Movie tourism

Let's face it, sometimes you've only heard of a place because there's a movie set there.  Weirdly enough I've told people in the UK the name of my hometown and they've never heard of it, while several Americans have exclaimed "Like in Bend It Like Beckham?"  Even if there aren't any real landmarks in a place, walking the streets can remind you of a treasured film or TV show.  And I'll admit I've gone looking for famous sights before.  When Interrailing across Europe, my friends and I stopped in Salzburg for two days simply because we'd all grown up loving The Sound of Music, and while the open-top coach tours were too time-consuming and pricey for us, we managed to find several locations on foot.  The steps where the Von Trapp kiddies sing 'Do Re Mi' are in the gardens of the palatial Schloss Mirabell in the city centre, which appears to be some kind of government building today.  And a long trek through the Austrian countryside, playing word games to keep our energy up, eventually brought us to another stately home, Schloss Hellbrunn, and another treasure in the gardens: the pavilion where Liesl and Ralph the Nazi serenaded each other and danced about in the rain.  You can't get inside to reenact it yourself though unfortunately.

We sought out these locations, and I've been known when travelling alone to go on long aimless walks to find places.  When I found 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home of many favourite shows such as Saturday Night Live, Law & Order: SVU and...well, 30 Rock, I was thrilled, but I panicked a little and decided not to take the tour.  It meant so much to me that I was concerned walking around and seeing it as an ordinary functioning office would spoil my fantasies.  I did also excitedly photograph a rock formation in Central Park on which I was sure Detectives Benson and Stabler had found a body, before realising that was a really weird thing to notice.

Some places, like New York and Los Angeles, have been the setting for so many things that just being there feels somewhat cinematic, and obviously LA exploits the hell out of being Movieland with its Walk of Fame and various tours that creep on celebrities' houses.  But the weirdest film run-in I've had was in Krakow, Poland, where we went on a school trip, primarily to visit Auschwitz but with a couple of days either side enjoying the city (which is gorgeous and will get its own post some time).  We were taken on a tour around the city, ostensibly a Jewish ghetto historical tour, but due to the demolition of many historical buildings during Communism, it was essentially a Schindler's List tour.  The harrowing film was shot in Krakow, and while our guide provided us with ample historical information while walking, most of our stops were significantly more notable as film locations than as actual sites of import.

I think a kid hides here in the movie
Either way, it was hard to engage with the troubling reality of the Holocaust when most of the locations were now bars or apartment buildings, although Auschwitz itself hit home pretty effectively.  For me though, the tour highlighted the disconnect between fiction and reality.  The fact is that, while the Harry Potter films have done great things for the British tourism industry, a lot of the people wandering around our castles and cathedrals are more interesting in imagining the fictional exploits of those characters than hearing about the real-life heroes and villains that once walked through those cloisters.  Maybe I'm getting into the territory of mass culture theory (shout out to my man Theodor Adorno) but it's a shame to see local legend and mythology being subsumed by popular culture.  Not that I don't love the Harry Potter films, and as I've said I do the exact same thing when travelling, but I think it's important to engage with a place beyond the constructed image of cinema.  Especially since sometime, truth is stranger than fiction...

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