Arts & Entertainment

It was filmed in Sacramento

Sacramento’s movie career began promisingly enough, when photographer Eadweard Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope here in the 1880s. This device was created at the urging of one-time governor Leland Stanford, to satisfy his curiosity about whether his racing horses ever got all four feet off the ground when running. The zoopraxiscope was able to project photos of a running horse in quick succession, yielding the answer to Stanford’s question (yes) and the beginnings of motion-picture technology.

Somehow, being the “home of the zoopraxiscope” wasn’t enough to best Los Angeles as the capital of the film industry. Still, Hollywood has hired Sacramento for plenty of film cameos. In the 1920s, Mississippi riverboat pictures—filled with gamblers, showgirls and pastoral scenes of Southern living—were all the rage with moviegoers. From 1914 through 1935, more than 20 feature-length films that used the Delta area as a stand-in for the Mississippi River were made in Sacramento.

The Delta also doubled as the Yukon in Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush in 1924. Many in Sacramento’s vagrant population were happy to serve as extras in the gold-mining scenes. Buster Keaton also made a comedy here. His 1928 Steamboat Bill, Jr., was filmed along the Sacramento River and used both the Discovery Park area and the town of Freeport in the train-station scenes.

The financial drain of the Great Depression put a cap on the grand riverboat pictures of the 1920s, and Hollywood stopped calling on Sacramento with any regularity. In the absence of more-mainstream gigs, the city became a backdrop for many cult-film favorites. The most notable of these is 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, a sci-fi spoof about murderous vegetables filmed entirely in the capital city on a minuscule budget. Howard T. Duck flew over Delta marshes in his spacecraft in 1986. Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye found a dead body on the banks of the American River near Arden Way in the 1987 crime drama River’s Edge. And as recently as 2000, local rapper Brotha Lynch Hung’s cannibal horror film, Now Eat: The Movie, featured a backyard-barbecue scene shot in Sacramento.

Though Sacramento hardly ever appears as itself in a movie, Hollywood still uses the River City as a stand-in for “Anytown, USA” shots—especially in the Fabulous 40s. The opening aerial shots of American Beauty are actually Sacramento, as are the snow-lined streets of Harrisburg, Pa., in Lucky Numbers. Sean Penn violates firearm-security laws inside the Sacramento International Airport in the upcoming thriller The Assassination of Richard Nixon, due out later this year.

Recently, Sacramento was given a chance to play itself, as the setting for Her Minor Thing, a locally produced romantic comedy from Crescent Moon Films scheduled for release in 2005. Can an Oscar for best location be far behind?