Seattle Office of Film + Music

December 2, 2011, 12:17 pm
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In appreciation and recognition of Seattle’s long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with Scarecrow Video to bring you weekly reviews of historical Seattle films. Each week we will  showcase a new movie, with special emphasis on how these films show Seattle’s most filmable locations.

Seattle Chronicle (1992) 

One of the largest and most fascinating parts of Scarecrow Video is the Documentary Room. Amongst the many interesting sub-sections contained therein is “Seattle Interest,” a collection of tasty tidbits ranging from pop-culture gems like episodes of J.P. Patches andAlmost Live, documentaries about natural wonders like Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier, plus a whole bunch of historical items like Seattle Chronicle. This particular film is a documentary about Seattle’s first 90 years made by Paul Dorpat, an extremely knowledgeable local historian who is perhaps best known for his long running “Now and Then” column in The Seattle Times. During his introduction Dorpat explains that the video is essentially an expanded version of his slide presentation that incorporates thousands of pictures and postcards into a thorough history of the city’s formative years from 1851 to 1941 with a few jumps ahead to “modern” times. Included are a bunch of famous characters-politicians, businessmen, and hookers-many of whom have streets, structures, and parks named after them. Also spotlighted are numerous buildings whose fate, decay, destiny, and occasional integration into the modern Seattle cityscape are followed up to the early nineties when the skyline had become dominated by buildings like the Columbia Center. Public transportation is another subject, as Seattle has a fascinating past filled with a wide variety of trains, boats and cable cars, not to mention monorails and gondolas. Ok, I made up that gondola part, but wouldn’t it be cool to ride a gondola to the top of Queen Anne? The city has also had its fair share of natural disasters, and Dorpat focuses on how the devastating Great Seattle Fire of 1889 drastically reshaped the downtown business district. Another highlight is a variation on Dorpat’s newspaper column where he compares specific locations in “old” and “new” Seattle. My favorite contrasts a settler’s cabin with the spot’s then current resident, the old IHOP at the base of Queen Anne Hill. Ironically, many of the landmarks highlighted in the “now” footage are no longer around today. But the most surreal images in the entire program are of the Denny Regrade project, where entire mansions were carefully moved between enormous pinnacles of dirt. The overabundant wealth of information contained in Seattle Chronicle can be a little exhausting and, at the same time, it still left me wanting more. This is the type of program that could be expanded into a lengthy, multi-episode documentary series along the lines of a Ken Burns production. I am also surprised that Seattle’s rich history hasn’t inspired some sort of semi-fictional film or TV show. And finally, Mr. Dorpat, when are you going to tackle the Jet City’s next 70 years?

-Spenser Hoyt


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