North by Northwest
While the title of this post isn’t about one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, it is about a location that famed film featured – Rapid City, South Dakota. In the late 1970s my family traveled by motorhome across the county. After stopping in Minnesota to visit some family, the next stop before we travelled to Yellowstone National Park was Rapid City, and more specifically, Badlands National Park.
Some forty plus years later in the summer of 2020, my mother and I were looking for some places to holiday that were still open. Places that were wide open in space, but with plenty of “touristy” things to do. We then remembered the trip we took to South Dakota all those years ago. A quick call to the state’s travel bureau and we received a wonderful catalog that outlined countless things to do, particularly in the Black Hills region. From the welcoming hospitality of South Dakotans to the numerous sites to visit, our nearly two-week holiday was one of the best.
A few weeks ago a business opportunity presented itself in the state capital of Pierre. It didn’t take long for me to make travel arrangements back to the “Mount Rushmore State.” There is something quite spectacular about traveling in the off season. When I arrived on Thursday, I first found myself at Mount Rushmore. With probably no more than twenty people at the memorial, it was a unique experience as there were no crowds to “rush” the moment. The history of how Mount Rushmore came into existence (and almost didn’t) is a fascinating one. I highly recommend the book Mount Rushmore by Gilbert C. Fite to learn more.
The next day took me to my meeting in Pierre. Being from the east coast one hears about a 2.5-hour drive and we cringe because of traffic and congestion associated with this part of the country. But in South Dakota the drive from Rapid City to the state capital was uniquely pleasant through sheer natural beauty, fields and wildlife. There were a few moments when I stopped for “Bambi” and family.
Saturday was my day of touring. I made arrangements to visit a store that my mother and I discovered in 2020 – House of Scandinavia. Being Scandinavian (Swedish), the store was a must visit and didn’t disappoint. My next stop was something I wanted to visit in 2020, but didn’t have time – the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.
With three sites along Route 90, the tour started with the visitor center which offered a museum and insightful 30-minute movie on the history of the Cold War, the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system and the reasons behind their development. The second stop (Delta-01) featured a tour of a launch control facility. It was in these underground bunkers where two Air Force officers were ready to launch nuclear missiles. The third stop (Delta-09) was a view of an actual missile silo with decommissioned Minuteman missile. You can imagine the tour provided some ideas for SOS United States! If you want to learn more about this important time during the Cold War that prevented World War III, this is one attraction I highly recommend.
After my third stop on the Minuteman tour, the Pinnacles entrance station to the Badlands was literally just down the street. There is nothing in this world quite like the Badlands. In fact, it looks and feels like you are on another planet. I think what struck me the most during my visit this year versus 2020, was the void of tourists and how remarkably quite it was. Peaceful and tranquil are just two of the many words that come to mind.
It was sometime in the 1970s when I first saw Gone with the Wind. It must have been on TV as we didn’t have a VCR. The moment I saw this film it quickly became my favorite movie. The story, the actors, the sets, the music, it all worked on so many levels. Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it on laserdisc, DVD and streamed it. This afternoon I’ll see Gone with the Wind as it was intended – in a theatre.
What I always liked about the Gone with the Wind story was the sheer ambition of how it was made. From the “Search for Scarlett” to endless script rewrites to changes in directors, the production was fraught with issues. But in the end a masterpiece was created winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you want to learn more about this epic film, I highly recommend the book Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The filming of Gone with the Wind.
There’s no question in my mind that Gone with the Wind inspired my interest in this industry. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to are the “movers and shakers” behind the camera. In the case of Gone with the Wind, it was producer David O. Selznick. For every film made there’s one person you can point to that is responsible for its existence. Oh sure, the actors and crew are vital, but they wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for the producer—that one person who sees the vision and takes the risk.
Selznick International Pictures produced another one of my favorite films, Rebecca. It was Selznick who brought director Alfred Hitchcock over from England. That one decision that Selznick made led to films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.
While the opening sequence references “A Civilization gone with the wind,” another civilization that is long gone is the studio system that made it. Yes, Selznick International Pictures was somewhat independent, but it was the studio system that made Gone with the Wind possible (MGM provided half the budget).
As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this iconic picture, I look at the modern world of filmmaking. Although Selznick’s company disbanded decades ago, MGM is still around along with a literal handful of the legacy studios (sadly 20th Century Fox has been acquired by Disney). But the one thing that now prevails is the independent filmmaker. We chart our own course against a sea of seemingly endless possibilities and to destinations sometimes unknown.
When I attended the American Film Market this past November presenting First Signal and my other projects, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitions of so many under one roof striving to present their “motion picture” to new civilizations.
Tomorrow, is today.