John Ur is a lover, not a fighter. So it's fitting that this week's stop along the Cinematic Road Trip is in the great state of Virginia.
I always thought it was strange that, as the saying goes, Virginia is for lovers. If I were not a lover, would Virginia still be for me? If you are a lover, but live outside of Virginia, are you considered an outcast? Isn’t Virginia for recreating history in period outfits? I would love to see some sociological studies on these subjects.
But perhaps Virginia is for lovers because like love, the state is home to many peaks and valleys. It's surprisingly diverse geographically for an Eastern state. Starting at the coastline on the east, the state rises up to the southwest mountains and the foothills of the Appalachians. The highest point in the state, Mount Rogers, is contained in the Blue Ridge Mountains a bit further to the west. It's also home to a wide swath of rivers and forests that make up the Shenandoah Valley, which are easily explored in Shenandoah National Park.
Many women already find the mountainous region of Virginia romantic without even knowing it. This is where a portion of Dirty Dancing was filmed. The Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke, Virginia served as “Kellerman’s Resort” in the film (and was once visited by fellow IT blogger Janelle). Cottages and hotel rooms are available at the resort as well as “Dirty Dancing Weekend” packages which include film location tours, trivia and dance lessons. But don’t look to try to recreate the scene where Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey over his head in the lake… You’d have to drive about 230 miles south from Pembroke to Lake Lure, NC, where that scene was filmed.
Here's a quick recap of the story line for those who are either too young to have seen Dirty Dancing, or those men who have feigned illness any time it’s been mentioned. Francis “Baby” Houseman (Grey), a rich 17-year-old Jewish girl from New York, falls for the working-class dance instructor (Swayze) at the resort where her family vacations. Of course, their forbidden romance blossoms along the same star-crossed lines as Romeo and Juliet and Tony and Maria in West Side Story. And a similar theme can also be found in the story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.
According to folklore, Smith and some companions were attacked by a tribe of Native Americans a few months after reaching the shores of what is now present-day Virginia. His companions were killed and Smith was taken prisoner. After some time in captivity, Chief Powhatan decides to have Smith executed in a ritualistic manner. Pocahontas, his daughter, throws herself on Smith’s body before he can be killed, and her father relents. Smith is saved and Pocahontas goes to Jamestown with him. Though Pocahontas would go on to marry John Rolfe, the theme of love crossing all boundaries holds true for her and John Smith.
You can find an interpretation of this story in Terrence Malick’s The New World. Malick is the opposite of a prolific director, as he’s made six movies over a span of four decades. But his films are incredible, and capture a real sense of place. His style tends to lean on long shots that allow the audience to absorb the image and contemplate its meaning. In The New World, he used almost entirely natural light, which gave the film a very realistic look.
The New World is set in both England and Virginia. The crew shot the Virginia portions in a recreated settlement near Jamestown on the Chickahominy River. In a rare turn, we’ve now found a movie to show what a state used to look like, as opposed to our normal focus of finding movies that represent a state in the present. The scenes in Virginia show us the undeveloped land of the 1600s. Malick’s camera weaves through the green marsh grasses and watches as the settlers build up wooden forts, and fight through sickness, wintry weather, and other harsh conditions. So intent was Malick on keeping the shoot “authentic” that the fields were planted with Native American corn and tobacco rather than more commonly found strains.
I guess the moral of this story is that when Virginia says it’s for lovers, it does have some basis in fact. Just watch out for guys in pointy hats speaking the Queen’s English.
Photo: Raoul Pop