“Behind the Scenes” at the Museum of the Moving Image

When many people explore New York City, they focus their attention on Manhattan. And there’s nothing wrong with that–as you can see from my blog, there are a variety of fun things to do in Manhattan. But the way to really fully know the city is by venturing into the other boroughs as well. Taking that approach, this post ventures into Astoria, Queens, to the Museum of the Moving Image.

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Astoria has had a long-standing connection to the film industry; its early movie studios made numerous silent films and early sounds films in the 1920s and early 1930s. That tradition has continued over the decades, with countless movies and television shows filmed there. The Museum of the Moving Image chronicles that history while offering rotating film options and contemporary exhibits.

The core exhibit at the Museum is called “Behind the Scenes.” This exhibit traces all aspects of creating and promoting movies and television shows. There are some really interesting artifacts in the exhibit–items that will appeal to pretty much any visitor.

One of the fascinating parts of the exhibit explored the use of life masks to develop the makeup and prostheses used by actors in various films. For example, the following photographs demonstrate the process used to turn actor Dustin Hoffman into character Jack Crabbe for the movie Little Big Man (1970). I found the transformation fascinating. First, here’s the original life mask:

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The second photograph shows the various latex layers used to create Jack Crabbe’s facial features:

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And this final photograph shows the end result:

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The exhibition contains many artifacts from other movies and television shows – pieces from the sets, scripts (including one from a Seinfeld episode), and other items used in their creation. There were a number of iconic costumes as well, including ones worn by the talented late actor Robin Williams. There’s his costume as Mork from the television sitcom Mork and Mindy, and the body suit and dress that he wore in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. (The exhibition also contains the life mask and makeup process used to turn Williams into Mrs. Doubfire.)

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Parts of the “Behind the Scenes” Exhibition are very interactive, engaging visitors in the experience. There was a video game arcade, what the exhibit called the first form of interactive media, and this fun installation, a 1980s TV lounge designed by Jim Isermann.

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Other parts of the exhibit traced the evolution of moving picture technology from the late 1800s to the present. Here’s an example of one of the interactive parts of the exhibit, two Mutoscopes. (When the person turns the crank, cards are flipped to create a moving image, making it work like a mechanical flip book.)

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Other interactive parts of the exhibition were associated with the editing process, such as allowing the visitor to add sound effects.

A visit to the Museum of the Moving Image is worth it for the core exhibits alone, but there are other rotating exhibits that are enjoyable as well (such as one going on right now about Internet Cats!). The museum also shows a variety of films on a rotating basis, with the schedule available on the museum website.

What’s the best way to get to the Museum of the Moving Image? By public transportation, of course. Take the M, R, N or Q subway lines to the 36th Avenue station in Astoria.

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