The Burglar (1957): Philadelphia is forced to split Edgar Allan Poe with Baltimore, but it has David Goodis all to itself. The gutter pulpiest of gutter pulpists, Goodis was briefly claimed by Hollywood in the ‘40s, during which he adapted his own Dark Passage into the oddest Bogie-Bacall joint. But others took their own swings: Jacques Tourneur with Nightfall, François Truffaut with Shoot the Piano Player, Jean-Jacques Beineix with the oversized The Moon in the Gutter. But only this low-budget noir, with Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield, filmed Goodis in the town that shaped and inspired him.
Mikey and Nicky (1976): While her ex-partner Mike Nichols wound up gallivanting with Edward Albee and Joseph Heller, Elaine May only directed serious once. Inspired by the films of John Cassavetes, she set out to make her own, casting Cassavetes and Peter Falk to make it more authentic. The two play mobsters trying to escape a hit, and their chatty meanderings take them through Philadelphia at its scuzziest.
Blow Out (1981): Apart from being the greatest film ever made in or about this town, Brian De Palma’s brilliant riff on Blow Up features a treasure trove of grimy sights: the porn district, the hole behind the Reading Terminal Market, the Gallery. And when Dennis Franz’s sleazeball needs to hide out, he chooses—where else?—the Society Hill Hotel. (A native, De Palma also treated the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Dressed to Kill, to one of the most beautiful sequences in cinema history.)
12 Monkeys (1996): The apocalypse will happen in Philly, and it will probably happen around City Hall. There will be bears.
Jesus’ Son (1999): The gutter poetry of Denis Johnson formed this excellent, fragmented junkie saga, filmed in the parts of Philadelphia and vicinity that look seedy and ‘70s—an example of one of the many first-rate films that just happen to be have been filmed here.
Night Catches Us (2010): Germantown is forever unstuck about three or four decades in the past, so when this heavily subtle drama about former Black Panthers needed a place that smacked of 1976, the production crew didn’t need to do much altering.
At this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, the head of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office for two decades will get the ovation that’s long been due.
The 21st annual PFF returns this week, with an array of movies and docs sure to delight local cinephiles. Here’s a sampling.