Three decades of film history just became available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Walker Art Center has placed 30 years of cinematic conversations on its website, ranging from relatively obscure makers of art films, such as the Brothers Quay, who craft unorthodox animation, to superstars such as Tom Hanks, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.
In dialogues held at the Minneapolis museum, the artists cover highlights of their careers, resulting in such off-the-cuff gems as Joel and Ethan Coen recalling that they couldn’t get Albert Finney to leave the “Miller’s Crossing” set after he was done shooting his main part, so they gave him the (female) role of a maid.
Or Robert Redford recounting the cloak-and-dagger hijinks he had to engage in to get a meeting with Bob Woodward, whom he’d eventually play in “All the President’s Men.”
Or Jodie Foster describing that time she was almost eaten by a lion on the “Napoleon and Samantha” set.
Or Jessica Lange revealing the real reason — as opposed to the official reason — her “A Thousand Acres” was a disaster.
It’s all there at Walkerart.org, and you don’t even have to fight for a ticket to the invariably sold-out events. (This year’s Bong Joon-ho dialogue, just days after he cleaned up at the Oscars with “Parasite,” was an especially tough get.) Some are transcripts, some audio only, but most include video.
The cinematic riches are sort of a parting gift from Sheryl Mousley, who retired as the Walker’s senior film/video curator last month, having overseen the department for nearly two decades. (Bruce Jenkins began the programs in 1990 and, at one point, thought they could become a TV series.) For a year, she worked in earnest with the Walker’s digital folks to get the archives online. But the digital project goes back further than that.
“When we did our 25th anniversary, we were looking at how to show the works from our archives,” said Mousley. “We went back and looked at all of our agreements and reached out to filmmakers, sometimes to their estates, to ask about permission.”
Most filmmakers responded enthusiastically. Mousley received a note from Ang Lee, who was at the Walker when “Brokeback Mountain” debuted in theaters, when he saw his interview online. A few artists imposed limitations, which you’ll find as you dig through the interviews. The Coens, for instance, were filmed but their dialogue exists only as an extremely chatty transcript. Lange is a de facto podcast, since she’s audio-only.
Mousley said the Walker’s reputation usually preceded it with filmmakers. Claire Denis was a “yes” because she knew of the place but, at the last minute, her appearance had to be rescheduled — from 1998 to, ultimately, 2012 — when she received word that she needed to shoot a film immediately (it turned out to be her classic “Beau Travail”).
Some, like the late (in both meanings of the word) Agnès Varda, played hard to get. Mousley was scheduled to meet her at New York’s Lincoln Center but an apologetic Varda turned up an hour late and said she had to race to a downtown appointment. Mousley and Varda spoke during a lengthy wait for a cab and then Mousley hopped in with the Belgian/French legend.
“She says to the driver, ‘Why was it so hard to get a cab?’ He said, ‘It’s two things. It’s the shift change and it’s Yom Kippur.’ She said, ‘What is Yom Kippur?’ and he said, ‘It’s the time we atone for our sins,’ ” recalled Mousley. “So she asked for forgiveness for something she had done that she had always felt bad about — I’d better not say what — and then she said, ‘Thank you for your forgiveness and of course I’ll come to the Walker.’ ”
When the archive went live, former assistant curator Dean Otto posted more stories about his involvement with the program and its guests. It’s on the website of the Speed Museum in Louisville, where he now runs the film program.
Although the dialogues popped up online during the global pandemic shutdown, that’s just a coincidence. The intention is for them to remain a permanent resource on the Walker’s site. Meanwhile, plenty of moviemakers have not yet participated — Mousley mentions actor/producer Tilda Swinton as someone whose timing has never been quite right — so there could be additions. Especially since word of mouth between those who appear on the Walker stage seems to be good. Bong, anyway, seems likely to tell his filmmaking pals about the good time he had.
“It was such a moment for Bong Joon-ho, coming from Los Angeles and the awards,” said Mousley. “He was in a great space. We had shown his other films, so people knew them, and he said, ‘It’s so nice not to be only talking about ‘Parasite’ and the Oscar buildup. Now, that’s over and I can talk about other things.’ In the Q&A, people were asking about the soundtrack for his film ‘Mother,’ and I saw him smile wide and say, ‘I love this question!’ ”