Monday, July 18, 2016

Connecticut films on the small screen

Hollywood seems to love the idea of an idyllic, quirky small town in Connecticut, but as is often the case, they don’t want to bother to go there and find a real Stars Hollow (to use the TV example from Gilmore Girls, filmed in California and Canada). There are any number of real charming, picturesque villages to choose from, but Hollywood continues to just imagine them.

Not that there is much that is real in any way in 1988’s Beetlejuice. In the film Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) Maitland live in Winter River, CT, which does not, of course, exist. The town used for filming, East Corinth, is located in Vermont. So why didn’t the screenwriters set the film in Vermont in the first place? All very puzzling. Fortunately, for the sake of this blog, there is a church prominently seen in the establishing shots using the town (and in a model replica of the town). But we never see inside the church, and it is never referenced in the dialogue. Which is unfortunate, because Barbara and Adam die in the opening minutes of the film, and it would be nice to have some Christian perspective on the afterlife. I suppose in this increasingly materialistic world, it’s something that an afterlife of any kind is proposed. Apparently the scenes in the netherworld were not really filmed on location either, but Michael Keaton’s role as a “bio-exorcist” makes this a very funny film.

Connecticut as a location seems to be popular with filmmakers when it comes to the supernatural and horror, though the film The Haunting in Connecticut was shot in Canada. (I need to note here that this awful film spawned a sequel with one of the worse titles in film history: The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia -- which was filmed not just in Canada but in Louisiana as well.)

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a horror cult classic that is explained fairly well in its title, was set and filmed in Connecticut. The science fiction/horror/satire, The Stepford Wives, based on the Ira Levin novel, was also set and actually filmed in Connecticut. (I’m writing about the superior 1975 Katharine Ross version rather than the lame 2004 Nicole Kidman version, though it too was set and filmed in the state.)

Connecticut has also been used as the setting for more realistic kinds of horror. 1968’s The Swimmer, based on a John Cheever short story and starring Burt Lancaster, deals with a more existential horror. (It was also filmed in the state.)  The Ice Storm, an Ang Lee film made in 1997, shows how horrifying domestic life in the 1970’s could be. And the great dramatist Eugene O’Neill set many of his works in Connecticut, including Long Day’s Journey into Night, which won a posthumous Pulitzer. This play, about one of the world’s most dysfunctional families, has been brought to the screen a number of times, but the 1962 version with Katharine Hepburn was filmed in New York. (Worth noting that Katharine Hepburn, star of this film and the next mentioned, was born in Hartford, Connecticut.)

On the brighter side, a number of comedies have also been set in the state. Howard Hawks’ classic 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby, was set but not filmed in the state. That filmed starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Grant returned to the state (but not really) for the 1948 comedy, Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House, which was also set but not filmed in the state.
Finally, Hollywood found a real, live beautiful Connecticut small town it could present under its real name and could film on real locations for the romantic comedy Mystic Pizza. We have been to Mystic. It is lovely and real. The film marked the beginning of Julie Roberts’ climb to box office success.

Connecticut has a rich film legacy so I won't get to all the films set and filmed in the state but we'll close by noting Hollywood has for some reason through the years linked the state with yuletide traditions. The classic Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, was set in an old farmhouse in a quaint Connecticut town. The film introduced the world to the song White Christmas and was filmed in California studios -- as was 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a food writer who pretends to have a perfect domestic life on a Connecticut farm. A film that has a much less heartwarming take on Christmas is 1994’s The Ref starring Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey. It’s about a bickering, dysfunctional family held hostage on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t filmed in California. It was filmed in Canada. An early Merry Christmas to all!

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