10 amazing moments of N.J.’s movie and TV legacy

In its 350 years of existence (officially commemorated on June 24), New Jersey has given us so much: baseball, Monopoly, tomatoes, the U.S. Equestrian Team. But more earth-shaking than any of those things is the kinetographic camera, designed in 1894 by William Dickson, an employee of Thomas Edison. It’s a motion-picture camera that laid the foundation for modern cinematography — which, in many ways, continues to define American culture as we know it.

As WHYY’s Peter Crimmins reported this week, TV critic and Fresh Air contributor David Bianculli is giving a lecture on some of the most unforgettable (note: We didn’t say “good”) film and TV productions to have come out of the Garden State. With the help of Bianculli, TV critic Mark Dawidziak, filmmaker John Mason, and film critic Carrie Rickey, we have compiled some monumental moments.

1. Boxing cats (1894)

Starting things off is Thomas Edison’s 30-second clip “Boxing Cats,” showing two felines with tiny boxing gloves forced to swat at each other in a minuscule boxing ring. Perhaps we should really be thanking New Jersey for bringing us the cat video.

2. Electrocuting an Elephant

At the other end of Edison’s spectrum of animal mistreatment is a clip showing the 6,600-volt electrocution of Topsy the elephant in 1903. We won’t post the video here, but you can find it on YouTube.

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It happened at Coney Island in New York, but it was Edison who orchestrated and filmed the procedure. Topsy had been deemed a threat by her owners after she killed three people, and electrocution was thought to be a more humane means of execution than hanging. It also gave Edison an opportunity to make a point about the “dangers” of his competitor George Westinghouse’s alternating current. Edison favored direct current for electric distribution. As we know, Edison lost that battle.

3. The Lonely Villa (1909)

This was Mary Pickford’s first film, which was made by D.W. Griffith (famous for directing the 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation”) in Fort Lee, N.J.

4. “On the Waterfront” (1957)

Set in Brooklyn, shot in Hoboken, “On the Waterfront” helped cement Marlon Brando as one of America’s finest actors. Brando reportedly tried to improvise this famous “I could have been a contender” taxicab scene, but — lucky for us — director Elia Kazan would not let him.

5. “Atlantic City” (1980)

This 1980 Louis Malle film stars Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster — notable for featuring footage of the 1972 demolition of the Traymore Hotel and for a scene in which Sarandon takes a bath in lemon juice.

6. “Friday the 13th”

Parts of this 1980 slasher classic were filmed in Blairstown, N.J., and nearby Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco.

7. “Clerks” (1994)

Filmed in Leonardo, Monmouth County, N.J., Clerks gave us such faux-stream-of-conscious moments as the Death Star union politics scene:

“All right, look-you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.”

8. “Garden State” (2004)

This is the movie’s climax where they scream into the “infinite abyss,” at the quarry.

9. Gangster drama

Things get heated on “Boardwalk Empire” one New Year’s Eve when Nucky Thompson announces he will sell liquor to only one buyer.

The original idea was to use a different opening song for every episode of “The Sopranos,” but “Woke Up This Morning” by British band Alabama 3 seems to be the one that stuck.

10. Reality TV madness

This clip from “The Jersey Shore” shows Pauly D and Angelo taking on the heady task of locating the best blowouts on the boardwalk.

And then there’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” It’s hard to decide what’s better — the knockdown at a christening dinner or this inane “analysis” of the scene.


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