Biographical / Historical
The Rice University Media Center, an integral part of the arts at Rice University, was founded in 1969 by international art patrons Jean and Dominique de Menil, with scholar Gerald O'Grady as a consultant. The founders' intent was, essentially, that the Rice Media Center building provide a channel through which different peoples of the world could communicate.
The legendary vision of the de Menil family was fulfilled by the creation of the Rice Media Center building, the Department of Art and Art History and Institute for the Arts which today exists as the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts, Department of Art History, and the Rice Cinema Program.
The Rice Media Center and the Institute of the Arts buildings were designed by Houston architect Eugene Aubrey who, at the time, was partnered with architect Howard Barnstone (Barnstone and Aubrey). During the early design stages, Rice scholar Gerald O'Grady met and consulted with Aubrey on the design of the Rice Media Center building. The de Menil's vision for the center was to use the media of film and photography and art as an educational tool in both research and teaching, and to unite different branches of education. The official opening of the Media Center was held in February 1970. Andy Warhol, during a visit that same year, planted a tree with Dominique de Menil's assistance in front of the Institute for the Arts. The Institute building is now the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies and the Rice Media Center building is now occupied by the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts. Both buildings and the Warhol tree remain on the Rice Campus to this day, another tremendous gift to the City of Houston and University, from the de Menils.
Film at the Rice Media Center—the Early Years
The ideas surrounding the creation of a space like the Rice Media Center attracted filmmakers who were interested in observational cinema, or cinéma vérité, (the Direct Cinema movement) which is an important impetus to the development of Visual Anthropology today. Among those who engaged the Rice community were Colin Young, then Dean of Arts at UCLA, and renowned filmmaker and director of the Italian School, Roberto Rossellini, along with Frantizek Daniel, renowned director of the Prauge Film School, who each visited the Media Center to conduct meetings and workshops periodically in order to engage and introduce students, faculty and community to this new wave of filmmaking. In 1970-1971 David MacDougall, who had studied under Colin Young, came to Rice as an ethnographic filmmaker from UCLA. Additionally, the de Menils also brought a young documentary filmmaker to Houston to co-direct the center, Academy Award nominee James Blue. Blue and MacDougal encouraged students of all disciplines to see themselves as filmmakers, and they brought a regular flow of visiting directors to campus. Under the co-directorship of Blue and MacDougall, along with Menil support, the Rice Media Center received federal grants to purchase 8mm film and editing equipment with the intent for it to be made available to use by the public. During this period, MacDougall and Blue received a Guggenheim fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make one of the most well-known ethnographic documentary films entitled Kenya Boran at the Rice Media Center. Both MacDougall and Blue were Co-Directors of the Media Center until 1975 when MacDougall left to become Director of the Film Unit at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Teaching and fiscal operations of the Media Center became part of the Art and Art History Department soon after this period. Brian Huberman, Associate Professor, was recruited by James Blue from the National Film and Television School, U.K. in 1975. Together Huberman and Blue taught courses in production and collaboratively and independently produced several documentary films until Blue's departure in the late 1970's. Brian Huberman's film work includes To Put Away the Gods (1983), The Making of John Wayne's THE ALAMO (1992) and most recent film The De la Peña Diary (2003). Huberman's filmmaking and teaching continues to this day for the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts.
The Rice Cinema has continued to screen films from around the world—foreign features, shorts, documentaries, and animation. Rice Cinema reaches beyond the university's hedges to the diverse communities of Houston. We offer a living alternative to the monolithic commercial cinema of Hollywood and have screened films from every continent. Among the internationally known filmmakers who have appeared on our campus over the years include Werner Herzog, Rakhshan Banietemad, Atom Egoyan, Shirin Neshat, Martin Scorsese, Andy Warhol, George Lucas, Fernando E. Solanas, Albert Maysles and Dennis Hopper.
Rice Cinema works in concert with our academic programs to enrich our students' undergraduate experience. Our film students are provided state-of-the-art screening facilities to examine and study the historical and methodological aspects of movies from around the world in 16, 35, or 70 millimeter with Dolby Digital Sound. Film production students can showcase their work during the academic year on our new silver screen in professionally renovated projection facilities.
Come experience art at 24 frames per second at the Rice Cinema. Rice Cinema operates during the academic year screening films almost every weekend.
(Excerpts from these passages below have been taken from an article by Lia Unrau of Rice News on 9/14/95)
In the early '70s,' Andy Warhol premiered his violent Lonesome Cowboys to the largest Media Center audience in history. Italian neo-realist director Michelangelo Antonioni, known for Blow Up screened his work, as did Martin Scorcese and Milos Forman. A promising young director named George Lucas showed his original version of THX 1138.
Also in the '70s, The Big Parade director King Vidor, a Galveston native, told students and audiences about the silver screen, and George Stevens (Giant) and Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) passed on insight from their experiences during some 30 years in the business.
Audiences leaned back and looked to the ceiling as two avant-garde experimenters, Ed Emschwiller and Stan Vanderbeek, projected psychedelic images over head; it was, after all, the '70s.
The early '80s brought a strange Dennis Hopper. Following his "performance," in which he refused to come out on stage and the audience watched on video monitors as he spoke from behind stage, (witnesses aren't sure what he spoke about), he invited the sell-out crowd to watch as he blew himself up in the Russian Dynamite Death Chair Act.
Sam Peckinpah, well-known for his westerns, like The Wild Bunch, made the last public appearance of his career at Rice. At the time, his films were controversial in terms of violence, but they might seem mild by today's standards.
British director Richard Lester visited campus to reflect about the Beatles during filming of A Hard Day's Night and Help, and ended up running the camera for George Rupp's presidential inauguration in 1985.
In 1987 Isabella Rossellini participated in a retrospective of her father's work. While Roberto Rossellini was at Rice he set to work on a film for television called Science, based on the work of Rice scientists, scheduled to be 10 hours long. Although frames exist, the project was never completed.
In 1991, Spike Lee and his whole family rolled up in a limousine to sneak preview Do the Right Thing. Lee led an emotionally charged discussion with the sell-out crowd following the film.
[Source: Rice University Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts website, https://vada.rice.edu/rice-cinema/rice-cinema-history, accessed Nov. 11, 2020.]