Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

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My off-hand reference to Annette Funicello last week inadvertently brought back a flood of youthful male memories. Ask any American straight guy of a certain age about her and I can pretty much guarantee that you will get a testimonial to how he gained a healthy appreciation for the opposite sex at a critical point in his life by watching her on The Mickey Mouse Club.

In one of life’s strange coincidences, I can claim something of a tenuous connection to the former Disney teen star. In 1986 she married a man from the same small town that I come from, and I understand that they spend (or at least used to spend) time there. On my visits back over the years, I have never run into them, but I know people who know people who have. (I said it was tenuous.) Anyway, I haven’t heard anything about her for ages, i.e. since she appeared in her made-for-TV biopic, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story, in 1995. I hope she is doing okay.

But my hometown also has at least one other notable movie connection. Sometimes on my visits home I get dragged (happily enough) to an old wooden diner-style restaurant a mile or two outside of town for a massive breakfast, usually consisting of numerous eggs and fried pork products (biscuits and gravy optional). As one sits in this establishment and gazes across the road, one sees a small country market that was once robbed by two desperadoes named Thelma & Louise in a 1991 movie directed by Ridley Scott. It was meant to be someplace like Oklahoma, but the actual filming was done there, a figurative stone’s throw from where I grew up in central California.

If there is one thing I have learned since I started doing this web site, it’s that I am not alone in cherishing the little bit of immortality that one’s hometown might achieve on celluloid. Just two days ago I had an email from a fellow in England who told me, among other things, how pleased he was that Nicolas Roeg’s Puffball had been filmed in his native County Monaghan, Ireland. A couple of months ago, my friend Michael, who has relocated from Seattle to his native southern Arizona, sent an article from the Arizona Daily Star listing the top 20 movies filmed in and around Tucson. [Top five: Arizona (1940), Cannonball Run II (1984), Lilies of the Field (1963), Oklahoma! (1955), McLintock! (1963).] Added a reminiscing Michael, “I remember seeing Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (#7) at a long-gone movie theatre in Monterey Village. The final scene, with Jodie Foster walking off along the side of Speedway, hand-in-hand with the young actor playing Ellen Burstyn’s son, was exactly what I saw (minus Jodie) when I walked out of the movie.”

More recently, a cousin visiting from Albuquerque had no sooner told me how New Mexico was promoting itself as a great place to film movies when a National Public Radio podcast caught up with me confirming that the state is indeed making a concerted effort to lure Hollywood studios, including Steven Spielberg, who was there to film scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie. My cousin also told me how she and her husband were amused, while watching Little Miss Sunshine, to see that the family, who were residents of Albuquerque, popped out to get their takeout from a Dinah’s Fried Chicken restaurant near where they used to live in Los Angeles.

As that cousin (and numerous others before and since) soon learned, visiting us generally results in a tour of various movie filming locations. As I have mentioned here many times, we are close to several spots where the 1952 John Ford movie The Quiet Man was filmed. As we drag our hapless guests around the village of Cong and the grounds of Ashford Castle, it has by now become a running joke between the Missus and myself that we keep finding, losing, and then finding again the house that served as the dwelling for Maureen O’Hara and her brother in the movie. As one eager visiting fan of the movie found (to her definite surprise), the house is not a museum or tourist landmark but is actually occupied. Local guidebooks can be found to direct the curious to all the various locations used. Visitors will find a replica of John Wayne’s ancestral home, White O’Morin, in Cong itself and another in Maam Cross, complete with life-size figures of the main characters. The original cottage is not far off from that replica but, sadly, it is in a state of serious disrepair. Reportedly, fans of the movie have sought it out over the years and walked away with bits of it as souvenirs. Efforts to restore it have been frustrated by the refusal of the current owner to sell the property. Somewhat ironically, the owner is said to be from California.

The cousins from Albuquerque just missed by less than a couple of weeks seeing a landmark from another movie. As they spent three weeks cycling around the west of Ireland, they passed through the picturesque village of Leenane, on the Galway-Mayo border, where Jim Sheridan filmed his 1990 movie The Field, based on the John B. Keane play (actually set in Kerry) and starring Richard Harris. If they had been there a couple of weeks sooner they would have seen the historic bridge across the Lahill River, which figured in the movie. In mid-July a sudden downpour (emblematic of the weather western Europe has had this summer) fueled a torrent that washed the 182-year-old bridge away, necessitating a huge detour for those traveling the road between Westport and Clifden.

Another spot in Connemara has, since last year, become irrevocably linked with a series of movies in my mind—even though the connection is totally fanciful and not real. One place we regularly bring visitors is beautiful Kylemore Abbey, on that same road between Westport and Clifden. A castle that was constructed as a personal residence in the 19th century, it has belonged to the Benedictine Nuns since 1920. It has been a girls’ boarding school since 1923, although it will cease to be one once all the current students have graduated. It sits in a stunning location on the edge of a lake and against a wooded mountain. When I brought a cousin from Portland there last year, she exclaimed, “This is Hogwarts!” I hadn’t thought about it before, but she was right. That is exactly what it is like. Of course, it isn’t really. The fictional Hogwarts is supposed to be in Scotland, and the one in the Harry Potter films is put together by movie magic using a number of real-life English locations, including Gloucester Cathedral, Lacock Abbey, Oxford University and Alnwick Castle.

Visitors who find us in our sometimes retreat in the wilds of southwest Ireland get dragged on yet another movie tour. On clear days, from the Missus’s house there, you can see a distant beach that figured in a very high-profile 1970 movie. In fact, I had always thought that the most spectacular scene of the whole movie had been shot there. But lately I have discovered that I was wrong. More about that next time.

-S.L., 30 August 2007

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