Saturday, March 27, 2010

Movies & Road Trips

Dear Jamie,

Love your book, which I purchased about two months ago and am plowing through to get my research done for a mammoth road trip I'm going to do with a friend of mine for about 4 months next year including New England, Great Lakes, East Coast, Florida, Deep South and West Coast.

The main sights to see I've basically got covered but I was wondering if you could help me with some tips on movie related sights. Being a massive film geek from the UK I'd love to see some glimpses of the Americana i associate with old and new hollywood. So, any ideas on famous sights from movies, old or off-beat movie theaters to catch a film in, or museums/ memoria to see. Your knowledge would be appreciated.




Hi Alex --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA -- and glad you like my book.

I think (hope!..) I have already sent you a reply, but if not here comes a long overdue answer to your request for some movie-related road trip travel ideas. The USA has tons of movie sights (the whole country is one big backlot for Hollywood, I sometimes feel...), but my first thought was to send you a link to story I did for the Guardian travel section (two years ago now -- yikes!)

It ran on March 9, 2008 -- and here is a link.

I'm a big fan of films, old theaters and drive-ins, too -- so if there are specific movies you want to know about, write me again and I'll see what I can do.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

PS: Here is the text as well:

While there are great roads all over the world, nowhere else does driving around in an automobile evoke the essence of a place more wholeheartedly than it does in the USA. Hollywood has known this truth since its earliest days, from the Depression-era classics like It Happened One Night and Grapes of Wrath to more recent hits (think Rain Man, Thelma and Louise, Little Miss Sunshine, even Borat), their action set along some 4m miles of public roads crisscrossing the lower 48 states, not counting Alaska (Into the Wild) and Hawaii (Jurassic Park 1, 2 and 3

To be the star of your own road movie, though, head to Marfa, Texas, a primary location for both of last year's best pictures: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. The foreground action might make you think twice before venturing across the Atlantic, but Marfa and the surrounding West Texas expanses have all the background Americana which intrepid travellers (and Hollywood art directors) love so much: vast deserts, stunning red-rock monoliths, neon-signed cafes and roadside motels under endless blue skies.

Rent a car in Dallas, 500 miles to the west, and just drive. You'll be following in the footsteps of writers and aesthetes who were drawn here in the early Seventies by the charismatic sculptor Donald Judd, who bought up a disused army base to create a massive open-air art park. Nowadays you can enjoy the little town by staying in its wonderfully trendy Fifties motels (the Thunderbird or the Cosmico) and drinking the best coffee for miles (visit its popular Brown Recluse cafe, named after a very nasty local spider).

From here, continue to the desiccated wastelands of Big Bend National Park, rising in cliffs and canyons above the Rio Grande river, passing through the crossroads town of Marathon, which movie fans will recognise as the star of Wim Wenders's saga Paris, Texas. Cross the Rio Grande into southern New Mexico and Arizona, where the roadside scenery has hardly changed since Geronimo led his Apache warriors in battle against the US Army, stop by Tombstone (home of the OK Corral) and wind down in the desert resort of Phoenix, which you may recognise as the location of Raising Arizona

Three more filmic road trips:

The Departed

Start your history tour at Boston, site of last year's Best Picture (and seen in Good Will Hunting, Mystic River and Fever Pitch). Then follow in the tracks of songwriter Jonathan 'Roadrunner' Richman, whose hometown is en route to the port of Gloucester (The Perfect Storm). Cruise along country lanes past picture-perfect New England towns to Squam Lake, Maine, site of On Golden Pond

Brokeback Mountain

Start where the backcountry scenes were filmed, in the mountains around Banff, Alberta. Then cruise south along the Rocky Mountains into Montana (as seen in Heaven's Gate and A River Runs Through It), through Glacier National Park then into western Wyoming, via the splendid scenery of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

A silent road trip would be about as much fun as a silent movie, so if you like good music, go on a Coen Brothers Mississippi Odyssey and head down to where its heart and soul still live: along the Mississippi River, between Memphis and New Orleans. Drive past cotton and sugar-cane fields, eat BBQ ribs, listen to live Delta blues, pay homage to Elvis, then linger along the bayous of Louisiana.

more correspondence...

Dear Jamie,

Many thanks for helping me out. I'm off on the trip at the beginning of May: very excited. If you have time to reply before I leave, I'd love to know any recommendations for the top cinemas to visit. I'd to love to go to a "proper old" movie theatre with neon lightbulb signs and old fashioned snack bar, or a quintessiential drive-in or just anywhere with a bit of character.

I've got things like Mann's Chinese Theatre, The Angelika, NYand such so far.

Thanks again,



Hi Again Alex --

Glad to help -- and since I share your love of classic movie palaces, here are some more ideas. The best collection of really really amazing theaters is, not surprisingly, in LA -- downtown has a line of 1920s gems down Broadway (some thriving, some dying... look for Orpheum, the Los Angeles, the Palace, the State the Million Dollar and the United Artists). An organization called the Los Angeles Conservancy runs excellent weekend tours -- movie theatere tours are at 10am on Saturdays. (They also sometimes visit the Bradbury Building, where much of the distopic sci-fi classic Bladerunner was filmed...)

And the west LA neighborhoods, like Hollywood (where Graumann's/Manns Chinese stands near the Pantages, the Egyptian and the resurrected Cinerama Dome), and Westwood (where the Fox Westwood still gets used for blockbuster premieres) both have arrays of fabulous cinemas.

You could spend weeks or more enjoying these theaters (I am from LA, and still get a kick out of them -- some have state-of the-art projection and sound systems, too.)

Elsewhere in the US, you can come across cinemas in unlikely places (I came across some great ones, with marquees and neon, in the cowboy / oil roughneck towns of Wyoming!...) -- here is a website dedicated to their memory and preservation:

Cinema Treasures

Drive-ins have a following, too -- many are open only in summer, or at weekends. Here is a good Drive In Movie website:

Finally, if your travels take you anywhere near Cape Cod, you've gotta catch a movie at the Wellfleet Drive In -- and there are other great "ozoners" surviving all over the country. Not as many as there used to be, for sure, but still enough to plan a trip around!

OK -- that should be enough to keep you occupied for a few years -- take a camera with you on your travels, and let me know what you find!

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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