Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Location, Location, Location

In taking 'now' shots of the films featured on Reel Streets I have trodden the ground where some of our greatest actors have performed. Not in studios or on back lots but in the world that we all inhabit.  Be it London, where most of our 'British' films are set, or in Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Stevenage, Canterbury, isolated locations in Cornwall, Paignton and . . . the list is endless, surprisingly.

We are all used to blockbuster movies set in the USA or in exotic locations around the globe. Iindeed, if many of us visited New York for the first time we would probably be familiar with the city and recognise much of it from films that we have seen. Maybe not so with The Orkney Islands, Nottingham, Weymouth, Aberfan, Rochdale or Bradford.

Some of Britain's finer unspoilt centres don't feature in today's world of 'great new films' and, lately, CGI does much of the work of recreating the past and suitable atmosphere.

But isn't that why a good old British film scores above the modern or the imported? New US produced comedies are bland by comparison to many of ours, some 'historic' films appear to rewrite history or avoid accuracy, a French film has a certain style and feel, maybe not to most British audiences, and a Turkish film, to many in the UK, would be unthinkable to watch.  The exception has to be new Irish films that are being produced. Take a look at Wakewood, isn't it better than the American remake of The Wicker Man?  And The Guard, well, wonderful recognisable dry humour.  Don't misunderstand me though . . . . there are many good 'foreign' films about - old and new - as my own collection shows. So what is it that makes a British Film so special . . . . it's here, its home and the style is unique.

Much of our latest home grown produce is gritty, an extension of the older 'kitchen sink' style. Compare Harry Brown with Gran Torino.  But it's all so close, so real and identifiable. Not so much on the glamour side maybe, but on reality and they're bloody good films.  And isn't that always the way with our movies? Some are hijacked though - the James Bond series used to have a distinctly British feel, not so the latest incarnations which tend to lean more towards Bourne than Bond.  British films are and always have been special, they are more identifiable to us here than the main stream global cinema productions.

So, to the investigation of location sites.  You may have gathered that I have a passion for home grown films and love the research into location sites.  Of great help is the internet but it cannot always to be trusted.  Some of the most reputable sites sometimes get it wrong.  There is no substitute for research, be it on-line or in good old fashioned books, but to go and look for yourself, which I am lucky enough to have been able to do. And it isn't all easy going and plain sailing, as you can see by these three "failed", "rejected" and "cutting room floor" efforts...

And sometimes with failure, as this shot shows. From Otley, which, logically should have matched image otl044 but was found to be the wrong location.

At other times faced with rain, parked vehicles,........
This failure, from image kray013n, The Krays, I had to wait nearly an hour for this lorry to finish unloading but it gave me a chance to 'rest' in The Royal Oak, so the visit, and the wait wasn't all bad.

'that's not the place!' or worse - reconstruction! 

From The Alf Garnet Saga, which should be the now shot for image tags014 but the shot wasn't used as there was just too much obscuring the view.
I've trawled around the country from Newcastle upon Tyne to Wapping to get 'now' images from films.  I've spoken to locals in Hemel Hempstead who were told off for crossing sets during shooting of distantly remembered films and have chatted with people in London's East End who are familiar with the film connections in their area whilst enjoying a beer or two in plenty of the pubs featured on the site.

Whilst taking pictures for 'Reel Streets' I have walked where Burt Lancaster, Peter Sellers, Bob Hoskins, Vincent Price and Michael Caine have done their work for us - the audience. I have found places that have been disguised or have had local signs obliterated to perpetuate the on screen dream.

And the dream is escapism, enjoyment and entertainment. Long live the British film industry - it has given audiences what Hollywood can't . . . . a down to earth realism within the story, a believable scenario and . . . . familiarity.

Enjoy Reel Streets.
Phil Wilkinson