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Lights, camera, action: L.A.'s Academy Museum

Is the city's long-delayed Wilshire Blvd. film museum worth a visit?

The Academy Museum "soap bubble" from across Wilshire. (Photo courtesy of the Academy Museum)
The Academy Museum "soap bubble" from across Wilshire. (Photo courtesy of the Academy Museum)

Like Gloria Swanson at the end of 1950’s Sunset Blvd., L.A.’s newest visitor attraction, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, is finally ready for its close-up.

Years in the making, the Academy Museum premiered on September 30th. The cinematic sanctuary “is a new home for the art of film in Los Angeles, the world capital of moviemaking,” says Bill Kramer, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ president.

At the same September press event Kramer addressed, architect Renzo Piano whimsically likened the edifice’s futuristic spheric design to “a soap bubble. Don’t call it the ‘Death Star.’ Call it a zeppelin or a spaceship.” Located on the “Miracle Mile” in Mid-City L.A, the 250,000-square-foot space is adjacent to what had been the May Company (now the Saban Building), famed for its gold-tiled cylindrical section resembling a lipstick tube.

On the roof terrace of the Academy Museum, overlooking the valley and Hollywood Hills.

What to expect at the Academy Museum

Inside, I saw some of the big screen’s iconic artifacts.

Displays include the Jaws shark, hanging over an escalator. Citizen Kane’s Rosebud sled is enshrined behind glass, as are Dorothy’s ruby slippers in a gallery devoted to the The Wizard of Oz.

"The Backdrop: An Invisible Art Exhibition," visible on levels 2 and 3 in the Museum’s Hurd Gallery, features a colossal 34-foot-high painted backdrop of Mt. Rushmore that scenic designers created for the climactic scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest.

The Path to Cinema gallery displays devices, optical toys and objects such as magic lanterns, Indonesian shadow puppets, peep shows and zoetropes that were used to project and move images – the invention of movies, per se – circa 1895. Next door on the third level is the kitschy Oscars Experience, wherein museum-goers are recorded “winning” an Academy Award.

Film screenings & exhibits

The Academy Museum boasts two screening spaces, the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater (where the press conference was held) and the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater. There are some ambitious film series lined up, which kicked off with a live orchestra accompanying Judy Garland in a screening of – what else? – The Wizard of Oz. To honor Halloween, 13 spooky movies that were nominated for or won Oscars were presented, including 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho, 1973’s The Exorcist and 2017’s Get Out.

At a star-studded Sept. 25 fundraising gala, the first Vantage Award was bestowed upon Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, for (according to a press release) “his work… help[ing] to contextualize and challenge dominant narratives around cinema.” A retrospective of Gerima’s oeuvre, including his 1993 feature about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Sankofa, was hosted at the Geffen Theater. After that screening, the African filmmaker participated in a panel discussion moderated by Ava DuVernay, whose own 2014 civil rights epic Selma was shown Oct. 20 at the Geffen as part of the Gerima’s Comrades series.

The Academy Museum also features exhibits tackling the thorny issues of Hollywood’s celluloid stereotypes, ethnic misrepresentation and cultural misappropriation. It seemed to me a sincere response to attacks on the Academy in recent years for alleged “#OscarsSoWhite” exclusionary policies — ranging from who wins (and votes for) the annual Academy Awards to the industry association’s overwhelmingly 60ish-year-old white male membership.

One gallery I liked was dedicated to the silent era’s pioneering African American filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, where the racist history of minstrelsy is explained.

Real Women Have Curves, a 2002 feature about contemporary Hispanics in East L.A., based on Josefina Lopez’s play, co-starring Lupe Ontiveros, George Lopez and America Ferrera, is also highlighted.

An excerpt from the documentary Reel Injun is shown on a screen inside a display case, spotlighting Hollywood’s mistreatment of Natives in Westerns, as well as the emergence of indigenous cinema, from North American tribes to Australian Aborigines and New Zealand’s Maoris. On Nov. 15 Zacharias Kunuk’s 2001 Inuit feature The Fast Runner was shown at the Mann, where the Polynesian-themed Moana was scheduled for Nov. 13 and 27.

Most of the fourth floor is devoted to a major exhibition about Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, with huge reproductions of his artwork and big screens showing vignettes from his enchanting classics, like 1997’s Princess Mononoke.

Upcoming museum theatrical screenings include a special 70mm presentation of Malcolm X with Spike Lee and Denzel Washington in attendance. The 2022 exhibition “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971” will put African American filmmakers in the limelight.

The envelope, please: I predict that the “Best Movie Museum” Oscar will go to the Academy Museum!

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is located at 6067 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Info: academymuseum.org, (323)930-3000.

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The Academy Museum "soap bubble" from across Wilshire. (Photo courtesy of the Academy Museum)
The Academy Museum "soap bubble" from across Wilshire. (Photo courtesy of the Academy Museum)

Like Gloria Swanson at the end of 1950’s Sunset Blvd., L.A.’s newest visitor attraction, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, is finally ready for its close-up.

Years in the making, the Academy Museum premiered on September 30th. The cinematic sanctuary “is a new home for the art of film in Los Angeles, the world capital of moviemaking,” says Bill Kramer, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ president.

At the same September press event Kramer addressed, architect Renzo Piano whimsically likened the edifice’s futuristic spheric design to “a soap bubble. Don’t call it the ‘Death Star.’ Call it a zeppelin or a spaceship.” Located on the “Miracle Mile” in Mid-City L.A, the 250,000-square-foot space is adjacent to what had been the May Company (now the Saban Building), famed for its gold-tiled cylindrical section resembling a lipstick tube.

On the roof terrace of the Academy Museum, overlooking the valley and Hollywood Hills.

What to expect at the Academy Museum

Inside, I saw some of the big screen’s iconic artifacts.

Displays include the Jaws shark, hanging over an escalator. Citizen Kane’s Rosebud sled is enshrined behind glass, as are Dorothy’s ruby slippers in a gallery devoted to the The Wizard of Oz.

"The Backdrop: An Invisible Art Exhibition," visible on levels 2 and 3 in the Museum’s Hurd Gallery, features a colossal 34-foot-high painted backdrop of Mt. Rushmore that scenic designers created for the climactic scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest.

The Path to Cinema gallery displays devices, optical toys and objects such as magic lanterns, Indonesian shadow puppets, peep shows and zoetropes that were used to project and move images – the invention of movies, per se – circa 1895. Next door on the third level is the kitschy Oscars Experience, wherein museum-goers are recorded “winning” an Academy Award.

Film screenings & exhibits

The Academy Museum boasts two screening spaces, the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater (where the press conference was held) and the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater. There are some ambitious film series lined up, which kicked off with a live orchestra accompanying Judy Garland in a screening of – what else? – The Wizard of Oz. To honor Halloween, 13 spooky movies that were nominated for or won Oscars were presented, including 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho, 1973’s The Exorcist and 2017’s Get Out.

At a star-studded Sept. 25 fundraising gala, the first Vantage Award was bestowed upon Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, for (according to a press release) “his work… help[ing] to contextualize and challenge dominant narratives around cinema.” A retrospective of Gerima’s oeuvre, including his 1993 feature about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Sankofa, was hosted at the Geffen Theater. After that screening, the African filmmaker participated in a panel discussion moderated by Ava DuVernay, whose own 2014 civil rights epic Selma was shown Oct. 20 at the Geffen as part of the Gerima’s Comrades series.

The Academy Museum also features exhibits tackling the thorny issues of Hollywood’s celluloid stereotypes, ethnic misrepresentation and cultural misappropriation. It seemed to me a sincere response to attacks on the Academy in recent years for alleged “#OscarsSoWhite” exclusionary policies — ranging from who wins (and votes for) the annual Academy Awards to the industry association’s overwhelmingly 60ish-year-old white male membership.

One gallery I liked was dedicated to the silent era’s pioneering African American filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, where the racist history of minstrelsy is explained.

Real Women Have Curves, a 2002 feature about contemporary Hispanics in East L.A., based on Josefina Lopez’s play, co-starring Lupe Ontiveros, George Lopez and America Ferrera, is also highlighted.

An excerpt from the documentary Reel Injun is shown on a screen inside a display case, spotlighting Hollywood’s mistreatment of Natives in Westerns, as well as the emergence of indigenous cinema, from North American tribes to Australian Aborigines and New Zealand’s Maoris. On Nov. 15 Zacharias Kunuk’s 2001 Inuit feature The Fast Runner was shown at the Mann, where the Polynesian-themed Moana was scheduled for Nov. 13 and 27.

Most of the fourth floor is devoted to a major exhibition about Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, with huge reproductions of his artwork and big screens showing vignettes from his enchanting classics, like 1997’s Princess Mononoke.

Upcoming museum theatrical screenings include a special 70mm presentation of Malcolm X with Spike Lee and Denzel Washington in attendance. The 2022 exhibition “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971” will put African American filmmakers in the limelight.

The envelope, please: I predict that the “Best Movie Museum” Oscar will go to the Academy Museum!

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is located at 6067 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Info: academymuseum.org, (323)930-3000.

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