Kubrick in Newark: Day of the Fight (1951)

A more or less complete list of things I know about boxing:

1. White racist America sure hated it when Jack Johnson couldn’t be beat, so they destroyed his life and invented the ugly phrase Great White Hope because of it;

2. Norman Mailer liked to write about the sport, though I have never read his work on it and can’t say I aspire to;

3. It is associated in the movies with noir and desperation, mostly;

4. the penultimate song on my favorite album of all time is about watching television footage of the young Cassius Clay (“my god, my god, he was something”)

On the other hand, I thought I knew a lot about Stanley Kubrick. But here’s something I didn’t know: his first film, the short boxing documentary Day of the Fight, begins in NYC but ends in Newark.

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Alfred Hitchcock Goes to Newark: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Mostly remembered as the ur-text of Creepy Uncle movies, Shadow of a Doubt lingers near the top of Alfred Hitchcock’s B+ tier—not quite his A game of Psycho or Vertigo, but part of his energetic wave of early-40s American work, before he lost his footing later in the decade with duller stuff like The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn.

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In any case, Joseph Cotten in quaint, sunny Santa Rosa, menacing his niece Theresa Wright, while they barely suppress incestuous desire, that’s what people remember about Shadow of a Doubt (exept Sonic Youth, who titled a song after it {one of Kim Gordon’s best, IMHO} but then based its lyrics on a different Hitchcock movie, those wacky young ‘uns).

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Less remembered is the opening scene scene, shot in Newark. Okay, it’s not entirely forgotten, since I was just scooped on this by the Star-Ledger (dammit). But still, I am willing to bet (and will test this with a Facebook trivia poll of my friends when I post this) that few people realize Hitch was shooting here. Indeed, the IMDB—not wholly reliable, but still useful—suggests this was the only film shot in Newark between the 1910s and the 50s.

As such, it’s a valuable visual record, beginning with its opening sweep across the Pulaski Skyway. Long before the ’67 riots became an excuse to condemn Newark, here’s a British suspense filmmaker’s rather unflattering establishment of the city:

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Feminist film in Newark: Janie’s Janie (1972)

The 1967 riots loom so large over the public memory of Newark that even otherwise seemingly opposed ideological camps share an implicit metanarrative; Philip Roth in American Pastoral and Third World Newsreel in Teach Our Children, for instance, surely disagree on many points, but they both mark 1967 as the defining moment in the city’s history.

So it’s refreshing find an early-1970s film from Newark that resists such a framework. Better yet, a film that engages with a working-class feminism that was too rarely entered into the cinematic record of the era, at all. Janie’s Janie is not a “lost” film, not quite—it receives some attention in E. Ann Kaplan’s Women and Film, Annette Kuhn’s Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, and Alexandra Juhasz’s AIDS TV, for instance, and a more substantive discussion in Shilyh J. Warren’s thus-far-unpublished 2010 dissertation “Real Politics and Feminist Documentaries: Re-Visioning Seventies Film Feminisms” (well worth checking out, BTW)—but neither is it a particularly well-remembered one, and I’ve never seen it discussed in a Newark-specific context. In a rather egregious oversight, IMDB fails to even recognize its existence, and I only came across it while randomly browsing Rutgers University Library for Newark-related material.

Set in the Ironbound (thus making it an unlikely companion piece to The Ironbound Vampire in the neighborhood’s filmic canon), Janie’s Janie details the rising feminist consciousness of Jane Giese, a white housewife and mother who recently left her abusive husband, and is navigating the welfare system with six children to care for.

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Giese narrates her story into the camera, direct and unvarnished: regularly beaten as a teen by her emotionally-absent father, she turned to her first steady boyfriend at fifteen for comfort.  “So, I got pregnant and I got married,” and then the pattern resumed, this time with the now-husband replicating the father.

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Reflections on a VHS Tape: Season of Fear (1989)

If I may take a brief respite from queer history and Newark on film to navel-gaze for a moment:

Season of Fear first entered my life in the spring of 1990, and it’s not hard to see how the film might captivate a middle-schooler with brand new access to R-rated rentals; even notwithstanding the rather heavy-handed center of visual gravity, this is a pretty alluring video box. Who wouldn’t be curious about a “twisting, turning summer of passion,” even without the murder?

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