The Boca Raton Museum in Florida offers huge sets from famous films

It’s a celebration of cinematic fakery.

A new Florida film set exhibition lets cinephiles climb Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston—all in a single afternoon.

The Boca Raton Museum’s Art of the Hollwood Backdrop features 22 giant canvases of classics like North by Northwest, The Sound of Music and Ben Hur, rescued from a musty basement at MGM Studios.

“The exhibition celebrates Hollywood’s masters of illusion and perspective, who have received little recognition for their talent or applause for their integral role in crafting film magic,” the museum said on its website.

The sets, on loan from the University of Texas at Austin, were used in films from 1938 to 1968, while some were not tied to specific films.

Curators Karen Maness and Thomas Walsh also sought to find and highlight the forgotten artists behind each piece.

The museum allows guests to climb Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston.
The museum allows guests to climb Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston.
Boca Raton Art Museum
A film still from The Sound of Music was presented as one of the 22 giant screens at The Boca Raton Museum.
A film still from The sound of music was presented as one of the 22 giant screens at The Boca Raton Museum.
Courtesy Margaret Herrick Library
Originally painted for Ben-Hur in 1959, this background was used in this scene from 2016 for the film Hail, Caesar!  reused.
Originally painted for Ben-Hur in 1959, this background was used in this scene from 2016 for the film Hail, Caesar! reused.
Boca Raton Art Museum

The duo spent hours combing through oral histories and other archives and were able to identify about a dozen of the screen’s creators.

Maness, a professor at the University of Texas, wrote a book on the history of film sets in 2016 and organized a similar exhibition at the college.

This exhibition regularly sold out, even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and visitors marveled at the gigantic Mount Rushmore screen, featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary thriller.

The original set from the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain is on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
The original set from the 1952 film sing in the rain is on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Boca Raton Art Museum
The Boca Raton Museum celebrates Hollywood's masters of illusion and perspective, the museum said on its website.
The Boca Raton Museum celebrates Hollywood’s masters of illusion and perspective, the museum said on its website.
Melinda Sue Gordon. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, gift of the Art Directors Guild Archives.
A backdrop showing the beginning of the end in the Pentagon Hallway can be seen at the Boca Raton Museum.
A backdrop showing the beginning of the end in the Pentagon Hallway can be seen at the Boca Raton Museum.
Courtesy of JC Backings, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Gift of JC Backings

“I carry on with the love of painting but also as an advocate for these artists to help them be seen in history. They deserve to be recognized and honored,” Maness told the Palm Beach Post.

Irvin Lippmann, who directs the Boca Raton Museum of Art, approached Maness about bringing the pieces to South Florida.

Irvin Lippmann, who directs the Boca Raton Museum of Art, approached Maness about bringing the pieces to South Florida.
Irvin Lippmann, who directs the Boca Raton Museum of Art, approached Maness about bringing the pieces to South Florida.
Boca Raton Art Museum
Lippmann said the backdrop creators of old had to master optical magic without the help of technology.
Lippmann said the backdrop creators of old had to master optical magic without the help of technology.
Boca Raton Art Museum

While modern filmmakers often rely on CGI to immerse viewers, Lippmann said the set creators of yore had to master optical magic without the help of technology.

“These are artists who understand the art of illusion,” he told the outlet.

An exterior portrait of the NYC skyline featuring the Brooklyn Bridge can be seen at MGM Studios.
An exterior portrait of the NYC skyline featuring the Brooklyn Bridge can be seen at the Boca Raton Museum.
Boca Raton Art Museum

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