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VOL. 125 | NO. 152 | Friday, August 6, 2010

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

Action! We Belong in the Movies


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Gene Hackman has a big head.

I’m not talking ego, the man really does have a head the size of a medicine ball. I know because I stood next to him one morning in Court Square chatting about the Hebe Fountain. Okay, he wasn’t actually talking to me, he was talking to the little guy on the other side of him – Tom Cruise. Maybe 5-7, depending on his shoes. They were here shooting “The Firm.”

They brought some friends you may know – Hal Holbrook, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, Wilfred Brimley and Sydney Pollack, to name a few – and they brought a ton of money, recognition and local pride our way. Millions and millions saw Tom run down Tuckahoe in all those blowing leaves, and they saw Memphis looking good for the whole movie.

That was just the first movie that the best-selling breeze of Southaven native, John Grisham, would blow into town. Susan Sarandon and “The Client” would soon follow (and I would follow her anywhere) and start shooting in Evergreen, The MED and The Arcade. Tommy Lee Jones would come along, as would Mary-Louise Parker and Ossie Davis.

Then “The Rainmaker” would pour Matt Damon into a house on York, into an office in The Pinch with Danny DeVito, and into an all-start cast directed by Francis Ford Coppola including Jon Voight, Mickey Rourke, Danny Glover, Virginia Madsen and Roy Scheider.

Moviemaking in Memphis was suddenly as hot as, well, Memphis.

“The People vs. Larry Flynt” and Woody Harrelson held court on Front with Edward Norton and bad girl Courtney Love.

Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt washed ashore right here with “Cast Away,” with a non-speaking part for a volleyball named Wilson and a speaking part for FedEx founder Fred Smith.

Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro brought dark despair to Chickasaw Gardens in “21 Grams.”

Memphian Craig Brewer wrote, directed and shot both “Hustle & Flow” with Terrence Howard and “Black Snake Moan” with Samuel L. Jackson here. Three 6 Mafia won an Academy Award working on “Hustle & Flow,” following in the large chops of Isaac Hayes who, ironically, acted in the movie.

Lately, we can’t catch a cold.

“The Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond,” from Tennessee Williams’ unpublished play about Memphis, and “Memphis Beat,” a new TNT series, were both shot in Louisiana. It doesn’t matter that the former should have stayed unpublished and the latter is in serious need of rewrites, we should have gotten that business. In one they faked The Peabody, and in the other they faked Beale Street and the barbecue contest.

Them’s fighting words.

No one fights harder than Linn Sitler, starring as Memphis & Shelby County Film Commissioner since 1987, but our state and local inability to see the wide shot for the close-up has given her little to work with. Louisiana and others get it and they’re getting the big cameras. All we’re getting is money-whipped.

I’m a Memphian, and I’m loaded with locations.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

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