John Ur introduces us to the fine films from the land of lakes: Michigan.
"Mishigama," or "Large Water," is the original name the Ojibwe people gave to Lake Michigan, and it's where state of Michigan, bordered by four of the five Great Lakes, took its name. The state seems to stick out from the rest of the States like a sore thumb, or as the Lower Peninsula is more commonly known, a “mitten.” Not only is it geographically unique (is it Midwest? Is it East?), but did you know that Grand Rapids was the first city in the U.S. to put fluoride in their water?
While you’re sitting at home, pondering the glass of water you’re drinking and thinking to yourself,“Fluoride? I didn’t know I was drinking fluoride,” I’m going to jump quickly into Michigan movies. If I were an immoral man, I would recommend Grosse Pointe Blank, which is set in the small town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. But only one scene in a house and an aerial over Lakeshore Drive were shot there. The rest was shot elsewhere (mostly in California). Dear Grosse Pointe government officials: If you do not allow movies to be shot in your town, I cannot put your town in this column and you won’t find any tourists heading your way. Thank you.
Tourists who do make it to Michigan will find that the Wolverine State has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world thanks to the unique formation of its land boundaries from two different peninsulas. The largely forested, and sparsely populated, Upper Peninsula is a different world from the Lower Peninsula. The “U.P.,” as its often called, contains the Porcupine Mountains, which according to some definitions are the oldest mountains in North America. You’ll also find here Isle Royale National Park. The namesake island is the largest in Lake Superior, and its wolf and moose populations are studied closely as an example of a predator-prey relationship in a closed environment.
The Lower Peninsula is flatter and known less for its natural landscape than for its ability to produce automobiles. You can catch the beauty of the Lower Peninsula in Sam Mendes’s 2002 period drama, Road to Perdition. It was filmed mostly in and around Chicago, but the end scene with Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his son (Tyler Hoechlin) took place on the shores of Lake Michigan. At the end of their long journey attempting to escape the outstretched arm of gangster retribution, Sullivan and his son head to Perdition (a fictional town filled in by Saugatuck, Michigan, not far from Holland). They climb over sand dunes in Saugatuck Dunes State Park and hang out on the beach watching the tiny waves of the lake lap against the shore.
But the Lower Peninsula is not all small towns and lakeside beach resorts. Detroit is the country’s 11th largest city in population as of 2006. It is known for many positives: the aforementioned auto industry, the most recent Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, and Motown music. It is also infamous for negatives, including the long decline of said auto industry and the label of “murder capital of the U.S.,” which it is still trying to shake even though the crime statistics prove otherwise.
Some people would likely throw objects at me if I failed to mention 8 Mile here. I haven’t seen the movie, but I can tell you that it’s a story of a white rapper in Detroit trying to come to terms with his lifestyle. 8 Mile is a reference to the road which separates the largely white suburbs of the city from the largely African-American Detroit. But for me, the premiere Detroit movie is Out of Sight. The movie starring George Clooney and a pre-JLo Jennifer Lopez centers around Clooney’s criminal character, Jack Foley, making his way from Florida to Detroit for one last robbery before retirement. U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, (Lopez) is hot on his tracks, literally and figuratively.
Director Steven Soderbergh and cinematographer Elliott Davis did a great job making visual distinctions between scenes filmed in Miami and those in Detroit. Miami has a very gold, red, and yellow look. It’s warm, the sun is shining, and bodies are glistening. Detroit is cool and cold, metallic even with blues and grays wrapping around the snow sprinkled city. The Motown soundtrack led by the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” puts an added layer of context to the film.
The boxing scenes in the film took place at the State Theater and at the Kronk Recreation Center on McGraw Street in Detroit. You can see more of Detroit as Snoop (Don Cheadle), Kenneth (Isaiah Washington), and Glenn (Steve Zahn) roll down the streets on the way to a crime. The skyline of the city is visible in a scene where Foley and Sisco are having a drink together in a hotel bar on one of the upper levels of a skyscraper.
Soderbergh does not belittle the city even though it has been the
butt of jokes and criticisms aplenty for many years. In fact, he takes
a cold, harsh city known as being one of the most dangerous around, and
makes it seem appealing. Maybe Soderbergh was listening to native
Michigander Sufjan Stevens’s album, "Greetings from Michigan." Or maybe
it’s just the fluoride in the water.
Also Recommended: Semi-Pro
Photo: Saugatuck Dunes State Park by Kenneth Walters