Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Small Screen in Oregon

There is a generation that grew to grew up in fear of dysentery because they spent hour after hour in computer labs playing The Oregon Trail. They tried to get those poor pioneers to the Beaver State but sometimes the wagon wheels just wouldn’t stay on. There is a film that doesn’t quite capture the excitement of that game,  2010’s Meek’s Cutoff. Settlers find themselves lost with a dubious guide in the high desert of Oregon, battling thirst and hopelessness. Despite some familiar faces in the cast such as Paul Dano and Michelle Williams, the film feels like an independent film, at times like a student film, with a glacial pace.

Though there is no church in the film, the settlers are heard reading the Bible (Genesis 3) and they do pray. But they differ greatly on how Christians should behave, particularly on the issue of how Native Americans should be treated. Should they be treated as pagans without moral standing or as human beings? The right answer seems clear to us, but it’s a little fuzzy to the characters in the film. The film, set in Oregon, used filming locations in Burns and Hines, Oregon.

A much more lively tale of the Old West is found in 1952’s Bend of the River, one of several classic Jimmy Stewart Westerns directed by Anthony Mann. Stewart plays a homesteader whose supplies are stolen by an land baron, and Stewart fights to get them back. The Oregon locations were filmed in Mount Hood, Timberline, Columbia River, and Sandy River.

If someone went into 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy hoping to see a Western, that person may well have been sorely disappointed. Gus Van Sant directed this oddly moving drama about drug addicts who rob from drugstores to get their fixes. Portland and Beacon Rock residents must have hoped to see stars Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch filming.

Speaking of those players of the Oregon Trail computer game, many of them spent hours at home watching video tapes of beloved cult classics set in the state. 1985’s The Goonies, based on a story (credited to Steven Spielberg) about kids hunting for treasure, was set in Oregon and filmed in Astoria and Cannon Beach. 1990’s Kindergarten Cop used those same cities for location filming, but told the story of a policeman (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who must go undercover as a teacher. Really, both of these films are models of credibility compared to 1986’s Short Circuit in which Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy come to the aid of a robot that miraculously becomes alive. It was also filmed in Astoria, as well as Cascade Locks and Columbia River Gorge.

From the same era, beloved by the same generation -- but a much better film -- is 1986’s Stand By Me. Child actors Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Cory Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell played friends making a journey to find a missing boy. The film was directed by Rob Reiner during his streak of amazing films (a little after This is Spinal Tap and just before The Princess Bride) and is based on a Stephen King story. The author considered it the first successful adaptation of his work (which came as a surprise to Brian DePalma, director of Carrie). Oregon locations used for shooting included Brownsville, Cottage Grove, Franklin, Eugene, Junction City, and Veneta.

A couple of generations before the computer nerds, in the days of flower power, writer Ken Kesey was a hero to the hippies. In 1970, the movie Sometimes a Great Notion was made, based on Kesey’s novel of the same name. The story of Oregon loggers struggling to keep their family business alive starred Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. It was filmed in the Columbia River Gorge, Newport, and Toledo, Oregon.

But the iconic novel of the 1960’s was Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, made into a film in 1975. The film took the Oscars for Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Screenplay (Bo Goldman), and Best Picture. Only one other picture has ever earned all five of those major awards: 1934’s It Happened One Night. Cuckoo, the story of a rebel in an insane asylum, is widely beloved as an anthem to the human spirit, and it is an Oregon film, with location shooting in Depoe Bay and Salem.

Unlike many states we’ve visited, there are so many more films set and shot in the state that I can’t begin to cover them all. Next week’s state, the last state of the year, has quite a few more.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, The Silence of the Lambs also won those five Oscars.

    Here's an interesting thing about shooting two well-known movies in Oregon, many decades apart: