The Cinematic City, or how a city is perceived as a collection of moods, ideas and images found in cinematic history and the collective imagination, is something that I've been interested in some time now. And when thinking about 2010, Vancouver naturally came up as a topic of interest, since the Olympics will be held there next year. What better time to do a top ten movie list for Vancouver?
But the fact is, although dubbed Hollywood North, Vancouver has mostly lent its famed weather to television and movies that didn’t want Vancouver to be in them. But Vancouver often sticks out, anyways. How can it not? Most ridiculously, in Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx, Vancouver can’t be mistaken! Who ever thought Vancouver could pass for the Bronx? It clearly doesn’t. There’s a scene with a hovercraft on the beach, the mountains in the background… heck, if that’s the Bronx, it sure is a beautiful place.
One of the first American TV shows to shoot in Vancouver to save a buck was 21 Jump Street, the teenage cop show that launched Johnny Depp’s career. Though supposedly set in a fictitious American state, the opening titles gave away its true Vancouver location as the Skytrain and the Hastings bus were seen in the opening titles (always a source of pride to Vancouverites).
Since then, the list where Vancouver has stood in for Anytown, USA, has grown and grown, including such venerable TV programs as MacGyver, Smallville, and of course, The X-Files. And in the movies, Vancouver has quietly appeared in Hollywood gems as X2: X-Men United, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, and currently, Twilight: New Moon.
But when it came down to making my Vancouver movie list, I wanted to include shows that were actually set in Vancouver. Hard Core Logo came to mind immediately for movies, and not much else. So then I had to do some digging!
Out of necessity, I widened my scope to include television shows, which are an especially important part in reflecting Vancouver’s character. Da Vinci’s Inquest, one of the CBC’s most popular shows ever, is really Vancouver. But there are also little-seen independent films that, although not widely available, have certainly added to Vancouver’s onscreen mythos. Most of these on the final list are, of course, Canadian, because if we don’t set our stories where we live, who else will?
Hard Core Logo (1996) – Bruce McDonald captures Vancouver’s punk rock scene the way I remember it (perhaps I’m romanticizing though).
Da Vinci's Inquest (1998-2005) – One of the best crime dramas ever, based loosely on real-life Vancouver coroner and then later, mayor, Larry Campbell.
The Grey Fox (1982) – This historical drama by Phillip Borsos about a genteel stagecoach robber who decides to go to British Columbia to become a train robber. Notable mostly for the wonderful Richard Farnsworth.
Unnatural & Accidental (2006) – by Carl Bessai, based on the play by Marie Clements.
Based on the real life murders by alcohol poisoning of 10 Native-Canadian women on Vancouver’s East Side, a subject also tackled in Da Vinci’s Inquest.
Everything’s Gone Green (2006) – by Paul Fox, screenplay by Douglas Coupland.
Love him or hate him, Mr. Coupland has contributed much to developing the character (caricature) of Vancouver. Everything’s Gone Green was the first movie that he’d written, and is one of the most “Vancouver” movies ever made! And if that wasn’t enough, you could then watch all 13 episodes of jPod, adapted from Coupland’s novel and made into a CBC television series, which ran one season (available to view on the website!).
The Beachcombers (1972-1994) – The Beachcombers on the CBC had a run of 22 years, the longest running Canadian TV drama in Canadian history. It wasn’t technically set in Vancouver, but about 40 minutes north by ferry. But whenever I go out to the Vancouver Airport, I see logs jammed up in the Fraser River delta and I think of this show.
Better Than Chocolate (1999) – Anne Wheeler’s lesbian love-story fairy-tale.
Double Happiness (1994) – One of the first movies I ever saw that starred an Asian-Canadian woman (Sandra Oh), and even more importantly, was written and directed by an Asian-Canadian woman (Mina Shum).
Robson Arms (2005-2008) – A wacky comedy with a who’s who of Canadian TV stars (including my fav, Dave Foley), and set in the West End, one of the most densely populated areas of Vancouver. Naturally, it’s all about neighbours!
The X-Files (1993-2002) – I couldn’t resist finishing off with The X-Files because, although not set in Vancouver, it’s become part of the myth of Vancouver in a way that other more generic shows have not. In the last seasons, when the production moved to sunny LA, some wondered whether they would be able to strike the right mood without all the rain.