Movie Tourism: ‘An Obsessively Ridiculous, Embarrassing, Empty, and Needy Exercise’?

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  12.17.08 | 3:52 PM ET

Photo by Eva Holland

I’ve been thinking lately about the motivations behind movie tourism—not the “Wow, New Zealand sure looked beautiful in that elf movie” variety, but the literal, “X was filmed here” brand of movie-related travel. What is it that prompts people to run up the steps, Rocky-style, in Philadelphia, or to slide into a booth at New York’s Katz’s Deli and gigglingly declare, “I’ll have what she’s having”?

In this darkly humorous, scathing story about the official “Sex and the City” bus tour of Manhattan, Vanity Fair’s A.A. Gill offers a possible answer: movie and TV tourism is, in essence, a sad, misguided, and vaguely sordid effort to find our fantasies in real life. He writes: “These women on the bus are missing the point. The storyville they’re looking for doesn’t exist and never did, and trying to search for the literal in literature inevitably kills the object of affection, murders the fiction stone-dead.”

Much as I enjoyed reading Gill’s contempt-laden essay (I always love a good dose of well-written scorn), I’m not sure I agree.

Sure, I can see Gill’s point: Sometimes movie tourists get so wrapped up in the film location that they forget to enjoy the destination itself. Gill’s bus-mates might have been so busy worrying about the brand names Carrie or Samantha bought at any given store that they forgot to look around at the city the gals loved so much—and I know for certain that plenty of the Harry Potter tourists trooping through the castles and cathedrals of England’s northeast, where I lived for a year, didn’t bother to glance at the stained glass or the Norman columns. Many of them didn’t appreciate that the ancient buildings they visited had a significance far, far beyond their brief spell as Hogwarts stand-ins; those visitors not only failed to find the fantasy they were seeking, but missed out on some real-life magic, too.

Still, I think that, when done right, movie tourism can be a pretty compelling lens through which to see the world.

Of course, I’m biased: I’ve gone out of my way to raise a glass to Mikey, Trent and the rest of the gang from Swingers at the Dresden Room in L.A., and I’ve driven deep into Alabama’s Freedom Hills looking for the coon dog cemetery featured in Sweet Home Alabama. You might think that a single (albeit crucial) scene from a very silly little movie isn’t worth driving for an hour out of my way on unmarked back roads, right? But if I hadn’t been on the hunt for a Reese Witherspoon moment, I would have probably stayed on the interstate; instead, I ventured farther off the beaten path than most visitors to Alabama ever have.

And I’d do it again, too. I’m planning to spend a lot of time in New York City this winter, so maybe I’ll be having “what she’s having” myself someday soon. Though I may take Gill’s advice, and skip the “Sex and the City” “rambling, exhausting, discursive, self-reverential” bus tour.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

1 Comment for Movie Tourism: ‘An Obsessively Ridiculous, Embarrassing, Empty, and Needy Exercise’?

Ling 12.18.08 | 10:14 AM ET

Other than the scene in Katz’s Deli, there’s a lot more of New York in the film, including the Temple of Dendur at the MET. Kinda spoils the fun of watching the movies, though, if you try to identify the spots.

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