Academy Unveils First Look at Museum Displays: 'Casablanca,' '2001' and More
Opening in late 2019, the new space will take visitors from the first silent movies through Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' stargate.
There will be the expected crowd-pleasers: a gallery devoted to the making of The Wizard of Oz, complete with Dorothy's ruby slippers; a backdrop from Singin' in the Rain; and spotlights on screen icons from Humphrey Bogart to Marilyn Monroe. But as it balances the demands of serving both starstruck tourists and serious film scholars, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures also promises to explore less familiar corners of film history, acknowledging pioneering silent movie directors Alice Guy-Blache and Lois Weber and the early black movies created by African-American director-producer Oscar Micheaux.
"It's really important that it's a full history and that we give the visitor the opportunity to learn about that history in all its aspects," says Kerry Brougher, the museum's director, who on Dec. 4 offered the first look at what visitors can expect to encounter inside the $388 million museum that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is building on the site of the old May Company building at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. "But we didn't want to do just a simple history of film," he adds. "We also want to take it from the point of view of the filmmakers themselves. It's like passing through the screen to the other side, to see how the magic was created as well as the story of its evolution."
Now scheduled to open in late 2019 (a specific date has not yet been set), the museum will devote two floors in the Saban Building — as the May Company building has been rechristened in recognition of a $50 million gift from Cheryl and Haim Saban — to a 30,000-square-foot permanent exhibition tentatively titled Where Dreams Are Made: A Journey Inside the Movies. And, in contrast to the brightly lit galleries found in a traditional museum, Brougher says, "We kind of exist in the dark. It's rather beautiful to have a transition from the reality of daylight to twilight into the darkness of the exhibition, just as the lights come down in a movie theater."
Rick Carter, the Oscar-winning production designer of Avatar and Lincoln, who has been overseeing the creation of the setting for the permanent collection (with an assist from sound designer Ben Burtt, an Oscar winner himself for Raiders of the Lost Ark), says, "It really starts with the notion that you are in reality and then you move into another dimension, which is the cinematic experience. The whole museum is to invite you in to realize, over the course of all the exhibits, that we dream, and cinema is our way of reflecting, mirroring and expressing that."
The exhibit itself won't immediately introduce the marquee stars most associated with Hollywood. Instead, it will open with a gallery devoted to the earliest optical devices, then focus on the French filmmaker brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, who were among the first to capture real life on film, and Georges Melies, who opted for fantasies like 1902's A Trip to the Moon, setting up the two opposing motifs that will provide one of the collection's organizing principles. Visitors will next enter spaces devoted to the early silent films, from the work of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford to the Soviet directors Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, who helped define film grammar. Only then will they find that floor's largest gallery, focusing on the studio system of Hollywood's golden age, full of scripts and props and costumes. "While it's a long-term installation, the objects on display will change over time," says Deborah Horowitz, the museum's deputy director of creative content, "so it will stay fresh for visitors, who will want to keep coming back."
Picking up on the theme of reality vs. fantasy, the exhibit's second floor will be divided into two galleries: "Real World" looks at how filmmakers responded to the Cold War and the atomic age as well as the rise of Italian neorealism and the French New Wave; "Imaginary World" explores fantasy filmmaking of all types. Connecting the two will be a corridor inspired by the trippy and ground-breaking "Stargate" sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In addition to the permanent collection, the museum will host several temporary shows when it opens its doors. Making of: The Wizard of Oz will occupy the Spielberg Family Gallery in the Saban's main lobby — and, given its likely popularity, may stay around for some time. While that should speak to nostalgia, the latest digital technology will be on display in the 34-foot-high Hurd Gallery, where teamLab, an art collective from Tokyo, will present a site-specific interactive installation called Transcending Boundaries.
The first show in the fourth floor's Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Gallery will be a retrospective of the work of the Japanese master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, director of such films as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, curated by Jessica Niebel in collaboration with Japan's Studio Ghibli, which has opened up its archives. "We felt it was important to come out of the gate with an international figure for our first presentation," says Brougher, "rather than a Hollywood figure that might have been expected." After the Miyazaki exhibit, the museum's first scholarly effort, a 70-year survey of black cinema, titled Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970, will open in the fall of 2020. Co-curated by Doris Berger and Rhea Combs, supervisory curator of photography and film at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, it already has been awarded the Sotheby's Prize, which supports museum efforts to explore overlooked aspects of art history.
If that sounds a bit too scholarly for visitors who might want to leave only with a bit of glitz, there also will be a smaller exhibition on the history of the Academy Awards themselves and a room full of Oscars where museum-goers can have their pictures snapped.
While it all amounts to a tall order, Carter suggests that if the museum works as planned, its permanent exhibit will be akin to Dorothy's visit to Oz before returning home to Kansas. "By the end, when you come out, you're back home in reality," he says. "But now you have a different point of view on things. You've learned a lot, and not just with your mind, but with emotions as well, the wonder and the awe."
This story also appears in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.