Monday, July 09, 2007

Bronson Canyon

This weekend, we moved into our new apartment… and still found time to go see “Transformers” at the ArcLight dome in Hollywood, and to explore the Bronson Caves in the nearby hills of Griffith Park. Bronson Canyon is a mecca for cult movie geeks – a man-made canyon where dozens of films and television series have been shot since the days of silent film. In the early 20th century, the canyon was a quarry, where rock was mined for use in the construction of Hollywood roads. According to legend, the caves – or, more accurately, tunnels – were dug into the rock for the 1922 feature “Robin Hood,” with Douglas Fairbanks.

This underground passage is perhaps best known as the Bat-Cave from the 1960’s TV series “Batman.” “Star Trek” fans may also recognize them from the episodes “Friday’s Child” and “Bread and Circuses.” Others will know them from a host of mid-century monster movies: “Robot Monster” (1953), “The Brain from Planet Arous” (1957), “Earth vs. the Spider” (1957), “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” (1958), “Teenagers from Outer Space” (1959), “Eegah!” (1962), and “Invasion of the Star Creatures” (1963).

Roger Corman shot portions of several films here: “The Day the World Ended” (1955), “It Conquered the World” (1956), “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (1957), “Night of the Blood Beast” (1957), “Viking Women…” (1958) and “Teenage Caveman” (1958). More popular films that feature the Bronson Caves include John Ford’s “The Searchers” (the final scene in which John Wayne carries Natalie Wood out into the desert) and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter take refuge from the pod people in the old cave, only to fall asleep).

I’m a big fan of Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), which has already been remade twice – Philip Kaufman turned the aliens into yuppies in the 1978 remake of the same name, and the writer/director team of Larry Cohen and Abel Ferrara took potshots at the military in 1993’s “Body Snatchers” (which was, at least, half of a really good movie). Each remake has been a substantial re-imagining of the original tale and I’ve often thought of this as a classic series on par with George Romero’s Dead films. The underlying themes are similar: “We’re them and they’re us.” The scene in which McCarthy and Wynter flee an entire town of pod people is one of my favorite moments in screen history… so naturally I had to track down the shooting location: at the nearby intersection of Beachwood Drive and Belden Drive.

Before the screening of “Transformers,” we saw a preview for the latest adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel “The Body Snatchers”… and I’m pretty sure the people sitting near me heard me groan. First complaint: the latest remake is titled “The Invasion”… as if distributors were afraid that target audiences wouldn’t go see a film with the phrase “Body Snatchers” in the title. And maybe they’re right – it depends on the audience they’re targeting. Which leads me to my second complaint (and this is a big one): It looks like “The Invasion” is more of an action-thriller than a sci-fi/horror movie… or at least they’re trying to sell it that way. It seems to me that the filmmakers are alienating a built-in audience: fans of the older films. I, for one, would rather go see a faithful remake of the surprisingly intelligent “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than the latest action-thriller with Nicole Kidman. But then maybe I’m in the minority…?

on the north side of Bronson Caves

Bronson Caves - south side

Bronson Caves - north side

view from the north side of Bronson Caves

At the corner of Beachwood and Belden


  1. Hey Joe,

    I'm right with you there on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Now that I'm a Dad, I'm not actually allowed out of the house, but thanks to the magic of the Internet(!) I did get to watch the Invasion trailer the other day.

    My concerns mirror yours. I am deeply disappointed too, that they've added some kind of Julianne-Moore The Forgotten-style subplot about Nicole's son; like Motherhood or matriarchy is the key to combating the invaders. That just smacks of...dumb.

    I'm all for matriarchy and motherhood, but I am baffled why THAT has become the subtext, when the original material has plenty of red meat without such a cliched addition to the brew.

    My favorite Body Snatchers is the one of my generation. The 1978 version with Goldblum, Nimoy and Sutherland. I saw that in the theater. I was eight, maybe just turned nine, and I remember I fought sleep hard that night. I didn't want the Body Snatchers to get me. I didn't want to shrivel up, either and turn to dust like gorgeous Brooke Adams.

    Great post!

  2. Anonymous7/09/2007

    I'm blaming Nicole Kidman. She was also in the embarrassing remake of "The Stepford Wives" -- another horror genre classic that suffered from a drastic change in tone.

    I love the '78 Body Snatchers -- the ending really disturbed me... and I was much older than eight when I saw it for the first time.

    - Joe

  3. Saw TRANSFORMERS last week as well, and with it the full trailer to THE INVASION. It is somewhat disturbing to see a sci-fi story subsumed to thriller elements. It reminds me of the recent I, ROBOT film, which took Asimov as vague diegetic inspiration and spat out a chase movie.

    I really want to see the 1993 BODY SNATCHERS now. What remains compelling about the basic premise of all of these films (THE INVASION, I guess, included), is that their political connotations change with time. Though, the irony of the non-conformist storyline was shaken for me when I noticed that people began turning to one another in the theater in unison and proceeded to whisper things like "I want to see that." Perhaps the ultimate act of non-conformity with this latest INVASION is to simply stay away from it.