Reel and imaginary settings
Australian movie locations can be deceptive
STANDING on the corner at Walk Don’t Walk (a Lily Tomlin line), I looked at the street sign to check our whereabouts and nearly fainted.
I was in New York City and about to be ‘‘crossing Delancey’’.
It’s not that the 1988 romantic comedy of that name is such a great movie (and to anyone not besotted by Hollywood, the title is meaningless) but for me it was a magic moment, as I actually did cross Delancey Street.
It’s in the middle of lower Manhattan (the Bowery, Little Italy and so on), a cityscape that can’t help but conjure up The Godfather and its sequels plus Moonstruck, West Side Story, Coming to America and many more.
Now, thanks to Anthony Roberts’s new book Reel Locations ( subtitled The Ultimate Travel Guide to Aussie Films), we can do the same down under.
Haven’t you always longed to visit Porpoise Spit? Not only because it’s the setting for Muriel’s Wedding but because it’s such a hilariously plausible Australian place name. According to Reel Locations, it’s actually an amalgam of Gold Coast locales, plus interiors shot in a Sydney studio. Which may be a crushing disappointment, or simply confusing, for the starry-eyed location hunter. That’s the thing about movie settings. Some years ago, a Singaporean television soapie crew flew in to shoot typical Aussie locations. The hero and heroine started out in the hotel at Sydney’s Star City Casino, then hopped in a convertible to escape the villain. (He had a sharp blond crew cut, signalling villain status because he was actually a Chinese actor.)
They headed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, in one minute and via the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, were at the gates of our home in the Hunter Valley. As any Australian knows, that’s a five-hour drive, but no matter.
The happy couple then had a pillow fight in a bedroom of our typical older-style Australian farmhouse. Did this activity signify something else? Who knows. Looking suspiciously relaxed, they ambled outside to the typically Australian glorious view (that bit’s real). The heroine — actually a former Miss Hong Kong, exquisitely beautiful and really nice — then served her beau a typically Australian snack.
The gigantic mud crab weighed almost as much as our former Miss Hong Kong and she struggled with the platter on which it skidded about.
When a gift copy of the episode arrived months later, we were enthralled by the speed and picturesqueness of the journey from Sydney, through the Blue Mountains, to the Hunter, and appalled to notice how badly the bedroom windowsill needed painting.
But in terms of location it obviously represented typical rustic Australia, because the peeling paint was in sharp focus as the young couple were pillowfighting within.
According to Roberts, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was filmed in similar fashion to the Singaporean mob’s idea of Australia: bits of glorious outback often 1000km apart. So although it would be fun to do the drag queens’ epiphany moment — all platform boots and ostrich feathers — on the mountain top, in reality you’d be somewhere along a two-hour circuit of Kings Canyon and making it to Broken Hill that night would be a challenge.
Some locations beg to be avoid- ed, however. The beautiful but creepy murder mystery Jindabyne, for example, probably hasn’t done much for that NSW town’s visitor numbers, even though it really was shot on location.
On the other hand, a picnic at Hanging Rock is always popular and the movie of that name is screened there every Valentine’s Day; but anything souvenired from the Victorian beauty spot is said to bring bad luck.
And although Babe was filmed on location in Robertson, NSW, you won’t find Magda Szubanski’s farm — or anything else of note, for that matter. Reel Locations – The Ultimate Travel Guide to Aussie Films by Anthony Roberts (Hardie Grant, $32.95).
‘Midwife’ Rasha Skybey with a flatback turtle laying eggs
Jindabyne is one Australian movie shot in its genuine setting