Gregory M. Donley Magazine Staff
The Man Behind the Movies John Ewing checks screen masking in the Morley Lecture Hall before the showing of Kings of Pastry in November.
In 2010, the museum’s associate director of film John Ewing was named a Chevalier (knight) in the prestigious Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of France after being nominated by the Cultural Services of the French Consulate in Chicago. Sir John was recognized for his significant contributions to culture through the museum’s film program and the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinematheque over the past 24 years. He’s in good company. Robert Redford, Uma Thurman, David Bowie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jackson Pollock have all previously received the award.
“I was informed of the award via a letter from Paris,” Ewing recalls, “totally out of the blue. I’m pleased to receive this honor because France does more than any other country to perpetuate film culture. If you think about it, the Cleveland Cinematheque wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for the Cinémathèque Française, which was the first cinematheque in the world. Also, many of the most important and earliest films were French. The Lumière brothers were the first people to exhibit films publicly, and there have been so many great French filmmakers over the years, from Jean Renior to Robert Bresson to Truffaut and Godard, to Olivier Assayas working right now. The French cinema is one of the richest film traditions in the history of the medium.”
To Ewing, the vast success of movies as popular entertainment can upstage the importance of the medium as an art form. “I see film as the major art of the 20th century and probably—well, the 21st century is too young. It is also a visual art, thus its rightful place at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I’m a purist, so I think movies should be shown in the format in which they were shot, which generally is 35mm film. Ideally, people should watch movies projected from 35mm, in a darkened room, on a big screen, without interruptions from telephone calls, or to send text messages, or to let the dog out. I really resist and resent the idea of movies as wallpaper, where they’re shown just as background to a party. I think people should watch a movie from the beginning to the end, and that becomes more and more difficult in this age when everybody wants instant gratification. If people rent Psycho, they may skip forward to the shower scene. But going to a movie should be like attending a play or hearing the orchestra—you’re going to have to wait for the slow movement in Mahler’s Fifth. You’re there to experience the whole thing. Film is a time-based medium, and people have to commit their time to really appreciate it.”
Ewing’s award will be presented to him during a ceremony at the Cleveland Institute of Art on Thursday, February 3 at 7:30. Immediately following the ceremony the Cinematheque will screen Jean Grémillon’s 1944 French film Le ciel est à vous (The Sky Is Yours). The film admission fee includes both the ceremony and the movie screening.
Cleveland Art, January/February 2011