'Wire' Party Wraps Museum Run

Organizers Hope It Also Doesn't Mark The End Of Filmmaking In The Area

July 30, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

The last shirt Stringer Bell ever wore. Detective Jimmy McNulty's gun. Avon Barksdale's prison jumpsuit.

For more than a year, those and about 150 other pieces of The Wire, the extended HBO morality play that spent five seasons exploring Charm City's meaner streets, have been on display at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. But just as the HBO show ended in March 2008, the BMI exhibit has reached the end of its run.

What better excuse for a party?

"Disconnecting The Wire ... What's Next?" begins at 5:30 tonight at the museum, 1415 Key Highway. There will be food and drink, as well as a discussion of the future of filmmaking in the area. State and local officials fear the General Assembly's reluctance to approve tax credits and other incentives could severely hurt the chances of attracting major film and TV projects. Several cast members are supposed to show up, including Jermaine Crawford (Dukie), Andre Royo (Bubbles), Anwan Glover (Slim Charles) and Sonja Sohn (Detective Kima Greggs). There will also be a silent auction of some of The Wire memorabilia on display, as well as other items.

All of which means this is the last day museum visitors will be able to stare at the "blood"-stained shirt Stringer Bell was wearing when he met his grisly end, or watch a film about the show and its economic impact on the region, or gaze at pictures of some two dozen cast members (many of them local). After today, the blueprints for the mayor's office set will be taken off display, as will the union-made Wire jackets worn by the cast and crew, and the fake The Wire newspaper, complete with Baltimore Sun logo.

"This has been a very popular exhibit; it certainly added to our attendance," says Ronald H. Woodward, the museum's executive director. "We've regularly had people who have come here just for this, and attendance picked up when word got out that it was ending."

Some of the items will be sold at auction tonight, including Stringer Bell's final costume (as worn by actor Idris Elba), while others will be returned to the private collectors who lent them. Most of the photographs will go into the museum's archives. A TV camera, pointed for now at the desk once occupied by Police Commissioner Ervin Burrell (Frankie Faison), will be returned to the Panavision headquarters. "It's my job to drive that back to New York," Woodward laments.

It may seem strange, seeing a display about a 21st-century TV series in a museum devoted to such relics of Baltimore's industrial past as a 102-year-old tugboat and a huge crane used in ship construction. But Woodward says the Wire exhibit represents a key part of the museum's mission.

"It's important that the museum isn't a mausoleum of dead businesses," he says. "We want to be sure that we talk about things that are still active, still here in Baltimore."

A subtext of tonight's celebration, however, will be the uncertain future of Maryland's film industry. Many other states offer more lucrative economic incentives to production companies. Since The Wire stopped filming in Baltimore in 2007, the area has attracted few major projects, despite a core of technicians and other film personnel who got their start on movies made by local boys Barry Levinson and John Waters.

"A lot of people worked very hard for more than two decades to build a crew base and infrastructure that could support a viable film community in our state," says The Wire creator David Simon, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun. "That it has all come to naught in the last few years, with the governor and legislature unable to keep pace with most other competing states in creating incentives for film work, is simply tragic."

Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office, says The Wire hired an average of nearly 4,700 local cast and crew members during each of its seasons, and spent a total of more than $96 million. It also accounted for business with an average of 735 vendors and contractors each season.

"We're definitely getting fewer projects now because of the lack of an incentive program," Dorsey says, noting that the negative effect is not just economic. From Waters' Pink Flamingos and Levinson's Diner to The Wire and a previous series, NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street, Baltimoreans have come to relish their city's reputation as the working man's Hollywood.

"People love to watch their city and state on film," she says. "I was just in Fells Point today, and people are still getting their picture taken in front of the Homicide plaque." Adds Jack Gerbes, head of the Maryland Film Office, "It's good for tourism, too. People are still heading down to Berlin, on the Eastern Shore, where Runaway Bride was shot."

In that sense, says Simon, he hopes this final party for The Wire will be just the end of one project, not of an era.

"After so much work over so many years creating a film industry, and so many millions of dollars funneled into Maryland's economy," he says, "it's hard to think that it will soon only exist as, well, a museum piece."

If you go

* "Disconnecting The Wire ... What's Next?"

* At the Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway, from 5:30 to 9:30 tonight.

* Tickets are $45 at the door, $40 in advance, $35 for BMI members and film industry union and guild members.

* Information: 410-727-4808. ext. 105, or thebmi.org.

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