“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.

Coney Island at the Brooklyn Museum

There’s a set of new exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum right now, all with a Coney Island theme. Fun and thought-provoking, the Coney Island exhibits are something to put on your list of things to do before they end on March 13, 2016.

The first exhibit you will come to is Stephen Powers’s art installation, Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull). Drawing from the tradition of sign-painting unique to Coney Island, Powers’s works are eye-catching. As I began to explore each piece, I realized that there were many different meanings woven into them, in the form of advertising slogans on the myriad signs.

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The exhibit makes great use of the space as well, with the installations stretching high towards the ceiling. There is even an observation view situated in the middle of the gallery–the kind you might find at scenic overlooks and skyscraper observation platforms, often coin-operated.

From Stephen Powers’s art installation, visitors can then enter Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. The exhibit contained art and photographs of Coney Island throughout its history, following its rise and subsequent decline, as well as creating a context for attempts to make it great once again. Of course there are some wonderful images and artifacts from the amusement park and side show traditions of the past, but the exhibit also uses images to create thoughtful commentary about Coney Island’s unique historical intersections with race, ethnicity, and class in New York.

Some of my favorite parts of the exhibit were the artifacts and ephemera that came from Coney Island’s three amusement parks: Dreamland, Luna, and Steeplechase. For example, there is this metal version of the Steeplechase Funny Face, with its bright carnival colors and mischievous grin.

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There are a couple of lovely examples of hand-carved wooden horses from Coney Island carousels. I learned that Coney Island carousel horses were usually carved by German immigrants who settled in Brooklyn, and the Coney Island horses have their own distinctive style. Here’s a close-up view of my favorite.

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There is also some interesting side show pieces. The exhibit does a good job of developing the complexities of side show life, including the exploitation of people with cognitive or physical disabilities, as well as the financial independence some performers were able to achieve. This next photograph shows a banner for Jeanie, the “Living Half Girl,” who was born without legs.

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There is this Cyclops head, taken from the Spook-a-rama horror-themed ride. (This particular ride features within other words in the exhibit as well.)

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There were also targets from some of the carnival-style games found at Coney Island. The first photograph below shows targets from a ball toss game. The players would throw balls at the targets, attempting to knock them down for a prize. The second photograph shows a target for a game that used guns instead.

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The final exhibit is Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Found in the lobby near the fifth floor elevator, the photographs in this exhibit chronicle Coney Island’s evolution over time.

This article is meant to give you just a small taste of what is in store when you visit the Coney Island exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum. There is such a rich range of art and ephemera to discover–this is really one of those exhibits that will appeal to all visitors. I know I will visit again before the exhibits end in March, as I’m sure I will notice different things in a second visit.

To get to the Brooklyn Museum, you can take the 2 or 3 trains to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop. The Museum is located adjacent to the subway station. The museum also has parking for those wishing to drive. Complete directions are located here, on the Museum’s website.

Strolling Through Central Park

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As much as New Yorkers love the hustle and bustle of the city, sometimes we just need a place to recharge our batteries. For me, one of those places is Central Park. One reason why I enjoy Central Park so much is that it is different every time I go. As the seasons change, the trees and flowers change too. Around a corner may be a musician I’ve never heard before or a statue I’ve not noticed previously. There’s always a new path to take. Or, if I want to sit on a bench and watch the world go by, the park is the perfect location for people watching.

During a recent walk through the southern portion of Central Park, I enjoyed the last remnants of Autumn. Although many leaves had already fallen to the ground, the trees still had enough color to make the park picturesque. This was true even though it was a blustery, overcast day.

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I like to explore the park without a plan in mind, choosing paths on a whim and trying to find small treasures I’ve never found before. There are also numerous rock formations that are fun to climb on. They provide a different perspective of the park and surrounding areas.

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Of course, Central Park is also known for its ice skating rinks, which are now open for the season. Here’s a photograph of people skating at the Wollman Rink, located at the southern end of the park. The buildings along 59th Street overlook the location.

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The southern end of Central Park also has some intriguing buildings to explore. First, there is the Chess and Checkers House, located on top of a small hill. Inside the Chess and Checkers House, you can check out chess or checkers pieces and play on the permanent boards located outside. Unfortunately, the day I was there it was a little cold for outdoor checkers! On the weekends, there is also space available to play games inside.

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Nearby is the Dairy, built in 1870. In its early days, it offered milk to the city’s children; now, it hosts a park information kiosk. The Dairy’s ornate gingerbread trim makes it picturesque.

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A third building is located near the Chess and Checkers House as well: the building housing Central Park’s vintage carousel.

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There are quite a number of statues scattered across Central Park, and on this visit I went looking for a few of them. The first one I found was Indian Hunter, an 1866 sculpture by John Quincy Adams Ward. I think it made for a striking photograph, especially with the chartreuse green of the trees behind it.

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Near a statute of Christopher Columbus I stumbled upon a musical performance by a group called the Good Morning Nags. The band has a great sound, somewhat a cross between bluegrass, folk, and rock. (Their Facebook page calls it American roots rock.) A number of people had stopped to listen, and I did too for a couple of songs. It was quite a treat.

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A short distance behind the band was another John Quincy Adams Ward statue, this one of William Shakespeare.

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Another sculpture that caught my eye was Christophe Fratin’s Eagles and Prey. Fratin created the sculpture in 1850, and it was brought to Central Park in 1863. (The Central Park website states that this statue is the oldest known statue in any New York City park.)

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Before I left that day, I decided to head to the Bethesda Terrace and fountain. A series of steps leads downwards to the terrace and fountain, overlooking the Lake. There are beautiful stone details everywhere you look, including some charming and quirky stone carvings.

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Here’s a good photograph of the fountain, with the Lake in the background. You can rent rowboats at the nearby Boathouse if you wish to go out on the lake.

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The interior of the terrace has interesting architectural details. The ceilings are covered in beautiful tiles, and the walls display lovely colored frescoes.

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There was one final bonus as well–A singer, part of a group known as Infinity’s Song, was singing at the bottom of the steps. She had a full, rich voice, and she accompanied herself on the guitar. Her performance made for the perfect end to this particular park walk.

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There never an end to the adventures that can be had in Central Park–I’m sure I’ll have additional posts about other park walks in future posts. Stay tuned!

Manhattan Sunset from Long Island City

There are countless photographs of the New York City skyline, and multiple ways to recreate those images. One evening this summer, I went searching for the right location to watch the sun go down over Manhattan. I found the perfect spot at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. From the park there is a beautiful view of midtown Manhattan across the East River. Here is a photograph that I took of the skyline after the sun had set and the skyscraper windows were twinkling.

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We looked up the time for the sunset so that we wouldn’t miss it. The skyline was beautiful even before the sun disappeared, and the longer we waited after the official sunset time, the better the view became. I recommend going on a partly cloudy day. As the sun goes behind the buildings in the distance, the light reflects off the clouds. The view changes minute by minute, making for a spectacular experience. (We’ve now gone several times. Each time the sunset was beautiful and different than the time before. But there was a lot less color to the sky the night the sky was clear.)

One of our visits to Gantry Plaza State Park was at the time of the bi-annual “Manhattanhenge” sunset, also known as the Manhattan Solstice. The Long Island City riverfront is an ideal location for viewing this unique sunset, where the sun lines up with the cross streets of Manhattan as it sets. I captured this picture on that occasion:

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Depending on where you are at along the riverfront, you can see a number of Manhattan landmarks. As you look to your right towards the northern part of the East River, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is in the distance. (It’s not the most picturesque bridge in the city, but still an interesting landmark.) In the middle of the river towards the bridge there is Roosevelt Island, with Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at its tip. (I think I might have to explore this area sometime soon!) Directly across the river in Manhattan is the United Nations. And nestled among the taller buildings spanning the horizon are two iconic skyscrapers: the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

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If you have a little extra time to explore, the park has additional features that make it a unique destination. In the previous photo you may have seen a sign glowing red towards the right—that is the vintage Pepsi Cola sign located on the edge of the park in Long Island City. The sign used to be situated on the roof of a Pepsi bottling company along the riverfront. When the old building was torn down to make way for luxury apartments, the sign was relocated to a prime spot in the park. Here’s a close-up view of the sign, which stretches 8 stories above the grass. (And here’s a link to a New York Times article about the sign.)

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There are also the gantry cranes located next to the piers. Originally used to load and unload materials from boats along the waterfront, today they are another symbol of Long Island City. Here is a view looking back at one of the gantry cranes from the end of the pier, with luxury apartment buildings in the background.

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I took this second photograph of the cranes on another, cloudy evening. This photo shows some of the cranes’ architectural details. As a bonus, Manhattan is across the river in the background.

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If you keep your eyes open, you may even find some other unique photo ops. Here, I caught a view of Manhattan once again, this time framed by one of the gantry cranes and some rosebushes.

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And a short time later, I spied this tiny piece of railroad track. Most likely it was originally part of a railroad line that transported items between boats and nearby factories. But now it makes for a special photograph, literally the “Tracks to Nowhere.”

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What can you do once the sun has totally set? There are numerous restaurants in Long Island City, including several along Vernon Boulevard near the station for the 7 train. On one of our visits to the riverfront, we stopped at the Rockaway Brewing Company to try some local microbrews. I tried their “Black Gold,” a Nitro Stout. It was smooth and rich and creamy. The evening that we visited, the Brewery was hosting a pop-up food venture upstairs above the tap room. It was the perfect place to relax for a while with a beer and a snack after watching the spectacular sunset. Rockaway has an events calendar on their website previewing some of their delicious upcoming events, so check it out! We will definitely visit again.

Getting here by subway? I try to use public transportation whenever possible, and Gantry Plaza State Park is easily accessible by subway. You can take the E or the M to the Court Square-23rd Street Station, the G to the 21st Street-Van Alst Station, or the 7 train to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue.