'Films to Go' hits the road, cinematically

The Baltimore Sun

Film critic and travel writer Jay Boyar grew up in a Buffalo, N.Y., family "very interested in movies." His father's twin, Sully Boyar, appeared in scores of films and TV shows, including Dog Day Afternoon, Prizzi's Honor and The Sopranos. Over the phone from his office at Orlando Magazine, Boyar remembers the first time he and his three younger brothers saw Uncle Sully on television, in a documentary about actors: "We just went mad."

Jay's siblings all had "movie-star middle names" - Curtis after Tony Curtis, Grant after Cary, Sterling after Sterling Hayden. Only Jay got his middle name from a relative, Mitchell.

Boyar offers the deadpan quip, "I've been compensating for that all my life."

His latest act of compensation is Films to Go: 100 Memorable Movies for Travelers and Others (Capital Books, $14.95), a guide for movie lovers on the move whether they travel by trains, planes or automobiles, with families or lovers or alone.

After three decades of writing exemplarily sane and good-humored movie reviews, including 22 years at the Orlando Sentinel, Boyar became the Sentinel's travel editor. About a year later, the section folded. (It returned in abbreviated form as part of the Sunday features section).

Now an associate editor and travel editor for Orlando's city magazine (he also writes a column on pop culture), Boyar had already hatched a plan to bring his two loves and skill sets together. A few years back, he'd watched his family fall for a minivan DVD player on a road trip. As he writes in Films to Go, he began noticing how often people viewed movies on laptops and portable devices and responded to them emotionally, no matter the screen size, such as "a college student who cried softly as she watched Ghost on a portable DVD player on a bus to Toronto."

As he concludes in his introduction, "Nowadays, movies and travel go together almost as often as books and travel always have." Even in decades past, movies provided America's mass audience with its first glimpse of other states or cities and foreign lands and history, no matter how broad-stroke or fictionalized. The pop history of the movies has often become embedded in real history.

"I recently spent a week in Atlanta," Boyar says, "And every tourist attraction there refers to Gone With the Wind. They have the largest aquarium in the world, a great art museum. But at every stop you'll make, somewhere along the line, they'll bring in some mention of the novel or the movie or both."

The result of these insights is this superbly companionable anthology, as healthy, jolly and useful as you'd expect from Boyar's journalism. The categories and selections brim with wit.

Part I, "Good to Go," focuses on types of travel - and you've got to immediately embrace a book that includes M*A*S*H under "Business Trips" (those surgeons really do take care of business) and, under "Travel With Friends," Sideways as well as The Wizard of Oz.

Part II is "America Onscreen." My second-favorite category here is "Out West" (full disclosure: he quotes me on Sam Peckinpah). My favorite is "Small Towns," which includes The Music Man, Breaking Away and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

Part III, "Worldview," is the most ingenious section overall. How can Boyar include that great imperial adventure story, Gunga Din, under "India"? "Think of it as a travel tip: Here's how not to treat the locals."

Interviewing Boyar, and reading him, you sense he gets his distinct, warm brand of savvy from staying close to his feelings about seeing movies as a child with his mom, dad and brothers and as an adult with his wife, Debbie, and son, Evan.

"I think I learned to be a critic because in those days, like most people, we had only one television set - black and white, no color - and there we were, four boys, and you got to watch the show you wanted to watch by convincing the other ones that it was the best and the others were not nearly as good." Showing early signs of the connoisseurship, "I liked the Marx Brothers much better than my brothers did."

In the days when city theaters ran pictures continuously, his dad would pack the kids up in the car and pile them into the theater no matter when the movie started.

"I'd wonder, how could the characters be at this point - what could have happened to them up to now?" Then they'd stay to see the beginning and conduct sotto voce conversations on whether they should remain to see the rest or part of it again. "I think it inspired my imagination and gave me a sense of structure."

But his favorite story about movie-watching with his own son centers on seeing a film to the end. As one of his picks for "Italy" in Films To Go, he chose The Bicycle Thief, Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece about a working-class father's quest to hold onto his manhood in post-World War II Rome. Boyar watched the film with his son. It turned out to be the first time the boy had seen a movie with an unhappy ending.

"He couldn't believe it ends where it ends. And of course it's a miraculous ending. It made me think of the first time I saw a movie with an unhappy ending. It was great to see that experience happening to my own son." Boyar remains passionate about seeing movies in theaters, but he's no purist. He knows some people are better off waiting to plunk a DVD into their state-of-the-art home system rather than enduring a film poorly projected in a cinema full of bleeping, blinking cell phones.

And Boyar doesn't romanticize the American road trip either. "Much of the time, what's the alternative to watching a film - playing 'License Plate'? They asked President Bush a year ago to name his favorite invention. He said it was probably the portable DVD player because he liked watching movies while he traveled. I guess on that issue, at least, he speaks for a lot of people."


Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad