Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"The Only Tough Part about Having To Film in Idaho Is When You Have To Leave" (Clint Eastwood)

Enlightening Eastwood’s Pale Rider

With a Statewide Movie Signage Proposal

By Jim Banholzer

With special lights from Brad Nottingham & Professor Tom Trusky

Watching Clint Eastwood movies, particularly his well-crafted Westerns are almost like enrapturing religious experiences for some big screen buffs. Each of his movies project priceless lessons, even when he portrays an antagonist, such as the callous elephant hunter in White Hunter, Black Heart. Astoundingly enough, Clint filmed much of Pale Rider right here in Idaho, with a theme as ageless as the Boulder Mountains. Clint plays a nameless preacher protecting a poor prospecting town from a gang of ruffians sent by a greedy mining corporation, to intrude on their claim. This striking film, the first of Clint’s that he produced, was created in 1984 around Boulder City north of Ketchum and over by the Vienna Mine near Smiley Creek. Pale Rider was the predecessor to Clint’s 1992 Academy award-winning gem, Unforgiven.

Each time I watch Pale Rider, I focus on the recognizable background terrain, sometimes freezing specific frames to find my way around the mountains. As my friend Brad Nottingham was a local then, he reminds us, “For Pale Rider, there were some filming issues evident in the film as you see it today, which brought comment: it was filmed in our typically beautiful late Indian summer, and some of the riding scenes were filmed just before and after an unpredictable early season snow, which frosted the upper parts of the ranges, while quickly melting off the lower elevations. As a film viewer, a period of time that seemed to be about a week, appeared to toggle from summer to winter, which brought some criticism, I remember, but any of us mountain folk wouldn't give it a second thought.
In addition, Clint made tremendous effort to restore the site that was disturbed by the building fronts, construction crew, and later the feet pounding of the actors and production crew on the little ridge and river drainage near the quaking aspen groves. Winter seemed to come quickly that year and for a bunch of us, it was hard to spot evidence of the film set trampling that next spring, though we tried. We also tried to find some kind of film crew item or something. Lon and I located "the rock" that one of the miners was chipping on in an early scene from the film.
When it finally came out, Pale Rider sort of stunned people, because it was a break from the Eastwood tradition. He played an even quieter, low-key character, and I remember people being confused about connecting a "preacher" role to him. Others, expecting the active dashing and violent Dirty Harry traditions found this movie kind of slow and spacey, features I didn't mind at all this time. I just soaked in the scenery that I knew was almost in my backyard. I had driven my old Buick Wagon up there, and forded the rocky river crossing half a dozen times, hiking up to some of the "real" old mining cabins and diggings.
Soon afterward, a local man,
David Butterfield had us typeset and produce an exhausting field guide to good locations across Idaho, including information about accommodations, prices, in order to drum up more filmmaking interest from Hollywood. After the book was published, I remember that there wasn't much response, until the Bruce Willis engine began churning up sleepy Hailey in the 90s. I still have not rented that weird, forgotten-about movie (Town & Country (2001)) filmed in Bellevue that included Warren Beatty that had a fly-fishing connection, nor the one about Hemingway, but I did see that odd Twin Falls picture(Breakfast of Champions (1999)) that Willis was working on when his marriage to Demi was fast unraveling.”

While reading Brad’s insights, it occurred to me that the filming of this motion picture was a significant enough event that we should commemorate it with a historical sign. Folks at The Idaho Transportation Department were receptive to this idea and revised the Wood River Mine sign to include such a tribute.

While relaying this information to Boise State University English Professor Tom Trusky, head of the Idaho Film Collection, Tom became enthusiastic about the Pale Rider tribute and expanded the idea with a “Statewide Movie Signage Proposal”. To quote Professor Trusky, “The tourist / publicity value of such signage is apparent – and locals might appreciate such knowledge, too, if they are unaware of their cinematic heritage. As well, given the recent interest in bringing film production to the state, such signage would not only be public acknowledgement of Idaho’s considerable contribution to the film industry but also serve as a reminder to contemporary filmmakers of the Gem State possibilities.”

Although we now face uncertain economic times, and are unsure where money will come from to fix and maintain highways, it would be nice when better times arrive, if the Idaho Department of Transportation expands Tom’s Statewide Movie Signage Proposal. By merging the information superhighway with our back road signage, Idaho could show the world how we stand proudly on the cutting edge, as well as being able to cut through bureaucracy.

As technological capabilities continue to advance in affordable ways, it would be uplifting to see Idaho embrace the techno generation by attaching to our already successful historical signage program, interactive items. For instance, when traveling up Highway 75 past the North Fork Store, when reaching the perimeter of interest where Marilyn Monroe starred in Bus Stop, we could make an alert available for interested traveler’s digital devices. A short holographic film of Marilyn hypnotically dancing with a billowing skirt on driver’s dashboards would keep dozing dad’s chipper and alert, lending to driver safety. Then, for the next fistful of history, when reaching Pale Rider’s Phantom Hill, the sound of bullets whizzing by your ear could be the subsequent alert. After a quick Galena Lodge pit stop for perusal over photographs rich with Idaho’s silver history, proprietors of the Sawtooth Valley could smilingly profit by making related material available to satisfy recently whetted traveler appetites. Eventually, we could develop inexpensive solar powered information kiosks for these pullout areas. Our transportation department’s research and development teams could even further engineer the signposts to include emergency communication devices. A camera-eye imbedded within the untouchable hologram could thwart vandals and when tampering is detected, and could be programmed to announce in Clint Eastwood’s best stern voice, “Go ahead! Make my day! Because you are now being filmed by an interactive sign commemorating Idaho Films!” Stranded drivers in remote areas where cell phones don’t work could come to know these signposts as secure places. Drivers passing the Pale Rider signpost might even be inspired to take after the nameless preacher’s lead to assist marooned travelers.

Certainly, ITD already has some technologically savvy leaders aboard. This is the third time I have had a positive experience with ITD leadership, which leads me to believe they embrace innovativeness in their daily working environment. I hope that someday soon, these leaders will advance these landmark ideas past the incubation stage to show how signpost pullouts can transformed into something that truly enhances our Idaho landscape.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You can read more of Brad Nottingham’s insights on the “good guys” in the Idaho Film Archive on Pale Rider:

Complete text here:

Lastly a related poem:

The Rock

I know about where it is
This big rock with a candy vein of gold in it
Scintillating under the stars

I want to find this Idaho Sword of Shannara
and lay me down under the silver fruit
Press the gold of my ear to the vibration
to sense if I can detect the echo of
when Lurch -or was it Jaws?
Split this baby in half
with an old 1863 hickory stick sledgehammer

I'll bend up over the hill tonite
Too itchy and scratchy for a truck in that rough spot
to see if I can't see how these hills have changed

Yeah that's it
I'll pack up the DVD player
better bring a spare battery juice-pack
Cause it's cold in those Idaho hills
I'll freeze frame on the DVD
sections of Mountains in that backdrop
and compare it to our current status

I think of the nameless preacher in the movie
and for some reason the Beatles real nowhere man
jangles my juices like Satchel Paige on opening day

On spectacular evenings like these
Sometimes it feels like we'll still be standing strong
long after these hills have fast eroded away

Original URL for Enlightening Eastwood story:

Footnote: Soon after posting the earlier missive to my personal blog, I noticed that it was getting twice as many visits as the rest of my stories combined. About a year ago, Dave Worrall from the U.K. contacted me and mentioned he is working on a book for Solo Publishing about Clint Eastwood’s Westerns and was looking for some old photos of the Boulder City territory. After we exchanged a few e-mails, including a photo of the Wood River Mines sign, I suggested that he subtitle his book “Clint Eastwood = Old West Action” since they are anagrams of each other. Furthermore, with a little photoshopping, he could design the equals-sign to resemble a smoking rifle barrel!

Footnote 2: With the Senate recently passing a bill, to create a fund to offer incentives to film movies and TV shows within the state, and with the newly created Idaho Film Bureau ready to offer these incentives, perhaps portions of this funding could help with such a program. Maybe the Idaho Film Bureau could even ask for donations on their website, from those who have favorite Idaho movies and would like to see those specific movies commemorated in such fashion, as the next logical step in the popular Idaho Highway Historical Marker program.

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1 comment:

oliviaharis said...

This was well written. What a fantastic article. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it all down! I came to know many things frim this blog. Keep on posting. Thanks for sharing.
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