Was this the US’ first film town?

www.bbc.com | 2/22/2019 | Staff
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A famous black-and-white image from the early days of film shows actress Pearl White looking coyly to her side while three men – one standing beside a movie camera, the others closer to the ground behind the actress – are setting up a scene on a precarious cliff above a distant body of water. The now-iconic still is from White’s 1918 film serial The House of Hate, a nail-biting murder mystery that ended in suspenseful cliffhangers each week.

In fact, this is where the term ‘cliffhanger’ (as it refers to film) is believed to have been coined. Still, the setting is far from Hollywood. It’s northern New Jersey – just across the Hudson River from New York City – which for a brief but glorious time in the early 20th Century was the silent film capital of the world.

Fort - Lee - Today - Development - One-third

Walk around Fort Lee today and you’ll see that it’s brimming with modern development. With more than one-third of the borough’s population of Asian origin – and more than a third of that Korean – Fort Lee’s centre bustles with 24-hour eateries serving up everything from pork-bone hotpots to spicy soft tofu soup.

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Rises - Hudson - Manhattan - Traffic - Pours

Towering high rises face out across the Hudson toward upper Manhattan, and traffic pours into downtown from both levels of the double-decker George Washington Bridge. Though while film buffs might easily recognise the borough’s landmark bridge from films such as Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose, Fort Lee’s role as the birthplace of the motion picture industry seemed to have been lost in the vaults for decades, and is only recently being rediscovered.

“Fort Lee’s movie history was one of those things that was always in the background growing up,” said Eric Nelsen, a historical interpreter for Palisades Interstate Park – the backdrop for White’s House of Hate...
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