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Thursday, August 2, 2012

ICON Magazine City Beat column, August 2012

City Beat, ICON Magazine August 2012 Thom Nickels, City Beat Editor We fell off our chairs when it was announced that Muhammad Ali will be the recipient of Philadelphia’s 2012 Liberty Medal. Back in the day, Ali’s name was so inflammatory men would crush beer cans and punch ceiling fans at the mention of it. Ali’s selection just goes to show that a future Liberty Medal may be given to the organizers of Occupy Wall Street. Ali’s noble stand against the Vietnam War (where he refused to serve) almost landed him a 5 year prison term, but thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that did not happen. While Philadelphia officials expect Ali’s wife Yolanda to accept the award, at the time of the announcement the city had not yet received a confirmation regarding this. Will Yolanda show up, or will this be a case of expecting the unexpected when it comes to the 3 time World Heavyweight Championship boxer? Since winning his first world championship title in 1964, Ali went on to shock many fans with his condemnation of racial integration (thanks to the Nation of Islam) and then homosexuality (Ali went into an antigay rage in 1977 at his Deerlake, Pennsylvania training camp during an Andy Warhol photo shoot). Our fears are probably unfounded, but we’d hate to think that by award ceremony time, Ali and company may have already gone on record as ideologically opposing the Gold Star “service award” industry, $100,000 in free money notwithstanding. Save our Sites (SOS), a preservation group that would like someday like to be as famous as the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, hosted its Annual Spring Tour through Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties section with local author Harry Kyriakodis (author of an upcoming book on the area) and SOS president, John Dowlin. The thirty or so participants toured three Eastern churches, one of them the William Strickland-designed Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox church, where a work in progress---a gorgeous half-built thirty foot high hand carved iconostasis---cast a mesmerizing spell. At St. Michael the Archangel church nearby, Jewish SOS members loved the Bronx-born “rabbinical ways” of Father Vincent Saverino, who managed to mastermind a rather lengthy Q and A from preservation issues to how Orthodox priests “do it” in terms of marriage and children, while Roman Catholic priests struggle (and fall) when it comes to celibacy. Philadelphia-based filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney is busy filming Christmas Dreams in the city’s Fishtown section. The director of “A Chronicle of Corpses (2000), called a “highbrow period film,” Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (2003), and Animal Husbandry (2008) has indicated that Christmas Dreams “puts a modern twist on a few holiday favorites. Behind the scenes ‘extra’ work is always time consuming. While I once played an ambulance attendant on the filmed-in-Philly ‘Hack’ TV series, I’ve never seen a cast as large as Christmas Dreams. There were more children on the set than at an Al Alberts Showcase reunion. Most of the kids looked like they had stepped out of dozens of Hollywood auditions: Hallmark card cute, and so well groomed you can almost imagine their parents in the background yelling: “Be a star! Be a star!” I played a wealthy (yacht owning?) cocktail party attendee holding a champagne flute filled with ginger ale and had to mimic faux conversations, hand shakes, and kisses on the cheek as my fellow extras, like PAFA’s Kevin Richards and former TLA’er Ray Duval imagined they were attending the party of the year. When you are a director in charge of a cast this big it’s like being a mayor of a small town, and the normally relaxed and low key McElhinney at one point had to thunder out (bullhorn in hand) a “Ladies and Gentlemen, be quiet!” at the entire extra ensemble not long before our scene was filmed. That request, of course, worked like a charm: our scene was shot in two takes, not bad especially when you have children in small tuxedos and flowing dresses dancing around like the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey and Afghanistan. Last year the participant-base was not very diverse at Philly’s first annual Vendy Awards, or the crowning of the city’s best food truck. The event was held at the Piazza in Northern Liberties where there were more fedoras and plaid shirts than regular people. Let’s hope that this year’s 39th and Market Street University City location may bring in some new fashion trends. QFest, Philadelphia’s 18 year old gay and lesbian international film festival, has always been a high point of midsummer. In years past, when the festival was smaller, opening receptions were held at the Society Hill Hotel in Old City. The scope and breadth of things changed and opening nights were moved to the Bell Atlantic building or, as the case this year, at Table 31 at The Comcast Center. A few years ago, a famous television news reporter attended the Bell Atlantic event. This year we looked for Anderson Cooper but instead found Director Terracino’s delightful film, Elliot Loves, 17 years in the making, which didn’t quite attract a full house at the Ritz East Theater 1, but which did offer the audience plenty of beautiful characters, or tough guys who like to kiss other guys. The festival’s 2012 film offerings fixated less on young gay men or women coming out or in love, in effect killing Christopher Hitchens’ line (read Hitch- 22) that ‘homosexuality is only for the young.” At the official Rodin Museum opening we sampled miniature medallion French toast and quiche wafers, but then found that we couldn’t leave the renovated space until long after the party was over. PMA director Timothy Rub opened the ceremonies and PMA curator Joseph J. Rishel let it hang out with this bomb: “This place used to be disgusting.” Meaning, of course, under utilized and falling apart. But not anymore; our inability to walk away from the pop up café near the reflecting pool was shared by many. The Rodin needs to think about opening a warm weather café near the pool so that all Philadelphians will stay glued to the spot.