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What if The Godfather had been filmed in St. Louis? In a recent interview, Francis Ford Coppola described conflicts during the inception of “The Godfather” production. One point of discord was the shoot location. Coppola insisted on New York City as the backdrop, but the holders of the purse strings urged that production take place in a cheaper city such as St. Louis. When watching a film that’s theme is strongly associated with a location or time in history, I am sure you find that no matter how skilled a set designer, art director or director of photography, a project using a placeholder location rarely yields an experience as transportive as one using the location referred to in the story. Of course great films can take place solely on a sound stage or in a single interior (Rope, My Dinner with Andre, Dogville) but these films are a different beast of more of a philosophical nature than atmospheric.
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In addition to incorporating an unconscious element of authenticity to a movie, there is the potential for an element of historical documentation in the medium of film-making that is closely tied to the depiction of a real life locale. The book, Scenes from The City outlines some of the most emblematic films produced in New York City. Films that reflect the Big Apple’s not so distant, gritty past are; The French Connection, Midnight Cowboy, An Unmarried Woman, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Panic in Needle Park, and The Warriors.
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Certain directors have become synonymous with a region such as Richard Linklater (Austin, Texas), Gus Van Sant (Portland), Robert Altman (Southern California). Hitchcock had a short love affair with The San Francisco Bay Area making both Vertigo and The Birds in Northern California. M. Night Shymalan concentrates on his adopted Pennsylvania and John Cassavettes splits his locations between New York and Los Angeles. Spike Lee is Brooklyn. It is often said that New York City plays a leading role in most of Woody Allen’s work. Series such as Twin Peaks benefited from the forelorned atmosphere of Snoqualmie or North Bend, Washington and where else could The Long Goodbye or Short Cuts have been filmed but LA?
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It is not to say that films using locations to stand in for others are incapable of capturing historically relevant information. The majority of anything shot outside a sound studio is bound to have traces of the Los Angeles landscape in it even if it doubles for New York, Indiana or Chicago (the exterior shots of Jerry Seinfelds’ apartment were shot in Los Angeles). As a self-centered child and native of Los Angeles I never questioned that the landscape of my favorite television shows was familiar. It only occurred to me that residents of Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and New York are in the unique position to see their hometown captured when I recently re watched the original Charlies Angels series on a trip to another country and felt a profound nostalgia for my childhood in Los Angeles.
Those of us in production favored cities are lucky that we can “go home” by watching a television show or movie but there are many works that have captured the essence of a locale off the beaten track. See more location shots here.
Where are you from and what is your favorite hometown movie?
Recommendations by city:
New York: Taxi Driver, An Unmarried Woman, Panic In Needle Park, Crusing,Mean Streets, Who’s That Knocking At My Door, Manhattan, Husbands And Wives, Hannah And Her Sisters, The French Connection, Rosemary’s Baby, Dogday Afternoon, Shaft, Annie Hall, Wild Style, Kids, Stranger Than Paradise, Warriors, The Royal Tennebaums, Moonstruck...
Los Angeles: The Long Goodbye, Shampoo, The Player, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, To Live And Die in L.A., Love Streams, Straight Time, Charlies Angeles (series), Training Day, Magnolia, L.A. Story, Grand Canyon,Curb Your Enthusiasm, Chinatown, Car Wash, The Bad News Bears, Foxes, Minnie & Moskowitz, Valley Girl, Irreconsilable Differences, Blade Runner, Bowfinger, Mulholland Drive,