Rapper’s Delight — the new group featuring original Sugar Hill Gang oldschool professors Wonder Mike and Master Gee — performs its first full concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre on Saturday night as part of the tenth annual Garden State Film Festival; an event (with special guest rappers) tied in to a screening of the documentary I WANT MY NAME BACK.
We’ve hinted at it before, but in between all the welcome hoopla to the effect that Asbury Park is Where Music Lives, we’d make the case that the city that once served as home base for legendary theatre mogul Walter Reade; the historic home of movie palaces like the late lamented Mayfair, the still-standing Paramount and the back-soon Savoy is furthermore a place Where Movies Live.
Not bad for a town that doesn’t have a multiplex within city limits — although the coming months promise the appearance of not one but two multi-screen arthouses (including the newly expanded downtown landmark The ShowRoom). Still, even as old-neighborhood nickelodeons like The Baronet have bitten the briny dust in recent years, the town that gave us Bud Abbott, Danny DeVito and, uh, Rick Salomon has found a way — whether it’s a free beach movie on an inflatable screen, or a cinematic singalong session at the Supper Club. A music/film series at a downtown coffeehouse, or a backdrop of vintage stags at the Lanes. Any of the screenings that accompany major events like ZombieFest and All Tomorrow’s Parties, or the intimate movie-club house parties that happen right here at the historic Stephen Crane House.
Pre-dating ALL of the above is an event that’s existed on the leading edge of the city’s slow reclamation of the region’s cultural spotlight — the Garden State Film Festival, the 10th annual edition of which takes place in and around Asbury town this weekend, March 23-25. A filmfreak fiesta of short subjects and features; comedies, dramas, documentaries and otherwise unclassifiable endeavor; the GSFF employs the town as its canvas, offering dozens of events at venues that range from iconic landmarks like the Paramount and the Berkeley Hotel, to some new fave restaurants and even the surprisingly comfy screening space of the City Council chambers. It’s all the brainchild of founder Diane Raver, herself the first female president of a commercial production company and an industry veteran whose many contacts include TV star daughter Kim Raver (Grey’s Anatomy, 24). As legend has it, it was a supermarket encounter between Diane and the late actor Robert Pastorelli, (best recalled as Eldin the painter on Murphy Brown) that led to the establishment of the GSFF in 2003 — and the legacy of Pastorelli, who died of an apparent heroin overdose in 2004, lives on in the festival’s annual Robert Pastorelli Rising Star Award, presented to NJ residents who “have made inroads to the industry through hard work and determination.”
There’s also a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to a very special guest — and this year’s recipient is a performer, activist and Screen Actors Guild president who’s lived a lifetime and then some on the big and small screen — Ed Asner, the TV powerhouse (Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant, Roots and tons of memorable movies) whose natural versatility and big-hearted-tough-guy persona continue to gain him new fans through recent projects like Up, Elf and Too Big to Fail. Also coming to town for the festival will be a couple of genuine founding fathers of OldSchoolHipHop — Wonder Mike and Master Gee, the MCs who summoned it all into being with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and whose rise, fall and rise again will be celebrated on screen and in live concert. There’s even a bit of tangential involvement by the UpperWETside (for which we are happy to accept a VIP badge and conduct an audence Q&A with an official questionnaire) — and while we urge you to design your own GSFF experience by consulting the festival website and schedule, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer up our own select picks from the coming days and nights, all of which unspool on the next reel…