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The Cinema As Home

While Nathaniel is away the guest bloggers are at play. Here's Beau from California.

I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Southern California today, enjoying the atmosphere, trying to bottle it for when I may need it again. It will be one of my last moments at this particular location, because as of Friday, I am leaving the Los Angeles area indefinitely.

King City, California (indeed, Monterey County), is best known for being right smack dab in the middle of Steinbeck Country. (Of Mice and Men takes place in Soledad, CA - a mere twenty miles north). It’s been immortalized as such, but hasn’t received much treatment onscreen aside from one noteworthy moment, in an ever-evolving film whose reputation is elevating itself by the day.

Which film is that? See for yourself after the jump.

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just discovered the man posing as his brother, Henry, is an imposter bent on obtaining money from him. Brands explains that he is, in fact, not of the same bloodline as Plainview but that he met someone in King City who was, and who had mentioned a 'brother' that had recently come into a substantial amount of money. Shortly thereafter the brother died, leaving a diary with numerous insights into his personal life. Brands takes this and memorizes it so as to inhabit the role of the brother, and swindle Plainview out of his newfound wealth. Plainview, in a demonic rage, shoots Brands and scans through the diary, where a brief description of King City and the surrounding areas can be glimpsed.

It’s not as memorable a sequence as others in the film, (not even in the top five, or ten to my mind) but it’s the only one that I’ve ever encountered. And I’m grateful that it was in a film I deeply, deeply admire.

I am returning back to my hometown of King City, California in an (admittedly daft) effort to refocus on what I want my life to be about. I feel as though I’ve done so much and yet so (so!) little in my seven years here, and there’s this overwhelming sense of stagnation and sadness that just permeates through me when I’m here. Friends from school have all moved on to their own respective destinations, and the prevailing sense of loneliness and aloneness has led me to a point where I had to accept one of two outcomes:

  1. Maintain course and pray for a break in the waves, or
  2. Make a sharp turn and aim towards the unknown. 

I chose the latter. 

My Childhood Cinema

And as I resign myself to the fact that I will be back where it all started, the old stomping grounds, I feel a strange sense of comfort. The familiarity (and even slightly foreign nature of it now) is a warm welcome; I may not know yet where I’m going to in my boat, but I’ll know where I am. 

And that is certainly something. 

  • What films have taken place in / around your hometown? 
  • If you live in a large urban city, your neighborhood? 
  • Has the onscreen depiction matched your perception of it?
  • Or is it made to be something entirely different?

Tell me, readers. What does your town look like on film?

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Reader Comments (10)

Coming from Minnesota, movies based here are either gleeful satires (Fargo, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Juno) or have nothing whatsoever to do with the environs (Mighty Ducks, Factotum, Prairie Home Companion).

But when I saw the (admittedly over-melodramatic) Stuck Between Stations, I felt an honest depiction of my state, my neighborhood. I was on the path to moving back here, and it cemented in my mind what a great decision it was. I've never been happier.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Nathaniel, so you ARE or AREN"T returning to socal indefinitely? does that mean you're leaving NYC

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Good luck ... we live in Monterey ( I know it's not King City, but not too many miles away. I know the feeling in LA .. it is,for me, a great tourist area...but not a place for me to live.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Thank you, Rick. My brother lives in Monterey. Love it over there.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Bonne chance with your move. I remember moving home in my mid-twenties after struggling with feeling very unanchored and homesick and how when I finally made the decision to go I was so happy and relieved. Fortunately for me, my home town is Brooklyn NY.

Since NYC is over-exposed in movies I will mention one tiny moment in a Woody Allen movie that has always resonated with me. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, when Martin Landau returns to his childhood home in Brooklyn and there's this moment of him driving through the tunnel, I gasped. I saw that movie in college in the midwest and I had such a Proustian response to that brief glimpse of a journey that I'd experienced so many times. That whole sequence, where he goes to the house and remembers the seder, so perfectly matched my own melancholy about Brooklyn, and it starts with that view that I know so well.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Thank you, AR.

To grow up in NYC, amazing.

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

I'm from a small town in Upstate NY and when the movie Unstoppable was filmed on glamorous location of the even smaller town where my dad's family is from. It was fun watching the movie with my family just to spot things like the sign for Portvillle.

Good luck with the move! I was just re-reading Of Mice and Men today!

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

I grew up in Pasadena - a city just minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Pasadena has a lot of unique visual charm, but it's most commonly used on screen to pose as other cities.

It plays itself sometimes ("Father of the Bride," "Big Lebowski," "Kill Bill") but stands in most frequently for "small town, U.S.A." (Illinois in "Halloween") and is the actual location for almost every current TV show (New York in "Mad Men," Pawnee, Indiana in "Parks and Recreation"). Growing up in Pasadena made me aware of moviemaking and image representation from a very young age. When I sit down in a theater or turn on the TV, I see my hometown dressed up like someone else's. It can be hard to suspend my disbelief. But it's still reassuring: I feel like all of them are my hometown.

Recently, however, "A Single Man" really captured the beautiful architecture and quality of light that feels like home to me. It's inarguably Pasadena–– and not trying to be anyplace else.

good luck on the move, Beau!

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

BVR -- this is Beau's article. I think he forgot to say "it's Beau" anywhere ;)

*I* Nathaniel have lived in NYC for 13 years now with no plans on ever leaving. and I am too old to move back in with parents though that's totally acceptable in your 20s when you need a breather to recalibrate ;)

my "hometown" of Detroit has been in a million movies but the closest one that takes place to where I actually lived as a child/teenager was Eminem's 8 MILE.

and the town where i was born i've only ever seen in one movie which was, hilariously enough, A NIGHT IN HEAVEN.

August 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Bah! I thought the 'Posted By' would have sufficed!

I'll note it next time, I can totally see how that would be confusing.

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau
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