I love movies. Studio movies, indie movies, black-and-white movies, animated movies, subtitled movies—I love them all. And growing up with the first generation of VCRs and video rental stores, I could revisit my favorites again and again. Nowadays, this is something we all take for granted, but back in the mid-1980s “movies on demand” was a new and utterly amazing experience. For the first time in motion-picture history, viewers could watch movies in their own homes, on their own schedules, and on their own terms.
As teenagers, we studied our favorite films with manic intensity, pausing the tapes to parse lines of dialogue, study the architecture of a starship, or note a weird directorial signature. We rewound A New Hope
to watch that one clumsy stormtrooper bumping his head on the ceiling. We read the credits in search of familiar names. We laughed over the perverted Easter eggs hidden in animated Disney films.
If you grew up watching movies in the late 1970s or early 1980s, you probably did many of these things, too. It was the advent of the summer blockbuster. All the tools of the great cinematic masters—Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Lang, Bergman—were being applied to something new, fresh, and fun, to movies tailor- made for the children of baby boomers. We were an audience of millions, with hungry imaginations, time on our hands, and allowance money burning holes in our pockets. We were raised on Star Wars
and Indiana Jones
and we wanted more—more aliens, more monsters, more strange worlds to explore. But if we couldn’t have more movies, we’d settle for the same movie again and again. We’d line up on opening weekends for the sequels to Back to the Future
, and Star Trek
These films were marvels of craftsmanship created by extraordinary talents. Our monsters were created by H. R. Giger and Jim Henson. Our locations and sets were designed by Syd Mead, Ron Cobb, and Ralph McQuarrie. Our comedy, by directors like John Hughes and Rob Reiner, was deftly insightful and, later, beautifully manicured by the likes of Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. Our adventures were designed and dressed by Jim Steranko. Our posters were painted by Drew Struzan and John Alvin. As a child, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Now I do, and I suppose this book is the evidence. The illustrators, designers, painters, and creators mentioned above were some of my earliest influences, even if I didn’t yet know their names. This book and its paintings are in many ways an homage to all the talented people working behind the scenes of my favorite films. Before I knew what I wanted to be, I knew I wanted to be them.
So as I gleefully kneel at the altar of popular cinema, you might be wondering why I’ve left such strange offerings.
In other words, why did I paint all of these maps?
The answer probably lies somewhere in my childhood. As a kid, I covered my bedroom walls with full-color maps pulled from the pages of my father’s National Geographic
collection. I had a comforter listing all the states and their capitals; you could say I was effectively swaddled in maps every night. I was fascinated by the way maps blend information with graphic design. I’d trace my finger over rivers and roads, imagining the people who lived in these strange and far-flung places.
Jump cut to twenty years later: I was working as a freelance illustrator when a travel magazine asked me to create some maps. It was an irresistible opportunity, but I quickly learned that creating
a map is a lot harder than reading
one. To make a good map, I had to really know my subject, wrangling a laundry list of different things into some sort of order. If you’ve ever handpainted a sign and found yourself running out of room for the last word, then you have an inkling of the mapmaker’s dilemma. Planning ahead is essential. Geography and spacing are generally going to hinder, not help, you. But I enjoyed the challenge, and more map assignments started coming my way.
Then one day it occurred to me that I might marry my two childhood interests—maps and movies—on the same page. My first effort was drawing the underground caverns of Richard Donner’s The Goonies
; I followed up with the summer camp setting of David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer
(opposite). Neither was as detailed as the maps in this book; there were no character arrows and the approach was pretty stark, just one color of gouache and zero people. But they were sprinkled with little Easter eggs from the films, like Troy’s bucket (from The Goonies
) and the bale of hay roadblock (from Wet Hot American Summer
). To my delight, people really responded to these paintings. They recognized the settings and mentally filled in the rest—the story and the quotes and the characters they knew so well. Soon they began requesting more.
After those maps came North by Northwest
, with its Saul Bass–inspired use of arrows for one character, and then Star Wars
and Indiana Jones
, with arrows following all the major players. Then Shaun of the Dead
, Star Trek
, Back to the Future
, The Shining
, The Lord of the Rings
, and others. I think of these paintings as scale models of summer blockbusters, diagramming a limited amount of time—usually about 120 minutes—between the opening and closing credits. As viewers and fans, we’ve traveled every inch of these journeys before. We’ve trekked through the forest and the jungles, we’ve soared past the planets and the space stations. Yet we keep returning to these worlds again and again. With these maps, we can view our favorite films from a fresh perspective. We can travel the familiar journeys in new and unfamiliar ways.
The mapmaking process is long and laborious. Each one takes several weeks, even months, to complete; my map for the Lord of the Rings
trilogy was the most complex of all, requiring more than 1,000 hours. When I’m working on a new map, I’ll watch the corresponding film at least twenty times, occasionally as many as fifty times. For weeks, the film I’m mapping will be a constant backdrop to my life. The soundtrack will invade my dreams. I’ll spend a lot of time researching locations through set photography, production notes, and some of the insanely detailed LEGO models posted by fans online (I can’t believe these exist, but they do).
Sometimes I’ll even research locations that are never completely shown in the film. Whenever possible, I like to reveal the full extent of a place, like the Soldiers and Sailor memorial in Pittsburgh, which houses significant scenes in The Silence of the Lambs
but whose lovely exterior is shown only in a passing glance in the black of night. Or the old LaSalle Street Station in Chicago, where Cary Grant performed his little bathroom shaving gag in North by Northwest
. Hitchcock doesn’t show the exterior, but it’s a part of the map and quite lovely, too.
To my surprise and great delight, these maps have found an eager and enthusiastic audience on the internet. I am forever grateful to the early adopters who bought paintings and prints and posted them online. From big-name directors like J. J. Abrams (who bought my map of his first Star Trek
film) and well-known producers to fellow mapmakers, designers, writers, and film enthusiasts, my work has found an audience in a wide cross-section of people. The tribe of pop culture and popular cinema is nothing if not a big tent, and it’s growing all the time.
I always hoped to compile my maps into a single volume, and as their number increased, I began to think more seriously about what form such a volume might take. I didn’t want to make a conventional art book or a conventional film book. My hope was that this collection could be a bit of both. Enter Quirk Books and publisher Jason Rekulak: master of the intersection where art, academia, and pop culture meet and to whom I am ever thankful. At the same time, I knew I needed a writer to give context and impart a deeper understanding of why we love these films so much and the reasons they resonate. This film bard would have to be able not only to start the conversation, but also to inform the reader why they should watch the film again (or for the first time). Beyond those herculean requirements, this person would have to shed new light and insight on some of the most discussed, parsed, lampooned, and dissected films of all time. Enter the talented A. D. Jameson, to whom I am also forever thankful.
Now I had a great publisher, and a great writer, and a large number of maps and movies to consider for the book. Because I had begun by working with the 1970s and ’80s blockbusters of my childhood, it made sense to concentrate mostly on that era. But of course I also wanted to include such classics as King Kong
as well as more contemporary masterpieces like Mad Max: Fury Road
. All told, we whittled down well over 200 different movies to wind up with this collection of 35 maps, and I think they serve as a snapshot of popular cinema, from protoblockbuster to blockbuster to postmodern blockbuster. Why stop at 35? Well, if my upbringing as a popular-movie fan has taught me anything, it’s that you always leave room for a sequel, and then cross your fingers for the franchise.
Perhaps by now you’ve decided that I’m a rather nostalgic person, and I won’t disagree. Perhaps this whole endeavor is a selfish expression of my desire to relive parts of my childhood and the great experiences I’ve had with films. But I like to think of it as an invitation. One might even say, without too much of a belabored metaphor, that it’s a ticket to a viewing of our collected childhoods, whatever age we may be. These are maps to the places we’ve all visited together; they populate our tribe’s family album. So take a seat and remember. Remember not only the worlds created for you in movies, but also the world in which you first saw them: the sticky theater floors, the worn-carpet living rooms, or the old recliner covered with an army blanket. The day after Christmas. The night at the drive-in. The hours spent choosing at the video store. Remember the people who were watching at your side. Maybe it was Mom or Dad. Grandparents or siblings. Girlfriends or boyfriends. Husbands or wives. Maybe it was your own children.
In many ways, the nostalgia of film is the nostalgia for the reality in which we viewed those films, and the people we shared them with. I hope these maps and essays are pathways back to those moments. Perhaps even a deepening of those feelings, and a better understanding of them that bring these movies home.
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew DeGraff with A. D. Jameson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.