Moving Image: An eye to many screens
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These toys, together with a marvelous kinetic sculpture by Gregory Barsamian called "Feral Fount", drive the point home simply and entertainingly: that moving images are illusions. "Feral Fount" is a rapidly rotating armature affixed with 97 small sculptures, each differing slightly from the preceding one; the armature's dizzying spin, combined with the effect of a strobe lamp, make a convincing case that the viewer is seeing a drop of water transform itself into a bomb shape and eventually into a paper airplane that shatters a dish at the bottom of the sculpture. "Fount", along with its earlier counterparts — including a pair of fully operational hand-cranked Mutoscope viewing machines — illustrate the phenomena of "persistence of vision" — a characteristic of human perception in which an image remains on the retina for a split second after it disappears, allowing us to see continuous moving images where none actually exists. (Peter Mark Roget, of Thesaurus fame, defined persistence of vision scientifically in the 1820s).
As the sophistication of film and video technology evolves, so do the museum's interactive exhibits. Kids, and adults, can make video "flipbooks" of their body movements; or project their images, via the video technology known as Chroma Key, into the background and foreground of their choice. (If you ever wanted to be a TV weatherman, this is definitely your chance). Those interested in animation can make their own little films, frame-by-frame, at computer animation terminals. Meanwhile, budding actors can practice their "looping" — better known as dubbing — to some classic film clips in the museum's sound recording booth. Demonstrations of film editing, computer-generated imagery, and animation are held three or four times a day. The institution's display of both film and television cameras, editing and sound equipment, lighting devices, merchandizing, and special effects technology are superb. (In regard to special effects, parents with very young children should be conscious of the exhibit of Linda Blair's doll likeness from The Exorcist, or the ferocious mechanical puppets used for the horror film Wolfen). For live TV enthusiasts, there's even a TV control room set-up where visitors can listen to a recording of director Bill Webb handling a 1998 Yankee broadcast.
The museum also houses, strictly for entertainment purposes, the completely wonderful "Tut's Fever Movie Palace", a combination Grauman's Egyptian Theatre/fun house for kids designed by Pop master Red Grooms and Lysiane Luong. Tiny but with more magnificent details inside it to mention here, the theater houses screenings of classic movie serials — through September 13, 1938's The Spider's Web; and beginning September 14, 1937's Blake of Scotland Yard. Roll film.
The American Museum of the Moving Image is located at 35th Avenue at 36th Street in Astoria. For more information, call (718) 784-0077 or go to www.ammi.org.