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.|
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.
|The Mah Na Mah Na gang.|
|Gobo and Mokey Fraggle.|
|Tom and I. Uh...wait. I mean Bert and Ernie!|
|My adorable husband as we watched Eileen Brennan|
be brilliant on Laugh-In. Video games in the background.
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.
|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.