Dustin Hoffman looks out through the glass at his Berkley so narrow. Everything that he seeks is contained in that gaze – Elaine, his future, his life as he wants it, framed in that view. As a film, THE GRADUATE is filled with a dozen shots such as this, perfect compositions that place us right there in its action. Each small moment is crafted as if life itself had some style, or a groove, or even simply a point, well-lit and soft-scored by a soundtrack that Simon and Garfunkel saw fit to give voice. At various points while watching this flick, I wanted to somehow physically find myself right there in those rooms, staring at each small window, drifting in that blue pool. Actually go there, I mean. Hunt down those filming locations, the spots where they shot. An odd obsession of mine, unfilled. (My fantasies tend to involve artforms brought to life – my life.)
Is there a medical term for this type of delusion? I have wandered inside the old stone of Japan’s ancient Buddha, and ascended the steps of Cambodia’s temples at Angkor, but I admit that the thrill was soft and quite dull when compared to the joy that I felt while entering the wide mouth of Camp White Pine’s paved parking lot, the filming location of Bill Murray’s MEATBALLS. Not far from a cottage in northern Ontario, where we leaped off the end of short docks and into our lives. A fifteen minute drive, the parents acquiescing to the kids’ whiny pleas. Around the resort, just cottages and tall trees, but there, to the right, the tennis courts where all those crazy hijinks ensued! And this path is the same one that Tripper and Rudy ran down as they trained for the young boy’s final race! Oh, the joy. To have stepped into that world, where film became life. If your own life as a child revolved around screens of wide silver, then ‘life’ as a notion needed celluloid in some form to feel tactile and real. For a few minutes, I felt that Bill Murray, camp counsellor, might somehow still be there, a raucous spirit at play, waiting for us to acknowledge his gags. I was convinced: The sweet joy of that film could be bottled and stored in my mind’s dusty basement, a firefly now trapped in a tight mental jar, if only I stayed long enough in that place, rewinding and playing all those scenes that had been filmed right there under my feet. But the filming had happened a long time ago, thirteen or fourteen years in the past, and I wasn’t the one driving. We had to go. Leaving Camp White Pine was its own small form of death. A quiet, easy exit into a kind of real world. Nothing from the past of the film was there any longer, no cast and no crew, no music or montage, and seeing the camp as it was struck a knife in my spine: I realized: This is all real; it’s the movie that’s fake.
Yet the true cinephile is a persistent strange dork, and understands that the ‘real’ world of our lives, and the ‘fake’ world of each film, must intersect at some point, a collision of collusion. Movies are, after all, made from the stuff of real life – buildings composed of hard concrete, vehicles formed of raw steel. There are remnants. Things left behind. By going to these places, standing where the actors once stood, one can link oneself to each film, insert one’s own soul into cinema. It’s almost a religious quest.
And I know I’m not alone. Scouring the net, one can find an ambitious young Canuck who has spent a day in L.A. visiting various locales from the first BACK TO THE FUTURE. Ah, now there’s a man after my own private heart! If I had my coin, I’d run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, practicing my Rocky Balboa quick jog. I’m convinced that I would find some teenage version of myself still preserved in those places, visible only to me, not hidden, but hiding.
Of course, I need not go that far. Right now, I’m in the Philippines, and weren’t PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW filmed right here in this green? And isn’t a jungle a suitable metaphor for the quest one must take to link life and the cinema? Perhaps someday soon I’ll slip on my backpack, slap some mosquito repellent on the base of my neck, and then wander away through these forests so thick still foreign, searching for my own form of Kurtz, that misunderstood madman whose own logic felt sound. I think he might even be waiting for me.