For years after graduating from university, I lived and worked an hour’s drive away from my hometown. Seeing family and friends frequently necessitated driving an hour there and hour back to where I lived, often in the same evening. At around the same time, I had started making my first short films and harboured ambitions of making a feature. Given that I had a job that occupied my time and mind during the day, I couldn’t afford to lose a minute of my time in the evenings or on weekends. I wanted to think film, live and breathe film, all the time. I wanted to learn, be inspired. Those drives, often at night, were great opportunities to think about the films I wanted to make, but they became something else entirely once I discovered Museum of The Moving Image, and their series Pinewood Dialogues.
By the time I discovered it, MoMI was in its 15th year of operation. Located in Astoria, Queens, in the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios building, the museum is dedicated to the art, history, technique and technology of the moving image in various mediums: film, television and digital media. Remarkable in its expanse and inclusive spirit, MoMI has hosted numerous and varied exhibits and installations, like Making Movies in New York 1896–1982 (July 1982), Film After Film (August 25–October 28, 2012), or Robert DeNiro: Costume & Character (February 6, 2002–January 2, 2004).
But what made me incredibly envious of people who had an easy access to MoMI wasn’t the exhibitions, it was their screening. The museum and its curators and programmers had developed a well-earned reputation for hosting unique film screenings, often bookended by detailed and informative discussions with the filmmaker(s) before and after the film. I imagined watching GoodFellas with Martin Scorsese, asking questions of Robert Altman after a screening of Nashville, or listening to Daniel Day Lewis discuss how he developed his distinctive voice for Daniel Plainview before we watch There Will Be Blood. I did’t live anywhere near New York City, so this all remained a dream until MoMI, remarkably, started hosting an archive of their conversations with the various filmmakers they had hosted over the years, as free, downloadable audio files (with transcripts of the conversations also available). I couldn’t believe their generosity and my luck. So for the days and weeks that followed, I kept on taking the drive back and forth to my hometown, now accompanied by the voices of my heroes in the dark. The entire collection can be found here: http://www.movingimagesource.us/, and it truly is a treasure trove. But here are the highlights for me:
Martin Scorsese November 9, 2002
At a transitional phase in his career, Scorsese discusses the making of Gangs of New York and his career to date in anticipation of a two-month Scorsese retrospective at MoMI.
Arthur Penn November 11, 1994
On of my favourite filmmakers of all time (and a criminally underrated one) discusses the making of his revolutionary film Bonnie & Clyde and the tidal wave of change it sent throughout the world of cinema. His views on the celebrity outlaws of the Depression era are particularly interesting.
Mike Nichols March 1, 1990
Before directing the groundbreaking one-two punch of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and The Graduate, Mike Nichols was part of a highly successful stand-up comedy team along with Elaine May, and hints of his showman past are peppered throughout this entertaining and inspiring conversation. At once poetic and matter-of-factly in his anecdotes, his views on the true power of an audience are the highlight for me.
Francis Ford Coppola October 21, 2003
The making of and reaction to Coppola’s 1982 film, One from the Heart, is one of the most fascinating stories in Hollywood history (and the subject of a future post on A Shot in the Dark), and here Coppola discusses at length and very openly the circumstances surrounding the production and reception of the film that bankrupted him. Keep your ears open for hilarious and not-so-surprising anecdote about Van Morrison.
Jerry Lewis + Peter Bogdanovich November 22, 2008
Before becoming one of the most successful directors of the New Hollywood wave, Peter Bogdanovich was a highly accomplished film critic and historian, having published several books of interviews with his filmmaking heroes of the studio era. And here he interviews a pioneer and an icon, albeit a divisive one, in Jerry Lewis. The back and forth is as rip-roaringly funny as it is informative.