Hollywood Costume at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

This is the closest you'll get to some of these iconic costumes. Recommended.

Having seen a commercial on Turner Classic Movies, my wife suggested at 8 AM the whole family go to Los Angeles to see the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Wilshire May Company Building, located in the heart of Los Angeles. We were on vacation with nothing to do, so we bought our tickets online (they are only good for a scheduled time), and we went on our way. Adult tickets were $20 and students with ID $10.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, organized this exhibit and had it first. Since moving to Los Angeles, more than 40 additional costumes have been added, including ones from The Hunger Games, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, and The Great Gatsby.

Located next to LACMA, the building is scheduled to be renovated and officially opened by 2017 to focus on the art and science of the moving image. The building is easy to find, and there was plenty of parking on the north with an elevator to deliver groups within easy walking range of the entrance. Being a Monday, there weren’t too many people around, and we were the only ones to enter the exhibit at our time. The entrance has a gigantic Academy Award at the entrance so one can remember their visit with a photograph. Photos are prohibited of the exhibit, so this was the only chance to take a picture.

Entering, one passes several Oscars for Best Costume. This was our introduction to how extremely dark it is in the exhibit. In fact, exhibit docents had to use flashlights to show visitors where to step. I can understand dim lighting to preserve the costumes, but I often felt I was going to see an exhibit of black light posters.

Exiting the entrance hallway, Gallery 1 is encountered. There are four raised platforms, with the first and last having one display, and the middle two being split down the middle at their horizons to create two separate displays. The first to the right contains several costumes that focus on character. The set up of the costumes is unique and dynamic. Each costume is on a mannequin, and behind each was a life size monitor showing the actor in costume. The one featuring Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp rotated to give a 180 degree view of him. In front of each costume was a large placard that gave its data: character, designer, and film. An additional placard had commentary from someone related to the costume (designer, actor, or director, most often). The final costume in this row was Mary Poppins, complete with umbrella, which was a highlight for my youngest daughter. Costumes on other platforms featured the Pitt and Norton’s costumes from Fight Club, Ben Affleck from Argo, Matt Damon from The Bourne Ultimatum, and an impressive display (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, and Matt Damon) situated around a table that was a computer screen showing how the costumes were made for Ocean’s 11. From this point on, most of the costumes had a large computer tablet where the head would be, with an image of the actor in character. Some were even animated. It was neat to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s hair blowing above his Jack costume from Titanic.

My favorite display was devoted to four costumes from the first three Indiana Jones movies. Alison Doody’s costume as Elsa Schneider was posed stylishly holding a cigarette, then came Kate Capshaw’s opening Willie Scott dress, and closing the triad was Karen Allen’s Egyptian outfit, posed as if she were punching someone. A giant screen showed each element of Indy’s costume and gave notes on where it was found or how it was made. To the far left was Indiana’s costume, complete with whip snapping out.  I was in heaven.

This room ended with a huge display of costumes focusing on many Queens’ costumes, including those worn by Judi Dench, Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, and Kirsten Dunst. This area had the most patrons taking the most time at any display.

Gallery 2 was an extended hallway that had the most impressive computer display I’ve seen. Beginning with Tipi Hedren’s dress from The Birds, two monitors are set up showing Leigh on one and Edith Head on the other, looking as if they are sitting across from each other having a conversation. Between them is a monitor set up like a table. One speaks while their subject matter flips across the table as if one is witnessing the collaborative process. It was amazing. Martin Scorsese is sitting with Sandy Powell discussing Daniel Day-Lewis’s costume from Gangs of New York, which is on display. Behind them is Quentin Tarantino and Sharen Davis discussing Jamie Foxx’s Django, which is on display, on horseback. The most impressive was Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood going over Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd. The table between them is made to look like Mrs. Lovett’s bakery table and a rolling pin rolls out each new image.

Gallery 3 showcases Changing Contexts, and much of the modern day super-heroes were here. Henry Cavill’s Superman, Christian Bale’s Batman from Dark Knight Rising, Captain America, Wolverine, Storm, Spock from Star Trek, a life sized Tars Tarkas from John Carter, a motion capture suit next to an Avatar bust, Darth Vader, and the highlight for me was Charles Middleton’s Emperor Ming costume from 1936’s Flash Gordon. Right next to Vader, they were the perfect pair. Flying above Cavill’s Superman was Christopher Reeves’s Superman costume, and hanging off the wall was Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man.

Gallery 4, the final room, contained Vamps & Vixens and Gunslingers & Blades. Gary Oldman’s terrific old Dracula costume was cradling Winona Ryder’s Mina, Sherlock Holmes from Game of Shadows, a student’s robes from Harry Potter, Robert Pattison’s suit from Bella’s birthday party from New Moon (I admit to having my older  daughter remember that one for me), the Bride leaping in the air from Kill Bill, Part I, facing off against Neo from The Matrix with both guns drawn. Han Solo from Return of the Jedi was next to James Bond from Casino Royale. Dick Tracy and the Blues Brothers were even in the room. The last object to see, behind glass, is one of the pairs of Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

Exiting this room, one is returned to the dark hallway and goes out past a desk selling a large hardcover book of the exhibit. I didn’t ask about the price, knowing that the costumes I was interested in would not be focused on enough.

My entire family enjoyed the exhibit. We spent over an hour and could have spent more time, had we all not been so hungry. This is the closest you’ll get to some of these iconic costumes. The exhibit continues through March 2. Recommended for any fan of film.

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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