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Hooray for Hollywood!

By Anthea Gerrie | Photography courtesy of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Visitors might want to cheer as they enter the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which finally opened in Los Angeles last fall, nearly a century after members first proposed it.

But in praising Hollywood alone, you’d be selling short the most exciting new attraction to open in La-La Land in a generation—one that acknowledges how audience appetites have changed and grown. It embraces world cinema and American musicals, westerns, and film noir that packed movie theaters across the planet in the era before television brought entertainment home. Visitors can expect tributes to great directors of many nationalities, from Eisenstein to Almodóvar, celebrating more than a century of moviemaking. There’s also an unashamed nod to Tinseltown in the optional added attraction that allows you to collect your very own Oscar and be filmed making your acceptance speech!

A tribute to action star Bruce Lee in the museum’s Stories of Cinema exhibit | Photo by Joshua White

True, there is tribute aplenty to the city that made the movie industry, starting with its home in the iconic gilded building where the stars once shopped for their fancy frocks back in the day. Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Renzo Piano (a fitting choice given he has always said he would have become a filmmaker had he not found his vocation designing buildings) made the golden pillar of the 1939 May Company Department Store the project’s literal cornerstone. He integrated the vast site with a brand-new spherical structure at the intersection of Fairfax and Wilshire, two of Hollywood’s most important prewar shopping thoroughfares.

Visitors might want to cheer as they enter the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which finally opened in Los Angeles last fall, nearly a century after members first proposed it.
The David Geffen Theater at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures | Photo by Iwan Baan

The result is three-hundred thousand square feet of exhibition space set over seven stories with spectacular outdoor features. Walk over the Barbra Streisand Bridge, and you’re on the stunning Dolby Family Terrace, where the Hollywood Hills themselves are the star of a thrilling panorama. It makes a fitting finale to a day spent viewing clips of the world’s most iconic films and the props and costumes that made them so—everything from Citizen Kane’s Rosebud sled to the full-size shark featured in Jaws suspended in the stairwell. After all, the Academy had ninety-five years to build its collection of movie memorabilia, including acquiring the personal collections of Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and other screen legends.

A collection of iconic costumes from classic and contemporary films, part of the Stories of Cinema exhibit | Photo by Joshua White

Tom Hanks’s favorite museum collection predates cinema—it’s an assembly of the kind of optical toys and devices (think magic lanterns and shadow puppets) that inspired the pioneers of moving pictures to figure out a way to show real people in motion.

To get to the dedicated darkened spaces where many of the most precious objects are housed—they include everything from Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz to the space suit from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the yellow dress Emma Stone wore in La La Land—visitors will first have to navigate three floors devoted to the story of cinema. Setting a time limit for viewing iconic clips may help you avoid running out of hours and energy to see the best stuff closer to the top of the building. A whole floor is dedicated to animation and its Japanese as well as American masters, which is even harder to tear yourself away from than the classic footage downstairs.

In addition to its gallery exhibits, the museum hosts screenings, series, talks, and educational programs and features a restaurant called Fanny’s. | Photo by Iwan Baan

Like the Academy, the museum, which cost nearly $500 million to complete, has already come under fire for being less than politically correct in its content. For example, many visitors noticed the failure to pay tribute to the founding of the Hollywood movie industry by Jewish refugees from pogroms and persecution in Europe. The museum will address this with a new exhibition crediting their contribution, Hollywoodland, opening in spring 2023. The #MeToo movement has also had an influence, with the alleged harassment of Shirley Temple and bullying of a young Judy Garland addressed in captions, along with charges of exploitation of the little people who played the enchanting munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

Even the room where a backdrop gets a leading credit as a movie device—in this case, Mount Rushmore, featured as an extra character in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest—comes with a political narrative. The iconic monument in South Dakota, glorified in the movie, remains one of the country’s leading tourist attractions, but visitors learn that Native Americans have long felt its presence desecrates their sacred territory.

Visitors can peruse the lineup of Academy Awards donated back to the museum by their winners and even record their own acceptance speeches in The Oscars Experience room. | Photo by Joshua White
It makes a fitting finale to a day spent viewing clips of the world’s most iconic films and the props and costumes that made them so—everything from Citizen Kane’s Rosebud sled to the full-size shark featured in Jaws suspended in the stairwell.

The vital contributions of ethnic minorities are also acknowledged; designers of the exhibit of statuettes donated back to the Academy left a space where the Oscar awarded to Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind would have sat had it not been stolen following its presentation and noted it was half a century before another Black actress won an Oscar. This August, a new exhibition, Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971, will open, followed in the fall by a new gallery dedicated to blockbuster The Godfather and another in February about the evergreen Casablanca.

Some visitors scoff at the optional attraction known as The Oscars Experience, but there is a thrill to meeting your “producer” in the wings of a digital theater and being instructed how to hold your Academy Award up to a virtual audience. You will be filmed in the art of celebration and emailed a record of your performance as a souvenir. It’s smoke and mirrors and pure schmaltz—but isn’t that what the magic of cinema was built on during a dark time when it was the only form of escape into a fantasy world of glitz and glamour?

— V —

Visit AcademyMuseum.org to plan your visit.

Anthea Gerrie is based in the UK but travels the world in search of stories. Her special interests are architecture and design, culture, food, and drink, as well as the best places to visit in the world’s great playgrounds. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, the Independent, and Blueprint.

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