Friday, October 31, 2014
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Sofia Coppola Checks Into the Movie Hotel

Sofia Coppola, who won a screenwriting Oscar for Lost in Translation, her portrait of Americans at Tokyo's Park Hyatt Hotel, just took top honors at the Venice Film Festival for Somewhere, a portrait of an estranged father and daughter (Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning) who reunite at Hollywood's storied Chateau Marmont. Coppola herself is a hotel habitue, having booked many nights in the suite of her own father, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, at New York's Sherry-Netherland.

Sofia Coppola Checks Into the Movie Hotel

Grand Hotel (1932), primordial movie hostelry.
Grand Hotel (1932), primordial movie hostelry.

Sofia Coppola, who won a screenwriting Oscar for Lost in Translation, her portrait of Americans at Tokyo's Park Hyatt Hotel, just took top honors at the Venice Film Festival for Somewhere, a portrait of an estranged father and daughter (Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning) who reunite at Hollywood's storied Chateau Marmont. Coppola herself is a hotel habitue, having booked many nights in the suite of her own father, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, at New York's Sherry-Netherland. (She also wrote and starred in her father's segment of the omnibus New York Stories, as the Eloise of the Sherry, babysat by hotel staff while her parents globetrot.) For the younger Coppola, hotels are neutral places where the character of her characters emerge in high relief, places where there is a tissue-thin line between private and public, places where the view -- internal and external -- is different. Coppola's sense of the hotel as a scene of personal transformation is the opposite of that of William Wyler's Dodsworth (1935), which, like the Sinclair Lewis novel on which it's base, suggests that despite the change of scene, people remain the same.

Hotels have long been a helpful setting for movies that wanted to get a disparate group of characters into the same place: See Grand Hotel (1932) and its remake, Weekend at the Waldorf (1945). In these films, the hotel is the crossroads, a place where the rhythm and rules of daily life are interrupted, where people who might otherwise never meet stand shoulder to shoulder in the elevator (Some Like it Hot)  or on the dance floor (Dirty Dancing). Hotels are also places where the lowborn are treated like kings (Born Yesterday).

From four-star hostelry to flophouse, the hotel room has also represented the place where lovers could enjoy an assignation -- or not -- as in the delicious Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939),  To Catch a Thief  (1955), Love in the Afternoon (1957),  Pretty Woman (1990), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) and Laurel Canyon (2003).

And there is the time-honored movie tradition of the haunted hotel, as in Psycho (1960), The Shining (1980),  Motel Hell (1980), and Barton Fink (1991).

Then there's Hotel Rwanda, a real-life shelter against the storms of civil war, and the hotel in Dirty Pretty Things, where Nigerian refugee Chiwetel Ojiofor helps protect Turkish immigrant Audrey Tautou.

Sometimes the hotel becomes a character in the film, as in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, The Shining and Pretty Woman. (The most popular movie hotels are probably The Plaza, site of the Home Alone movies, Bride Wars, Metropolitan and Plaza Suite), Cannes' Carlton (To Catch a Thief, French Kiss), Manhattan's Chelsea (Chelsea Walls, Sid and Nancy) and the Chateau Marmont (Somewhere, Laurel Canyon). Goodness knows, the Oceans 11 movies made a star out of Las Vegas' Bellagio.

My favorite movie hotels are places of nascent romance, Gland Hotels, you might say: Like the one where Glenn Ford seeks refuge in The Big Heat (1953), in a room so basic that Gloria Grahame jokes, "What's this decorated in, Early Nothing?" And the Paris hostelry with the wrought-iron elevator in Charade (1963) where Audrey Hepburn says to Cary Grant, "You know what's wrong with you? Nothing." And the place where Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury sneak off to in Mississippi Masala (1992).

Which movie hotels do you want to check into? Tell me why. 

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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