For most, sites like the coffee shop where color-coded gangsters discuss "Like a Virgin" in the opening scene of "Reservoir Dogs," or the church where Dustin Hoffman's character wields a cross against irate wedding guests in "The Graduate," remain part of the fictive landscape of pop culture. But "Pop Pilgrims," a new web series from the Onion's sister site the A.V. Club, proves they're more accessible than one might think.
The series will chronicle visits to 36 iconic locales from film, TV and music over 12 weeks. Other featured destinations include the "Friday Night Lights" football field in Austin, Jimmy Stewart's San Francisco apartment from "Vertigo," and Oregon's Timberline Lodge, whose exterior is seen in "The Shining."
"Pop Pilgrims" was inspired by a 2009 Slate piece in which A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps retraced the path of "Easy Rider." The series launched last week on AVClub.com with its first three installments, all set in L.A.
"There's just something about knowing that the locations of your favorite scenes from movies or TV shows or places where musical history happened are completely available," said A.V. Club Managing Editor Kyle Ryan, who serves as a producer on the series. "I think when films and TV shows become revered ... there's some distance between the person experiencing it and what's on screen."
Though they were able to secure interviews with industry insiders such as "Friday Night Lights" director/producer Michael Waxman, some subjects proved more elusive. "A lot of the time, some of the best people we would like to talk to at these locations are no longer -- or were never -- local, Ryan says. "It's like, 'Let's get the location scout for "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to do Chicago,' but he's now a high-powered producer in Los Angeles."
Ryan says the establishments the series' producers visited were generally welcoming. In the "Graduate" segment, for example, Rev. Linda from United Methodist Church cheerfully points out the window Dustin Hoffman famously pounds on and jokes, "We've often thought of putting one of those cardboard cutout pictures of him there." But Ryan notes that the church's attitude toward the film is ambivalent. "It's not terribly pro-religion or pro-marriage," he says. "It didn't really occur to me that the message wasn't something they're really excited to promote. Swinging a crucifix into people -- what, you guys weren't into that?"
There were plenty of surprises in store for the entertainment-obsessed crew. They learned that the exterior of Paddy's pub from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is actually shot in L.A, and that the interior of Timberline Lodge looks nothing like that of Stanley Kubrick's fictional "Overlook Lodge," which was filmed on a set.
The cannibal house from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is now a restaurant. "I knew there would be irony involved," says comedian Dan Telfer, who hosted the segment. "But the people who work in that restaurant literally have no idea what happens in that movie. They just know it's a horror movie. They're not aware that they're cooking bacon and giant steaks and stuff in this room where there was once hundreds of animal skulls and [a] simulated human eaten."
Viewers are invited to propose future pilgrimages on The A.V. Club's website, and suggestions so far have been divisive. "I was reading the comments, and someone said that this is going to ignite a nerd war between different factions of nerds," Ryan says. "There are indie people who want super obscure stuff, versus people who wants films that are shared among lots of people. Some people want us to come to Savannah for "Forrest Gump," which to be honest, isn't a film held in terribly high esteem among A.V. Club editors."
The project's purpose, according to Ryan, was not only to show just how ubiquitous these landmarks are, but ultimately to strike a personal chord with viewers in a way that only true pop culture devotion can.
"I don't know if it's a good thing or bad thing, but pop culture can resonate with people in a lot of ways more than just straight-up historical sites. You can go to the Alamo and say, 'This is where Texas settlers fended off the Mexican army' and you can appreciate that. Or you can stand on the field in Austin where they shot 'Friday Night Lights' and be like 'Oh My God!,' which is what we did."