RSS Feed

Summer in the City: So Many Cosby Sweaters!

It’s been a few weeks (almost a month!) since my position at the Museum of the Moving Image concluded. I could start listing all the things that have kept me so busy since then, but the truth is: I spent most of Thursday watching an Ancient Aliens marathon and painting my nails – did you know that intergalactic travelers used space ships to help the Egyptians build the pyramids?

I wrote the bulk of this post sitting at the Newark airport for nine hours, thank you Air Canada, and at first it was clearly written from someone wallowing in their own self pity suck in New Jersey. I decided to scratch the over-arching metaphor about changing costumes and curtain’s drawing and replace it with a nostalgia-filled romp, regaling tales of a perky, lighthearted intern cataloging costumes and cleaning out 25-year-old Dynasty brand perfume.

Besides trudging through inventory spreadsheets, and magic lantern jigsaw puzzles I was asked to inventory most of the textile materials in the permanent collection’s space. This included some of the coolest pieces of the museum’s hidden treasures.

This was my first encounter with the elusive sweaters. Most of them were custom made and knit from heavy wool, and a whole lot of awesome.

If you want even more Cosby and his colourful, warm attire you should check out this website. I don’t know if I really get the point, but it makes for fun internet browsing.

I worked with most of the delicate beaded costumes from Chicago (2002), Mork’s space suit (1978-1982), Eddie’s jeans from Beverly Hills Cop (1984), and the pastel suit from Miami Vice (1984-1990). Not that I like to fold and tell, but at least one of the listed costumes was worn by someone with very unpleasant body odor.

Unfortunately, mold can be common when dealing with old textiles.

Unexpectedly, during a routine inventory day I came across an usher’s overcoat from Radio City Music Hall circa 1928, with what appeared to be white powder eating away at the wool. I alerted the collections staff and fearing mold they immediately jumped to action. The procedure that followed seemed relatively straightforward: isolate the object and replace the wrapping materials, but one of the senior staff members was nervous the other costumes would be contaminated, and we spent the following 3 days carefully repacking most of the costume pieces in the collection.

Professionally cleaned, folded neatly and put back into permanent storage.

Textiles are finicky, and require the most amount of care and attention when it comes to artifact handling. Every dress must be unfolded by two people, every loose feather, stray bead, or spare thread must be bagged and cataloged individually. No fabrics can touch other fabrics, and all pieces must be stuffed to avoid wrinkling. The process still seems boarder-line obsessive and revealed that textile conservation may not be my calling.

My last official mini-project was working with a 1978 Panaflex-Gold camera and tilt stand. Just like the c.1897 Trilinal Magic Lantern, the Panaflex camera was delivered in a set of large, unorganized, storage containers, with limited documentation and even less provenance. These two side projects made me realize how much I enjoy doing research on material culture. Solving historical puzzles makes me feel like a museum Sherlock Holmes! I ended my last week with two amazing films, Cosmopolis and The Master, and a romp through the off-site collection’s facility cataloging artifacts for the Museum’s future major exhibit: Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off, which will be an interactive exhibition meant  to commemorate the 50th anniversary and enduring legacy of the first digital video game.

Sandwiched in between so much awesome.

As a final essay for my program I was asked to write up a short review of the museum and my experience and it was probably the easiest thing I had to write. All of New York aside, the Museum is such an unique institution dedicated to exploring art, history, and technology. It stands apart from other cultural institutions by incorporating inventive interactive displays while exhibiting artifacts in a traditional museum style. It successfully breaks down the concepts of production and creation, inviting the visitor to participate in every process. My internship allowed me to go behind the screen and experience the chronological pathway through the history of the moving image beginning with a Zoetrope and ending with Frogger.

My summer in New York City was unreasonably amazing. As I re-read the notes I jotted down in my journal during my first few days of being there, it’s clear that my incapability was in no way affiliated with my previous work experience (or lack there of) or the Public History master’s program – nothing could have possibly prepared me for the things I encountered when I first arrived in NYC. It’s an entirely different world and although I would be hesitant to diagnose myself with culture shock, it would certainly not be far off. This entire year has been a shock, in terms of reevaluating my priorities; sacrificing relationships and comfort all for my future success. Throughout my life I have been fairly independent and the prospect of living alone or doing things by myself was not all that daunting, yet this year has been a true test. I am not ashamed to admit I struggled in London; being thousands of kilometers away from the people I care about for months at a time was not easy. To move even farther East to New York City was intimidating and unnerving but thrilling and astonishing.

I feel satisfied with the work I have completed at both Western and at the Museum – I am  really proud of all my accomplishments. This year has not only helped to elevate me professionally, but it has given me time to adjust my priorities. As I gear up for my next big move to Vancouver Island, I know my new adventure will be entering the workforce. I feel confident, prepared, and elated to move back to the West, and start my life amongst the people I love.

…besides, if I can make it in New York, I can make it anywhere.

Advertisements

Summer in the City: Artifact Mysteries

With my poster project nearing completion, I’ve had an opportunity to try my hand at a number of mini projects in the Collections Department at the Museum of the Moving Image. As you may recall, at the beginning of my internship there was a large space-bike parked in my workspace so I spent the first day assessing and cataloging a c.1911 Magic Lantern. Little did I know, I would be returning to lanterns, only this time instead of assessing the artifact I was trying to put it back together. Just a side note, when the registrar begins explaining your next task with: “Okay, it’s kinda weird…” You know your day is going to be interesting. I dawned a pair of white cotton gloves and set to work trying to identify the pieces in a box of miscellaneous objects that go along with a much larger device.

This must be the artifact equivalent of a “dog’s breakfast.”

Somehow those pieces above need to fit into this assembled Triunial Magic Lantern…

…but where?

After my last long-winded post, I made a promise to one reader that this one will be more manageable to read on his iPhone in-between clients at the gym. But I would be doing  you a disservice if I didn’t share with you my research on pre-cinema devices and magic lanterns. This is a history blog after all.

The magic lantern works similar to a modern-day projector; a concave mirror sits in front of a light source, which collects light and projects it through a slide. The light crosses an aperture, hits a lens that throws an enlarged image of that on the slide onto a wall, sheet, or screen. By stacking lanterns, one can create a form of moving images, dissolves, and other optical illusions. References to the ‘Magic’ lantern’s invention and its use have gone back as far as the 13th and 14th century, (some argue even earlier) but for the sake of my discussion I will jump right to the time period where our contraption, pictured above amongst half a dozen old arcade machines, may have originated. By the early years of the nineteenth century, magic lanterns became cheaper to buy, easier to construct, and readily available, but showmen, or “Savoyards,” still traveled throughout the world giving shows to mesmerized audiences, often featuring images associated with Biblical stories, current events, or scientific discoveries. Improvements in technology, specifically light sources, brought changes to the lantern shows. With the development of Oxyhydrogen limelight and Arc light it became possible to create large images with elaborate effects.

The Phantasmagoria Show (a collection of phantoms): was a popular show consisting of ghostly images, skeletons and goblins. As you can see, the lantern is on a wheeled-cart (similar to ours) so it can be moved toward and away from the screen, making the picture appear larger or smaller. The images were often combined with sound effects, and it was not uncommon for the show to include smoke, all to create a thrilling environment for the mid-19th century audience.

In the ’70s and ’80s…1870s that is, the lantern industry flourished. Further advancements in lighting technology made it possible for lanterns and slides to be used in every occasion and location. This also corresponded with the lantern’s heightened use for educational means and the advent of the modern photograph.

Our mysterious lantern was acquired by the museum this year and is really quite a unique and impressive artifact to add to the collection. The fellow who donated it contacted the museum to inquire about our policies and to tell them about the ‘really neat thing’ sitting in his basement. From what I’ve heard from the staff here, most pieces in the museum’s collection have been graciously gifted to the museum, often from set designers, costumers, prop makers, etc. Funny enough, I don’t even think this lantern is the strangest thing that sat in someone’s basement for decades before moving into our exhibit space…first prize definitely goes to the life-sized head-spinning doll constructed and used in The Exorcist. Apparently, it was just sitting in the designer’s attic with a white sheet over it for years until he visited the museum and thought maybe they would like it. I shutter every time I walk past it in the gallery.

Pieter Harting

From what I’ve pieced together, our Triunial Magic Lantern is associated with Pieter Harting (1812 – 1885) a Dutch biologist and naturalist, with an interest in the development of microscopes and lenses, authoring a landmark book on topic. He was also the owner and proprietor of P. Harting, a lantern manufacturing business, which most definitely made the three-tier lantern I am working with now. The precursor of PowerPoint presentations, the magic lantern was widely used in the science classrooms of the late 19th century. According  L. D. Smith in his article about multimedia, some lanterns such as the “episcope,” could project laboratory instruments and other opaque objects onto screens, allowing the instructors to present live scientific demonstrations to a large lecture hall.

From what I’ve read on private antique dealer’s websites, the most expensive 19th century lanterns are those with wooden bodies. Fine examples of cabinetry, made often of mahogany or polished walnut. Our lantern is also unique in that it is finished with what appears to be copper, as opposed to “Russian iron,” which was most commonly used because of its high resistance to heat and rusting.

Although the previous owner of this triple or triunial magic lantern had very little information about it, it wasn’t too difficult to piece the possible origins of the object together. The box of miscellanea is an entirely different story. Unfortunately, they reconstructed the lantern a few months before I started working at the museum, leaving the left over parts in a box for an unsuspecting intern.

I found three of these mysterious objects in the box, when happen to be approximately the same size as the lantern’s lenses. Perhaps they are interior clamps…?

In terms of dating the lantern, I am still sort of iffy on pinning down anything exact before finding more information on the manufacturing history of P. Harting. But when I compare our lantern to photos from other museum collections, like the Tri-unial lantern by W Butcher & Sons , I have a feeling ours was manufactured around c. 1890.

Something familiar!

Interestingly, I found both a device for igniting limelight as well as this light bulb and mount, or in fancy museum description language: electrical slide-out illuminant on metal plate; glass globe, cord and plug (fabric, metal, glass).

It’s kind of like starting a puzzle with no edge pieces.

One thing I find curious about this lantern is its lack of smoke stack. With all the smoke that can build up inside the box from the illumination source, a chimney was always necessary.

A. E. Salter Triple Lantern with a “Rose” or “Crinkle Top” chimney, which is probably very similar to what is missing from our lantern.

Obviously more time and research needs to be spent on this object before anyone would even consider placing it on display. But with such a strong link to pre-cinema and moving picture history, I think it is a beautiful, and indeed, unique example of magic lantern technology. With only a few short weeks left at the museum, it would be unreasonable to think I could put forth the effort needed to exhibit the object, but hopefully my small amount of research helped. Currently the museum doesn’t have a place to highlight new acquisitions or stand alone objects, but I really think this artifact would make a stellar “Featured Object” display in the museum’s lobby. Maybe I should suggest that to someone…

In the mean time, I thought I would share a photo of me ‘in action,’ to get you excited about next week’s topic: Costumes!

Embroidered jacket from the 1933 film Emperor Jones.

Summer in the City: judging a movie by its poster

While waiting in line to see a special screening of Destiny Rides Again at Film Forum, I overheard a conversation about the Annie Hall poster in the light box on the side of the theater. Like a scene ripped right from the movie, a very loud and obnoxious individual behind me decided it was necessary to share his opinion on the poster and all Woody Allen movies in general: “I’m not interested!” he announced smugly, at an ear-splitting decibel, as he tapped on the frame that held the iconic poster in place.
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit Film Forum, it’s a modest three screen, nonprofit theater tucked away on Houston Street. It’s really a fantastic spot, avoiding the big ticket movies to give a new generation the opportunity to see a wide rage of movies on the big screen. Needless to say, I have been taking full advantage of their selection and my unlimited free admissions. But I digress, back to the man behind me with the ear-splitting opinions. Shocked and in awe of someone so boldly denouncing one of New York’s greatest filmmakers in the line of one the of the city’s premiere film houses, I glanced behind me to see if anyone else shared his blasphemous views.

As the fellow rambled on about something to do with Freud, an older lady in front of me kept turning around only to sigh and shake her head and each time we made eye contact I would slump my shoulders paired with a “Whaddya gonna do” sort of smile. A slave to the queue, I continued to listen as he gave his “definitive explanation” on why he disliked Annie Hall:

“Look at his posture…he’s clearly uncomfortable, uninterested in the audience or even the girl for that matter. He’s balding, has glasses, he just looks like a wiener, how am I suppose to relate to that? And her? You can barely see her face, and the way they’re standing makes the scene so uninviting. Where does this movie take place? I dunno. And what’s with the list of names, the font is almost bigger than he is. I mean, maybe it’s the best movie ever, Christopher Walken is pretty cool, but I’ve never seen it and I never will.”

Now… I don’t necessarily worship the ground Allen walks on; however, I will say Midnight in Paris was a joy and delight and I would suggest it to anyone. But I found it really hard to restrain myself from not turning around; completely astonished by this person’s ignorance (and voice volume) I began imagining how ironic and poetic it would be if Woody Allen himself walked by to confront this person.

Before you think I’m some sort of film-elitist who scoffs at stranger’s movie preferences – the reason I bring this up is to actually introduce a short discussion on movie posters, and the styles and motifs I’ve noticed in the extensive collection I am working with at the Museum of the Moving Image. By no means is the following an exhaustive list of anything, but merely a collection of my observations I’ve made while working with this unique collection of movie history. The idea that a movie poster can illicit such a strong emotional connection, or in his case an aversion, is really quite remarkable I think.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my current task (which seems to be expanding everyday) is working through 6000+ movie posters, advertisements, film stills, lobby cards, cardboard inserts, and press books dating from 1948 – 1989. Throughout the last few weeks I’ve noticed many reoccurring themes, not only in the types of movies released, but also the way they are exhibited; some images have stood out as pieces of impressive printed art, while others are noticeable for their advertising gimmicks.

I suppose it’s a valid question…

First and foremost, these documents are advertisements meant to sell a product to a mass audience. In most cases, the act of producing and distributing these advertisements is purely commercial, often unscrupulous, and almost always seen as an unattractive endeavor. However, in some instances certain movie posters seem to have broken through the barrier of conspicuous consumption and become iconic images of cinematic history and popular culture. Dare I say it – some movie posters can even be considered prime examples of modernest and commercial art. On an even deeper level, I think the argument can be made that the movie poster is a primary link between the cinematic experience and the audience. For most movie goers, having a poster on their wall is the closest physical connection they have to the film making process; something tangible and accessible.

It’s fascinating to unfold every item of this collection, and because part of my task is to write a visual description of each piece, a closer inspection has resulted in a lot of pondering. When filling in the copyright dates for each poster in the written and online collection’s database, I can’t help but think of each poster as a direct product of its time. In most history classes, the importance of context is drilled into your head with a jack-hammer, but it really is the pinnacle of interpreting the past.

Post-War Horror Flicks
As one of my previous posts may have hinted, I really like horror movies. I’m a sucker for a good slasher flick and can always go for some blood-gushing, monster-ragging, brain-eating-zombie action. So naturally, there is nothing more satisfying than unfolding a large spread, full-colour sheet, like the one above for the 1953 science fiction classic: It Came from Outer Space, which just happens to be playing at Film Forum on Friday in all it’s original 3D glory. These posters stand out not only for their ridiculous subject matter, i.e. aliens disguised as house plants that eat people and metropolis-destroying mutant ants; laughable when we see these films now, but in the context of their era, these films must have been terrifying. The posters stand out as being aesthetically similar with vibrant colours and gimmicky-warnings; anything to attract a younger, weekend audience away from their family’s newly acquired, black & white, 12-inch television screen.

It wasn’t only the tv that threatened theater revenues and horror movie makers. Following the Second World War, the concept of a monster had altered irrevocably – now there were more recognizable faces attached to evil. The horrors of the war put the genre into perspective, real mad scientists really did exist and Frankenstein had nothing on the Atom Bomb. With too many horror stories of their own to appreciate it on the big screen, the genre as a whole had to adapt to survive  in the second half of the twentieth century. A new breed of monster evolved to fit the unnerving time that was the Cold War. The red scare and threats from within combined with the unpredictable faith of your nation’s existence resting in the hands of a chosen few. Oh, and we can’t forget aliens. In 1947, the first ‘official’ sighting of a flying saucer was recorded, followed a few months later by the Roswell Incident. The horror films of the 1950s focused on the pace of technological change, the uncertainties of modern science and the unseen threat; appropriate and reflective of the reality for the American, and often Canadian, public.
The 1950s is also the era when horror films got relegated to B-movie status, but thanks to clever marketing, teenagers flocked to drive-in movie theaters in hordes. Regardless of the little attention paid to character development, plot stability or production value, these movies still provide a cheap and entertaining thrill for today’s audience; while the posters continue to offer a crude, techni-colour, snapshot of the way America desperately didn’t want itself to be.

Iconic Symbolism & Saul Bass
I wanted to highlight Saul Bass even though there are only a few of his iconic pieces in the Liebowitz collection I’m working with, but I encourage you to check out saulbass.tv which has an amazing digital collection of his works. Brass started in Brooklyn in the 1940s, but moved to Hollywood where he worked at an entry-level position designing titles and text for producer/director Otto Preminger. Preminger was impressed by his graphic ambition and creativity and asked him to create the opening title sequence and poster for the 1955 film The Man with the Golden Arm. Brass worked very closely with Preminger to create a strong and long-lasting image that didn’t stand alone from the film, but acted as a visual summary for the film’s subject matter, plot, and mood. Brass’ recognizable visual style is modern and minimalist in the sense that he strips images down to their elemental form. Saul Bass worked alongside Hitchcock, creating some of the most iconic movie posters, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Bass also designed titles for the notoriously outspoken producer/director Billy Wilder – all three, in fact, actively separated themselves from the major Hollywood style, and although they still made studio-backed, commercially viable films, they maintained a distinctly individual and alternative aesthetic, which makes no surprise all three filmmakers collaborated with Saul Bass.

Coincidentally, this is also playing this week at the Museum of the Moving Image. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen!

As my project is winding down and I spend most of my time in front of a computer with IMDB double checking film credits, my mind likes to wander. Like any historian I try and put myself into the position of the people I’m studying, in this case, the average movie goer of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. What movie would I have seen? Would I be lured by the brightly coloured horrors of outer space or would I be more intrigued by the bold and symbolic collaborations of Saul Bass’ and Billy Wilder. Like it or not because of this project, ever single movie poster I see I immediately try putting the images into a social and historical context. I try and interpret exactly what the movie is about, or what the advertisers and graphic designers want me to think the movie is about. One perfect modern example I can offer is the teaser poster for the highly anticipated film written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master. The film has been swirling with controversy since its script was leaked two years ago and people have been itching to get their hands on anything that hints at its production and plot. When the one-sheet poster was finally released earlier last month, the internet lit up with interpretations.

Is the bottle half-empty or half-full? I suppose we will have to wait until September, 2012.

I find it remarkable that while advancements in technology move us closer to a paperless society, the printed movie poster remains relevant and in demand. Hopefully, I have inspired fellow film-goers to take a closer look at the posters that line the walls of their favourite movie theaters. What is this poster trying to say and how are they saying it? I encourage you to peruse some really innovate movie poster images. Oh, and for giggles, you should sneak a peak at the hopeless cliches.There is no harm in questioning what you’re consuming, or placing it in the larger social-political context of its creation; besides what else do you have to think about while waiting in the impossibly long popcorn line? One word of advice though, Marshall McLuhan is always off limits as a movie theater line topic. You never know who may be listening…

Summer in the City: A Lull?

I started writing this blog post at 11:30 pm on Sunday, it is now 11:41pm …Tuesday. With all that time, you’d think I would have more to show for it than this lack-luster sentence. It’s certainly not due to lack of activity. As I’m reading over my agenda from the last 14 or so days, it’s filled with lots of events: a friendly visit from another public history grad, gourmet vegan restaurants, free symphonies by the New York Philharmonic, picnics in Central Park and movies, movies, movies. But for some reason my wanderings of late don’t seem all that blog worthy. As the weeks fly by faster than a New York minute I get worried I’m not doing enough, yet I somehow go to bed every night feeling accomplished.

Talking to people who have lived here for a considerable amount of time there is an unvoiced but obvious consensus that New York is not a city at all, but a living, breathing entity in which you co-exist. Have I tamed the concrete beast, or have I just developed an attention deficit disorder, which makes it impossible for me to sit in one spot long enough to write a well crafted paragraph… No time to ponder, quick on to the next activity! Living in a city that runs as fast as a Cheetah it’s hard to keep up, feel accomplished, and still have time to reflect. Moreover, thanks to my recent not-so-nutritious culinary adventures, I feel like I have the cardiovascular capacity of an 80 year old smoker.

Given that these two poorly-crafted paragraphs felt like a marathon, I will end this post now and re-group for my next writing attempt sometime later in the week.

Gilda Radner Way right outside of Film Forum

Summer in the City: A Balancing Act

At three weeks into my internship at the Museum of the Moving Image, I am still in awe at the miraculous opportunity to work and live in New York City. So much so, that I have neglected some of my previous obligations. It’s a difficult task balancing work and play in the City that never sleeps. Everyday I am hit with a tidal wave of historically relevant, culturally significant, and (for lack of any other words) – really cool stuff; at times it takes all my power to stay at home, sleep in, or have a ‘lazy’ afternoon. The trouble is, there are so many things I still need to cross off list – a list that grows exponentially longer everyday. As I’m sure you’ve noticed from previous posts, I’ve already done quite a bit. I’ve made it my goal to visit at least one museum every weekend. I’ve seen on and off-Broadway shows, half a dozen parades, and even more films. I bought a book from the Strand, and took the free Staten Island ferry to catch a night time glimpse of Lady Liberty. Even the kitschy things like spending a day at Coney Island or getting an upset stomach from eating too many pickles at Katz’s Deli.

I may not have had “what she’s having,” but the pickles were delicious!

In fact, because there are so many non-work related things to do in this city, it’s easy to get distracted. How can I possibly sit still and spend the entire day trudging through data entry knowing that later in the evening I’m going to make eye contact with Martin Scorsese? Of course that’s an extreme example, but I noticed last week that my mind was often drifting outside of the heavily air conditioned collection space. That’s not to say that my current tasks are monotonous, and even if they were, it hardly seems appropriate to complain.

Just another movie being filmed outside my office window in Astoria.

My on-going curatorial project, called the ‘Leibowitz Collection,’ currently has me photographing and  cataloging (in paper and digital form) 4000+ movie posters from 1940s-1990s. Although the physical process of opening each poster, numbering, photographing and carefully refolding is repetitive, it’s the posters themselves that keep the task from getting too mind-numbing. I can’t go into too much detail about the nature of the donated collection, but what I can say is that no one has really looked at them since they were donated in the 1980s.

Not that I am endorsing the film's racist content, but look at that beautiful blue and yellow colour contrast. An insert for "Comanche!" (1956)

Not that I am endorsing the film’s racist content, but look at that beautiful blue and yellow colour contrast. An insert for “Comanche!” (1956).

Movie posters can come in a variety of different sizes, from postcards to billboard ’24-sheets,’ which means I have to be ready for anything. Luckily, I’ve gotten enough practice at this point that I no longer need a measuring tape since I’ve memorized all the dimensioned of the (more or less) standardized sizes. Oh, in inches by the way not centimeters, which was a bit of a learning curve when I first started the project. Also, did you know there is a difference in the way Americans and Canadians write their dates? June 25, 2012 = 06/25/2012 (US) and 25/06/2012 (CAN) I had no idea, until I was asked to go back and re-write all of the dates from my first set of cataloging.

A beautiful one-sheet from ‘Tintin and the Lake of Sharks’ (1972)

Although movie posters can differ slightly in size depending on the country of distribution, the One Sheet is definitely the most common, and probably best know, measuring approximately 27 x 41 inches in size. Prior to 1983, all reprints of one-sheet posters were always slightly smaller at 40 inches in height. Interestingly, after 1989 there was a shift in the one-sheet, reducing the height to 40 inches, meaning that most re-prints of post 1989 posters are the same size as the originals, making it a little more difficult to spot an original from a reprint. Not that I’m implying your ‘original’ Home Alone poster is a fake, I’m sure it’s worth every dollar you spent on it…

A three-sheet for “A Cold Wind in August” (1961)

The Three-Sheetis used to advertise on the wall outside of a theater, measuring 41 x 81 inches. Like the one shown above, three-sheets were commonly printed on two sheets of lower stock paper, but there are quite a few in the collection, usually from older films, that have been printed on three separate sheets. From what I’ve read those are usually considered more rare.

Surprisingly vibrant yellows and reds of this six-sheet for “The Magnetic Monster” (1953)

Six-Sheet posters are 81 x 81 inches, printed on paper stock, usually in four sections, and just like the others, it comes folded up. The tricky part is trying to re-fold it in the same configuration without ripping or tearing anything. These larger posters were used inside theater lobbies or outside on the building’s wall.

There is a lot of really interesting and often untold, movie history neatly folded into these posters. At the bottom of a lot of the posters I kept noticing phrases like: “Property of the National Screen Service.” “Licensed for display only in conjunction with the exhibition of this picture at your theater.” “Must be returned immediately thereafter.” Worried I was in the middle of the archival-equivalent of being pulled over with stolen stereo equipment, I did a little research and found out the NSS began producing and distributing movie trailers for movie studios in the 1920s, only to grow into the main distributor of all theatrical advertising materials in the United States from 1940 until the 1980s when companies began controlling the creation and distribution themselves. Not surprisingly, the fall of the NSS also corresponded with the rise of the multiplex-style movie theater. With the ability to show more than one movie at the same time, the need for elaborate paper-based advertising dropped, and the National Screen Service lost their monopoly.

47 x 62 French re-release of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” (1928)

It’s tough, and perhaps my title has an unintended double meaning, but it’s not just the balancing of work and play that has become difficult in my everyday New York life. With posters so beautiful, brimming with film history and art, how could anyone unfold an unexpected image of Elvis in all his original 1960s glory and shrug? I can, apparently. Perhaps last week I was suffering from a bout of  nostalgia or mal du pays: the sentimental longing for the past or time with happy personal associations; the type of condition that a 17th Century solider would get a good blood-letting or mercury injection for. How could these feelings be anything other than a bizarre oldie-time disease?

Whatever the affliction, my symptoms disappeared with the visit of a dear friend from Western. She brought me a few notable comforts from the Great White North and even though she is technically an American, she helped me celebrate Canada Day in the midst of the concrete jungle.

Heather and I in front of the Canadian consulate on July 1st.

Enjoying a slice of Joe’s Pizza.

Like any good hostess I took Heather to all my favourite places, only to discover new ones on the way. We deliberately avoided too much planning, leaving the hours open to unadulterated exploration. That being said, there were times when we lost our way, got overheated, or retired a little early. The weekend proved a great success on two fronts, which I suppose brings me back full circle. With all the excitement from the weekend I’m energized and ready to go back to work.


I’ve heard that you’re not a true New Yorker until you’ve spent at least ten years in the City. Maybe that’s how long it takes to perfect your balancing act.

Summer in the City: Week One

Although my last two posts have highlighted my gallivants ’round New York, I am here for more than just pleasure. In order to complete my Master’s Degree in Public History I have to complete a summer internship, and I am still in shock for getting to spend the next ten weeks at the Museum of the Moving Image. Unlike some of my previous museum positions, my internship is more behind the scenes, and by the end of my internship, I hope to become fully familiar with the collections management process and inner workings of a major cultural institution like the MoMI.

The Museum
In the heart of Astoria, Queens, the museum occupies a space well deserving of its content. Films like Goodfellas (1990)and Serpico (1973) were both shot in the neighbourhood, which was also called home by the likes of George Costanza’s parents and Archie and Edith Bunker. The 13-building Astoria Studio complex was originally built by Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount, post-1927). The area was designated as their East Coast production facilities in the early decades of silent and ‘talkie’ film making. Following America’s involvement in the Second World War, the studio was taken over by the United States Army who used the space mostly for training and propaganda films, renaming it Signal Corps Photographic Center. Sadly, when the Army vacated the space in the 1970s the studio buildings had seen better days. In an effort to revitalize the site, the Astoria Motion Picture and Television Center Foundation was established and by 1978 the complex was restored, earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1980, the Foundation’s Board of Directors declared their commitment to the creation of a film and television museum, and in 1982 one of the 13 original studio buildings was set aside. The American Museum of the Moving Image (now Museum of the Moving Image) opened to the public in 1988. Since its opening, the museum continues to be recognized as a “major, internationally-reputed institution and the only museum in the United States dedicated to exploring the art, history, and technology of the moving image.”

The last few years the museum has undergone a major expansion and renovation, some of which is still ongoing. Although the exterior of the building may seem unassuming, let me assure you, the interior of the building looks like a futuristic fantasy land, inside an alien spaceship, manufactured by Ikea. It’s pretty cool.

The Job Description
My official title is Collections Management Intern but for those not hip to museum terminology, collections management is comprised of working with artifacts, whether they are actual objects, documents, photographs, or digital materials. That is, a collections manager deals with all the stuff in a museum. Sometimes that involves caring for a particular artifact that may be damaged, or moving an object to a different location, cataloging new objects into the collection, but most importantly: maintaining records for all objects throughout their existence in the museum.

The Job
Inevitably, but no doubt necessary, my first week consisted mostly of introductions, orientations, and a lengthy tour of the museum’s fire exits.

 With a strange intergalactic transportation device parked in my prospective work space, my first task was to assess a recently donated artifact. This includes taking all the pieces apart, in this case there were 26 individual pieces in the box, all of which must be documented, noting every aspect, including: size, shape, components, colour, condition, etc.

c.1900s, Magic Lantern

After a few other odd jobs, I dived into my big task of the week: photographing and documenting a series of duplicate movie posters. Because the posters range in size anywhere from 16 x 21 inches to 108 x 246 inches, I needed a large enough space to open up the folded ephemera, but that’s no problem now that the space bicycle has been moved back to the lobby.It’s a fun little task, not only because I get to look at oodles of film art from the 1950s-1980s, but it’s prepping me for the larger goal of fully assessing the rest of the donated collection of 4000+ posters, promotional booklets, and lobby cards. Thank the archive heavens for Prof. Spanner, who totally prepared me for all the archive sleuthing needed to try and figure out what exactly is included in the collection. Also, I never thought I would admit this, but thank goodness for the French 9005 translation course; most of the movie poster collection is from foreign (French) distributors.

The Perks
Aside from my daily interactions with a stellar staff and inspiring collection, I also get access to most of the film screenings, and on Thursday I took advantage of that perk. In conjunction with MoMI’s newest exhibit: Magnificent Obsessions, they held a special screening of Far From Heaven (2002), followed by a talk with writer/director Todd Haynes, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Sally Powell.

Myself and a few other interns who stayed for the screening and talk

It’s almost bitter sweet to cross week one off on my calender. On one hand, I’m so excited to see what next week has in store for me, but on the other, I feel like everything is moving too quickly. That being said, having weekends off leaves me with the perfect opportunity to (sleep in) soak up more of New York.

Soaking it up

Summer in the City: Becoming a New Yorker

Hey! I’m walkin’ here!

After my visa was accepted I was asked to complete an online American cultural seminar in order to prepare myself for culture shock. At first, I entertained the novelty of the lessons, which included suggestions on proper workplace attire, how to hold eye contact, socially acceptable hand shake styles, and a friendly reminder to wear deodorant and shower regularly. All very important tips I might add, but I didn’t take it seriously. Retrospectively, I was naive to think I would be immune to culture shock; as soon as I got off the plane I was bombarded with an overwhelming amount of foreign noises and scents. I wanted to digress in a short post to discuss my adoption of the New York lifestyle and culture.

For the most part, I’ve grown accustom to the smells. As for the noise, I have invested in a good set of ear plugs for sleeping, and I know for next year to avoid fifth avenue during National Puerto Rican Day.  There is one aspect of big city life where I’m still lagging behind; forget deodorant, the training module should have explained walking speed. After two weeks living in New York, here’s what I’ve concluded: cross the street when everyone crosses. Don’t look at the walk light – just cross. Because if you don’t, chances are you’ll hear an unimpressed grunt, or receive a more physical form of encouragement, both undoubtedly translate into: move your keester, lady. That being said, keep your eyes on oncoming traffic and cabs turning right – they don’t pay attention to the traffic lights either. As for the subway: make sure your metro card has money on it before you step up to the turnstile, and swipe slow but forcefully. Anymore than three swipes, blue Armani suit man behind you has to take the 8:51 M train instead of the 8:45, and he will loudly inform you how late you’ve made him.

So many people!

Lack of patience aside, I’ve found most people to be warm and willing to point me in the right direction, offer me a subway seat, or open the door. Everything here is amplified to a degree of intensity I was not prepared for, the sheer amount of people in NYC is astounding. I would try and quote exact population numbers, but let’s just say however many people you think are here, multiple that by a million. NYC makes Toronto seem like moderately paced urban village.
Population density aside, there are some quiet and culture-filled spots I’ve found in the city so far. I spent my Friday night at the New York Historical Society Museum and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Starting with an 18 minute film that explores the history of New York, and the forces that shaped the United States and the city, discovering themes and core notions that sit at their nexus. Informative and entertaining!

Amazing visible storage facility at the Historical Society.

Sculpture garden outside of the MoMA

That wasn’t the only spot I found educational and culturally enlightening. With a week to get lost in the city, I took a tour of the Midtown New York Library, saw my first live cockroach at the American Museum of Natural History, got off at the wrong subway stop and walked 100 blocks down the Avenue of the Americas, got confused at the Museum of Modern Art, and pushed through deal-hungry shoppers at Macy’s.

The last aspect of my new, New York lifestyle I didn’t expect is the lack of easily accessible grocery stores. Not to mention the ridiculous price of foods and trying to navigate through hordes of people while carrying bags. I did managed to find a farmers market in Union Square on the weekend, but in most cases it’s cheaper and easier to just buy a quick snack, and not bother with shopping and home cooking.

Luscious and green!

There are still a ton of New York sites I have to visit, but every day I’m crossing more things off my list. Before I dive into another post, allow me to leave you with one piece of NYC wisdom:

If the friendly street vendor tells you the coffee is hot

do not take the first sip while riding the subway

you will most definitely burn your tongue.