Monday, November 21, 2011

Bucket List NYC: The Museum of the Moving Image

I have been meaning to make it out to the Museum of the Moving Image for years, but other things always ended up taking precedence on the weekends. Those things usually involved my rear end, the couch and my DVR. It is insanely close to me in Astoria, Queens, so I don't even have to go into Manhattan to get there and everyone I've talked to has said that was great. All it took was some kind of can't-miss exhibit to get me there. Over the summer, they installed an exhibit centered around Jim Henson of Muppet and Sesame Street fame. I knew the time had come to put down the remote and go.

The entrance to the museum.
I really, really love the Muppets. I've been waiting with bated breath for The Muppets, which will finally be released next week (Yay!), so it seemed like a perfect time to travel three stops down on the N/Q to visit the museum to help give me a Muppet fix before the movie comes out. What I wasn't prepared for was how amazing the whole museum would be. I thought I'd share some pictures and thoughts on the Henson exhibit and the museum as a whole, as well as share some Disney-adjacent pictures I took while we were there.

We'll start with the Henson portion, which was spread over about half of the third floor. It was quite an impressive collection. It included several of the puppets, props, some video, and many, many drawings (my favorite was the original sketch of Big Bird), sketches, storyboards and notes. The volume and diversity of materials that was on display was impressive. There were early theater posters that he designed, experimental films that he made, and advertorial works. It was pretty fascinating to see the early non-puppet work. They also showed a short film featuring Jim Henson in his own words, which gives about a 15 minute overview of his career, that was very well done.

My big quibble with the exhibit is that it didn't feel very well structured. There were three different ways to enter into it and your experience seems a bit haphazard. There was no rhyme or reason to the way you made your way through. It wasn't chronological and it was very unclear what story they were trying to tell. Considering that the rest of your journey through the museum is impeccably set up, this felt a bit jarring. It feels like a lost opportunity, since instead of really telling Henson's story in a clear way through the artifacts, it felt like a catch as catch can labyrinth. The kind without David Bowie at the center. We had to go through a few different ways just to make sure that we didn't miss anything. It's a small quibble in the grand scheme of things when what is on display is so fantastic, but it affected my experience nonetheless.

The stars of the show, of course, were the puppets that were there. It's kind of surreal seeing these guys up close in this way. They played such an important role in my childhood and are still very close to my heart. I will readily admit I got rather misty being inches away, examining the felt up close and really being able to study them for a moment. Their texture and construction. It feels like at any moment they could start a conversation with you. Or at least give you a rousing chorus of "Mah Na Mah Na". It is magic just to be in their presence.

Miss Piggy.
The Mah Na Mah Na gang.
Gobo and Mokey Fraggle.
Tom and I. Uh...wait. I mean Bert and Ernie!
The Henson exhibit may have been what lured us in, but it was actually the rest of the museum that really churned our butter. It is one of the best museums I have ever been in. It is well-designed, interactive, fun, and informative. It is organized by areas that focus on different aspects of film and television. It starts with with playfully executed tributes to the artists who create films. The stars, directors, make-up and hair artists (The Bride of Frankenstein's wig, The Elephant Man and Mrs. Doubtfire makeups), production designers (models and designs from The Wiz and Silence of the Lambs), and costume designers (costumes from Chicago, Mork and Mindy, Dangerous Liasons, Cliff Huxtable's sweater) all get a section.

My adorable husband as we watched Eileen Brennan
be brilliant on Laugh-In. Video games in the background.
There is a section devoted to the theaters that films played in, including a artfully designed small movie house/screening room with a Egyptian folk art theme which was commissioned by the museum and is hard to describe. You have to see it for yourself. There is an area devoted to video games (you could play Mario on an old-school Nintendo!), a sunken 60's living room with Laugh-In playing on the TV, displays of special effects props (including a full-sized Regan from The Exorcist- shudder- which I wouldn't get within five feet of), cameras from early to modern day and old-school movie machines showing Chaplin films on flip-books that you cranked. The sheer comprehensiveness was pretty astonishing and it was brilliantly presented, flowing from one area to the next with a sense of narrative.

The interactive stations were also awesome. There was one set up so that you could learn about great film composers and hear parts of their scores. One allowed you to add sound effects to film clips and one did the same with music. It really shows you how much the sound can change the feel of a scene, subtly and obviously. When a velociraptor brays like a donkey it becomes funny and Sharon Stone's walk across a casino floor can shift from one shade of sexy to another with a different song playing. They had another station where you could dub lines into School of Rock. These elements of the museum really get you involved in the process of filmmaking in interesting ways. Hollywood Studios may be more immersive with its theming, but they could still pick up a thing or two from some of what is on display here and how it is presented.

Finally there was my favorite station, which provided you with a very simple set-up to make your own stop-motion animated film. A camera was pointing down at the white background on the counter top. You were given cut out shapes and a simple interface with buttons that you pressed to take a shot at a time, 8 per second, and emerge with your own creation that they email to you free of charge. I had a blast and really felt a sense of accomplishment when I saw my (admittedly weird and silly) finished product. It was almost as much fun watching the other kids (including my husband Tom) making their own movies. So, I now present to you my creation. I am clearing off a place on my shelf for an Oscar as we speak.

We spent a good three hours experiencing everything, seeing most things twice, and really exploring. If you are in the NYC area, I highly recommend a visit. There were a few Disney related pieces in the museum, though it was one very small piece of the puzzle. The studio itself does such a wonderful job of archiving and finding ways to give the public access to its history it does't need to rely on outside institutions to do it for them. It is interesting, though, to see it as one part of the huge tapestry of film and television as a whole. Here are some shots that I took that my fellow Disney fans may find interesting.

Set model for The Muppets Take Manhattan
in the permanent collection.
Several pieces of Disneyana in the display
of promotional items and merch.
More merch. Hey, Pluto!
Sheet music for Snow White.
The interactive film score station didn't have Disney scores,
but composers like Thomas Newman (my fave), Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams are represented. Awesome.
Mickey and Minnie depicted in a mural in the screening
room / mini folk art Egyptian movie palace.
Chewbacca mask.
Tons of Star Wars merch.
I may have a dirty mind, but this C-3PO tape
dispenser looks a tad inappropriate. And if you've
seen Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking,
you'll appreciate the Pez dispenser.
Yoda animatronic.
The Jim Henson exhibit runs through January 16th, 2012 and is absolutely worth a visit to Queens to see, but even if you miss it, the Museum of the Moving Image is a place that you should visit for its permanent exhibits alone. It is very reasonably priced, easy to get to and completely amazeballs! Have you visited the museum for the current Henson exhibit? What did you think? Was it more navigable for you or do you think that I'm a dum-dum cuz it was problematic for me? How about the rest of the museum? Wasn't it rad? And most importantly, how did your stop-motion animation piece stack up to my own "Bushwoman"? Don't be ashamed. I know that I'm a burgeoning genius in the field. I just like the affirmation.

1 comment:

  1. I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU TOOK PICTURES. That's my first comment. haha. I'm glad you go to make it over here. I had a really good time when James & I went, but I totally agree with you... the space for the Henson exhibit was cramped, made so sense, and if you factor in the rude people who don't know how to be polite... it makes it quite an adventure.

    Seeing this exhibit makes me wish somethng more Henson was a permanent fixture in New York. He has so much history here.

    Again, so nice to meet you yesterday! I'm really looking forward to hanging out with you again in a few weeks! Have a great Thanksgiving if I don't talk to you! xo