On the Map

Extract

Chapter 17
Casablanca, Harry Potter and Where Jennifer Aniston Lives

Here is a moment of cartographic joy from The Muppets, the 2011 nostalgia fest in which Kermit and friends get together for one last show to save their old theatre. As the frog drives across the United States, picking up old Muppets flung far and wide, a problem looms. Miss Piggy is working for Vogue in France, and they just don’t have the time or money to fly there from the US. But then Fozzie has an idea, something he’s seen in other films: ‘We should travel by map!’

In the movies, travelling by map is the best way to travel. In The Muppets, Fozzie pushes a button on the car’s dashboard marked ‘Travel By Map’ and a map of the world appears before our eyes. We watch as a thick line moves across it to the required destination, and we are transported along with the line, from New York to Cannes, as smooth as mercury in a thermometer. There are no delays, no queues, no passport checks, no customs laws. There are no detours and no misdirections. The journey across the Atlantic takes only a few seconds, but it would have taken precisely the same time had it been state-to-state or city-to-next-door-city. Sometimes, in place of a map, a little aeroplane symbol tracks the route across the globe. Either way, we have changed scenes and locations in one of the oldest clichés known to the movies, the hoary rival to the wavy-line dream sequence. It is how some of us learn our geography.

Trying to name the first cinematic journey by map is a fool’s errand, for there will inevitably be something obscure in the vaults, probably Russian.* But we can all name the most famous. In 1942 Michael Curtiz made Casablanca, a film about love, loyalty and escape that starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and cartography. Never before had maps played such a pervasive role in such a major film. From the opening titles to the end credits, and through several of the film’s key interior scenes, maps fill the screen with their lure and their possibility. But this being wartime, the maps also set harsh limits: the borders are closed, the distances greater, the exit visas hard to come by.

The film opens with credits placed over a thick-lined map of Africa and the plodding blows of the Marseillaise. The map dissolves and is replaced by a globe spinning in clouds. ‘With the coming of the Second World War,’ the sonorous narration begins, ‘many eyes in imprisoned Europe turn hopefully, or desperately, to the freedom of the Americas.’ The earth still revolving, we zoom in over Europe, and at this point, close-up, the globe becomes a contour map – apparently Plasticine applied over a rubber ball. We hear that ‘Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous roundabout refugee trail sprung up.’

The globe dissolves and we begin travelling by map. A heavy line marks our journey over land, a dotted one over sea. ‘Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran. Then by train or auto or foot across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco …’ Soon afterwards we are in the Moorish section of the city and Rick’s Café but maps continue to cast a symbolic shadow over many scenes, not least in Renault’s office as Rick and the officials moralise over the demands of love and the call of duty. And one of the greatest lines in romantic cinema (‘Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine’) suggests both the vastness of the spinning globe and our helplessness within it.

Most who watch Casablanca fall under its spell, and young film directors are no different. Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series was his loving tribute to the Saturday afternoon heroes of his childhood, but it was inevitably influenced too by James Bond and cinematic Nazis. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opens with an adventure from Indy’s youth, but for the first adult scene he’s in his Ivy League classroom, with maps of archaeological digs on the wall and a nice thought for his doting students. ‘Forget any ideas you got about lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world,’ Professor Jones tells them. ‘We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot.’

And then the viewer follows a map to buried treasure. We are off to find Sean Connery in plundered Venice, and we travel by map. We track a red line from New York, stop at St John’s for refuelling, cross the Atlantic, and hover over Spain to Italy. The map is superimposed over pictures of an airborne plane and Indiana turning pages of the Grail Diary. The Grail Diary has many maps of ancient sites, and we can vaguely make out the southern region of Judah by the Dead Sea, but before we can read it properly we are off again by cinematic map, this time a short red curl from Venice to Salzburg, where we have an overhead shot of a Nazi lair in a castle and another great movie cliché – people pushing counters on a vast table plan of Europe.

The map and the globe have never gone out of style in the cinema. Unless you are making Strangers on a Train, Titanic or Snakes on a Plane, the process of travelling is usually a drag to watch, and is seldom shown in real time. These days the only choice for directors is whether to employ the device straight (Indiana Jones) or ironically (The Muppets)*. The issue has even attracted academic discourse, and in 2009 the Cartographic Journal devoted an entire issue to the subject. Some of this was heavy going (‘Applying the Theatre Metaphor to Integrated Media for Depicting Geography’) but one essay, by Sébastien Caquard of the University of Montreal, was startling. It suggested that a large proportion of the advances in digital cartography that we now take for granted – the zooming facility and shifts in perspective on digital maps, the layering of traditional maps with photographs and satellite views – all happened first in the movies, where the technology prefigured and inspired real-life cartographic possibility.

There are many examples. In 1931, Fritz Lang’s M introduced a map that combined several features we would regard as digital and modern. A girl has been murdered by a serial killer in early 1930s Berlin, and an empty sweet bag is found at the crime scene. The police decide to investigate nearby confectionery shops, and their widening search is shown in a map sequence that changes in perspective from an oblique angle to an overhead ‘God-shot’, much as we may tilt the angle on a computer map or virtual globe. It may also be that M contains the first example anywhere of a map overlaid with sound – the talkies meeting cartography for the first time, another digital precursor, this time to the guidance/sound effects we have when we view maps on sat nav.

And for the first appearance of sat nav itself we may look – where else? – to James Bond. In 1964’s Goldfinger Bond has placed a transmitter in Goldfinger’s car and tracks him from a round green screen in his Aston Martin. The image and sound are as much submarine sonar as TomTom or Garmin, but the idea is an enduring one almost fifty years on: you get in your car and you’re guided where to go. Another Cold War classic appeared in the same year. The operations room in Dr Strangelove has a backdrop of menacing moving dots showing the path of American B52s towards their Russian targets. The dots stop just in time, a darkly comic indicator of real-time remote military mapping we would later see in genuine conflicts.

Sébastien Caquard’s theory makes good sense, and why wouldn’t it? Why wouldn’t the world of modern cartography be influenced by movies the way the rest of us are? But how does the theory stack up against Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban?

In 2004, Hogwarts welcomed a magical new plaything, The Marauder’s Map. Presented to Harry by the Weasley twins, the map is not initially impressive. ‘What’s this rubbish?’ Harry asks as he unfolds a large piece of rectangular parchment. It is completely blank. ‘That there’s the secret to our success,’ the twins explain. George Weasley taps the map with a wand as he proclaims, ‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.’ And with that, the blank parchment is gradually overwhelmed with writing and illustrations.

Why is the map – filmed fairly faithfully from the book – so useful? Harry takes a moment to realise. It is a real-time map of Hogwarts, and those are Dumbledore’s footprints pacing in his study. Harry is still astonished. ‘So you mean this map shows …’ The twins interject: ‘Everyone, where they are, what they’re doing, every minute of every day.’

In its own way, we are looking at another Mappa Mundi, a mischievous world on calfskin. The map is expansive, and folds many times, coming to rest at approximately 2ft by 7ft. It shows practically the whole of Hogwarts, the classrooms, the ramparts, the corridors, the staircases, the cupboards. Harry will use it to locate the entrance to One-Eyed Witch Passage in Honeydukes sweetshop in Hogsmeade, and to find that Peter Pettigrew, widely considered dead, may not be. At the end of each session the phrase ‘mischief managed’ returns the map to blank parchment; if it falls into the hands of strangers, it reveals only insults in brown ink.

Reassuringly, this too has a modern real-life equivalent. ‘The Marauder’s Map clearly embodies the surveillance potential of digital cartography,’ Sébastien Caquard posits. The ability to know where everyone is at any moment ‘resonates strongly with the military concept of dominant battlespace awareness (DBA).’ The question of whether J.K. Rowling infected the world’s military, or whether it was the other way around, is still open to discussion.

Not long after Humphrey Bogart and Harrison Ford saw off the Nazis, two new popular tourist trails sprung up that show no sign of waning. The first was set-jetting: a trip to a film’s location. Madison County to see the bridges perhaps, or to Paris for the Templar-Masonic locales of The Da Vinci Code. This can be fun – and many of us received our first mental maps of London, Paris and New York from the cinema – though we are wise enough to know that these cities only rarely look the way they do to Richard Curtis, Claude Chabrol or Woody Allen. And we are also aware that most Hollywood movies are not actually made in the places they purport. Better to travel the world the simple way, with a studio tour of the Universal or Warner Brothers lot.

Or of course we can cut out the movies altogether and go stalking. The second post-war post-movie crush has been our desire to see filmstars’ homes – and maps have helped us on this quest since Johnny Weismuller lived at 423 N Rockingham, Brentwood and Gregory Peck put out his trash at 1700 San Remo, Santa Monica.

In the 1960s Mitock & Sons of 13561 ½ Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, California, sold The Movieland Guide to the Fabulous Homes of Movie, Television and Radio Stars, a map which featured pictures on its cover of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Liberace, Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe. And the map delivered. Not only could you find out where these stars lived, but you could drive to their houses, park by their gates, and presumably, in those innocent days, not be escorted away if you hung around. There were locations for Clark Gable (4545 N Pettit, Encino), Henry Fonda (600 Tigertail, Brentwood), Errol Flynn (7740 Mulholland Drive), Rudolf Valentino (2, Bella Drive) and the last home of W.C. Fields (2015 De Mille Drive, Hollywood).

This was clearly a time when the stars were stars, and most of the maps (for San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Bel Air and Hollywood) are hand-drawn and authentically primitive, the sort of lines one might make to direct someone to a petrol station. But they are also clear and precise, the street names in black capitals, the houses of the famous marked in red, and the thick red stream of Sunset Boulevard running through the centre of most of them. The maps work well not just as location devices, but equally as social documents. Hollywood never seemed so inviting or self-contained, nor so stellar. Hardly a street seems to be without its share of glamour, and a diligent postman delivering scripts could cast a double feature on his morning round.

That was the sixties. In 2012, a hut on Santa Monica pier sells another map, Movie Star Homes and Notorious Crime Scenes, and the only thing it shares with the older map is a fascination with Marilyn Monroe. On the sixties map she was alive, and now she is dead, and the locations are increasingly prurient – her orphanage (815 North El Centro), the place she stayed after her bust-up with Joe DiMaggio (8336 De Longpre), and where, at the Mauretania hotel on North Rossmore, she had a thing with JFK. Can two maps, some fifty years apart, better sum up a downward society?

‘Visit shocking crime scenes straight from the headlines,’ the cover implores. ‘You get details and prices of these incredible homes!! This is the map the Stars don’t want you to have!!!’ If there were any more exclamation marks there wouldn’t be room for anything else!!!! But the map, which folds out to cover a small dining room table, is an extraordinarily efficient and compelling work. We learn, for example, where Hugh Grant got caught with a prostitute, and where Phil Hartman, the voice of Clinton on Saturday Night Live and Troy McClure on The Simpsons, was shot dead by his wife in 1998 before she turned the gun on herself. The map is a nightmare of electric colours, but it has very clear signage and markings, and an enviably simple legend: a red star signifies a crime scene, a pink one shows an actor’s home, and a bullseye with flames around it marks a celebrity nightclub, boutique or deli.

The biggest change from the 1960s is Malibu. Once home to the relatively obscure (Dennis O’Keefe, Turhan ‘Turkish Delight’ Bey, Gregory Ratoff), it is now a living version of People magazine, and an attempt at traditional mapping would be out of date as soon as it was printed. So a new star map has presented itself, the gossip-bursting ninety-minute StarLine tour along Pacific Coast Highway conducted in a small open-top bus by a middle-aged woman named Renee.

There are twelve of us in the car park by Santa Monica pier, including a family of four from Dortmund, and we have each paid $39 for access to the map in Renee’s head. We start at the Casa Del Mar hotel, where she says Al Pacino used to stay. Renee once saw Al Pacino in real life, and he was driving a convertible red Ferrari. We roll down towards the coast. ‘This is where Will Rodgers lived, the actor and cowboy, he was killed in an aircrash in 1935. You know who was in court today? Lindsay Lohan, about that bracelet. On the left is Moonshadows, where Mel Gibson had a few drinks with the ladies. An hour later he got pulled over for drink driving.’

After fifteen minutes there is a photo opportunity at Jeff and Beau Bridges’ house, and it is apparent that we are not seeing the beautiful beach-front homes in their best light. The most attractive vista is from the beach, from where you can see the decks, and maybe the superstars prone and oiled upon them. Unfortunately what we see is predominantly garbage bins and garages, and the occasional jogger carrying Evian.

‘And the brown garage is Ryan O’Neal’s house,’ Renee says, ‘and Ryan lived there with Farrah Fawcett Majors before she died. I saw their child last week. And there is the Osbournes’ House – that was put up for sale this week, you’ll see the Sotheby’s sign ... That’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s house – the blue and white modern one. This is David Geffen’s, with three garages. Number 22148, that’s Jennifer Aniston’s house, beautiful, both the house and the actress.’

The bus rolled on: it was still cartography of sorts.

 

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