Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Failed attempts at filming paradise

The primary reason I attended UC-Santa Cruz was for its green-gorgeous campus—the university is inside a redwood forest, on a tall hilltop overlooking the Monterey Bay. In the springtime, after the winter rains fed the fields, it was indescribably beautiful, with orange poppies and wildflowers clustering in the fields, and the sweet scent of laurel and eucalyptus permeating the air.

Santa Cruz has become a mythical place in my mind, remembering its beauty and the many weird and wonderful people I knew there. So I am interested in finding movies that try to capture its essence. But the movies I've found so far have been miserable failures—the best they offer is fleeting glimpses of its scenery.

This puzzles me. Why would such a gorgeous place inspire duds like "Creator" and "Glory Daze"?

I watched "Creator" last night on fast-forward, stopping only at recognizable landmarks, to avoid hearing the embarrassingly bad dialogue—delivered by Peter O'Toole and Mariel Hemingway and Virginia Madsen, all who have been fine in other projects. There was O'Toole looking awkward in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Hemingway crying in a way that suggested "first theater workshop" outside Cafe Pergolisi. Then, more annoying acting, with UCSC's McHenry Bridge, Santa Cruz beaches and the lower campus hills serving as backdrops. "Glory Daze" was just as bad, from what I remember of it.

Yet, distractingly beautiful scenery can't be the reason those films were failures; "Lost" was filmed in Hawaii, and it managed to pull off a riveting story.

Maybe it's because, in trying to capture the hippie-surfer-philosophical-eclectic elan of the place, they ended up with one-note characters. Or perhaps Santa Cruz has excited lesser talents to write screenplays about it, the brisk evening ocean air fortifying them with the notion that they had something important to say.

I'm not sure I'm immune to its seductive allure myself, even in what is now a distant retrospect. I've attempted to write stories over the years that capture Santa Cruz's everything-at-once-too-muchness, but have mostly failed. Better to concentrate on a scene in a room and a moment than to try to write about all I experienced there.

Oh well, at least I have the Boardwalk scene in "Harold and Maude" to remember it fondly and cinematically by.

(Scene from "Creator" photographed from my computer screen; the actors are walking across McHenry Bridge on the UCSC campus)

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