Guide to Pop-cul­ture Pil­grim­ages

Your Coke-bot­tle glasses are about to fog up with de­light – save up your pen­nies and make your next hol­i­day a real nerd fest with some of these pop-cul­ture mec­cas.


Fandom is funny thing. When you get a cer­tain level of pop-cul­ture ado­ra­tion, just con­sum­ing the film or TV show or al­bum you love sim­ply isn’t enough any­more. You have to go that one step fur­ther to de­clare your undy­ing de­vo­tion. As the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of fandom, you have to make a pil­grim­age to the birthplace of your favourite piece of pop cul­ture – or at the very least, the place they shot that one scene. Pop-cul­ture tourism has ex­isted since the boom of stu­dio tours dur­ing the Golden Age of Hol­ly­wood, but now it’s a lu­cra­tive busi­ness. Tourism boards will ex­ploit the most ten­u­ous link to lure in pop-cul­ture fans, like the small ru­ral town of Vul­can in Canada, which boasts it­self as a Star Trek des­ti­na­tion for Spock fans, be­cause it shares the name of his home planet. Some peo­ple make re­li­gious pil­grim­ages to an­cient tem­ples, oth­ers leg it to Grace­land.

Welcome to Hog­warts! If you read Harry Pot­ter and The Philoso­pher’s Stone as a pre-teen, then you’ve prob­a­bly en­ter­tained a very vivid fan­tasy in which an owl ar­rived to in­form you that you were in fact, a wiz­ard. That prob­a­bly didn’t hap­pen (un­less it did, and you have to ad­here to the In­ter­na­tional Statute of Wizard­ing Se­crecy) so the next best thing is vis­it­ing the real-life shoot­ing lo­ca­tions from the films. The Hog­warts School of Witch­craft and Wiz­ardry from the Harry

Pot­ter films is ac­tu­ally spread across a few lo­ca­tions. The ex­te­rior Quid­ditch scenes were filmed at Al­nwick Castle in Eng­land, where you can ac­tu­ally at­tend a ‘fly­ing’ les­son, and the rolling green hills of Glen­coe in Scot­land. The wind­ing stair­cases and Great Hall were filmed in Christ Church Col­lege in Ox­ford, but many of the ghost-filled cor­ri­dor shots are from Glouces­ter Cathe­dral. Of course it’s not all about Hog­warts; maybe you want to visit Lon­don Zoo where Harry first spoke Parsel­tongue to a snake and freaked ev­ery­one out, the Mil­len­nium Bridge where Death Eaters at­tempted to mur­der mug­gles for sport, or the clas­sic Plat­form Nine and Three-Quar­ters at King’s Cross Sta­tion in Lon­don. A piece of ad­vice: don’t try to run through the brick bar­ri­cade.

Don’t for­get your cam­era When The Blair Witch Pro­ject came out in 1999, one of the first films to utilise the found-footage genre, it seemed so real that peo­ple had to go in­ves­ti­gate the place in which it was made. Why would tourists even want to visit the site of (fic­tional) mur­ders by a ter­ri­fy­ing witch ghost in the woods? It’s un­clear. But the town in which it’s set, Burkittsville, Mary­land, is very much real and is a site that Blair Witch fans still flock to, de­spite the leg­end be­ing en­tirely made up by the film’s pro­duc­ers. The main shoot­ing lo­ca­tion for the film was ac­tu­ally the Seneca Creek State Park (about 50km from Burkittsville), which is where the ceme­tery and con­ve­nience store from the movie are si­t­u­ated. The Blair High School is even fur­ther away, in Mont­gomery County. How­ever Burkittsville’s welcome sign, which ap­pears in the film, was stolen so many times by tourists that the lo­cal coun­cil had it re­designed with bright colours and lit­tle stars so it ap­peared less spooky and thus less of a col­lec­tor’s item.

I’ll have what she’s hav­ing! Of all the pop-cul­ture pil­grim­ages you could make, this has to be the most de­li­cious. Even if you haven’t seen

When Harry Met Sally (what are you do­ing!?) you’re prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with the scene of Meg Ryan sit­ting op­po­site Billy Crys­tal at lunch and teach­ing him how easy it is for women to fake or­gasms. Sure, this is a funny and con­ver­sa­tion-pro­vok­ing premise, but have you checked out the sand­wiches they’re eat­ing in this scene? Oh, mercy! Katz’s Del­i­catessen is a New York in­sti­tu­tion and has been around since 1888. Think mouth-wa­ter­ing mounds of brisket, pas­trami sand­wiches you need to cut in quar­ters to fit in your mouth, the big­gest chilli dogs you’ve ever seen, and a Reuben that will make ev­ery sand­wich you eat there­after seem like garbage. Wash it down with an egg cream and you’ve just had an au­then­tic New York lunch. A word of warn­ing: this is a fast-paced place, so make sure you know ex­actly what you want be­cause they do not look kindly on lol­ly­gag­ging. If pop-cul­ture restau­rants are your thing, you could also visit Tom’s Res­tau­rant on Broad­way in New York, which was used as the ex­te­rior for Monk’s Diner in Se­in­feld.

The fab four When the Bea­tles re­leased Abbey Road in 1969 they in­ad­ver­tently made one ze­bra cross­ing in Eng­land very, very fa­mous. Pho­tog­ra­pher Iain Macmil­lan took the al­bum’s cover im­age in ten min­utes, stand­ing on a steplad­der while po­lice held the traf­fic be­hind him. Apart from be­ing one of the most fa­mous photos ever taken of the Bea­tles it was also the most con­tro­ver­sial, birthing the ur­ban leg­end that Paul (who was shoe-less in the im­age) was ac­tu­ally dead and the other Bea­tles were try­ing to leave fans clues about the cover up. It turned out that Paul was ac­tu­ally fine but the in­ter­sec­tion of St. John’s Wood in North Lon­don would never be the same. While lo­cals may re­sent the fact that ev­ery few min­utes tourists dis­rupt traf­fic by pos­ing for photos, the area has been deemed so cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant that the UK has given the cross­ing pro­tected sta­tus for its “his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance”. Like Jim Mor­ri­son’s grave in the Père-Lachaise Ceme­tery in Paris and Elvis Pres­ley’s Grace­land man­sion in Mem­phis, mak­ing the pil­grim­age to Abbey Road is an ex­pres­sion of true rock'n’roll fandom.

It’s a long way to Mor­dor The Lord of the Rings film tril­ogy still re­mains the source of ob­ses­sive fandom, even more than a decade af­ter the last movie was re­leased. This is in part due to the im­mer­sive qual­ity of J. R. R. Tolkien’s de­scrip­tion of Mid­dle Earth, com­bined with Peter Jack­son’s am­bi­tious re-cre­ation of sweep­ing fic­tional land­scapes. Re­ally, it was the best thing that could have hap­pened to New Zealand; as soon as the first film came out fans started flock­ing. Lord of the

Rings tours are now a thriv­ing busi­ness: you can visit the tiny houses of Hob­biton in The Shire two hours from Auck­land, the Elvin city of Riven­dell in Welling­ton and the rocky coun­try of Edo­ras in Christchurch. You can take an of­fi­cial tour or try to track down shoot­ing lo­ca­tions your­self, but one thing is for sure: you don’t want to risk go­ing to Mount Doom on your lone­some.

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