Monday, February 09, 2009

Are filmmakers insecure about the place of cinema at the table of the arts?

George Lucas, a chief benefactor of the new home for the USC's School of Cinematic Arts, in an interview with the New York Times lamented that film is too often thought of ''not qualified to sit in the pantheon'' of the most significant arts.

Maybe so, maybe not.

At any rate, Lucas, who attended the USC film school in the '60s, along with John Milius (Big Wednesday) and Randal Kleiser (Grease), put his architectural sketches, and money, where his mouth is, contributing $175 million and project designs to the complex of classrooms, sound stages and production buildings, officially set to open March 29.

An additional $50 million was coughed up by several studios, including Fox, Warner Brothers, and the Walt Disney Company, and an additional $50 million is still needed.

When complete, in August 2010, the complex, home to about 1,500 film students, will included a 36,000-square-foot animation building. Two of the buildings will be named for Lucas and Steven Spielberg; the latter attended Cal State, but is a trustee at USC.

The school was established in 1929 as a joint venture with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which has donated a fountain, to include a statue of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Fairbanks was a member of the founding faculty, along with D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, William DeMille, Irving Thalberg and Darryl Zanuck.

Whether film is or is not treated as a second-class citizen, in terms of its status as an academic discipline, or its status among the arts, film schools have provided a launching pad for a wide variety of talent.

The list of notable directors who have passed through USC's film school is vast, and includes comedy bad boy Judd Apatow, John Carpenter, Jon Landau, Doug Liman, Bryan Singer, John Singleton and Robert Zemeckis.

Notable directors who attended the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television: Francis Ford Coppola, Alex Cox, Catherine Hardwicke, Alexander Payne, Joel Schumacher, Penelope Spheeris, Gore Verbinski, Paul Schrader.

NYU (I briefly attended the school's grad program in cinema studies, circa summer of '85) is the other one in the big three of film schools. Notable alumni of the program, housed in the Tisch School of the Arts: Oliver Stone, M. Night Shyamalan, Joel Coen, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Brett Ratner, and Todd Phillips.

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