As the long-anticipated Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles, we examine the place in cinema history of one of its key supporters, Rolex, as well as the brand’s long-term commitment to the art of filmmaking.
The opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Sep 30 marked a major milestone in cinema history. According to The Hollywood Reporter, late industry giants such as Walt Disney, Louis B Mayer, Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson were keen for such a museum to be created. Now, at long last, alongside other tributes to America’s contribution to the cinematic arts – including the Universal Studios theme parks and a slew of museums housing costumes, props, posters and Hollywood memorabilia – comes an institution that’s fully up to the task.
Dedicated to the history, science and cultural influence of filmmaking, the Academy Museum is the first and largest of its kind in the US. The 300,000 sq ft campus stands proudly at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Its location is well poised to welcome visitors from across the world to experience exhibitions, screenings, programmes and collections that illuminate the past, present and future of motion pictures.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the museum was constructed over six years, with a budget that tops that of any blockbuster ever made. There are two buildings on-site. The main one was a heritage landmark that underwent a major restoration and expansion to become the Saban Building, which houses six floors of ultra-modern exhibition and event space, an Art House-style theatre, an education studio, a conservation studio and public spaces. Connected to it via a glass bridge is the new Sphere Building, which is home to a 999-seat auditorium and particularly dramatic with its dome-shaped top, on which a terrace offers panoramic views that stretch from Westwood to the Hollywood Sign.
As a Founding Supporter of the institution, Rolex has a permanent room on the museum’s third floor. Named the Rolex Gallery, it is an experiential space featuring Stories of Cinema in which installations recount the impact of technology, artists, history and societal issues on fimmaking. The Cosmograph Daytona famously owned by late actor and motor-racing enthusiast Paul Newman is also on display there.
Rolex and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only formalised their relationship in 2017, when the Swiss brand became the exclusive watch and a proud sponsor of the Oscars ceremony. However, the watch manufacture’s long links with cinema date much further back.
Strapped to the wrists of some of the greatest actors, Rolex watches have appeared in countless movies in the past. In those days, actors wore the watches not for reasons of sponsorship, but out of their own admiration for the brand, and the power and notion of success that the watches lent to their roles.
For example, Marlon Brando wore a Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 1675 without its bezel in Apocalypse Now (1979). Although Newman is most closely associated with the Daytona, he put on a stainless steel Datejust in The Colour of Money (1986). In James Cameron’s epic Titanic (1997), Bill Paxton was wearing his own yellow gold Submariner as he descended to the famous wreck in a submersible.
Alec Baldwin had a Rolex Day-Date President on his wrist in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), while Matthew McConaughey accessorised with the Rolex Datejust in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. As for Ryan Gosling, he wore the Rolex Bubbleback and a Submariner in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman are also known to wear their own Rolex watches across different movies.
Rolex maintains it has never – and will never – put a watch in a movie as product placement, although the brand clearly welcomes a director’s own choice to use the brand to portray fortitude in a particular character.
Today, Rolex continues to actively support filmmakers, be they established auteurs or rising talents. It still maintains close ties with two towering figures of filmmaking, Scorsese and Cameron, and also runs the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which pairs young artists with masters in their discipline for creative collaborations. Scorsese has previously mentored on this programme, as have directors Alfonso Cuarón and Spike Lee – showcasing the commitment of Rolex and the masters of cinema to the pursuit of excellence and the development of the next generation of filmmakers.
This story first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.