Abroad changed me. Groan. Yes. I know. Abroad changed me, you, and everyone else who can afford to go “study” for a year, a semester, or even a month. It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s, to a degree, true. Abroad “changes” people because it’s an extended experience unlike one you’ve ever had before. If I spent a month, a semester, or a year doing anything I had never done before, I would probably say that the experience “changed” me.
So. Anyway. Abroad changed me. For all of the reasons you think. But also for a reason that allows me to write a column about it! O Fortuna! Now, without further ado, allora—see? See what I did there? I used an Italian word that I learned by living in Venice for a month. Gaze upon my culture and despair.
Over the course of my…course?…in Venice, I was introduced to four movies I had never seen before. These movies were Summertime (1955), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), and Pane e tulipani (2000). What tied all of these movies together? They are all set primarily in Venice (along with a few other themes and motifs that would necessitate an essay rather than a column). I thoroughly enjoyed all of these movies—they are all very good movies. Had I watched them at home in Winter Park, or at school in Boston—not really in Boston, but it’s only a quick trip on the T into the city—I’m sure I would have enjoyed them too. But watching them in Venice added an extra layer of engagement that would be impossible anywhere else in the world. Seeing the places featured in these films—some from 60 years in the past—while I was walking around Venice gave me a greater understanding and identification with the characters I had watched the day before on a screen. Katharine Hepburn could run through the Piazza de San Marco— running like only an actor in the ’50s could—and all the pigeons would fly through the air and then the next day I could wade through swathes of these gross birds just like her. I would pass the hotel that Colin and Mary stayed in right next to the laguna and I would be transported back to a small bar, sitting across the table from Christopher Walken while he told me, “My father was a very big man. And all his life he wore a black mustache…”
Rarely can one get this with movies nowadays. Perhaps if you live in New York City or London or Paris, you might see those famous landmarks used in every establishing shot like the Statue of Liberty, the London Eye, or the Eiffel Tower. Yet, I would guess that these enormous landmarks hardly connect you directly to the movie. Even walking by them, you wouldn’t be transported back to one movie in particular, rather a many hundreds of movies that have made use of these places. But perhaps those movies that really focus on a very particular part of New York or London or Paris that you know well would resonate with you if you watched them while living in the city.
The movies we watched set in Venice have captured the city intimately. Sure, they might all gloss through the Piazza, or the laguna, or the Ferrovia, but each movie also becomes closely acquainted with small parts of Venice, like the one calle that leads into the canal where Colin and Mary spent the night, or the one cross-section of canals where John and Laura’s water taxi has to reverse.
This is why I must now advocate for watching movies set in a location where you are living for any significant amount of time. It allowed me to connect with the movies and with the city in a way that I could not have achieved on my own. For this reason, I’m going to rewatch all of those “Boston” movies when I return to Boston—The Departed, Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Town, etc… I watched all of these movies while not in Boston, and I believe that perhaps I can recreate this intertwining of film and setting by returning to them. But I would recommend to everyone that, if there has been a movie made in a place you are living, watch it. See if they got it right, and see if there is anything you’ve been missing.
Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons