' ' Cinema Romantico: Dream On...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dream On...

Round about 1999 I began toying with the idea of taking a road trip to see the sites where my all-time favorite movie, “Last of the Mohicans”, was filmed. Thus, I noodled around the Internet, attempting to glean just where filming occurred and how one might go about mapping out such a pilgrimage. One of my more unsettling finds involved a triad of waterfalls, each one essential to the movie in its own way. A certain chunk of filming took place in the Blue Ridge forests just outside Asheville, North Carolina but these three waterfalls were not originally part of the State-owned Forest and despite North Carolina’s attempt to purchase the land from its owner, it was sold to a private developer. For a time, these falls were thought to be in danger – in danger of having public access completely denied by instead incorporating them into some sort of Rich Man’s gated community. Long, winding story short, the developer lost, the falls were saved and made part of the State Forest.

My Mohicanland pilgrimage finally, thankfully came to fruition in 2006, and I can report the falls themselves are handsome, particularly in the throes of autumn, and worth the trip and/or hike. Still, to a “Mohicans” devotee, all that rushing water would hold nowhere near the same sentimental sway independent of the fact Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe stood in front of them and walked alongside them as Hawkeye and Cora. And I remember considering this when I sat on a rock in front of Triple Falls as if it were a pew at the synagogue. In an area rich with them, I could have easily found another one to behold, but to an honorary Mohican, these falls were it. These were the falls we/I needed to see, and without them one of the most memorable weeks of my life would have been a lot less eventful.

You may or may not know the current brou-ha-ha unfolding in regards to the Field of Dreams – that is, the baseball diamond in the cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa that made for the main setting of Kevin Costner’s 1989 baseball fable about fathers and sons and the 1919 Chicago White Sox. It was, for many years post-film, a tourist attraction run by the owners of the two farms where it was built, down-home, plain-spoken. I was there once, when I was much younger and much more awkward and not yet a real fan of the film. I didn’t fall (deeply) in love with it until I left Iowa. After all, it’s very much a film about nostalgia, and I had become nostalgic for all that I loved and missed (and still love and still miss) about Iowa and watching it in that light cracked it open for me. But on my lone trip there, I recall it being scenic and lovely and less like a state fair and more like a county carnival. (I am not nostalgic for the Iowa State Fair. I still hate the Iowa State Fair. I am, however, nostalgic for the Adel Sweet Corn Festival.)

In 2010, however, after years of internal squabbling, the property was put up for sale. Lo and behold, a couple suburban Chicagoans, Mike and Denise Stillman, bought up the acres and, as Adam Doster recounts in his Atlantic article chronicling the entire ordeal, intended to turn it into what they term an “All-Star Ballpark Heaven.” Iowa may be home to The World’s Biggest Truck Stop but ostentation is not typically the state’s style. Thus, this plan has met significant resistance within the community and, on one hand, I cannot argue with this resistance. The All-Star Ballpark Heaven is meant to resemble the Cooperstown Dreams Park, site of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course, Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame, and as the Field of Dreams was meant as Shoeless Joe’s sanctuary, it would seem wrong to model the latter after the former.

That, of course, is not the kind of metaphorical connection I would expect someone with an MBA to make or care about, and besides, I can see the new owners’ viewpoints too. The previous owners, as the Stillmans note, had no mortgage. They do. They have to generate revenue somehow and, as it turns out, you can build it and they can come, but you can’t maintain it unless “they” cough up the clams.

I haven’t the foggiest how to resolve this situation and that is between the Stillmans and the citizens of Dyersville anyway. Still, I feel I bring a unique perspective, being a nutjob who – as established – traveled halfway across the country to see where his favorite movie was filmed. Those waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are the backdrop of a few of my most cherished memories and to think that they were almost made inaccessible to the public and, even more, to people who value them – however ridiculous it might sound – as something so much more than just dazzlingly rushing water, is something I can express with all my melodramatic heart that I’m ecstatic did not happen.

Those falls are not quite the same as an All-Star Ballpark Heaven. With the teensiest bit of off-the-beaten-path hiking, I had Triple Falls all to myself. Then again, the last twenty minutes of the movie, its most powerful part, was filmed at Chimney Rock State Park. It’s easily accessible and even when you’re high above on the trail where the most meaningful moments of my cinematic life were shot, there is a highway below with the sound of passing cars (and on the morning I paid homage, there was even the distant racket of construction).

Yet, you stand where Alice – or Jodhi May, they’re inseperable to me – stood and all the noise and all the rest of the real world just……give way. A place can be powerful apart from the setting, if that makes sense, and I can’t help but wonder if no matter how circus-like they attempt to make the Field of Dreams, it will always feel as if the people have dipped themselves in magic waters.

In other words, perhaps keeping the Field, however it has to be done and in whatever form it needs to be to do it, is what matters most.

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