Florida’s The Boca Raton Museum features massive backdrops from iconic films

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Florida's The Boca Raton Museum features massive backdrops from iconic films

It’s a celebration of cinematic fakery.

A new exhibition of vintage movie backdrops in Florida lets cinephiles clamber on Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze out at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston — all in a single afternoon.

The Boca Raton Museum’s “Art of the Hollwood Backdrop” presents 22 immense canvases from classics like “North by Northwest,” “The Sound of Music” and “Ben Hur” that were were rescued from a musty MGM Studios basement.

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

The backdrops, which are on loan from the University of Texas at Austin, were used in movies from 1938 through 1968, while some have not been tied to specific films.

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

The museum allows guests to clamber on Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze out at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston.
The museum allows guests to clamber on Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant and gaze out at ancient Rome with Charlton Heston.
Boca Raton Museum of Art
A film still from The Sound of Music was presented as one of the 22 immense canvases at the The Boca Raton Museum.
A film still from The Sound of Music was presented as one of the 22 immense canvases at the The Boca Raton Museum.
Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library
Originally painted for Ben-Hur in 1959, this backdrop was re-used in this scene from the 2016 for the film Hail, Caesar!
Originally painted for Ben-Hur in 1959, this backdrop was re-used in this scene from the 2016 for the film Hail, Caesar!
Boca Raton Museum of Art

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

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

That exhibit sold out regularly even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with attendees marveling at the gigantic Mount Rushmore canvas featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thriller.

The original backdrop from the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain is displayed at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
The original backdrop from the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain is displayed at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Boca Raton Museum of Art
The Boca Raton Museum's celebrates Hollywood’s masters of illusion and perspective, the museum said on its site.
The Boca Raton Museum’s celebrates Hollywood’s masters of illusion and perspective, the museum said on its site.
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 is seen at The Boca Raton Museum.
A backdrop showing The Beginning of the End in the Pentagon hallway is seen at The Boca Raton Museum.
Courtesy J.C. Backings, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Gift of J.C. Backings

“I carry it on with both a 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 heads the Boca Raton Museum of Art, reached out to Maness to bring the pieces to South Florida.

Irvin Lippmann, who heads the Boca Raton Museum of Art, reached out to Maness to bring the pieces to South Florida.
Irvin Lippmann, who heads the Boca Raton Museum of Art, reached out to Maness to bring the pieces to South Florida.
Boca Raton Museum of Art
Lippmann said the backdrop creators of yesteryear had to master optical magic without the aid of technology.
Lippmann said the backdrop creators of yesteryear had to master optical magic without the aid of technology.
Boca Raton Museum of Art

While modern filmmakers often rely on CGI to immerse viewers, Lippmann said the backdrop creators of yesteryear had to master optical magic without the aid of technology.

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

An exterior portrait of the NYC skyline showing the Brooklyn Bridge is spotted at MGM Studios.
An exterior portrait of the NYC skyline showing the Brooklyn Bridge is spotted at The Boca Raton Museum.
Boca Raton Museum of Art

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