I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a “member preview” of the Academy Museum today before it opens to the public this Thursday, September 30th. I became a member of the Academy Museum early on in their fundraising efforts — in my email archives, I’ve got an upbeat “Happy New Year 2015!” message that says, “We have raised $230 million of our $300 million goal, and we plan to enter construction in June of 2015. We are on track to open the Academy Museum in 2017.” As we know now, delays happened, a global pandemic occurred, and the Museum is now ready to open this week.
Throughout my visit, it was clear that the Museum is not a museum focused solely on awards and recognitions given out by AMPAS over the past 93 years. Instead, it’s something else, more heavily focused on the craft of moviemaking, with a bent towards something broader than who and what won awards. Movies and filmmakers who stand the test of time? Movies and movie makers who were groundbreakers? Though a few exceptions are on display (“Scary Movie 2” storyboards, anyone?), I think it’s fair to say that most of the items and exhibitions on display can be roughly thought of as being new and fresh for their time, whether they enjoyed awards recognition or not. Someone or something has to be “the first” — and there are a lot of firsts represented in the Academy Museum.
For Oscar aficionados, the crème de la crème are two adjacent rooms in their Stories of Cinema exhibit. First is a rounded room featuring twenty Oscar winners and nineteen Oscar statues in a bright, gold, blazingly-lit exhibition. Many of these Oscars are “firsts” — such as Sidney Poitier’s Best Actor from “Lillies of the Field” (1963), Best Visual Effects Oscar for “Star Wars” (1977), Best Documentary Oscar for “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), Best Animated Feature for “Shrek” (2001), and Best Adapted Screenplay for “Moonlight” (2016). One empty box on display represents the missing Oscar given to Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress for “Gone With the Wind” (1939).
Up next for Oscar fans is a vast room of color and sound featuring video displays of select acceptance speeches through the years, year-by-year highlights of each award year and Oscar ceremony, Oscar set recreations and video montages, and some programs and other event memorabilia. You could camp out here for quite some time and cycle through clips like Marlon Brando’s Best Actor win for “The Godfather” (1972) as accepted by Sacheen Littlefeather, Marlee Matlin’s Best Actress win for “Children of a Lesser God” (1986), Jessica Yu’s Documentary Short win for “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien” (1996), Michael Moore’s Documentary Feature win for “Bowling for Columbine” (2002), Ruth Carter’s Best Costume Design win for “Black Panther” (2018), up through Chloe Zhao’s Best Director win for “Nomadland” (2020).
Several deep-dive rooms highlight different filmmakers and films; I expect many of these will rotate in and out over the years to come. The Museum is opening with a gorgeous and delightful Hayao Miyazaki retrospective, featuring color and exhibits and treasures from Studio Ghibli and the Miyazaki archives. Pedro Almodovar and Spike Lee have sizable rooms from their careers on display. Six films and filmmakers are tentpoles of the Museum’s “Components of Moviemaking” exhibit: “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Real Women Have Curves” (2002, Bruce Lee, Emmanuel Lubezki, Oscar Micheaux and Thelma Schoonmaker. Each of those six has photos, videos, filmmaking tools, props, and other artifacts conveying how movies are made and launched out into the world.
A special treat is a two-story, massive art direction piece within a room labeled “Backdrop: An Invisible Art.” I won’t spoil what you’ll see when you enter, but I will say that this is a unique, enormous, tangible piece of cinematic history you won’t want to miss.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is an exciting visit for anyone eager to check out the art of filmmaking and cinematic history. Tickets look like they’re sold out for the next few weekends, but there is availability during the week and on the weekends starting in late October. This is a wonderful place to explore in Los Angeles, and it will be fascinating to watch it evolve in the years to come.
You can follow Michelle and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @michellemck99