Summer Nights, summer slights?

March 19, 2008
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The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Summer Nights film series is one of the most popular warm-weather attractions in the city — at least, one where those who want to attend often outnumber the room the IMA has to accommodate them.

This year’s schedule, announced yesterday, seems designed to keep the crowds up — while doing little to stretch the cinematic minds of its picnickers. Running June 6-Aug. 29, it mostly consists of risk-free fare such as “Grease,” “This is Spinal Tap,” “The Goonies,” “The Mummy” and “Ghostbusters.”

Yes, there are the classics: “Gilda,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “Strangers on a Train" also are in the mix. And there's the interesting addition of the Indian cult film “Sholay.” But while the prospect of sipping white Russians while watching “The Big Lebowski” is appealing — and it will be fun to see the crowd at an outdoor midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show" — I’m wondering if the IMA could have done more to offer at least a few films that have some artistic rather than overtly commercial intent.

Is there a middle ground of films that could keep up the crowds and also feel like they belong at an art museum?

Your thoughts? And suggestions?
  • Disappointing. Many of the films in the first list you mention are in plenty of folks' personal DVD collections - not much compelling reason to go elsewhere to watch them. A series like this should not just offer a different venue for watching movies, but something that most folks would be less likely to see under other circumstances.

    You have the lure of the unique venue, so let that be the bait by which you reel (forgive the unintentional pun) people in to a different kind of film than they might otherwise catch on TNT (not even TCM!) on the very same night if they stayed home. There are even plenty of family-friendly offerings that could fit this mold. How many kids these days have seen Errol Flynn's ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, for example? Or even MARY POPPINS, for that matter?

    While we're talking about films, btw, let's pause for a moment to remember Anthony Minghella (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, COLD MOUNTAIN, etc.) and Arthur C. Clarke (the legendary sci-fi writer who co-created 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with Kubrick).
  • That is a disappointing line-up. Most of those you can watch any night of the week on TNT. I wish they would mix it up more with classics/art/foreign films - albeit, nothing to heavy for a fun summer evening. BTW... why does everything have to be kid-friendly? Could they have adults only nights and show edgier films without the threat of someone dragging their kids along?

    I was really saddened about Anthony Minghella... he was a fantastic director. The English Patient is one of my favorite films - despite what some people think of it. Every time I watch it and I've probably seen it 20 or more times, I catch something different I didn't see before... to me, that's a great movie. It's complex and layered, not to mention beautifully filmed. I can't imagine how many fantastic films he had yet to make and now we'll never see.
  • I think you all are missing the point. Sure, I may own Rocky Horror or The Mummy on dvd but seeing it outside on a big screen is a lot different than watching it in my basement. Despite what the movies are, I think alot of people come just to hang out with their friends on a nice summer evening.

    As far as the art films go, The Toby theater will be used partially for that purpose. I'm all for cool, thought prevoking art films but I don't want to be watching them outside on a blanket.

    ps. Yes, i do work at the museum.
  • I'm with Matt. I, too, work at the IMA but have nothing to do with selecting the films, and was very excited about this line up. Summer Nights are a great tool for us to use as Audience Development. Nearly each Friday the movies sell out with around 600 people - many of whom have never been to the museum. Beginning in 2007 the IMA now stays open until 9pm on Friday nights, giving people a chance to peruse the galleries or grounds before the movie begins. And, like Matt said, the Toby theatre, which opens in the fall, will be a great venue for more artsy flicks. Until then, enjoy our version of the drive in with friends, family, and classic films. See you there.
  • I am pretty excited about Grease and especially Rocky Horror. I am a huge Grease fan - what a great venue! As for Rocky Horror, I never got to experience the show the real way (I have only seen it on cable) so you can count me in for at least those two shows. I agree - it's more about the atmosphere...
  • Matt and Amber,

    Thanks for your posts.

    The fact that (as Amber states) nearly every showing sells out only underlines my point. If the crowds are there, why not be more creative in your offerings, with films that fit better with the IMA? I'd understand that if nobody was showing up, you'd need to lower the standards. But the crowds are there.

    I'm not suggesting screenings of Goddard. And I don't think this is the right venue for, say, a festival of 1930s Bulgarian cinema (if such a thing exists). Further, I'm not suggesting the Summer Nights is anything less than a terrific Indy entertainment offering.

    It's just that, given the venue, I'd hoped for a little more artistic intent in the mix.

    And that's not just because I can't stand Grease.

  • If the crowds are there, why not be more creative in your offerings, with films that fit better with the IMA?

    Bingo. It doesn't have to be KOYAANISQATSI - but how about KING KONG (the original)?
  • This all seems to fit with my perception of what the IMA is trying to do. It's two most recent special exhibits are mass-appeal or pop-culture events. The museum leadership seems focused on driving in the crowds--not a bad thing necessarily. It's also made a real effort to develop it's high art with the contemporary displays. What bothers me is the pandering to the ultra rich of Indy for support and naming rights then producing lowest-common-denominator events. And the Toby? They kick out community organizations, shut down the theatre and then rename it for a philanderer. What an insult to those patrons and donors from the past who funded and built the theatre in the first place. Mrs. Showalter should be haunting the place.
  • Must agree about The Toby. A poor choice for a memorial. Mr. T. could have earned back some community admiration had a true Hoosier Arts hero been the one who was Memorialized.
  • Anne, here. I also work at IMA. I’m psyched that everybody seems psyched about screening some more challenging films in Indy. While the Summer Nights crowd (myself included) likes movies that go down easy in that picknicky setting after a long work week (last year we showed Abre Los Ojos, and had really low attendance), I hope you all will check out the Toby when it opens later this year.

    Half-molted 1930s films set to a dreamy contemporary score. Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. Early stop-motion animation. A talk by the special effects director of Blade Runner. A circuit-bending performance. These are the types of things we’re working to rustle up for the Toby. Culturally adventurous performances, films & talks in a comfy setting.

    Visit the IMA blog ( and make suggestions for programming you want to see. Door’s open for ideas.
  • Although I appreciate those affiliated with the IMA identifying themselves, I am not a fan of people using this blog to promote their events. It's one thing to give a review of a neutral, non-related event and then mention your event, a la David Hochoy and Hope Baugh, which I think is perfectly fine. It's quite another to post on this blog and shamelessly promote your events, which is pretty tacky. I suggest you buy an ad to promote your events on Lou's excellent, highly-read blog or e-newsletter...
  • Andrea,
    Thanks for the note.
    My radar is up for blatant self-promotion or PR disguised as blog posts. In this case, though, I think that each of the IMA folks added something to the discussion. I encourage those involved in decision making to join the rest of us and weigh in pro, con or confused on whatever topic I bring up.
    If I feel it's tipping too closely to PR--or if people aren't identifying their affiliations--I'll call them out on it.
  • I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other on this topic, but I loved being able to read some insider thoughts about why these films were chosen.

    I appreciated reading everyone's thoughts.

    Hope Baugh

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