Who or what is responsible for museum sleepovers? “Night at the Museum” — inspirational children’s fantasy film or threat to maternal lumbar health? Yeah, whatever. That’s where I was this weekend. At the Henry Ford/Greenfield Village complex.
Remind me to never do it again. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the execution’s all wrong. The root problem is, when you put 30 fifth-grade girls together on a warm Saturday with 24 hours of fun activities ahead of them, they get a little excited. So what’s the first rule? No running, no loud voices, no this, no that, no no no. This casts all the chaperones in the role of Joseph Stalin, a familiar one for the modern parent, but not a comfortable one. I had five girls in my mini-group, and all I did was nag. Knock it off, cut it out, don’t make me tell you again.
At some point, there’s a good argument to be made for just turning them out, like yearling fillies. Let them run around the pasture kicking up their heels before you try to teach them anything.
This was my first trip to Dearborn’s big attraction, and between bouts of arm-twisting, I could see why it’s so popular — it really is a fine museum, dedicated to the American experience, particularly in Ford’s lifetime, probably a subject beyond the appreciation of most fifth-graders. Not mine, however. It’s hard to look at some of the exhibits there and at Greenfield Village — Thomas Edison’s workshop, Henry’s Model T, the Wright Brothers’ bike shop — and not be impressed. Here’s Orville Wright in the dunes at Kitty Hawk and he faces the wind in his strange contraption, then cables home to dad: “Inform press.” Henry’s great idea, the assembly line, drops the price of a car by more than 60 percent and his factories create the American middle class.
I wanted more of the dark side, though. These 20th-century titans were as much defined by their flaws as their virtues (as all of us are). There’s a whole section on the civil-rights movement — including Rosa Parks’ bus — but nothing on the Dearborn Independent (that I saw, anyway, and admittedly I didn’t see every part of the place). It would be a tricky exhibit to put together, but I don’t know why someone shouldn’t try.
Day two, spent outdoors at Greenfield Village, was better. Sleep deprivation sapped everyone’s horsing-around energy, so other than having to smack down the incessant blowing of the Weinermobile whistles, we had a nice time. Ran into an avid cyclist in the Wright Brothers’ bike shop, who pointed out the slot in the actual W.B. bike seat in the window. The slotted seat was recently revived for modern cyclists, and is said to relieve a whole set of nasty symptoms, including the dreaded Cyclist’s E.D. And yet, all anybody wants to credit them with is that dumb flying thing.
I left early, however, and ran off to the Detroit Film Center to take a half-day class in lighting. I don’t expect to use it for anything other than appreciating movies, but I learned a thing or two, including:
* Many of the old Hollywood babes had lighting issues written into their contracts, usually specific clauses saying they had to be lit X thousand foot-candles brighter than anyone else. Because they’re stars, dammit, and stars shine.
* No one in showbiz is as bugged by “Hollywood rain” as I am. This is the artificial rain created by sprinklers, usually on sparkling Los Angeles days, so you get the incongruous shot of the stars embracing in a downpour, casting sharp shadows through rainbow sparkles. This is just what rain is, in the movies. Deal.
* Directors of photography carry a bag of tricks that require trucks to haul around, so if you looked in the mirror this morning and didn’t see Kim Basinger looking back, don’t feel bad. Neither did she.
* SunPATH, sun-tracking software, is a sextant in reverse. Instead of using the sun to find your position on earth, you use your position on earth to find the sun.
* Gordon Willis loves wet gutters. The teacher worked with him on “Presumed Innocent,” and said he had a standing order that in all street scenes, the gutters be wet. Crew guys walked around with tanks on their backs, keeping them nice and puddly. They give the scene depth, he said, a nice delineation between sidewalk and street.
Oh, and I also learned the difference between a gaffer and a key grip. But I consider it my secret.
Bloggage? Oh, let’s leave that to you folks. Anyone see “Expelled” this weekend?