The films “Hugo” and “The Artist,” both celebrating the dawn of moviemaking and early film pioneers, won five Oscars each at the 84th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, and a new exhibit at the William S. Hart Museum is displaying rare artifacts from both films now through Friday, June 3.
Director Martin Scorcese’s 3D “Hugo” won Academy Awards for best Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects, while the French-produced black & white silent film “The Artist” won five statues, for best Picture, Actor, Director, Costume Design and Music.
The special exhibit includes objects from the Natural History Museum as well as the Hart Museum collection ranging from costumes and film props to equipment and other historical film-related artifacts, and is displayed in several glass cases and enclosed areas of Hart’s 22-room mansion and his nearby ranch house.
“William S. Hart is featured twice in the montage in ‘Hugo,’ one clip from probably his most famous film, ‘Tumbleweeds’ (1925), and then he’s also (in) a clip from a film called ‘Hell’s Hinges’ (1916),” said Margi Bertram, Hart Museum administrator, and one of the exhibit’s organizers. “So when you first some into (Hart’s) house on the tours you will be greeted with two cases showing the shirt, cowboy boots and cuffs he wore in ‘Tumbleweeds.’ It’s very distinctive, very real cowboy gear.”
The main character in “Hugo” was based on early pioneering avant-garde/science fiction filmmaker Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley). The Hart Museum has in its collection a four-page letter from Méliès in which he bitterly writes of his plight as an ignored silent filmmaker and the burning of his work. Fans of “Hugo” will find that the movie’s climactic scene pulls directly from this correspondence.
“The Artist” is loosely based on swashbuckling star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (played by Jean Dujardin), a donor to the Natural History Museum, who coincidentally also appears in “Hugo,” the only silent film star to appear in both movies.
Among the other items on display in the exhibit:
* The Georges Méliès letter, with transcription.
* William S. Hart’s shirt and cuffs from his last film, “Tumbleweeds,” which appears in “Hugo.”
* Props from “The Artist.”
* A jeweled dagger from “The Thief of Baghdad” (1924) as seen in “Hugo.”
* Buster Keaton’s pork pie hat and Harold Lloyd’s glasses, both seen in “Hugo.”
* A Lumière Cinématographe, one of only three in the United States. The Lumière brothers, referenced in “Hugo,” produced the Cinématographe, the first commercially successful camera and projector.
* Early pre-cinema devices such as magic lanterns and a Praxinoscope, as seen in “Hugo.”
The motion picture property house History For Hire (www.historyforhire.com) also loaned the Hart Museum key props used in “The Artist,” including the projector from the fire scene.
Bertram explained how the exhibit came to be. “This originated with several of us watching the film ‘Hugo’ when it first came out, and knowing, finding out, that we actually own in the Natural History Museum collection this letter from Georges Melies.
“So that started this idea and we wanted to build on that and really celebrate this incredible appearance (of) two films related to silent movies in one year at the Academy Awards, and to really celebrate the invention of cinema, the silent film, because silent films have kind of been forgotten, and that’s part of the story that we tell here,” she said. “So it’s about really wanting to celebrate silent films, silent films in this valley, the importance of those early days and how they led to more sophisticated filmmaking that we see today.”
The exhibit opened prior to the Academy Awards telecast. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” Bertram said. “We were rooting for both films and elated they won, thrilled that both got well-deserved attention. Hopefully, (the wins) will boost our attendance here at the museum because people will want to see items related to these two films.”
About William S. Hart
William S. Hart was one of the most popular leading men of the silent film era, unique for his powerful presence and serious approach to early Westerns. His acting skills were honed by years of experience on the New York stage and theaters all over the country, and in his movies, the actor insisted on authentic depictions of the Old West and its people, from their clothes to their lifestyles and complex personalities.
Hart frequently played a stalwart, tough-as-nails cowboy, with a soft spot for his favorite horse — a brown and white pinto named Fritz. He bequeathed his 220-acre estate to Los Angeles County for the enjoyment of the public at no charge, and is the only silent film star that ever turned his home into a museum.
The Hart Museum is part of L.A. County’s Natural History Family of Museums. It’s located in Hart Park at 24151 Newhall Ave. Hart Park is open seven days a week until 5 p.m. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with tours every half hour. Admission is free.
For more information on the Hart Museum, visit www.hartmuseum.org or call 661-254-4584. For more information on Hart Park, visit parks.lacounty.gov or call 661-259-0855.
About the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was one of the first museums to collect film memorabilia. In the 1930s, the museum (then known as the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art) began contacting filmmakers, actors and publicists for the purposes of collecting everything needed to make and market a film. Hollywood greats, from Charlie Chaplin to Walt Disney, have contributed to the collections. Recent additions include Betty Bronson’s costume from the original “Peter Pan” (1924) and a Grace Kelly costume from “The Swan.” NHM’s film frame archive spans hundreds of movies made from 1890 to 1930. For more information, visit www.nhm.org.