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Sunday 24 January 2016

On the Street Where She Walked

I, too, was once an Exile on Main Street.
It's not often one sits in a movie theatre in Manuka in Canberra, Australia, and up on the big screen pops the exact same spot where one once stood - on Main Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. But that's what happened to me last night, when I finally caught up with that fine film Carol - starring Cate Blanchett and the delightful Rooney Mara (above) - which has been nominated for six Academy Awards.
The moment took me completely by surprise. I almost leaned across to my friend Elizabeth, sitting beside me, to say, "I think I've been there!" But respecting the unspoken wishes of the rest of the packed cinema audience, I stayed quiet. 
The giveaway came when Rooney Mara, as Therese Belivet, walked under a sign saying "Office Supplies". Now there's probably hundreds of thousands of such signs around the world, in dozens of places in hundreds of cities. But I'd know that particular sign anywhere. It's etched on my memory forever. It belongs to the one and only Spitzfaden's, of 629 Main Street, Cincinnati. I know it because Richard Polt took me there (not once, but a few times) during my memorable stay in Cincinnati a couple of years ago.
At the time I saw the sign on the big screen, however, I must confess I wasn't absolutely sure it was "the one". I had just assumed Carol was filmed in New York, where it is set. But this morning I checked, and to my great delight found Carol had been filmed in Cincinnati over 34 days from March 12, 2014. I hadn't stayed to watch all the credits roll by, but if I had I would have seen this, the producers' thanks to:
I immediately emailed Richard, who said, "I knew it was filmed here, but haven't seen it yet, so I had no idea of the particular locations. Cincinnati's Main Street really is a time warp from the '50s." And guess what? I checked with the Cincinnati Enquirer, and adverts for Spitzfaden's appeared at Christmas 1952, precisely when the movie is set.
The film crew sets up at the Main Street Diner at the corner of Ninth and Main streets in downtown Cincinnati.
Carol is British-American romantic drama directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. It tells the story of an aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older woman going through a difficult divorce. Blanchett plays Carol Aird, Sarah Paulson her former lover Abby Gerhard, and Kyle Chandler her estranged husband Harge Aird.

The only typewriter I spotted, toward the end, was a Smith-Corona Series 5 portable, adapted for writing captions to stick on the back of pictures. Mara-Belivet had got herself a gig in the photographic department of The New York Times.
Other filming locations for this movie in Cincinnati included some places Richard had taken me to, such as Eden Park and Over-the-Rhine. Also thanked by the producers in the credits was my all-time favourite US watering-hole, Arnold's Bar. Why wouldn't they thank it? It's the best!
The Price of Salt was published in 1952, with Highsmith using the pseudonym Claire Morgan. Highsmith said the novel was inspired by a blonde woman in a fur coat she saw shopping at a department store while working as a temporary sales clerk selling dolls shortly before Christmas in 1948. "That evening I wrote out an idea, a plot, a story about the blondish and elegant woman in the fur coat. I wrote some eight pages in longhand in my then-current notebook or cahier." She recalled completing the book's outline in two hours that night, likely under the influence of chickenpox which she discovered she had only the next day: "[Fever] is stimulating to the imagination." She had completed the novel by 1951, using a burgundy Olympia SM 3 portable typewriter.
For the plot Highsmith drew on the experiences of her former lover, Virginia Kent Catherwood (below), a Philadelphia socialite who had lost custody of her child in divorce proceedings involving taped hotel room conversations and lesbianism. Highsmith's publisher, Harper & Bros, rejected the novel but Coward-McCann published it in hardcover.
Nagy, who was a friend of Highsmith, wrote the first draft of the movie script in 1996. British producer Elizabeth Karlsen of Number 9 Films came across Nagy's screenplay in 2004 then convinced Highsmith's estate to sign over the copyright to her in 2011.
From left, Nagy, Mara and director Haynes. Blanchett, below, looks at Spitzfaden's.
Highsmith (1921-95) is better known for her psychological thrillers, many of which were adapted to film. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. A series of five novels had Tom Ripley as protagonist. She was born Mary Patricia Plangman in Fort Worth, Texas. Highsmith died of aplastic anemia and cancer in Locarno, Switzerland, aged 74.
Highsmith in September 1979
 Locarno, Switzerland, September 1987
After my visits to the charming crew at Spitzfaden's, Richard Polt had asked me to put together a history of the company, which he then printed out and presented to them, and took this photo:
The staff can now add to my history, "In the movies ... "
One film critic talked about Carol transporting moviegoers back to a time "we can only see in our dreams". I can tell you, walking into Spitzfaden's with Richard was, for me at least, a dream come true.


Richard P said...

I can't wait to see the film now!

I've never read a Highsmith novel, but was impressed by the film of "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

Anonymous said...

What a thrill, small world indeed! Patricia looks a character, must read something by her. and see that movie. :)