Southern Oregon on the Silver Screen: A Brief History

By Edwin Battistella Guest Columnist

The Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon in Jacksonville, featured in The  Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (directed by Philip Kaufman, 1972). Photo courtesy of Edwin Battistella

The Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon in Jacksonville, featured in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (directed by Philip Kaufman, 1972). Photo courtesy of Edwin Battistella

Film-friendly Southern Oregon has recently been the location for dozens of feature and short films and boasts its own Ashland Independent Film Festival. Diverse filming locations, strong infrastructure and a wealth of local talent make the region attractive to filmmakers, and it’s an attraction with a long history.

Among the earliest films shot in Southern Oregon was Grace’s Visit to the Rogue Valley, a 1914 promotional film for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Starring former Broadway actress Grace Andrews, the film included footage of Crater Lake, Medford, Ashland, and the Siskiyou Pass.

Over the years, rugged Southern Oregon outdoor locations have played a role in Hollywood films. Park Avenue Logger, featuring Ward Bond, was filmed in Grants Pass in 1937. The film’s premise: a millionaire thinks his son is too bookish, so he sends him west to learn logging at one of his lumber camps. His son then uncovers how his father is being cheated by the local boss.

A screen shot of the opening of Grace's Visit to the Rogue River Valley. Photo courtesy of  Edwin Battistella

A screen shot of the opening of Grace’s Visit to the Rogue River Valley. Photo courtesy of Edwin Battistella

Historic Jacksonville was the setting and site for Last of the Wild Horses, directed by Robert Lippert, most known for producing films such as The Last Man on Earth (1964).  Jacksonville was again featured in the 1972 film The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, about a failed bank robbery by Jesse James and Cole Younger. During the filming, the design crew covered streets in dirt, installed wooden sidewalks and hitching posts, and even added a new building in the town. Jacksonville had such a terrible time with the cleanup that the city avoided much outdoor filming until just a few years ago. Perhaps that’s why Bruce Campbell built the fictional town of Gold Lick for his 2007 film My Name Is Bruce (about a B-movie actor mistaken for his character and called upon to battle zombies) on his own property in Jacksonville.

Baseball, not zombies, was the lure of the 2009 film Calvin Marshall, with scenes also shot at the athletic facilities of Southern Oregon University, North Mountain Park in Ashland, and at Harry & David Field in Medford. And in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (2013), Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning are environmental extremists plotting to blow up a hydroelectric dam. The Galesville Dam near Roseburg was used and scenes were also filmed in Medford, Ashland, and at the Lake of the Woods near Klamath Falls.

Plaque in Jacksonville commemorating The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. Photo courtesy of Edwin Battistella

Plaque in Jacksonville commemorating The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. Photo courtesy of Edwin Battistella

The wild Rogue River has been the scene of several films, including part of 1975’s Rooster Cogburn (after which John Wayne became owner of a historic ranch in Selma, Oregon). And the 1995 film Dead Man, with Johnny Depp as an accountant named William Blake, included a Makah village constructed along the Rogue in Grants Pass.

The rivers, landscape and period homes are part of what attracts filmmakers to Southern Oregon. Local support from officials, businesses and groups like Southern Oregon Film and Media are all part of the picture, as well. And sometimes, the attraction is the people. When Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild was filming in Ashland, the call for extras called for “hippies, deadheads, punk rockers, grunge, people with tattoos/piercings, dreadlocks, etc.” It was a bit of counter-culture typecasting, but there were plenty of applicants.

Edwin Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University, and is on the editorial board of the Oregon Encyclopedia of History and Culture. His most recent book is Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology (Oxford University Press, 2014).

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