Many times throughout this Blog, I've mentioned Lone Pine. (In my Top 5s I finally got to chat about the town in Rawhide.) Now, some of you hear about Lone Pine and nod knowingly while some of you may very well say, “Where?” So I thought I’d chat about this a little bit. Because my wife Diana and I just got back from The 25th Anniversary of The Lone Pine Film Festival . “What?! Twenty-five years?!” And I digress …
Yes, Diana and I just came back from this year’s Lone Pine Film Festival, its 25th Anniversary. And what a great weekend it was. The movie screenings, location tours, concerts, celebrity guests, all commemorating the town’s movie heritage. Talk about tours? Twenty-five years ago it was one. This year it was fifteen. Talk about celebrity guests? Over the years the Festival’s hosted the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Virginia Mayo, Gregory Peck and Claire Trevor. And talk about … But first, some of you may still be asking, “Where is Lone Pine?” And then, “What is The Lone Pine Film Festival?” And, “There’s a Lone Pine Film History Museum?” Okay, fair enough. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Because one of the great things when talking about the movies they make there is, simply, that they’re still making them. We’re not just commemorating what has happened but that it continues. And two great examples of that are 2008’s Iron Man and 2012’s Django Unchained.
And why did Tarantino – film buff that he is – want to shoot Django in Lone Pine? Because that’s where a favorite of his, William Witney, had worked. As Tarantino told The New York Times in 2000, “People think that the only good westerns made in the 40s and 50s were by John Ford or maybe Howard Hawks. Film guys might add Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher and Andre De Toth but William Witney is ahead of them all; the one whose movies I can show to anyone and they are just blown away.” Tarantino even used one of Witney’s original Clappers – the slate you see at the beginning of each shot that lists the Scene & Take and gets "clapped" to show Sync – on the film. And Dr. King Shultz and Django’s campsite? Yep, shot in what we call “Lone Ranger Canyon” because that’s where Witney shot that ’38 Serial (and that’s the pic at the top of this article).
And then – the pièce de résistance, Festival weekend or any other – there are the rocks themselves. The Alabama Hills. That living museum. (Which, PS, sit right in the middle of a land of twenty-mile shadows. Yes, there are shadows up there that are twenty miles long. But we’ll get to that …)
What makes Lone Pine – certainly its Festival – so significant … well, sure, that it’s retrospective, only celebrating movies made there … is that five minutes after seeing Lives Of A Bengal Lancer in the Museum Theatre or (Festival Weekend) High School Auditorium, you can stand right where (Director) Henry Hathaway shot it. And on Festival Weekend, there are approximately 120 photomarkers scattered out in the rocks for you to enjoy, showing stills at the locations from the Movies and TV Shows and Serials shot there (viz that photo at top). Even on a non-Festival weekend – the photomarkers are only placed Festival Weekend – you can visit The Museum, see Tony Stark’s bloodied suit, and fifteen minutes later stand right where he launched the Jericho missile.
At the end of the day, Lone Pine is no Cannes or Sundance or Toronto. It didn’t go to NYU or USC. And it still fights the often “Where?” and “What?” But that's part of its charm; like Brigadoon, celebrated by those that know; that champion her throughout the years; that love her that much. It's like Dad’s “sunset theory.” The most beautiful sunset in the world is breathtaking, sure, but it’s even more so when you can nudge the person next to you and share it with them. That’s why he wrote On Location In Lone Pine. Because he wanted to share with you those movies. Made in those Alabama Hills. Just west of that town.
Oh! I almost forgot. We have some unfinished business, don’t we? (And for those of you that know, yes, I’m stealing from Dad here.) I’m talking about those twenty-mile shadows. Well, in that part of The Owens Valley, where Lone Pine sits, it’s twenty miles from the Sierra Nevadas to The Inyo Mountains. So in the evening, as the sun falls behind The Sierras, Mt. Whitney and friends cast their shadows twenty miles across the valley.
I hope you will.