When people visiting Los Angeles wanted to soak up entertainment history, the used to walk by the stars on Hollywood Boulevard or take a studio tour. There was no central repository for Hollywood lore and film history – until recently. The new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures celebrates the movie industry – the glamour, successes, and even the not-so-savory side. While the Academy Museum offers lot of displays for every taste, it tries a little too hard to put on a politically correct showcase.
Inaugural Items on Display
The Academy Museum’s current exhibits highlight:
- Notable films (i.e. “The Wizard of Oz” and “Citizen Kane”);
- Filmmakers (Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar and Hayao Miyazaki);
- Popular creature creations (the shark from “Jaws,” C3PO, and ET);
- Fan favorite costumes (C3PO, attire from “Black Panther” and “Rocketman”); and
- Film clips on countless screens throughout the building.
Additionally, the Academy tries to balance the iconic and often interesting celebration of movie making and Hollywood glamor, by showing the unsavory sides of the industry and even culture. Scattered throughout are displays about white actors in blackface, poor treatment of minorities through the years, accusations of inappropriate behavior toward woman and child stars. In a room on set design for “North by Northwest,” the backdrop of Mount Rushmore relates how the monument desecrated sacred Native American land.
Various Careers in Moviemaking
The Academy Museum tries to celebrate the achievements of the 17 different Academy branches. However, it is hard to give the same attention to writers, producers, casting directors and other less visual, branches. Showing off costumes is easy, so is visual effects, animation, music and more.
“The Wizard of Oz” gallery tries the hardest to weave in the branches and dark sides. There are costumes (and photos of rejected designs for Dorothy’s attire), set design, the cowardly lion’s hair, and various props. Then, there is a picture of Judy Garland with MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer (the executive branch) with a didactic noting that the “studio kept Garland on a destructive cycle of dieting and pills”and that Mayer harassed Garland.
One branch they do a notably great job showcasing is sound. There is one room showing a clip from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as shot. The segment then shows it again with voices dubbed, then sound effects being created, music added, etc. Each element is layered in and then the final version of the scene is shown.
Before the Academy Museum opened, the Oscar telecast was what the Academy was known for.
Accordingly, the Oscars get a lot of attention. There is a timeline about historic wins, gowns worn to the event, programs for it, clips from Oscar speeches and the Best Picture card saying “Moonlight” won in 2017. There is also a gallery of actual Oscars on display; it includes an empty case for Hattie Macdonald’s Oscar, a tribute to the fact the “Gone With the Wind” actress, the first Black actor to be honored, was not allowed to attend.
Adding to the Neighborhood
The Academy Museum is located mid-Wilshire Boulevard area now being touted as “Museum Row.” It is adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (currently undergoing a massive expansion effort) and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. The Craft and Folk Art Museum as well as the Petersen Automotive Museum are across the street.
The building housing the Academy Museum was originally a department store, May Company. Built in 1939, the building itself is noteworthy for its art deco Streamline Moderne design. Renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, 84, refurbished the building. He added an adjacent futuristic element that some call the Death Star, but Piano claims is a “soap bubble” – the spherical 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater. Fittingly, those on the bridges to the Theater and looking at the windows on upper floors of the museum can readily see the Hollywood sign.
For those wanting to celebrate movie magic and glamor, reservations for Academy Museum and timed admission tickets are available online. There are also savory entrees, side dishes and desserts in the museum restaurant, Fanny’s.
Written by Dyanne Weiss
Academy Museum visit
Rogeredbert.com: A Tour Through the Brand New Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Los Angeles Times: The architect behind the Academy Museum says his design is no ‘Death Star’
Photos of “Rocketman” costume, Hattie McDaniel tribute, Dorothy Gale test costumes and C3PO by Dyanne Weiss