By Ernest Barteldes
I can’t say how many times I have visited Astoria, but over all these years I had never had the chance to check out the Museum of the Moving Image, located on the grounds of the Kaufman Astoria Studios (it still an active facility, where shows like Sesame Street and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black are currently shot). The opportunity came last Friday, when Renata and I headed out there to check their various exhibits.
On the ground floor there were entrances for the two screening rooms (one of the movies shown that day happened to be “Purple Rain,” which has made its way into the big screen following the passing of Prince) and a cafeteria decorated with various vintage video games. As we walked up the stairs, some kind of large video game was being showcased as two guys narrated the plays by audience members.
As we walked through the noisy room, we checked out To the Moon and Beyond: Graphic Films and the Inception of 2001: A Space Odyssey, an account of early science fiction films that made use of advanced graphics – including designs that eventually made it to Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic. There was also a screen with a loop from the film – it is incredible to see those images – cutting-edge at the time – seem lie crude compared to the stuff you see today, but you also get to recognize the baby steps that got us here.
In another room there were a series of publicity stills from actors of different generations, from the inception of film all the way to the early 60s – some faces were easy to recognize, such as Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Clint Eastwood, Hattie McDaniel and Shirley Temple, but others were a bit harder – stars of the 20s and 30s that I had to look at the directory to find out. Right next was an exhibit of life masks of various actors who endured hours under plaster to get their costumes made – including Robin Williams (for Mrs. Doubtfire), Marlon Brando (The Godfather) and Jim Carrey (The Mask) – and also outfits worn in the making of various classics.
There was an installation called “The World of Anomalisa,” which featured two sets used on the eponymous stop-motion movie directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, and detailing how much work went to make two scenes that were in the film for mere seconds. There were also computers where you could “create” your own stop-motion film (I did one moving my hand around, which I named “Hand, which can be seen below).
The largest exhibition was “Behind The Screen,” which showed us the painstaking details that go into making films and TV shows, going from early cameras used in silent movies all the way to cutting-edge digital technology, the creation of soundtracks (there is a cool interactive feature where you could make your own choices for features like “Independence Day” and “High Noon.” We learned a lot about the craft of making movies from those exhibits, and gained much more respect for the craft as we left.
There were several other smaller exhibits showcasing the history of cinema houses and also videogames – including how popcorn became a staple when heading to the Multiplex. We vowed to return soon – there will be a show on the life and work of Jim Henson – the man behind the immortal Muppets.