"Building on a Glorious IU Tradition: Breaking New Ground in the Arts and Humanities"

IU Cinema Groundbreaking/Theatre and Drama Building Renovation
University Theatre Steps
October 17, 2009

Introduction: Restoring Freshness and Force

In 1961, American critic Lionel Trilling wrote, “Time has the effect of seeming to quiet the work of art, domesticating it and making it into a classic . . . University study of the right sort can reverse this process and restore to the old work its freshness and force—can, indeed, disclose unguessed-at power.” 1

Trilling’s words, aimed at modern literature, could just as easily be about the projects upon which we are breaking ground this afternoon. The new University Cinema has been designed to present classic cinematic works with all the freshness and force possible in this, our digital age. And the much anticipated renovations of the Theatre and Drama Building promise to concentrate and enhance the creative energy of this dynamic department.

IU’s Glorious Traditions in the Arts

Indiana University’s magnificent reputation in the creative arts and humanities, is based first and foremost on the eminence of our outstanding scholars, who teach students to understand the power of literature, art, and music. There are a myriad of areas from language and literature to fine and performing arts, where they have established IU’s programs to be among the finest in the world. They have also contributed immeasurably to providing a true liberal education to generations of IU students.

But this reputation is also based, in part, on the superb facilities championed by successive IU presidents–facilities that are essential to so many of these programs. There are capital cities of many nations throughout the world who do not have facilities of this quality, or on this scale, to support the arts.

This superb Auditorium was planned by President Bryan and opened in 1941 with the vision and determination of President Herman B Wells. It was the first construction project of Wells’ administration and welcomed annual performances from the Metropolitan Opera Company–the first time the company ever visited a small university town.

It allows up to 3200 people to attend every kind of popular musical or theatrical entertainment, and to hear speakers of the greatest eminence. Here the Chicago Symphony has performed six times, Ray Charles mesmerized his audiences, and Mikhail Gorbachev, Ehud Barak, and Colin Powell shared their political wisdom.

Nearby we have the Musical Arts Center, home annually to close to 1000 operas, ballets, symphonic concerts, and other musical events, performed by the students and faculty of IU’s peerless Jacobs School of Music.

Nearby we also have IU’s superb art museum designed by one of the greatest architects of the 20th century: I.M. Pei. His works grace some of the great cities of the world, and here in Bloomington Indiana, we have one of his finest buildings. Its outstanding collection of art—old and new, Western and Eastern—is one of the great glories of IU.

Also close by, we have our libraries dominated by the massive collection of the Wells Library and the masterpieces of the incomparable Lilly Library. These remain, as they always have, essential tools of all our scholars. They are where the world of ancient manuscripts meets the world of digitization.

And just over my shoulder is the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, which celebrates both past and present African American culture and heritage, through programs, film series, and conferences. Connected to that facility is the wonderful modern Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, where the great Greek classical comedies and tragedies of Aristophenes, Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aeschylus are performed along with the most modern works by the likes of Neil Simon and Arthur Miller, and never forgetting the immortal works of Shakespeare.

The upcoming renovations of the Theatre and Drama Building will serve to connect it with the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, and will provide much need space for an experimental blackbox theatre, a movement studio, as well as classroom and office space. Provost Hanson and Dean Bertenthal will say more about that renovation in just a moment.

Such facilities, then, are essential to the arts and the humanities. They are for the humanist and the artist the equivalent of the laboratories or the supercomputers of the life scientist or the computer scientist.

What we have lacked is a facility dedicated to cinema.

This project will change all that.

Film: A Twentieth-Century Art

Film is the most modern of arts. It may well be the one great art form that arose in the 20th Century. The year I announced the conversion of the old University Theatre into a cinema saw the passing of two giants of film—Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. Their work indelibly reminds us that film can be every bit as profound and sublime as the greatest literary works, poems, paintings, operas or symphonies.

Has alienation ever been better or more unsettlingly portrayed than in Antonioni’s L’Avventura?

Has the fleeting impermanence of human life ever been better captured than by Bergman’s Wild Strawberries?

Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim is as profound a statement as to the nature of love and passion between men and women as any in literature.

No one can leave Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris without being deeply moved by its portrayal of humanity asserting itself against the vastness of the universe.

Is there a better portrait of the hardening of the human heart than Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather?

Has mental disintegration been more poignantly though beautifully portrayed than in Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits?

Has the corrupting and corrosive power of totalitarianism been more devastatingly presented than in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist?

And could anyone ever capture better the passion of the people of Indiana for basketball than our own Angelo Pizzo in Hoosiers?

Many of these masterpieces of the cinema were, of course, based on works of literature. But these films make these works almost literally come alive, and in turn, reflect facets of them sometimes not fully visible on the printed page.

As Bergman said, “[film is] a language that literally is spoken from soul to soul in expressions that, almost sensuously, escape the restrictive control of the intellect.” 2

1941: A Watershed Year

The University Theatre is a most symbolic location for the new University Cinema. Completed in 1941 as part of the Auditorium complex, the theatre embodies IU’s glorious history of artistic accomplishment, combining great traditions of performance and visual art. In addition to its decades as a theatre, it is home to four sections of Thomas Hart Benton’s magnificent Indiana murals, created over seventy-five years ago.

1941 also marked one of the pinnacles in the age of American cinema. That year films directed by John Huston, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles were nominated for Academy Awards. John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley won. It is astounding to think that films by these six remarkable directors were nominated in the same year.

And the 1940s also saw the dawn of the great age of international film. Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Akira Kurosawa all began their cinematic careers around that time.

Facilities Necessary to the Cinematic Experience

These—and others—are the cinematic luminaries whose work will again quicken this space. Steeped in such rich artistic tradition, this theatre space will return to life, offering scholars, students, and the broader community an accessible dedicated facility that is vitally necessary to the cinematic experience. Once again they will be able to see the masterpieces of cinema as they were meant to seen.

The cinema will feature a combination of digital cinema and traditional projection capabilities that will place within the top tier of similar facilities elsewhere in the nation. It will open opportunities for the development of new interdisciplinary programs. Using fiber optics and the huge bandwidth of Internet2, which IU operates, this space will show film classics as well as the latest digital experimental, international, and scientific cinematic creations.

Thanks to Advocates

Specialized facilities like this often require champions, who dedicate countless hours as advocates for various aspects of the project. I would like to recognize a number of this project’s strongest advocates.

Doug Booher, Jonathan Michaelsen, and James Naremore each helped lead the planning committee for this project and brought together the interests of the Auditorium, Theatre and Drama, and the cinema, respectively. Jim Naramore, one of the world’s leading film scholars, deserves special recognition since he actually retired in 2004. I would also like to recognize Terry Clapacs and Tom Morrison whose service overseeing the construction of IU facilities has seen the start and finish of this project. Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the unceasing hard work and careful attention that Kelly Kish from my office has dedicated to every stage of this project.

Conclusion: The Changing World of Cinema

The world of the cinema has changed dramatically over the years. Over the past few decades, we have seen the democratization of the cinema industry. One visit to YouTube or Photobucket shows the impact of relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use movie-making technology. But the online viewing experience stands in stark opposition and contrast to the shared, communal experience of large-scale projection that defines true cinema.

The very best cinema and the very best theatre bring people from varied backgrounds together to explore other worlds, to visit other times, and to suspend their own lives for that moment in the theatre.

President Wells said something akin to this back in 1941 when he dedicated the auditorium. Unlike other types of university buildings, the auditorium is a striking example of a building that, as he said, “contributes to institutional unity.” Wells went on, “This building will serve as a gathering place for students of all divisions, undergraduate and graduate, and for members of the staff, academic and non-academic.” 3

The new University Cinema and the renovated theatre and drama building, like the rest of IU’s magnificent Fine Arts Plaza, represents years of determination, dedication, and intellectual effort all directed towards strengthening and honoring Indiana University’s great traditions in the arts and humanities. Like the IU Art Museum, the Lilly Library, the Musical Arts Center, and the Auditorium, this new facility is a symbol of this state’s rich cultural heritage.

It represents the depth of the universityՉ۪s commitment to training the next generation of scholars, performers, and artists. The best drama haunts and inspires, plumbing the depths of what it means to be human, and expanding our sense of what it means to be alive. These are the heights of artistic creation toward which that next generation will reach, and these are the facilities that will enable them to reach those heights.

Source Notes

  1. Trilling, Lionel. “On the Teaching of Modern Literature.” The New York Intellectuals Reader. Edited by Neil Jumonville. New York: Routledge, 2007. 223-42. Page 229.
  2. Qtd. in Rothstein, Mervyn. “Ingmar Bergman, Master Filmmaker, Dies at 89.” The New York Times. 30 July 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/30/movies/30cnd-bergman.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Ingmar%20Bergman,%20Master%20Filmmaker,%20Dies%20at%2089&st=cse
  3. Wells, Herman B. Remarks at the Dedication of Music Auditorium of Indiana University. 22 Mar. 1941. Indiana University. Bloomington, Indiana. http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=93