For our 20th Anniversary Issue, I've enlisted the aid of former Tucson Weekly Film Critic Zak Woodruff to go over some of the finest films made in and around Tucson during the last 20 years. After drinking, I don't know, maybe 40 beers and, I'm pretty sure, a half-pint of lighter fluid, Zak and I discussed what it is that makes Tucson the greatest locale for filmmaking in, if not the world, at least Southern Arizona.
James: OK, Zak, let me ask you: What's the best movie made in Tucson during the last 20 years?
Zak: Uhhh, can I look in Halliwell's?
J: Dude, it's either Can't Buy Me Love or Revenge of the Nerds. How hard is this?
Z: I'm a nerd, so I guess it's Revenge of the Nerds.
J: But Can't Buy Me Love introduced the world to Patrick Dempsey, who later went on to superstardom in such films as Loverboy (shot in Phoenix, which we know as Satan's Golf Course) and, umm ... well, his career tanked after that, but that's what you get for leaving Tucson for Phoenix.
Z: Cannonball Run was made in Tucson in 1981, and Cannonball Run really is the best movie ever made, isn't it? Because look, it has Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds in it. What other movie can claim that?
J: Cannonball Run II?
Z: They came back for the sequel?
J: Yeah, and added Jamie Farr. Jamie Freaking Farr! But you're right: The Modern Era of Tucson filmmaking begins with such fine fare as Cannonball Run. Next question: Better golf movie: Tin Cup, or, um, uh ... are there other golf movies? OK ... Better Kevin Costner movie: Tin Cup or The Postman, both shot in Tucson?
Z: I saw The Postman, and the only thing I remember about it is that Kevin Costner had a horse and a sack of mail and he was really angry. Let's talk about where Tucson filmmaking really comes to the forefront: the Western.
J: There were a lot of Westerns shot here. Like Wild Wild West, a movie so bad that killing it required cutting its head off, stuffing its mouth with garlic and putting a stake in its heart.
Z: Most of the great Tucson Westerns are from the '40s and '50s, but in the last 20 years, we've had Tombstone, Posse, Wild Wild West, The Quick and the Dead and Three Amigos. It's weird to think that there are actually movies about the Old West shot in Tucson!
J: It is weird, because Tucson isn't in the Old West; it's in the modern West. Did you know that after Posse, Stephen Baldwin bought a house in Tucson? He lived in Tucson for a while.
Z: I think I remember that. I remember hearing about Stephen Baldwin sightings. "I saw Stephen Baldwin today!"
J: Right. Tucson punk rock legend Greg Petix said Baldwin was a big comic-book fan, and they used to talk comic books together.
Z: Wow, Tucson really does have a lot of hobnobbing and shoulder-rubbing.
J: So why wouldn't you shoot here? Yet Biodome was not shot in Arizona, even though it takes place at the Biodome, which is just north of Tucson.
Z: It's not the Biodome; it's the Biosphere, moron.
J: And Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion takes place in Tucson but was shot in Southern California! To me, that is the height of evil and stupidity. Why would you pretend that a hideous, sun-scarred land like SoCal was a beautiful desert paradise like Tucson?
Z: A lot of films are shot in Tucson but are supposed to take place elsewhere ... like, a lot of Traffic was shot in Tucson to simulate Mexico, and in Walker, they shot Tucson for Nicaragua.
J: Well, to me, that makes sense. I mean, I wouldn't shoot in SoCal if I was setting the film in Tucson ... that'd be stupid! But if I was setting the film in Mexico or Nicaragua or Hawaii or something, I'd use that as an opportunity to expense-account a trip to lovely downtown Tucson.
Z: In Three Kings, they shot Tucson for Iraq. Don't get any ideas, Mr. Cheney! And in Desert Bloom, they shot Congress Street for '50s Las Vegas.
J: I've stood where they shot that! You could tour a lot of film-shooting sites in the area. Like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: Parts of it were shot at the White Stallion Ranch in the Tucson Mountains. Or the Chicago Store on Congress is in Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
Z: Do you remember what happens in the scene?
J: I think Jodie Foster goes there for guitar lessons.
Z: Well, you should call her up to fact-check.
J: The weird thing about Jodie Foster is, I call her and I call her and I call her, and she never calls back, and it just makes me want to kill the president. I can't publish that because the FBI will come visit me. ... Three Kings was shot at the Sacaton Mine near Casa Grande.
Z: Hey, there you go. That's pretty much Tucson.
J: And there are some Tucson people in that movie.
Z: Is Bob Bookman in it?
J: He's like God: He's everywhere. Guess where they shot Boys on the Side?
Z: I was there for that. Parts of it were shot just outside the Tucson Weekly's offices. I remember I was parked at the TW parking lot, and they wouldn't let me out. I was trapped by Whoopi Goldberg.
J: That's sounds like a bad sex dream. I'm told that people still call the Tucson Film Office to ask if they can buy the house where the girls lived in Boys on the Side. It's a little adobe house on the eastside.
Z: Is it still available?
J: It is not currently for sale. In Bodies, Rest and Motion, they added an addition to a house on Drachman Street.
Z: I was on that set when they shot it.
J: Oh yeah, tell us a little about that. Didn't you get to see Eric Stoltz in his underpants?
Z: I was supposed to interview Eric Stoltz, and after he was done shooting, I walked back to his trailer with him. Little did I know he was going to disrobe in front of me. He was wearing tighty-whities.
J: How would you describe his package?
Z: Um, you know, I really didn't zero in on it.
J: So you would use the term "meaty" in describing it?
Z: And then Bridget Fonda came to the door of the trailer, and I was kind of hoping she would disrobe in front of me as well, but no luck.
J: There are so few perks to being a film reviewer.
Z: Tank Girl was shot at Park Mine near Green Valley. That's the movie where Malcolm McDowell gets mad at people.
J: Yeah, he played a guy who tried to control the water supply, eerily reminiscent of modern day Tucsonan developers! It also really made Lori Petty's career; she became a superstar, as most people who appear in Tucson films do.
Z: I think that shot her up into the stratosphere. She may never come down. Tin Cup was shot at the Tubac Golf Resort, as well as on Congress Street and under the arches in front of Value Village on Fourth Avenue. And at Ten's Dance Club! Many Hollywood directors are drawn to Tucson for our low-cost, high-quality naked dancers.
J: Yes. Yes indeed. OK, when they did Can't Buy Me Love, they completely took over Tucson High School.
Z: Yeah. It was also shot at a place called Scoops, on Speedway Boulevard. And it was also shot at Hill Farm and Pima Air Museum. My favorite scene was when Patrick Dempsey took the popular girl to one of the big airplanes, and I think they actually got in the cockpit of the plane and had a romantic dinner or something.
J: Does he take the word "cockpit" literally?
Z: I think so. Anyway, Can't Buy Me Love might be the most Tucson film there is
J: What about Stacey Richter's Invisible World? That's an excellent film with an all-Tucson cast and crew and all Tucson locations.
Z: Yeah, Stacey Richter was TW film critic after I left.
J: You got replaced by a GIRL!!!
Z: Yes. Speaking of local filmmakers, Robert Loomis is a Tucsonan who shot Dog Years and its sequel, Angry Young Man. Let's give him some props.
J: Props to you, sir! Hey, did you know that parts of Almost Famous were shot in Tucson?
Z: No way. Which parts of that were shot in Tucson?
J: Dreamworks shot second unit with no actors and a second-unit director. Apparently, they were in Tucson for two weeks, and Shelli Hall at Tucson Film Office had to get permits the entire time, and they were a lot of work. Apparently, they were jerks. What I'm getting at is the people who made Almost Famous were jerks! That's not what Shelli Hall told me; I'm just reading between the lines here.
Z: Does that include Cameron Crowe himself?
J: Um, well, it says that they only had the second-unit director here, but I'll gladly implicate Cameron Crowe as well for being a total jerk. It's not like he was gonna call me anyway. OK, what are the other great films made in Tucson in the last 20 years?
Z: The excellent Jesus' Son starring Billy Crudup.
J: Must have been hard to grow up with that last name.
Z: Yeah. And Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. The only thing I remember about that movie is that Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke smirked at each other quite a bit. They had, like, a smirk-off.
J: I think the French consider that a great film. I think they gave it some sort of knighthood. What's that prize they gave to Jerry Lewis?
Z: Order of the Talking Mimes.
J: That's right. And I think in France, the film is known as Le Fils Du Harley David et L'Homme Marlboro. We should explain what makes Tucson such a great film location. First off, there's the Western village set at Old Tucson.
Z: Which is not actually as old as Tucson itself. It's very post-modern.
J: Yes. I believe it was made for the movie Arizona, in 1940.
Z: Tucson's also very close to L.A., where the big stars live and love and litigate.
J: Did you know that there are nine non-stop flights a day to and from Los Angeles?
Z: From Tucson, or just in general?
J: Both. Plus, we have mild, predictable and mostly-sunny weather.
Z: Yes, that's true! It's gotta be the weather! The reliability of the weather is probably high on the list of reasons why you'd shoot in Tucson.
J: Not the only reason! Also, the quality of our light! And the magnificent natural views! And the complete cooperation from city, county and state agencies!
Z: Oh yeah, Tucson has a quality of light second only to Paris!
J: And I'm told by the Tucson Film Office that there are either six or seven different geographic looks within 40 minutes of downtown. It's unclear whether it's six or seven, but definitely six or seven.
Z: OK, quick list of significant films we failed to mention so far: Desperado; Gas Food Lodging; Major League ...
J: Starring Corbin Bernsen! Another superstar!
Z: Price of Glory.
J: What's that?
Z: I dunno ... never heard of it. But it's on our list.
J: Great. Finally, I need to thank Shelli Hall, director of the Tucson Film Office, for giving me the straight dope on locations and shoots. If we get that stuff right, it's thanks to Shelli Hall. If we get anything wrong, it's because Zak and I have substance-abuse problems.