Art that Bites…

Pittsburgh. Not a name that inspires laconic, and that favourite travel writers go-to adjective ‘bucolic’, images.

Rather, the Russian Roulette sequence from Michael Cimino’s epic ‘The Deerhunter’. As all three protagonists – Michael (Robert DeNiro), Nicky (Chistopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage)  – working-class steelworkers from Clairton in the Metropolitan area of Pittsburgh.

Heavy Industry, smoke-laden skylines. The roar of the whistle to summon the working man to the foundry and the music blasting from the numerous bars and honky-tonks in the evening as the working man drank his full – trying to clear his throat of that rasping metallic fug.

Sod that. Lets talk about Zombies.

The entrance to the ‘old part of the Mall’. Monroeville Mall, PN

On Saturday (15/09), Pookaverse visited the Monroeville Mall as  (in 1978) the setting,  as you may have guessed by all the links in the previous posts, to Geroge A. Romereo’s seminal classic Dawn of the Dead.

It was Rohan’s treat and the main reason for coming to Pittsburgh. As well as keeping Detroit, MI at least 250 mile – at all times – off our starboard bow/arse.

“Looks like the Zombies are still here”, remarked Alison as we pulled in to the Parking lot 1.5 miles from the Extended Stay Hotel, Monroeville. You get the picture. An enormous, anonymous Mall (about 2/3 the size of Milton Keynes centre.

Patrolled by the poor, the well-off, the desperate, the bored, the n’er do wells, bored teenagers tormenting the Mall Cops smartly dressed in their smoky bear hats. Can of mace at their belts.  Countless litters of rug-rats  being sassy’d around by their teenage parents.

The Japanese Bridge across which the zombified staggered…the actors playing zombies also did something similar in the film Dawn of the Dead

Like Aylesbury High street only with air-con and better weather.

This is where George A. Romero, with the permission of one of his former college buddies and part-owners of the Monroeville Mall, crafted his dark materials. Writing and directing a darkly comic attack on the nature of consumerism.

“Why do they still come here?” asks Fran. The heroine of the film as she surveys the swarming undead from the roof of the mall where the four survivors seek refuge from the social collapse brought about by uncounted millions of hungry flesh-eaters.

“They’re after the place. They don’t know why, they just remember, remember that they wanna be in here.” remarks Peter, the ex-SWAT team member and afro-american hero of the film.

The biker gang blew a hole in the Mall here..later the Zombies who swarmed in with them tore each one of those greedy fools several fresh ones apiece.

Interestingly, Romero cast an afro-american leading man for the prequel – ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and thus usurped convention. Much to the chagrin of social commentators and social thinkers – truly great television and film foster change in social values as opposed to reflecting them.

Romero broke new ground in the creation of his art form.

The mall itself has changed considerably since it was built in the early 1970’s with new cankerous food courts and concrete tributaries running up the side.

But it is still possible to see where particular sequences were shot: The main entrance where Roger and Peter parked the trucks and Roger was fatally bitten; the upper balcony; the storefront of ‘J C Penney’  (unfortunately the lift where Stephen was bitten to death and reanimated was closed to the public); that bloody pond (of nightmares) with the Japanese bridge; and possibly the maintenance corridor which led to the bare room at the top of the Mall where the Roger, Fran, Peter and Stephen holed-up. You be the judge.

The entrance to a hidden gem. It could be argued that the term ‘Tourist Trap’ no longer applies here.

On the ground floor – behind a tatty and poorly attended games arcade – lay the entrance to the Monroeville Mall Zombie Museum – containing pictures, models (some life size) and actual artifacts from the film donated by the cast and crew.  Superb in places – cheap and tacky in others. But created with love and tummy-tickled to sleep with vision.

It was a spine-tingling half-an-hour later that I emerged into the light. “You know what”, I said to Alison “There are only three, sane people in this entire mall. You, me and the lady with the scar running down her chest where they cracker her open who ran that museum”.

How can all these bored tired and predominantly stupefied people be oblivious to the fact that they are walking around Zombie Mecca – worshiped by fans all over the world. It was a personal thought.Maybe that’s a little unfair. I mean, you don’t come to the mall to be educated? Do you?

J C Penney holding it’s final closing down sale…near one of those escalators where the undead shopped.

It seems from what Pookaverse has witnessed so far – No one walks anywhere here. Everyone drives everywhere. The looks of bemusement and just plain bafflement from receptionists and friendly strangers alike when we ask how far it is to walk is unchanging state by state – east to (almost) Mid-West. The consumer is presented with an endless series of choices, options and experiences.

Whether it be food, entertainment, medical or auto services. But mainly food. It’s staggering. It’s literally stupefying. The size and length of food malls that line the roads. Roads without sidewalks (pavements to you and I). Where nobody walks. But the homeless.

That’s where Roger and Peter parked the trucks…that’s where Roger got cocky and forgot his tools and had to go back…this is where Roger got bit.

It is why George Romero chose to shoot his  magnum opus (IPHB) in a shopping mall and not attribute the stupification and terrifying behaviour of his fellow Ex-Americans to anything in particular. It just happened. They came back. Because this place was important to them.

Add 150 zombie extras, Alison’s intuitive picture could have been lifted straight from the 1978 film.

The Andy Warhol Museum (no pictures allowed) can be reached from downtown Pittsburgh via the newly renamed ‘Andy Warhol Bridge’ (formerly the 8th Street Bridge).

It runs parallel to the site of Heinz field where on the same Sunday we visited,  Pittsburgh Steeler fans were pouring towards the stadium in all manner of black and yellow garb – including a gorilla in a cadillac. Pookaverse later read that ‘the Steelers’ trounced the New York Jets (sans Tim Tebow) 27-10.

The museum itself is divided onto 6 stories – you start at the top floor and work your way down: Through galleries of Warhol’s actual art donated for display to the public; an entire floor where 15 of his films run deafeningly – perpetually in the semi darkness while next door all his television appearances continually play on nearly 50 terminals.

As Rohan has been a Velvet Underground fan since 19 yrs old, the third floor held many moments. Warhol managed the band based near ‘The Factory‘ New York City from 1965. They played at ‘Max’s Kansas City’ – a legendary nightclub (now a deli – Pookaverse visited the site in November 2010) as Warhol fueled their performances with his striking, colouful and problematic personality.

He designed the cover to the ‘Banana album’  launching ‘The Velvet Underground’ as one of the most influential band in rock music history – saddling the lead singer Lou Reed with the epithet of the ‘Godfather of Punk’ based on his later solo album appearances but also more on the proto-punk driving guitar of ‘The Velvets’.

On the third floor, in a wall-mounted glass cabinet containing artifacts of this association is the original MGM/Verve recording contract bearing the signatures of Lou Reed, John Cale, Stirling Morrison, Mo Tucker and Warhol himself. Next to ‘that moment’ was ‘the moment’ – the original sheet music and lyrics written in Lou Reed’s hand for their magnum opus (IPHO) the song  ‘Heroin.

I wept. I couldn’t help myself.  It just happened.

As another exhausting day draws to a close at the Comfort Inn,  Indianapolis, IN – in another un-walkable suburb – Pookaverse promises you Niagara – later. At least we didn’t promise you the earth.

We just have the small matter of driving to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore  before entering the city of Chicago tomorrow evening. We’ll let you know what happens.

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One Response to “Art that Bites…”

  1. Rach Says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Jealous….jealous…….and totally jealous 🙂

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