Relics from Hollywood’s past are everywhere in Los Angeles, from Marilyn Monroe’s handprints on the sidewalk outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater to the iconic sign in the hills. But until the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 30, LA never had a museum dedicated to the history of its most famous export: film.
The Academy Museum was designed by Pritzker-winning architect Renzo Piano and has given gala-hungry Hollywood something to celebrate in a moment when Los Angeles feels it has begun to turn a corner on the pandemic. The city has a nice new museum and the collection is impressive.
Maybe it was because I haven’t been inside a movie theater in more than two years, but I was amazed at the magic many of the exhibits threw at me when I toured the museum. When I entered a dark room dedicated to cinema classics, I was immediately attracted to a tightly bound script by American the original title of Borger Kane – with notes written in pencil by Orson Welles and screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. Nearby was the original “Rosebud” sleigh, lent to the museum by Steven Spielberg, which I examined when scenes from the film flashed on a screen. When I moved around the exhibit, pristine clips were off Raging Bull, 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Bruce Lee movies radiated film magic.
It’s not just memorabilia and film excerpts. The museum has exhibits highlighting the history of racism against African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians in American cinema, and there are impressive sections on sound, film, and film editing. Perhaps my favorite installation was dedicated to the films of Pedro Almodóvar, designed by the great Spanish director himself. The room has 12 screens showing different scenes from his body, all running at the same time. The effect is hypnotic – and made me watch many of his films again.
Still, it was hard not to see this celebration of celluloid, which lies in a complex year of delay and is estimated to have cost more than $ 480 million, in connection with the seismic shift that took place in filmed entertainment. The streaming revolution has given Hollywood studios an easy and deep pocket competition in the form of Netflix, Amazon and Apple — a development with far-reaching implications for budgets, where and when audiences watch movies, and how much talent gets paid.
Any doubts that the guard changed in Hollywood ended the night at the Academy Museum gala itself. The keynote address was given by Ted Sarandos, Netflix CEO, while Tinseltown royalty like Warren Beatty, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Dern watched. For some, Netflix and the other streamers will never match the magic of the big screen. But right now, Netflix is winning.
Of course, Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, and other traditional studios have been delayed in trying to counter Netflix by launching their own streaming services, whose advertising has become their top business priority. We have already seen pushback: there was the bitter battle between Disney and actress Scarlett Johansson over the loss of its potential Black widow box office bonus due to the movie’s availability on Disney Plus Day. The parties agreed late last month.
Unresolved and possibly more disturbing is the strife between the studios and the so-called “below the line” workers who operate cameras, build sets, style hair and perform other important jobs. Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage staff this week voted to approve their first nationwide strike in the union’s 128-year history. Among their demands is a larger cut in streaming revenue.
Step back from all this conflict and it seems like a good time for movies and television. Streaming has helped people around the world cope with the stresses and boredom of the pandemic. And much of the actual content, whether from traditional studios or tech companies, has been brilliant. Whatever the streaming revolution changes, let’s hope it continues.
California has taken a tough approach to contain the spread of Covid-19-and it seems to pay off. More than 60 percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, and the number of new infections is the lowest in the United States.
This is unequivocally good news, but the consequent increase in lunch meetings and drinks after work has revealed that my wardrobe is not ready to do business in Southern California. The dark suits I brought to LA after working in Tokyo for the past four years (and London and New York before that) are essentially useless. And my casual wear — mostly old jeans and T-shirts — hardly feels appropriate for a trip to the supermarket, much less an encounter with a potential source.
I suppose many of us are wondering how we should dress after 18 months of working from home. I do not want to be boring and just put a dress shirt in some chinos. But I’m not sure I can pull off the designer hoodie and jeans look I saw at a trendy West Hollywood establishment last night.
So I asked Joseph Quinones, co-founder of the LA clothing retailer Departamento, for some advice. In short, it sounds like I need to learn to relax. LA lunch meetings tend to be casual, he said, noting that jeans and sneakers are acceptable at almost every restaurant and hotel.
If I were to interview, e.g. A CEO or official, he recommends a dry poplin shirt – so I can look professional but still give off “a more casual look”. No jacket required.
I need a victory on the fashion front, given the grim failure in yet another attempt to get into the groove of LA life.
After 10 years away from the United States, and especially our experience in Japan with alleys, the sight of people openly smoking legal marijuana has taken time to get used to. The same with the presence of the weed shops, many of which look like they might be selling vegan ice cream.
My wife Jane and I decided to investigate after our jet lag from Japan to LA began to blur in an abrasive insomnia. At a nearby weed shop, a friendly, yet heavily armed security guard led us inside, where we were greeted by a staff of cheerful “bidders”. We told our salesman that we wanted some gums that, according to an old friend, made him sleep like a lamb. She produced the product, explained that we should start with a low dose, and then we left. A great retail experience.
Jane reported good results from the purple gums, but I kept waking up at. 4 as normal. Without thinking much about it one night, I popped a whole gummy – twice as much as recommended in the store – and quickly fell asleep.
It hit me about three hours later. This was not what you had of a passed joint at the Funkadelic concert once. This was a proper Hendrix-at-Woodstock who heard-colors-and-so-sound, will-this-ever-stop trip. The full Huxley.
I could not lie down any longer; I had to stand. I quietly started repeating the words “it’s just the gums, this stops”, which helped me get some focus, and after some time I came up with a plan. I would try to find my headphones and go for a walk (yes, in LA) until it was over.
The problem was my teens watching Netflix downstairs (school hadn’t started) and definitely wanted to know why I slipped out the front door in the wee hours of the night. I was not sure I could form a sentence and was quite sure I could not let them see me this way. So I went to plan B, which was to dig through the medicine chest and find some antihistamines, cough syrup at night or anything else that might cause sleep. I was successful and eventually fell into a strange sleep. Experiment over.
Christopher Grimes is FT’s LA correspondent
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