Monday, July 13, 2009

Johnny Depp, Inspiration for Downtown Renovation

But it started with John Dillinger, infamous midwest bank-robber, and feature character in the current blockbuster film, Public Enemies.

Depp arrived in Oshkosh on April 18 of 2008 to recreate a heist as Dillinger. The Northwestern, Oshkosh's local daily newspaper, first reported his arrival, "Puffing a cigarette and sipping hot coffee, Johnny Depp stepped out from his black Escalade about 7 p.m. to join hundreds of extras and film crew on the set for day one of filming the 1930s gangster movie "Public Enemies" at Basler Flight Services, on West 20th Avenue. Fans and curious onlookers continued to gather into the night despite the steady rain and falling temperatures, snapping pictures and bonding over a mutual excitement and affection for the actor portraying notorious bank robber John Dillinger."

There are 77 archived local news stories to browse here, or feel free to visit the locally maintained fan website here

To my knowledge Dillinger never visited nor robbed a bank in Oshkosh; however, he was reported to have robbed a bank in Racine, about a 90 minute drive from Oshkosh. (Folks here estimate driving distance in relation to travel-time rather than miles)

My mom went down to Main Street during the filming of the movie to catch a little of the action. She peered, hands cupped around eyes, into the glass window of the renovated First National Bank building. At that moment, Depp supposedly turned his attention to the weekend mass of onlookers and waved. Impressed, my mom bought a t-shirt with Depp's face screen-printed on the front from an uber savvy local entrepreneur. I'd like to note that after six years in NYC I have only glimpsed Claire Danes, Avon from The Wire, actually, I think that might be it.

The bank and all other shooting locations were dressed in their 1920s throwback exteriors, but after the film crew left so did the sets. Local business owners are now rallying and fundraising to give the Main Street storefronts a permanent facelift รก la the public enemy era. Downtown Oshkosh has been victim to the unfortunate but common decay from misuse due to attentions being directed to the Wal-Marts and national chain restaurants located in viewing-distance from the highway.

Residents seem to be in favor of the renovations. One local business, Action Dance Wear, has already confirmed their blueprints, promising the most dramatic transformation to Main Street. The town is abuzz now with the recent premiere of the movie, but what is going to keep people interested in the downtown district next year? The area was hit with record levels of snowfall last winter, four months of hibernation is plenty of time for kids under fourteen and adults over forty to forget all about Depp.

As previously blogged, younger able-bodied kids are moving to nearby cities for work. Oshkosh will need to offer more than the literal run-of-the-mill variety to keep the blind-credit-card-charging consumers. A new friend of mine is redeveloping several buildings downtown including renovated apartments located above the brick and stone faced storefronts. If the price is right maybe folks will opt for the commute rather than relocation. The extended waterfront views are a definite selling-point, as is the convenient walk-home after a night at the bar. (This report estimates that a quarter of Wisconsin's adult drivers were under the influence in 2007)

I give the local business owners my best; however, I have a special request for the folks trying to recreate the era in dress: get your decade straight, and try a tailor, your thrift store finds might just fit with a little work. Also, to The Northwestern: it would be great if I could get some actual front page news coverage other than updates on Public Enemies (Miss Wisconsin, Country USA and Lifefest). Thank You.

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