What are you going to do now?
I’m not sure.
(Newhall Community Hospital, 22607 6th Street, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, California: March 2013)
Enid walks out of the doorway of the “Outpatient Clinic” where she’s just visited Seymour, and makes her way over to Rebecca, who sits waiting on a bench. As the shot follows her, the numbers “22607” are clearly visible on one of the awnings over her head. From there it’s a process of searches and elimination. The clinic is actually the Newhall Community Hospital in Santa Clarita. Although the bench has been uprooted, the rivets are still visible in the sidewalk. The hedge that stood behind the girls is less well manicured. The awnings have faded, and the minimal set dressings used are absent. But this is where Rebecca said goodbye to Enid.
I round the corner, coming at 6th from the north on Main. I know it’s the corner because there’s an extra awning on the east-facing side of the building. That’s the uncanny kind of observation you make as you approach a film location. It looks familiar, yet otherwise – it’s the inexplicable presence of all of the stuff outside the shot that throws you. Once you hit the northwest corner of Main and 6th, you’re officially on the block. But you’re seeing things from a perspective the movie would never afford you. You can see the building directly across the street: a dentist’s office, with someone’s big green truck and trailer parked in front of it. That’s where you usually sit, watching the sidewalk. That’s where your couch or chair or seat in a theatre is meant to be.
Figuring out where the camera was placed is trickier than it sounds. Even though you have the direct reference of the shot, filmmakers have cranes, trucks, risers that help them get the camera in a specific position that the arms and legs can’t always facilitate. That’s why you can spend an hour trying to get shots to line up exactly, to determine where the filmmaker stood or sat to frame things just so. You can pull your hair out over stuff like that. Plus it’s a bear to dodge traffic, especially if you’re at a popular location. A ton of tourists swarm the crosswalk by Abbey Road Studios in London every day, and risk their lives to get shots of themselves crossing those thick white lines just like the Beatles. London drivers know this, and some choose to use the road anyhow. You have to watch out for those kinds of drivers.
No one knows about the significance of the Main and 6th intersection. It’s not a main throughway. Traffic is light. The occasional car drives past, but hardly pays me any notice, as I’m quick to get out of the way. You have to be considerate in public places, especially in residential neighbourhoods. People live in these places, and they justifiably don’t want to be intruded upon.
One of the beauties of “Ghost World” being a relatively unknown film is that hardly anyone searches out its locations. There isn’t a soul at the corner of Main and 6th when I arrive. It makes the moment more special. No big groups of people crowding to get the perfect vacation photo; no incessant clicking of cameras all trying to capture shots that a Google search would return in a matter of seconds. It’s just me and the location.
It may be pure luck that “Ghost World” is my favourite film and not “Spider-man” or “King Kong.” It was a movie that came along while I was still impressionable in certain ways. Although at the time of the film’s release I was already three years out of high school, I was close enough to Enid’s age to recognize her particular brand of alienation. The deadpan, almost nihilistic humour of its characters was particularly appealing. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed the film as much if it hadn’t been so utterly poignant and ultimately sympathetic in its portrayal of a young adult. Someone knew what I was all about. It was there on the screen.
You hear people, and especially young people, talk about movies this way all the time. “It’s like they made the movie about me.” “I identify with that character so much.” These are the words we use to describe our powerlessness as viewers. We’re all out there scrambling for identification. I don’t think this really changes based on age, but it certainly hits you harder when you’re in your early 20s. That “Ghost World” was an “independent” film based on an “underground” comic book only enhanced its appeal for me. Nobody knew about it, so I was free to fall in love with it all by myself, and most importantly free to show it to other people.
A couple of things happen when you show a movie you love to a person who’s never seen it. First, you get to watch it for the first time all over again. Movies come equipped with a kind of tragedy. They can only completely surprise you once. While you can watch some movies over and again and discover new things constantly, that first time is gone, never to return. You’ll always know where the plot is going; you’ll never again hang on the precipice of finding out whether the ending will fall flat, or revel in that discovery of perfect words spoken in a terrible situation. Showing a movie to someone who’s never seen it is the closest you get. It’s like watching the film via a reflection in a mirror. Everything’s in place, but you’re approaching it through another medium, another set of signals buzzing from the eyeballs into the brain, where all of those discoveries you once made are being made anew.
Second, little by little, the movie becomes yours. You found it. You claim it. You recruit others to follow it. The same goes with bands. You put their songs on a tape, CD, playlist. “You have to check this out.” Why? Obviously it’s because you think the song is objectively great. But you’re also validating your own taste when somebody identifies with a song or film in the same way you do. We like to validate our own taste because our tastes define our chunk of the world. And we want a chunk of the world because movies and songs teach us to want one.
As I mentioned, the bench is gone, but the rivets are in place. I approach it first. Enid sat here, on the right, stage left. I stand on the spot and something happens. Something I’m not prepared for, even though I’ve visited a ton of movie locations and had a thousand fantasies about characters shuffling through parks and beaches and stores and castles I’ve stood in (or on). It’s a feeling of something holy. No other word quite fits. I know it’s exactly where I want to be, and it occurs to me that I’m on a very real pilgrimage. I’d never considered film locations as holy destinations, only spots to visit where stories were once told. This is something different.
But the stories aspect is so important. Stories are incredibly important to us. We want them in our lives. We desire their telling. We want to live them, too, and that’s a reason why we travel. Travel forces us into a story. It kick starts a string of new life developments. Travel twists our plots. We know we’re not going to get up tomorrow in the same bed and go to the same job and see the same people and eat the same meals. We can’t do these things while we travel. They’re taken out of our hands. Even if we fly to a distant city and stay in a motel room for the entire week, we’re in that motel room. That’s part of our story.
Main and 6th is now a part of my story. “Ghost World” is a film I’ve seen many times. It’s a film that grows with me. It puts me in a frame of mind, the way an old photo album or chord change or whiff of perfume might. I invariably have the same feeling after it’s over, even all these years later: I don’t want this to end. Visiting its locations seemed a way to prolong it. I’ll continue to watch the movie, armed with the knowledge of what’s across the street from that bench. That makes me incredibly happy. But for the sake of anyone I watch it with, I’ll also do my best to save my observations about the look of Main and 6th at midday until after Enid and Rebecca’s story comes to a close.