Top o’ the rock, Ma!

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There aren’t many locations used in classic movies still standing these days.  In Los Angeles, the  Getty mansion from SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1954) has long since been torn down, as have The Ambassador Hotel (seen in THE GRADUATE [1967]and TRUE ROMANCE [1992]), the Pan Pacific Auditorium (seen in CINEMA CIRCUS [1937], FUNNY LADY [1975]and XANADU [1980]) and both the Reseda Drive-In (seen in TARGETS [1968]) and The Centinela Drive-In (seen in HEAT [1995]).  In New York, Pennsylvania Station (seen in THE CLOCK [1945],  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN [1951], THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH [1955] and other features) got the wrecking ball long ago – in fact, glimpses of the demolition can be seen in Elio Petri’s sci-fi spoof THE 10TH VICTIM (1966) .  When an actual location has been kissed by the cinema, its demise can feel very personal, as if a page from our collective history has been torn out and discarded. One movie location that still stands and still looks very much as it did during Hollywood’s golden age is Vasquez Rocks, located only 30 or so miles from downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood studios (who were able to shoot there without having to pay out-of-town union expenses).

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My immediate association with Vasquez Rocks (named, incidentally, for the Mexican outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez, who used this site as a hideout) comes from THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935), where is stood in for distant Tibet – specifically, the Himalyan Mountains, where British scientist Henry Hull is bitten by lycanthrope Warner Oland and goes on to become… well, you should be able to figure that out.  Those instantly recognizable crags (the product of plate techtonics 25 million years ago, as the North American and Pacific plates slammed into one another) have served as the backdrop to a ton of movies and TV shows, of which I will provide a partial listing… DRACULA (1931), THE ARIZONIAN (1935), ONE MILLION, B.C. (1940), A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945), THE DENVER KID (1948), BAGDAD (1949), theRepublic serials THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN (1939) and RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON (1952), THE LAWLESS BREED (1953), THE SARACEN BLADE (1954), TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), GREEN MANSIONS (1959), APACHE UPRISING (1965), THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972), EXECUTIVE ACTION (1973),  BLAZING SADDLES (1974), HEARTS OF THE WEST (1975), TELEFON (1977),  PARASITE (1982), SHORT CIRCUIT (1986), AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1988), THE RAPTURE (1991), ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), THE FLINTSTONES (1994), WILD WILD WEST (1999), THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000), J. J. Abrams new reboot of STAR TREK (2009) and a flashback scene in A SINGLE MAN (2009).

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Vasquez Rocks and STAR TREK have a lot of history, going back to the 1966 episode “The Arena” of the original series.  In this episode, James T. Kirk must take on The Gorn in hand-to-hand combat, using only weapons indigenous to the area.  For over 40 years, Trekkies and Trekkers have been making regular pilgrimages to Vasquez Rocks the way that Civil War freaks visit Gettysburg and Antietam.  (SPOILER:  Kirk wins.)  Scenes for STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) were also filmed here, as were episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, the 2007 fan film STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN and an episode of FUTURAMA that spoofed STAR TREK.

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If you find yourself in the Los Angeles area, skip the nightclubs and the boutiques and Disneyworld and head on up to Canyon Country and the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area and Nature Center.  Driving into the 900 acre national park through these amazing rock formations nearly brought this Movie Morlock to tears.  That’s how good it is.

From Los Angeles: Get on the I-5 North (from the West San Fernando Valley, take the 101 West to the 405 north to the 5 north), bearing right onto Highway 14 eastbound.  From the 14, take the Agua Dulce Canyon Road exit and follow the signs.  Vasquez Rock park is free.

10 Responses Top o’ the rock, Ma!
Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2008 4:02 pm

I had forgotten the streamline Pan Pacific Auditorium had burned down — yikes! Shows you how long since I’ve lived in L.A.!

And thanks for including Capt. Kirk’s most exciting mano-a-mano moment in Trek; in that neat photo he and the Gorn look a little like there’s going to go into “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I”.

I never trekked out to Vasquez Rocks because it always looked too darn hot, but maybe on my next visit back home I’ll make the trip — you have made it sound wonderful!

Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2008 4:02 pm

I had forgotten the streamline Pan Pacific Auditorium had burned down — yikes! Shows you how long since I’ve lived in L.A.!

And thanks for including Capt. Kirk’s most exciting mano-a-mano moment in Trek; in that neat photo he and the Gorn look a little like there’s going to go into “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I”.

I never trekked out to Vasquez Rocks because it always looked too darn hot, but maybe on my next visit back home I’ll make the trip — you have made it sound wonderful!

Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2008 5:25 pm

Typo 2nd sentence — I meant to say that it looks a little like *they’re* going to go into ….and so on. Sorry about that!

Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2008 5:25 pm

Typo 2nd sentence — I meant to say that it looks a little like *they’re* going to go into ….and so on. Sorry about that!

Posted By Andrew T. Smith : December 11, 2008 7:06 am

I love seeing that formation when it turns up in movies.

I don’t want to seem like a pedant but Star Trek: Of Gods and Men was not a video game but rather a lavish fan film starring various members of the original Star Trek casts.

Posted By Andrew T. Smith : December 11, 2008 7:06 am

I love seeing that formation when it turns up in movies.

I don’t want to seem like a pedant but Star Trek: Of Gods and Men was not a video game but rather a lavish fan film starring various members of the original Star Trek casts.

Posted By Jonathan Lapper : December 16, 2008 10:16 pm

“(SPOILER: Kirk wins.)”

Thanks! Thanks for nothing!

[mumbles under breath, 'Jerk']

Posted By Jonathan Lapper : December 16, 2008 10:16 pm

“(SPOILER: Kirk wins.)”

Thanks! Thanks for nothing!

[mumbles under breath, 'Jerk']

Posted By Gary W. Darby : December 18, 2008 1:11 am

Sometimes I hate TCM. I used to be a straight A student before TCM. Now I make B’s, but I have a lot more fun in the evenings!

Posted By Gary W. Darby : December 18, 2008 1:11 am

Sometimes I hate TCM. I used to be a straight A student before TCM. Now I make B’s, but I have a lot more fun in the evenings!

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