I often take a little time out of these articles to talk about states with inferiority complexes. Part of this is to stir up conversation ("My state's better than yours!") and part of it is to try to explain the mentality of living in a small state where your local news and weather is overshadowed by your larger neighbor. The District of Columbia is a completely different story. On the one hand, it is not a state and has no representative in Congress; so much for that whole "No Taxation Without Representation" thing. On the other hand, it is one of the ten biggest cities in our country, one of the most visited cities in the world and has a population greater than Wyoming (and only slightly less than Vermont and Alaska).
So while we may not get our representation in Congress, one point of pride for D.C. is its widespread representation in the film world. The city is one of the two or three most iconic in our country, and though the U.S. Capitol can on occasion be faked with the Arkansas Capitol building, there are no obvious replacements for the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial or many of the other neoclassical buildings. To make a D.C. movie, you inevitably have to include shots of D.C. But that's where the rules seem to end.
To the average movie-going public, once you see one of the establishing shots of the monuments on the Mall, a sweeping aerial over the Reflecting Pool, or a look through the iron gates at the White House, you know you're in D.C. and you accept that the filmmakers know what they're doing with the location. To D.C. residents, every little geographical twist is blasphemy.
The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman, is just one example of a movie playing tricks with a map. As detailed in the Washington Post, Kidman plays a D.C. psychiatrist with an office overlooking skyscrapers. Sorry. News flash for those who've never been to D.C.: There are no genuine skyscrapers there. The Height of Buildings Act of 1899 first limited structures to the height of the U.S. Capitol, but that law was amended 11 years later to define a building's maximum height by the width of the adjacent street plus twenty feet. In another Hollywood sleight of hand, Live Free or Die Hard intersperses shots of California in place of what they claim to be "Washington, D.C." (At least in the movie Breach, they use indiscriminate shots from Toronto -- nothing so egregious as putting a tollbooth in D.C. like Die Hard.)
Some states are not as privileged as D.C. They're lucky to have any movie produced there let alone enough to start criticizing those that are for geographical discrepancies. D.C. seems to be the setting for any movie that has one of the following ingredients: politics, espionage, or war. All of those ingredients are quite popular with the Hollywood suits who like to see their movies do well at the box office. So much so that I'd like to propose a theory: At any time, somewhere on the 4,000 channels of cable television, there will be a film with footage from Washington D.C..
A quick test of that theory: Flipping the TV channels brings up Transformers, Rendition and Breach. (Incidentally, I didn't know Transformers had a D.C. shot in it until I spotted an aerial view of the Washington Monument and White House).
The problem is, there are plenty of lackluster political/thriller movies involving D.C., so I'll point you to one of the most critically-regarded, Oliver Stone's JFK. This movie is considered one of the best-edited films of all time for its seamless interspersing of archive and modern footage. If you're not into political movies, maybe Forrest Gump is up your alley. It also broke some technical ground by combining footage of Tom Hanks with John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. But the famous D.C. shot in this movie is Forrest running into the Reflecting Pool by the Lincoln Memorial to get to his love, Jenny. But all of these movies only give you a small look at a complex city.
None of these films show you the Latino centers of Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant. None of them show you U Street, the former "Black Broadway," home to the famous Ben's Chili Bowl (though the upcoming Russell Crowe-helmed State of Play ventures to Ben's and a few less famous spots). You might catch glimpses of the posh rowhouses of Georgetown here and there, but the city is so much more. Little attention is spread to the other areas rich in history: Anacostia, Brookland, Capitol Hill and many others. Like Maryland and Delaware, this leaves you with that much more exploration to do on your own.
Photo: John Ur