This post is about a trip out to Astoria, Queens on May6th to go to the MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE, to get there around 11am. This will be a refundable “No-Show Insurance” event and members can register via the “Reservations/ Payments” tab on the Members website.
If ever there was a time to head out to Astoria, Queens, this is it. THE MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE is a fun place to spend some time, any time – but right now they also happen to be featuring a great MAD MEN exhibit (only until June 14th) with several of the actual sets, tons of costumes and even the MAD MEN writing room. Surely by early-ish May the weather will break and this is an easy, quick excursion from midtown Manhattan to a terrific neighborhood that is well worth exploring. But the MAD MEN exhibit is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Museum of the Moving Image has to show.
It’s easy to forget that the birth of the American film industry happened right in New Jersey and New York City. By the turn of the (last) Century, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison (forget the light bulb!) created his very own movie industry in New Jersey with the development of the Kinetoscope (also called the Vitascope) which was the first device used to view motion pictures – although just for one individual at a time. These were installed in movie “parlors” where lots of devices would be set up peep-show-like and people would use them individually. These early “moving pictures” were so popular Edison’s employees were charged with creating movies – which they did all over the entire metropolitan area, particularly in a huge studio in the Bronx. Other small film companies also operated in New York. But California soon beckoned because of its abundance of sunlight which was useful not only for shooting but also because electric lights at that time were not yet strong enough to expose film.
Almost fifty or so years after the industry’s defection to California, sometime in the 1970’s, a group took over the original Astoria Studios (in Astoria, Queens) where a number of historic film productions (including the first two Marx Brothers movies) had been created and which was the original East Coast production facility for Paramount Pictures. Their efforts helped revive interest in New York’s then-moribund film industry and they proceeded to develop the building into a Museum, which opened in 1988. During this time, in 1982, the Astoria property was purchased by George Kaufman (a real estate developer, not the playwright) with the intention of creating an active, working movie production facility. It is now called the Kaufman Astoria Studios. And, boy, is it active ! Kaufman Astoria Studios is a bustling operation with seven sound stages, a back lot – and a full slate of productions, Nurse Jackie, Orange is the New Black, the movie BIRDMAN, and Saturday Night Live are among the productions which have been created there recently.
And in the classic sort of turn-about that history tends to offer up, film production is now alive and well in New York City – and in many, many locations throughout the country. The state of Louisiana is now a powerhouse production site and many other states offer film companies rich tax incentives to film in their states along with highly subsidized facilities. Sunlight is no longer the issue as film companies prefer sound-stage filming since it is an environment which allows for more lighting and sound control and the easy availability of a full range of (now often computerized) production equipment. In 2004, Steiner Studios opened in NYC’s Brooklyn Navy Yard offering the largest and most sophisticated studio complex outside of California.
In 2011, the Museum of the Moving Image re-opened after a 3-year, $70 MM expansion which doubled the museum’s size and added a new theater and educational space. There is a constant slate of activities and new exhibits – screenings, first-run films, educational programs…etc. The MAD MEN exhibit has generated such interest and traffic for the Museum, they do seem a bit overwhelmed by it. Which is why the MWC is going on a week-day when the crowds should be thinned out a bit !