Despite the fact that the movie invariably brings me to tears at the end, as the main character looks and acts disturbingly like my grandfather (and the movie came out the same year that he died), I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s Big Fish. Other than the scenes that take place at the carnival with a werewolf Danny Devito and a midget clown attorney, I think a particularly memorable part is when Edward Blum first arrives in the town of Spectre. It’s a green, soft-focus paradise, where the water is sweet and the ground is so soft that you can abandon your shoes forever upon arrival.
The townspeople there have festivals every night and write poetry:
Well, this past week we were on our way to New Orleans, and we poked around trying to find any points of interest along the way. And we sure did find one. It turns out that Spectre, in some sense, actually exists. Sort of.
Instead of finding just the perfect small southern town location, Tim Burton and his crew found a small island along the Alabama river and created a town from scratch on that island just for the movie. They built a skeleton town with some styrofoam trees and building facades and a skeleton church at the center of it all. Once filming was done, they left the fictional town behind and it’s been there ever since, about ten years.
We arrived at the entrance to the town of Spectre, only to find an obstacle.
No worries, though- we’ve had to bypass harder obstacles than this one on past trips. We thought it was best to heed the sign and not attempt to drive the ~1 mile road leading to the film site. Maybe if we were in a pickup truck we could have given it a shot, but it’s not a great idea to try that in a Prius and get stuck indefinitely in a swamp. So we walked. And that worked out just fine, as it was a beautiful late-December afternoon.
Some ominous-looking birds greeted us upon arrival- I believe they were anhingas, the south’s answer to cormorants.
And sure enough, among some styrofoam rocks and trees at the entrance near where the shoes-line used to be, the scene opened and the Town of Spectre lay before us.
We entered most of the houses and it was interesting that almost none of them, including the church, had any walls or floors to speak of. It wasn’t that the walls had come down or the floors had been removed- it was more that these were just outlines of buildings, meant only to be filmed from the outside. That is, they were set pieces and not actual houses. An entire pretend-town. Funny enough, there was only one house in town that had an actual interior and it was this one:
Unsurprisingly, the fireplace was fake along with everything else. If you knocked on it, you would discover that it was made of some kind of plastic. So were the bricks in the church. It was still an adequate home for the organ pipe paper wasps, though.
I wondered why Tim Burton’s crew had bothered to make a fireplace in this house, but later when we were home we rewatched the Spectre scenes in Big Fish. It turns out that there’s one single scene that takes place indoors in Spectre- the one where Jenny steals Edward’s shoes. The fireplace is visible in the movie.
Remember how later in the movie the town of Spectre falls into ruin and disrepair? Jenny grows up to be a witch and her house has crooked columns, later straightened out by the giant.
Unfortunately, the columns took a tumble again since then, and I ended up sitting on them. They were also made of plaster/plastic/etc.
We walked back through the gauntlet of anhingas glaring at us once again, found our way back to the car and moved on to New Orleans. But that sure was a treat to have the side diversion. An imaginary town that never was, but still exists today.