Annette Bening stars in Arie Posin's movie "Look of Love." (Dale Robinette / Mockingbird…)
Earlier this spring, Annette Bening and Ed Harris strolled the galleries at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, marveling in hushed tones over Monet's majestic images of Giverny and Rembrandt's sublime masterpiece "The Raising of Lazarus."
They were filming a key scene in director Arie Posin's drama "The Look of Love," which plumbs the mysteries of romantic attraction between a woman who has lost her husband and a male painter who's a dead ringer for her deceased spouse.
Yet the movie's most intriguing guest star — aside perhaps from Robin Williams, who plays a close friend of Bening's character — is LACMA itself. The county-owned museum appears several times in the film, triggering encounters between the main characters and serving as a focus for the movie's visual-minded motifs.
"Look of Love" has received the most extensive access ever granted to the museum's galleries for a movie shoot, and the filmmakers say the setting is a crucial part of their work's visual homage to Los Angeles.
"It's not the tourist L.A., it's the L.A. we all live in," said Posin, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew McDuffie. "And so obviously, the L.A. County Museum is the place."
The "Look of Love" shoot is the latest sign of what appears to be a budding romance between LACMA and Hollywood. That relationship, like most, has had its ups and downs.
Hollywood, for its part, often has been less interested in LACMA's art holdings than in using the museum as a cool backdrop for blowing stuff up, in apocalyptic movies such as "Miracle Mile" and "Volcano." Then, a few years ago, a dust-up occurred after LACMA announced plans to cancel its 41-year-old film series, citing declining attendance and funding. The decision drew widespread criticism from cinephiles, including Martin Scorsese, who penned an open protest letter that was published in The Times.
In response, the museum reversed gears, expanding its movie offerings and partnering with Film Independent to launch a new series.
Lately, LACMA and Hollywood have been making eyes at each other. The museum's blockbuster show on director Tim Burton was one of the top-attended exhibitions in America last year. Recent prestige films such as Terrence Malick's"The Tree of Life" have held their L.A. premieres at the museum's Bing Theater. Last year, LACMA acquired Christian Marclay's cinematic-conceptual artwork "The Clock," a 24-hour-long compilation of thousands of film and TV clips, which screened to enthusiastic crowds.
And in October, LACMA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced partnership plans to open a movie museum within three years in the former May Co. building, which sits just west of the museum on Wilshire Boulevard and is owned by LACMA. The new space reportedly may include exhibitions on the history of movies and a theater for film screenings. A $200-million fund-raising effort for the project is underway.
Michael Govan, LACMA's director, said the "Look of Love" shoot is one more step to "get people to use the museum and have it shared as much as it can be on all levels."
For the "Look of Love" cast and crew, last month's four-day LACMA shoot offered a chance to commune with masterworks in a visually sumptuous, well-lighted setting that required little in the way of technical enhancement. The movie, which wrapped shooting May 12, is seeking a distributor.
At LACMA, the film's makers took pains to leave the faintest footprint possible. During one outdoor sequence in which Bening's character, Nikki, waits on a bench next to the new Resnick Pavilion, unknowing visitors walked within a few feet of the actress, who was partly hidden by a cluster of palm trees. Crew members joked that a small blue tented structure where visual technicians were monitoring the action might've been mistaken for some wild Christo-like art installation.
"There would be patrons who would come through completely oblivious to the fact that we were in the room, just looking at the paintings," said Bonnie Curtis, who's producing the movie with Julie Lynn. "It's very peaceful too. Everybody's coming on set and everybody's whispering, 'Action!'"
One main challenge of the piece "is that so much of the film is happening inside of Annette's character," Curtis said. "The goal was to write a piece that almost felt like theater, that people could really have an intimate experience with the film."
LACMA's serene, self-contained atmosphere helped create that head space, she added. "We've been thrilled to be here. It's sort of like we're on holy ground."
Lynn said to gain LACMA's permission for the shoot, "we went after them with every possible contact, loving letters, 'We'll be careful.'" It also helped that director Rodrigo Garcia, who worked with Lynn and Bening on his film"Mother and Child,"sent an email to his friend Govan.
"It seemed like they had a small budget, it was good people, and I talked to the staff and everybody seemed excited to accommodate them," Govan said.