July 28--One of the most enduring images from George Stevens' 1956 movie classic "Giant" is an almost painterly shot of Rock Hudson's Reata House on the West Texas prairie near Marfa. What many movie fans may not know is that the image began with a drawing by an illustrator named Boris Leven.
That drawing is one of 30 paintings, illustrations and movie storyboards that go on exhibit Sunday in the El Paso of Museum of Art's De Witter Gallery.
Called "Moving Pictures: Production Art From the Academy Library," the exhibition features images on loan from the extensive graphic arts collection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the people who give out the Academy Awards.
It includes images from some pretty big movies, including "Gone with the Wind" and "Sleeping Beauty," and some pretty obscure ones, such as "Dive Bomber."
Some, like that exterior from "Giant," are instantly recognizable.
"When you see that (drawing), you immediately see the accompanying scene in the film in your mind," said Charles Horak, who curated the exhibit for the El Paso Community Foundation's sixth annual Plaza Classic Film Festival. Horak also is the artistic director for the film festival, which runs Thursday through Aug. 11.
"It's uncanny how close some of these things are to what ended up on the
screen," he said.
The exhibit is designed to help viewers understand how a film evolves from a concept to a reality.
"Within the studio system, these art directors and illustrators were creating a visual shorthand for the production teams," Horak said.
But it also elevates the work into an art form unto itself.
"We as an art museum have to have this discussion," said Michael A. Tomor, the museum's executive director. "This is not a demonstration of the talent of individual artists who may not have gotten the credit for his or her work, but a discussion that this is a visual art form. People should appreciate that."
It's the museum's third annual collaborative exhibit with the festival. A "Ten Commandments" display of costumes, jewelry and ephemera drew up to 5,000 people in 2011, Tomor said, while up to 7,000 viewed a show of Edith Head costumes and jewelry from Paramount's archives last year.
The works in "Moving Pictures," part of a nearly 20,000-piece collection, were created "as a byproduct of business" and were not intended as visual art, said Anne Coco, the Academy's graphic arts librarian.
"This is kind of putting it in a different perspective," Coco said. "Honestly, it wasn't supposed to be art, it was 'I want to make a movie of this Edna Ferber book called "Giant." Show me what you think the house would look like, because we're going to have to build that thing.' "
Leven's pencil and gouache drawing is "incredibly evocative," said Coco, who worked with Horak on the one-of-a-kind "Ten Commandments" and Edith Head shows.
For "Moving Pictures," Horak first studied the Academy's online database. Working with Coco, who has a sister in El Paso, by phone and during occasional trips to Los Angeles, he whittled the list down to the 30 in the exhibit.
Horak didn't want to restrict "Moving Pictures" to just familiar images, like an exterior drawing of the Twelve Oaks mansion from 1939's "Gone With the Wind" and
a watercolor of a priest confronting a spaceship in 1953's "The War of the Worlds."
"The work had to sell itself to me," he said.
He was sold on several storyboards, which detail how scenes will look when they are filmed. One favorite is from the 1953 Western "Shane," a panorama of a cemetery, town and people that combines photography with drawing.
"It's what everybody on the set was working toward on the location," he explained. The storyboard let everyone know "we'll shoot with this camera angle, with these mountains in the background, the prairie in the background, bring these props, set them up in the foreground and do the scene with these actors."
Some of the pieces hold up well as visual art, Horak said, even if the movies they're from weren't that good. He raved about a drawing of an exploding submarine from "PT 109."
"The film is not in the league with 'Gone With the Wind' or 'Sleeping Beauty' or 'Giant,' but this painting from this film is just phenomenal," Horak said.
The exhibit also includes architectural sketches of James Mason's house in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and images from lighter fare, including "The King and I" and three Disney movies -- "One Hundred and One Dalmatians," "Mary Poppins" and "Sleeping Beauty."
"The King and I" was shot in widescreen. John DeCuir, who worked on this piece, worked on a format that imitates widescreen, Coco said.
The Disney images are more colorful than the others. The one from "Dalmatians" includes a woman on a piece of celluloid mounted on a gouache illustration.
"When you talk about 'Dalmatians' and a piece from 'Sleeping Beauty,' they are really early conceptual pieces where they were looking at color as much as character," Coco said. "Think about comedy and children's films, those are things that tend to use brighter, happier colors."
Horak hopes "Moving Pictures" will create more awareness of movies as a collaborative art.
"It's part of the power of the movies," he said, "that these static images, these two-dimensional images, trigger our minds to make movies out of them."
Doug Pullen may be reached at 546-6397.
What: "Moving Pictures: Production Art from the Academy Library," curated by the Plaza Classic Film Festival.
When: Today through Sept. 8.
Where: De Witter Gallery, El Paso Museum of Art.
How much: Free.
Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Sundays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays.
Information: art museum, 532-1707, elpasoartmuseum.org; Plaza Classic, 533-4020, plazaclassic.com.
Also: The art museum will have a class, Cartoon Mania, for kids 6 through 8 from 1-3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday ($75, $60 for members), and another for 9- to 12-year-olds, Drawing, Cartooning, and Comic Book Making, from 9:30 a.m-noon Tuesday through Friday ($150, $120 members).
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