Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kicking and Screaming

Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming was one of the first movies that my friends and I watched as freshman in college. We liked the way Grover and Max dressed: sportcoats, corduroys, brown shoes. Some of us still dress like that.

The college scenes in the movie are supposed to take place somewhere on the east coast. Grover at one point refers to the town the college is in as "Munton", but I haven't been able to find Munton on the map. But there are any number of reasons to think that it's set on the east coast: In the opening party scene, Max says that his parents have flown out from Chicago "to rent out these swank digs". When Friedrich says that "racism spans the globe", he says that "from Howard Beach to Crown Heights we witness acts of hatred". Howard Beach is in Queens and and Crown Heights is in Brooklyn. It's unlikely that that would be a familiar geographical reference to someone not close to New York. Grover's dad is obsessed with the Knicks and has an apartment in "the village", and his girlfriend works for the New Yorker and has "a lovely place in Oyster Bay" (Long Island, presumably). The high-school girl, Kate, who Grover tutors and who eventually takes Max to prom has a New Jersey-like accent. And the clothes everyone wears (corduroys, sweaters, sportcoats) are not really west coast. But most conclusive is a remark that Otis makes he is leaving to go to grad school in Milwaukee. Grover and Max say that Milwaukee is only an hour's difference, and Otis worries that he'll be hungry for dinner at five and ready for the local news at four. That means he has to be in the Eastern Time Zone.

But any attentive viewer of the movie will realize that the outdoor shots of the college don't look like anything on the east coast. The buildings have red, Spanish style tile roofs and there are even some palm trees in the background of some shots. It turns out that Baumbach couldn't shoot the movie at Vassar. He shot it at Occidental College, up in the hills above LA. I've known about the location for awhile, but I haven't gotten a chance to go check it out until this last trip to LA. Ben Chan was nice enough to take a break from working on his dissertation and spend an afternoon driving me up there.

Stupidly, I didn't bring shots from the movie with me, so I was working from memory. That meant we spent a lot of time walking around trying to spot locations, with only moderate success. At one point, out of desperation, I approached a bunch of college kids lounging around on the lawn and asked them if they were familiar with the movie. "What movie?" They asked. "Kicking and Screaming", I said. "I haven't seen that", one of them said, and another said, to my surprise, "That's not a very good movie". Somewhat surprised, I asked them if they knew that some scenes from the movie were filmed at their college. None of them knew that, and they seemed nonplussed. I would have thought that watching the movie would have played some role in college orientation the way that The Exorcist or St. Elmo's Fire played at Georgetown.

Later I realized that these college kids thought that I was asking about the 2005 Kicking and Screaming, which clearly was not filmed at their college and isn't a very good movie.

I spotted the location of the scene where Max and Grover talk about improving Grover's resume. Grover has listed on his resume that he "Drove a truck". Max thinks that's not impressive enough and says that Grover should put instead "Responsibilities included: delivering gourmet cheese products throughout the metropolitan area".

From the movie:

From my visit:

Here's what the arbor Max and Grover are walking under looks like from the other direction:

Grover and Max notice that a student is hanging up flyers that read "Cookie Man: Pro Life?" on the pillars of the arbor:

Here's a close-up of one of the pillars:

There are several other locations that I missed:

That means I'll have to go back for another visit.

One thing that came to mind while hiking around the hilly Occidental campus is that the actors must have been unbelievably hot in the jackets and sweaters. It was around 95 degrees when Ben and I were walking around. There is a good reason why people don't dress like that out in Southern California, even in the fall.

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