August 13, 2008

Fountain on Film

Louisville filmmaker Morgan Atkinson lovingly captured the story of the Louisville Falls Fountain in his 1994 documentary, “Falls City.” Besides chronicling the tortured saga of good-icon-gone-wrong, the one-hour film is a whimsical trip down memory lane for Louisville history buffs. Atkinson interviewed many of the prominent players on camera, including Mary Bingham, Dan Ulmer, members of the Falls Fountain Committee and some average Joes. 

The movie includes footage of the fountain in action, of course, and also some campy WAVE-3 footage of the dedication ceremony. (The media-obsessed will dig the footage of a youngish C-J editor David Hawpe, WAVE-3 anchor Jackie Hayes and a priceless clip of baby-faced WAVE weatherman John Belski leading a section of the crowd in a cheer for the fountain. Really.) KET will air “Falls City” on Sunday, August 17 and Monday, August 18, the 20th anniversary of the “inaugural squirt.” The DVD is also available via Atkinson’s website, www.morganatkinson.com. 

“Naturally I lack objectivity, but (the film) serves as an interesting time capsule and still makes me laugh in a good way,” Atkinson tells LEO Weekly. It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come in some areas, like Waterfront Park, but how some things remain the same — as with bridge building.

Towards the end of its life, the Louisville Falls Fountain wasn’t quite reaching the 420 foot mark.
Towards the end of its life, the Louisville Falls Fountain wasn’t quite reaching the 420 foot mark.

“The Falls Fountain was a good thought, generously offered by a man and family that had done a lot for the community,” Atkinson says. “I’ve seen the fountain in Geneva that inspired Mr. Bingham and I understand why he wanted that for Louisville. I still think the approach to its debut and the aftermath say a lot about the way things are done in our community, and most communities for that matter. Hype and boosterism aren’t unique to Louisville, but I thought our brand of it made for a good story.” 

So, was the Falls Fountain simply a bad idea? “The fountain was a good idea gone bad,” Atkinson says. “These things are hard to know, but I think the fountain helped pave the way for the great success that our waterfront has become. This gift from the Binghams helped focus our attention on the waterfront.”

“If anything, it might have been too soon,” Sharon Receveur, the city’s archivist when the fountain was unveiled, says. “The city had started to look at the river but maybe not quite enough. We were still working on the Fourth Street corridor, on the Derby Clock (another would-be tourist attraction) and elsewhere downtown. We hadn’t quite yet gone to the riverfront. We might look at the fountain differently now — it might fit into the riverfront today.” 

Receuver also pointed out the dramatic changes in technology over the past 20 years. “Twenty years is light years ago in the computer realm. The fountain was beset with technical problems that might be easily overcome today.” —JW