A short trip to the Academy Museum in Los Angeles

While Jordan was attending the Art Directors Guild Awards in 2023, he spent an afternoon at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Here are his highlights.

Casablanca Set Dressing & Script Pages (…and more)

Everyone comes to Ricks. Or so the original film script was titled. Working in the film industry, a question often asked in job interviews is, what film influenced you to be in this profession? For me, it is a collection of black and white films I saw at numerous revival houses in New York in the 1980s and 90s. My best friend and I would trek to the Metro, Thalia, New Yorker, or a subway ride downtown to the Film Forum if we dared.

While I was in Los Angeles in February for the ADG Awards, I visited the newly opened Academy Museum. My creative team had been nominated for Season Two of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building”, and I had time before that afternoon’s ceremony to distract myself.

If you haven’t been yet, I encourage you to go. It’s not a museum like the Metropolitan that has exhaustive collections. The building is comparatively small, and the gallery space is limited. Their mission seems to be teaching the general public how movies are made. Rather than a relentless focus on the performers and actors, I truly appreciate how the museum gives each creative department an exhibit so that by the end of the tour, the visitor has a good understanding of all the different efforts that go into making a film. The costume area has a fascinating collection of wardrobe on forms that span a hundred years.

The rotating exhibit focuses on significant films and features Casablanca and The Godfather.  As one enters we are faced with the enormous, textured globe that is featured at the opening of the film. You then get to see the iconic front doors of Rick’s café, many production stills, and, significantly both of Sam’s pianos. As an Art Director, I was shocked at the diminutive size of these two instruments. In the film, they appear to be standard uprights, but in reality, they are about half-scale. Given how an upright piano would block the camera’s view of the performer’s faces it makes sense. The piano could be nothing more than a solid wall forcing the camera to only look down at the actors. But I can’t help wondering if I put this on a set today would anyone get it? Have we become so slavish to reality that we have lost our ability to see things from the camera’s point of view?

As an Art Department person, I found this and the other exhibits fascinating, but as someone who has spent years working on this script application, the documents section was incredible. There is an entire exhibit dedicated to scripts, shot-lists, and storyboards.  

I urge you to take a close look at each of the gallery images.

We didn’t win the award, by the way. Congratulations to Ra Vincent and the team for “Our Flag Means Death”!

For a history of the ‘Casablanca’ orange piano, click the auction catalog link when it sold for $3.4M. LINK

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