The Hollywood Travel Agency

Movie awards season is upon us once again.  This year I was struck by the diversity of the contenders for Best Picture as determined by the Academy.  The films take place in a rich universe.  Two films represent the Middle East (and it’s turmoil), two show 19th Century America, and others deal with France, India, Austria, and even modern American suburbia.  It’s such a hodgepodge.   The nominations made me start to wonder about the connection between film and travel.  It’s an interesting mix.  On one hand, movies can take us to places and even worlds that we could never experience on our own, and yet on the other, we want to see ourselves being portrayed on the silver screen in some capacity.  When this is done well, our triumphs and our failures become clear, are celebrated, and can even cause us to reflect on who we are.  When it’s done badly, the foreign world and foreign people we are watching are not relatable to us.

I spent a few weeks mulling all of this over, and talking to several friends about movies that really have the power to transport  us, and to take us out of our world.  What I found was an amazingly eclectic group of movies that run the gambit in genre, but each is visually something to behold, and tells a story that not only changes the characters lives, but also, I think, has the power to change something in the viewer as well.

Interested in  America?

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This is Robert Redford’s tribute to the human character, flaws and all, and the story is told with an absolutely stunning background of the American west in the early 1900s.  The scenes filmed as the sun was setting as the characters come home from a long day of fishing, with a very sunburned and hung over friend, will make your jaw drop.

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This is the story of a very flawed, and some might even say dysfunctional family dealing with the changing society of mid-century America.  It looks like a Norman Rockwell painting that has come to life, showing us a country that is both what we remember it to be and what we always wanted it to be, but knowing it never was.  Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman star as Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, and throw in Blyth Danner playing a drunk socialite and you’ve got yourself a movie!

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It’s a classic that somehow manages to encompass every long haul, cross country  car trip your family took, and throws in Aunt Edna and Cousin Eddie along the way.  If it could happen, it did happen to the Grizzwald clan. This movie also contains one of my favorite horrible jokes.  Q:  Have you ever French kissed a boy?  A:  Yeah, and Daddy says I’m the best.  LOL!

How About Europe?

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Most movies that take place in England tend to focus on either the urbaneness of London, or the pastoral countryside.  “Howard’s End” is the rare spectacle that gives the viewer both, in lush, vivid details.  It’s the story three groups of people divided by social classes that each find themselves caught up together in a situation involving a country house known as “Howard’s End.”  This is the film that put Emma Thompson on the map, and for good reason.  She actually outshines Anthony Hopkins.

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Ah, Vienna.  Ah, Paris.  Both of these films are what are known as “walking and talking pictures.”  There are no car chases or shootouts.  Instead, it’s just two people walking around spending twelve hours together, discussing life and politics, and of course, falling in love.  Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are the aforementioned individuals.  In the first, they meet by chance on a train and spend the night walking around Vienna.  Years later, the two meet again and spend the day walking around Paris.  Every single shot is romantic, and will leave you asking yourself, “When are these two crazy kids just going to shut up and admit they are perfect for each other?”

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Shirley is just a simple English housewife, who is taken for granted by her family, and has a habit of breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to you, the audience.   One day she has a wild hair, and abandons them, travels to Greece, and falls in love with the country and with herself.   It’s a little film from the mid-1980’s and is a joy from start to finish.  The Greek coast might just make you want to go and discover yourself, too. Oh, and Johanna Lumley (aka Patsy Stone from “Absolutely Fabulous” shows up as a well-heeled prostitute, thank you very much.)

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Carey Grant.  Audrey Hepburn.  Rome.  Mistaken identity.  Scooters.  A princess and a reporter.  Billy Wilder directs.  Celluloid Perfection.  What more do you need ?

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In 1955, Katherine Hepburn, a middle aged American travels to Venice and meets a married Italian man.  They have an intensely romantic few days together, that will make you actually root for the guy to leave his life!  Venice is so beautiful, it can do that to you.

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Few movies are as passionate about passion as A Room With a View.   The cinematography, the humor, the longing glances over dinner are all enough to drive you crazy.  An all star cast of British greats makes this film endlessly watchable.

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These two are similar in that they both focus on someone who travels to Italy on a journey of self-discovery.  They are also similar in that neither is entirely successful in the presenting of their story.  They are beautiful to watch, and both have their moments, but the sum of their parts never really gel together.  It’s interesting to note that both films come from famous autobiographies, and perhaps what’s missing is what made the books so readable.  For Tuscan Sun it’s the recipes.  The reader could learn to cook just as the writer did.  While Eat, Pray, Love is a stunning film visually, it’s missing the spiritual core that the book had.  I can honestly say, I don’t read books twice, and I never underline passages in books, but I broke both of those rules when I opened the cover of Eat, Pray, Love.  Sappy?  Yes.  Worth it? Absolutely.

Perhaps Africa is more to your liking?

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Yes, people complain that it is slow, and the story is sporadic.  It’s supposed to be!  It’s meditative.  Your eyes can linger on the scenery or on Redford and Streep, and your mind can fill in the pieces of the story of a Danish woman who travels to Africa to marry a family friend and instead falls in love with a man who is living outside of the acceptable world she knows.  After you see it, you won’t be able to forget him washing her hair, or her standoff with the lion.

 

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You must watch this.  Seriously.

 

Maybe Asia is calling you?

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I have to include it here as well, because technically the majority of the film takes place in India and Bali.  All three segments, the Roman, the Indian, and Balinese, are striking, even if you watch the film with the sound off, you will catch yourself checking out the price of tickets to these lands on Orbitz.  It’s that beautiful.

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This was the first film to actually be filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the details give the scenery an amazing quality.  This was the film that first made me want to go to China!  It’s a bit of a sad story, that of the last Chinese emperor and the arrival of the Communists.  His decline is slow but inevitable, but fear not.  The Forbidden City is still there waiting on you to see it in person.

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This is another movie with a meditative quality.  Modern Tokyo is just like a western city in every way, expect it’s completely different.  Bill Murray and Scarlet Johannson navigate the city, their relationships, and the overcoming of the tremendous jet lag that hits westerners who visit the land of the rising sun in this film that snagged both of them Academy Award nominations, and a win for Sophia Coppola for best director – a first for a woman!

This, of course, is only a sampling of what people thought of when I asked.  The list is endless.  One of the things that movies can do is inspire you to travel and to see the world.  They inspire in me, and hopefully in you, a desire to see more and to do more.  I’m always interested in learning about movies that inspired you and opened your eyes to the world around us all.  I’d love to hear your stories about movies you saw, and then thought to yourself, “WOW!  Someday I have to go there!”  Please let me know.

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Categories: Asia, Europe, My View of Things, North America, Stories, Thoughts

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One Comment on “The Hollywood Travel Agency”

  1. Laura
    February 6, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    Great list! Many favorites and a new list of want to sees!

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