I was born in Columbus, Indiana. We left when I was six, joining the rolling, westward ho to Arizona, where my father found work as a front-end mechanic. Every time I drive Route 66 I feel a quiet excitement, because I'm sure that was the guiding undercurrent as my newlywed parents pushed past Oklahoma and New Mexico, following a much more optimistic Mother Road in the early '60s than Steinbeck wrote about during the Depression.
What were they leaving behind? For the answer, take in writer and director Kogonado's wonderful Columbus (2017)--now playing at The Loft Cinema. It is a love letter to the city's surprising array of modern architecture, rated No. 6 in the U.S. by the American Institute of Architects. Yep, right behind the slovenly burgs of San Francisco and New York.
This "New World optimism," as the film's star John Cho called it, is reflected in buildings such as Columbus' First Christian Church. When I ponder churches--in the unthinking, generalist sense--what comes to mind is something baroque and ornamented, not clean and unadorned. That's an unfair rap. The holy, the spiritual, abounds just as naturally in constructs of cast stone, sheer elevations, and spiraling geometry.
The post-war aesthetic also found a home in Tucson, and if you like lists, you'll enjoy the Modern 50 put together by the Modern Architecture Preservation Project of Tucson. (There's actually now a Second 50, for a total of 100.) The photos above show No. 13 (top), the original Faith Lutheran Church on 5th Street, and No. 17, which began as the Lutheran Church of the King on Kolb. We motor past these today with nary a second glance, but Tucson's 1950s-era fathers put their faith in God and architecture, with groundbreaking examples of pre-cast, reinforced, and colored concrete.
What does this have to do with film? At a prosaic level, modern buildings often make great locations. The Mad Men and women have to stand in front of something, and the 2009 Yankee Stadium ain't it. But for life-long residents of Columbus, it is home, now writ digital large. "To see our city on the big screen and shot with such an artistic eye is fabulous," said Karen Niverson, the executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
Production-wise, Tucson and Columbus have something in common. Neither states offer tax incentives, but both Indiana and Arizona now have brand new film commissioners. That's a huge step in the right direction.
'Cause you know what? Arizona is fabulous, too. I guess mom and dad just knew how to pick them.