Written by Edward Smith
(AP) — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has wanted to open a museum dedicated to films and filmmaking for nearly as long as its members have been making movies with sound and handing out Oscars. It finally happens with Thursday’s opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Here’s a spoiler-free look at Los Angeles’ new seven-story, 300,000-square-foot movie palace.
A LONG TIME AGO…
The museum has been hanging in the Hollywood air so long that the word “finally” is found in nearly every story or comment on the opening.
“Finally, at last, boy howdy hey, welcome to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” Tom Hanks said at a media preview last week. Hanks, a member of the board of directors, led the fundraising for the $388 million project along with fellow actor Annette Bening and Walt Disney Executive Chairman Robert Iger.
Announced in 2011 and first slated to open as early as 2016, the museum was beset with delays that are typical for such a project, along with novel ones, like the discovery of Ice Age fossils more suited to the La Brea Tar Pits down the block. Then came a wave of pandemic postponements.
Academy President David Rubin told The Associated Press that the institution was playing the long game, and that the museum, at least in concept, was in the works not for a decade but nearly a century.
“We’ve kept the candle burning for 92 years, said Rubin, the fifth president since the project was announced. “We’ve weathered a lot of vicissitudes to get here. But it’s time.”
Bruce, a shark made from the “Jaws” mold, hangs above the museum’s bank of escalators. It’s one of the few features visitors can see in its open spaces. In order to take in the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” a certain sled from “Citizen Kane” or the droids from “Star Wars,” they’ll need to enter darkened galleries as though they’re walking into a theater.
Filmmaking tools are a major theme inside. One exhibit is built around a Mount Rushmore backdrop used for Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” Another features more than a century of movie-making machines, including the giant-by-today’s-standards cutting machine used by Thelma Schoonmaker to edit the films of Martin Scorsese.
And moving images abound from nearly every movie featured.
Hanks has measured very specifically how long it will take to watch every clip, look at every dress and read every word: “It’s going to take you 3 1/2 days.”
WIDENING THE SHOT
Academy leaders have been playing catch-up on issues of diversity at the Oscars in recent years. The museum allows them to pursue it from the start.
There are costumes from “The Wiz,” not just “The Wizard of Oz.”
The featured inaugural exhibit celebrates the works of the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
The “Director’s Inspiration” gallery houses an exhibit on Spike Lee that includes costumes he wore in his films and a purple suit he wore to the Oscars in 2019, when he won best screenplay for “Black KkKlansman” but stormed out in anger when best picture went to “Green Book.”
TWO WOMEN AND A SOAP BUBBLE
Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the museum consists of two buildings — one a former department store from 1939 and one newly erected — on Wilshire Boulevard next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Piano told the AP that cinema informed his design from the start, from his use of shadow and light to the way he thought of the buildings as two character archetypes from classic Hollywood.
“The old lady and the beautiful young lady,” Piano said, and “the two are talking, connected by bridges.”
The new building is topped by a terrace and a concrete-and-glass dome that is the museum’s visual signature. Piano thinks this could lead to a nickname like “The Shard,” which was given to a London skyscraper he designed. He said he sincerely hopes this one gets dubbed “the soap bubble,” not “The Death Star.”
He emphasizes, however, that his building is not fragile. “The best thing about soap bubbles is that they blow up,” he said. “But this will never, never, never. It is very well built.”
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
This is the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, not the Academy Museum of the Academy Awards. But it still provides plenty on the academy’s signature event for the Oscar-inclined. Along with actual statuettes from every decade, acceptance speeches are projected on the walls of a gallery that guides visitors through Oscar history. They include Steven Spielberg’s first, in 1994, for directing “Schindler’s List.” “I swear, I have never held one before,” Spielberg says. Visitors can get to know that feeling in “The Oscars Experience,” which allows them to enter a simulation of accepting one on the stage of the Dolby Theatre.
The space will lend itself to many uses beyond regular museum-going. It was home to the first of what are sure to be many galas on Saturday night, whose attendees included Olivia Rodrigo, Ava DuVernay and Sophia Loren.
And the terrace, overlooking the city, will likely be a key cultural spot and Instagram magnet.
The 1,000-seat Geffen Theatre, resplendent with red seats and carpet, will be home to screenings and premieres.
Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, Rubin and Hanks shared which parts they’d nominate as the museum’s best:
Hudson: “The drawings that Wes Anderson had done for ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and the puppets that he had made. It’s one of my son’s very favorite films. That’s the emotional attachment I had.”
Rubin: “I think cinephiles will delight in seeing Rosebud from ‘Citizen Kane.’ That was a particular favorite of mine. But I think when you go into our costume exhibit and you see the costumes from ‘The Wiz,’ and that great floral masterpiece from ‘Midsommar,’ Ari Aster’s film, I think even if you haven’t seen the movies, you would be dazzled.”
Hanks: “It’s a room that is filled with old magic lanterns. The little slide projectors that hundreds of years ago, before even there was electricity, through the power of focused candlelight, projected a lifelike image on to a blank wall of tigers, and lions, of not just volcanoes from the past, but volcanoes that exploded before your very eyes.”
Hanks added that the whole museum is, to him, “the world’s largest magic lantern.”