Commentary: Museum is magnet for movie fans

Easy to forget boxoffice reflects people who like movies

Movie museum: In tracking boxoffice business and Hollywood's ups and downs we focus on the dollars being spent but lose sight of the fact that they really represent people who enjoy movies.

A good reminder of just how much people are into movies is evident in how they respond to other movie related activities. Internet sites devoted to movies are a particularly good example of this. Sites with movie content like trailers and other EPK materials are now among the most popular on the web, attracting a big audience of people who love movies and want to learn about what's coming out in the months ahead.

Studios now arrange to premiere trailers for event films on major movie websites and they routinely build their own websites to promote upcoming movies as part of most marketing campaigns. And movie related content is frequently among the most popular items viewed on YouTube and other social networking websites.

Another example of how interested people are in anything movie related can be seen in the success of The Hollywood Museum, whose collection in the historic Max Factor Building on Highland Ave. in Hollywood includes more than 10,000 show business treasures -- including Rocky's boxing gloves, Marilyn Monroe's dresses and Indiana Jones' whip, to name just a few. The Museum's exhibits include thousands of vintage photographs as well as collections of sets, props, costumes and the personal effects of hundreds of past and present movie stars.

For some insights into the global impact movies have on the public, I spoke recently to the Donelle Dadigan, the Beverly Hills real estate developer who founded the non-profit Museum in 2003 and is its president. "I remember traveling years ago when I first bought the Max Factor building with this idea to put (in) the Museum," she told me, "and I remember being in the Far East. I had gone to Malaysia for business. When I was meeting with my clients everyone said, 'Where are you from?' When I said 'Los Angeles' (they went) 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.' But when I said 'Hollywood' it was like their ears perked up because they knew the word Hollywood.

"And it's still the same today. I think that's the one word in the universal language that everybody recognizes. It really made a big impact on me and I realized that I must be on the right track for what I (wanted) to do to preserve the history of Hollywood in moviemaking and television."

The Museum's visitors, she added, are "coming from most countries around the world and they all love to see it -- whether it be the old films or the new films that are just out."

Exhibits built around various themes work especially well to attract visitors. A case in point is the current "Chamber of Horrors" attraction that opened Oct. 15 and is geared toward Halloween. Visitors to the Museum can see items like Jason and Mike Myers' masks from "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween" and they can sit in "The Exorcist's" haunted church pews or experience Hannibal Lecter's cell from "The Silence of the Lambs."

"People love to celebrate Halloween," she explained, "and our goal is to entertain everyone but at the same time educate them by letting them see the real costumes, the real masks and the real props and show them clips from the films and put it all into context so they can recognize what they see on the big screen. Now they're seeing it up front and close and personal. And sometimes it's even more scary because of the special effects that we have in the Museum just for this exhibit."

Other items on display throughout the year include the camera used to shoot "Gone With the Wind," exhibits focusing on such films as "Star Wars," "Planet of the Apes" and "Jurassic Park," and costumes worn by the cast of "Gladiator." There also are classic collections of movie star portraits by such legendary Hollywood photographers as George Hurrell, Clarence Bull, Robert Richie and Laszlo Willinger.

How does the Museum obtain its displays? "I'm thrilled to say that we've had the participation for the last few years now of every studio in town," she said. "Everyone participates whether it be for our Awards Season exhibit, our Emmy exhibit or for special exhibits such as this Halloween exhibit. All the movie studios participate. The different networks participate. Sometimes the celebrities themselves (provide items as do) major collectors and the heirs of celebrities."



Asked what makes for a good movie exhibit, Dadigan replied, "We love to be able to have exhibits that tell stories. Whether it's costumes (and other items) from 'Sweeney Todd' (like) the barber's chair or the razor with some of the fake blood still on it. These are all conversation pieces. At the same time, we love to tell the story of how the costumer built this costume, how the carpenters built the chair and what (its) mechanisms are. And we love to watch how people look at these exhibits. What they see through their own eyes is very different than what the camera's eye sees -- and it's fun for them to see the difference."

This will be the third year that the Museum's doing its Awards Season costume exhibit. "Every studio participates and we've become very friendly with most of the production companies," she said. "They love what we've done in past years. It will be fun to see what (this year's) exhibit will contain. It always winds up being (focused on) the top nominated films from the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards and all of the awards shows in-between. Last year from 'No Country for Old Men' we had Javier Bardem's costume plus we had the human cattle prod, the air gun, which was (a big surprise) to get."

What's unusual about that air gun, she pointed out, is that, "They didn't make a series of them. Most props are made (so there are) several of them. Like the ruby slippers, which we also have in the Museum, that Judy Garland wore in 'The Wizard of Oz,' there were maybe half a dozen pairs that she actually slipped her foot into. But with Javier Bardem's human cattle prod there was only one for safety purposes so they never had to worry which one (they had and whether it was armed). We always learn something from (putting together) every exhibit."

Costumes are displayed in various ways in the Museum depending on their condition: "For the newer costumes there are usually mannequins built for the size of the costume in lighting that evokes the feeling from the film. And then we have certain costumes like from the (1934) Claudette Colbert version of 'Cleopatra' that Cecil B. DeMille did. That gown weighs almost 19 pounds. It's very thin, but it's filled with glass beads from just above the bodice all the way to the floor.

"So as a result we could never hang that on a mannequin because the sheer weight of it would just rip the 70 year old material. The same thing with some of Marilyn Monroe's costumes, which are so phenomenal but they're old. They're 50 or 60 years old. So we're very careful. But some (other costumes) are perfectly fine to hang on mannequins, so it depends."

Asked what drives traffic to the Museum, Dadigan observed, "I would have to say that especially during difficult times -- and right now we're in the center of major economic turmoil -- people love to turn to make-believe, fantasy, horror, love stories and action adventure films to get their mind off their troubles and the world's problems. I think people look for a safe haven and historically they've escaped to the world of entertainment -- to film and to theater.

"With the Museum, we offer an opportunity for film lovers to (find) a safe haven. We always have movies available in our screening room, which by the way has the pews from 'The Exorcist.' During the Halloween horror bash in the basement we will be showing all of Blue Underground's (12 most popular horror) films this year." Blue Underground sells DVDs on the Internet of restored and remastered horror, sci-fi, fantasy, cult classics and other exploitation films from the late '60s through the mid '80s, Among its dozen top horror titles being shown at the Museum are "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage," "Dead and Buried," "Daughters of Darkness" and "Zombie."

"People are sometimes looking for a way to escape, a way to enjoy the time and forget their own problems and troubles," Dadigan noted. "We've got 10,000 exhibits in the Museum and it's a way for people to come and escape all of that and they certainly do. They come from all over the world."

Looking ahead, she told me, "I would love to add a symposium (and have more) interaction between the Hollywood professional community where they would come, we would screen their films, we would do a q&a afterwards and the public, who are fans, would have a chance to interact with the professionals behind the camera. I always think it's so interesting to tell the story of how the films are created. So they'd be able to get (to hear from) the lighting folks, set designers, costume designers, makeup artists, directors, producers and screenwriters."

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com
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