‘Light & Noir’ Is Now Open At The California Museum

by Colt McGraw

The newest exhibit at the California Museum in Sacramento is "Light & Noir: Exiles & Emigres in Hollywood, 1933-1950," and it is now open.  

Sacramento is the final stop for this not-to-be-missed traveling exhibit, which highlights contributions made to the film industry by émigrés who fled Europe as refugees of Nazi persecution.

Artifacts including wardrobes, brilliant film posters, newspaper clippings and remarkable photographs will demand your attention.

"Learning the stories of the people behind these movie classics that we all know and love reveals the films in a fascinating new light," said California Museum Executive Director Amanda Meeker.    

Over 800 movie professionals arrived in the U.S. during this time. Actors, composers, directors and others came by ship to Ellis Island, and they would then catch trains to Los Angeles.  Portions of their travels were captured on film and are now displayed in the exhibit.  

You can watch as women dance aboard the ships and people play cards in the train cars as they move from coast to coast.  You can also view original documents and sponsorship letters that provide a glimpse into the immigration process the emigres experienced.  

Film legend Marlene Dietrich became an outspoken supporter of German exiles. Dietrich was born in Berlin and waited years for her U.S. citizenship.  Knowing the difficulties first hand, she chose to go as far as to bring a stranger into her home to live.  

This was a dangerous move for Dietrich to make, as many in Hollywood chose not to support refugees.  Other actors that spoke out such as Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart experienced backlash from the film community.

It wasn't until 1939 that Warner Bros initiated the anti-Nazi genre with the film "Confessions of a Nazi Spy."  This film trend is expressed in the exhibit’s knockout photography and original movie posters.  

In 1942, ‘Casablanca’ would continue to unveil the trials of WW II refugees. Another section of the exhibit features the noir genre of film.  Examples include movies such as ‘Mildred Pierce,’ ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ and ‘Double Indemnity.’

Noir echoes a style of filmmaking that had been practiced in Germany during the 1920s that utilized dramatic lighting and unconventional camera angles.  In this section of the exhibit, you will find an original costume worn by Joan Crawford and the Best Screenplay Oscar for ‘Sunset Boulevard.’    

Of particular interest to me was the Max Factor Scroll of Fame.  This is a large piece of leather that was signed by hundreds of key players in the film industry.  

Originally named Maksymilian Faktorowicz, Max Factor was a Jewish immigrant who succeeded in developing an enormously successful company specializing in makeup for films.

Prepare to leave this exhibit enlightened and longing to revisit the classic films included in the show. But what makes the exhibit so important is the humanity that is revealed. ‘Light & Noir’ will easily trigger interest among film buffs, however, the exhibit’s focus on equality should appeal to the humanitarian in all of us.  

‘Light & Noir’ will run through Oct. 15, 2017. After that, the exhibit will be disassembled, and each piece will be returned to its owner. Contributors to this exhibit include The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

To learn more about this exhibit and many others at the California Museum, please visit www.californiamuseum.org.

Colt McGraw is a freelance writer in Sacramento, and frequent contributor to Outword. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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