Earlier this week a terrible tragedy struck Boston, and our hearts go out to the city's people and everyone visiting who experienced the terror. As a native New Englander, I love that town and all its history and culture, and while it's not the most common location for the movies, I very much love seeing it on the big screen as well. So, I'm devoting today's discussion to films set in and around Beantown as a simple tribute to the city and those who call it home.
Did you know that Boston has been captured in motion pictures since 1897? How about that in 1904, just outside the urban center to the northeast, Thomas Edison shot one of the first major action scenes by staging two locomotives head-on colliding? You can watch it at the very end of this compilation video. Another notable early film from Edison in 1903 takes us on a trolley ride through the streets, and apparently (it's hard for me to tell for sure) it includes a trek down Boylston near where Monday's blasts occurred.
These days Boston's representation in cinema is primarily focused on three things: Harvard, Fenway and crime stories. Harvard isn't technically in the city, but Cambridge is at least part of the Greater Boston area. Often, movies set in Boston will involve at least two of these things, à la Ben Affleck's The Town, which features a climactic robbery and shootout in the ballpark. We can probably partly owe recent Red Sox success and author Dennis Lehane for some of the increase in Boston stories over the past decade.
We also have to thank filmmakers from, and associated with, the area like Affleck, Troy Duffy, Seth MacFarlane and the Farrelly brothers. They've given us works that couldn't have been set anywhere else, like Fever Pitch, The Boondock Saints and Gone Baby Gone. Even Ted wouldn't have been as wicked good without its distinct accents and Boston flavor, not to mention its own Fenway-set climax. Some other favorites, though, are from New York icons visiting the city, namely Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Sidney Lumet's The Verdict.
For other films we can thank the historical heritage of Boston for period pieces involving the city, including of course The Bostonians, as well as Far and Away, Sacco and Vanzetti, Johnny Tremain and Heaven's Gate, which opens with a 19th century Harvard graduation (actually shot at Oxford in England). There's also the opening of Spike Lee's Malcolm X and parts of D.W. Griffith's Revolutionary War epic America.
Personally, my favorite partial Boston-set film is the Maysles brothers' Salesman, which briefly begins with the guys peddling their Bibles around the city where their company is based. As for films fully featuring Boston, I can't go with anything else but Good Will Hunting, which was cowritten by Affleck with Matt Damon. It covers a wide range of locations in the area and a lot of the character of the city, especially in its mix of working class townie types and the academic crowd.
What's your favorite film set in Boston?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter: