The first movie I ever saw being filmed in Chicago was “The Hunter” with Steve McQueen in 1979. They were setting up a shot where a car was to be driven off the Marina Towers parking garage and into the Chicago River. An enormous crowd gathered across Wacker Drive to watch.
I just happened to be blundering by, on my way to pick up concert tickets. As ready to soak up Hollywood excitement as the next guy, I joined the crowd and waited.
Which, as I would learn from hours wasted over the years attempting to observe the gradual, incremental, halting, molasses-off-a-frozen-stick-in-winter cinematic process, is the defining quality of movie-making. It’s as if, in order to create 90 minutes of fantasy life at its most exciting, people making films must be forced to endure months of real life at its most tedious.
Or put another way: Stars take all those drugs for a reason.
Thus, I plan to be nowhere near the Palmer House Hilton Monday when Warner Bros. begins five days of filming “Contagion” there, a film with a minivan’s worth of stars — Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Elliott Gould — well, almost a minivan’s worth. Ours seats eight, so room for a driver and the film’s director, Steven Soderbergh.
To be honest, I wouldn’t mention any of this, but the information fell into my lap, and hasn’t been reported yet, so I suppose it could qualify as “news.” But don’t let it prompt you to camp out on the sidewalk outside the Palmer House — which in the movie will play a luxury London hotel — with a disposable camera in one hand and a pad and pen in another, hoping against hope that Matt Damon will pop out for a cranberry scone and a coffee at the Corner Bakery and you’ll have the chance to start up an improbable friendship.
In fact, Damon isn’t even supposed to be there this week, according to movie publicist Spooky Stevens.
“We shot in Hong Kong ; we just got back,” she said, of the movie, a “medical thriller” filming scenes in the Palmer House presidential suite and lobby. Stevens added that they are also filming in “some suburb” (actually many suburbs) but she didn’t know which. If it’s Northbrook, I’ll let you know.
Stevens was concerned that I had hopes of observing the moviemaking magic.
“We’re a closed set to the press,” she said, and I reassured her that I have a hard enough time forcing myself to sit through the finished product, never mind experiencing the tedium of movies being made.
It’s better than ‘Mooshy Stevens’
Being just that kind of guy, when I found myself talking to someone named Spooky Stevens, I couldn’t restrain myself from asking the obvious question: “Where did ‘Spooky’ come from?”
“It’s a nickname,” she said. “I got it the day I was born.”
From mom or dad?
“From my dad,” she said.
Using that methodology of baby-naming, I should have named my younger son “Rico” because, the day he was born, I phoned my parents to relay the happy news.
“Who does he look like?” my mom asked.
I thought for a moment.
“He looks like Edward G. Robinson,” I said. “The same lips. Put a little baby cigar in his mouth and the resemblance would be uncanny.”
Oh right, I forgot, it’s 2010: Edward G. Robinson was a movie star who played gangsters (and, in the miscast of the 20th century, Dathan in “The Ten Commandments.”) Very big in his day. A reminder to any movie stars reading this: tempus fugit.
OK, I’m going to stop writing about movies now, before Richard Roeper leaves another skinned sheep’s head atop the pile of papers on my desk with a note reading “BACK OFF!!!” wired through its eye socket. I hate when that happens.
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