John Ur is back this week with a tour of the many sides of Maine.
John Ur sits with his head in the clouds in Maine
Maine is a state filled with illusions. There are beautiful pine tree forests (appropriate for the Pine Tree State), gorgeous mountains, and picturesque coastlines. But hidden behind those inviting postcard vistas are rough and tumble environments, about which casual visitors may not be aware. The White Mountains extend up from New Hampshire and include the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin. Though this mountain may seem inviting, it is a monster of a hike, with scraggly rock slopes that make every step into a chore.
And then there's the coast, all 3,478 miles of it, if you count the inlets and offshore islands. The coast is home to Acadia National Park, the first National Park established east of the Mississippi River. The park began as an illusion in 1604, when Samuel de Champlain pronounced that the region's mountains were ‘all bare and rocky’ and dutifully dubbed the place Isle des Monts Deserts. It wasn’t until much later that people started to discover the beauty hidden behind the rocks. National Geographic magazine ran an article on the park in November of 2005, and with it, some wonderful pictures.
Depending on your disposition, you have two movies to choose from to see Maine’s coast. On the show tune, fairy tale side, there is Carousel, the 1956 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical directed by Henry King. On the more realistic, darker side, there is In the Bedroom, helmed by Todd Field in 2001. Carousel was not as popular as some of R&H’s other hits (The King and I, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Sound of Music) because of it’s decidedly darker tone than the others. In contrast, In The Bedroom makes Carousel look like, well, a musical, with its grim, unflinching look at a son’s death.
Carousel begins in a studio, probably in California, with lead Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) polishing stars in heaven. Bigelow died in a botched robbery and is granted the chance to go back to earth and see his wife and daughter. But before all that happens, he has to tell the story of how he met his wife and about the life they shared. Bigelow recounts his time as a carnival barker. During a stop in Maine, he falls in love with Julie Jordan. (Isn’t it amazing how people in musicals can fall in love and get engaged to be married within ten minutes of screen time?)
Bigelow leaves his carnival travel life and settles down with Julie. Big scenes take place at the seaside spa owned by Julie’s cousin, where Julie and Billy go to live. Filming for these scenes took place in Augusta, Boothbay Harbor, Camden and New Castle. The seaside shots are full of sailing and fishing boats on some of the inlets and bays around the rocky coast. In the movie, the town also has a big clambake – a very New England tradition.
It’s at this clambake that Billy and a cohort go off to rob a wealthy man while everyone else is at a party. You see, Billy is bored with being out of work, and the fishing life isn’t for him. And if you’re not fishing on the coast of Maine, what are you doing? Unfortunately for Billy and his partner, they pick the wrong man to mess with, as their target packs a gun. While trying to make a getaway, Billy falls on his own knife and dies before he’s able to see the birth of his daughter – who happens to be the person he’s trying to support with the robbery attempt.
In The Bedroom is quite a bit darker than Carousel. The story revolves around the Fowlers, a middle-aged couple dealing with the death of their son, Frank, after he is murdered by the jealous ex-husband of his girlfriend Natalie. The story is set in the town of Camden, Maine and multiple times we are shown the arch over a road that welcomes visitors to the city. Todd Field, a Maine native, also brought the film to other Maine locations such as Belfast, Owls Head, Rockland, Rockport, Trevett, Wiscasset and Old Orchard Beach, where the amusement park scenes were shot at Palace Playland.
There is a scene out on the water where the Fowler father and son are fishing for lobster with Natalie’s son, Jason. Maine is a prime spot for lobster, given its typically cold waters and rocky sea bottom. It’s during this scene that Dr. Fowler reveals the meaning behind the title of the movie, “In the Bedroom.” The idea is that a female lobster in a cage with one male is ok, but if two males are stuck in a cage with a female, one of the males will get hurt… like the unlucky, one-clawed chap that Dr. Fowler shows to Jason.
In the Bedroom is a sorrowful film. And Carousel, though it has chipper moments, is not a pick-me-up either. But neither of these movies shows false images of Maine. It is a joyous place – in the sunshine, out on the water, under the moonlight in the shadow of the trees. And it is a harsh place – in the darkness, among the rocks, in the cold and rain. You need to experience both in order to know the true Maine.
Photos: John Ur