The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

August 21, 2011

BILL EGGERT | UPJ event highlights geography in cinema

— While most people are familiar with the subject of geography, many are no doubt unfamiliar with the concept of geography within the confines of movies.

The geography of cinema comes into play when movies are shot on pre-existing locations. The issue of “representation” is the most obvious issue in this context.

An example of this would be the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 72 outdoor steps leading to its entrance. They have become celebrated during the past 35 years, thanks to the classic film “Rocky.”

Who can forget that pivotal scene where Sylvester Stallone runs up those steps to the music of “Gonna Fly Now” – the steps serving as a metaphor for Rocky’s ascent to the top?

It has become a favorite spot for tourists to visit in that city, as they replay the scene in their mind, substituting themselves for the film boxer.

Another issue within the geography of cinema involves the incidental documentation (visually) of areas that have changed since the shooting of a particular film, or buildings that no longer exist – such as the World Trade Towers. An example of this would be the 1997 film “Cop Land,” which prominently features the World Trade Towers near the end of the film, inadvertently adding a tragic subtext to a film released four years before the horrific events of 9/11.

Johnstown is an area rich in visual imagery, featuring such landmarks as the old Stone Bridge, Central Park, the Incline Plane, Morley’s Dog and several historic churches throughout the area.

The region’s cinematic geography is celebrated at Pitt-Johnstown’s Blackington Hall (Auditorium 138) at 7 p.m. today – with an evening of three recent short comedies shot locally. The event is hosted by Pitt-Johnstown’s geography club, along with adviser Bill Kory.

The main feature, “Slip Shot,” is a comic homage to Johnstown’s favorite movie: “Slap Shot,” which is rich in its visual documentation of

Johnstown in 1976.

“Slip Shot” likewise celebrates those same locations of downtown, but they now have an added layer of significance, as they also reference the movie itself.

Of particular note is the Franklin Mill scene, which has changed dramatically since 1976. Also of note is the different fountain in Central Park, and the relocation of Morley’s Dog.

Another film, “Paris on the Stony Creek,” also features many of Johnstown’s landmarks, including one that no longer exists – the historic

Elks Lodge, which has been torn down since the filming.

Other landmarks, such as the Franklin Street Bridge, take on an added significance as a local backdrop for Johns-town moviegoers to relate to.

The third film of the trilogy is “I Shopped with a Zombie,” which was shot on location of the 1978 George Romero film “Dawn of the Dead.”

Again, this spoof of Romero’s classic zombie film references not only the Monroeville Mall, but also the Romero film’s added context of that popular venue and cinematic location.

Many of the local actors, as well as the filmmaker (full disclosure: Yours truly) will be on hand for the tonight’s Pitt-Johnstown screening.

A question-and-answer session will be held afterward, if time permits. Of particular note: UPJ will offer the local premiere of the “Slip Shot” screening.

The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend.

See you there.            

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown native. You can read his blog  at http://thebillvilleblog.word-press.com.

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