Maritime Museum Film Series
Inaccurate, But Monterey Looks Great!
Thursday, July 23, 1998
Filmmakers have frequently taken advantage of the Monterey Bay area''s natural beauty, picturesque ocean and Spanish history--but not necessarily with an eye to accuracy. A new film series starting at the Maritime Museum in Custom House Plaza plans to use some of their works to discuss "how Hollywood looks at Monterey."
According to Tim Thomas, museum historian and education coordinator, most Hollywood productions have given Monterey the short end of the reel, so to speak, especially when it comes to historical exactitude. "Generally, they''re not good at all," he says. In one film he plans to show in October, "they have a shoot-out at Colton Hall, which never happened at that time."
The series of five films, all shot primarily in Monterey, will screen once each every month through November at the museum, free to the public. Panelists after each movie will talk about different aspects of the films and encourage audience participation. "They''re not really academic panels, just light-hearted discussion," Thomas says. "I hope to have a dialogue of what really went on, historically in Monterey."
The first movie, I Cover the Waterfront, was shot in 1933 and stars Claudette Colbert. The Monterey connection is the story, which tells the tale of "ruthless fishermen smuggling contraband whiskey...in the bellies of sharks." Local fishermen were hired when the film crew came to Monterey to shoot around the bay and one man, Sal Coletto, was well-paid for the use of his boat, the Dante Alighieri. His son, Sal Jr., now a museum docent, will be a panelist at the screening on Sunday at 2pm.
"I tried to choose films that all show different time periods in Monterey," says Thomas. Because of publicity and distribution policies, the movie titles can''t be published, however you may call the museum for details. So far, the films he has chosen deal with: a fictional Chinese fishing village in the 1860s, starring Marlon Brando; Steinbeck''s Monterey in the 1940s, starring Spencer Tracy; California statehood in 1848; and the legend of Zorro from around the early 1800s. "I also wanted films that don''t show around here much [in theaters]. It took two years to track down I Cover the Waterfront."
ManyHollywood films, like Basic Instinct and Play Misty for Me, use Monterey as a beautiful background, not necessarily as integral to the story. "Monterey shines in the films, as a backdrop," says Thomas "The films in this series deal with life and times in Monterey. Historically, it''s not used well. I wondered sometimes why they couldn''t just portray an event as it was."
Thomas describes shots of basking sharks with extra giant teeth in I Cover the Waterfront and scenes from the California statehood film, of Colton Hall being backwards. "They ''built'' it wrong [a model] so that the bay is seen on the left, not the right like it really is." The silliest thing, he says, is the shoot-out at the signing of the California Constitution, "which of course never happened, but they had to add some excitement in there or people would just leave."
But Hollywood isn''t all bad, says Thomas. In the Brando film, which is based on a well-researched novel by Charles Neder, many characters are speaking Spanish. "Spanish was the primary language back then, so that was accurate." In the movie based on John Steinbeck''s novel, "there is a beautiful opening scene from Jacks Peak, where you can see the whole bay." Also in the Steinbeck movie, "there are scenes of Spencer Tracy cutting up fish on the Wharf and it looks like the ''40s," Thomas says.
According to the Monterey County Film Commission, more than 180 movies have been filmed here, including all of Thomas'' hand-picked films, as of April 1998. For more details on the Maritime Museum''s series or reservations, call 375-2553. cw