Philadelphia Feature


Philly Books and Movies



Journalist Steve Lopez (best known for The Soloist) set his hard-edged novel Third and Indiana in the less-than-friendly parts of Kensington. Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman is about a writer returning to his hometown to write about the police firebombing of a black cult in West Philadelphia. Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is set in the very nongritty Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Philly Fiction and Philly Fiction 2, two collections of short stories set in Philadelphia by Philadelphia writers, are good introductions to the city's neighborhoods and people.

Best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner has set most of her books here, including In Her Shoes and Good in Bed. The city is also a frequent setting for mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, who grew up in South Philadelphia and writes a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America by S. A. Paolantonio, about the city's revered and despised former mayor, and Buzz Bissinger's A Prayer for the City about then-Mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s, are two great introductions to the joys of Philadelphia politicking. For some history overload, try Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, with essays edited by Russell F. Weigley. Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia tells the story of the Constitution. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia, by Matthew J. Countryman, examines the postwar period in the civil rights movement.


Two books that feature the stunning architectural photographs of Tom Crane, Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia and Historic Houses of Philadelphia, provide a glimpse into the many historic places to visit. The Foundation for Architecture's Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City contains maps, photos, and descriptions of almost 400 historical sites.

Movies and Television

The classic Philadelphia film is still Rocky (1976), and fans still run up the Art Museum steps every day. Rocky Balboa (2006) is like a love letter to the city, it has so many great city scenes. Another iconic Philly film moment is the murder scene in Witness (1985), when Danny Glover knifes a man in the 30th Street Station men's room. Be forewarned, some 25 years later, the bathrooms look very much the same, but the station is otherwise beautiful. The Philadelphia Story (1940) was inspired by the romantic high jinks of Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a real-life Main Line socialite.

In the past 40 years most Philadelphia films have emphasized the city's majestic grittiness. A lot of that grittiness no longer exists in Center City and surrounding neighborhoods (see the Rittenhouse Square in Trading Places (1983) as opposed to what it looks like today). Recent films like In Her Shoes (2005) show the cleaned-up city, with more films like it on the way.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) has terrific shots of Philly, especially its statues. Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995) places elephants in front of City Hall and uses the Eastern State Penitentiary, the former prison home of criminals like Al Capone, as an insane asylum (visit and you'll know why). National Treasure (2004) has Nicholas Cage stepping all over Independence Hall. Shame of a City (2006), a documentary by local filmmaker Tigre Hill, is an eye-opening look into city politics through the lens of the 2003 mayoral race between Sam Katz and John Street. The cast and crew of popular television shows Cold Case and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are frequently spotted around the city.

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