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The Academy of Motion Pictures Museum Review | Sophie Harasha

Over the long weekend, I went to the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum in Los Angeles. As someone who has an interest in film, I’ve been wanting to visit ever since it opened in September of 2021.

The museum is right in the middle of Hollywood, and is part of LA’s Museum Row on the Miracle Mile. It was constructed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is a museum that dives into the history of cinema, the technical aspects of filmmaking, and its cultural significance. The museum also sometimes hosts movie premiers, such as House of Gucci, Babylon, Last Night in Soho, and others. To visit, tickets must be reserved in advance and people are admitted via timeslots. For people under the age of 17, admission is free. For students over 18 with a valid student ID, tickets are $15. Adult tickets are $25 and senior tickets (62+) are $19. However, even with the timeslots, it felt quite crowded inside as the exhibit spaces themselves are relatively small and compact.

When you walk into the beautiful building, designed by architect Renzo Piano, you are greeted with the gift shop, cafe, and check-in desk. There are also large Oscar statues, as well as the Spielberg Family Gallery, which hosts a bunch of screens you can walk through that display iconic scenes and moments from movies all around the world.

Once you walk upstairs, the first thing you encounter is a long walkway of floor-to-ceiling screens. This long screen displays moments and shots of famous cinema moments from films that made an impact on our world. The vibe was incredibly meta and almost empowering in a way. I was standing there, watching these stories come to life on screens larger than myself, thinking This is cinema. This is art. This is expression. This is the human experience. The surround sound speakers were playing this powerful score and this whole entrance to the museum felt like the final montage in the movie, Babylon. It was a reminder of the significance of cinema and it was the perfect way for guests to enter the museum.

After that walkway, guests enter the first exhibit space, Significant Movies and Moviemakers. The first film that was highlighted was Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz in 1943. Then, the museum profiled director Lourdes Portillo, an influential female director that tells stories of many Latinx and Mexican people, their experiences, and the injustices they’ve faced. Next, there was a Boyz n the Hood section dedicated to the significance of that film and the influential figures that made that film possible.

Once guests exit that room, they are met with a stunning circular room that is dedicated to the Oscars themselves. With different Oscars on display in each case, guests are given the opportunity to see an Oscar up close, and see how the statue has changed over time. The first Oscar on display is Charles Rosher’s Cinematography Award for Sunrise in 1927, which was the first Oscar ever awarded. Below each Oscar, there is a description of the recipient, as well as the significance of that particular film or award. Other Oscars in the room include Gregory Peck’s Oscar from 1962 for his work in To Kill a Mockingbird and Mary Pickford’s Best Actress award from 1929. The most recent Oscar, from 2016, is Barry Jenkins’s Academy Award for Best Screenplay with the film Moonlight. After walking through that room, you enter a room dedicated to the Academy Awards show itself. Along the walls are large screens that display significant Oscar speeches throughout history, with some speeches even as recent as 2022. The museum played the first Oscars televised speech from 1953. They also displayed the moment when Sacheen Littlefeather rejected the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando (for The Godfather), as he was protesting the portrayal of Native Americans in film. Other significant speeches included Meryl Streep’s 1982 Best Actress win for Sophie’s Choice, Barbara Kopple’s 1977 win for Harlan County USA, Parasite’s win for Best Picture, and a few speeches from last year, including Ariana DeBose’s win for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story and Troy Kotsur’s win for Best Supporting Actor in CODA. In the middle of the room, there are mannequins with outfits from iconic Oscar winners, like the dress worn by Halle Berry in 2002 for her Best Actress win in Monster’s Ball. Along the side, there was a complete timeline of the Academy Awards, with significant facts and historic moments from each year. I appreciate how the museum is keeping up with the times, as even though the museum opened in 2021, there was a section dedicated to 2022’s Academy Awards (and the infamous Will Smith slap). On different platforms, there were even diagrams and models made of different Academy Award stage layouts throughout the years. This room was an incredibly cool way to see the history of cinema through the Academy Awards.

After that room was an entire exhibit dedicated to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. This room was incredible. Guests walked into the first part, which was a large screen playing scenes from The Godfather. Then, guests are fully immersed in the world of the Corleone’s. There is a corner that is recreated to look like Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) office space. There is the prop used for rehearsal of the horse head scene, but I learned that on the actual shooting day, they used a real horse’s head from the local slaughterhouse. They also had the neon sign from Louis Italian-American Restaurant. On display was even the mouthpiece used by Marlon Brando to play Don Vito Corleone. The museum was also an homage to director Francis Ford Coppola. There is a history of him and how he was hired to direct the film. There was also the first shooting script of The Godfather, with notes along the margin by Coppola and his cinematographer Gordon Willis. Coppola’s annotated version of the book (from which The Godfather was adapted) was on display. Coppola tore out every single page of the book, glued it to larger paper in a 3-ring-binder and wrote notes for shooting, tone, mood, pacing, and any other thoughts for the film. There was also a section where a projector played interviews by Coppola, the crew, and some of the cast of the iconic film. On one wall, there were sketches of costumes designed by costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone, with their actual outfits on mannequins. Overall, the exhibit was an extensive and fascinating homage to the 1972 film, which is widely regarded as the greatest film of all time.

After The Godfather section, there is a section that highlights every aspect of film, from costume designers, to cinematography, to sound design, and to storyboarding. There was a script-to-scene storyboard from the movie, The Birds. In a soundproof theater, a special feature talked about the scoring and sound design in Indiana Jones, with the famous boulder scene. In the adjacent soundproof theater, there was a segment about cinematography screening. It also featured a history of cameras used throughout cinema, from the bulky Mitchell BNCR Cameras to the more modern cameras we see today. They also highlighted different lenses and their purposes, like the Lomb Super Baltar Lenses used back in the 1970s. One of the most fascinating rooms in the museum to me was the performance room. That room featured notes from famous casting directors like Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster. In one case, there were index cards written by casting directors for (now) famous stars as they were just getting their start. One card, written about Charlize Theron in 1996 before her fame, had a note that read, “blonde very pretty - not bimbo at all!” Another casting card, about Sandra Bullock in 1880, said she was “very well adjusted” as an actress and “quite attractive - college in N. Carolina.” This section also featured polaroids by casting directors as they took pictures of their potential stars. Among those photographed included Leonardo DiCaprio in his teens, Nicholas Cage, Jessica Alba, Pamela Anderson, Mark Wallberg, Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, and Ice T. Other rooms highlighted Image, with production designers, art directors, location scouts, and set decorators. Another room features the historical significance and impact of films and how they’ve shaped today’s world. A section I particularly enjoyed was the costume design, and hair and makeup exhibit. The costume designer section had mannequins dressed in famous costumes, such as the Edward Scissorhands costume worn by Johnny Depp, the dancing outfit worn by Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, and the blue dress worn by Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots. There were also wigs and headpieces worn by actors in movies like Black Panther, Beetlejuice, and The Favourite. This floor also had a section that highlighted the work of Anges Varda. Also on this floor, in a different exhibit space, is the Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 exhibit hall. This exhibit delves into the history and impact of black cinema on society, as well as seeks to revive lost or forgotten films, filmmakers, and performers of black cinema.

Now, if you walk upstairs to level 3, you pass the Jaws shark, which is the fourth shark cast, and the last one surviving from the original shark mold at 25 feet long. After that, you enter the exhibits on level 3. Those include a temporary installation of the work of Pedro Almodovar, a section on animation and effects, an exhibit on world-building, a profile on composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, and finally, the future of cinema. In the animation and world-building section, there are 3D models of different animated characters such as the mom and dumpling from the short film Bao, the clay figures for the stop motion film, Missing Link, and the faces of Jack Skellington. The exhibit also showed rough sketches for The Little Mermaid, Spiderman Into the Spiderverse, and Corpse Bride. It also had one of Walt Disney’s animation/drawing desks, from his studio in Julian, California. The effects section showed the process and props used to make James Cameron’s Avatar come to life, with motion-capture suits and face-capture headpieces. It also highlighted visual effects and how they’ve grown over time, like with The Terminator, Jurassic Park, and The Abyss. As technology continues to develop, these VFX artists are evolving with it, creating images that are larger than life. In the world-building exhibit, there are costumes and props used by filmmakers to create fictional worlds and stories that have a certain humanity to them. They feature pieces like the Aries-1B lunar landing shuttle from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Okoye’s costume from Black Panther, and the amphibian man suit from The Shape of Water. They also have the gold C3PO suit and the R2D2 droid from Star Wars. And finally, as you exit the exhibit, you encounter the Future of Cinema room, where different influential filmmakers give their take on what the future of cinema will be, all on large floor-to-ceiling screens. It was a powerful way to end the museum experience, with parallels between this room and the entrance, as guests start with a history of past cinema while ending with the future of cinema.

If guests want, they can go up to the roof of the museum, which has a large glass dome-like sphere on the top. Guests can look over all of Hollywood’s sprawling landscape and even see the Hollywood sign as a reminder of Hollywood’s impact.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this museum. Although the museum itself was fairly small, it was packed with information. You can tell this museum is fairly new as its collection is not as vast yet, but it seems that they are starting to display influential pieces of entertainment. The cool thing about this museum is that it's ever-changing. When I went to the museum, they had a collection of costumes from famous movies, but if I went a few months ago, there would be a completely different set of costumes from different movies. The curators seem to strive to keep things new and fresh, so it would definitely be worth another visit. They also have evolving installations and exhibits, as before The Godfather exhibit, there was a Spike Lee profile and a Wizard of Oz section. And as their collection continues to grow, there will be more and more to see. Any guest can enjoy this museum; whether that be a movie buff, filmmaker, or even the casual viewer. There is something for everyone here and the entire museum will allow you to feel the power of cinema and media.

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