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My Great Northwestern Adventure: Part 5

Of course, no trip to the pacific northwest would be complete without at least a drive-by assessment of the great state of Oregon. Because of time restraints and nostalgia priorities, all of my knowledge of Oregon is therefore made up entirely of Goonies filming locations.

View from the highway on the way to Astoria.

Our self-guided tour of everything Goonies took us to the picturesque town of Astoria and then to Cannon Beach, home of Haystack Rock. Almost everything looks exactly as it did in the movie. It’s like Astoria has been locked in a time capsule since 1985—and this is not a complaint. I fell head-over-heels in love with the seascape and the old Victorian homes, especially the Flavel House, which stands next to one of the single largest trees I’ve ever seen.

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The historic Flavel House. Can I please live here?

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Check out the size of this epic tree! It’s actually a 115-year-old giant sequoia. According to the museum, Captain Flavel collected trees from his trips across the world.

Being from Illinois, I was right at home with the bone-chilling, Chicago-esque weather conditions during our stay. It didn’t seem like Astoria was used to getting much snow, as the hilly streets were laden with cat litter to keep cars from slip-sliding into one another. The weather made the trek to the Goonies house near the top of the hill a bit perilous. I’d brought my all-weather, come-at-me-bro North Face parka, but didn’t think my snow boots would be necessary. Wrong.

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Have fun walking up this snowy lane in skater shoes or Chucks!

Unlike most movie locations, the owners of the Goonies house actually welcome fans. They don’t give tours, but they have a cute little sign outside their house welcoming you to the “Goondocks.” So you can totally stand outside and take pictures and perform the truffle shuffle without feeling like a creeper. If you go, remember it’s a private residence, so don’t be weird and knock on their door to regale them about the time Michael Jackson used your bathroom.

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The Goonies house proudly overlooks the town of Astoria.

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Goondocks sign–how cool are these people?

One good thing about the crummy weather is it eliminated any trace of tourists. We had full run of the beaches and the adorable downtown. As luck would have it, Astoria even has an independent record store. While it’s not exactly Vintage Vinyl, the place scored points in my book by hosting some furry residents—it’s actually a record store/animal rescue. So when I found the reissue of Temple of the Dog in stock, I had to give the place business. Because I was sort of literally in a temple for dogs. Get it? Besides a huge room packed with used DVDs, CDs, and cassettes, I was really surprised they had so many new vinyl releases. (It’s coming back, y’all, whether you like it or not!) I hope this place stays in business, because animals and vinyl are two of my favorite things.

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The gorgeous Liberty Theatre in downtown Astoria.

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Street 14 Coffee in an old hotel. So cute I can hardly stand it.

I have to take a moment to give props to one more independent business in Astoria, Geno’s Pizza and Burgers. There was zero expectation of finding decent pizza in Oregon, and I was immediately impressed by the fact they offered fresh basil as a topping. You know your pizza experience is about to be elevated when fresh basil is an option. But the pies! Their pies were half a foot tall! (Not the pizza pies, the dessert kind.) Be forewarned: the peanut butter pie will send you straight into a sugar coma. Perhaps best of all, Geno’s was full of locals. There was even a textbook cliché Old Man of the Sea in there with his grandson. It was almost like walking into a Jack London novel, except without the wolves. Sometimes, it’s all about the atmosphere.

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View from the bluff over Cannon Beach. You need a spyglass to see it up close, but Haystack Rock is the big rock poking out of the surf just before the horizon.

While Astoria was like walking into a Norman Rockwell snow globe, Cannon Beach has the look of a vacation destination for summer travelers. Though it’s a lot more spruced up and less-dedicated to preserving its historic buildings, the town is worth a visit for Ecola State Park, which includes the beach, forest, and look-out point over ocean. Remember when the Goonies peered through the pirate medallion to line up the rocks on the beach? That was shot on the bluff. And if you turn 180 degrees, you can see where the Fratellis’ restaurant was built for the movie. Taking a gander around, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers chose Cannon Beach for their pirate-themed adventure movie. It’s a natural wonderland, and only part of it is revealed in the film. I can’t wait to come back and explore all it has to offer. Hopefully next time I can leave the parka at home.

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Beach view of Haystack Rock from the opposite side. There’s a tiny cave inside it!

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What trip to Goonies territory would be complete without stumbling upon an old ship? Here are the remains of the Peter Iredale, which ran aground in 1906.

There was one more irresistible filming location I had to hit on the way back to Seattle. Racing to beat the sunset, we stopped through Tacoma, Washington and found the high school and house from 10 Things I Hate About You. Stadium High School is not only a crazy-impressive looking building, like a castle overlooking the bay, it features that iconic bowl football field where Heath Ledger evaded campus police whilst singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” to Julia Stiles. Visiting both movie locations in one day was a double blast of childhood nostalgia and gave me an excuse to visit places I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to check out.

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Entrance of Stadium High School, as seen in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You.

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Stadium Football Field overlooking the bay. “IIII love youu baaaby…”

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Though the pole with the loudspeaker is now gone, (Maybe installed by the filmmakers) this is the place Heath slid down into the bowl.

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Kat’s (Julia Stiles) house in 10 Things.

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Searching for Jimmy

Because I watch more movies than I read books, I felt it would only be right to honor one of my favorite actors today, on this, the 80th anniversary of his birth.

Note: You’ll probably think I’m stone crazy after finishing this. But you should expect no less after reading the name of this blog, right?

I fell in love with the image of James Dean first. I remember buying a calendar of James Dean pictures to splice all over my walls at college based on the fact he just oozed cool, and I loved the timeless photography of Roy Schatt and Dennis Stock. With his chiseled good looks and easy manner of carrying himself, Jimmy could’ve been a model; but he was a born creative person, from making art to his method acting, and he was an avid reader. It’s a well-known fact that James Dean was head over heels for the writing of Ernest Hemingway, and especially the book, Death in the Afternoon; Jimmy became fascinated with matadors and bullfighting. He was a deep-thinker and a thrill-seeker. His middle name came from his mother’s love for the English poet Lord Byron, and the poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgramage,” in which Byron wrote: “I woke one morning and found myself famous.” He was destined for glory, and his journey was cut short just at the apex of his success. This is the story of how I came to know Jimmy 47 years after his death.

My first year of college, I rediscovered my love for movies, because that’s what artistic kids do with Higher Education. I started dabbling into classic films I’d never seen before. The first time I picked up Rebel Without a Cause, it was as a part of a 5-movie rental deal at my local video store; I’m fairly certain it was around Christmastime, but I can’t be 100% positive on that. I don’t remember any of the other movies I watched from that batch except for Rebel. I do remember watching it in my parents’ basement, alone, and after the film ended, feeling cheated I had gone so long without ever having seen it before. Though I was out of high school, I was still able to connect with the theme of the film, the damnable misunderstanding of teens in our culture, and the pressures and unfair expectations of young people in society. But as it should be, none of the characters resonated with me like Jim Stark. The charisma of James Dean was still magnetic nearly 50 years after his death, and something spoke to me in his performance to do some research on this guy.  Continue reading

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What writers (and filmmakers) can learn from “A Christmas Story”

Being that Christmas only comes once a year, it’s easy to forget about the invaluable works of seasonal art and the lessons we can take from them the other 364 days on the calendar. I admit my Christmas spirit has an expiration date of about a week, but there are a few gems that somehow avoid the staleness of repeat viewings/readings/listenings, so much so that I actually grow to appreciate them more with each passing year. The film A Christmas Story is one example, in my case.

Now that the movie has earned a permanent status on TBS with its 24-hour marathon each Christmas Day, it’s hard to  actually avoid seeing A Christmas Story every year. In my house, the tradition is to start the DVD on endless replay several weeks before Christmas, so it’s more of a constant parade of nostalgia and humor leading up to the big day. Strangely, it serves as a sort of comfort instead of an annoyance; this is the only film that can boast an immunity to being overplayed year-round. So where did this tolerance come from?

A Christmas Story is, of course, playing in the same room with me as I type this. And I wasn’t thinking of this blog post before the movie started up today; it occurred to me just about ten minutes into this viewing that every single scene in this movie is quotable. Every single scene. Go ahead. I challenge you to watch this movie and not find a hilarious, poignant, or witty quip worthy of repeating in each scene. How many movies can boast that? I’m a bit of a movie buff and even with my generous amount of knowledge of cinema, I can’t think of another movie like this right off the top of my head. So many films have a sluggish section, an empty part or two with the sole purpose of bridging to the next important scene; even my favorite films have parts that I probably wouldn’t miss if they’d been edited out. What A Christmas Story has acheived is a story as tight as a drum, without any unneccessary fat, and is the ultimate example of a stream-lined experience for audiences to relish time and time again. Every single scene needs to be there, and adds to the enjoyment of the movie while keeping the action moving forward.

How much better would movies and books be if they left out all of the extras and made every single scene count? I know this idea is an obvious one, but with movies bloating into the 3+ hour realm, and books swelling past reasonable attention spans, it’s clear everyone is not following this basic rule of thumb. I wondered what would happen with my own stories if I looked back and applied the Christmas Story rule to them. Would they stand up to the test? Though it’s a nearly impossible task to be as quotable as Jean Shepherd, it doesn’t have to be about catchy phrases or memorable lines. A startling idea, a unique description, or a vivid gesture are examples of ways to make a scene pop.

It’s something for writers to keep in mind when a scene just isn’t working out. Sometimes, we know we have to have a scene between two key parts of the story, but figuring out what happens in that hole is a struggle. What if we could start with that hook, the memorable quote, the gesture, the wonderful description, and work on the rest of the scene from there? It may just be the puzzle piece that tells us the rest of the story.

Some favorite lines from A Christmas Story for inspiration:

“My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years.” – Ralphie’s narration.

“Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.” – Ralphie’s father, upon reading the word FRAGILE on the side of a crate. 

“Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” – Ralphie’s narration, on his father’s “major award.”

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” – Santa Claus at the mall.  
 
“You used up all the glue on purpose!” – Ralphie’s father, after his mother broke the leg lamp.

“We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.” – Ralphie’s narration, on tearing open the presents on Christmas morning.

“In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” – Ralphie narrating about his dad. 
 
[On Ralphie in a pink bunny suit] Ralphie’s Father: “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.”
Ralphie’s Mother: “He does not!” 
Ralphie’s Father: “He does too, he looks like a pink nightmare!”

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