9 March 2005 | drive-in-2
The color full history of Catalina Island gets the Hollywood glamor treatment in this well-crafted documentary film.
It's a wonder this is the sole documentary in IMDb on the subject of Santa Catalina Island. Considering it's rich and recent history; the wealth, quality, and availability of existing audio-visual elements; and the proximity of Hollywood's film community to this special place. Already famous as a location for motion picture production and a movie star good-time get-a-away, it almost seems too obvious. Just 26 miles off the southern California coast lies this rocky bra-shaped island and its single port town of Avalon. From the Los Angeles metropolis , it is but a day-sail or afternoon cruise through the busy commercial Pacific ocean sea-lanes serving the port of Long Beach . Most of the land mass is protected nature preserves with human habitats so small, after the boat. a golf-cart is the preferred mode of transport. The village citizens share this community with a transplanted population of buffalo (descended from a western movie's animal extras) and steady flow of mainland visitors both famous and common. In one of the numerous well-produced interview segments of the film, the renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau describes the uniqueness of Catalina as an unspoiled marine community in such close proximity to industry and big cities. Maybe that is why other filmmakers had yet to tell its story - the island provides the creative mind with magic environment to relax and be free, so why not keep it as 'our little secret.'
Greg Reitman has done a yeoman's job of stitching together a researched collection of animated stills, interesting archive footage, and passionate and intelligent interview subjects in a style weaving together the perspectives of official town historian, the "islander" local, the chamber of commerce booster, the show business publicist, and the good old fashion film fan. Actor Gregory Harrison, a third generation islander playfully recalls his thespian roots affecting exotic accents to coax coins from ferry passengers he would free dive under the propeller stream to retrieve, stuffing his cheeks like a chipmunk with the booty. His deep connection with the character of the Catalina community is shown as he touchingly described the 'god-like' figure of his father, the glass bottom boat entrepreneur who commanded harbor traffic from the bridge and used record making breath hold skills to chum the sea beneath his tour boats so his customer would see more fish. Reitman has a background in underwater photography, and he cleverly integrates some nice beauty shots from below the surface of the sea. Throughout, great respect is held for nautical culture, the historical record, and entertainment industry rules of etiquette.
The Avalon Casino Ballroom, the landmark rotunda structure the locals exploit as a marketing logo, is the prominent visual feature of the island and a focal point for this documentary too. Its history as a big band dance hall and radio broadcast site provides motivated soundtrack selections and connections to legends. Surf guitar great Dick Dale shares his thrill riding the same elevator used by the biggest names in music and is brought to tears remembering the joy of the time.
The use of the word "Magical" in the title says a lot. Industry icon A.C. Lyles tells of how a young Ronald Reagan came to Catalina from the Midwest as a sports reporter covering the Chicago Cubs. The team trained there because the the largest property holder on the Island was their owner, Mr. William Wrigley, the chewing gum millionaire. The visit directly led to his discovery and studio contract signing. Lyle speculates ".and what if..." The film inspires this feeling of good energy emanating from the special place and the people it has made better. I have been to Catalina more than once and I too would have good things to say if they turned the camera on me,