A Visit to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
As a classic film fan I’ve always wondered at the lack of film museums in Los Angeles, the home of the entertainment industry. Sure there’s the quaint Hollywood Heritage Museum and the quirky Hollywood Museum but that’s not much for a place that’s been the film capital of the world for the past century. Now, it looks like things are starting to change with the addition of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures which recently opened. I’ve been eager to check it out and, thanks to complimentary tickets, I finally visited during the Christmas break.
As the picture illustrates, the Academy Museum is connected with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the folks behind the Oscars. For many years, there was a small gallery space at their headquarters in Beverly Hills and I visited many wonderful exhibits there. It was a lovely place to visit, but rather small, so the powers that be decided there should be an entire museum space to highlight the world of cinema. After years of work, the museum opened in late 2021 in the former May Company building on Wilshire Blvd. in the heart of the Miracle Mile.
The result is a 300,000 square foot campus that includes two theaters, a full service restaurant, an education center and four floors of gallery space. The highlight of the museum is the permanent exhibition, Stories of Cinema, which encompasses three floors.
As the title suggests, Stories of Cinema showcases the world of film and features several galleries devoted to different areas of the cinematic process. There are galleries devoted costumes, animation, casting, screenwriting, scoring, sound, the Oscars and so much more.
What’s especially unique about this exhibit is that, although it’s permanent, the objects on display are not. For example, the costumes and Oscar dresses will continually rotate and you may see new ones each time you visit.
In addition, it includes a sub-exhibition called The Art of Moviemaking which focuses on the history of a specific film. Currently on display through 2024 are objects from The Godfather series which provide an in depth look at the seminal films.
The exhibition is so detailed and engrossing that it took a good two hours to go through it and I’m convinced I still missed things. Some of my favorite pieces were a model from the Wallace and Gromit films, Harold Lloyd‘s makeup case, a costume sketch for Calamity Jane and the typewriter which was used to write the screenplay for Psycho.
In addition to Stories of Cinema there’s also an multi-story exhibit called Backdrop: An Invisible Art which showcases the Mount Rushmore canvas from North by Northwest and…
The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection which features pre-film forms of entertainment. This exhibition came as an utter surprise to me and I found myself enamored by the beautiful magic lanterns, praxinoscopes, and zoetropes on display. This exhibition alone would make me a return visitor as each and every object is beautiful and utterly fascinating.
If these galleries weren’t enough to entertain you, the top floor of the museum is devoted to rotating exhibitions and currently on display is Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898–1971 devoted to the black experience in film. This was another wonderful exhibit which showcased artifacts from historic African American films, some of which I already love and others which I now really want to see.
My first visit to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was overwhelming in a good way. I saw so many interesting objects and learned so much about cinema yet left abuzz with the desire to see and learn more. It’s just as a museum should be and a wonderful addition to LA’s cultural landscape. Hopefully, this marks the start of a film culture renaissance and one day the area will be awash with institutions devoted to its history and preservation.