Here at Museyon, our guidebooks are curated by an all-star team of global experts. Let’s get to know them, shall we? Today’s guide is Tom Beer, our expert on Film + Travel in the UK. Tom is a self-confessed cinephile, Anglophile and bibliophile, a lifelong lover of London and possible possessor of the world’s greatest name. Hi, Tom! Stay tuned, because over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing all of our guides to Film + Travel. Get to know Tom, and his favorite movies, after the jump…
Name: Tom Beer
Home base: Park Slope, Brooklyn
Day Job: Books Editor at Newsday
Last movie you watched? Franco Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Lincoln Center
Museyon Guides: Your chapter covers a lot of ground—and a long chronology. What’s your favorite location you discovered while writing your chapter?
Tom Beer: So many. I learned a lot from doing the research and saw a lot of places in a different way. A place I found just fascinating was Holy Island, which is where Roman Polanski’s ‘Cul-de-Sac’ was shot. It reminded me somewhat of Mont-Saint-Michel in France, this castle on a big outcropping, but it seemed almost more remote and more mysterious.
I’m very, very fond of that Michael Powell movie, ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ Researching the Hebrides Islands [in Scotland] where it was shot, and learning about what they went through to shoot there—it’s pretty difficult to do a photo shoot in that part of the world, especially in those days. The movie is so interesting because it makes you fall in love with that landscape a little bit.
I’m a lifelong lover of London, too. London just perennially is fascinating—there’s so much history there, and so many corners of it that you have never explored.
MG: In your chapter we look at Alfred Hitchcock’s London, and in the North America/South America book, we look at his San Francisco. So: Hitchcock in London vs. Hitchcock in San Francisco?
TB: That’s hard. ‘Vertigo’ is one of my all-time favorite films. The San Francisco that you get in ‘Vertigo’ is so amazing, it’s such a sophisticated film and the sense of place is so great. The thing that’s very endearing about Hitchcock’s London is you know that this is a city he knew intimately. There is a sense that this is not an outsider looking at this city, whereas in San Francisco maybe he’s a little bit more of a tourist.
MG: Any cool locations or factoids that didn’t make the final cut?
TB: I wanted to put the pub from ‘Shaun of the Dead’ in there, and it turned out that it was actually a tourist destination. Then a couple of years ago it was torn down, so sadly there was nothing there.
MG: Favorite British movie moment?
TB: I was fortunate that I was able to put my favorite films in here. I love the moment in ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ when they go into a castle on the island that Roger Livesey’s clan is supposedly forbidden from entering. It’s a real castle and it’s there on this island and it’s basically deserted. You see the castle several times in the film and there’s a lot of curiosity about going in there, and then at the very end of the film Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller do go inside. It’s just an amazing moment in the film because so much mystery has been built up around this castle, and then you see them actually walk inside the ruins.
It’s totally perverse, but in Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy,’ I love when the body has been hidden in a lorry that’s got all these sacks of potatoes that’s leaving the vegetable market. At one point the camera is looking at these sacks they open up a sack and you see all these potatoes and then suddenly you see this woman’s foot amongst the potatoes. It’s so Hitchcock because it’s perverse and twisted but also humorous. It’s always such a great moment if you see it with people; everyone’s like “Ahgh!”
‘Brief Encounter’ is another favorite of mine, surely for just five-hanky tears, melodrama. When the lovers part in the train station, just for absolutely wrenching melodrama, where you’re just like crying and the Rachmaninoff music is swelling in the background. It’s kind of restrained English melodrama; the characters are not actually emoting that much, they’re trying to keep a stiff upper lip, but you know that underneath it their lives have been ruined, because they’re in love, but they’re going to have to go their separate ways.
MG: Other than the UK, is there another area you would have liked to have written about?
TB: For years I was a big Bollywood head. Of course, a lot of Bollywood films are not shot anywhere in India; it’s a lot of soundstage stuff, but they’ll sometimes do exteriors. Sometimes they’ll be off in Switzerland all of a sudden … there’s like a song happening and there will be five different locations in the course of a song. It’s an amazing country and I’ve always loved their movies—both the Bollywood movies, but also the serious movies. I like Satyajit Ray, a lot. I’m an absolute sucker for French film, and Italian. My current obsession is Japanese cinema. And I’ve only actually been to the airport in Japan. I’ve been to Narita Airport, I’ve never traveled there. Just being in the airport was like, “Oh my god, I’m in Japan.”
MG: If you were to make a move, your dream film, what would it be like? Where would it be set? Who would star? What genre would it be?
TB: I probably would want some completely improbable grab bag of actors and actresses who would never, ever appear in the same film. From all different times of filmmaking.
Where would I want to film it? In a strange way, New York … just as a place where I live and that has such an enormous place in the imaginary life of movies. Any place that has been the subject of so many movies, like New York has been, would be an amazing place to shoot, because you just get to play off of all that history and all the locations that are resonant, and how different they are—from ‘Annie Hall’ to films from the ‘30s and the place that New York has in all this film history. It helps to know the place where you’re shooting really well, because I think you have to find hidden corners of it that would lend themselves well to shooting. Another place—I just came back from there so I’m a little bit prejudiced—was Rio de Janerio, in Brazil. I was so floored by how beautiful a city it is.
And who would I cast? I’d love to cast just an insane cast—Laura Linney and … it’s going to be all women … Wendy Hiller. There’s a wonderful Japanese actress, Setsuko Hara, who was in lots of Ozu films. I’ll put Hugh Jackman in there because he’s amazing. It’s an insane movie already, I don’t know what it is … Is it a musical? Is it a drama? Put all my people in it, they can’t even speak the same language, but that’s the beauty of movies, right? It’s visual medium, so they’ll all find a way to interact. Fred Astaire will come dancing through. I’m sure it’s going to turn out to be ‘Gates of Heaven,’ one of those films that’s totally over budget and a critical disaster. A totally overambitious, grandiose folly … Lola Montez … just absolutely spectacular, and nobody would get it.
MG: If you could live inside any existing movie, what would it be?
TB: I’ve probably dreamed about living inside so many movies. When I was younger I always wanted to live inside ‘Rear Window.’ I swear, that’s one of the reasons I came to live in New York, was that I wanted to live on that courtyard. I didn’t necessarily want a murder to happen, but that would have made for very entertaining voyeurism just the same. To me, that courtyard in ‘Rear Window’—the slight artificiality of it, it’s that imaginary New York that exists in the movies. That had such a sway over me when I was a kid.
It’s harder to feel that way about movies today. Maybe it’s just when you have a kid, you’re so ready to be an adult and have your own life, and you just can’t when you’re a kid and movies are just this vicarious way of having an adult life, or witnessing an adult life. I’m a total sucker for ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ the Vincente Minnelli movie with Judy Garland. That always seems like such a fairytale of this perfect little family living in this beautiful house in St. Louis and they sit around and they sing at piano. They have minor troubles, but they’re pretty minor—they may have to move to New York and leave their beloved home. It’s just such a total fantasy of Middle American life, and it’s totally not real. From when I was a kid, it always seemed like, ‘That must be the perfect family; I want to live there.’