Monday, December 10, 2012
In 1966, the Whitney Museum of American Art settled into its new, lavish headquarters on Madison Avenue and 75th Street. The newness of the building, along with the uptown location (it formerly had been located on eighth street in Greenwich Village) and thus its proximity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all leant an air of new legitimacy to the institution, as well as to modern art itself. To commemorate the opening of the new headquarters--and generate some national publicity in the bargain--the Whitney partnered with NBC news on an hour long documentary to be aired on prime-time television. The film was intended to be a sort of mini-history of American art and its host was E.G. Marshall. My father, Frank De Felitta--then a staff producer/director of documentaries at NBC--was chosen to supervise, produce and direct the film.
I have no idea if it aired again--typically these docs were shown a few times after their premiere, prior to being buried deep in the NBC vaults. But I've now posted the film below, in four parts, with absolutely no permission from NBC (or the Whitney for that matter). That the film has been out of circulation for so long is truly criminal. For it is by no means your standard guy-standing-in-front-of-painting-with-pointer kind of survey. Instead, my father found exciting, dynamic and creative ways to combine views of the paintings with filmed footage--some new, some stock--as well as creative use of music and spoken word readings (this last especially impressive as it pre-dates Ken Burns much lauded use of the technique by at least twenty-five years). Most importantly, there are brief but invaluable live interviews with several true legends: Stuart Davis, Jack Levine, Robert Rauschenberg and Andrew Wyeth.
The film contains so many quick cuts, super-impositions of paintings and photos, dynamic juxtapositions and the like that making it without the aid of a computer and Final Cut Pro seems to me an almost impossible task. And according to my father, it was! Literally every few cuts had to be sent to a film lab for processing to see if the effects worked--and frequently they didn't. Thus the film took almost a full year to complete--airing well after the official opening of the Museum. In any event, "The American Image" is a heroic job of filmmaking on a heroic subject, one that demands to be preserved and seen. And as long as YouTube exists, it will be.
(NOTE: Below is part four of the film. For some bizarre reason it is the only one that will publish onto this blog. However, by clicking it you'll find yourself on my YouTube channel where the other three parts can be found.)
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 3:56 PM