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 Holwood Backdrop” presents 22 immense canvases from classics like “North by Northwest,” “The Sound of Music” and “Ben Hur” that 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 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.
“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.
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.