“Know what's weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon...everything's different.” Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes
I saw the movie The Wrestler this weekend starring Mickey Rourke. Several things drew me to it.
First, I’ve always been a Mickey Rourke fan. It’s a guy thing. And The Pope of Greenwich Village was the best movie…I don’t know…ever.
Mickey Rourke has a certain affinity for our area. Part of Pope of Greenwich Village was filmed at Monmouth Park. Twenty years ago he starred in “Homeboy,” much of it filmed in Asbury Park. I recall standing at Bam Bam Bigelow’s wedding in Ocean Township and some of the media were rushing off to get pictures of Rourke shooting in AP.
So I figured some of the Wrestler would be shot in Asbury Park. Sure enough there she was on the big screen. This time though, there was something different about Asbury Park in the movies.
Before I tell you what it was, let me give some history first about Asbury Park’s beachfront and the arts.
Something compels artsy people to abandoned, beat up buildings. Every up-and-coming band seems to think that if they take their picture in a rough looking place they can gain instant street-cred. So, with its deep musical history and abundance of ruined buildings, Asbury Park has seen expensive cars show up from rich suburbs and empty out a bunch of young musicians with self-torn new clothes to take CD cover photos in front of cracked and peeled facades, only to leave and head off to Fromagerie in Rumson for steak and lobster to celebrate a job well done. Real tough guys, eh?
One version of the video game Grand Theft Auto, the theme of which is crooks taking over the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, has scenes in Asbury Park. Apparently even cartoons were afraid to come here.
Photographers shoot rotting AP buildings like it’s a public service or something.
The movie industry has had the same idea about Asbury Park. When some rough looking slum was needed, Hollywood could save a little dough by shooting in AP instead of building a set.
When Robert DeNiro shot City By the Sea here years back, the producers actually made Asbury Park look even worse than it was back then. I remember rolling on the boardwalk laughing when I read a sign left by the production company promising to “return the boardwalk to the condition we found it.” “No thanks,” I laughed. “We’re not using it anyway.”
A couple years back there was some buzz around Asbury Park that there were suddenly gang signs painted on the old Power Plant that suggested MS-13, a nasty as hell Salvadoran gang, was here. It turned out Hillary Duff was filming at the boardwalk, and if Asbury Park was going to be in a movie, she was going to look like a badass. Thanks for the scare, Hillary.
So you get the idea – if Asbury Park was in the arts, as pretty as she is, artsy folks were going to make her look awful. Think Charlize Theron in The Monster.
The producers of The Wrestler must have had some surprise when they showed up in Asbury Park, because the boardwalk between Convention Hall and the Casino looks great. There was apparently no way for even movie magic to make it look bad.
To show a beat up beachfront, Rourke and his co-star playing his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) had to shoot a scene in the yet to be developed area north of Convention Hall, and at the other end of the boardwalk in the yet to be finished Casino. They had to skip the 5 blocks in the middle that are pretty now. The shots facing out from inside Casino showing those 5 blocks were subjected to a little trick photography – the area was washed out with light so you couldn’t see how nice it is now.
While others in the theater were lost in the story of Ram the Wrestler reliving an old memory with his daughter, I was thinking that Asbury Park reached another milestone in her comeback. She’s pretty again.
The word must be out in Hollywood that Asbury Park is no longer the place of Art-Wrecko architecture. Soon we’ll see movies shot here with storylines set in crowded beaches with fun, sun, music and surfboards.
I think I hear Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon singing.