Location, Location, Location — This past weekend, I saw Being There, the final film in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s film series titled “Hal Ashby in the Seventies.” Sam Shapiro, the organizer of this film series and a part-time faculty member in our English Department, introduced the film by commenting on the making of the film and discussing the relationship between Hal Ashby (the director) and Peter Sellers (the star of the film). For Sellers, Being There was his final film. Being There was released in 1979, and Sellers died in 1980. Sam then concluded his introductory comments by mentioning that most of the movie was filmed at Biltmore House in Asheville.
Having toured Biltmore House, I enjoyed seeing the various ways in which this house figures in the film. I took pleasure in recognizing specific rooms, gardens, and landscape features associated with Biltmore House, but it all seemed different seeing these features within the context of the film. When I toured Biltmore House, it struck me as something of a grand tourist attraction. However, when I saw Biltmore House portrayed as a lived-in residence in the movie, it seemed more like a real house to me.
The first time I ever gave much thought to film locations was in 1969, and it involved the movie Downhill Racer, starring Robert Redford. Several scenes in the movie were shot less than a mile from my childhood home on South Turkey Creek Road near Conifer, Colorado. In the movie, these scenes are presented as taking place in the Colorado town of Idaho Springs. However, I knew exactly where these scenes were shot, and they were many miles from the town of Idaho Springs. Our whole family went to see the Downhill Racer as soon as it was released, and we couldn’t help but announce to everyone in the theater that those scenes took place on our road. I enjoyed seeing our familiar road in the movie, but I remember thinking that the film was distorting reality.
Forty-two years after the release of Downhill Racer, the topic of film locations again surfaced in my life. Gavin, our son, found out that The Hunger Games was being filmed in the Charlotte area, and he auditioned to be an extra. He ended up spending the entire summer of 2011 working as an extra, although he is only in the film for about a nano-second. Because of Gavin’s involvement in the film, I knew the specific places in the Charlotte area where the film was shot. Nevertheless, when I saw the film in the theater, I did not have a sense that I was seeing scenes from Charlotte on the screen. Through the magic of movie making, the real places that were used in the film were so completely transformed that they appeared to be from an entirely different world that had nothing to do with Charlotte.
By studying films, we can better understand how talented filmmakers, such as Hal Ashby, use their films to portray, distort, and transform reality. In a sense, films provide with us with opportunities to see our familiar world in different ways. This theme runs through the various film studies courses that we offer in the English Department. In the spring 2019 semester, for example, we are offering several such courses, including Sam Shapiro’s “Paranoid Cinema: American Movies in the 1970s” and Henry Doss’s “Southern Childhood in Films, Stories, and Performance.” These various film studies courses will cover many movies, which were filmed in many different locations. However, if one were to look for a great location to study films, one need look no further than our own English Department.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Balaka Basu recently presented a paper titled “Fan Fiction as Literature: Post Canonical Writing and the Poetics of Genre” at Fan Studies Network – North America in Chicago at DuPaul University.
Clayton Tarr recently presented a paper titled “Counting Cards: Enumeration and Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” at the Victorians Institute Conference in Asheville.
Upcoming Events and Meetings — Here is a list of upcoming events and meetings:
November 14 — As part of International Education Week, on Wednesday, Nov. 14th from 9-3:30 Sarah Minslow’s War and Genocide in Children’s Literature class will host their annual Promoting Peace Project. This year they will create murals of handprints to symbolize the role each of us plays in creating a more peaceful society. Stop by to make a donation and add your handprint for peace to the mural. All donations will support refugee children. It will be held in the courtyard between CHHS and CoEd.
Quirky Quiz Question — In addition to starring in Being There, Peter Sellers starred in the original Pink Panther movies. What was the name of the character he played in these films?