Monday, January 09, 2017

Why Isn't There a Film History Museum?

Over the past week I've had a painful reminder at how little Hollywood gives a damn about their history.

In the early days of film, it was considered a passing fad. People paid a nickel to watch a few minutes of a moving image with a simple story line, enamored by the technology. The demand was so high by the public that small production studios popped up to turn out short films in droves. High demand, high turnover meant lots of films were tossed out after they were done. Very few people saw movies as a long term investment. Which is why so many movies from the past remain lost, and an industry has risen to try and find those pieces of art for a new generation to appreciate.

You would think after the early boom of the medium and knowing  how poorly they treated early films, costumes, and posters, they would have wizened up and taken more steps to protect their past.

You'd be surprised at how wrong that is! Try searching for a film history museum that is outside of a preservation society or the Library of Congress and you're likely to come up with 2 results: The Smithsonian American History Museum and The Hollywood Museum. Both offer small collections of digital and physical memorabilia of films. Listed as "popular culture" and mixed in with music, what's available is fairly limited. Dorthy's Ruby Slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz' are the most memorable. At the Smithsonian, you can find a couple of costumes, props, and posters of films that would appear in a Top 100 listing by a critic. The Hollywood Museum has more oddities, such as a dress from the Jodi Foster version of 'The King and I' and the bike from 'PeeWee's Big Adventure.' All of these are important pieces of film history, but with only two museums in the U.S. that pay homage to the content from the movie sets, it's depressing to think about how much has been lost in the century of film.

Why does Hollywood shirk it's duty in preserving their history? I honestly have no idea. There isn't an emphasis from anyone in the industry to try and keep props, costumes, scripts, and marketing materials. The people who have made the most impact in preservation are fans and those who make a living doing it. And then there's the fabulous Debbie Reynolds, an actress, singer, dancer, and a fan who spent decades saving Hollywood's history in the hopes of opening up a museum.

Is there a market in preservation of the movie content? Absolutely! While there are notable examples of infamous costumes and props, there are dozens of articles showcasing the growing interest in film memorabilia. Christie's Auction House of New York, one of the the top places for any and all auction interests, has a film section and rotates in costume and prop sales on a monthly basis.

If it's a question of "would people want to see movie set content" that can also be answered with a simple "yes." The traveling 'Star Wars' costuming exhibit from 2014-2016 brought in record attendance numbers to the host museums. 'Game of Thrones' also showcased a world-wide costume exhibit in select countries, and it too made the museums popular once more. And those ruby slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz' that I mentioned earlier? It's still the most visited piece at the Smithsonian.

People love the movies. There's an awe to seeing the costumes of your favorite characters up close, or to look at the details of the weapon used in 'Aliens' and be amazed at how that prop comes to life on the big screen.

But there's also an importance in keeping this history preserved. These are all pieces of art that are being lost to time. Would someone throw away Michelangelo's 'David' after it's served it's purpose? Of course not. Paintings, sculptures, and garments from historical figures are preserved for the future to enjoy and relish in the beauty of the art. Why not the same of movies and television costumes and props? You can't seriously look at the 'Game of Thrones' costumes are be amazed at their beauty and attention to detail. You don't have to like the show to appreciate the art.

So why doesn't Hollywood, or movie and television studios take the steps to preserve this content? It's not an issue of money, profit, or interest. There is no answer and it's frustrating. 

That's my gripe for the day. Hollywood, stop destroying your past and get onto it with a film museum. #DoItForDebbieReynolds


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