Does it sometimes seem as if every big city in the movies is New York and every romantic destination Paris? Well… they are. (Hmm, I’m not entirely sure that makes total grammatical sense, but ah well. You get the point, hopefully.) According to an article in The Observer, Paris and New York have achieved such “overlord” location status on the big screen that most filmgoers feel as if they’ve been there (at some point, haven’t we? or have I just seen National Lampoon’s European Vacation too many times?), even if that is unfortunately not always the case. On the other hand, though, movie Paris = no customs! Tough call, really.
However, New York and Paris don’t have all the big screen fun, and there are other locations, sometimes forgotten in the glow of the, ah, terrible two, that have achieved a sort of mythical status as well. They too have celluloid alter egos, or impressions of the city created from a jumble of film recollections and real world experiences. These locations certainly also deserve a place in the sun – for better or, perhaps more often than is admitted, for worse.
Here are a few of these alternative location stars:
Well before they awkwardly greeted each other in Paris, Jesse and Celine memorably walked the streets of Vienna in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, forever establishing Austria’s capital as the place for soulmate-at-first-site hopefuls. Hey, Ethan Hawke’s gotta sit down across from you on that train eventually, right? Vienna, and particularly its famous ferris wheel, the Reisenrad, was also featured in the Orson Welles noir classic, The Third Man, which takes place in Vienna right after World War II. You’ll never look down from the top of a ferris wheel in the same way again.
Another Vienna classic: Amadeus, about Mozart and Salieri.
Trivia: The battle fought at the beginning of the film Gladiator is mentioned as taking place at Vindobona, which is actually the early name for Vienna. It has, you know, expanded a bit since then.
For other films that take place in and around Vienna, check out this nice little review by Dustin Penn here.
The Australian Outback
From Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Dish, to Crocodile Dundee and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max, to my own mother’s obsessively favorite films A Town Like Alice and My Brilliant Career, Australia’s Outback seems to be a source of endless fascination for both filmmakers and filmgoers. What really goes on out there in all that space? We don’t really know, but it must be something mysterious and exciting and, of course, intriguingly rugged.
Trivia: Crocodile Dundee is the most successful Australian movie ever. I guess all I can say is… wow.
For an interesting look at the Outback’s connection to the horror movie genre, click here. Let’s just say it’s called “Things that go bump in the outback” – make of that what you will.
Sure, filmmakers have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with the New York skyline, but those sloping streets and red bridge towers have inspired their own impressive number of classic films and made San Francisco’s unique cityscape internationally admired. Really, the city has almost too many classic scenes. Scottie saving Madeleine from the waters below the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo. Dirty Harry finding evidence to a murder on the city’s rooftops in Dirty Harry. Benjamin Braddock driving across the Bay Bridge (the wrong way, but in any case) in The Graduate, a bridge that also appears in The Maltese Falcon. For a more contemporary scene, there’s Mia, who crashes her car into a trolley in The Princess Diaries. And, of course, not forgetting Steve McQueen’s very famous car chase through the city’s streets in Bullitt.
San Fran fun: And you thought San Francisco’s hills were just for exercise (and really frustrating bike rides), check out what else someone did with those gentle slopes.
For a more complete list of movies set in this California town, click here.
There’s just something so indescribably exotic about a city that is both very much like a city near you and at the same time entirely different. With its bright lights, bright colors, bright pop culture, and seemingly limitless supply of population (see trivia below), Tokyo appears to be the perfect setting in which to be both completely surrounded and entirely alone. It’s the city where Charlotte and Bob had a fleeting connection in Lost in Translation and where people struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic future (Akira), but also where James Bond (You Only Live Twice) and his modern counterpart Austin Powers (in Goldmember) both encounter, you guessed it, sumo wrestling. And, uh, there’s that Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift movie as well – of course.
Trivia: Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the entire world. With well over 30 million people (for some perspective: the New York City metropolitan area has about 18 million – more than 10 million less), you can certainly understand how that would be.
Antarctica and the Arctic Circle
Okay, I can probably guess what you’re thinking right now: great, more penguins. (and, well, I have a huge picture of them right above this, so why wouldn’t you be?) But really, what you should be thinking is: action and horror. I don’t know if it’s the treacherous ice, low likelihood of survival, lengthy hours of darkness, or those polar bears (because you know they mean business), or all of the above, but the arctic ice is accumulating quite the impressive collection of action/horror films: The Transformers, 30 Days of Night (it’s in Alaska, but north of the Arctic Circle, so I’m gonna go ahead and count it), Alien vs. Predator, National Treasure, The Thing, The Thing from Another World, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Siberia, close enough). And then, yes, not to forget of course Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale, The Endurance, and Eight Below (and thus also Nankyoku Monogatari). Plus Insomnia (both versions).
Trivia: One of the original horror classics of literature actually began in the Arctic Circle – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
If you’re looking for exotic mystery in a film, Cairo seems to have it in spades. And how could it not? Considering its association with over three thousand years of ancient Egyptian civilization, Cairo is quite hard to beat as a movie location. Naturally, you’ve got your obligatory pseudo-Egyptian myth horror (The Mummy), other mythologically- inspired action (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), tourism (Death on the Nile), and just plain action (The Spy Who Loved Me). In other words, if you’re looking for an otherworldly adventure complete with historic mystique, celluloid Cairo is where you want to be.
Cairo fun: If you like what they did in that San Francisco video, see what happens when they take on the pyramids.
Well, you can’t say that film has been easy on poor, much maligned Transylvania. For many long years, Transylvania has had to suffer numerous indignities as the place inextricably intertwined with vampires and most anything gloomy and weird (that is somehow associated with darkness and rain, in any way at all). At least they pretty much know who to blame: Bram Stoker, who decided to have his Dracula live there (despite the fact that Dracula’s inspiration, Vlad the Impaler, actually ruled over nearby Walachia, which got off easy, all things considered). Transylvania, a region in Romania, is, I’m sure, a perfectly lovely area with many attractive medieval ruins, but sadly, this image was not meant to be. Instead, it’s the spooky, rainy, shadowy, depressing, crumbling, seriously weird, and, let’s just say it, eeeevil location of Nosferatu, Young Frankenstein (and Mary Shelley’s monster wasn’t even originally, um, “born” in Transylvania), Van Helsing, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, even The Rocky Horror Picture Show (technically).
What does the real Transylvania actually look like? Check out some Flickr photos here to see. And check out the official tourism office here.
Another location with quite unfortunate film credentials? Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Apart from its seriously depressing depiction in Euro Trip, it stars in, of all things, Hostel. I think that pretty much says it all.
And, of course… London
Not just the setting of one of my favorite comedy moments in film (Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!), and thus also infernally frustrating roundabouts, London has been the setting of countless classics and, well, not-so-classics, as well as more than its fair share of apocalyptic/future films (28 Days Later, Children of Men, V for Vendetta), which is, needless to say… interesting. Although New York has faired no better, if we’re being honest (that poor Statue of Liberty, she’s been crushed by a tidal wave, destroyed by apes, buried in ice, animated by slime, used as a mutant-creating weapon and a mind wiping device, etc. etc.). The British capital, or rather, its buses, are also fantasy favorites (The Mummy Returns, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). And naturally, you can’t have a timeless city without an endless number of romantic comedies (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, The Holiday). In short, the big screen London has got something for everyone.