Sunday Mass at the MOMI (on a Friday)

Films have a way of speaking to you in the same way that a Tarot card reading predicts your future. These visual stories have a way of inviting you to look inward at some personal inner space for a moment of self-reflection, and if you’re someone who believes in some spiritual force, these films oftentimes find you at the perfect moment.

Growing up and having learned countless lessons from the many films screened between weekend divorce-visits with my dad and in the midst of my first year of college (when I would opt for my dorm bunk bed and IMDB-Top-100 recommended marathon DVDs over partying with friends), movies were sort of like my church. Though not a particular fan of religious institutions, I was raised on the idea of congregating on special occasions, if only to remind us of what we are supposed to believe in.

Picking up an orange VHS copy of Good Burger at the local Blockbuster and microwaving-up a giant bowl of popcorn, or going for pizza (squished in the backseat of a small pickup truck) before heading to the small town theater to watch whatever Summer blockbuster was out, felt more to me like a proper religious ceremony. Even now, deciding on which film to stream is a sacred act, choosing one house of viewing over another may be difficult (student discount days at that AMC with the lounge chairs, I’m looking at you,) and the careful musings about the story’s teachings on the post-credit drive home are the most anticipated moments.

Though the traditions have changed over the years, sitting down to watch a movie has remained as much of a communal and magical act as it always was.

What I loved about the Cinema Playhouse exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y. was the display of such ceremony in the photos of abandoned cinema houses in India. Though now mostly outdated and decaying, the photos reveal the unique architecture the owner’s themselves designed for these spaces. It’s easy to picture what these beloved auditoriums would have looked like in their better days, likely filled with people interacting with the films on screen, either in the practice of cheering on a famous film actor or singing along to a musical number. For many years in India, films had opened up an inviting place for the community to gather and celebrate, where voices would be heard and new ideas displayed.

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Walking into the Behind the Scenes exhibition, I was transported back to a simpler time. I remember a room full of my brother’s friends singing along with Labyrinth while incredibly hungover at some cabin in the Poconos, Annie Hall herself helped me get over that ex right around the same time of that post-grad depression, and those Mrs. Doubtfire quotes still come up at the most appropriate times during our annual family beach vacations. Oh, and not to mention the Jim Henson exhibit that brought up PTSD inducing flashbacks of 6-year-old me being called “Ms. Piggy” by certain unmentionable family members (...but I’ll go ahead and shove that one back down.)

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The Behind the Scenes exhibit also reminds ordinary audiences of just how much work goes into the creation of a film. From the wardrobe departments, to props, to prosthetics, every person on a movie set has a role to play in bringing story, characters, and entire universes to life. These creations then call together and inspire a neighborhood of strangers for a viewing of the final film from the comfort of theater seats (or, perhaps more intimately, the living room couch.) I believe my own interest in working in the film industry is informed by the reality that these collaborative projects cannot be properly created, or enjoyed, without community.

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Before this visit, I had only ever heard of the MOMI in passing, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went - perhaps rooms of ancient film equipment with monotonous descriptions my eyes would likely gloss over. But to my pleasant surprise, the MOMI was a time capsule full of all of my favorite memories, in form of nostalgic relics from movies that meant different things at those different moments in my life. If you plan on visiting, note: it’s free on Friday’s!

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