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A Desperate Plea to Hollywood

Ok, Hollywood, so I’m coming to your city next week and I need some help. You see, It seems that your studios are incapable of making a movie set in modern Boston that doesn’t focus on an adrenalized overblown seedy side of the city. For example, the most recent mainstream movies I recall having been filmed here are “Mystic River”, “Gone Baby, Gone”, and “The Departed.”

Randy and I just saw the latter the other night. I liked it…this sort of movie isn’t normally my cup of tea, but I was engaged throughout. But it sure painted Boston as the seediest, most crime-ridden city ever. I know we some history here, but this movie would make it seem that we’re losing state police officers to mob violence left-and right (by the end of that movie, I think at least 4 cops were killed in the line of duty…in the last few minutes alone). In reality, aside from the ongoing search for Whitey Buldger, I never hear of gangland style murders anymore.

Plus, you show people smoking up a storm in bars (yet we have a smoking ban), and you show people at a huge porn theatre (we have none….hell, we only have two strip clubs in the entire city).

So, Hollywood, could you do us a favor and shoot some films outside of Southie and Chelsea? I mean, the Back Bay is quite lovely. Beacon Hill could charm the shit out of you if you’d give it a chance. Maybe you could do for Boston what Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” does for New York City?

Wouldn’t the Public Garden be a lovely locale for a key scene in a romantic comedy? So go find out what Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan are up to. I’ve not seen them in much lately. Hell, cast those two as the romantic couple (this is Massachusetts after all and it’s legal here).


  1. Comment by Lise on December 19, 2007 11:02 am

    Seedy is interesting and lends itself to more pungent character – that’s why they film here. BTW, you do realize that it’s based on the Hong Kong Infernal Affairs trilogy (in fact they’re remaking another one w/ some of same cast & Scorsese) and plot-wise follows it very closely so that’s why all the shoot-ups. There was some great acting in it, no? (Though I found Jack too much). And Leo … he breaks your heart. And looks damn hot doing it!

    Plus, they just did film a remake of The Women here w/ Ms. Ryan as a central character. I think that movie will be just what you’ve been asking for.

  2. Comment by Dave in Chicago (2) on December 19, 2007 1:42 pm

    Good Will Hunting seemed to do well. ;-P

  3. Comment by David on December 19, 2007 2:55 pm

    I agree!!

  4. Comment by Fred on December 19, 2007 10:07 pm

    I think they’ve filmed SEVERAL prettified romantic-comedy kinda things here in recent memory, plus all the “Ally McBeal”, “Boston Legal”, “Cheers”, etc. you can shake a stick at. For my part, I go to things like “The Departed” to remember how much more enjoyable and rich in texture a grittier, seedier Boston (with things like the Combat Zone, no smoking bans, and looking like a real city, not a highrise tony suburb…) really was. In the case of the basis for things like “The Departed,” that is based on the Bulger years and before – this place WAS a seedy, gritty, rough, down-at-heel place. Heck, now even Southie and Chelsea are overrun with latte bars…

    This is why I moved to Providence (check out “Brotherhood” on Showtime – heh heh…).

    Now that we live in Mr. Menino’s Disneyland-Boston, call me sick, psycho, whatever, I really MISS the rundown gems, the soot, the weird little local stores, and the parade of hustlers along Arlington Street at twilight…where now there’s wall-to-wall fancy chain restaurants….

    Go rent the ORIGINAL (not the execrable Pierce Brosnan remake, which they set in NYC, anyway…) “Thomas Crown Affair” – THAT’S the real Boston of our childhood [or JUST before, but it was much the same in the late 70s as it was in the late 60s…] – even Beacon Hill looks gritty (and I remember that!) – besides, Steve McQueen was bloody hot!

    Still playing the cranky old coot here! Happy holidays to y’all!

  5. Comment by snarl on December 19, 2007 10:41 pm

    I agree – Boston (like Times Square) has been Dieneyfied to some extent. It’s funny, I find it regrettable in Times Square but not so in Boston.

    I like that Boston has cleaned itself up. I’m glad the old Park Square Greyhound Station is long gone (what a horrible first impression of Boston that was), I’m glad the old Prudential Center outdoor/urban strip-mall is a thing of the past, I’m glad the smoking ban has made it so that (on those rare occasions that I go to a bar) I can return home without wreaking of smoke.

    But I do remember the fascination of the Arlington Street hustlers, the Hemenway Street prostitutes, and the last remains of the Combat Zone. I miss the old Kenmore Square with Narsyphillis (Narcissus), Deli Haus, and the Rat.

    But I never saw Boston at it’s grittiest (1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s). I starting coming to the city regularly (hookie form school, etc…) in 1985.

    I guess what I miss most isn’t the grit, but the indepent (non-chain) stores and restaurants. The cleanliness doesn’t bother me.

    But I guess that’s more my point. These movies are showing Boston as it was, not really how Boston is.

  6. Comment by chris on December 19, 2007 11:35 pm

    How about the inability of any actor to do a semi-convincing Boston accent? Wahlbergs, Afflecks, and other locals aside. The only thing worse than a real thick Boston accent is a hammed-up, overdone fake Boston accent.

    I was walking around Back Bay this past summer and they were filming across the street from the Taj hotel at the swanky end of Newbury Street. There were quite a few people milling about, no doubt looking for a glimpse of some movie star. At the corner of Newbury and Arlington there was a fleet of yellow New York cabs, waiting for their cue to drive up the street. Not Boston taxis, but half a dozen clearly labeled NYC taxis with Empire State plates and everything. So they do film in what is arguably one of the nicest parts of town, but apparently, the nice side of Boston is only useful as a stunt double for Manhattan.

  7. Comment by Will on December 20, 2007 3:59 pm

    It’s not something that’s likely to appeal to the contemporary, urban gay man, but the original Parent Trap with Hayley Mills, Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara has a lot of shots of Boston–walking along the Esplanade, Back Bay, etc. in its early scenes. It was made when a lot of the seedy stuff was still around but it didn’t go there.

    I do remember the old Combat Zone–it WAS seedy and picturesque but also extremely dangerous–there were a lot of street murders there around the bars late at night/early in the morning. Not pretty and not missed–the original impetus to clean it up came not from Mayor Menino but from the Chinese community and its business associations.

  8. Comment by Fred on December 20, 2007 8:11 pm

    I had forgotten about the original “Parent Trap” – will have to check it out… I miss the drama of the grit – as noted, even Beacon Hill was a little bit seedy, and the Back Bay (Newbury St. past about Dartmouth St., particularly) very much so – all those grand mansions split into crappy studio apartments, etc.. – I object to the glossy rich suburban types who have taken it all over and now WANT the city to be like a suburb: what, open a new bar in my recently-gentrified million-dollar-loft neighborhood?! NEVER!! Oy! And they complain about the noise and so forth from what was there long before they moved in…sigh.

    I came into the city from my earliest childhood (the original Sesame St./Electric Company years – early 70s…), as my pediatrician was on Appleton St., which, at the time, to a little kid, looked very like Sesame St…. There just seemed to be a greater richness of discovery in finding the great beauties of this city (places like the Gardner, or even the pre-glossy MFA, etc.) underneath the grime, and when they weren’t all hyped to the skies, pricey, and overcrowded; I dunno. I have a fond memory of the old Combat Zone (but don’t dispute Willl on the murders – it was rough, very rough – one of the last people killed there, old-school, was, if I recall, a transsexual [MTF] coming out of the old “Playland”, which I regret I never got to see the inside of before it folded – Jacques is the Disney version, full of bachelorette parties and wildly overpriced, etc.. In any case, my fond memory is from 1984 or 5, I forget – my highschool “Beat Generation” English class – an elective – very fun – went in to the Zone one early evening to experience what it was to be “Beat” – this is something no teacher, even in a glossyish private school, which this was, could get away with today, to be sure, but it was quite something. We went into the greasy spoon joint there, and talked with the denizens awhile – someone asked the REALLY rough looking woman behind the counter if things had been at all messy the night before “Nah – I had to hit some guy over the head with a fryin’ pan to make him leave, but that was nuthin!” Later, we kids [teens, I think all boys, but I forget] all had to hang out on the sidewalk outside the “Naked I,” for being underage, while our prof. went in to, ahem, have a conversation with the then-famous “Princess Cheyenne” While we were there, a very beautiful and well-dressed [kind of a tapestry jacket over well cut black pants, if I recall – not at all slutty- quite 80s-elegant, as was her makeup and hair – wouldn’t have raised eyebrows in Chestnut Hill…] young blonde woman came out of the club, waiting for a cab. She was one of the performers (strippers), and was very friendly/cool with us, explaining that she lived on Newbury St., always cabbed directly to/from the club, was saving for gradschool and would quit as soon as she had enough socked away – noting that, at the time, some 22 years ago, she was making $55K/year in tips, cash…. Quite something…even more amusing was the intelligence our prof later imparted that Princess Cheyenne (remember her radio show on BCN? a local Dr. Ruth….) turned out to be equally well spoken and charming in person, actually one Lucy Johnson from Lake Forest, IL (Chicago’s equivalent to Chestnut Hill), and, get this, her father had attended our selfsame glossyish boarding school…

    Now, I know the Zone wasn’t all like that – and there were scary drunks all around, it was plenty mafioso and violent, etc., and had only really been created so Mayor White’s cronies could make a killing on the block between Park Sq. and the Publlic Garden that is now the Four Seasons (but used to be the Playboy Club, etc.), but there was a lot of the cutting edge of the sexual revolution there, and a lot of potential freedom for many of us marginal characters – albeit with the ‘wild west’ dangers inherent in young freedoms….so I do kinda miss it, the whole sloppy, sleazy potential of it all, now that the area is all just fancy hotels, dorms, and an expansion of Chinatown (which didn’t stretch up that far, in its legitimate form, anyway – the Zone was the decayed end of the Theatre District…all the Blackalll-designed movie palaces that had been done in as such by suburban flight…); certainly a crucible of early open gay life in Boston… The city seems much dumber and more hidebound now, so expensive it’s now only for those who have ‘arrived,’ not a place for becoming, even with all its dangers….

    Just ranting along – I do agree with Karl – the bus stations (remembering the Trailways which was where the Transportation Bldg. is now…long gone by the time Karl was coming into town…made Greyhound look palatial…) were really gross, but they reeked of an era as well as urine – watching movies like “Taxi Driver” and “Network” and “Midnight Cowboy” really brings me back – the world LOOKED very different, not too long ago. Under some circumstances, even the smell of a cigarette in an out of town bar is like Proust’s madeleine…and I LOATHE smoking/used to hate how my clothes smelled after a night out, but at least one was REALLY clear one had been out sinning in earnest
    Happy Xmas to all – ’tis the season for nostalgia, I suppose…

  9. Comment by snarl on December 20, 2007 8:26 pm

    Thanks, everybody, for such interesting perspectives and memories. I love this stuff (being a urban design fan that I am).

    I’d been through Boston throughout the 70’s on countless field trips and we drove through every major holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July) all througout my childhood, but at that age (being born in the early 70’s) my recollection of the grit is virtually non-existent.

    But I’ve got books on what Boston was like – one, Improper Bostonians is all about the gay scene from the settlers to the 80’s. What a difference two decades makes (since the 80’s!).

    I wonder if it’s possibly to have the mix of adult entertainment and low crime. It seems that every cluster of strip clubs in any city is surrounded by crime (Tenderloin in SF, etc…).

    Still (going back to my blog post) the Boston of today just isn’t like what the movie (which takes place in the current) portrays. Just like Taxi Driver, Cruising, and MIdnight Cowboy don’t represent modern day NYC, either. Hell, NYC looked NASTY in movies from he early 60’s to 70’s. But I think Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan are like the first love letters to NYC.

  10. Comment by Fred on December 21, 2007 2:39 pm

    …and Annie Hall & Manhattan (and, for another fun one: “The Eyes of Laura Mars” – parodied at the time by MAD magazine as “The Eyes of Lurid Mess”) were glamorous and exactly the same city as that shown in things like “Taxi Driver” and “French Connection” and so forth; it was ALL there…thus the contrast levels were higher and seemed more meaningful. Heck, Thomas Crown Affair doesn’t show a particularly seamy side of Boston, it just reveals it as dirtier and quieter and more private and a bit depressed than it now is (Boston on Prozac…). I want Kevin White back as Mayor – BOY am I sick of Tommy Menino (and Flynn before him was even worse – at least Menino is vehemently pro-gay, etc.). Probably can’t have all that sex stuff w/o the crime. Part of the reason Providence still has a vibrant gay bar scene is that they’re (reputedly) still heavily mob-connected.

  11. Comment by mindy on January 2, 2008 6:08 pm

    “Boondock Saints” conforms to your “Boston as an overly-violent city” problem, but at least gives you (if you watch the deleted scenes) Hot Naked Boys.

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