Movieland perks up London's popular museums

Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Out of more than 240 museums in London with major ones the British Museum, Tate Museum, National Gallery and the National History Museum, most tourists would probably be more inclined towards popular museums around the city. Two we immediately visited were Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the new Movieum Museum.

Ripley’s London which opened August last year at Piccadilly Circus is the 31st in over 50 such museums all over the world. Known sometimes as Odditoriums, they exhibit original oddities owner and founder Robert Ripley collected himself during travels around the globe. His collection must be so extensive since in the five-level London museum, one already finds more than 500 oddities. The first display of his entire collection was in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair which attracted two million visitors.

Ripley’s life and personality were so strange he himself could have been exhibited as the museum’s biggest oddity. At 12, he was already adept in sketching, His first illustration for a paper in New York had a man who ran backwards in 14 seconds, and another who hopped 100 yards in 11 seconds. He titled it Believe it or Not and was an immediate sensation.

Armed with reports and collections of unbelievable things from exotic locations around the world, Ripley published a Believe it or Not book. More than 500 thousand copies were sold, Ripley made more than a million dollars in 1936, plus being voted most popular man in America. Although popular, he was weird and eccentric. He was terrified of electrocution in using the telephone; owned more than a hundred 100 cars but never learned to drive.

He held lectures, went on radio, appeared in films, and in 1948 created a TV series that formed the basis of a latter series long after he died in 1949 of heart attack at 55. Locally, Ripley’s on TV is hosted by Chris Tiu, Chinese-Filipino Ateneo basketball player Mondays on GMA 7.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not is the largest fast-growing worldwide amusement museum of the unique, bizarre and strange with every item the original and not replicas. We note that many items involved celebrities such as Leo Sewell’s duck collage of junk sold for thousands of dollars to the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Nelson Rockefeller; Princess Diana’s portrait by Slater Batton of California using laundry dryer lint as medium; Elvis’ lock of hair from his father Vernon Presley; a piece of Dracula’s cape portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 role on Broadway. Interestingly, Lugosi was buried in a cape from the Dracula stage play.

The largest collection of a celebrity can be found in a room dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. In the center is a statue of Marilyn surrounded by her personal effects like pens, playing cards, shoe or cloak brush, doll set, diver’s license, Life magazine covers, sweater, make-up case, photo with Maria Callas during her 1962 birthday, a montage by Enrique Ramos of butterfly wings on a 2001 picture of Marilyn, and a will giving acting teacher Lee Strasberg her entire estate and personal effects.

Of course, we are awed by “The American Icon” Mini Cooper which consists of a million handcrafted Swarovski crystals in 50 different shades which took six months to do, is worth over a million dollars, and depicts the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, Bald Eagle sharing space with the famous Hollywood sign.

In the horror torture section, we shudder at the electric chair invented in 1881 by American dentist Alfred Southwick which is said to have only be used in the US and the Philippines. After this it was on to the maze and other sections of the museum for us.

The Movieum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the British film industry, opened in February 2008 at County Hall on the South Bank, right beside the London Eye. Started by Jonathan Sands of Weird & Wonderful company, it has filled the void caused by the closure of the British Film Institute’s Museum of the Moving Image in 1999.

As we enter the halls of the Movieum, we are accosted by the dozens of film greats some we hadn’t realized were British. Their portraits and resumes are posted along the corridors as a fitting entry point to the main exhibition area. There are Dirk Bogarde, Peter Sellers, Michael Caine, Richard Harris, Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor who was born English to American parents, Helena Bonham Carter of Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp, and Susannah York.

Who cannot be familiar with Sir Alec Guiness, knighted in 1959 who won the Best Actor at the Oscars and Golden Globe for Bridge on the River Quai in 1957, and later made his presence felt as the Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi of Star Wars in 1977? Then there are James Mason, Dame Judi Dench, Gary Oldman found in most Harry Potter movies, Anthony Hopkins who won Oscar Best Actor for Silence of the Lambs (1991), Kate Winslet, Best Actress for The Reader, Sir John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and of course Peter O’Toole and Sean Connery.

In the main halls, there is the Sound Stage demonstrating how it was during the golden age of British filmmaking at Elstree, Pinewood, and Sheperton studios. In addition, Movieum shows real sets, costumes, studio history, a guide to filmmaking, the art of prop making, an animation studio, a section on From Script to Screen, and various courses as well as a section for children.

The major attraction, however, of Movieum where sadly taking of photos is forbidden for reasons of royalty, is the Beatles photo exhibition courtesy of the Getty Images Gallery. Many rare pictures from the 1966 Tour of Asia are shown there, including pictures from the filming of Help and A Hard Day’s Night. We also saw some memorabilia like a Beatles’ car, and the original Rickenbacker guitar played by John Lennon. Actually museum visits of this type can be most enjoyable and still subconsciously inculcate lessons in history, culture, manners and fashion, among others.

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