Film and TV Locations: A Spotter’s Guide by Laurence Phelan (Lonely Planet, $16.99)

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Growing up the movies were my refuge; a place where I could escape for a few precious hours from the melancholy of my daily life (so much so that as a child I often daydreamed that my family had moved into an apartment adjacent to a multi-cinema plex where I’d discover a secret passage in back of my bedroom closet I could use to sneak into the theatres for free and watch all the films I wanted in my pyjamas);  I spent my youth gazing up at the silver screen and its larger-than-life images of Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood and fantasize about leaping into the action and sharing an adventure with my matinee idols.

I guess that’s why when I go on vacation, I like to visit and photograph myself in places where famous films were shot.  Once on a trip to New York City with friends I spend half the time dragging them to the building where they filmed Ghostbusters (55 Central Park West) or the F.A.O. Schwarz (between 58th and 59th Streets on 5th Avenue, although it’s closed now) that was the setting for Home Alone 2 while they complained endlessly that they’d rather be shopping.  (Really!?!  Shopping?  How lame is that?)

A few years back I went with some friends to Philadelphia for a Stanley Cup final game.  Of course I demanded we visit the famous “Rocky Steps” and when I asked a nearby drink vendor if he often saw tourists scale the steps and raise their arms in triumph upon reaching the pinnacle, he laughed and replied: “Man, they do it all day long!”  (So I’m not the only one.)  On other trips to Las Vegas and Boston I insisted on seeing the pawn shop from Pawn Stars and the bar from Cheers respectively (much to the chagrin of my companion, which is probably one of the reasons she is no longer my companion).

rocky steps

Me, atop the famous “Rocky Steps” at the Philadephia Art Museum (photo: Nick Klimis)

For cinephiles like myself looking to capture a personal moment of connection with the movies (and TV), travel book giant Lonely Planet has come out with Film and TV Locations: A Spotter’s Guide.

Written by British film reviewer Laurence Phelan, the book is less than 130 pages long and features dozens of famous spots from film and television, including the aforementioned “Rocky Steps” (The Philadelphia Art Museum, page 24) and China’s Forbidden City from The Last Emperor (page 34), which begs the question: Who was the genius who named a tourist attraction “The Forbidden City”?  I mean, if it’s “forbidden” how do you visit it?  But I digress.  Each location includes a colour photograph that takes up most of the page (or in a few instances two pages), a small continental map in the corner highlighting its general whereabouts, and the site’s exact global coordinates (including longitude, latitude, minutes and seconds).

The text, which is primarily half paragraphs or occasionally two half paragraphs (don’t think that’s possible?  Well you haven’t read this book!) describing the place, includes the rare interesting titbit, like how at Katz’s Deli in New York City, scene of the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally (page 75), the current owner claims that orgasms are faked on a daily basis, but otherwise it doesn’t reveal all that much and is peppered with wisecracks that for me grew tiresome after page 20.

I guess this book could work as a travel guide for some fans of the cinema (which is what it is intended to be), but personally I’m still waiting for a serious book that takes, say, two dozen or so renowned and iconic film sites and devotes a full twenty-page chapter to each with insider stories of who chose the location, why, how was it scouted, what were the problems inherent in filming there, interesting anecdotes from the set, and so forth.  (If anyone is aware of such a book, please let me know.)

Twitter:  @AKessaris



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