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2005 11 14
Celluloid City
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It's become a game of mine to watch a movie that I know was filmed in Toronto, and pick out the streets I recognize. Through film, cities like New York, LA, London, or Paris became cultural short hand for neurotic intellectuals, glitz, espionage or romance. In the process, these places became immediately recognizable. For example:

Pan over New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline in the background, old passenger ship in the foreground. Zoom in on huddled masses on deck, wearing brown and gray wool overcoats and caps. They are waving small American flags.

How many movies start that way? It would be impossible to name every film or television show that begins with a fly over shot of Manhattan. There are just too many. Getty images even offers that clip in its stock library. The first time I went to New York, I was overcome by the familiarity of the place. I recognized its avenues and light standards with the ease of quoting Annie Hall. I knew its rooftop water towers were perfect places for Peter Parker to hide his civies in one of his patented web bindles while he chased down Doc Oc. I felt like I knew how to act like a New Yorker. Those screen images became projected memories reflected back into our brains, as familiar as our own faces from the bathroom mirror. Yet more and more, those places are…well, this place.

Will Toronto ever become a signature city? An establishing shot? Certainly, a city doesn't have to be big, bright or shiny to become an establishing shot. Some cities become establishing shots because of their darkness, not their brightness. Dirty port towns, like San Francisco or New Orleans always seem to hold an exotic lure for the underbelly of society and were often shadowy places of murder, betrayal and deceit in Film Noir. Maybe if there was a genre called Film Multi-couleur or even Film Gris, Toronto might have a chance of getting its name up in lights.

There is a paradoxical pride about the role film plays in our city. Torontonians are too cool to crane their necks to see what a film crew is up to, but still fascinated enough for a sideways glance. When traffic is disrupted by a film set, we derisively comment on the inconvenience, but are the first to say, "I saw Steven Segal filming around the corner - he's really tall" or the more flippantly, " Russell Crowe is so short." We can't deny the glamour of film, but we won't admit to it either. Think of how the local press are squeezed out by American media covering the Film Festival. We even lose billing in our own show.

Sure there have been films that didn't hide the fact they were filmed in Toronto, but I can't think of a film made here because it was Toronto. A movie where the city was more than just a character, but the lead character. A movie that took place here because it couldn't happen anywhere else. What we need is a movie with "Toronto" in the title, like "New York, New York!" or "Chicago", or "An American in Paris". It could be called, "Toronto the Good", and we could film it in Winnipeg.
[email this story] Posted by P. Rogers on 11/14 at 07:58 AM

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