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Movie Madness

I feel a little foolish having become so exercised over the disappearance of the Burrito Company, only to learn that it has been temporarily commandeered by Hollywood. (Please see above.) I remember a similar incident, a few years ago, when my wife and I passed through Madrid on the way home from Albuquerque. The town was bedecked with carnival lights and filled with colorful amusement park rides. A banner hanging over Main Street said Madrid Chili Festival. The Texan spelling should have been a tipoff. What we had seen were props for the filming of Wild Hogs starring John Travolta. At the general store, some Madrid locals were hanging around and grumbling about having their town forcibly converted into a movie set. An entrepreneur later tried to turn the fictional festival into a real event, angering residents even more.

I received more direct exposure to the arrogance of the film industry when I woke up one morning to find that Cristo Rey Street, a stone’s throw from my house, was lined end to end with trailers and RVs. Dozens of men and women were milling about in what looked like 19th-century clothing and a gasoline generator was sputtering away. This was around the time of the scandal over the Bikini Virgin, and I thought at first that an army of conservative Christians was camping out in preparation for a protest up the hill at the Museum of International Folk Art. After several phone calls, I learned that the City had given a film crew a permit to use the street for a staging area (the filming itself was on upper Canyon Road) without thinking to inform the neighbors.

When I lived in New York City it sometimes seemed as if the movie industry had been granted powers of martial law and eminent domain. One day I was walking back from lunch to my job at the Times building on 43rd Street only to find the sidewalk blocked by an unctuous young security guard with a walkie-talkie. “Woody really appreciates your patience,” he kept telling the crowd waiting to get back to their desks. A Woody Allen film, Bullets Over Broadway, was in production. We waited and waited until finally a burly member of the pressmen’s union gave the guard a menacing look and said, “F– you. You’re not a cop.” He nudged him aside and we all laughed and went back to work.

On Fridays I usually left the building around 11 p.m. and caught a taxi at Times Square for a ride home to Brooklyn. One night the driver got all the way down Broadway to Chambers Street only to find that the Brooklyn Bridge was closed. The meter was running, but he refused to take me by another route (cabbies hated to leave Manhattan because it was hard to get a return fare). I refused to pay him and got out of the cab for the long dark walk across the bridge, which is a little scary around midnight. As I crossed over the water I looked down through the grating of the catwalk expecting to see that a semi-trailer truck had overturned, blocking the traffic lanes. Then I noticed them, the young men with the walkie-talkies. The Brooklyn Bridge had been closed on a Friday night for the filming of Diehard 3. I loved Diehard 1 and Diehard 2, but the third one was a flop, hardly worth the toll in human suffering.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review