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Category Archives: Photo Tours

A Spring Breakers Photo Tour

While recently in St. Petersburg, FL on vacation, I had the opportunity to visit some prominent locations from Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, one of my favorite American films of recent years. First, I headed to B&M Country Cooking, which “played” the chicken shack that three of the young female protagonists (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) rob in order to fund their spring-break excursion. The restaurant in the world of the film is located out-of-state but in reality it can be found in a working-class area of St. Pete. It’s also the subject of one of the film’s best shots: a Gun Crazy-like traveling shot from the P.O.V. of a getaway car as it circles the chicken shack while the robbery, which can be seen through the restaurant’s large plate-glass windows, is occurring inside.

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Next I headed over to Sunshine Food and Gifts. This undistinguished convenience-store parking lot is where the three girls re-enact their crime for the benefit of their goody two-shoes friend (Selena Gomez). Hit me, baby, one more time!

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Then I visited Lake Maggiore Park. This is the first stop where Alien, James Franco’s white rapper/drug-dealer character, takes the girls after springing them from prison.

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Finally, I headed over to the Sirata Beach Resort. This arcade is depicted in the montage scene where Alien and the girls are robbing spring breakers to the strains of Britney Spears’ “Everytime.” Who can forget the blood spraying out of that extra’s mouth after Alien pistol-whips him in slow motion?

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Vertigo: A Photo Tour

My wife recently traveled to San Francisco for work and I tagged along for the ride. While she had to spend the better part of two days attending conferences, I decided to embark on a self-guided tour of prominent locations from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Have smartphone with GPS, will travel!

The first Vertigo location I visited was the most impressive — the Misión San Francisco De Asis (popularly known as the “Mission Dolores”), a small church that was built in the late 18th century and whose appearance has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.

Here’s the exterior as it appears in the film (with Madeleine Elster’s green Jaguar parked out front):
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And here’s the same location today:
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In the film, Scottie Ferguson follows Madeleine through this ornate chapel . . .
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. . . and into the adjacent cemetery. This is one of the most haunting places I’ve ever been; none of the tombstones date from more recently than the 19th century and the plentiful trees, statues, rose bushes and hazy lighting give the place an ethereal quality well-suited to Hitchcock’s spellbinding aims. As Chris Marker would later put it, “Hitchcock invented nothing.” Here is a shot of the grave of Carlotta Valdes as it appears in the film:
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It took me about five seconds to find the exact location today (note the tombstone of one “John Tobin” in both images):
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Next I headed over to 1000 Mason St., home of the impressively imposing apartment building where the Elsters lived:
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Then I went to the Empire Hotel where Judy Barton, Madeleine’s alter-ego, resided. It has since been renamed, appropriately enough, the Hotel Vertigo:
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Finally, as a special Zodiac-themed bonus feature, here’s a photo I snapped of the Transamerica Pyramid:
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This building is, of course, the subject of the cinema’s greatest fake time-lapse CGI shot:


Boyhood: A Photo Tour

The following post was created in a spirit of lighthearted fun. For those of you who fear I’m getting soft in my old age, please be aware that I’m working on a review of Hard to Be a God.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Austin, Texas, on a vacation with my wife Jill. So of course we had to visit several prominent locations from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Our first stop was the legendary Continental Club, a live music venue that originally opened in 1957, and which had also played itself as a live music club in Linklater’s Slacker in 1991. Here is the club’s lovely exterior sign:

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The interior of the Continental Club is quite small. It’s really more of a bar with a small stage than a club proper. Jill and I arrived at “happy hour” and enjoyed delicious margaritas (made with tequila, triple sec and lime juice – none of that “sour mix” b.s.!) for $3.50 a piece. We chatted with the friendly bartender and listened to Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. Here’s a photo Jill took of me taking a photo of the stage where Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his girlfriend Sheena (Zoe Graham) watched the bluegrass band The Austin Steamers play (please note the margaritas in the foreground):

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Next we headed over to Book People, the largest independent bookstore in all of Texas. This is where the scene of Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) attending a midnight book-release party for Harry Party and the Half-Blood Prince was filmed (although the scene actually takes place in Houston). Sadly, they did not have my book, Flickering Empire, in stock:

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Finally, we hit up the Magnolia Cafe where Mason and Sheena memorably ate queso at 3am while engaging in some typically Linklater-esque witty and philosophical dialogue. Jill and I can confirm that the queso is indeed amazing — though it wasn’t the very best that we had in Austin (that would be at Torchy’s Tacos). Here’s the cafe’s exterior sign:

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And here’s Jill enjoying some of that famous queso not far from the booth where Mason and Sheena sat:

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Although it has nothing to do with Boyhood, I wanted to also include a shot of the “Blu-ray vending machine” at the Alamo Drafthouse, further proof that Austin is one of America’s best city’s for cinephilia. The less said about the movie we actually saw at the Drafthouse, the new Poltergeist remake, the better. (Cut me some slack — Mad Max was sold out.)

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Anyone visiting Austin can find the addresses of these locations from the film (and plenty more) at this invaluable website: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/Boyhood.html#.VWZW66a6ZhB


Cinematic Iceland: A Photo Tour

The country of Iceland has had a relatively prolific and surprisingly rich local film industry over the past couple decades, especially considering its population is currently hovering at an all-time high of barely more than 300,000 people. I recently visited this delightful Scandinavian nation for the occasion of my fifth wedding anniversary and was able to engage in many film-related activities along the way, including visiting the locations of prominent Icelandic movies and having coffee with legendary director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Below are some photos documenting my journey. Unless otherwise noted they were taken by me or my wife, Jill.

20130806_165430Me and the great Fridrik Thor Fridriksson in a quiet corner of Reykjavik’s fashionable 101 Bar. (Our full interview will be posted on this blog soon.)

Fridrik Thor Fridriksson is almost single-handedly responsible for Iceland’s impressive movie boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. His 1991 feature Children of Nature (Börn náttúrunnar), the only locally made film of that year, was the first Icelandic movie to be nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. He sunk the film’s profits into buying production equipment and established the Icelandic Film Corporation, which produced dozens of distinctive films in the following years. I interviewed Fridriksson over coffee and was able to see a beautiful 35mm print of Children of Nature, which I had only previously seen on VHS tape.

Children of Nature ranks for me alongside of Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story as one of the cinema’s most powerful statements about the predicament of the elderly. It tells the story of Thorgeir (Gísli Halldórsson), an old man who is virtually forced by his uncaring family into living in a retirement home. Upon arriving there he meets Stella (Sigríður Hagalín), an old flame, with whom he soon steals a jeep and escapes to rural southern Iceland so that she can see again the land of her childhood. One of the film’s most evocative scenes occurs right before the couple flee Reykjavik for the countryside: Thorgeir strolls alone through Holavallagardur cemetery, a remarkable site that contains many graves dating back to the 19th century. Flowers and trees have been planted directly on top of many of the plots, giving the impression that the location is a garden as much as it is a graveyard. It is unquestionably the most beautiful cemetery I’ve visited and one that makes its stateside counterparts seem sterile and depressing by contrast.

20130807_152002Holavallagardur cemetery

childrenI love this movie so much I paid 1600 krona to see it!

Fridriksson may be best known in the U.S. for Cold Fever (Á köldum klaka), an absurdist comedy/road movie about Hirata (Masatoshi Nagase), a Japanese businessman who travels to Iceland to perform a traditional cleansing ritual at the site where his parents had died years earlier. The film was an international arthouse hit when it was released in 1995/1996 and part of what makes it so charming is the way it uses a fish-out-of-water story to present “typically” quirky Icelandic characters and scenarios to an outsider-protagonist who functions as a surrogate for the viewer. For instance, the first place Hirata visits in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor hot spring that has long been the country’s most popular tourist destination.

coldHirata (Masatoshi Nagase) visits the Blue Lagoon in a still from Cold Fever. The milky blue water and roiling mist contribute to an intoxicating, ethereal atmosphere.

bluelagoonJill and me in the same location 19 years after Fridriksson shot his scene. Please note the above photo was taken at 9:30 pm.

vlcsnap-2013-08-12-16h19m03s109Hirata stays at the upscale Saga Hotel in Reykjavik. In this still from the film he is enjoying a glass of wine in the hotel bar when he’s approached by a punky young woman desperate to sell her car.

100_2444The same location as seen today. It has since been purchased by Radisson and renamed the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel.

Unlike Hirata we didn’t pop into the Saga for a drink. We did however imbibe at many other local bars, including the amazing Big Lebwoski-themed Lebowski Bar.

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Of course we ordered White Russians . . .

lebowski2I had the “El Duderino,” which contained tequila and triple sec (appropriate for a drink named after the Dude’s Latinized nickname — or for those “not into the brevity thing”). Jill had the “Tree Hugger,” which was made with soy milk instead of cream!

One of the most popular Icelandic film-exports of the 21st century is Baltasar Kormákur’s offbeat comedy 101 Reykjavik, which details a young man’s affair with his mother’s lesbian lover. One of the movie’s central locations is a trendy bar known as Kaffibarinn. Unfortunately, Kormákur’s subsequent output has become increasingly generic and impersonal (culminating in a recent stint in Hollywood as Mark Wahlberg’s director of choice).

100_2468Kaffibarinn in 2013.

Iceland has become a popular destination for Hollywood productions in recent years (especially sci-fi films in search of exotic exteriors). The opening of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, one of the most beautiful and enigmatic scenes in that abstract and still-underrated movie, was shot at the awesome Gulfoss waterfall.

prometheusGulfoss: the biggest waterfall in Iceland and one of the most impressive natural wonders I’ve ever seen.

Iceland’s exteriors have also proven to be an attractive option to filmmakers from other European countries. Aleksandr Sokurov’s ambitious Russian/German co-production of Faust (2011), for instance, memorably set its final scene in Geysir (pronounced gay-ZEER), the site of one of only two of the world’s continually spouting geysers. No one in Sokurov’s film, however, looks as remotely happy as my wife and I do here:

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This post would not be complete without mention of my visit to Iceland’s Phallological Museum, which contains penis samples of over 280(!) different mammals. The museum’s quest to find a human donor was the subject of the hilarious — and surprisingly sweet — 2012 documentary The Final Member, which I reviewed when it played the Chicago International Film Festival last year. Below is my photograph of the museum’s sole human sample, finally acquired in 2011. It belonged to 95-year-old former explorer Pall Arason.

finalmemberPlease forgive me for posting this.


Woodstock from Welles to Ramis: A Photo Tour

I recently drove 50-odd miles northwest of my fair city of Chicago to visit, for the first time, the quaint suburb of Woodstock, Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to take pictures for possible inclusion in Flickering Empire, the forthcoming book that I co-wrote with Adam Selzer about the history of early film production in Chicago. I specifically wanted to visit the former location of the Todd Seminary for Boys where Orson Welles, an alumnus, co-directed the film The Hearts of Age in 1934 when he was just 19-years-old. Although I knew the Todd School had closed in 1954 and that all of its buildings had since been razed, I wanted to see where it once stood and hopefully take photos of any surviving landmarks — such as a giant outdoor bell or a distinctive gravestone — that contributed to such striking images in the movie. I also knew that historic downtown Woodstock — standing in for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania — was where Illinois-native Harold Ramis had filmed Groundhog Day in 1993. Since Groundhog Day is one of my favorite comedies and a movie I frequently show in film studies classes, I decided to try and visit prominent locations from that film as well. Below is a photo tour of my day-long expedition.

Here’s Orson Welles and his classmates in front of the residence building known as Grace Hall. This photo would’ve been taken sometime between 1926 and 1931. Click on the photo to enlarge it (Orson is the tall lad standing in the middle — his head is directly beneath the window on the far left side of the building):
orson Photo: Woodstock Public Library

No one knows exactly where The Hearts of Age, Welles’ debut film, was shot but it was almost certainly somewhere on the Todd campus. Here’s 19-year-old Welles heavily made-up as “Death” in a still I created from the DVD of the film:
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Tragically, Grace Hall, the final building standing from the original Todd School campus, was razed in 2010. It was reportedly still in excellent condition when the owners demolished it in order to build new “duplex” housing for seniors:
grace Photo: Woodstock Advocate

Here’s the same location (318 Christian Way) as seen today:
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Welles also performed at the famous Woodstock Opera House. Here he is (bottom left), with fellow summer-stock players Michael MacLiammoir and Louise Prussing, onstage at the Opera House in 1934:
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The exterior of the Woodstock Opera House as seen today (note the Italianate bell tower, which probably inspired the climax of Welles’ 1946 film The Stranger):
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Speaking of which . . . one of the many ways Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day character, Phil Connors, attempts to commit suicide in the film is by leaping from the tower:
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Here’s a frontal view of the Opera House. Located at 121 Van Buren St, it also plays the “Pennsylvania Hotel” where Andie McDowell’s character, Rita, stays in the movie:
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Phil, meanwhile, stays at a bed and breakfast known as the “Cherry Street Inn.” In real life, this gorgeous Victorian mansion is actually a private residence:
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Here’s the Woodstock Theater, which plays the “Alpine Theater” in the film, as seen today. The address is 209 Main Street (sadly, Heidi II was not playing when I visited):
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The “Tip Top Cafe,” where Phil has breakfast with Rita and Larry (Chris Elliot), is now a taqueria. It is located at 108 Cass St:
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Woodstock Square, which plays “Gobbler’s Knob” in the film:
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Some of the most memorable moments in Groundhog Day involve Phil’s repeated run-ins with annoying insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky):
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The same sidewalk as seen today:
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“Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy!”:
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There are some very impressive Orson Welles celebrations planned for Woodstock in 2014 and 2015. You can learn about them on Wellesnet, the invaluable Orson Welles Web Resource, here: http://www.wellesnet.com/?page_id=5387

You can learn more about Woodstock and Groundhog Day here: http://woodstockgroundhog.org/pages/tour.html

Unless otherwise noted, all of the above photos were taken by me.


Wong’s Hong Kong (A Photo Tour)

This fall will see the return of a grand master when Wong Kar-Wai releases his new movie The Grandmasters. The world’s most romantic filmmaker directing what is promised to be a “real kung fu film” (with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai playing Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s teacher) is a mouth-watering prospect. The fact that it is Wong’s first movie in over seven years to be made in his native Hong Kong has raised anticipation and expectations even more. Although working slowly has since become his modus operandi, in the mid-1990s Wong was synonymous with the frenetic urban energy and unique East-meets-West flavor of Hong Kong after releasing Ashes of Time, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels within an astonishing span of just 13 months.

In 2006, I travelled to Hong Kong and visited many of the iconic locations featured in the delightful Chungking Express / Fallen Angels diptych. Here is my own personal photo tour of Wong Kar-Wai’s Hong Kong:

The central location of the first half of Chungking Express is Chungking Mansions, one of the oldest and most famous buildings on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side. (This is where Brigitte Lin’s character, the Woman in the Blonde Wig, recruits the Indian drug smugglers.) The first floor consists of dozens of retail shops, some of which are no larger than phone booths, with the upper floors containing hostels that cater to international travelers. (This is not an endorsement. It is reportedly an unsafe place to stay.) Watching Chungking Express is even more fascinating after having visited this location, as one can really appreciate the accuracy with which Wong captures the building’s singularly grungy poetic quality. Especially impressive is the way the film evokes what it feels like to wander around the first floor – with different ethnic music drifting out at anyone walking through the maze of myriad shops. This is also where Takeshi Kaneshiro’s mute character, He Zhiwu, lives with his father in Fallen Angels.

Outside of Chungking Mansions:

In a dilapidated corner of the building’s interior:

“The Woman in the Blonde Wig” inside of Chungking Mansions:

The central location of the second half of Chungking Express is the fast food restaurant Midnight Express. This is where Faye (Faye Wong) serves black coffee to heartbroken Cop 663 (Tony Leung) every night. The restaurant also makes a cameo in Fallen Angels when He Zhiwu briefly works there. By 2006 Midnight Express, located in Lan Kwai Fong (the nightlife district of Hong Kong Island), had closed and the space was being used as a tobacco shop. From what I understand it has since been converted again, this time into a 7-11.

Faye and Cop 663 in Midnight Express:

Outside of the First In Tobacco Shop (formerly Midnight Express):

In Chungking Express, Cop 663 and Faye make a date to meet at the California Restaurant. Any Wong Kar-Wai fan visiting Hong Kong for the first time will probably be amazed to learn that it is on the same block as Midnight Express (but on the opposite side of the street) – a much closer spatial relationship than one would ever deduce from watching the movie.

I drank a beer inside of California Restaurant (I particularly like this shot because it looks like it could be from a WKW film):

But unlike Cop 663 I didn’t talk to any empty bottles:

Cop 223 eats a burger outside of a Tsim Tsha Tsui McDonald’s (Kowloon side) in Chungking Express. This is also where Leon Lai’s hitman meets Blondie (Karen Mok) in Fallen Angels:

Outside of the same McDonald’s 12 years later:

Next to Wong Kar-Wai’s star on Victoria Harbour’s Hong Kong “Walk of Fame”:

The above photos of me were taken by the great Mia Park

Update 01/14/12: Of all the old posts on this blog, this one has remained the most popular because of the number of people constantly looking for information about the locations where WKW shot his films. Someone even linked this post to the official Wikipedia entry for Chungking Express. Therefore, I’m going to provide more detailed information about the addresses of the locations discussed above.

Chunking Mansions is located at 36 – 44 Nathan Rd. in Kowloon.

California Restaurant is located at 32 – 34 D’aguilar St. in Central.

Midnight Express is now a 7-11 and is located at 3 Lan Kwai Fong, a very short walk from California Restaurant.

The basement McDonald’s that figures in both Chungking Express and Fallen Angels is located on Salisbury Rd. in Kowloon. I don’t know the exact address but it’s easy to find.


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