New Orleans' movie magic
Long before the killer hurricanes, New Orleans was a hotspot location for the movies. A trip down memory lane.
Photo: The Hindu Photo Library
Exciting shots of the countryside: Peter Fonda in "The Big Easy".
IN the industry they are known as "hot spots" popular locales used in the movies. New Orleans has many of these spots, perhaps because it is cheaper to shoot on location than to construct a set. Or maybe it conveys the mood and ambience of the "real place".
Whatever the reason, filmmakers have shot and captured the city's graces and old world charm the elegant 18th Century buildings, the joie vivre of the French Quarter and the Parades, and the lively jazz scenes that mark Bourbon Street and Esplanade Avenue as also the dark, back-alleys, the sleazy bars and gambling saloons and the turbulent river.
In the beginning, we are told, locals stood and watched the moviemakers work in awe and admiration. People ran to the stars to get autographs and pose for pictures with them. Now while the allure of a shoot lingers, the neighbours are not overtly excited when they see film crews in their midst. "Aw, man, not again," go the residents.
A film shoot often means an increase in blocked-off streets, caravans of movie-trucks, and guys with `big reflectors', holding up the normal flow of life. Business of small shops, offices, cafes, roadside vendors and such get hit when a shoot takes place. "People resent such intrusions in their daily lives and are asking the elected. Yet Hollywood has not been daunted. Year after year the American film industry has been shooting in the same hot spots. What seems to deter filmmakers though is the unpredictable weather. Dark skies, in the hurricane season, will make them give the place a wide berth unless of course such scenes are already there or are written up in the script.
Over the years, moviegoers got to experience Hollywood's nuggets of the Deep South in many films. Just consider some movies made in the neighbourhood of New Orleans:
Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" (1956) had a boat race on the mighty Mississippi.
In Michael Curtiz's "King Creole" (1958), Elvis Presley went to school at the corner of Royal and St Philip streets in New Orleans.
The Pat Boone musical, Goulding's "Mardi Gras" (1958) took viewers on a delightful romp through the parades, fun and frolic that embody Bourbon Street.
In Norman Jewison's "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965), Steve McQueen played a young card shark who took on a cold, ruthless Edward G. Robinson in this dark foreboding New Orleans tale of the 1930's.
Richard Quine's "Hotel" (1967), swung between New Orleans' elite, swanky districts and the French Quarters.
The cult hippie classic, Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" (1969) showed hookers strutting their stuff in a graveyard at the St. Louis cemetery on Basin Street. Jimi Hendrix's music added to the "high" of the movie based on two "misfits", Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper out on decorated Harley-Davidson choppers, on an epic journey, to discover America and themselves.
Remember Sidney Poitier's laugh riot, "Let's do it again" (1975)? The hilarious boxing match and other parts were done in New Orleans.
Walter Hill's masterpiece, "Hard Times" (1975) had Charles Bronson doing what he does best: the banned bare-knuckle-boxing. Set in the Depression era, explores a city fallen on bad times.
Elia Kazan's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, had elaborate shots of the Mississippi near the Governor Nicholls Street, the bowling alley, the pier of a dance casino, and the machine factory as also the insides of a "squalid, cramped and tawdry" French Quarter room.
Ron Shelton/Haskell Wexler's "Blaze" (1989), a true story covered ol' Dixie daringly to tell of a powerful but wayward Louisiana Governor and his affair with a stripper.
Jim McBride's "The Big Easy" (1987) had exciting shots of the bayous and countryside and brought New Orleans astonishingly to life. The pulsating sights and sounds of the city with Dennis Quaid et al faking Creole dialects, made this "richly textured city become an integral part of the story".
Long ago, Tyrone Power and the gorgeous Piper Laurie got together in Rudolph Mate's "The Mississippi Gambler" (1953) and took movie-buffs aboard a riverboat casino on the Mississippi.
Mike Nichols' take on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign made it a "smart, funny political film" in "Primary Colours" (1998). John Travolta and Emma Thompson zip through scenes right from downtown New Orleans in Algiers to the river.
Alan J. Pakula's "The Pelican Brief" (1993) had Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington racing in and out of trouble in New Orleans and Esplanade Avenue.
These snippets came to mind recently when the television was full of the killer hurricanes Katrina and Rita unleashing their anger on the US Gulf Coast. Now as the victims of the hurricanes make tracks to what was once their home, there is already talk of re-building Big Easy to make it "bigger and better". But, one wonders, will it ever be the same? The enchanting city of a host of films left a huge impression on movie buffs. As we watch the digitally enhanced classics on DVD, one thing is sure: even if New Orleans is rebuilt with new hi-tech glitz and glamour, the joy, the magic, and the excitement that once embodied its hot spots in the movies, will be hard to match.
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