by Martin Hafer
I often travel to New York City, so I've seen most of the familiar landmarks. Because of this, I decided with my most recent trip to try some of the more obscure places, such as the Museum of Sex (great giftshop...but sadly, a rather dull place otherwise) and The Frick Collection (a nice little art museum created by a nasty robber baron in order to attempt to buy his way out of Hell). My little trip further afield, to the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) in Astoria (a neighborhood in Queens, New York), is what this article is all about...as after all, Influx is an entertainment site all about movies and television. And, the museum is about the history of both.
Before I talk about the museum itself, let's talk about getting there. It's not necessarily that quick or easy to get there from Downtown New York. Most tourists stay in Manhattan and most of the familiar sites, such as Broadway, are there. To get to MOMI, you need to take a couple subway rides, a bus or a rather expensive cab ride (about $20-30 each way). In my case, I needed to take cabs because my daughter is disabled and the subway stations rarely are handicapped accessible in New York. Despite a map which told me the station near MOMI was accessible, it's not...and so folks who cannot take a lot of stairs need to weigh whether or not it's worth the cab fare to get there. And, we didn't take the bus because it would be a rather long trip and our time was limited.
The museum is dedicated to the moving image. In other words, movies and television...with a stronger emphasis on films. You'll see all sorts of things, such as early Zoetrope and Kinetoscopes on which simple paper images appeared to move as they passed by your eyes. The museum then presents many sorts of movie cameras, television cameras, microphones, audio recording machines and televisions. While this all sounds a bit boring, the museum fortunately provides a few hands on exhibits which make the museum a lot more fun than you'd expect. You can animate films, provide sound effects for films or change the soundtracks to see how this impacts the enjoyment or suspense in a movie (this final one was my personal favorite). Then, down to the next floor, the museum provided more of what I was looking for...stuff about movies and its stars. There was a lot of memorabilia and even an oddly recreated papier-mâché 1920s style movie theater...done less as an exact re-creation and more a homage to some of the more bizarre and stylish movie houses of yesteryear.
In addition to these regular exhibits, MOMI has special exhibits. This time, it was a nice little area devoted to early video games...and some game tokens came with admission to the museum. My daughter wasn't quite as impressed by I was. After all, my teenage years were spent playing most of these games and to her they seemed a bit antiquated! She especially couldn't understand my love of Tempest or Centipede...her loss! The next traveling exhibit will be on Jim Henson and is expected in late October. We both wished we'd been there for that one.
Otherwise, MOMI has periodic shows and special events that they put on in their theater...though none were scheduled the day we visited. You should definitely consult their website to see what's on tap. There also is gift shop as well as a small snack bar, though if you are looking for food you might be better suited going to some of the nearby restaurants.
So what did I think of all this? Well, it's a decent museum and we spent about two hours there. There also were a lot of school groups there and the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves. I would certainly not consider this a must-see museum...even with my love of films. However, my luck hasn't been very good when trying to visit other film museums (the ones in Paris and London were both closed when I tried to visit) and the New York/Astoria museum has more to it to enjoy than the still excellent film museum in Frankfurt, Germany. Plus, for the cost of admission and transportation, it's a pretty expensive trip. Worth doing, yes, but one that left me wishing the museum had been a bit larger and perhaps closer to downtown New York.
So why, incidentally, did they choose to put the museum out in Astoria? It seems that this unassuming part of Queens has an amazing history when it comes to films, as Paramount Studios used to be headquartered there and many of the great old silents were shot there. The lot is no w Kaufman Studios, which is next door to the museum. The studio is where they now film such shows as Orange is the New Black, various segments for Saturday Night Live as well as Sesame Street. As far as visiting Kaufman goes, however, they only rarely open their doors to the public, so you might want to check with the Kaufman website (www.kaufmanastoria.com) to see if they are having an open house (which they have done on at least one or two Sundays in the recent past). Combining MOMI with a visit to Kaufman would really be something!
All images © INFLUX Magazine/Martin Hafer 2016Share: