It was my first trip there, and it was indescribably wonderful. As someone who lives in New York City—and loves the city with my whole heart, even after my fling with the city on the Seine—I can say that I’ve heard more than one first-time visitor say that they feel like they’ve already been to New York City because they’ve seen it so often on film and TV, and then discovered that it simply isn’t the case. So I understand that illusion.
That said, it was impossible for me not to feel before the fact as if I already knew Paris a little, because I’d seen it on film so many times. As it turned out, not so much. Before my trip, I had seen the lovely Paris, Je T’aime, the collection of five-minute movies from famous filmmakers. It showed the sides of the city that tourists typically don’t see—the back streets of tiny shops and studios, the long Metro rides in from the poor neighborhoods on the outskirts—but even that had not prepared me for the vitality of the city and the seemingly contradictory ease of the lifestyle there.
Watching that film again now, though, after returning home and still longing for the City of Light—well, it makes me weep with joy and loss. All the many varied tales of romance (of the sexual and parental and globetrotting varieties) strike even deeper in my restless heart now, and make me yearn for those cobblestone streets and the laid-back charm of sidewalk cafes even more.
And New York City? What movie says “New York City” better than any other?
Probably Woody Allen’s Manhattan, for all that it’s almost 30 years old now. Do a double feature with Allen’s Annie Hall (which is even older) and immerse yourself in a timeless Big Apple that still rings true today—even as, admittedly, another kind of illusion. Waiting in line for a movie and buying the Sunday New York Times late on a Saturday night … these things still feel like New York to me even though I only go to press screenings now, and it’s been long years since I’ve purchased a printed newspaper. Allen captured the essence of the city that hasn’t changed, even across decades.
Los Angeles is another city I love, partly because it’s so very different from New York City. On my first trip there six years ago, I was astonished to discover that the movie that best depicts the heart and soul of that metropolis is Steve Martin’s L.A. Story (directed by Brit Mick Jackson, though Martin wrote it). In fact, it’s probably the only movie I’ve ever seen that even hints that Los Angeles does, in fact, have a soul, which suggests that even Hollywood has been unfair to its hometown. Through roller-skating in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or talking back to an information sign on the freeway, this sweet, romantic movie sums up that sense that washes over you in Los Angeles: Life is good, and anything can happen.
I’ve never been to Chicago, but I feel like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off must be as much as valentine to that city as L.A. Story is to its hometown. I’ve never been to Tokyo, but when I get there someday, I’m sure to think about Lost in Translation, and the karaoke bars, sushi joints and mad-crowded streets it depicts. On the other hand, I have been to London, many times, and have yet to find a movie that makes love to it in the way it deserves. I’ll keep looking, and hoping—at least until I can get back there in the flesh.
Oh, and lots of movies have been at least partially shot in Salt Lake City, though the only one that could actually be considered to be about the city is SLC Punk. Whether it’s accurate to call it a “valentine” I leave it to native Salt Lakers to decide.