John Ur crosses into North Carolina on his next stop on the Cinematic Road Trip.
If you drive down the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, you will see distinct regional differences between New England, the Northeast Corridor (roughly Washington DC to New York City), and the South. For many years the dividing point has theoretically been the Mason-Dixon line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. But that mentality has been out-of-date for quite some time. For me, the line is the border of North Carolina.
For my family, crossing the border of Virginia into North Carolina means we’re getting very close to one of our favorite vacation destinations: the Outer Banks. We'd spend many hours soaking up the sun, playing in the waves, looking for wild horses and eating as often as we liked. Countless puzzles have been assembled (more often than not, with a piece missing) and countless hours have been wasted lounging in the water.
Though we tend to stay toward the north end of the Banks, the more recognizable cities tend to be to the south –Cape Hatteras, Rodanthe (location for the new movie Nights in Rodanthe), Nags Head, and Kitty Hawk– where the Wright brothers decided to revolutionize travel. Further south, the city of Wilmington is peaking as a television production market. In recent years, "Dawson’s Creek" and "One Tree Hill" were both shot there.
But Wilmington also served as the location for a film that is much darker and more disturbing than the preternatural philosophical sensibilities found in the cast of "Dawson’s Creek." David Lynch’s Blue Velvet has been a cult favorite since its release, but is definitely not for those with a weak stomach for violence and sexual crimes. (Be forewarned, it’s not a real family-type flick.) If you’re down on Market Street, take a look for the Carolina Apartments – which stand in for Isabella Rossellini's Deep River Apartment – one of many area locations that were used in the filming.
The lowlands of eastern North Carolina give way to hills and mountains as you travel west. Much like Virginia, the state holds part of the Appalachian Mountains in its western edge. In fact, North Carolina is home to the highest peak east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell. It’s also got the wonderful Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you visit the park, be sure to take a ride along the Great Smoky Mountains Railway. Hop off in the small town of Dillsboro for a look at the train wreck used in the filming of The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford.
Not far from the Great Smoky Mountains is the Blue Ridge range, which is where you'll find the hip city of Asheville. Just outside the city sits the Biltmore, a French-Renaissance-style manse commissioned by the Vanderbilts. The estate is a National Historic Landmark, and it's also been a film set on numerous occasions. Scenes in Hannibal, Patch Adams, and The Last of the Mohicans were all shot there. But it's Mohicans which captures a real sense of the scenery of the surrounding mountains (despite the fact that the Blue Ridge range stands in for upstate New York in the film).
Mohicans takes place during French and Indian War, and tells the James Fenimore Cooper story of the two remaining natives from the Mohican tribe – Chingachgook and his son, Uncas. They, along with adopted Mohican, Hawkeye (played by Daniel Day-Lewis), roam the land struggling to survive. And, though they do their best to avoid taking part in the war, the Mohicans come to the rescue when a rival native tribe (the Hurons) attempts to kidnap and kill a British captain and the two women he's protecting.
Several dramatic scenes from the film are played out along the cliffs and waterfalls of the region. The production team shot footage along Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and High Falls, all of which are located in the DuPont State Forest. And you can envision the climactic chase scene up the steep granite mountain cliff in Chimney Rock Park, where it was filmed. (I won’t spoil the ending for you.)
So perhaps its fitting that the dramatic landscapes found in North Carolina are paired up with such cinematic trainwrecks and cliffhangers. (And no, I'm not just talking about the happenings on "Dawson's Creek.")