The Academy Museum apologizes for the films rather than celebrating them

For such a self-centered corporate city, Los Angeles is surprisingly rare in organized tributes to its purpose: Besides the Hollywood Museum and the Walk of Fame stars scattered on the sidewalks, few are the places dedicated to promoting and preserving the history of the film industry.

So when the long-awaited, then long-delayed Academy of Motion Picture Museum (a venture of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Oscars) finally opened on Wilshire Boulevard in late September, it filled a gap, if perhaps not a burning need.

The $25 tickets, purchased online in advance, guaranteed a timed reservation. Masks were required (this is Los Angeles, after all). A sign seen nearby offered this depressing anti-science language: “Wearing a face mask over the nose and mouth is encouraged in outdoor spaces.

Some say the museum looks like the Death Star from the outside, which displeases architect Renzo Piano, who insists it’s more of a soap bubble. Inside, the proceedings are dark, a bit like in a movie theater (remember that?) Maybe too dark; twice I was asked to continue the visit when I left an exhibition prematurely.

As this is the Academy Museum, the focus is on the annual Academy Awards. We avoided paying the extra $15 for the Oscar Experience, when you can deliver your own video-recorded Oscars acceptance speech while holding an actual golden statue.

The main exhibition of the museum is spread over three floors under the heading “Cinema Stories”. The “Significant Movies and Moviemakers” gallery contained, along with “Citizen Kane” (of course) and Bruce Lee (of course) an exploration of the 2002 film “Real Women Have Curves”, which I don’t recall as particularly influential. Again, all aesthetic judgments are judgment calls.

Other details were not calls for judgment, but panicky attempts to stay on top of the current unforgiving political environment. The map guide included an “acknowledgment of the land” in which the museum “acknowledges the Tongva people as the traditional guardians of the water and land on which we program, organize, educate and discuss.”

The museum has certainly gone beyond Hollywood’s white male Jewish origins. A voluminous temporary gallery devoted to famed Asian anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was initially confusing but ultimately enchanting with its quirkiness, including a fake clump of grass where visitors could absorb video of passing clouds.

The Pixar Toy Story 3D zoetrope was also lovely, a carousel of characters from the “Toy Story” movies that worked like a 3D flipbook under the flickering light.

But Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “North by Northwest” was apparently used as a pretext to apologize on behalf of the US government 130 years ago for offending the Lakota tribe by using Mount Rushmore with its “history. controversial and painful” as a backdrop – a controversy that barely predates the invention of celluloid.

In the gallery ostensibly devoted to the monumental backdrop of Mount Rushmore (Hitchcock didn’t film any action scenes on the monument itself), drawings have been overlooked in favor of a hand-crafted twist to the interior of the gallery’s wordy wall captions. It read in part: “…Indigenous communities view the monument itself as a desecration of sacred land taken from the Oglala Lakota in 1877. Ownership of the land is disputed to this day. Given the museum’s long gestation, one suspects an ideologically driven shift in emphasis midway through after liberals suddenly remembered under the Trump administration that Mount Rushmore was racially problematic.

The sometimes dogmatic filmmaker Spike Lee has his own suite in the museum’s expansive three-story “Stories of Cinema” main exhibit, with a surprising focus on Lee’s personal items such as autographs and celebrity notes. Of course, the left-leaning filmmaker is in no danger of having his exhibit canceled for his attempt to spread insider 9/11 jobs conspiracies in his 2021 HBO special.

More terrible were the slide presentations embedded under the heading “Complicated Histories of Animation”. The introduction contains this astonishing passage: “…the slapstick nature of cartoons, in which an exploding stick of dynamite has no lasting consequences, easily gives way to informal depictions of violence against minorities and women.”

The “Women In US Animation” topic was introduced with a warning: “This media contains sexist content that may upset individuals.” Even a seemingly innocent childhood memory like “Sleeping Beauty” is problematic: “The depiction of an unconscious woman saved by a kiss suggests that physical affection without express consent is justified. Such messages about consent can be particularly influential with young viewers, animation’s primary audience.

Pepe le Pew is of course a serial sex offender: “Throughout the history of animation, male characters have pursued female characters through predatory behavior…” Dan Quayle’s “Murphy Brown” controversy in 1992, in which the Republican vice president was mercilessly mocked for criticizing a fictitious mother for having a child out of wedlock, looks positively picturesque now.

Fortunately, hysterical politics can be ignored by avoiding wall captions and video displays. When it’s not trying too hard to impress, the museum recaptures the serendipitous magic of movies.

Give yourself two hours and you’ll see something you didn’t know you wanted to see. Dorothy’s ruby ​​slippers are there, but there are also “Wizard of Oz” ephemera like wardrobe test shots of actress Gale Sondergaard in a Wicked Witch costume, before leaving the project when the filmmakers decided to ugly the character.

Along with the lens and scripts used on “Citizen Kane,” there’s a lame first poster for the now-classic film with the pleading tagline “This is awesome,” suggesting the studio didn’t know what to do with it. masterpiece. A life-size model of the shark from “Jaws” hangs above the atrium. There’s an interesting segment on how the layering of sound effects makes the exuberant opening scene of “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” so memorable.

My favorite artifact was an “Alien” skull. I stupidly rushed into the costume gallery and missed the crazy and colorful “May Queen” dress from “Midsommar”, made of 10,000 silk flowers. There’s plenty more in this vein, including one of the three original animatronic ETs.

Overall, the exhibits successfully balance unexamined celebration and instinctive condemnation. And if that’s too dazzling, you can walk away and enjoy the panoramic view via the skybridge from the rooftop terrace, where you can see the famous Hollywood sign.