Hooray for Hollywood! That’s what I kept humming as I excitedly strolled through the Boca Raton Museum of Art, during a press preview of “Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy”. It’s more than an art exhibition. Visitors take part in a celebration of the artists who are no longer backstage, but now in the spotlight!
An Art Form Nearly Forgotten
This exhibition of 22 scenic backdrops, made for the movies between 1938 and 1968, pays tribute to an art form nearly forgotten. You will be awestruck by monumental works on canvas. A team of highly skilled artists created each painting. So many films would be nothing without these backdrops. However, like the artists themselves, their stories were hidden and legacies almost tossed away.
Irvin Lippman, the executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, commented: “It is miraculous that these historic monumental paintings were not lost forever, as so many Hollywood treasures have disappeared. The concept for this show had its genesis with a CBS Sunday Morning segment that called attention to the campaign to preserve scenic backdrops that had laid rolled up in the basement of MGM’s studios. Lynne Coakley, Karen L. Maness, and Thomas A. Walsh have played a significant role in preserving this inventory from Hollywood’s golden age. Their vision and partnership with the Boca Raton Museum of Art made this exhibition possible.”
I knew that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint weren’t really slipping off the edge of Mount Rushmore in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). However, I was surprised to find out that the rowboat scene in The Sound of Music (1965), didn’t really take place on a lake in the Austrian Alps.
Thanks to a special technique that created realistic scenes not for the human eye, but for the camera, generations of movie buffs have been drawn into these magical moments. If you walk up close to the paintings, you’ll see the intricate brush strokes: a technique that reminds us of impressionist paintings.
“In this form of painting, the deadlines and physicality required speed and confidence. The canvas was attacked with wild abandon, not courted,” said Thomas A. Walsh, the exhibition’s co-curator. “Their unique industrial techniques permitted them to be Norman Rockwell at one moment, and then Turner, Rembrandt, or Vermeer at another.
“These monumental witnesses to cinematic history vibrate with impressionistic optical blending techniques, applied with pneumatic guns, to deliver fine points of color that pull together and hold up as realism for the camera’s eye,” further explained Karen L. Maness, co-curator.
An Immersive Exhibition for All Ages
You’ll be mesmerized by the sheer size of the paintings. The exhibition is immersive too. Alongside some backdrops, visitors can watch on a TV, the movie scenes from which it was used. Additionally, video reels created just for this exhibition reveal ‘backstage’ stories and insights about the technical prowess behind each painting.
Take your selfie in front of the original backdrop from Singin’ in the Rain (1952). You’ll enjoy recreating the famous scene of Make Em’ Laugh with you as Donald O’Connor who wore a bowler hat while wrestling with a mannequin that sits on a green couch.
As much as I want to write about everything I saw, heard, and learned, I won’t give it all away. It’s time to immerse yourself and take a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. When you leave the museum, I hope you’ll be like me singing “Hooray for Hollywood” or “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen good night…” while doing a little Swing Dance out the door!
Make a Day of It
The Boca Raton Museum of Art is located at the Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park. There’s an amphitheatre, a cultural arts center, shops, and restaurants.
Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy
April 20, 2022 – January 22, 2023
Boca Raton Museum of Art
501 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, Florida 33432
Watch a video preview of the exhibition: https://youtu.be/8Z1bi3P1Luc