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August 24, 2013

BILL EGGERT | Johnstown’s geography of cinema

— While we are familiar with the subject of geography, many are no doubt unfamiliar with the concept of it within the confines of movies. Yet we are on some level, if only subconsciously. 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 being a metaphor for Rocky’s ascent to the top? It is a favorite spot for tourists to visit, as they replay that classic scene mentally, substituting themselves into that movie.

Another issue within the geography of cinema involves the incidental documentation (visually) of areas that have changed since the filming of a particular movie, 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 featured 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 Inclined Plane and Morley’s Dog.

Johnstown’s cinematic geography will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Monday at Pitt-Johnstown’s Blackington Hall (Auditorium 138) with a screening of the hour-long comedy “Dark Nights,” which was shot locally.

The event is hosted by Pitt-Johnstown’s Geography Club, along with its adviser, Dr. Bill Kory.

The film showcases such diverse areas as Cambria City, Richland and Windber. The locations include both public venues, such as VOMA, YWCA and Alpaca Ventures, and private residences, such as the Sacerino estate and the Grand Midway Hotel. Each area has its own unique characteristics, which lend themselves to a diversity of compositions for each scene.

Alpaca Ventures, an alpaca farm, and the Sacerino estate are in the beautiful pastoral hills of the Laurel Mountains.

The alpaca farm was the site of about a half-dozen different settings for the film.

I was hoping to get some of the majestic alpacas in my shots, but the shy animals deftly evaded my camera with the evasiveness of Sean Penn.

The Sacerino estate doubled for the iconic “stately Wayne manor.”  The beautifully landscaped grounds were matched by the décor of the house itself, featuring an impressive music room filled with everything from a pipe organ to a flugelhorn.

VOMA, the Venue of Merging Arts (in Cambria City) and the YWCA (downtown Johns-town) were also gracious in accommodating our small cast and crew.

Likewise the spooky Grand Midway Hotel in Windber was hospitable as well, and even granted us access to filming perennial guests the Cadillac Creeps, the iconic Goth rock band out of Florida who were visiting at the time.

I would like to thank and acknowledge those individuals who assisted me in this cinematic production: John and Barb Sacerino, Diane and Michael Beaver (Alpaca Ventures), Blair Murphy (Grand Midway Hotel), Janet and Dennis Mical and Adam Mundok of VOMA, and the staff and board of the YWCA of Greater Johnstown.

Thanks also to Dr. Bill Kory and Jake Wolff of the UPJ Geography Club and Kathleen Clawson of UPJ. Your kindness and graciousness were all greatly appreciated. Thanks also to my cast and crew, especially Sandra Wirfel, locations finder, and Tommy Venet, ultimate Jack of all trades.

The making of a film is a collaborative effort. I was blessed with many in that regard. The film, a spoof of the 1960s TV show “Batman,” is a comic updating of that program.

The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30.

I look forward to seeing you folks there.

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