It wasn't the first time my partner and I had visited location sites for films I liked. We had raced to Savannah, Georgia, to see all I could from the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and earlier had done the same for the Florida location of Cross Creek. Yeah, I was an old hand at this but there was no way I could foresee the preparation that would go into this journey which would become my favorite vacation of the many I have taken in my life.
I had already completed my 19 times seeing BBM in theaters and had my DVD copy. I also knew that an L.A. friend loved the film as much as I did so we invited him to make our pilgrimage a foursome. It was not difficult to convince him.
The first place I started was the film itself... the credits, actually. I needed to see those cities that served as BBM's various location sites. Once I saw the names Bieseker, Blackie, Carseland, Cowley, Crossfield, Fort MacLeod, Irricana, Rockyford and Seebee, I knew we could get this show rolling. Most of them had websites that not only mentioned the making of the film but often said which scenes were filmed there. I also came across the site for the Alberta Film Commission which proved invaluable.
We would have eight days to see it all. Some of these cities were a bit of a distance from some others and some were quite near. It became obvious that we would have to know what we were going to see on which day and at the same time include the gay rodeo and a trip to Banff and Lake Louise as well.
I was in my element. Organization is my middle name. I kept everyone informed of the progress I was making but also took in all the comments and considerations the others were making. We agreed to take along the DVD of the film and a portable DVD player, both of which would prove invaluable time and again as we tried to find a mountaintop or even a tree that would tell us if we were at the right spot.
After checking into the Sandman Hotel near the Calgary Airport, we rented a van that we felt would be perfect and we again went over our itinerary for our entire stay. The next morning we left for our southernmost location, Fort MacLeod. It freaked us all out as we entered the city and immediately saw the Java Cafe/Greyhound Bus Station where Ennis had coffee and apple pie as Cassie showed up with another man.
We practically fell over one another getting from the van to the cafe and couldn't believe that it looked exactly the same as it did in the film. We thought we saw the exact booth that Heath Ledger sat in and asked a waitress if we had it right. Not only did she say we did but she offered that she was there on the couple of days it took to film the scene and she commented on what a kind person Ledger was and how un-movie-starish he was. Our L.A. friend ordered coffee and apple pie and ate it as we snapped away.
|Here I am standing where Ennis stood|
We were told the fireworks scene was filmed right around the corner at a school and while we found the school, nothing was reminiscent of the scene which we ran, of course, on the DVD player. But then with the help of some locals, we found the apartment in which Ennis, Alma and the girls lived, the one where Alma opens the door and finds her husband has thrown Jack up against the wall and is making out with him. We were told the apartment was empty and for a cost the interior could be seen. We didn't waste any time in throwing each other up against the wall, in all possible combinations, and playing make-believe make out for the cameras.
The following day was the gay rodeo, which was, as it turns out, the least interesting part of the entire trip. Then it was off to Cowley where we were in such great spirits, feeding one-liners to one another from the movie (and yes, all four us could practically repeat the lines from the film verbatim). Four different locations were used in this small town. The first is where Geary's trailer was, where the boys first meet... only the trailer was no longer there. We pulled out the handy-dandy DVD and noticed a church steeple and trees and such and knew we were at the right place. Simply by turning around we could see the street that Jack drives away on while looking at Ennis in his side mirror.
Right after that scene is when Ennis drops into a narrow passageway between two buildings and has the dry-heaves, pounds the wall and yells at a passerby. We found the location just down the street and doncha know we each took our turns imitating the same actions? We laughed and whooped and hollered as we got back in the van which was parked right by a tree that was in the film. We drove by a bar that we are certain was used after the boys leave Geary's trailer but it wasn't open. We got out of town fast. We weren't sure that Cowley was quite ready for us.
The next day we drove to Crossfield, where there was just one location... the grocery store where Alma worked, where her daughter knocked over a large display of peanuts. (In the film, the store was just around the corner from their 2nd floor apartment but actually was some 20 miles away.) The store was empty and as we tried to pry open a back door, I fell, ending up sprawled on the floor but I didn't care. This was some kind of heaven. Due to indentations in the floor, various markings on walls and our trusty DVD, we could tell where everything was laid out. We not only located the spot where the peanut shelf was but were astounded when we actually saw a peanut still on the floor.
We were all incredibly excited to travel to Bieseker where the Twist Ranch was located, the dilapidated little structure where Ennis goes to meet Jack's parents near the end of the film. The excitement came partially because we had a hard time finding it but finally a woman told us about the Grand Ole West Villa Ranch. She said that if we inquired there, someone would tell us where the Twist Ranch was. We couldn't know at the time that we would actually visit it twice.
We were finally on the road to the Grand Ole West Villa Ranch when we came across something that looked eerily familiar. I wasn't sure what but my hair stood up on the back of my head when we noticed the shrubbery around a house. It completely shielded the house, at least from the road, and it looked like it was being intentionally hidden. And the landscape was crowded with no-trespassing signs. We couldn't resist. We parked the van on the side of the road and someone stayed with it. The other three hightailed it to a long row of brush and then dashed to the end, over rocks and downed tree trunks and the hot sun be damned, turned a corner... and there it was, it all its beautiful squalor. We couldn't believe our super-sleuthing good fortune.
|Hard to believe this made our hearts race|
Though heavily padlocked, we managed to get in at one spot but because the entire place was shuttered, we couldn't see a thing. I lit a lighter a couple of times. We could make out the various rooms and then climbed some very risky stairs to Jack's bedroom and found the beloved closet where Ennis finds the shirts. We pissed and moaned about how impossibly dark it was inside but as we left, leaving everything exactly intact, we talked about coming back with flashlights if we could.
We hopped back in the car and raced to the Villa Ranch and ran into its owner, the loquacious Larry Hixt. His house and grounds were riddled with western memorablia and props and storefronts and other items used in western movies. Not only had he supplied movie folks with all they needed to enliven their films, but he owned the Twist Ranch. We were careful not to mention that we not only trespassed but had already been inside the ranch house.
|In hindsight we wished we'd offered to buy it|
Hixt spoke fondly of Ang Lee, Heath Ledger, the crew and the security. He spoke of how the Twist parents, actors Roberta Maxwell and Peter Robbie, were helicoptered in, quickly filmed their scenes and headed back out. He regaled us with tales of the filming in his house and showed us the desk that Ennis sees in the room and also the little horse and rider that he picks up. We were all feeling pretty special when he let us hold the horse/rider for photographs. He also showed us a photo of Ledger and Lee that he especially prized.
|The post office|
The next day we made our way to Rockyford, another one-horse town, the site for three locations. The first was the post office, used a couple of times in the film. It was closed down although it may never have been a real post office but rather a building used as one. All one had to do was simply turn around and there was the building and bench that Jack and Randall sat on as they waited for their wives, Lureen and Lashawn, to leave a dance. Funny thing is that in the film, the post office was in Wyoming and the bench and building in Texas. Also in Texas were the rodeo grounds where Jack first meets Lureen and they were just a short block away from the other two locations.
Finally, the day came for our trip into the Rockies. We were all beyond thrilled for what we had seen so far but we were no less hot to get to the mountains than Jack and Ennis were for their high-altitude get-togethers. If one thought they were beautiful to behold in the film (and one certainly did, didn't one?) seeing them in person made the spurs spin on the boots of this little gay cowboy quartet.
We spent a long time at Mud Lake, the scene of one of Jack and Ennis's last times together. Our DVD came in so handy here to enable us to see where a number of shots were taken. We found the bridge where food was delivered for Ennis to pick up. We saw a side of a mountain that looked as if sheep were on it. What we didn't find was the boys' original campsite and I must say we were all disappointed about that.
|Taking in Upper Kananaskis|
The best news, for me at least, was arriving at Upper Kananaskis Lake, the site of the I wish I knew how to quit you scene, the prettiest shot in a beautiful film. It was breath-takingly beautiful and it thrilled me, at that moment, that I occupied the same space Heath and Jake once did. I think we all felt the same way. It was the location site where we stayed the longest.
The following day, armed with flashlights, we returned to the Twist Ranch. My L.A. friend dreamed of finding his own bloodied shirts in that very closet. He bought a cowboy shirt similar to the one Ennis wore, doused it in ketchup and hugged it in the same closet. It was questionable whether the stairway to Jack's bedroom was still safe to negotiate as we ascended. I'd bet anything that house is no longer standing.
We could never find the house where Alma was hanging laundry outside or the chapel in which the Del Mars were married, but damn if we didn't give it our best. We were denied entrance to the city of Seebe which is where the boys jumped naked off the cliff (well, ok, Jake, we know you used a double). Some of us thought we might do the same but we had to see it first. The entire town had moved out and was completely fenced in from our position. It had been built for a hydro power plant which had now closed down.
Toward the end of our mountain stay, we ate in Canmore, a picturesque little city with lots of fresh air, at the Grizzly Paw, a frequent haunt of movie companies judging by the photos on the wall, which included Ang and his two stars.
I am not in the mood to end this, caught up again in the reverie of this magical trip. The truth really is that Brokeback got me good. That is said in the film and it is just so true. Never before had a film so enraptured me and to be able to follow up that experience with the magic carpet ride that became this trip is beyond anything I would ever have imagined.
Sometimes life is just so wondrous.
NEXT POSTING: Movie Review
Answers to Picture Quiz of June 13:
1. Big Fish
2. The Big Heat
4. Buck and the Preacher
5. Witness for the Prosecution
6. Myra Breckenridge
7. Finding Neverland
9. Summer and Smoke
10. Two Women