This is inspired by a recent post at my girlfriend’s blog, who talked about her favorite representations of New York in cinema. Partially to show her up, and partially because about half of her picks would’ve been on my list, I decided to expand it to THE ENTIRE WORLD. Basically, using the same criteria by which she selected her New Yorks, these cities (as you’ll see, towns will also count, but they must be urban areas) must play a larger role in the story than simply being background. The ways in which that criteria manifests itself will vary, as you will shortly see.
BEFORE SUNRISE (Venice) – Fuck Paris, man. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a city that feels more romantic than Venice does in Before Sunrise. Every place they go is some off-the-beaten-path, not-gonna-find-it-in-a-guidebook, totally magical place that EVERYONE wants to fall in love in.
BREATHLESS (Paris) – Well, Paris is PRETTY cool, you know? Godard’s Paris in Breathless feels exactly like descriptions of New York in the late 1960s – a city full of partially-employed quasi-intellectuals who love the arts, but lack any mode of expression except towards each other. The more I think about this movie, the more I fall for it, the more because I so badly want to crawl into the movie and FEEL this place.
LA DOLCE VITA/L’ECLISSE (Rome) – I’ve never been to Italy, I only have the movies. And while Rome could never be the Rome I know in these two films, I’m sure there’s enough of it there from fifty years ago for it to FEEL like the Rome in these two films. Anyway, I hope so.
There are some slight differences in portrayal, mostly in that Fellini’s masterpiece (I do hold it in greater esteem than 8½) is such a wild, glamorous romp through the city’s social elite, and Antonioni’s is a vision of isolation (as was his wont), but between the black-and-white photography, the two great director’s incredible control of their frame, and, obviously, the location, these two Romes feel like they exist near each other, each hovering just outside the other’s universe. I hope to someday explore them both.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (New York City) – Wes Anderson has a distinct visual sense, that much is certain. But to what end? Here, he transformed New York into a city much like Fellini’s or Godard’s – a little larger than life, greatly exaggerated, but perfectly calibrated to show only the parts the characters know, the way they know it.
THE THIRD MAN (Vienna) – Ah, the other side to the lovers’ paradise we saw in Before Sunrise. Vienna in Carol Reed's best-regarded film is late-40s Vienna, which means postwar Vienna, and that air of reconstruction hangs over every scene, with each character trying to find their way into this new world that’s being built. That, and it’s just a great place to set a film, visually. Every shot ends up better for it.
CASABLANCA (duh) – This one is so obvious it hardly needs mentioning. A city full of thieves, corrupt officials, freedom fighters, gamblers, and club owners? It’s like if you took Las Vegas, but gave it some sort of purpose.
PORT OF SHADOWS (Le Havre) – The existential sibling of Casablanca and the Vienna of The Third Man, Marcel Carne’s great gangster picture drips with atmosphere and feels absolutely alive in every sense. If the place feels a little fake, it’s because it’s a movie, damn it, but the spirit of this film and its town comes alive at Panama’s, the go-to bar for all the town’s drifters.
NASHVILLE (Nashville, TN) – A movie does get a leg up when its city comes to represent, oh, all of America. Nashville is one of the most American films ever made, in all that that could ever mean, and it must be seen to be known. The Nashville of Nashville, much like the New York of The Royal Tenenbaums, could never really exist, but in a lot of ways it does, everyday.
OCEAN’S 13 (Las Vegas) – Sure, Ocean's 11 also took place in Vegas, but there’s something to the Vegas that director Steven Soderbergh created with this film. It’s at once insanely modern (are there really casinos that use computers that read your pulse and so forth to determine if you’re cheating?), and exactly the Vegas we all know from the Sinatra days. Really, it’s what that Vegas would feel like if it existed today.
IN BRUGES (Bruges) – Fockin’ fairytale town, right? In Bruges is one of those films that every single bastard on this damn planet should have seen by now, because every single bastard on this damn planet has no reason to dislike it, but how great is Bruges? Bruges is everything in this movie…it’s a dead end, a wonderfully preserved bit of history, an escape, a seedy underbelly in a part of the world rife with seedy underbellies, but to everyone, in one way or another, it’s a fockin’ fairytale town where almost anything can happen and everything does. I love the shit out of this movie, and fockin’ Bruges.
What about you? What cities just scream out to you?