The creepy art of sculpting people from wax goes back to ancient Egypt, when wax figures of deities were lowered into graves in religious rites. In the Middle Ages, goodhearted folk made wax effigies of their enemies in order to stick pins in them. (You didn't think the Haitians invented that, did you?) The famed Madame Tussaud made her masks from the severed heads of the French nobility.
Good times—but times change. Yesterday's technological marvels are today's embarrassing, pathetic—did I mention embarrassing?—anachronisms. And so, as everyone now knows, Buena Park's Movieland Wax Museum closed its doors last week. But the embarrassing, pathetic—did I mention embarrassing?—anachronisms only became embarrassing recently. (See: the Olsen twins, or a figure of Britney Spears that looks retarded, which seems to me to be just about right.) Just a couple of decades ago, the loving effort put into Movieland's maze of Hollywood glamour was art itself. Sure, the wax figures may have been creepy and possessed of those undead eyes and lacking any resemblance to the stars they honored—they all looked like monkeys, and even George W. Bush's Oval Office figure doesn't actually look like him, even though it's chimp-like—but the tableaux in which those undead monkey figures reclined were wonderlands of scenic detail and richness, and there was such a wealth of them, it took more than an hour to walk past them all. They were beautiful and sumptuous, large sets re-creating entire movie scenes in which one could easily superimpose oneself. And isn't that what movies are for?
As time marched on and people got their kicks at higher-tech places, like arcades full of Pac-Man and Pong, the owners responded by lowering the ante. Movieland went from room-sized dioramas where Jean Harlow could recline on fur, feathers and silk to small cubes where LeVar Burton could stand before posters from Reading Rainbow, and Donny & Marie could stand before . . . a curtain with their logo. A re-creation of 1963's PT 109 had a ship sinking into a whole room full of running water (rather Pirates of the Caribbean); Dr. Zhivago had an entire sparkling snow forest for its carriage to traverse . . . and 1990's Dances With Wolves was evoked with twigs and a painted sheet. Gavin MacLeod (from Love Boat), on the other hand, got a 20-foot ship's prow on which to smile that famous Captain Stubing smile.
It's not the pictures that got small—it's the idea we'd care more to see some replica of a star who'll eventually be forgotten (Christina Saralegui, from the eponymous Spanish talk show, anyone?) than the rich movie fantasy in which they're standing in for vicarious old us.
But if you want to go up to San Francisco, to Movieland's owners' remaining museum, you can still get a gander at J. Lo's ass.