Geographical Nonsense at the Movies

While watching Lizard in a Woman’s Skin today I noticed what I have come to call a Bridget Jones Moment. These moments are so named in our house due to my complaints when watching Bridget Jones’ Diary with the wife some years ago. Just having to watch it at all was reason enough to complain I hear you yell and of course you’d be right. However, all married men on the forum will know that sometimes such sacrifices have to be made for the greater good and when these times arise you just have to hold your tongue, think happy thoughts and take one for the team. I have become pretty adept at this over the years but couldn’t contain my annoyance when, during a montage scene of Bridget walking to work in the morning, I was confronted with a geographically nonsensical sequence that made me wonder if the makers of the film had ever actually set foot in London. (the setting of the film) Fundamentally, she took a happy stroll that involved every other tourist landmark and would have taken her best part of a day to make in reality as well as crossing the river twice and ending up 15 minutes walk from where she started. I daresay that if you are not a Londoner this would pass you by unnoticed and it got me thinking how often it happens in Films set in places I am less familiar with and which I don’t pick up on. So, working on the basis that we are a community spread all over the globe I wondered if there was anyone else out there who has had similar moments when watching movies.

To give you an idea of what I mean here are some screenies from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin that illustrate the phenomena.

A Police detective and his assistant are called to a murder scene in Belgrave Square, Mayfair. A uniformed officer in the front seat of their car reports into the radio that they are in Lambeth Palace Road and will be there in 10 minutes. Cue establishing shot confirming their position driving down Lambeth Palace Road. The Thames is on their left so they are clearly (this is my city so trust me on this) travelling eastwards and are south of the river.

They then show up in Trafalgar Square. This is north of the river, but quite proper if they are heading for Mayfair. Especially as they have the square to their right and are therefore heading northwest.

But what’s this? Now they are crossing Tower Bridge which is at the far end of the city to the east from where they had just been and in the total opposite direction to the way they were heading as well as taking them back south of the river again! Presumably there was a cut scene where Stanley Baker got back on the radio and said something along the lines of “Estimated time of arrival changed to an hour and a half as our driver is a fucking idiot!”

So you get the idea. I’m wondering how many films I have been watching with scenes in Amsterdam, Munich, Lisbon and Vienna where the film makers take the same sort of geographical liberties for the sake of showing the glamorous location and toss directional logic to the wind without my noticing but while bugging the hell out of a native?
Feel free to vent your spleen.

The best known example in Dutch cinema is the chase scene with speedboats in Dick Maas’ Amsterdamned through the canals of … well, that’s the problem. Dutch thrillers are usually set in Amsterdam, and when a thriller is set in Amsterdam, and aimed at the international market, you of course try to use the world famous canals for the chase scene. But that’s easier said than done. Like they say: In Amsterdam is altijd wat aan de hand (never a dull moment in Amsterdam). A large part of the sequence, set in Amsterdam, is actually shot in the so-called Oudegracht, a canal in Utrecht. Even most Dutchmen aren’t really familiar with every inch of the Amsterdam canals, but in one scene, the chase ‘jumps’ from Amsterdam to the centre of Utrecht: it’s the scene with the people on the terrace at about 4:30. This terrace is probably the best-known terrace of Holland, so every dutchmen knowns this particular scene is filmed in Utrecht, not in Amsterdam. Most people in cinemas started to laugh when they were confronted with this Geographical Nonsense;

Here’s the scene (it’s quite nice):

I never have a problem with such errors, especially when it is quite clear that they’re deliberate. If I´d shoot a Dutch film, and had the budget, I would make it seem it´s situated in one city, while shooting it in Maastricht, Amsterdam, Leiden etc. for a variety of nice locations with the same feel to it. Would it be better when such a film takes place in a fictitious city? (this while settings are recognisable anyway).

I see your point, I myself would prefer to shoot away from the main areas & save as much money for the film as possible I like in “Layer Cake” its set in London but from memory there arnt any real big scenes to show exactly where it is maybe a shot of the themes river here or there but mostly back streets and paddington style houses.

But I know what you mean its more like “oooh look at me I can shoot in all these big areas” think of the money wasted that could of been used to improve story or fight scenes 8)

I think so.
For some reason people are always pissed off when film makers or writers mess up the geography of their country or city. For this reason many authors chose fictituous cities or regions for their stories. A good example is Ed McBain. We understand his novels are situated in New York, yet the name of the city is never mentioned, McBain always calls it ‘the City’.

I understand those sentiments. And of course it’s always fun to nitpick at films, be it in the geography deparmtent, or anachronisms etc. But most of the times it’s the case that if you’re not from around than you won’t notice it. Especially if the used surroundings are not famous. But to use, let’s say, the Eiffel tower and then call it a fictitious city would also raise the eyebrows. Especially if you’d also put, for example, the statue of liberty in the same city.

That’s of course right.

If you have a fictituous city, you can’t use monuments like the Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge
If you use monuments like the Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge, you gotta have your geography right
If you use lesser known locations - let’s say Maastricht or Leicester - you have more liberty

[quote=“scherpschutter, post:7, topic:2487”]That’s of course right.

If you have a fictituous city, you can’t use monuments like the Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge[/quote]

Reminds me of the alternate ending to Army of Darkness

Using another (cheaper) city to stand in for the one you actually wanted to shoot in is common, and I don’t have a problem with it at all. As mentioned above these locations tend to be nondescript to the unknowing foreigner and can pass reasonably well. (Utrecht excepted it would seem) But what about the residents of the city being used? I expect one of our Canadian brothers might have experienced this. Maybe a film supposedly set in Chicago but a Toronto resident might yell “hey, I know that building. It’s just off Yonge St!”

This happened to me recently when watching some old episodes of Welcome to the Monkey House, the TV series made in the early 90s based on Kurt Vonnegut short stories. This particular episode was set somewhere in the U.S but when they pulled up outside a suburban house my wife and I immediately knew they were shooting it in New Zealand. The house type was just too common there to mistake for anywhere else. If you had never lived in Auckland though you’d never pick it.

I don’t know if this counts, but in the Shining, the the interior of the hotel and the exterior clearly doesn’t match. The units where the torrences stay at is basically a geographical impossibility given the the shape of the hote. And don’t get me started on the hedge maze.

Well maybe the biggest one it’s Almeria, sometimes it’s Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada etc
In a Small scale I remember in the Last Run with George C. Scott, they use the Spanish village of Nerja (beautiful place BTW) as some Portuguese fishing town.

How about ‘Amsterdam’ in Hostel? Also, all the Dutch speak German in that film.
Very bad film in my opinion, but not so much because of this. It actually was one of the few things that I found mildly amusing.

I wonder if it really would take 12 or so minutes to run through th louge as in Band apart and The Dreamers.

I 've just read this morning in the Newspaper about a TV movie to be set in Frankfurt, but shot in Vienna. This may look maybe really ridiculous.

Not to me: I’ve never been in Frankfurt and (surprisingly) never been in Vienna either.
But as far as I know Frankfurt is a very modern city, while Vienna is of course one of the great European cultural cities

In Holland Harlingen, a town in the north of about 40.000 inhabitants, is sometimes used as a replacement city for Amsterdam. It is small, but there are canals and if you carefully take the right camera angles etc. you are able to shoot images that appear to be taken in Amsterdam. For the Dutch TV series Flikken Maastricht (Flikken = Cops; the word was originally taken from the German ‘Fliege’ (fly) > French flic) sometimes scenes are shot in smaller Flemish cities like Tongeren. They have a ancient city centre like Maastricht, but are smaller and quieter.

I remember watching The Bill once when they were in Kingston, drove around the corner and suddenly they were in Tooting Bec!

Stanley Kubrick shot both Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut in London. The latter being set in NYC.

This is not a criticism, so keep them holstered.

I find the geographical absurdities in so, so many SWs to be amusing and even endearing.

Some examples off the top of my head (and I hope my memory is accurate):

In “California” a Federal commander speaks of mopping up Confederate resistance in Oregon and Washington. Haha! No Confederates were within a thousand kilometers of those states.

In “Requiescant” he goes from Texas to Mexico through Missouri. Haha!

In “I Want Him Dead” some characters get in a stagecoach in late afternoon or early evening in Texas and announce that they’ll be in Richmond, Virginia by the next morning. Yeah, right. More like morning in about 3 weeks. Haha!

Not geography, just general history. In “Thomson 1880” there is a scene set in a museum in the Pèntagon in the 1960s. On display are photos of famous Civil War generals. Most of them are misidentified and hilariously so. Haha!

This is a bit off-topic and not necessarily about SWs.

I wish there had been more movies which dealt with the various ethnic groups which established towns in central Texas. Polish immigrants founded Bandera (“Bandera Bandits”) in the Hill Country, Czech immigrants settled a series of small towns near Schuelenburg east of San Antonio (each still exists and has spectacular “painted churches”), Alsatian immigrants settled Castroville, and German immigrants settled dozens of Hill Country towns such as Fredericksburg and Luckenbach. Immigrants from Estonia (or another Baltic region) settled a place near Goliad but succumbed to disease (I once stopped ar a historical marker). And, of course, more than a third of Texas was controlled by Comanches as late as the end of the Civil War.

The location of the fort in “Requiescant” seems to be the Polish town of Cotulla.

The tall saguaro cactus seen in many westerns does not exist in Texas. They have prickly pear cactus.

There is no place in Texas which even remotely resembles Monument Valley, used in Ford’s “The Searchers.” But at least the Comanche band mentioned in the film was probably the most likely to have committed the opening atrocity. If one drives through the Texas Hill Country he would see lots of markers about families wiped out by Comanches and sometimes see their burial sites in the fields off the road.