Friday, August 6, 2010

[MISP] support our local drive-in

From the Las Vegas (NM) OPTIC today:

     Jim Terr
           Santa Fe, New Mexico USA  505-989-9298
  "Over half-a-million YouTube views – but who’s counting?" 

Las Vegans may recognize scenes from movies Sunday at drive-in

By Dave Kavanaugh

The idea of Cold War-era enemies invading middle America via a paratrooper landing may seem a bit dated in these post-9-11 days, but in the mid-1980s, as tensions between the U.S. and former Soviet Union reached an apex, it was a pretty scary concept.

That invasion was the idea that kicked off “Red Dawn,” the 1984 film that borrowed Las Vegas for the fictional setting of Calumet, Colo.

“Red Dawn” generated a nationwide buzz at the time for its depiction of a military occupation of the United States by Cubans and Soviets. Las Vegans experienced a foreign takeover firsthand — not by enemy militia but by movie-making types — in what was probably the biggest Hollywood production to date in the Meadow City.

Along with 1978’s trucker epic “Convoy,” “Red Dawn” is part of a special double feature Sunday night at the Fort Union Drive-In Theater. The showing of both films is part of the Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow tour, which showcases classic and cult movies in the places they were filmed, mostly outdoors.

Some of the other films and venues on the summer tour: “Dirty Harry” in San Francisco’s Washington Square Park; “The Blues Brothers” in Chicago’s Joliet Prison; and the first three “Rocky” movies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose steps were the training ground for the Sylvester Stallone’s fighter.

The filming of “Red Dawn” entirely on location in and around the Las Vegas area was a high-water mark for the Meadow City’s long history as a set for television and motion picture productions.

While more recent productions like “All the Pretty Horses, “Astronaut Farmer” and especially Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men” have been more successful critically and commercially, “Red Dawn” remains notable in that it brought a host of high-profile movie stars to town to mingle with locals, all with the picturesque beauty of northeastern New Mexico as a backdrop.

Just three years before they would costar in the megahit “Dirty Dancing,” Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey shared the screen in “Red Dawn” as members of the Wolverines, a group of young people who fought back against the foreign invaders after holing up in the Gallinas Canyon. Charlie Sheen (“Wall Street,” “Two and a Half Men,” etc.), C. Thomas Howell (“Side Out,” “The Hitcher”) and Lea Thompson (“Caroline in the City”) were among the other Wolverines. Harry Dean Stanton, whose acting career dates to the 1950s, portrayed the father of Swayze and Sheen.

Swayze, who died this past year, enjoyed his time in the area so much he bought a ranch near Mineral Hill. In his 2009 autobiography, he recounted his time on “Red Dawn”:

“The film’s setting added to the realism,” he wrote, referring to Las Vegas’ “rough-and-tumble reputation.” “It has always been a real tough-guy kind of town, and it wasn’t the most welcoming place for random Anglos who ambled in.”

Swayze wrote of camping in the mountains and training with the help of a local National Guard unit on set — as well as getting into skirmishes (along with Sheen and Howell) in local bars off set.

In addition to Swayze and the other luminaries, many locals got plenty of screen time as extras. Some joined Stanton as prisoners in a makeshift concentration camp at the Fort Union Drive-In. Some were lined up before a firing squad. And a few won roles as either Russian or Cuban troops, shooting at the Wolverines and bullying their way around town.

“Red Dawn” viewers from Las Vegas may recognize most, if not all, of the shooting locations. When the invaders descend from helicopters, it is on the field of Memorial Middle School where they land. When the Wolverines flee to safety, Swayze drives the group along Grand Avenue. When they return to an occupied town, they cross through downtown in front of the Bank of Las Vegas. And when they engage the enemy in the climactic scenes, it’s in the railroad district and the lot in front of the old Castañeda.

A large sign welcoming fictional visitors to a fictional Calumet — adorned with a pin-up style cowgirl — was built on the corner of Sixth and Grand, and although it has been painted over it remains in place to this day. (“Blind Horizon” briefly covered it with its own billboard “Buckle Up Before the Border” featuring a sombrero-clad gunman.)

• • •

Las Vegas’ high school marching bands have been a favorite for cameo appearances in movies through the years. In “Easy Rider,” “Blind Horizon” and “Convoy,” these bands make appearances. “Convoy,” starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw — who has since taken up residence in Santa Fe — was filmed in various locales across New Mexico.

But Las VegasOld Town Plaza — and band members — figured prominently as the duo, making a run from the law, truck on through.

• • •

Las Vegas has long been a favorite for filmmakers, a full century before New Mexico began offering incentives to producers willing to film in the state. The Meadow City was famously where silent film star Tom Mix had situated his cowboy movies in the early 1900s. Since then, Hollywood has returned many times, dispatching the likes of Kevin Costner (1994’s “Wyatt Earp”), Michael Keaton and Geena Davis (1994’s “Speechless”), Val Kilmer, Neve Campbell and Faye Dunaway (2004’s “Blind Horizon”), and Edward James Olmos (1982’s “Ballad of Gregorio Cortez”) to town.

At a glance

What: Screening of “Red Dawn” and “Convoy.”  A free double feature.

When: At dusk Sunday.

Where: Fort Union Drive-In Theater, north of Las Vegas on N.M.  Highway 518.

Information: Call the theater at 425-9934.


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