Monday, June 6, 2016

Pennsylvania films on the small screen

Before we began our trek across the country, we choose a number of films to watch in various states. We had many options for Pennsylvania but we went with Rocky. We couldn't have known how suitable the film would be for the events of the day as well as the location. Last Friday, Muhammad Ali, the model for the Apollo Creed character in the film, passed away. At the 1977 Oscars, Ali joked with Sylvester Stallone, the film's writer and star, that he had written the film. Stallone said even if didn't win an Oscar (and he did not, for his acting or writing nominations, though the film won Best Picture), it was enough to meet the boxing legend.

The film was shot on location in Philadelphia; the most famous set from the film is most certainly the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rocky trained running up the steps and many (myself included) have run in his steps.

There is, maybe, a church in the film. Rocky's first fight in the film, a dingy event with Rocky defeating an over the hill bum, seems to take place in a church basement with a painting of Jesus on the wall. Rocky seems to be a Catholic, and we see him praying in the film. His decision to sleep with his girlfriend Adrian, however, seems to be made with more consideration of athletic rather than moral consequences.

Because they are so many films set and or shot in Pennsylvania, I've decided to limit myself to writing about ten (Rocky included).

Nightof the Living Dead is the film that deserves the most credit (or blame) for the zombie craze that continues to be a dominant cultural trend. Written and directed by Pittsburgh native George Romero in 1968, the low budget black and white film made a fortune for someone -- but not the film's makers. The movie was soon placed in public domain. The idea of zombies had been a part of the culture before the film, but the image of slow, shuffling creatures that must be shot in the head are chiefly Romero's creation. Romero went on to make a great number of other horror films in his home state.

Another Pennsylvania filmmaker known for his work in horror is M. Night Shymalan, who  broke into popular culture with 1999's ghost story, The Sixth Sense, which starred Bruce Willis and is set in Philadelphia. The film was nominated for Best Picture, and it is widely regarded as the pinnacle of Shymalan's career (which has since suffered a great descent).

Another Best Picture nominee set (and filmed) in Philadelphia's western suburbs is 2012's Silver Linings Playbook. The comedy/drama about star crossed, mentally ill lovers won Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar for Best Actress.

The 1940 classic comedy The Philadelphia Story won Jimmy Stewart an Oscar as Best Actor (but the film was made in Hollywood). 1978's Vietnam war drama, The Deer Hunter, was partially set in Pennsylvania. Though Thailand took the role of Vietnam, Pennsylvania for the most part played itself. This film also won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Another  film, about another war, 1993's Gettysburg was filmed almost entirely on the grounds of the Civil War battle site.

Another film partially set and filmed in Pennsylvania is 2011's Machine Gun Preacher, but I only mention it because it was the subject of a previous Movie Churches post. Brian De Palma's 1981 John Travolta thriller, Blow Out,was set and filmed almost entirely in Pennsylvania. I mention this film because a De Palma film will be the subject of Wednesday's Movie Churches post.

Finally, I have to mention another Pennsylvania film also nominated for Best Picture, 1985's Witness. Australian Peter Weir directed Harrison Ford in the thriller about a Philadelphia policeman who is forced to hide out in Lancaster County. The film does a wonderful job of detailing the culture of the Amish people and showing the virtue of nonviolence.

Wednesday's post will focus on the big screen: we visited a special theater in Pennsylvania.

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