My son, the movie buff, filled me in the other night on some new films coming soon. A few of the titles sound interesting, but the conversation put me instead in mind of some movies I already know, movies either made in Michigan or with a strong Michigan theme running through.
There is a rich vault of Michigan films, a couple of which are particularly noteworthy this year.
Those especially notable include Anatomy of a Murder, celebrating 60 years since its premiere, starring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and Ben Gazara. Filmed in the Marquette and Ishpeming area, Anatomy is the story of fishing lawyer Paul Biegler, called to defend an Army officer accused to murdering a local barkeep after his wife claims the bar man raped her. With seven Academy Award nominations, Anatomy of a Murder, based on the book by Michigan writer John Voelker, might just be Michigan’s most critically successful film
With a cult-like following, however, it is Somewhere In Time, filmed entirely on Mackinac Island, now forty years since its 1979 debut, which might be the state’s most fondly recalled film.
Christopher Reeves plays 1970s playwright Richard Collier, who falls in love with an old photo of the famed actress Elise McKenna. Mackinac–and especially Grand Hotel– means time travel, so Collier, in period costume of course, wakes in the days before World War 1, to meet–and fall in love with–the young Elise. Unfortunately, time travel demands payback in the form of heartache.
There are many other Michigan films with their own distinctions. Perhaps the most iconic Michigan movie soundtrack, for example, comes from 2006’s Dream Girls, an obvious nod to Motown’s Supreme’s.
Set in Detroit in the early 1960s, Jennifer Hudson’s Effie White fronts the girl group The Dreamettes, as they breakout on the new R&B label Rainbow Records, car salesman Curtis Taylor’s dream come true. With a danceable backbeat from Motown-like songs such as Heavy and Love You I Do, among other catchy tunes, Dream Girls is subtly hypnotic.
Comedy too is a genre with Michigan roots, such as American Pie, the summer vacation coming of age tale set in East Great Falls, Michigan, the fictitious town on the edge of Lake Michigan, where high school pals Jim, Oz, Chris and others pine after some of the teenage fun they see in their classmate Stifler. Of course, hilarity ensues, making for a laugh out loud winner.
There is also Will Farrell’s Semi-Pro, the story of the minor league basketball team the Flint Tropics bought by one-hit wonder crooner Jackie Moon to live out his athletic fantasies. This is no award winner, but it is funny, due largely to Ferrell’s turn as the misguided Moon.
There are plenty of other movies with Michigan roots or themes too, from directors like Clint Eastwood, Michael Moore, Jeff Daniels and others. So while Los Angeles might be closer to Hollywood, there’s still plenty to note about those films made in or about Michigan.