Immersion is the essence of cinema. Nobody famous or important that I know of said that, but someone probably said something similar at one point. I’m not even going to Google it; that’s how confident I am. But there’s truth to it— a movie can be as much about its setting as it can be about its story. Engaging the audience’s senses by building a relationship between the story elements and the setting is an undervalued art achieved by only masterful art directors and storytellers. Think of how cleverly and subtly Tim Burton exploits the Florida suburbs in Edward Scissorhands to provide thematic contrast for his character or how carefully Ben Affleck pans the Boston sky for his cop and crime dramas.
The relationship works both ways. Their stories and styles also influence the way we perceive places we haven’t yet been, or places we visit. Imagine going to the Empire State Building without thinking of scenes from King Kong or Spiderman. The Twilight series may be unbearable, but look what its done to romanticize our image of the Pacific Northwest and boost tourism in the region. Our idea of the Vegas strip wouldn’t be the same without great casino films like these.
This has been my personal introduction to our newest series: On location. In this series we will pick an iconic place and look at the movies that shaped our idea of that place as well as how the movie portraits the setting. First up: sin city.