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5:44 PM / Tuesday March 28, 2023

7 Mar 2015

Hooray for Phillywood!

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March 7, 2015 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Eastern State Penitentiary

By Renée S. Gordon

Human beings have had a love affair with moving pictures since the first prehistoric man, or woman, used moving shadows on a cave wall to tell a story. Experimentation in the field began in earnest in the mid-19th century and in the 1890s very brief, a few seconds, moving shorts began to appear. It is generally accepted that the Lumiére Brothers, Auguste and Louis, produced the first moving pictures for a large audience in Lyon, France. The brothers were inspired after seeing Edison’s Kinetoscope, an invention that allowed a single viewer at a time to see pictures through a peephole.

The Lumiéres invented the Cinématographe, a machine that was hand cranked and could record, develop and project film. They recorded their staff and the result, “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” has gone down in history as the earliest motion picture. It was first shown n Paris to a select group. On December 28, 1895 the film was shown to the public and a new industry was born. The brothers were in the business for only ten years but during that time they made more than 35 movies and the first newsreel. The first moving pictures were just that, moving pictures. There was no plot and the emphasis was on human motion and it was not until after 1900 that a storytelling element was added.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is credited with being the spark that ignited the Philadelphia film industry. Stallone, a Philly native, set the story in and around his old neighborhood in 1976 and ten years later the Greater Philadelphia Film Office was established. That year a single movie, Mannequin, was filmed in the city. Stallone’s love affair with Philadelphia continues. His latest movie in the Rocky series, Creed, is being filmed in the city and is due to open in November.

The 2015 Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS) Philadelphia Flower Show, from February 28th to March 8th at the Convention Center, will “Celebrate the Movies.” Inspiration for the landscape and floral displays has been drawn from Disney and Disney-Pixar films. The Flower Show Entrance Garden takes the form of an Art Deco movie theater premier experience, red carpet, sweeping neon lights and all. Guests can select from a menu of events and activities that include theme nights and special appearances by Dan Aykroyd and Gene London. A highlight of the show is Cinderella’s glass slipper on loan from the Disney live-action film.

London, host of a very popular television show from 1958-77, will be displaying and talking about 55 glamorous costumes from his Hollywood collection. Gowns worn by such luminaries as Mae West, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe will be among those presented. Joan Crawford gifted him with a few pieces from her wardrobe and his collection has grown to more than 60,000 from there.

Bank of America is the Exclusive Sponsor of the Flower Show and it too has a long lasting relationship with the silver screen. Amadeo P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America financed Hollywood projects beginning with Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid in 1921. He lent Walt Disney the money to finance Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and when David O. Selznick lacked funding to complete Gone With the Wind, Giannini was shown the completed footage and then agreed to lend the funds to complete the film. A small, museum-like display at the Flower Show details this history through exhibitions of original documents, photographs and both vintage and modern movie posters. Bank of America continues to finance films, most recently assisting with funding for Twelve Years a Slave and Birdman.

Last year the show received the 2014 Grand Pinnacle Gold Award as the world’s top event by the International Festivals & Events Association. The show was first held in 1829 and is the oldest, largest and longest running indoor greening event in the world. (215) 988-8899. www.theFlowerShow.com

PHS was established in 1827 and today has more than 65,000 members. Money generated from the Flower Show finances additional, year-round; programs and events including 140 community gardens that provide seasonal produce for more than 1,500 families weekly and the society has invested $25-million in beautification of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Information about the organization is available online. www.PHSonline.org

A Philadelphia movie sites tour, leaving from the Visitors Center, is offered each Saturday. For 3-hours guests get to sit back in a comfortable tour bus, watch more than 70 movie clips and visit the locations where the scenes were shot. There are stops and plenty of pauses for photos. The tour visits more neighborhoods than any other city tour and several of the locations are little known to even longtime city residents.

The Greater Philadelphia Film Office in its thirty years of operation has acquired lots of expertise and more than 100,000 photographs of possible filming locations. Along the route the guide explains the language of the filmmaker and concepts such as CGI and continuity and how they turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. A snippet from Beloved, featuring Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey, is shown and we learn how the basic architecture on N. 3rd St. dates from the 1860s and an alley midway the block framed a pivotal scene.

Guests are also privy to insider information. In Philadelphia there is no rental fee to film in a government building and that just may be why so many scenes are shot inside them and on the grounds. Great examples are Shooter and National Treasure. Ben and J. Lo were at the height of their romance while filming Jersey Girl and it is while in the city he gifted her with a 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring and matching diamond bezel Rolexes for both she and her mother. Their cozy scene in the Famous 4th Street Deli really was cozy. Denzel Washington appears in the deli in Philadelphia and a scene from In Her Shoes was also shot here. On St. Albans Street, a hidden gem, visitors get to sit on the bench where Bruce Willis sat in Sixth Sense and gazed across at the home of Haley Joel Osment as he waits for him to leave for school.

“Intermission,” a stop midway the tour, is at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Riders get to take a selfie with Rocky at the base of the steps or run up the 72  steps and wave their hands in the air for the ultimate iconic Phillywood photo. Check the website for pricing and schedule and do not miss this tour. www.moviesitestour.com

No movie sites tour or Philadelphia tour of any type is worthwhile without a nod to Eastern State Penitentiary. Travelers have made their way to this prison since it was constructed and it was even on Charles Dickens’ bucket list when he visited the United States in 1842. After his tour he wrote, ”I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creature.”

Solitary confinement appears to be the experimental outgrowth of a Quaker philosophy that was formulated in the late 1700s in Philadelphia. The Quakers did not believe that corporal punishment in any way benefitted prisoners. They felt instead that the incarcerated should be placed in an environment where they could not interact with other individuals, solitary confinement, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their criminal past, repent and be rehabilitated. The Quakers formed the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons in 1787. The Walnut Street Prison was the first place this concept of repentance was put into practice. The idea would come to be known as the Philadelphia Plan and institutions were called “penitentiaries,” Latin for remorse. 

The U-shaped prison was built in 1773 and functioned as a traditional prison until 1790 when the Penitentiary House, a block with individual cells with high up, covered, windows was added in 1790. Prior to that adults and children were housed together, rape, fisticuffs and robbery were frequent and alcohol was sold openly to inmates. Jail was a harrowing experience.

Walnut Street Prison’s isolation block was quickly overcrowded and a site then outside of Philadelphia, a cherry orchard on a hill, was selected as the site for the new Eastern State Penitentiary, a forbidding stone castle on a hill with the purpose of making people not want to go there.

Construction of Eastern State Penitentiary began in a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia in 1822. The chosen design, created by British-born architect John Haviland, was unlike any seen before, seven wings of individual cellblocks radiated from a central room. The design allowed a single guard to monitor the entire complex. Individual cells were outfitted with more amenities than the White House, flush toilets, showers and central heat. Charles Williams, the first prisoner, entered Eastern State on October 23, 1829. He wore a hood upon entering and served his 2-year term in isolation, his single possession a Bible. Many prisoners lost their minds as a result of the unrelenting isolation. In 1913 they revised the system

Tours of Eastern State are extremely popular and both docent-led and self-guided tours are available. Steve Buscemi narrates the audio tour and the Halloween Tour, “Terror Behind the Walls,” is consistently designated one of the top Halloween tours in the nation.

Visits begin on the exterior and proceed inside the gates and into the prison itself. You are treated to information on the history and daily operation of the prison as well as colorful stories of notorious prisoners, Al Capone, “Slick” Willy Sutton and Elmo Smith, escapes and escapades. There are areas with interpretive materials, on-site interpreters and photo ops inside a cell and at a recreation of Capone’s cell on Park Avenue.  Capone was incarcerated for gun possession and was released early for good behavior.

On the tour visitors are taken to Eastern States’ movie sites including the courtyard where Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen took place. Brad Pitt earned an Academy Award nomination in 1976 for his scenes in the prison as a mental patient in 12 Monkeys. Eastern State stood in for the mental institution where he and Bruce Willis met.  Tina Turner filmed a 1985 music video for “One of the Living,” the Grammy winning theme song from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, in the prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary hosts tours, special events, art installations educational and interactive programs on a regular basis. Information is available online. www.easternstate.org

There are themed eateries at the Flower Show but if you opt to munch on a movie set then the 78,000-sq.ft Reading Terminal Market is for you. The market was established in 1892 and is the oldest continuously operated indoor market in the country. The food is fresh, locally sourced and delicious and the variety runs the gamut of Philly favorites.  You can eat in or dine out. www.readingterminalmarket.org

Two don’t miss restaurants are Kevin Parker’s Soul Food Café and DiNic’s. Located adjacent to one another, these award-winning eateries offer tantalizing options. www.kevenparker.net.

DiNic’s Italian Pulled Pork sandwich has been designated the “Best Sandwich in America” by the Travel Channel. www.tommydinics.com

Have a day, or weekend, out at the movies in Phillywood. www.visitphilly.com and www.uwishunu.com

I wish you smooth travels!

Travel Tips:

“Mighty Real” a Fabulous Sylvester Musical will be in Philadelphia April 3-5 at the Painted Bride. This D.I.V.A. Production is both entertaining and thought provoking. Tickets are currently on sale. www.FabulousSylvestor.com

The Penn Museum will host four nationally renowned Native American hip hop artists on Saturday, March 21st. The program includes afternoon sessions of spoken word poetry and panel discussion at 3 PM. An 8 PM concert will be held in Widener Hall. www.pennmuseum

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