Los Angeles, California may be the centre of the movie world, but until now it hasn’t had a true centre for movies. Sure, you can see famous handprints at the TCL Chinese Theatre, stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or take a celebrity home tour. Visiting movie studios like Warner Bros. or Universal can be fun too. But short of places like the now-defunct Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, there is no place for a movie buff to go and see a large number of priceless artifacts or the building blocks used to make their favourite films.
Hollywood needed its own museum — something authoritative and definitive, a place where history lives in the present, a place where, no matter what day, year, or decade it is, the past is waiting for you. After almost a decade of preparation, on September 30 the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as the famous La Brea Tar Pits, this beautiful new structure designed by architect Renzo Piano is a place where you can go and see an actual Rosebud sled from the set of Citizen Kane, the Dude’s robe from The Big Lebowski, Furiosa’s arm from Mad Max: Fury Road, and so many other cinematic marvels in between. It’s a fantasyland for film fans that’s bound to become a must-stop destination for movie buffs.
Gizmodo was invited to attend a press preview of the event where museum board members like Oscar-winner Tom Hanks spoke about how the museum will “transport [fans] to amazing places” until the end of time. At first, that sounds hyperbolic, but when you actually begin to explore the four floors of the building, the magic quickly becomes a reality.
The museum is a gorgeous, overwhelming experience, filled with so many unforgettable things, it would reportedly take you three and a half days to read and experience it all. The 300,000 square foot space is split into two sections. There’s the Saban Building (where most of the gallery exhibitions are) and the David Geffen Theatre (an eye-catching, dome-shaped area that architect Piano kindly asked fans to not call “a Death Star” — he suggests maybe “zeppelin,” “space ship” or “soap bubble”). The 1,000 seat theatre, connected via an above-ground tunnel, will show films year-round, many in tandem with exhibitions.
Walking into the impressive space, among the first things you notice are the names of all the areas. There’s the “Spielberg Family Gallery,” “Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby,” “Shirley Temple Education Studio,” and many others. The museum is, in some ways, a gift from Hollywood to fans who have watched its movies for so many years — made with many, many generous donations (see a list here) from all sorts of celebrities.
And that theme is seen throughout the museum, like when you notice the ruby slippers on display from The Wizard of Oz were “purchased with partial funds from Steven Spielberg,” and “the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation” among others. Both Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar contributed pieces to exhibits they curated about their own works and careers. Props and mementos throughout are also donated by private collectors, film studios, other popular directors, and so much more. You truly get the sense that the film community felt there was a dire need for a place like this and were more than happy to help make it a reality.
The focal point of the museum is its 2,780 square-metre three-floor exhibition called “Stories of Cinema.” This is the “core” exhibit of the museum and spans not just the entirety of film history, but the scope of filmmaking itself. Some sections feel a little disjointed, but overall are still stunning. On the second floor, you get the aforementioned Rosebud sled (loaned by Spielberg) which is right next to one of Bruce Lee’s costumes from Enter the Dragon.
That’s next to a presentation about Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, which connects to a section that’s all about the Academy Awards themselves which includes actual Oscar statues from across the years (If you ever wanted to see the Oscars given to Shrek for Best Animated film or Best Visual Effects for Star Wars, now you can) and huge video walls that sequentially loop several important historical clips from ceremonies of the past.
From there you head into Spike Lee’s room, highlighted by a huge selection of posters and art which inspired his career. For example, not only does he have some screen-used costumes from Do the Right Thing, but a Jurassic Park poster signed to him by Spielberg, and a huge Michael Jordan poster also personalised.
Lee’s room leads into a full room dedicated to The Wizard of Oz (including those ruby slippers) which then goes into a room about costumes and makeup, which is where you can see Russell Crowe’s outfit from Gladiator, Lupita Nyong’o’s costume from Us, and the May Queen dress from Midsommer, just to begin. All of which is amazing, and I’m barely scratching the surface in terms of specifics, but at times the flow from one room to another didn’t always have a strong cohesion.
Things are a little more focused on the third floor. The “Stories of Cinema” section has huge sections dedicated to all manner of animation, special effects, and creature design. For sci-fi fans, this section of the museum is probably the highlight as it’s where you can see original cells from Akira, head molds from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin nose from Batman Returns. There are also life-sized, mostly screen-used costumes and props from 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Dark Crystal, E.T., Star Wars, Alien, Edward Scissorhands, and many more. You can see a few in the photos above, and while some are understandably, almost delightfully, weathered with age, others are in such good condition, you’d swear they were made yesterday.
Travelling to the fourth floor you’ll find the museum’s inaugural temporary exhibition based on the films of Hayao Miyazaki. It’s actually the first museum retrospective on his work in North America, and if you’re a fan of movies like My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, it’s worth the price of admission on its own. (There’s no word on how long this temporary exhibit will be on display, but we have a request in to find out and will update when we hear back.) Multiple rooms are filled with storyboards, paintings, miniatures, animation cells, and posters of his works. There’s a magical tree to interact with and even a grassy hill you can physically lay down on and stare up at animated clouds, just like you were in one of the director’s films. I damn near came to tears looking at the stunningly beautiful work that helped bring all these animated classics to life. Photos were not allowed inside of this particular exhibit, but below are a few images made available to press.
All of that would, surely, be enough but there’s still more to explore at the Academy Museum. “The Path to Cinema” is a small gallery dedicated to pre-cinematic storytelling tools that lead to what movies are today. “Backdrop: An Invisible Art” is an ode to matte painting and features a two-story-tall image of Mount Rushmore that Alfred Hitchcock used in North by Northwest. Additionally, for a extra $US15 ($21) on top of the tickets, you can sign up for “The Oscars Experience,” which is a short, fun, interactive moment where you hold an actual Oscar and pretend like you won it. In the end, you’re sent a little sharable video for social media. If you want a very funny video to share with friends, or to feel what it’s like to hold an Oscar, it’s worth doing. If you don’t use social media, it’s probably OK to skip.
When I walked out of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, I was dizzy. After two hours delving into its many corners, it was both not enough and almost too much. Seeing countless items that relate to so many things I love, all in one place, and presented with the care and respect that I and other film fans carry for them, just felt incredible. Do I have criticisms? Sure. The disjointed nature of some of the exhibit layouts can be little off-putting and confusing thematically. There’s a sense that while most eras of film are well represented, somehow it’s still missing huge chunks. Some films feel a little overrepresented and there’s a good chance a few of your favourites don’t make a dent at all. A handful of rooms are good for younger kids but, for the most part, the museum is aimed at an older, more seasoned film fan. Plus, perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t there with a big crowd, and that would certainly change the experience.
Either way, I cannot wait to go back and get a chance to explore more. Spending time inside film history was an incredible experience I definitely want more of. If you’re in Los Angeles, you cannot miss the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Once again, doors open on September 30 — tickets are $US25 ($34) for adults, $US19 ($26) for seniors, $US15 ($21) for students, and free for people age 17 and younger. They’re available, along with reservations, only on the museum’s website, which you can access here.
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