Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pioneer Motel And Public Perception

It’s not as famous as the Bates Motel in Pyscho but the Pioneer Motel, located near Plattsburgh, NY, is part of film history, notably serving as a movie setting.

Recently it was a location in the independent movie, Frozen River. The crime suspense drama depicts a poor North Country mother, needing money to support her children, who meets a Mohawk woman involved in the human smuggling trade. Together they bring undocumented aliens into the US from Canada through the Mohawk reservation that straddles both countries. The passengers concealed in the car trunk are dropped off at the Pioneer Motel.

But this isn’t the first time the Pioneer has appeared on the silver screen. There’s a France-Canada co-production released in 1979 called A nous deux, or Adventure For Two. It starred Catherine Denueve, playing an upper class whore, on the run from the law with a clever crook portrayed by Jaques Dutronc. I saw this classic on a Canadian TV station some time ago and while I don’t speak French, I think I figured out most of the details, especially when some lines in English were included.

After escaping from the law in France, Denueve and Dutronc flee to Montreal and then head south into the US. They end up at the Pioneer Motel.

I remember coverage in the newspaper and on TV about the movie around the time of the local filming. The owner of the Pioneer was wary of letting any film company, especially one from France, using his establishment. He wasn’t familiar with the international fame of actress Catherine Deneueve. He suspected the movie people might be making a certain type of movie for an adult (i.e., prurient) audience.

But he went along with the film company and nothing in the movie made the Pioneer Motel look bad.

The New York State Police also agreed to work with the film crew. It’s too bad they weren’t wary about what they were getting into. Concerned about how their job performance is publicly perceived, police officers sometimes don’t appreciate how they’re portrayed in the movies. And after watching A nous deux, I can understand why.

While hiding out at the Pioneer, Denueve and Dutronc find themselves surrounded by state police cars, red lights flashing, a trooper on a bullhorn telling them (in English, of course) to surrender.

No way out. At least in real life. But this is a movie…

Dutronc tells the cops that he and Deneuve aren’t alone. He lies, saying that they have taken another couple hostage. The cops better play along and give them a couple of cars to get away or the hostages will suffer the consequences.

So the troopers bring in a couple of cars. “OK,” says the trooper in command on his bullhorn. “Bring out the first hostage.”

Dutronc comes holding a woman by her arm, her features disguised with a jacket thrown over her head. He puts her in the car, then gets in and drives away.

“OK,” says the trooper with the bullhorn, “bring out the other hostage.”

Time passes. Crickets chirp. Nothing happens.

There’s a close-up of the trooper in command. “Oh, I get it,” he says after his brain has slowly processed the details and figured out the deception. By this time Deneuve and Dutronc are miles away.

Great way to mold public perception, huh?

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