HOLLYWOOD LOVES OREGON'S STAR QUALITY SCENERY, AND SO WILL YOU
America’s Beaver State, Oregon, boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery anywhere in the US, and has hosted some of Hollywood’s classic films.
Metro, 29 March 2012
Somewhere in the rusting, salmon-packing port of Astoria, there’s an orderly-looking Victorian house overlooking the sea-lashed Oregon coast. Every hour, gaggles of pilgrims stand on its cindered driveway, taking photos, some doing ‘Truffle Shuffles’, while sea-lions honk away.
368 38th Street is no ordinary homestead. Back in the 1980s, it was the hang-out of Mikey, Mouth, Data and Chunk AKA The Goonies. Purchased by a fan of Spielberg’s adventure-comedy, it isn’t the only bastion of Goonies-related mania in Astoria. Every 7 June, a thousand-or-so die-hard Goonies’ geeks pile in for the annual, mayor-designated ‘Goonies’ Day’. Meanwhile, the former Clatsop County Jail (scene of the film’s opening prison-break) now houses The Oregon Film Museum (oregonfilmmuseum.com), where you can make your own mini-movie (before uploading to YouTube) and ogle more Goonies’ memorabilia than you can shake a One-Eyed Willie pirate map at.
Hollywood loves Oregon. It’s not just because they get generous tax rebates for filming there either. The northwest state boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery anywhere in America, as evinced in Point Break, Twilight, Stand By Me and more…
Metro’s road-trip starts in Portland, Oregon’s biggest city. Portland’s citizens like where they live. And no wonder. There’s free public transport downtown, acres of fir-studded parkland while the food is so fresh, it was probably plucked within a four-mile radius of their fork that very morning. Its low-rise streets crawl with cyclists, artists, ecofreaks, lesbian knitters, cupcake-chomping pet dogs, hipsters with skinny-druggie physiques, plus there are more than 30 breweries, making it beer capital of the world. Portland prides itself on being laidback, and it says everything that the only direct European flight there isn’t from London or Paris, but Amsterdam.
The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening grew up here, and despite claiming “Portland isn’t Springfield”, it’s pretty obvious where his inspiration comes from. Giving taxi drivers addresses is like reading out the show’s character-list (many Portland streets – Flanders, Lovejoy, Montgomery Drive – became Springfield residents), while in well-to-do Arlington Heights, Metro tracks down Evergreen Terrace – Groening’s erstwhile street and latterly Family Simpson’s address. Outside Lincoln High School, there’s a paving slab with a Groening-inscribed Bart Simpson and ‘School of 1972’ message, while Ainsworth School is Springfield Elementary’s dead-ringer. However, the bus driver definitely isn’t Otto and will eye you suspiciously if you mooch around the playground clutching a camera, like Metro.
Auteur Gus Van Sant also hails from Portland, and set My Own Private Idaho (River Phoenix is gay and falls asleep a lot) and <Drugstore Cowboy> (Matt Dillon is drug-addled and robs pharmacies a lot) here. Hotel deLuxe (hoteldeluxeportland.com), with its Hollywood-themed rooms makes an apt place to stay, while cinephiles should visit one of Portland’s pizza-and-beer movie-houses.
Rising above Portland is Mt Hood, a behemoth snow-crested dormant volcano, where Metro visits Timberline Lodge. This faux-Alpine wooden lodge might look cosy, but it’s where Jack Nicholson went all “Heeeere’s Johnny!” on us when the exterior doubled as Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining.
En route to Mt Hood, you’ll pass through Columbia River Gorge. Driving down twisty lanes, dwarfed by imposing evergreens, it’s no surprise this is Bigfoot-land (1980s’ sitcom Harry and the Hendersons was also lensed nearby). It’s Twilight country too. Today, mopey tweenage girls (trailed by bored-looking parents) can be seen outside Viewpoint Inn (where the film’s prom scenes were shot) or getting lost inside nearby Silver Falls State Park trying to find the ‘Twilight Tree’, where Edward spirited Bella into the canopy.
For full-on Twilight weirdness, seek out depressed Halloween-y town, St Helens (Highway 30 between Portland-Astoria), which substituted for Forks, Washington. Here, amongst off-kilter telegraph poles and an all-pervading air of nothingness, you’ll find ‘Bella’s House; (184 S 6th Street) plus Thunderbird and Whale Bookstore (well, an attorney’s office at 260 S 2nd Street). There’s also Jilly’s. Run by a woman who looks like Peter Stringfellow, the costume shop was adored by Twilight stars such as Kristen Stewart.
Once you get the small-town jitters, move onto to coastal Astoria. Despite its creepy Victorian architecture, this city is 1980s’ teen-flick nirvana with Free Willy (excellent whale-watching opportunities abound along the entire Oregon coastline), Kindergarten Cop, Short Circuit and the afore-mentioned Goonies all filmed here.
It’s also a great starting-point for driving down Oregon’s coast – full of Big Sur-rivalling headland vistas at every turn, passing gourmet coffee shacks (Starbucks is a dirty word here) as you go. Keanu Reeves’ surfer bromance Point Break was shot at Ecola State Park’s Indian Beach; little surprise given its crashing Pacific swell and photogenic Haystack Rock. Each town along Highway 101 delivers its own vibe, from Seaside (American Clacton-on-Sea) to Depoe Bay (world’s smallest harbour). Metro stayed in refined Cannon Beach, at Land’s End Motel (landsendmotel.com) cracking open bottles of beer while watching pelicans swoop on the beach from its decking.
Heading inland, the landscape changes (all pastoral fields and ponging cows) and we pull into pint-sized Brownesville. Its antique shops, tumbleweed quiet and apple-pie-masticating locals oozes 1950s’ Americana, which is probably why it substituted for Castle Rock in River Phoenix/Corey Feldman (again!) coming-of-age flick Stand By Me. The movie’s “ambassador”, Linda McCormick lives here (she has Stand By Me walking-tour maps), while over at Linn County Museum you can watch the film in a 1940s-era cinema. Metro checks our pants for leeches before circling towards our final stop.
Oregon’s state capital, Salem, is where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed at Oregon State Hospital (author Ken Kesey was a local). It’s still a psychiatric home today –staff see blue orbs and corridor-wandering monks, which must leave them feeling as lobotomised as the film’s characters. Metro visits Wilson House, an OAP’s home. Sitting by the window is Dean Brooks, a sharp-as-nails 96-year old with polar-white hair and tubes up his nostrils. Brooks was a former superintendent at Oregon State Hospital and when director Milos Forman recruited real-life patients to star alongside Jack Nicholson, he cast their doctor too. “My scene with Jack is ad-libbed and we did it in two takes,” Dean says. “Michael Douglas later told me it’s one of the most talked-about scenes in movie history.”
That night, Metro finds itself in Silverton and chances upon the town’s transgender mayor greeting people with a booming “Hellooooo!” outside the local cinema. This synthesis of small-town America and refreshingly liberal values (rainbow flags are draped all over the state) really couldn’t happen anywhere else. Oregon’s star wattage really can’t be doubted…