Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens doors in Los Angeles

 Tuesday, October 5, 2021 

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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has opened its doors in Los Angeles besides Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on September 30, after several delays. Founded by the US film organization of the same name, the museum holds the same name as the renowned Academy Awards.

The annual awards ceremony is one of the world’s most spectacular media events, with the Oscar, a gold-plated statuette, considered the industry’s most prestigious award.

The US film industry has been trying to establish its own museum as far back as 1929, two years after the Academy was founded. However, those plans soon fizzled out, with a later attempt in the 1960s failing to make the cuts. The 2008 financial crisis saw the venture faltering again, but a few years later, plans for a Hollywood museum finally gained momentum. The prestige project took almost 10 years, and the inauguration of the museum was postponed several times, most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now it has finally come to fruition. “Our inaugural exhibitions and programs tell the celebratory and diverse stories of filmmaking — the technology, artists, history and social impact on our past and present — while not shying away from critical perspectives that can only enrich our future,” said Bill Kramer, director and president of the museum, in a press statement.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures consists of two buildings. The fully renovated historic May Company building, renamed as the Saban Building dates back to 1939. It is connected via three largely transparent bridges to a dome made of glass, steel and concrete called the Sphere.

The Sphere houses a huge cinema for 1,000 viewers with red upholstered armchairs, a large screen and perfect acoustics. It has been created by the Pritzker Prize-winning star architect Renzo Piano, who became famous for buildings such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and London’s triangular skyscraper, The Shard.

The Academy also paid tribute to the Tongva, the indigenous people who lived in this area long before it became a glitzy film center. The Academy owns the largest collection of film-related items in the world, including more than 13 million photographs, 250,000 film and video recordings, 71,000 scripts, 67,000 posters and 137,000 works of art, remnants of film sets, storyboards, newspaper clippings, personal correspondence and bequests from Hollywood icons such as Alfred Hitchcock and Katharine Hepburn.

“My personal highlight in the museum is the Aries 1B from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Jessica Niebel, former curator of the German Film Museum and now curator at the new Academy Museum in Los Angeles, told DW.

But picking a single favorite exhibit in the museum is definitely a challenge. By its own account, the Academy owns the largest collection of film-related items in the world, including more than 13 million photographs, 250,000 film and video recordings, 71,000 scripts, 67,000 posters and 137,000 works of art, remnants of film sets, storyboards, newspaper clippings, personal correspondence and bequests from Hollywood icons such as Alfred Hitchcock and Katharine Hepburn.

Some of these are now on display in the new museum, such as the head of the creature from Alien (1979), animation masks from Tim Burton’s film The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the typewriter on which Joseph Stefano wrote the screenplay for Psycho (1960), and Judy Garland’s shoes, which she wore as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.

Some printed and research materials from the Margaret Herrick Library will also be on temporary display, such as a page of the screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), on which lead actor Gregory Peck had jotted down all sorts of notes. Meanwhile, the museum has also highlighted the controversial moments from the industry.  In the exhibition area displaying costumes and makeup, there is an installation with the makeup that white actors used to paint their faces dark for the screen, highlighting the issue of racism.

Labels on make-up cans bear designations such as “Chinese” and “Black (Minstrel).” Minstrel shows were American theatrical performances developed in the 19th century where white entertainers caricatured African-Americans.

Besides focusing on the US film industry, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has dedicated its first temporary retrospective to Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese director and grand master of animated film, or anime. He is credited with bringing animated films to the fore at the major film festivals in Cannes, Venice, and Berlin.

A co-founder of the legendary Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki created films such as My Neighbor TotoroKiki’s Little Delivery Service and Ponyo. Miyazaki’s world of animation, which is alternately touching, imaginative, childlike, and educational, can now be viewed at the museum.

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