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Hey, I Know That Place!
If the film setting looks familiar, it may be because you've seen it before -- right here on Long Island


By Jack Mathews
Staff Writer

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"In & Out" on Main Street in Northport "In & Out" on Main Street in Northport (Newsday, 1996 / Allison Cottone)

Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer (Columbia Pictures Photo, 1994 / Francois Duhamel)

With computers, you can do anything, so let's say we're on a computer, and we have just compressed the 20th Century into one moment. The category is ``Movies: Long Island,'' and on the screen is a map of the Island, dotted from the left end of Queens to the right point of Montauk with little icons of motion picture cameras. So we move the cursor to the first icon on the left, resting on the east side of the Queensboro Bridge, and double-click. Instantly (this is a very fast computer) the screen is filled with a live image from a movie set. There's a jumble of equipment -- props and cables and lights and scaffolding and Portalets and motor homes.

And there are scores of people -- camera operators, gaffers, grips, prop men, extras -- moving about with antlike precision, all going in different directions while seemingly working together.

There's a row of director's chairs behind one of the cameras, and as we zoom in tighter, we see a young, shaggy-haired actor studying his lines. He turns to us and smiles, and we see that it's Timothy Hutton. But what's he got to smile about? He's working on ``Turk 182!,'' a 1985 bomb that critics preferred to call ``Turkey 182!'' Let's hit the escape key and get out of here.

With the full map in front of us again, we scan all the way to the icon at the far right of the Island and double-click. We're in a beach house in Montauk, with Jack Palance, a bunch of scraggy youths and white-haired Andy Warhol. It's his house, the year is 1979, and they're shooting ``Cocaine Cowboys,'' which will be notable only as one of the last and worst examples of 1970s counter-culture film.

Escape key. New icon. Double-click. Ah, this is more like it. Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres steaming up the dunes at Montauk Point. It's 1921, and the film company has trekked all the way from the new Famous Players-Lasky studio in Astoria, to shoot the desert scenes for ``The Sheik,'' the movie that will make Valentino the screen's first great sex symbol, and alter forever the public's expectations about leading men.

When we ask the computer if ``The Sheik'' is the oldest film known to have been shot on location in Long Island, up pops the image of a very rural Lynbrook back on the other side, where a Vitagraph crew is filming the 1911 ``The Stuff Heroes Are Made Of.'' The director is D.W. Griffith himself.

From ``The Stuff Heroes Are Made Of'' to last year's comedy hit ``In & Out'' (shot in Northport) to movies still being edited, Long Island has hosted hundreds of film crews in this century, and if someone were to put together a CD-ROM package of Long Island movie clips, it would provide a thorough study of the physical and cultural landscape, and show off some of its lushest attractions.

Here's Old Westbury Gardens, for instance, an 88-acre spread of woods, gardens, and manicured lawns surrounding the former Phipps estate house. And there's werewolf Jack Nicholson chasing down and eating a fawn in a scene being shot for Mike Nichols' 1994 ``Wolf.'' Inside, Ray Milland is in the library, talking down to his son Ryan O'Neal in ``Love Story.'' On the west porch, Martin Scorsese is setting up a shot with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis for ``The Age of Innocence.'' And in the living room, there are the familiar figures of Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant, discussing a scene they're about to shoot for ``North by Northwest.'' It's here where Grant's character is brought, after being kidnaped in broad daylight in Manhattan.

Not far from Old Westbury Gardens is the Knole estate, home to Glenn Close's comatose Sunny von Bulow and her suspicious-acting spouse, Claus (Jeremy Irons), in Barbet Schroeder's ``Reversal of Fortune,'' and to Dudley Moore's arranged fiancee Jill Eikenberry in ``Arthur.'' It's in the Knole house that Whoopi Goldberg makes her grand entrance -- as a man! -- in ``The Associate.''

Mansions, of course, are to Long Island what palm trees are to Florida, and countless films with old-money themes have been shot in them, particularly in the North Shore areas of Port Washington, Glen Cove and Oyster Bay. (And let us not forget Muttontown. It was here, on a porch at the Coleman estate, where Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor tortured each other in the 1958 version of Tennessee Williams' ``Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'')

But the hottest neighborhood for mansion-shooting on Long Island is the Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington; specifically, the Guggenheim estate, which includes both the seaside Hempstead House, built in 1912, and Falaise, a 26-room Norman manor house built in 1923. It's in a bedroom at Falaise that actor John Marley, playing mobster Jack Woltz, awakens to find a severed horse's head under the covers with him in ``The Godfather.''

``Funny, they stopped allowing filming in Falaise after that,'' says Debra Markowitz, director of Nassau County Cinema and Television Promotion, with a laugh. But they haven't stopped shooting at popular Hempstead House. Out front, director Martin Brest shot part of the last scene for ``Scent of a Woman,'' with Al Pacino. And Spike Lee filmed a scene with Denzel Washington here for ``Malcolm X.'' But the Hempstead House's biggest role is in Alfonso Cuaron's recent ``Great Expectations,'' where it appears, in the Gothic rot of a production designer's dream, as the estate of Anne Bancroft's batty recluse, Miss Dinsmore. Other familiar names that show up on our computer search for movie mansions are the Welland house in Glen Cove, where starchy Humphrey Bogart and his playboy brother, William Holden, vie for chauffeur's daughter Audrey Hepburn in ``Sabrina''; the Salutation house, also in Glen Cove, where starchy Harrison Ford and playboy brother Greg Kinnear vie for chauffeur's daughter Julia Ormond in the remake of ``Sabrina''; the Fordyce house, in Mill Neck, used for a couple of scenes in Milos Forman's 1979 ``Hair,'' and the Trevor manse, also in Mill Neck, Diane Keaton's home in the regrettable ``Godfather, Part 3.'' (By the way, the famous toll-booth, machine-gun death of Sonny Corleone in the first ``Godfather'' was staged on an abandoned runway at Mitchel Field.)

An icon to the south and west takes us to Valley Stream, where Ed Burns borrowed his parents' house as a set for his triumphant first feature, ``The Brothers McMullen.'' And there's a string of icons along the beaches below that. Click on the one to the far left, and we see Sidney Lumet directing Andy Garcia and Richard Dreyfuss at the Lawrence Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, in scenes for last year's ``Night Falls on Manhattan.'' There's Woody Allen on the Long Beach promenade doing a scene for the 1983 ``Zelig.'' And there, too, the images linger of Vernon and Irene Castle doing a dance scene for the 1914 ``Whirl of Life.'' And just east of Long Beach, there's the former Lido Beach Hotel, more recently condos, but doubling as a nursing home in Martin Scorsese's 1980 ``Raging Bull.''

The western part of the Island has a big advantage in recruiting film companies. Companies shooting within 25 miles of Columbus Circle in Manhattan can require crews to show up at the set. Beyond 25 miles, they have to provide transportation. Nevertheless, in the last two decades, film business has boomed in Suffolk County. Remember the pink, bluffside mansion belonging to romance novelist Meryl Streep in 1989's ``She-Devil''? It's in Port Jefferson, and it was pink to begin with.

The list of movies shot farther out, in the Hamptons, Sag Harbor, Shelter Island and Montauk, is huge, a fact that Suffolk County Film Commission Chairman Christopher Cooke attributes to the example set by filmmakers who have homes here. Water Mill resident Alan Alda got the ball rolling, Cooke says, with ``Sweet Liberty,'' a 1986 film using the Hamptons as a stand-in for the story's setting in North Carolina.

``Alda really began a boom time for Suffolk County,'' says Cooke. ``That was a big studio movie, and he showed his peers that Long Island was a hip place to film.'' Lumet, who has a home in the Hamptons, has shot parts of several of his films nearby, and Woody Allen, who had a summer place on Dune Road, walked to work on ``Interiors.''

The East End has become particularly attractive to independent filmmakers. In 1997, one studio company set up shots here, while 16 indies did. One of the big attractions for independent film companies is that most of the East End is -- though barely -- within another union radius that saves money.

``People call me and say, `Are you within two hours from New York?,''' says Dean Speir, of the Mayor's Office on Film and Video Services in Westhampton Beach. ``Anything within two hours, they have to provide two meals. More than two hours, they have to pay for three squares and accommodations.''

Of course, just as Long Island stands in for other places, other places stand in for Long Island. Neither of ``The Great Gatsby'' movies was filmed here. Ron Kovic's old Massapequa neighborhood in Oliver Stone's ``Born on the Fourth of July'' was filmed in a suburb of Dallas. ``The Amityville Horror,'' about Long Island's very own haunted house, was shot in Toms River and Scotch Plains in New Jersey. Lindenhurst native Hal Hartley shot ``Simple Men,'' the story of two brothers searching for their long lost father on Long Island, along the coast south of Houston.

And if you want to visit the lush woodsy setting in Richard Kwietniowski's current ``Love and Death on Long Island,'' about a British novelist who comes here with a crush on an American pop star, you'll have to close your Long Island file and call up ``Movies: Canada.'' This Long Island is in Nova Scotia.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday, Inc.

 
 
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