Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Small Town On The Silver Screen

In the following post, guest Sheridan Dupre investigates how a movie set in his hometown of Ridgefield, CT, channels the town's character -- its quiet depths and easy acquaintances -- and, in doing so, makes it anonymous except to those who know it well.

Dupre blogs at Guard the Guardians on art, culture. and the 1970's. Of particular note are pieces on overlooked product opportunities (Manatea!), the vicissitudes of job hunting, and, lately, a brilliant series on the recovered items of his childhood.


What about movies or directors with a strong sense of place? There are a few working now who I think can be praised for their sensitivity to locality. David Gordon Green and Kelly Reichardt come to mind. Perhaps the great cinematic poet of place in my book is the Scottish director Bill Forsyth. But their worlds, the South, the Pacific Northwest, Scotland, are far removed from my own.

It’s something else to see your own town up there. Though the general area in Connecticut that I grew up in has had exteriors grace the screen, usually in movies about suburban dystopia, I know of only one movie that was actually filmed in what I still call my town: Tom Gilroy’s 1999 Spring Forward. It’s a lovely piece about the friendship between two parks department workers played by Liev Schreiber and Ned Beatty.

The thing about the movie is that it doesn’t obviously set itself in the town of Ridgefield – there are no shots that I can recall of Town Hall, of the quaint Main Street, of the historic Community Center building, no references to the name. This reticence beautifully suits a film focused on two figures who seem to be both at the periphery of the town and central to its life. A very different movie could have been made about Ridgefield, and it wouldn’t be an less true. But Gilroy emphasizes the smallness. Things like the stock people put in family history, and lasting friendship by sheer circumstance, both of which seem not only to be more prevalent in smaller towns than in cosmopolitan cities or larger, more anonymous suburbs, but that have been part of my own life there. The movie is made with a small town pace -- the seasons pass from scene to scene but the conversations between the two men, months long in the making, continue unrushed. Filmed, as the two often are, alone, together, the characters sometimes seem forgotten in an otherwise anonymous, New England town that I just happen to recognize as my own.

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