Imagine a top 10 movie list including the likes of “Jaws,” “Spirited Away,” “Alien,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Carmen Jones” and “Edward Scissorhands.” That eclectic list dominates IMDb searches. The American Film Institute breaks things down by genre, and the Golden Globes distinguish between the best dramas and the best comedies and musicals.
However, at a museum dedicated to film history, anything goes. Like flipping through the movie channels at home, a museum is not obliged to one kind of exhibit: the goal is to preserve, honor and reflect on it all. And the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ maiden voyage sets sail for the Emerald City, hoping to avoid a hungry shark along the way, perhaps stopping in the spirit world for a haircut. Some museum details are public prior to the grand opening while others remain TBD. So let’s reflect on the significance of the known and wax nostalgic about what may be in store.
The Academy Museum puts its best slipper forward, featuring “The Wizard of Oz” in the grand lobby. It’s one of Hollywood’s most significant forays into technicolor with the lavish set design to match. It was a dream all along. Water kills the witch. Click your heels twice. Monkeys take flight. May we never forget how much this film set the trend for all cinema to come.
To reinforce the significance of “Oz,” a group of Italy-based researchers analyzed the 47,000 films on IMDb, finding that Dorothy’s adventure in Oz is considered the most influential film ever made. Shocked? Why? It pioneered costuming, special effects and was one of the first to use Technicolor© in a major motion picture.
Of course, a costume from “Edward Scissorhands” would make an appearance, especially considering the Tim Burton collection makes the museum rounds, stopping at LACMA in 2011. The film’s loudest qualities certainly revolve around costuming and tone – namely, Burton’s aesthetic preferences that blend Dr. Seuss and gothic sensibilities – but the film score surpasses all other legacies of this 1990 cult classic.
In one key way, “Edward Scissorhands” is like 1933’s “King Kong.” “Kong” made headlines for its memorable use of stop-motion, bringing to life the enormous gorilla with cinematic tricks and clay. While this would aid the advancement of special effects, Kong’s most lasting impression on film history is music.
“Kong” was the first American talkie – film with sound – to feature original music, not merely material recycled from elsewhere. Max Steiner’s score introduced the concept of a movie theme and the idea that the orchestra could accent what we see on screen.
Now, back to “Edward.” Those visuals and quirky characters are something to behold, including a minor role for the great Vincent Price. But more memorable than a BDSM-themed outfit is that film score. All hail Danny Elfman, iconic frontman of Oingo Boingo, who provided the Batman with his most memorable theme and sang cherished lyrics as Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The score of “Edward Scissorhands” remains the film’s immortal legacy, especially “Ice Dance,” an enchanting melody that defines modern-day fairy tales.
That’s the power of music, ranging from Elfman’s affinity for carnival sounds to many other unforgettable ones. A grand orchestra reveals impossible imagery in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Whistling complements a showdown at high noon in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” And two musical notes telegraph the arrival of an aquatic monster in “Jaws.”
That last example gets a deserved shoutout. Have you ever met Bruce? You have. That’s the nickname given to the most terrifying shark in movie history by Steven Spielberg. The fully restored prop will strike fear in the hearts of cinephiles once more. His existence serves as a reminder of how different things could’ve been. Stop-motion and miniature models were standard operating procedure for monster movies until a relatively new filmmaker pitched something more audacious.
We owe a great deal to the creativity of monster-maker Ray Harryhausen – visual effects coordinator for “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Clash of the Titans” – but Steven Spielberg defied studio requests to replicate the old ways. Instead, he took to the sea, embarking on a complicated on-location shoot, laden with malfunctions. Those pesky shark props never seemed to work, prompting Spielberg to show less of the great white by necessity.
Less is more would soon become the new standard, one applied four years later in 1979’s “Alien,” featuring the monstrous Xenomorph, designed by H. R. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi, hiding in the shadows and small corridors of a spaceship. If swimming isn’t scary enough now, just gaze upon the alien with acid for blood that will grace the museum as well. Who needs sleep?
While Spielberg established himself as a household name in Hollywood, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki also rose to prominence around the same time. His first feature credit, “Lupin the III: The Castle of Cagliostro,” topped off his oversight of the television character in the early 1970s. But the real fun began in 1984 with the release of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” a captivating piece of dystopian animation.
Some of his greatest hits: “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and the beloved “My Neighbor Totoro.” Miyazaki favors two approaches: complex convergence of science fiction and fantasy or slice-of-life stories designed for younger audiences. His films tend to go unnoticed by wider American audiences. “Spirited Away,” for example, grossed $12 million domestically. On his home turf, however, he’s an unstoppable force: $229 million for that film, $190 million for “Howl’s” and $164 million for “Ponyo.”
His films lead the Japanese box office, and his influence reaches beyond anime and into the creative process of animation titans. If you buy a copy of his films in the U.S., they all include intros by Pixar directors honoring one of the animation greats. Dedicating an entire floor to Miyazaki’s work at the Academy Museum only seems fitting.
And once we’ve had our fill of Miyazaki (frankly, which should never happen), floor four will exhibit “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970” in fall 2020. So far, the only confirmed piece includes “costume design by Mary Ann Nyberg for Dorothy Dandridge in ‘Carmen Jones’ (1954),” according to the museum. Otherwise, 70 years is a lot of ground to cover: the first renowned black director Oscar Micheaux, Sidney Poitier’s historic Oscar win for “Lilies of the Field” and even the beginning of the L.A. Rebellion movement in the late 1960s.
Endless possibilities – and with a consulting committee that includes director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “When They See Us”) along with other Academy members, curators and media studies scholars – will most assuredly highlight notable and significant moments often missed or overlooked.
Certainly, Hollywood has a peppered history, one “Regeneration” cannot and probably will not ignore. With the mission to “inspire, entertain and educate,” the museum says, it has no choice but to balance spectacle with reality. But isn’t that the goal of any film worth its reel?
Movies can be wildly entertaining, emotionally detrimental and sometimes uncomfortable. That seems appropriate for a Los Angeles museum dedicated to film. May the experience never be singular, always in flux, always representing the evolving medium, from silent films to talkies, from black-and-white to technicolor, from hand-drawn animation to CGI. Most memorable top 10 lists have a clear theme. The Academy Museum reimagines that theme: all movies, any movies, everything movies.
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