Response to the Question of the Week: (posted here since it's over the limit for the Comments box)
What a wonderful question, shroom
. A few points before I weigh in with some examples:
Even when we know
the filmic portrait of a particular locale’s not factually accurate, we may still treasure it because it contains some essential quality, or epitomises an romanticised vision of the place.
Some of the most successful “representations” of a place work because of their specificity to a certain time period, social class. – They become snapshots of other times, other ways of life; and shape our perceptions of the place, e.g. much in the way that Bath, (England) is now indelibly (to readers) associated with Jane Austen. It’s something of a self-perpetuating process: one’s present-day visit to Bath cannot help but be informed by Austen’s literary representation of it; we see the town through her eyes, and return to her books loving them even more.
For those of us who go about our travels (or our lives?) with imaginary soundtracks in the background, these cinematic (and literary) Rome-s, Londons, and Paris-es are the palimpsests against which we set our impressions of the “real” Rome, London, and Paris.
New York: absolutely agree with Manhattan
and 25th Hour
. Love letters to the city from Allen and Lee respectively.
, yes - where would our cinematic Rome be without Fellini? My recollection of Roma
is hazy at best (I think it was confused even at the time of viewing!), but some scenes from La Dolce Vita
are unforgettable: the statue of Christ being transported by helicopter over the city; Anita Ekberg (in the words of a review read then) “anointing herself in the Trevi Fountain”.
Venice: Don’t Look Now
and The Wings of a Dove
. Psychological and emotional unease, in the midst of artistic splendour. For a sunnier view of Venice, I was recently reminded of the episode of Brideshead Revisited
set in that city.
For some, Visconti’s Death in Venice
may seem to be an obvious choice, but I found it – although visually lush – ultimately unsatisfying. Ironically, for a film about a composer, it’s a one-note film. (Mind you, it plays that one note very well.)
Florence: for those who don’t consider “Merchant-Ivory” dirty words: A Room with a View
. An idealized and immensely charming Florence. (See my notes above about factual accuracy, and representations of time and class.) Sadly, the pensione from which James Ivory filmed the eponymous view is no more.
. For 1980s mainstream viewers who hadn’t seen Godard’s Breathless
, this was a cinematic glimpse of a cool, contemporary, and very, very stylish Paris.
Les Amants du Pont Neuf
. Much grittier and darker than Diva
. Despite some gross improbabilities of plot, this film made my NYT Top Twenty for its love of film-making, and love of Paris. Some of the scenes that I love best cannot be described as “typically Parisian” in any way, but I can’t imagine them working as well set in another city: Michèle (Juliet Binoche) and Alex dancing on the Pont Neuf, as Bastille Day fireworks explode in the background; waterskiers on the Seine, sprays of light arcing in their wake; Michèle and Hans in the Louvre, having a last, candle-lit look at a Rembrandt self-portrait.
Ironically, Caras constructed and used a (massively expensive) set outside Paris for this film.
Oxford. Brideshead Revisited, Granada TV’s mini-series. Early episodes set in a prelapsarian, paradisal, Oxford. In a narration tinged with wistful yearning and regret, Ryder (Jeremy Irons) recalls a time of innocence, youth, first love, and unselfconscious pleasure. Idyllic, nostalgic, sad, and suffused with beauty, the warm and honeyed images of Oxford “out-Merchant-Ivories” Merchant and Ivory, in an England where it never rains.
The Amalfi Coast, Italy. The locale isn’t a city, but which film could beat The Talented Mr. Ripley for this?
Maborosi. The location also isn’t a city, but Kor-Eda’s film captures the quiet rhythms and moods of life in this small seaside village in Japan. To borrow a phrase from Allyn (speaking of Yi Yi), “some movies are poems”.
Still to come, London...
p.s. For those who've seen both Cyclo and A Quiet American, how do they compare in their depiction of Saigon?