Andrew Fletcher is an intern with History News Network.
Courtesy of The Academy Museum
Acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese was recently in the news for asserting his opinion that comic book movies are not “cinema.” In light of his upcoming historical film depicting the life of notorious mobster Jimmy Hoffa, Scorsese expanded on his claim that the massive push for superhero movies has affected young people’s understanding of history, saying “they perceive even the concept of what history is supposed to be [differently]."
Whether it promotes a better understanding of history or not, film itself has remained a major cultural influence around the world for over a century now. Its larger historical impact is hard to measure. Soon, however, the first large-scale museum in the country solely dedicated to the history of motion pictures is set to open and attempt to do just that.
Courtesy of The Academy Museum
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be located on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles. According to Jessica Niebel, the Exhibitions Curator for the museum, “the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be the world’s premier institution devoted to the art and science of movies and moviemaking.” The museum is on track to open sometime in 2020 after several delays in construction.
The purpose of the museum is to encapsulate how film has changed over time. Moving pictures can be traced all the way back to the 19th century; in 1895 the first ever black and white film, the 50-second long “Arrival of a Train,” was released. The film caused an uproar from audiences, who had never even conceived what moving picture could be. Since then it has grown as an art form, which is something that the Academy Museum hopes to capture. Niebel hopes that the museum’s programs and exhibitions will allow visitors to experience, “how movies evolved and are made, and highlight artists, craftspeople, designers and technicians who make the movies possible.”
The 20th century was integral to the growth of film as an art form. Despite the fact that it was new, Niebel explains that film, “being the most democratic artform of the 20th century as it was available, affordable and attractive to the masses, had a very strong connect to cultural histories everywhere.” Hollywood’s growth as an industry was soon followed by the rapid growth of film industries in India with “Bollywood,” and later in Nigeria with “Nollywood.” The Academy Museum plans to showcase international film in its first major temporary exhibition, “an unprecedented retrospective on Hayao Miyazaki, which will be the first major exhibition in the United States of the work of the legendary Japanese filmmaker, organized in collaboration with Studio Ghibli.”
Current construction / Courtesy of The Academy Museum
Visitors to the museum can expect to experience a wide variety of programs, including film programs, exhibitions, public programs, publications, and education programs. The six-story museum itself will be a resource for film education, featuring “more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, a state-of-the-art education studio, two film and performance theaters, a 34-foot high, double-height gallery for cutting-edge temporary installations, a restaurant and café, and public and special event spaces.” Some programming may involve hosting industry professionals and guest speakers to give insight into their experience with film and an insider look into how much of a collaborative process filmmaking really is. A recent New Yorker piece detailed how the American movie industry took off in the 20th century with the help of many groups that don’t get on-screen credit, especially women. Museum programming hopes to address that.
Dorothy's ruby slippers / Courtesy of The Academy Museum
An official grand opening date has not been announced yet, despite the fact that it’s been a long time coming. Plans for the construction of the museum were announced in 2012; there have been significant delays for the project in the seven years since. The Academy has chalked that up to the sheer feat involved in building it, including the renovation of a 1939 LA landmark (the May Company building), building a new spherical structure that includes a 1500 panel glass dome, and joining them together. In a statement, the Academy said that “we have always chosen the path that would enhance the structure, even if that meant construction would take more time to complete,” and “we are weighing the overall schedule for major industry events in 2020, and on this basis will choose the optimal moment for our official opening.”
Once it finally opens, the museum will be the first of its kind in the US. As such, it has been very important for planners like Niebel to create an experience that is altogether unique with an eye to the future. That involves screening films in the correct format that they were meant to be seen in, while also providing exhibitions that complement the screenings. Education will be an emphasis, as Niebel explained: “Film exhibitions cannot recreate the cinematic experience but translate it into another medium, that of the exhibition.” The Academy Museum has differentiated itself from other museums in that regard. Other museums, both history and art, typically focus on one aspect of either education or visual display. Niebel maintains that the Academy Museum will be able to address both, because “film exhibitions are a ‘genre’ of their own in that they combine artifacts, film clips, design and immersive experiences to achieve not only educational aspects or aesthetic impressions, but wholistic experiences.”
Courtesy of The Academy Museum
The museum will have the advantage of access to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Archive. The archive has been acquiring film since 1929 and currently holds over 190,000 materials, including many of the films nominated for Oscars in all categories and all of the award-winning films for Best Picture. Niebel confirmed that the museum will “draw on the unique intellectual and material resources of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” It should be an interesting landmark for historians and movie buffs alike. Film has always been a kind of public history, a reflection of society and culture. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, once it opens, may capture that. Score one for Martin Scorsese.