Every Mother’s Day, as a youngster in Philadelphia, my family would go to the Art Museum. We would bet on how many people we would see run up the steps and pose triumphantly at the top. I think the most we ever saw in the twenty-minute walk from our car was ten people making that climb. The image of the underdog boxer conquering those 72 steps is an indelible one.
In the Spring of 2009, I studied abroad in Prague. I went to class 20feet from the famed Astronomical Clock. At least once a week, I walked past where monumental student protests in 1989 overthrew the Communist RÃ©gime. But still, nothing sent waves of excitement through my fellow students like seeing the club where Rihanna filmed her “Don’t Stop the Music” video.
Certainly, no one is above the impulse to superimpose themselves into movie history. In Rome for spring break, my friends and I pretended to be Audrey Hepburn on the Spanish Steps and Lizzie McGuire in the Colosseum. People pay to take tours of Manhattan just to see a cafÃ© where Carrie Bradshaw had a disastrous date.
“Chasing Liberty” (2004) is a thoroughly formulaic movie about the First Daughter escaping from the overprotective eyes of the Secret Service. The theme has been covered in countless other mediums, from “Roman Holiday” to “The West Wing” to “First Daughter.” Even in the face of cynicism, the film does have a certain amount of charm. The first part of the movie takes place in Prague, where the President (Mark Harmon) is attending a G-8 summit. His daughter, Anna (Mandy Moore), tries to run away to the Berlin Love Parade. On her first night of freedom in Prague, she takes a motorcycle ride across the Charles Bridge, goes skinny-dipping, and watches an opera from a roof-top in Old Town Square, all three of which are certainly illegal.
One scene finds her on the banks of the Vlatva River, which she believes to be the Danube. There, she drunkenly professes her urge to swim naked in the Danube. So she strips down and jumps into the Danube, which is really the Vlatva. While I am not condoning skinny-dipping in this urban river, the best place to dip your bare feet in the water is off Shooters Island off the Legions Bridge.
Kanye West chose Prague for his music video “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” He contrasts the luxurious gloss of Prague with the abject conditions of child diamond miners. Unfortunately, the video is ridiculously pretentious, in true Kanye fashion. Shot entirely in black and white, he walks over a deserted Charles Bridge, drives through Old Town Square in what seems to be a DeLorian, and plays two pianos at once. Reportedly, he chose Prague because the city reminded him of the timeless nature of diamonds. Shots of children working in caves are cut with scenes of bleeding diamonds, interspersed with Kanye brooding and vamping. If you want a bit of that Kanye feel (and don’t have the means to crash the VMA stage), stroll over to the Charles Bridge, pop your coat collar and try to imagine the throngs of tourists as slivers of inspiration.
I think it is wise to warn against using the Charles Bridge scene from “Mission: Impossible” as inspiration. The first half of the 1996 movie is set in Prague, with rather grisly results. A murder takes place on the bridge in the dark of night, and bodies begin to pile up. One scene takes place in a restaurant supposedly in Old Town Square. However, the faÃ§ade would be considered too garish in Las Vegas. Tom Cruise’s character visits the restaurant and leaves ungraciously by exploding the neon-blue fish tank. The water spills into Old Town Square, allowing Cruise to escape into Prague. This establishment doesn’t exist in Prague, but sometimes, I go sit by the Jan Hus Statue and wait for Tom Cruise to come running out of an explosion.
One sight in Prague that is relatively unknown, but often is featured in film is the interior of the National Museum in Wenceslas Square. The foyer is used as a venue for state galas in both “Chasing Liberty” and “Mission: Impossible.” The museum sits at the top of the historic square and has been witness to the evolution of Prague, yet the interior is always used as a generic hall. The building itself is much more interesting than the contents. It is filled with bones and rocks. Mostly rocks. With an entrance fee of 150kc ($7.50USD), it isn’t worth it, just to see where Mandy Moore shows off her new haircut.
Prague is a city that has seen the rise and fall of both Nazism and Communism. Since the advent of moving pictures, the city has been the seat of five different governments. But still, the city has retained the timeless beauty that drew Kanye West to film his video here. He subtly condemned the materialism of Prague, while “Chasing Liberty” embraced the city as something mysterious and enticing. These films generally ignore the crushing repression of Communism, instead focusing on the glamour of this Central European city. Seeing the same sights over and over again in films turns them into blank spaces that we can impose ourselves onto. By standing where Tom Cruise did, I don’t feel more like him, but I do feel a part of a shared cultural experience. Those who run up the steps of the Art Museum will probably never “go the distance” with the World Heavyweight Champion, but they can share that one minor victory.
Shooters Island off Legions Bridge
Trams 6, 9, 22, or 23 at either Narodni divadlo or Ujezd
Trams 17 or 18 at Karlovy lazne
Old Town Square
Staromestska Metro Station
Vaclavske namesti 68
Museum Metro Station