September 12, 2008

Bath’s Best Movie Moments

I popped along to the Tourist Information Centre the other day for a copy of the Bath movie map, which highlights some of the films shot here and the locations.

Along with the new Clapperboard film tours, the leaflet is a welcome initiative.

After all, the average visitor connects with familiar films and their stars more than with obscure characters from the dim past on house plaques. Movies are a fresh way of exploring the city.

For locals, it's intriguing to see our home patch on screen, whether an old gem such as The Titfield Thunderbolt with Stanley Holloway or the recent The Duchess with Keira Knightley.

Stumbling across film crews has long been an entertaining feature in Bath.

I've heard stories of the late Dudley Moore sipping a morning cuppa in a cafe and exchanging funny voice banter with fellow customers before filming The Wrong Box in Royal Crescent with Peter Cook, John Mills and Michael Caine.

That was 1965. It's hard to imagine stars doing that these days.

The same year, the Dave Clark Five attempted a zany Beatles-like movie, Catch Us If You Can.

It featured scenes with pin-up drummer Dave and the gloriously provocative 'older woman' Yootha Joyce in Royal Crescent. Shooting even included Dave making a call from that corner phone box. Steady on, girls.

Bath pretended to be Harrogate in 1979 for Agatha, the film about the young Agatha Christie's mysterious disappearance. Baths scenes featured Vanessa Redgrave and, heavens, Dustin Hoffman.

He played an American journalist who found her. It was love of a kind, but they never got together - touching.

As I recall, Dustin stayed at a hotel in South Parade and local girls got invited to a party. Oh well, I suppose it beat a disco at Tiffany's nightclub in Sawclose.

My most surreal movie moment was stumbling across a crew filming a crime caper, Savage Hearts, around 1995. An actress sat nonchalantly, waiting for a take.

She looked like a glamorous 1950s Hollywood star - sheer elegance, shades, headscarf, legs that went on forever.

Bemused shoppers stared, especially men, especially me. She appeared not to notice, perhaps 'in character'. I've never seen a sultry sex goddess in Stall Street before, but there's a first time for everything. Possibly it was Jerry Hall - she was in the film.

More recently, the shooting of the opening sequence of Vanity Fair in Great Pulteney Street was fascinating - such a complicated business with numerous characters and carriages.

The scene was repeated time and again, but the result was worth it. Those panoramic shots are impressive.

But how many movie-watchers realise it was Bath? The same goes for several other movies.

That's one reason to applaud the recent Bonekickers TV drama: making clear the setting was Bath. Also, despite some ridicule, at least the creators had the guts to try something new, rather than the usual dull formula dramas.

The Roman Baths episode must have been good for tourism. How gloriously bizarre for earth tremors to rattle teacups in the Pump Room!

The opening scene in Abbey Church Yard reminded me a little of 80,000 Suspects, a film shot in Bath in 1963 with the eternally young Claire Bloom.

Revellers leave a New Year's party at the Baths and a car actually travels down Union Street and Stall Street - it's a window on a bygone age.

Sometimes scenes have interest for what isn't there: the riverside looks bare, then you realise the sports centre hasn't been built yet.

Fascinating nostalgia, pity about the film. Some Bath movies look great, but lack that special ingredient that makes a classic.

The Wrong Box and Vanity Fair, in particular, had stellar casts, but ultimately were a bit disappointing.

Here's hoping for a Bath Oscar-winning classic in future.

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