Sunday, January 16, 2011

Museum of the Moving Image

by baad lamb

I had never been to the Museum of the Moving Image, expecting that it would be a dusty collection of cinema and television memorabilia, and lots of photographs of “celebrities”. As the endorphin addicted East Village club kid Margaret says when dismissing suburban living (Liquid Sky, 1983) “Oh how boring”.
But the press surrounding its recent addition, along with its inaugural day events highlighting both interactive and creative artistic video convinced me I should check it out.

Besides the various theater rooms scattered about, most of the museum actually is collected stuff on display. There were some interesting, highly detailed architectural drawings and scale models of existing-only-in-Hollywood buildings, like the “James Gumb” house from “Silence of the Lambs”, and the Wingfield House from the Glass Menagerie.  I also appreciated a row of early video games, arranged in chronological progression from Pong to Ms. Pac Man. These were all working models you could play. They even had Defender, the first quarter-eating machine I actually liked.

Of course there was a small section of costumes with far-from-thrilling stuff, like the fat suit and dress worn by Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, JR’s hat from the television series “Dallas”, and the dress worn by Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons. Left, "Billy Flynn's" razzle-dazzle-'em, from "Chicago".

I’m happy there are reliquaries for such stuff, but their significance, beyond the historical, usually requires a pre-existing cult-like zeal for the original “product” (as with me and the afore mentioned Liquid Sky), thus limiting its interest to the already converted. As someone who usually obsesses over seeing EVERYTHING in a gallery or museum, I walked right by a whole lotta stuff here.

Therefore, in this objects-on-display section, only a few things were of significance to me, if only to bring back memories. Here are two dresses worn by Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins in the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. I barely remember anything at all from this show, but to a first-grader, after school TV vampires and witches were intriguing enough to endure all the boring and opaque adult talk in that show before the Gilligan’s Island reruns came on.

Representing a New York very different from today’s gentrified, clean-scrubbed version was a costume worn by one of the gangs, the “Savage Huns” in the late 70’s movie “The Warriors”. (This movie deserves a detailed post all its own. If only I didn’t work for a living…) Instead of a noble street gang braving the wilds of rival territory, a remake today would have to be about helicopter-mommies pushing Maclaren double-wides, and anxiously navigating how to get little Brianna into the exclusive, society-sanctioned preschool. It would be called “The Worriers”.

There was a whole wall of movie fan magazines whose job, it seems, was to produce Camp so Susan Sontag could later define it. I wonder what Kirk Douglas didn't like about women?
And who wouldn't like Veronica Lake, a distinctive one-eyed hairstyle posing as a serious actress?
Brave man to get anywhere near that eye makeup, Mr. Burton.

In a display on marketing tie-ins and promotional items was this “Thrilling New Musical Toy”. I guess the definition of thrilling has changed since the 1950s.

Helpful operating instructions were provided: "Blow here... turn here... music comes out here".

But the real interest in this trip was the room at the top of the stairs. There, the moving image really did move, and moved me. I wandered around watching things for a long time, even though there were only about 5 or 6 different installations.

Left, a still from "Cathedral", by Marco Brambilla, a giant kaleidoscopic, slowly flowing waterfall of images of Christmas shoppers at a Toronto mall.
I really liked the Pablo Valbuena (in the video at the top of this post). Since researching it more on the web, I’ve seen a number of video versions, some with colored lights and some without, but all with an accompanying loud electronic soundscape. Here, it is silent; possibly because it shares its space with others in a large, mostly open room, and the featured installation (description and video below) had its own soundtrack.  I found this all white, soundtrack-free version to be mesmerizing in its simplicity.

The main feature of this exhibition is this interactive piece, Realtime Unreal, by Thomas Soetens and Kora Van den Bulcke, founders of the group Workspace Unlimited. In the center of the largest area, a dividing screen bisects the darkness, with stylized videos of the museum gallery spaces projected on both sides. One visitor at time is allowed to walk into the interactive zone enveloping the screen, and as they move about (in their 3D glasses), the virtual gallery on the screen shifts, morphs, and moves, while alternate views collapse, enlarge or twist about in a disorienting manner. The effect is similar to moving up, down, in and out of a Google Earth street view, only in multiple screens at once, and your feet are the joysticks.
(I filmed this sitting in a chair on the exit-side of the room, so you don't see the participant until after they come around the screen.)

The exhibit continues through June 12. Admission is $10.


  1. I would say that the Mrs. Doubtfire fat suit alone justifies the price of admission.
    (Your Realtime Unreal video is mesmerizing. We should redecorate like that...)

  2. I may take the nephews there this weekend. Or to the Museum of Chinese in America, for the exhibit on Chinese puzzles.