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Dave's Train Trip to Film Festival III

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Handing my bags to me, the driver of the airport shuttle leaned in and asked me, "Have you ever met Robert Osborne?" I laughed the way we do when we discover anew the bond that keeps bringing us back to Hollywood every year for this Festival.


I remember reading an article during the first year wherein the writer described it as a convention for classic film nerds. Perhaps an overstatement then, it is most certainly true now. We spend months waiting, preparing, digesting every bit of news that leaks out, discussing our tentative schedules, and working out logistics. The activities beyond the Festival and the groups we do them with keep growing.


With that in mind, I've decided to do something a little different for me this year. I'm traveling by rail from Seattle to Los Angeles, and I'm doing it real slow. I'm stopping along the way in places like Brownsville, Oregon, and Salinas, California. I'll take a few pictures, talk to a few people, and dig into some cinematic history.


Advance Warning: This is a stretch for me. I can write all day about politics. Want to debate the French vs. British health care systems? I'm your guy. But, write a travelogue? Not so much. Tie it into film? Really pushing it. Make it interesting to a lot of people who know far more than I do about classic film? Let's just say I apologize in advance for this ill-conceived notion.

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A light snow is falling through the darkness as the train glides into the station at Chemult, Oregon in the Southern Cascades. It rocks gently back and forth, melting away the tensions of a busy day.


On the short flight from Seattle to Eugene, the young lady sitting next to me informed me she really hates living there. "It rains all the time, and it's flat, and I never see the same person twice. Back in Alaska, I'm surrounded by mountains and I knew all 300 of the people I went to school with."


We discussed the famous folks we had almost run over with our cars - she and Sarah Palin; me and Tom Hulce. Finally, while waiting way too long for our luggage (it is Eugene, not LA, right?), we parted ways. Her to a 10:00 Anthropology class, me to America.


Oregon's Willamette Valley is America. Lush, productive country, it lies between the Cascades to the east and the Coastal Range to the west.


*Animal House* was filmed here because the University of Oregon looked like an Eastern campus. *Stand by Me* was filmed in Brownsville, the third oldest town in Oregon, and well preserved. Of course, Buster Keaton filmed *The General* in the Cottage Grove area for reasons related to rail gauge, I believe.


Crossing the Calapooia River bridge, you enter town from the south.




It's definitely the pause that refreshes.




Many sites from the film are located within a 5-block area, and I was particularly struck by Hollywood's ability to shoot film at certain angles, creating a bygone era amidst modern amenities. It's not that Brownsville isn't genuine. It's the real deal. But, a street sign here, a brightly yellow painted curb there - all strategically removed through the skills of the cinematographer.




This tree held the tree house from the film. Interestingly, the 1.16 acres it sits on are available for purchase. You can have it for an asking price of $345,000. It's adjacent to a new development of nice homes, so I'm sure it has a future in someone's back yard. Could be yours!


I left Brownsville and headed across the valley towards the Cascades. Along the way, I passed a few covered bridges.




Oregon has around 52 covered bridges, most here in the Willamette Valley region. The "Over the Rivers and Through the Woods" Scenic Byway I was traveling is loaded with scenes from the past, including the Santiam Pass Road that parallels it. The road provided a route back to Central Oregon for those moving on to sunny central Oregon, near present-day Bend. Today, the road can still be traveled, but only by vehicles made prior to 1940. Something for your bucket list.



The valley is filled with green all year. In the winter, it happens to be the green of lichens and moss covering the branches of the giant deciduous trees.






Time to catch the train, so I headed back through groves of walnut trees?




?finally arriving at the Eugene Depot for my train trip through a snowy night in the Cascades.



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Cool! Nice travel diary you got here, buddy. I, too, look forward to reading more.


I didn't know Oregon had _any_ film history let alone it being used for some pretty important films.


Now, be careful you don't get snowed in tonight along the way through the Cascades. If you meet a little old woman named Foy who carries her own brand of tea, don't be surprised if the lady vanishes before you reach your next stop!


Kyle In Hollywood

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Your writing is very evocative and I really like it. Thanks for letting us know about the film sites in Oregon. Part of *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest* was filmed up there but I can't remember the town right now. Being mid-century-modern will do that to your memory.


Looking forward to seeing you next week and hope we finally get to have that drink, three years in the making.

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*"A light snow is falling through the darkness as the train glides into the station at Chemult, Oregon in the Southern Cascades. It rocks gently back and forth, melting away the tensions of a busy day." - mavfan4life*




What a start MavFan!!! Nice!!! I'm enjoying the fotos and your writing. I think you're going to make us 'see' this trip. Your photograph of this tree looks like Life itself. It truly has lived. Have a great time!!! I plan to make repeat visits to your thread. :-)

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*"I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. walking with the Queen. He was doing the Werewolves of London." - Warren Zevon*



I must be in another country. Waking to scenes of California industry spread along this bay or that hillside. Here a wildlife refuge, there a sea salt processing "plant". Mostly, though, hours of industrial farms.


"Folks, if you look out at the rows of large green plants, those are artichokes. They hold an annual competition for the Artichoke Queen here. Have since 1947. That first Queen was a local girl, name of Norma Jean Baker?"


How many kids have grown up dreaming of being the next Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne? The Great American Dream. It can drive excellence or burden with despair. It all plays out here every day in the Salad Bowl of America - the Salinas Valley.




The first time I ever traveled on Amtrak, I went from Dallas to Seattle to backpack in the Olympic Mountains of Washington. Needing reading material, I decided to stick a book I'd been trying to get through for a couple of years into my backpack. As the train rambled through beautiful, barren West Texas and the ubiquitous oil birds dipping their beaks into the ground, towards Los Angeles, I settled into my task.


I had no real idea what *East of Eden* was about. That trip and book were transformative experiences for me. Thirty years later, I live in Seattle. I've read all of Steinbeck's greatest works and watched the films based on them many times. I believe in Tom Joad, and I vote like it.




Preparing for this trip, I worked through so many options for themes to write about. There had to be a connection to film, because that's what these trips to the Festival are really about. I planned to drive to the mission at San Juan Bautista. Perfect tie-in, right? Kim Novak. Vertigo. The Mission. The Festival.


Oh, well.


Standing before a screen at the National Steinbeck Center, the face of Lon Chaney, Jr. loomed large. Lenny. Weathered face. Sad eyes. Has anyone ever met the expectations of Steinbeck fans with more success? Sure, Henry Fonda is Tom Joad. But, Henry Fonda was a great actor. Lon Chaney Jr. was doomed to live in the large shadow of his legendary father.


As a kid, I didn't know who Lon Chaney was. But, Lon Chaney Jr.? . How could you feel anything but sympathy for this tragic man, bitten by a wolf, and doomed to a horrible end?




I left the Center elated from seeing the real Rocinante, Steinbeck's adapted camper-pickup he wrote about in "Travels with Charly". Veering away from 101 on G14 towards Jolon, the countryside changed rapidly from farming country to oak highlands.


I stopped at the beautiful, decaying Mission San Juan de Padua. The mission lies within the confines of Fort Hunter Liggett. Formerly a Hearst family ranch, the lands are now a military reservation, and access is granted to the public because there are no other roads to the coast for miles. The military has no other option.


The caretaker of the mission is from Cape Cod. "Yep, going to go back soon. This is beautiful country, but you just can't make a decent living." The more things change, eh?


She warned me about the rattlesnakes surrounding old structures the mission used for basics like moving and storing water. I thanked her, assured her two dogs they were good dogs, gave them hearty hugs, and headed back out towards the Lucia range and the coast beyond.


After 27 miles of hairpin turns and dodging deer, the Pacific finally opened up before me. Highway 1 seemed like a super highway after the Nascimiento - Fergusson Road. Racing north along 1, the sun eased into the ocean. Cars pulled over into roadside turnouts. Cameras clicked. The sea turned red. Darkness.


Glancing over my shoulder at a full moon, I thought back to werewolves and London and Lon Chaney Jr. I'll be seeing that guy in Hollywood next week.



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Thanks to all for the supportive comments. I'm having some technical hurdles to get over - pictures can't transfer, phone died, hot spot won't connect, hotel wi-fi is apparently dial-up.


I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got a train to catch!


David in Santa Barbara (by way of Seattle)

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Daivd - very interesting to read about your train travels to Hollywood, particularly since I'm doing a road trip there too. Started in San Francisco, currently in Napa, next stop Monterey later today, will hike Point Lobos and Big Sur tomorrow, then to Santa Barbara and ending at The Hollywood Roosevelt. Have a great time and great writing by the way!



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*"As the train rambled through beautiful, barren West Texas and the ubiquitous oil birds dipping their beaks into the ground, towards Los Angeles, I settled into my task."*


Nice. I'm enjoying the read, Dave.

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*"Timothy Leary's dead. No, no, no, no. He's outside, looking in." - Moody Blues*


Hills brilliantly colored by flowers. The sun reflecting off the deep blue of the Pacific. The train glides on, rocking gently back and forth, calming and warming like a fresh release of endorphins.


At the end of the day, I light a fire in the fireplace, put TCM on the telly, and sink deeper into bliss. Welcome to Santa Barbara.




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*"West of Dodge there is no law. West of Pecos there is no God." - Roy Bean*


Myths are at the heart of what makes America a great nation. Our collective myths give shape to our hopes and dreams. The basic need to survive and evolve, when fueled by those dreams, are a powerful engine for progress.


As my train trip to Festival III winds down, and the West Coast has unfolded outside my window, it is the intertwining of the idea of American greatness and the effect of the Hollywood dream-making that has revealed itself to me. This is not what I intended my focus to be when planning this trip.


I did choose to stop in Salinas because of my love of all things Steinbeck. My other favorite author, Charles Dickens, shares much with Steinbeck. Most important, they were both stirred enough by injustice and abuse of the weak by the powerful to create some of the most important literature the world has ever known. Perhaps it was inevitable that my focus would shift to the topic of injustice at a time when this deep recession has brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness as Americans the very real issues of contemporary American injustice.


Those great authors, through their immense talents, were able to reveal to us exactly what they wanted. In the hands of a lesser talent, there can be unintended consequences.


In 1884, Helen Hunt Jackson sought to do for the indigenous peoples of America what Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for African-American slaves with *Uncle Tom's Cabin*. Her novel, *Ramona*, developed out of a trip she made for the Interior Department to assess the conditions of Mission Indians in California. She produced a 56-page report in 1883 recommending greatly enhanced support for them.


Following that, she decided to write a novel to expand her audience. In a letter to former Los Angeles mayor, Don Antonio Coronel, she wrote "I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indian experiences in a way to move people's hearts. People will read a novel when they will not read serious books."


The book was a huge success, but not in the way she had hoped. What fascinated people was the romance and adventure of the Spanish culture in California. It was a significant factor in the promotion of Southern California tourism. In fact, the Spreckels family funded a restoration of the dilapidated Old Town area of what had become San Diego, promoting the Estudillo House as "Ramona's Marriage Place". Today, Old Town is California's #1 most-visited state park.




Reprinted hundreds of times, it also became a source of several films. As part of TCM's historic annual series "Race & Hollywood: Latino Images in Film", the 1910 entry by D.W. Griffith, kicked off the programming. For an interesting, short read, I recommend Bret Wood's piece on the TCM website. The article goes into some detail about Griffith's legacy resulting from *The Birth of a Nation* and compares that to his treatment of Native Americans in other films.




TCM has been such a great source of pleasure and learning for me over the last 15+ years. I always read the articles written to complement the themes and Star of the Month programming. It is certainly no stretch to argue that TCM has had as profound an impact on my understanding of humanity and history as Steinbeck and Dickens. That is why my next stop on this train trip is Hollywood and the TCM Film Festival. I hope you'll be there, too.


David in San Diego (by way of Seattle)

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David -


I'm really glad you found your way to a California Mission during your trip. With *Vertigo* having such a high profile at this year's Festvial, it was a perfect excursion to have made.


It has been a real pleasure to read about your travels this past week. You're a very skillful writer.


I'll be looking for you around the Roosevelt later this week.


Kyle In Hollywood

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Hey Dave


Beat you here on my train trip (via AMTRAK the Cardinal from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to Chicago, then the Southwest Chief from ChiTown to LA via the desert southwest,the second train is the old Santa Fe Super Chief aka the train favored by Hollywood celebrities from 1936-1971) but alas I had no wi-fi for blogging (AMTRAK is slowly adding wi-fi to its routes though).


Hope you're having a great time & you packed some warm clothes for Hollywood.


Keep up the fascinating postings & hope to trade travel stories with you soon.


PS Did I mention I met a rail fan who may help me make my dream of coming to the next TCM via a vintage private car added to an AMTRAK train possible? Travelling in a vintage car watching vintage movies with fellow fans is now one step closer to happening...


See ya soon!

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Thanks all for the supportive comments. I got into L.A. yesterday, and it was the worst travel day, but Amtrak assured us it was *not their fault!*


Two hour delay leaving San Diego. Hassled by the guy checking my bag over my prescriptions.


Finally, after arriving at wonderful old Union Station in downtown, I'm walking down the tunnel to the station and noticed the hassling guy had checked my bag through to Santa Barbara.


I go running back up the tunnel and finally catch the conductor who promptly pulled my bag for me. All's good.


Got my rental car, picked up my roomie, Emberly, at Trader Joe's. Apparently she was planning on carrying 50 lbs. of groceries back to our house. She's crazy.


Back at the house, our other roomie, Dawn, arrived from D.C. Nice dinner at Cleo's in the Redbury. Dolmades, chicken kebab, and a tasty chopped salad that filled in nicely for the tabouleh.


I think we're going to drive up to Whitley Heights for a quick driving tour, then head out to the beach for a little sun, sand and tourism (i.e. Santa Monica Pier). And, I'm pretty sure we're going to go see the house from *Double Indemnity* as part of Dawn's introduction to Film Noir.


It's so great to be back in L.A. Look forward to seeing Kyle, Mrs. Cutter, SueSue, Glenn,Cinemaven and the Countess, and meeting VDO. I'd even think about flying east to catch that old style train, VDO.


*Please note - there's a bear running loose in the city. Empty your trash and, please, please - DON'T FEED THE WILDLIFE!!*


David in Seattle

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Haha Dave, I stepped not five feet away from my carry-on bags to grab other bags off the carousel at Union Station in LA and some woman flipped out at me over leaving them unattended for all of 45 seconds...hello, can single unaccompanied travellers not travel in peace?!?! Besides the claim check attendant was watching me act normally and moving bags and helped me get a red cap so there was no danger of me destroying the station...the only thing 'blowing up' was Random Paranoid Lady. Sheesh!


The AMTRAK people were all great though except one cafe car attendant who was a little lazy & spacey, (but as a sleeper passenger who got all meals including dessert & soft drinks in the dining car free, he didn't stress me out too much)


I did find Trader Joes today on my way to Amoeba Music but the call of DVDs was stronger than the call of snacks for the week...perhaps I'll hit up TJ's tomorrow


See everyone really soon (it's a matter of mere hours now...wheee!!!)

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{font:}; What an enjoyable thread! I almost felt as if I were along for the rides. Thanks to all of you for describing your adventures-and misadventures-so clearly. You certainly saw some beautiful countryside. As for the travel idiocies, I had some similar snafus at Bob Hope last year so I completely sympathize with your plights.{font}



{font:}[~mavfan4life] I too, now take medications for some ailments. When I flew out there last year I packed mine in my toiletries bag and put it in my luggage-no problem. Your trip obviously took several days rather than a few hours so you needed yours close by. I sometimes use Amtrak to visit my mother; based on your experience how should I do this? {font}



{font:}[~VDOVault]: That same nutty woman must have been working at TIA last year or has an evil twin; I got the same hassle when I stepped a yard out of line to ask an employee a question and didn’t move my bag. They’re this picky and wonder why passengers wonder why this is so necessary. {font}{font:}{font}



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I'll be posting my view of Festival III itself soon, after I finish catching up on a decided lack of sleep. Thought I'd post my schedule, though, now.


_Thursday_ -

The Maltese Touch of Evil

The Wolf Man

Criss Cross


_Friday_ -

The Searchers

The Ultimate Film Noir

Cry Danger

Grand Illusion


_Saturday_ -

The Longest Day (how appropriate)

Retour de Flamme/3D Rarities

Night and the City

The Black Cat

A Night to Remember


_Sunday_ -

How the West Was Won

Raw Deal

Shopping at Larry Edmunds (hope you did, too!)

The Thief of Bagdad


Edited by: mavfan4life on Apr 17, 2012 10:06 AM

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