Sunday, July 13, 2014

Breaking Away: 35th Anniversary

Today marks the 35th Anniversary of one of my very favorite films, "Breaking Away." Filmed entirely in Bloomington where I attended Indiana University, it perfectly captured the quirky small-town community that just happened to have over 40,000 students. I say "captured" because Bloomington has changed a lot in the last 35 years!

Dennis Christopher plays Dave, a high school student who struggles to figure out his future. Here he is posing in downtown Bloomington astride his bike:

Here's how the same Courthouse Square looks today:

The struggle between "Town and Gown" (community residents vs. the college students) comes to a head in an epic brawl that takes place at the University Student Union:

The Indiana Memorial Union Cafeteria today:

One of the local quarries plays a major role in the film. Limestone from this quarry was used in the Empire State Building, The Pentagon, and Washington National Cathedral, just to name a few iconic structures. Here Dave sunbathes with his high school friends, played by Dennis Quaid (diving into the quarry) and Daniel Stern.

During my college days, I used to go swimming in the very same quarry, aka Rooftop Quarry. Today, you couldn't pay me enough money to jump into this stagnant cesspool!

One of the most touching scenes in the film is between Dave and his somewhat detached father (played by Paul Dooley), who used to work in one of the quarries. They stroll through the campus near the library, discussing Dave's future after high school.

Father: You guys still go swimmin' in the quarries?
Dave: Sure.
Father: So, the only thing you got to show for my 20 years of work is the holes we left behind?

He goes on, in an awkward attempt to encourage his son to be something that he never was:

I was proud of my work. And the buildings went up. When they were finished the damnedest thing happened. It was like the buildings were too good for us. Nobody told us that. It just felt uncomfortable, that's all.

The very same limestone library today:

The final bike race is breathtaking and emotionally charged; I still get excited watching it, even though I know what the result will be.

All that's left of the original stadium where the race was filmed are the corner limestone pillars:

The film's box office started out extremely slow, thanks to a trailer that does a very poor job of promoting the film.

Happy Anniversary, "Breaking Away"!

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1 comment:

Michael Joyce said...

Wow Dave,
35 years!
I was in the Feature Production office at Fox working on this project. If my memory severs me right, the budget for this film was around 2.3 million. This small film was a delight to work on. And it was a huge financial surprise for us in the Production Office. I don't remember the Studio being as excited. The Production Office staff were basically the supervisors of the hands on technicians of the films. We were very excited when the film was nominated for 9 Oscars. Winning for the Best Original Screenplay and in the running for Best Picture and Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. It also won Best Comedy in the Golden Globes.
I can still remember when we were thrilled to learn that the TV rights were sold for $5 million, that covered the budget and then some.
The Director, Peter Yates was the very best. He always spread the success of the project to the support from the Feature Production Office. Richard Berger (a Disney link as he eventually became President of Walt Disney Pictures and launched Touchstone Pictures) was the creative executive on the project. In fact the record album covers that Dave has in the film are actually Richard's portrait, since we didn't have to pay any royalties for the photos. I remember speaking to Patrizia Von Brandenstein when she was the Production Designer on Betrayed in 1988 that her budget on Breaking Away (she is credited as the Art Director) was $15,000. Hard to believe.
If I remember correctly, the shoot for the big race was scheduled on the same days that a major game was being played. So we were left with hardly any crowd extras.
Now, we had had some experience with putting crowds together for the concert scenes in "The Rose", so we put that knowledge to work. I remember there were some give-aways and a free trip to Hollywood and Fox. The girls that won that prize got me as a tour guide of Fox and LA as well as a date for the weekend. (Ah... the labors of working in the Production Office). My boss, Herb Wallerstein (the Sr. VP of Production at Fox) went out to Bloomington on the days of the race and helped direct one of the 2nd Unit crews. The small crowd in the stands was moved around from place to place to "fill in" the stadium. We then obtained race footage from previous races (on 16mm) and cut those big shots into the sequence. All in all the sequence seemed to work.
I think at the time the lack of Studio excitement was because we had another sport film shooting at the same time in Alton, Illinois - "Dreamer". It had Tim Matheson, Susan Blakely and Jack Warden and I think double the budget. And the studio was sure that since "Dreamer" was about Bowling and had a big cast, the audiences would line up to see it. (I guess they were bowling instead).
Thanks for the poke of the old memory stick. "Breaking Away" will always be a fond memory for me.
Mike Joyce