Friday, July 13, 2012

When Revitalization Attacks!

Whoever would have thought such silliness could help make
Phoenixville so successful 50 years later?
As a certified science (and science fiction) geek, it goes without saying that I have seen "The Blob" ... alright, I've seen it many times.

The quintessential schlock movie of the 1950s, it is made all the more remarkable for the fact that it features a young Steve McQueen.

It is built on a classic plot line, still used today, of the child or teenager who knows the truth about something but no one will listen to or believe them.

(First made possible in "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" no doubt.)

I also think this film is important because I'm pretty sure it was the inspiration for the bean bag chair.

But mostly, this film is important for Phoenixville.

The modern day version of "The Run Out."
As a story in Thursday's Mercury outlined, the seemingly flimsy fact that the film climaxes at the still-standing Colonial Theater has formed the basis for a weekend-long festival that fills the streets, stores and merchant cash registers of the borough's historic downtown.

This off-beat celebration is not the kind of thing most people think of when we say "heritage tourism," but that's exactly what it is.

It is a unique event that could not occur anywhere else in America; an event that is based on a historic event on which the borough has capitalized to bring people to their downtown.

My family attended for the first time last year with friends and I was surprised, pleasantly so, not just at the variety of activities there, and the fact that the merchants were all open for business, but at how completely packed the streets were.

The merchants are apparently enticed to participate with a window decorating contest with free on-screen advertising for six months to a year at the theater. Talk about buying local!

(Click here for more on this year's street fair.)

Understand, I am not a devotee of all things Fifties, although I recognize it is a powerful demographic and you have to go with what you're given. So the Elvis impersonator on Bridge Street didn't do much to float my boat, but it was obviously right up the collective alleys of many of the people there.

You mean the merchants were actually open when the streets
were filled with customers?!? Oh the horror...
(actually, this is a scene from "Caltiki, The Immortal Monster,"
which will also be shown this weekend.
(This year's street entertainment features: Hot Rod Scott & Professor Ouch of The Roots Rockabilly Roadhouse on  WPRB 103.3FM with special guests Ghoul A Go-G0, Wes Shank and the Original Blob, The Patient Creatures, The Violators Motor Club; and music by The Buzzards.

I am, unfortunately for my family, a fan of movies so bad they're good, so The Blob is right up my alley.

I tend to agree with the reviews posted on The Colonial's web site: "Bruce Eder’s description of The Blob is “like watching some kind of collective home movie of who we were and who we thought we were.” Or maybe it’s simply the best film ever to pit hot-rodding teens against a mass of silicone. It delivers the goods any way you look at it.”

Regardless, it was a delight to watch it with a crowd of screaming fans in the iconic theater instead of at 3 a.m. with a bag of stale microwave popcorn.

Last year was also, I'm ashamed to admit, my first time inside The Colonial, and I was impressed both by how much has been accomplished, and by how much more needs to be done -- Truly a work in progress.

Less impressive was the introductory film, made locally (and badly) which tried to match the tone of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and was, to be kind, but a pale reflection of that masterwork of camp.

I wonder if Klatuu, the giant robot in this film, was programmed
with Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics?
But the spirit was there, as it no doubt will be tonight when "the run-out" occurs, an annual (and sold-out) event during which the entire audience runs out of the theater at the point in the movie when, you guessed it, everybody runs out of the theater.

Truly life imitating art.

For those without tickets, you can still attend the Fifth Annual Blob Ball next door to the theater at P.J. Ryan’s Underground tonight, starting at 8:30 p.m..

This year's complimentary Sci-fi classics to be shown will include "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (the original), and something irresistibly named: "Caltiki, The Immortal Monster."

The point in all of this is not to simply highlight a pretty cool event, but to make the point that history is not just men in wigs and knee-breeches or knights in armor (although I will remain a fan of both until I die) and that the more towns learn to take advantage of the things that make them unique -- the quirkier the better, in my opinion -- the more success they will find from "heritage tourism."

Hat's off to Phoenixville for figuring this one out, and taking advantage of what assets are at hand.

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