November 13, 2007

Boston in Cinema

I am a proud Masshole. I don't say "pahk the kah," but I do say "wicked." I'm indifferent to sports, but part of me still hates the Yankees. I refuse to sell out and go on a duck tour. I don't think of Boston as "New York junior," which some people seem to do. I love this town.

Thus, it distresses me how my beloved city is shown on the silver screen. I recently saw Gone, Baby, Gone, which is an excellent film worth checking out. But I had the same problem with it that I had with Mystic River, The Departed, etc...they portray Boston as a shithole. And mind you, some parts of the city are shitholes - but not all.

I have concluded that Boston movies are of two main varieties - films about gangsters and thugs with ludicrous accents, and movies that take place at Harvard (or MIT - here's looking at you, Good Will Hunting). Really? That's it? There is so much culture and vibrancy here - why are we reduced to those two depictions?

The Harvard one is obvious - nobody can control that one of the nation's top institutions of higher learning is in our fair state. But why all the thugs? Well, New York has lots of gritty crime movies, you say. True. But for every Taxi Driver, there's a Manhattan, or a West Side Story, or a Spider-Man, or Breakfast at Tiffany's. New York has hosted comedies, musicals, dramas, romances, sci-fi, mysteries, action - anything you can think of. It's not typecast. With Boston, however, the only films of note that are not Harvard-based or crime sagas are Fever Pitch and Next Stop Wonderland. Due to recent tax incentives for filmmakers shooting in Boston, there's been an influx of movies shooting here, such as Bachelor No. 2 with Dane Cook, a remake of the 1939 classic The Women, and the Pink Panther sequel. Okay, that's a start. But the infuriating thing is that often, since Boston is now cheaper to film in than New York, the films shot here are just said to take place in New York! Or the reverse happens, where "genuine" Boston movies like The Departed are shot largely in the Big Apple.

Boston does have a crime history. We do have white-trash people with funny accents that kill each other sometimes. And I totally support that being exploited for its cinematic value. Except here's my other problem: Boston is a big city. It's not homogenous. Everyone knows that New York has very different parts - even a random farmer in Iowa is probably going to know that Manhattan and Brooklyn might as well be two different planets. But people outside of Boston are not as widely aware of the city's segmentation - it's all one thing to them. Take Gone, Baby, Gone , for instance. It's a "Boston movie" by all definitions - it's based on a novel written by a native, directed by the local Ben Affleck, and takes place in the city. Or does it? There are actually only a few fleeting shots of Boston proper. The bulk of the movie takes place in Dorchester, which is an adjacent city that is really dangerous and trashy. It's "the bad part of town." It's where people have Boston accents - which, for the record, nobody in Boston proper has. It's a separate zip code, a separate way of life. The movie also takes place in Chelsea and Everett, two towns that while bordering Boston, are a pretty far hike from it. And lord are they trashy. They really have nothing to do with Boston. And while natives of the city are going to see the movie and know the difference, other people won't. For all they know, Everett could be the name of a downtown Boston neighborhood. Same with The Departed and Southie - they take place in South Boston, which again, is a different zip code and a different way of life. In recent years, Boston's image and tourism industry have been hurting (read more here). Maybe this is jumping to conclusions, but perhaps out-of-towners see these unglamorous and downright unpleasant depictions of the city - again, with no counterpoint - and decide against the city as a travel destination.

I tried to play devil's advocate and think of another American city that is typecast like this, but came up dry. I've already mentioned New York, but other cities - even ones where not many films take place - have varied depictions. San Francisco, for instance, hosted a string of film noirs in the 1940s, but broke the pattern and now hosts films as varied as Dirty Harry, Sister Act, The Hulk, and Basic Instinct. Chicago has Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Barbershop, Risky Business, and The Man With the Golden Arm, to name a few. Los Angeles has a ton of showbiz-oriented movies, but also romances and action films. Some cities don't really have films that take place there, but perhaps that's better than being stereotyped.

After seeing Gone, Baby, Gone, my boyfriend and I joked that there should be a crime caper set in Boston's South End. Heard of it? Not to be confused with South Boston, it's an area of the city known for expensive and fabulous dining, posh shopping, tiny dogs and its large - dare I say predominantly - gay population. Or how about Beacon Hill, with its combination of students and bigwigs, quiet streets and political protests? There's the lovably snooty Back Bay, the college student jungle of Allston, the quirky culture of Brookline, the hippies of Cambridge. Where are these on screen? I'm not asking for a movie where people dance around holding lobsters and baked beans and screaming "wicked pissah" all the way down the Freedom Trail, but what would it hurt to shoot your romantic comedy in a cheaper city, throw in a few shots of the skyline and actually acknowledge where you are?

P.S. - while I'm on the subject, nobody knows your name at Cheers. It is a horrible tourist trap that locals avoid at all costs.


Anonymous said...

Just to make you feel better, even after seeing "Boston movies," I still visualize academia and culture when I think of Boston.

Oh, and I'm Catholic--let me just say that FEW movies portray Catholics (esp in the Church hierarchy) as the good guys--so I know how you feel about your identity being trashed by the movies. That's Hollywood for ya!

Scott Nye said...

Meagan's right about the Catholics. I'm not officially Catholic or anything, but I was raised in Catholic school and I have close ties to the faith, and that always pisses me off.

But, hey, the only shit that ever gets shown about Portland, OR, my hometown, are loads of gay people and a whale. Yee-ha.

I should point out that Matt Damon's character in The Departed lives on the Boston Common...definitely proper. Also he dates a shrink and goes to fancy restaurants. Actually, that movie did a damn good job of showing the two sides of Boston.

Also, I see people get into fights a lot in this city...stereotyping or no, Bostonians will fight over anything. Some dude I know got threatened because he stepped in front of a guy at the parade for the Red Sox - had he too been a fighter there would've been fisticuffs even though the home team won.

FINALLY...people outside of New York will always hate New Yorkers, and no movie will ever change that.

Anonymous said...

PPS - Cheers is amazing!

I love your blog, by the way. I got the link from IMDB and, after being entertained by the one posting, decided to read others.

I have determined that we have pretty similar tastes in movies (I can't say that about many people), which probably stems from us being around the same age.

Anonymous said...

Boston and Taxachussetts in general is a dump. People leave in droves, few states with negative population growth--the people generally are:

work obscessed/workaholics/Puritan "ethic"
Baby boomers who live to work/pay poorly
love to complain/moan/sour faces/rude
weather is awful
cost of living is way too high for this dump state
Frumpy looking people with no sense of style
Miserable faces and milky white skin
love crappy weather
love their massive heating bills
massive humidlity
few sunny days
State gives manners lessons in anticipation of Democratic convention b/c of Taxachusett's rep. as a rude, abrasive, cranks.
People who cannot leave here-magically love it here--forced b/c either too afraid or like misery.
Highest car insurance rates in nation
Excise taxes, taxes on top of taxes-Taxachusetts
rains/snows constantly
corrupt state govt.
poorly designed airport/few direct flights
city closed down by ~12ish.
Alcoholics galore/liquor store on every corner
Fights over everything/anything
college "town" filled with spoiled brats
Red Sox "fans" w/ sexually repressed obsessions
Old, drunk cranks who then retire to NH
Cambridge pseudo-intellectual liberal crowd sipping $5 coffee and discussing "academia"
"Culture" includes-fighting Irish, drunk cops/figefighters, tons on unemployment/welfare etc...
Taxation/fees on everything-probably air by now
Suffolk Down's old gambling degenerates
"Academic" degenerates who can't get work
Bone chilling cold or hot/humid as heck
People always looking for a fight- physical or verbal.
Unreliable public transit-prices keep going up.
No diversity other than college kiddies-WASPs, and Irish Catholics--that's it.

No small wonder why Boston and Taxachusetts is portrayed in poor light--rightfully so in our opinion.

Julie said...

It's funny, Meghan, that you lament how much Bostonians complain - because you just devoted part of your life to a lengthy complaint on a random blog. So if you live here, then I'm not sure why you don't just move if you hate it so much, and if you don't, I don't see why you're so angry. And if you do live somewhere else, I'd be curious to know what grand utopia it is that has no problems or negative characteristics.

Anonymous said...

Lived there for 30 years, then finally grew a backbone and left. Never looked back (one of few states with negative pop. growth), the terrible weather, miserable/abrasive people, vast drunks/fighting, lack of good jobs, lack of affordable house/rentals-the city has its share of happy go-lucky idealistic college kiddies some who are living off of trustfunds etc....who never stepped outside of New England, hence their naive, klicking heels attitudes.

it is chosing the lesser of the evils--being held hostage by weather, excessive taxes/fees, depressed and frumpy people got too much for us. There are 49 other states all with problems but nothing compared to that dump.

Anonymous said...

Dorchester is not an "adjacent city"- it's a part of Boston, just like Roxbury, Charlestown, Allston, Hyde Park, etc. And Everett and Chelsea are right across the Meridian street bridge from East Boston...Get your facts straight.

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Anonymous said...

boston is nasty, people are mean, no sense of style, weather is bloody awful, and the people have no sense of fun--misery all around.

boston proper free shipping said...

I adore your web journal, coincidentally. I got the connection from Imdb and, in the wake of being entertained by the one posting, chose to read others.

I have established that we have pretty comparative tastes in motion pictures (I can't say that about numerous individuals), which likely stems from us being around the same age.