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Brooklyn Bookbeat: Margo Donohue investigates Brooklyn on the big screen

Her new book ‘Filmed in Brooklyn’ chronicles the borough’s rich cinematic history

November 11, 2022 Evan Rosen
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Brooklyn Bookbeat

Despite what you may think, the birthplace of America’s major motion picture industry is not Los Angeles – it’s Brooklyn. In 1907, before the first studio opened in Hollywood, the most prolific film production company was located in Midwood and went by the name of Vitagraph Studios (after Thomas Edison’s Vitaphone — the world’s first film projector). 

Today, over 115 years later, a giant smokestack with the word VITAGRAPH marked down the side is still visible at 1277 East 15th Street in Brooklyn, at the site of the original studio where now a high-end apartment complex stands. This standing artifact; this link between the past and the present is what Margo Donohue’s latest book Filmed in Brooklyn is all about. 

Over the course of ten chapters, Donohue dexterously weaves us through the different neighborhoods and their cameos in the movies we’ve come to know and love. It’s a heartfelt journey that lays plain the vast possibilities Brooklyn has held for filmmakers since the art form’s inception, bolstered by historical images and archives (the Brooklyn Daily Eagle itself is cited consistently).

We bounce from ‘Brownstone Brooklyn’ where The Amazing Spiderman (2012) and Sophie’s Choice (1982) found their aesthetics in the iconic townhomes of Park Slope and Ditmas Park… to ‘Gritty Brooklyn’ where The Godfather (1972), Goodfellas (1990) and The Departed (2006) used the ‘rough and resilient’ streets of Brooklyn Heights and Gravesend to cement themselves into filmic lore. The chapters read like mini movies themselves, and include ‘Romantic Brooklyn,’ ‘Coney Island, Baby!’ and ‘Indies and Auteurs,’ to name a few others. 

Wednesday, February 15, 1933.

For Donohue, it was a labor of love. She’s lived in Park Slope, in the same apartment, since 1995, where she’s cultivated a successful career in journalism and podcasting. She’s the co-host, co-creator, editor and producer of several podcasts, including Book vs. Movie (where she compares the movie versions of stories to their literary forms), Dorking Out, Not Fade Away and What a Creep. Filmed in Brooklyn is her first book, but it was the team at History Press who came to her with the concept, as well as the idea for her to write it. 

“I originally approached History Press to write a book about Park Slope, but they countered that they were more interested in a book on film in Brooklyn.” she said. “They saw my social media and podcasts and thought I might be suited for it, with my combination of love of history and pop culture.”

Donohue also says that her favorite part of the book was the ‘Indies and Auteurs’ section where she dives into some of Brooklyn’s best directors, including award-winners like Spike Lee, Noah Baumbach, Darren Aronofsky, Hal Ashby and Rhada Blank. 

For its slim 157-page breadth, the book spans an immense number of actors and filmmakers. In its simplicity and depth, we find a must-have for any Brooklyn cinephile; in its skimmibility we find a book, without which, any Brooklyn coffee table will now feel lacking. 

Donohue says she designed it both for “the serious film lover, and someone looking for new flicks to check out. Once you have lived in Brooklyn for a while, it’s hard not to wonder, ‘Hmm, has anything been filmed in my neighborhood?’”

The book is available online from Arcadia Publishing and Amazon, plus signed copies will be available at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope and the Books Are Magic store in Carroll Gardens.

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