Pop-Culture Newark Exodus: The Karate Kid (1984)

If you had asked me to recall the first visual image of The Karate Kid after the Columbia logo, never in a million years would I have remembered this:

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It doesn’t last long; by the two-minute mark, Ralph Macchio and his mom have reached the sunny California palm trees that provide the setting for the rest of the film. Enter Pat Morita, wax on, wax off, etc. I watched The Karate Kid a bunch as an 80s kid, but I don’t have particularly significant sentimental investments in it (unlike, say, Stand By Me, the Greatest Film of All Time according to my twelve-year-old self), and I didn’t bother to revisit the whole thing once Newark was in the diegetic rearview.

The metanarrative here is pretty obvious: Newark as a place to leave (unless you’re me, since I Karate-Kidded in reverse, going from Los Angeles to Newark. But I also never managed to kick any bullies’s asses, alas). Heard that one before–ahem, Philip Roth…

Or maybe it’s a place to barely begin at—witness the shot sequence of the opening scene:

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Okay, Avildsen’s director credit looks like True Newark (PSEG headquarters and the Ironbound, I think), but the residential neighborhood . . . hmm. According to a correspondent for the self-declared “#1 Site for the Karate Kid movies” (check the “locations” link), that’s probably Kearney [4/23/17 edit: Franklin Ave. in Harrison according to comment from Manny, see below]. False Cinematic Newark is as prevalent as false metal, it seems–which is a shame, because ungodly boring filmmaker that he is, Avildsen did capture Philly nicely in Rocky, and even Newark-approximate Jersey locations in his early, somewhat overlooked 1972 Jackie Mason flick The Stoolie.

Anyway, I got nothin’ much to add here, but look, the 1980s are pretty slim picking for Newark films—IMDB doesn’t even list this, but apparently if I’m gonna go full-completist for this project, I may have to suffer through Crocodile Dundee, a film I deeply despise (no exaggeration here: as a kid, that film left me utterly depressed and depleted; it may even be the first time I recognized the machinations of mass culture and felt hollow and used by the cheap tricks. That, or Paul Hogan is just an insufferable prick; maybe both). Such are the burdens I have chosen to carry, I guess.

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almost definitely not Newark

Hat-tip to the great Mark Krasovic here, Newark-scholar extraordinaire, who led me to this, uh, goldmine of cultural representation. I’ll be watching Mark MC at an event sponsored by the Newark Historical Society (“To End Poverty and Racial Injustice: The Great Society in Newark”) on Monday, with a panel featuring former mayor Kenneth Gibson and the great Becky Doggett, who was also on the panel for The New-Ark and fantastic. Probably there will be more pressing and exciting questions to ask than about the locations of the opening scene for The Karate Kid, but who knows, maybe people have strong opinions on the matter…  

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4 thoughts on “Pop-Culture Newark Exodus: The Karate Kid (1984)

  1. Every Newark reference that I see in movies or video games is a total surprise. I can’t tell if lots of people know about Newark, and it just doesn’t make an appearance in mass media very often, or if not many really know about this huge city right next to NYC. I’m from Sacramento, so you and I did the same exodus! My favorite media use of Newark was using the courthouse for The Dark Night, or the police march in Rises that was supposedly filmed at least in part on Raymond Blvd. I wasn’t living there quite yet in 2011 but a friend from the Ironbound told me that some of the police cars had “Gotham Police” decals during the filming for Rises.
    A lot of neighborhoods in the south and west of Newark are a total apocalypse, but the Ironbound and downtown are fantastic and deserve more media spotlight.

    • I was commuting from Philadelphia when they shot Dark Knight Rises, and they shut the lightrail down for a few particularly cold days, I remember bitterly trudging from Penn Station. Have been meaning to add it to my Newark film-blogging for years, but haven’t found it in me to revisit the film yet…

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