Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.
Some travel the world in search of our natural wonders. Others, for food and culture. And then you have the movie buffs, who travel for the spots made famous by Hollywood heroes. Jo Stewart is one of those (and damn proud of it).
“Which hotel are you staying at while
you’re in Los Angeles?”
For a split-second, I consider telling a
white lie and namedropping one of LA’s cool hotels. You know the ones—hip
places dripping with street cred like The Roosevelt or Chateau Marmont. Instead,
I give the more complicated (and truthful) answer: I’m staying at a hotel in
Burbank called the Safari Inn.
A throwback to the golden age of motor
travel, the low-rise Safari Inn has been a Burbank landmark since 1955. Its
kitsch neon sign stands out in a sea of nondescript office buildings and
generic strip malls. Ever since irreverent crime flick True Romance was filmed here in the early ‘90s, I’ve always wanted
to bed down at the Safari Inn. A trip 20-plus years in the making, it’s a miracle
the small hotel was still in business.
Unlike most new hotels in LA, you don’t park in a behemoth underground car park or throw your keys into the hand of a valet attendant. At the Safari Inn, I park right outside my room, just like they did in the 1950s. On the same street, there’s a McDonald’s, donut shop and a time-capsule diner called the Tallyrand that serves pot roasts, meatloaf sandwiches and roast turkey dinners (add 75 cents if you want all white meat).
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The retro appeal of the Safari Inn has seen it feature in many movies, TV series and music videos, but none have had quite as much impact as True Romance. A cult hit thanks to magnetic performances from Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, and a whip-smart screenplay penned by Quentin Tarantino, it’s made the Safari Inn a destination in itself.
Many (like me) check in then spend their days on the deck overlooking the pool that’s wedged between the car park and the street. Lazing on a plastic deck chair, I stare at the vintage neon sign framed by palm trees while high-fiving the teenager inside me for finally making it happen. Others travel to the inn for ‘True Romance Fest’, an annual celebration of the film that’s been running for five years.
The desolate, cactus-studded landscapes featured in No Country for Old Men inspired me to drive around West Texas. While not exactly a feel-good movie, the cinematography burrowed its way into my psyche, leaving me with a yearning to drive those same roads (without encountering the film’s captive bolt pistol-wielding killer).
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There’s a theme here. Fangirling over places others wouldn’t look at twice are a big part of why I travel. And I’m not alone in this.
Before the internet allowed us to look up anything, anytime, films and TV (along with the Encyclopaedia Britannica) were our windows to other worlds. Watch Fields of Dreams and you’re transported from your living room to the cornfields of Iowa. Put on Into the Wild and you’re immediately in Alaskan tundra. The internet may have given us a quick visual on far-flung places, but that hasn’t stopped millions of film lovers traveling the globe to capture a slice of movie magic.
Some movies allow us to revel in childhood nostalgia because they are intertwined with our own memories of Sunday afternoons with our grandparents, Friday nights with our brothers and sisters, or mid-week cinema outings with our friends. Movies we watched (and re-watched) as angst-ridden teens shaped our formative years. The characters, phrases and soundtracks stay with us well into adulthood when mortgages, student loans, and other inescapable by-products of the grind start catching up with us.
Movies are time machines, capable of evoking poignant personal memories and deep feelings we haven’t felt in a long time. By visiting film locations, I’m not just tipping my hat to the past, but to my past.
Of course, movies aren’t a guaranteed tourism generator: Not everyone is going to book a trip to Florida because they liked Magic Mike. I’ve met plenty of people who would never dream of flying 14 hours, then driving 16 hours to stay at the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining, like I did last year.
What can I say? You either get it, or you don’t.