn. Because of this sense of nostalgia, I chose the goldfish to visually represent Nowruz.

How do you feel Nowruz and LACMA fit together?

One thing I love about LACMA is its multiplicity. The museum has art from all over the world and it presents exhibitions and events that correspond to its wide range of art. As a result of that, I think LACMA is a great host to Nowruz because it can help familiarize a wide range of diverse audiences with one of the most significant Persian holidays.

Nowruz at LACMA is held March 16-17. Be sure to steer clear of L.A. Marathon street closures by checking their website for the best available route.


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