Thursday, 09 April 2020 12:09

Lights, Camera, Saratoga!

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hunkered down for either the long haul or the short, and a hankering desire for some Spa City scenes? 

Dating back deep into the last century, some of the fruit born from Saratoga’s architectural and historical charm has been captured inside the scrolling frames of celluloid legacy. And with a plethora of screening services available to modern-day mankind – be it via YouTube or Netflix, Amazon Prime and beyond – the once bustling city streetscapes, which one day will bustle with busy-ness yet again, may be enjoyed while ensconced in the plushy comfort of your own abode during these stay-at-home times. 

Boasting unique architecture, historical landscapes and natural scenery from airy greenspace to waterfront properties, the region has provided many a filmmaker’s an ideal setting.  Flip inside to see some of them... 


“Saratoga” filmed in part at Saratoga Race Course, this 1937 film stars Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, and Jean Harlow – the latter in her final film. Harlow collapsed on set during the making of the film, and her unfinished scenes were completed by using a stand-in actress. 

A few years later, the racecourse made another appearance - in the 1947 film “The Homestretch,” as the camera follows a Boston socialite – portrayed by Maureen O’Hara, who navigates across a landscape of various American racetracks and through one rocky marriage. The racecourse also was featured in the 1979 made-for-television drama film My Old Man, starring Kristy McNichol.

Perhaps the most prominent appearance of the racecourse, at least in the modern day, was the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction bestseller, “Seabiscuit: An American Legend.”  During a week-long shoot following the conclusion of the 2002 summer meet, a crew of more than 200 people settled into the Saratoga region transforming the racecourse into a circa-1920s and ‘30s setting;  they removed 20th century fixtures such as televisions and vending machines from the racecourse and boosted local businesses with their patronage, spending money at area restaurants, hotels and dry cleaner establishment, renting computers, and buying office supplies. When the film was released the following year, locals scanned the silver screen for their own faces as film extras alongside actors such as Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges.


A number of Victorian-era homes on and around North Broadway provided the setting for the 1981 film “Ghost Story,” that showcased performances by John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fred Astaire.

Multiple scenes across Saratoga County were used alongside additional settings in Montana and California in the 1998 movie “The Horse Whisperer.” Robert Redford directed and starred in the film, which garnered praise and attention for a 13-year-old relatively unknown Scarlett Johansson, portraying a teenager traumatized by a riding accident. 

In the fall of 1990, 3,000 area hopefuls tried out as extras for the filming of “Billy Bathgate.” Approximately one-third were chosen for the three-week shoot at Saratoga Race Course, the Hall of Springs and at the Gideon Putnam Hotel. Film fans snooped around the region for the film’s stars Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis, Nicole Kidman and then-boyfriend Tom Cruise. Kidman was filmed dancing in the Hall of Springs in the Saratoga Spa State Park. 

A few hundred yards and an entire generation away, a leather-clad Jim Morrison was captured within the cinderblock confines of the backstage area at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in September 1968, some footage of which was eventually used as part of The Doors’ self-produced documentary “Feast of Friends.” 

Historically incorporating portions of the Saratoga story is “12 Years a Slave” (the Solomon Northup story) – released in 2013, and “Saratoga Trunk,” released in 1945 with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

In 2005, the city provided a setting for two different films:  “Aftermath” - which featured Anthony Michael Hall, Tony Danza and Chris Penn - the latter of whom died shortly after the filming, and the dramatic thriller “The Skeptic” -  with a cast that included Tom Arnold and Tim Daly. 

Saratoga Springs native Chris Millis debuted the local premiere of his film “Small Apartments” – starring Billy Crystal and James Caan -  in a sold out event at Saratoga Music Hall in 2013, and local resident and filmmaker and photojournalist Charlie Samuels released his award-winning and critically acclaimed documentary “Virgin Blacktop: A New York Skate Odyssey,” last year. 

Some of the rest: “Virgin Alexander” – a 2011 comedy that depicts a young man who attempts to stave off eviction turns his Saratoga house into a brothel, and “Isabelle,” a horror-filled 2018 film that showcases the life of Matt and Larissa, a young couple who move into their dream home in Saratoga Springs. When the young woman has a chance meeting with a neighbor at the mailbox on the front sidewalk, it all goes downhill pretty quickly. See if you can recognize their Spa City “dream house,” which stands on a distinctive Spa City street.   


You will find glimpses of the surrounding region in films such as “The Way We Were,” starring Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford and featuring the Union College campus of the early 1970s, as well as Front Street in Ballston Spa. “Synecdoche, New York,” – inspired in name if not scenery – stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, who studied acting as a teen at Skidmore College once upon a time. “The Place Beyond The Pines,” features Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling and a slew of bank robberies from Scotia to the Electric City, “The Time Machine’ – 2002 version, was filmed in that city’s Central Park. Angelina Jolie caused mayhem atop the Empire State Plaza ramps to I-787 portraying CIA agent Evelyn Salt in the spring 2009 for the film released as “Salt” a year later. And the city of Troy shows up in “Scent Of A Woman,” “The Age Of Innocence,” and “Ironweed,” based on the book by William Kennedy. 

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