Rittenhouse Square

Veteran filmmaker Robert Downey — the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. — made his reputation as a provocateur with films like PUTNEY SWOPE (1969), POUND (1970) and GREASER'S PALACE (1971), but this rambling, shambling tribute to Rittenhouse Square, a patch of green smack-dab in the middle of Philadelphia since colonial days, couldn't be sweeter or less...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Veteran filmmaker Robert Downey — the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. — made his reputation as a provocateur with films like PUTNEY SWOPE (1969), POUND (1970) and GREASER'S PALACE (1971), but this rambling, shambling tribute to Rittenhouse Square, a patch of green smack-dab in the middle of Philadelphia since colonial days, couldn't be sweeter or less confrontational. Downey appears frequently, strolling alongside friends and acquaintances as they answer questions about what the park means to them; above all, he seems interested in the personal and the specific. One remembers when the park was a cruising spot for gay men; a woman recalls the dark days when it was overrun by junkies, drug dealers and petty criminals; a hip young couple describes their first date in the park two years earlier. An elderly gentleman named Stanley Green who is fond of promenading through the park in a derby and bow tie ("It's my trademark"), shares his thoughts about life and love; the natty Green died shortly after, giving his gentle observations a poignant edge. These loose, conversational interviews are interspersed with footage of the park in use by lovers, painters, children, dog owners and musicians %#151; including students from the neighboring Curtis Institute of Music — of every kind: opera singers, classical quartets, a violinist dashing off a sizzling version of the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, jazz combos and soloists whose instruments range from the traditional Chinese violin to the didgeridoo. Downey is especially drawn to eccentrics like Green and the late Joe Aezen, whose passion for "bird watching" — observing the parade of pretty girls who pass through the park (Downey obligingly provides a montage) — is fondly remembered by his son and lady friend; Aezen's ashes, she confides, were surreptitiously buried in the park. Downey shoots Rittenhouse Square in its midsummer lushness and in the gray, snowy dead of winter; he films at night and in the early morning, on fair days and foul. The constant in this impressionistic love letter to an urban park is that it's never empty; Rittenhouse Square is an oasis for a broad cross-section of Philadelphians who love it come rain or come shine.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Veteran filmmaker Robert Downey — the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. — made his reputation as a provocateur with films like PUTNEY SWOPE (1969), POUND (1970) and GREASER'S PALACE (1971), but this rambling, shambling tribute to Rittenhouse Square, a patc… (more)

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