Exhibition Review: Villains, Machines, and Haunted Screens at LACMA

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Anything with the word “haunted” carries instant appeal for my two middle school-age sons, especially with Halloween right around the corner. So we ventured over to LACMA last weekend to see the new exhibition Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920’s.  The exhibition explores an exceptionally innovative period of film history known as German Expressionist cinema through vintage film clips and memorabilia.


The first film we encountered was director Robert Wiene’s fantasy thriller The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) pictured above. Even though the film is almost a hundred years old, in black and white, and without recorded sound; my sons found its slow suspenseful pace completely mesmerizing.


They also enjoyed looking at the movie set drawings (works of art in their own right),  photographs, and posters on display.  The poster below by an unknown artist for director Fritz Lang’s murder mystery M, (1931) is one of many classic vintage movie posters included in the show.


I loved the architectural design of the exhibition — a joint effort by Amy Murphy and Michael Maltzan with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. The design, comprised of a series of tunnel shaped partitions, creates an abstract world for visitors to explore as they weave in and out of contrasting light and dark spaces.  We viewed film clips in dimly lit enclosed galleries that took us back to a time when silent movies ruled. Then we saw framed movie memorabilia in brightly lit open galleries that brought us back to modern-day and a more typical museum setting.


Other spaces left us somewhere in between like the large gallery above designed to showcase director Fritz Lang’s über classic film Metropolis (1927). Thanks to ample seating in this gallery, we watched several scenes from Metropolis. My tech savvy sons had a hard time imagining that Metropolis’ set design and props were actually considered futuristic and high-tech in 1927 when the movie was made.


On our way out, I spotted this vintage movie camera (above) and commented to my children,  “can you believe they needed huge cameras like this to make movies back then and now our cell phones can do the same thing.”  A visitor overheard our conversation and added, “actually our cell phones do a whole lot more.”  But the best comment of all came from my 12-year-old son. As we walked out of the building, he turned to me and said, “that was fun!”  Coming from him, that really is something.

Stay tuned because a related film exhibition opens this week: the Skirball’s  Light and Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 which highlights the impact German filmmakers had on Hollywood cinema. In the meantime, here’s my October night out pick.

NIGHT OUT PICK FOR GROWN-UPS: LACMA’s Halloween 2014 Costume Ball


LACMA’s 11th Annual Costume Ball is still one of the coolest places to be Halloween night. There’s live music, haunted gallery experiences, food and drinks, and a costume contest like you’ve never seen before.  Friday, October 31, 2014, at 9:00 pm.  Get tickets here.



All photos of Haunted Screens installation by Rowanne Henry, © Museum Stories.


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