By Jared Cowan
Our San Fernando Valley Film Tour guide gives some recommendations for films in which to see the Valley.
Most of us are staying home right now and missing our normal routines around our beloved Valley communities, so we thought we’d give you a mini-tour of the SFV without having to leave home.
In no particular order, here are 10 films – some conventional, some not – to have filmed in the Valley in dynamic ways. We’ll no doubt miss some of your favorites – they’re our favorites too – but we wanted to spread the love between films you might want to show your family and some to watch when the kids go to bed. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a familiar street corner, store or apartment building in one of these films. As is common on our San Fernando Valley Film Tour, maybe, just maybe, you’ll notice something in your neighborhood that you’ve never seen before.
The Bad News Bears, 1976, dir. Michael Ritchie, PG
There’s a sequence in The Bad News Bears in which Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) – the ex-minor league ballplayer, drunk and newly recruited coach of the Valley’s own Little League team, the Bears – goes from business to business searching for a team sponsor. Unfortunately, most of them have already committed to other teams. (Eventually, Buttermaker has to settle for an unlikely sponsor for a kids’ baseball team.) On one of last year’s film tours, as we drove by a Reseda shopping center while showing an image of Buttermaker walking into a hardware store once located in the center, a guest on the tour said, “My family owned that store.” We love those moments. From Mason Park in Chatsworth to a long-gone arcade in Tarzana, The Bad News Bears is easily one of the great Valley movies (and was one of the first to write kids’ dialogue in an authentic manner.)
La Bamba, 1987, dir. Luis Valdez, PG-13
When director Luis Valdez shot La Bamba in the mid-late ‘80s, the San Fernando Valley didn’t look like the Valley of the late ‘50s, when local teen Ritchie Valens became a rock & roll sensation. To convey the Valley of the time period, orange groves and all, the filmmakers doubled parts of the SFV in Fillmore, CA. However, Valdez wanted to use as many places as possible where Valens and his family actually spent time. Valens’ old alma maters, Pacoima Middle School and San Fernando High School, both appear in the film, as does San Fernando Mission Cemetery, where Valens is buried next to his mother.
Escape From New York, 1981, dir. John Carpenter, R
Is it weird that we’re including a movie with New York in the title on a list about films shot in the Valley? In the year 1997, the island of Manhattan has been turned into the country’s sole maximum-security prison reserved for the worst of the worst. Before his transfer to the island, convict and ex-special forces soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is charged with saving the president, who is stranded in Manhattan carrying sensitive national security information. In a clever use of camera movement, production design, and editing, director John Carpenter makes it seem as though our own Sepulveda Dam occupies adjacent space of the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island control center, the processing facility and last stop for all convicts heading to Manhattan.
The dam appears in a handful of other films and TV shows, a couple being The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) and American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018).
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982, dir. Amy Heckerling, R
What more can you say about Fast Times? From the old Sherman Oaks Galleria to Van Nuys High School – one of the most filmed high schools in L.A. – the movie is the epitome of the San Fernando Valley in the early ‘80s. Interesting that the setting is never specifically referred to as the Valley. That Fast Times filmed so much in the 818 was perhaps more of a necessity than for aesthetic value. The film’s location manager, the late Brian O. Haynes, told us at our 2018 summer drive-in screening of Fast Times that it was important to find locations close to the film’s home base, Universal Studios. Imagine what might have been if the film was produced by a studio located outside the Valley. Also of note, Fast Times director Amy Heckerling immortalized another Valley location when she put Circus Liquor in 1995’s Clueless.
The Karate Kid, 1984, dir. John G. Avildsen, PG
The filmmakers of The Karate Kid made a concerted effort to incorporate as many Valley locations as possible. Mentions of Reseda and Encino and the fact that the end of the film takes place at the All Valley Karate Championship makes The Karate Kid the most Valley “Valley movie” of all time. There, we said it. Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) apartment building, the South Seas, is in Reseda. Mr. Miyagi’s (Pat Morita) house (no longer standing) was over in Canoga Park. The Cobra Kai dojo, now a new age and metaphysical store, is in the NoHo Arts District. Locations in Woodland Hills, Encino, Chatsworth and Northridge also make appearances.
While nowhere near as engaging as the original, check out The Karate Kid Part III (1989), which returns to the South Seas building and adds a couple of other Valley spots. (Of course, first make sure to watch part 2, which shot between L.A. and Hawaii.)
Wayne’s World, 1992, dir. Penelope Spheeris, PG-13
Wayne’s World fans, especially those from the Chicago area, often tell director Penelope Spheeris that they know the whereabouts of the Aurora, IL locations from the movie. It’s an interesting assumption to make because, with the exception of a small amount of second-unit footage shot in and around Chicago, the entirety of Wayne’s World was shot in the L.A. area. Perhaps the most famous spot in the film is Cassell’s Music, located in the city of San Fernando. Ed Intagliata at Cassell’s is a good friend of the film tour and we love taking people over there. A couple of other key locations from the film are also in the Valley, but we’ll keep those in our back pockets at the moment.
Magnolia, 1999, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, R
You can’t do a Valley movie list without including a film by Valley native Paul Thomas Anderson. The question becomes, If you had to pick just one of his Valley-set films, which one would you pick? Boogie Nights is my personal favorite of all of Anderson’s films. Punch-Drunk Love is an intimate and whimsical portrait of an introverted Valley character (who lives on Moorpark St. in Sherman Oaks.) But in terms of the sheer amount of intertwining Valley places and characters, Magnolia is the one I recommend. See if you can discern the Reseda spot that’s right next to a location from Boogie Nights. Those of you with an eagle eye can try to figure out what street signs were changed at a couple of locations.
2 Days in the Valley, 1996, dir. John Herzfeld, R
In the mid-late ‘90s, a series of crime films with intersecting storylines attempted to ride the coattails of Pulp Fiction’s success. (Pulp Fiction has a few Valley locations itself.) One of those films was 2 Days in the Valley, and it’s our sole recommendation with the word “Valley” in the title. (We have plenty of love for Valley Girl too.) Aside from some great Valley locations including spots in North Hollywood and Tarzana, the cast is a marvel. The performances by late actors Danny Aiello, Glenne Headly, and Paul Mazursky are absolute standouts.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982, dir. Steven Spielberg, PG
If The Bad News Bears kicked off the idea of writing kids’ dialogue with authentic voices, then E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial took the reigns and created a genre of film that spoke to kids and adults alike. Like Fast Times, it’s never specifically said that E.T. takes place in the San Fernando Valley, but it is clearly inspired by the Valley. The extraordinary thing about E.T. is how it captures a time when parts of the northern Valley, specifically Porter Ranch, were just being developed. Check out Elliott, his brother and their friends riding BMX bikes down dirt hills, passing foundations and frames of new homes.
Every Which Way But Loose, 1978, dir. James Fargo, PG
If you’ve visited our friends and partners at the Valley Relics Museum then you’ve stood feet away from arguably the most iconic artifact from the San Fernando Valley: the neon sign of the historic Palomino club. For decades the sign rose high above the Valley honky-tonk on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, as is seen in Every Which Way But Loose starring Clint Eastwood. You may remember the film most for Eastwood’s spunky pal, a pet orangutan named Clyde, but its Valley locations span Sylmar, San Fernando, Sun Valley, Lake Balboa, and Burbank. And it has a pretty good theme song, too.
The sequel, Any Which Way You Can, returns to the Palomino and includes one of the longest, and craziest, streets fights ever put on film.