Million Dollar Baby

Museum of Modern Art Upgrades Screening Rooms and Hosts Premieres

When New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) reopened the doors to its expanded and gorgeously redesigned home, not only were Matisse and Míro seen in an all-new and column-free gallery light, but also the likes of Mamoulian and Mizoguchi-the latter thanks to 4,000-watt lamphouses on Kinoton FP 38 ES dual-gauge 16/35mm projectors. Under the guidance of master designer Yoshio Taniguchi and architects Kohn Pederson Fox, the $425 million building nearly doubles the Museum's capacity to 630,000 square feet (58,527 square meters) on six stories. This includes a block-wide second floor with the capacity to bring in monumental art through a movable exterior wall. (The total capital campaign raised $858 million including construction and renovation, endowment, real-estate acquisition, MoMA Queens and miscellaneous costs.)

To celebrate the return to midtown Manhattan from the venerable Gramercy Theatre on 23rd Street, the Museum's Department of Film and Media, which owns a collection of some 25,000 titles, presented 112 film and video works, one from each year commencing 1893. While a 30-second kinetoscope blacksmithing scene produced by W.K.L. Dickson and the Edison Company highlighted the birth of cinema, MoMA's 75th-anniversary year was celebrated with Vsevold Pudovkin's Potomok Chinghis-khan (Storm over Asia/The Heir to Jenghis-Khan), which opened theatrically in New York in November 1929, the very same month the Museum debuted on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.

After moving to the five-story John D. Rockefeller, Jr. townhouse on 53rd Street in 1932, MoMA culminated its first ten years with the May 1939 opening of the still-famous-and now meticulously restored-"International Style" building designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. And ever since, motion pictures have been an integral part of both the MoMA mission and its collections.

"We are thrilled to be back," said Mary Lea Bandy, the Celeste Bartos chief curator of film and media during the press preview. "We want to welcome home artists, colleagues and members of the MoMA family." Those invited to "new and remarkable film and media works from around the world in our beautifully renovated theatres" included Martin Scorsese (presenting The Aviator), Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) Clint Eastwood (screening the world premiere of Million Dollar Baby for museum trustees) and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), to name only the most commercial highlights now playing at your own theatre.

With a new 12,400-square-foot Museum lobby (1,152 sq. m.) running across the entire building tract from 53rd to 54th Streets, the original Goodwin-Stone "piano canopy" entrance now provides exclusive access to the Modern restaurant and the two Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters on the lower level. "You will still hear the subway," it was promised, but in line with the rest of the building, the two auditoriums of 400 and 207 seats by American Seating and Fortuna Prau, respectively, have received a major facelift and their biggest technology upgrade since 1984 (see sidebar). From an operational standpoint, the reconfigured entrances will allow the programmers to show films when the Museum itself is closed without incurring additional costs for security staff.

"We hope to continue to host premieres and screen films before they open, when appropriate," senior curator Laurence Kardish tells Film Journal International. "We've begun to offer, for the first time, evening screenings. By broadening the number of showings and by repeating screenings, we provide people with opportunities to see the films more than once or twice." About the upgraded amenities, Kardish asserts, "the new 16/35mm projectors give a greater quality of image, brighter and sharper than we had before. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to seamlessly switch between video and film, to show different formats side by side-to change in mid-program from 35mm to HD, to Digi Beta Pal, to 16mm, to a DVD. As artists are now working in various media, it is very exciting that we are able to support that."

Work in the booths and auditoriums started in June and finished on time for the Nov. 20 opening, confirms Charlie Kalinowski, chief projectionist since 1987 and recently appointed Audio Visual Department head covering all MoMA galleries. "When I was a kid," he says, recalling a more traditional switch that attracted him to the booth, "I always heard the changeover bells ring and then the projection beam would move from one porthole to the other." In 1982 ("You had to be 21 for a NYC license"), Kalinowski, who clearly remembers seeing The Exorcist at the St. George on Staten Island and who loves True Grit and "anything else with John Wayne," started "working the kung fu and adult film houses because of the low seniority numbers at the union job claim. Going from hotel and trade-show A/V installations between projection jobs," he "began running platter booths and covering screening rooms" before being hired full-time at MoMA in the summer of 1985. Today, he supervises four projectionists and two a/v technicians, which may increase once the new Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building opens. Framing the eastern half of the Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, new offices with private viewing facilities for curators, the library, archives and a third public screening room are scheduled for 2006. Once opened, the Celeste Bartos Theater will have about 110 seats.

"Working with all the different aspect ratios and video formats every day," Kalinowski continues, "was unlike any other theatre I worked at, projecting the same shows day-in, day-out-like Jungle Book three days a week for three months, followed by Pinocchio." More likely to have Abbas Kiarostami follow Stan Brakhage today, Kalinowski believes that "flat light, sharp focus, crisp sound and not realizing that there is a projector and projectionist in a booth behind you" make for a memorable moviegoing experience. Speaking of sound, Kalinowski reigns over Dolby, QSC and JBL, but also has something decidedly unique attached to the Kinoton projectors. "For the earlier variable-density soundtracks, MoMA had white-light mono sound reproducers installed. Since the projectors have red reverse-scan readers for today's optical digital and analog soundtracks, the heads are mounted above the aperture with a digital delay for synchronization."

Commenting on the commercial exhibition industry, Kalinowski feels that "the majors are more concerned about concession revenue than with the quality of their presentation practices." But he also finds it "hard to see if and how the independent theatre owner will be able to afford the switch to digital projection. When, how and for what to spend the money?" he muses. "Technology changes so fast, it's scary. As an institution dedicated to the preservation of films, we see all the advantages of digital, though. I know, ten years from now," at least at MoMA, "we will still be showing films and video."

Certainly included will be what the MoMA fact sheet calls the first "dedicated nontheatrical gallery space designed exclusively for the exhibition of moving-image and sound works." Although the tradition began in 1968 (video and computer-based images in the "Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age" exhibit), with the new Yoshiko and Akio Morita Gallery located on the second floor adjacent to the spaces for contemporary art, works in both spaces can now "complement, contrast and create a dialogue." Her favorite Museum addition, Bandy thinks the darkened space, carpeted floors and acoustically treated ceilings with a flexible grid will, in fact, "allow curators to experiment programmatically and with new technologies."

Sony digital projectors (such as the XGA VPL-PX40) are currently showing some of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (1964-66, 16mm film transferred to DVD) and other creations on the walls (treated with a special "Screen Goo" paint) and on screens made from fabric or other materials, such as a freestanding, transparent one used for Heike Baranowsky's one-channel video loop Gras (2001).

"We have many plans," Kardish closes by looking ahead. "Over the next 12, 18 months you will see all sorts of different multimedia installations like early avant-garde and experimental works digitally projected. We are very, very pleased with the opportunities of this new space. As the Titus Theaters are by necessity separated from the rest of the Museum, this gallery is the Department of Film and Media's presence within the Museum proper."

Titans for Titus

Products & Services at MoMA

*Automation systems: Creston Control with Auto Patch for *video and audio switching
*Film projectors: Kinoton FP 38 ES dual gauge 16/35 mm electronic intermittent and shutters
*Video/digital capabilities: laserdisc, DVD and VHS (NTSC and Pal), 3/4-inch video (NTSC and Pal), one-inch NTSC, Mini DV and DV Cam NTSC, Beta Cam and Digi Beta Cam (NTSC and Pal), HD Cam 1080i, 60i, 50i, 24p 25p, 24psf.
*Christie X4 DLP, to be upgraded in the near future to either 2K or 4K chipset projectors
*Subtitling system: DTS CSS
*Lenses: Schneider CineLux for all aspect ratios from 1:33 to anamorphic 2.35:1
*Lamphouses: Kinoton 4,000-watt
*Amplifiers: QSC with DCM3 crossovers processors
*Speakers: JBL 4632 Tri-amped screen arrays with subwoofers
*Sound formats: Dolby CP 650 from 01 mono thru SRD and 7.1 for video formats
*Intercom, public address system: EAW with Sound Web processing (installed by SPL, IBM as consultants)
*Projection and sound installation by CTS, Pomona, NY; Creston control automation by Audio Video and Control, New York, NY
*Chairs: American Seating (Titus 1) and Fortuna Prau (Titus 2)
*Curtains: Maharin fabric (by Gallery 17, Pomona, NY)
*Screen and masking systems: Lesna Canada , installed by Gallery 17, Pomona, NY
*Stage lighting: Source 4 Revolution fixtures (Titus 1), Claypackey fixtures (Titus 2)
*Ticketing software: Vista