Wednesday, September 29, 2021 - by Scott S. Smith and Sandra Wells
Mary Pickford was one of the co-founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with two other women and 33 men, in 1927. That year, the first film with sound, "The Jazz Singer," was screened, which studios thought was a passing fad. Two years later, she became one of the first stars to appear in a "talkie," the smash hit "Coquette," which won her the Best Actress Oscar. Also in 1929, the Academy decided it needed to create a museum about movies, but that dream would not be realized for another 92 years, when the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures https://www.academymuseum.org/en/ was finally opened September 30, 2021.
Despite controversies over years of construction delays and rising costs, we can confirm what Tom Hanks said at the press opening about the two buildings covering 300,000 square feet at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire in Hollywood, with its striking dome: "This has exceeded our dreams 10-fold and movies continue to be a magical art form that speaks to everyone everywhere."
The collections (including those at the Academy's other locations), include over 13 million photos, 250,000 videos and film "assets," 91,000 screenplays, 133,000 pieces of production art, and 1800 special collections (including ones devoted to Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Hattie McDaniel, and Alfred Hitchcock).
The Academy's Library has nearly 40,000 books.
On arrival, you should spend a very good half hour in the Spielberg Family space in the lobby, where screens plays clips from every film you have ever seen or should have, a powerful and fun reminder of the impact of the movies on global culture over the past century.
There are several floors of exhibition spaces, permanent and temporary, called "Stories of Cinema." Hanks estimated it would take four days to look at and read about all the items on display right now, as well as watch the clips, but a few hours would be enough to focus on whatever is of interest on a first visit. Just inside the main entrance are enormous screens with iconic images from the movies. The first room covers some silent films, Bruce Lee (with his notes about how he connected martial arts to his artistic process), and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (including the Rosebud sled).
Among the 8,000 three-dimensional objects collected by the museum, some are pre-movie magic lanterns (which projected images painted on glass), the typewriter on which the screenplay for Psycho was written, The Dude's bathrobe from The Big Lebowski, and an animatronic full-body ET.
There are also many donated Oscar statues, including Pickford's and Clark Gable's for It Happened One Night (which received 99% favorable reviews, according to RottenTomatoes.com). In the next room are stills and videos of Academy Award acceptance speeches, including Marlee Matlin's for Children of a Lesser God and Meryl Streep's for Sophie's Choice (along with Marlon Brando's refusal of Marlon Brando for The Godfather to highlight Native American injustices, read by Sacheen Littlefeather).
Adjacent is space devoted to Spike Lee, including his handwritten Oscar acceptance speech and posters about movies that influenced him (including Spartacus and Taxi Driver), part of the museum's collection of 67,000. Another exhibit was designed by director Pedro Almodovar, with 12 screens showing clips from his films like "Pain and Glory" and "Labyrinth of Passion."
The Wizard of Oz has an entire room to itself, where you can find a first edition of the 1904 Frank Baum book on which it was based, signed by all the stars, versions of the developing script, concept art for scenes, the headpiece for the Cowardly Lion, the pioneering 3-strip Technicolor camera that was used, and one of the three pairs of ruby slippers.
Some of the notable costumes include the two worn by both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, rivals in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Winged Devil's in Rocketman, and Salma Hayek's ensemble in Frida. In the makeup section you can see Dick Smith's kits and molds used in The Exorcist, The Godfather, and The Deer Hunter, as well as the life masks of Grace Kelly and Clark Gable.
What may be the most illuminating parts of the museum are about the behind-the-scenes aspects of film production, such as set design (L.A. Confidential is the subject of one exhibit) and dubbing in special sounds (there is a fascinating short film about the creative process for non-spoken audio effects, such as footsteps). Some of the props acquired include stone tablets from The Ten Commandments, the queen's scepter in Cleopatra, the creature headpiece from Alien, and the only surviving full-size shark model cast from the original mold for Jaws.
There is also a large temporary exhibit on another floor devoted to the acclaimed Japanese filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki (best-known to the public for Spirited Away).
Recent acquisitions include Gene Kelly's sweater and slacks from An American in Paris, Sammy Davis Jr.'s suit in Porgy and Bess, and Richard Pryor's baseball uniform from The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and
Motor Kings. Donations of items from all involved in "the Industry" will continue to pour in, so you can count on seeing many new things when you revisit. There are also lots of screenings and other special events, so check out the calendar.
The irony of the museum's opening now is that it comes at a time when the pandemic has put the survival of theaters in doubt, location shooting here and the size of crews have been limited (while the cost of living is ever-rising), and streaming is likely to upend the traditional business model for making films (just as digital impacted the profitability of music and books). But learning from the challenges past and present (films with sound, TV, cable, dishes, streaming, 24/7 Internet and social media distractions, etc.) is the key to reinvention and adaptation for the next century of the movies.
To that end, the Academy Museum has arrived just in time as the best place in the world to remind us of the magic of movies. There is no doubt it will become the No. 1 destination for visitors to the city and residents should reserve time there before it becomes hard to get into another blockbuster.