Our Town: Baltimore
Interview with MoMA curator Anne Morra
Published: December 10, 2013
Our Town: Baltimore
Curated by Anne Morra
at the Museum of Modern Art Dec. 12-24
This month, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) starts a series of curated film screenings focusing on particular cities. Our Town: Baltimore, the first in the series, highlights the works of Barry Levinson, John Waters, and Matthew Porterfield. Films including Diner, Tin Men, Polyester, Female Trouble, and Hamilton, among many others, will play at MoMA Dec. 12-24. Porterfield will appear Dec. 23 to introduce I Used to Be Darker. We spoke to Anne Morra, who curated the series, about the selection process and the overarching characteristics of the films included. (H. Dean Freeman)
CP: Can you explain why you chose Baltimore as the first city in the Our Town exhibition?
AM: I had been watching a lot of John Waters’ films, and he is such a singular artist who has a very specific vision and aesthetic. So much of that vision comes from where he comes from and where he grew up, and that all informs his narrative. Then I remembered that MoMA had a collection of Barry Levinson’s films, and I watched those too. Although their films are different, both Levinson and Waters are telling a similar geographic story. I wanted a more contemporary filmmaker too, and that is where Porterfield came in.
CP: I think our art scene is in many ways still catching up to other major cities, but our films have been good for a long time. John Waters is a big part of that.
AM: He was very flattered when we contacted him about this show, and said MoMA was the first serious art institution to legitimize him by adding his work to the collection many years ago. You know, Baltimore has always struck me as a place of real cultural vibrancy. You have great museums and a lot of opportunities to engage with the creativity in the community. It’s such a diverse place, and it’s full of surprises.
CP: These filmmakers are all very different, but they represent certain archetypes of people who live in the city. Do you have any insight on their different perspectives?
AM: In Levinson’s films—particularly Avalon and Liberty Heights, which focus on immigrant families—there is this nostalgia that is combined with this overwhelming [desire] to be American. They are trying to assimilate and fit in. Waters’ characters don’t want to fit in, and they don’t care. That’s what makes them so fantastic; they look at the normal folks and think they are weird. Then you have Porterfield. His young people almost want to disappear into the framework altogether.
CP: How do you think these films relate to Baltimore, and what do you think that similarity is?
AM: I think these films are bound together by a sense of otherness. All these characters are outsiders. Whether it is getting denied entry to a country club in Liberty Heights, or the weirdos in Waters’ films, or the kids in Porterfield’s films, all of them want to find a place in their communities. And I think that idea has a lot to say about Baltimore.
For more information, visit moma.org/ visit/calendar/films.
> Email H. Dean Freeman