John Ur is back this week to enlighten us about the film history of two of the Northeast's wedge states: Vermont and New Hampshire.
This week, I tried to pull a slick journalistic move. I was going to prove the lack of geographic knowledge among Americans, e-mailing my friends with a question: “Which state is further west: Vermont or New Hampshire?” It’s not a trick question and most of them got the question right: Vermont. Those that got the question wrong shall remain nameless and will also soon be contestants on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
Vermonters and New Hampshirites might be a bit upset that I’ve grouped these two states together. They might argue that the states or the people have different personalities, political preferences, and different landmarks. Frankly, I’m not buying it. These states are New England to the core – pine trees, covered bridges, apple orchards. They share their northern borders with Canada, their southern with Massachusetts, and each other's colonial charm.
Residents of the rocky West would probably scoff at the idea of an East Coast mountain. Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is the highest point east of the Mississippi at over 6,000 feet. Colorado has more than 50 peaks over 14K. So to say Vermont is famous for its ranges might be a bit of an East Coast bias. But with its Green Mountains (the root of the state's name comes from the French explorer Champlain, who dubbed it "Verde Mont"), Vermont is a great place for hiking or skiing, particularly at Killington, Stowe, Sugarbush and other slopes. Did you know Vermont has a Koppen climate classification of Dfb, similar to Minsk, Stockholm and Fargo? Yeah, me neither.
You already know my deep-seated feelings about Tobey Maguire. So it’s with a heavy heart that I must recommend The Cider House Rules. The movie is set in Maine but had many shoots in Vermont, including Bellows Falls, Brattleboro and Dummerston. The film is handled competently by Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat). It touches on sensitive issues and tries its best to pull your heartstrings with a rich cast, including the adorable orphans. It shows New England in all of its four seasons of glory – the winter snow, the summer heat, the flowers of spring and the classic gold, red and yellow leaves that make the region a destination for Sunday drivers come autumn. The most memorable scenes involve shots on an apple farm in Vermont where Maguire works as an apple picker and falls in love with Charlize Theron (man, tough life!). The tree leaves and apple skins glint in the sun and it makes me want to quit my job and move out to the countryside to pick fresh fruit and make cider.
If Vermont is a wonderful place to be young and in love, New Hampshire is a great place to spend your golden years. Henry Fonda plays Norman Thayer Jr. in On Golden Pond and Thayer is celebrating his 80th birthday with his wife, Ethel (played by Katharine Hepburn), his daughter, Chelsea (real-life daughter, Jane Fonda) and Chelsea’s boyfriend and his son. Norman is a stodgy character – grumpy to the point where he pisses people off. He’s my kinda guy.
But the point of watching this movie is not to laugh at Fonda’s nuanced stabbing humor, or to hear him grumble about being old, it is to enjoy the time spent on Golden Pond, where the Thayers have been coming every summer for many years. Their Golden Pond is actually New Hampshire’s Squam Lake. The opening shots show little microcosms of life on the pond – a fallen leaf floating across the water, the loons swimming lazily with the current, the sunlight dancing the tango with the ripples on the surface of the water. This is the place the Thayers go to relax and go fishing – always trying to catch the elusive big trout, Walter. They dive and swim, perfecting their backflips. And they listen to the loons singing out while they wade across the water.
New Hampshire and Vermont may have had their differences in the past, but these two states have a lot in common. They have maintained a certain pace of life that appeals to many people looking to get away from the rush of the big cities. They have colors that you don’t see very often when you’re grinding your heels into asphalt. And they both are romanticized in cinema. These aren't places to motor through before the day gets old. They're places to slow down, let the long sunny days linger on your skin and enjoy a piece of apple pie.
Also recommended: Return of the Secaucus Seven.
Read More: Check out the Vermont Film Commission and the New Hampshire Film Commission's respective filmographies for the complete list of movies shot in each state. And check out all of John's past columns here.
Photo: Squam Lake, NH, by Vikas Anand, via Flickr