Hometown `Boy'

A coming-of-age film shoot briefly turned Bolton Hill into another age, too: Georgetown 1963

December 11, 2006|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,Sun reporter

Cadillacs and DeSotos own the streets again. Men dress for success in tapeworm-thin ties. Suddenly, smoking is socially acceptable and transistor radios the epitome of cutting-edge technology.

For a month, yesterday came back from the dead in Baltimore. The cast and crew of Boy of Pigs - an independent feature that completed filming over the weekend - re-created the recent past right down to the detail of forbidding actors to sport any hint of a sideburn.

Boy of Pigs is set during the waning days of John F. Kennedy's glam presidency. Most of the filming was done in Bolton Hill, which served as the double for Georgetown circa 1963. Remember? That lull before the social-change storm of the '60s kicked in? When the world at least seemed a quieter, gentler place?

"There's still such an enduring fascination with that era," producer Kevin Leydon observed one morning last week, as he stood outside a brownstone on Eutaw Place.

Inside, Gretchen Mol, who earned raves for her star turn as a kinky pinup girl in The Notorious Bettie Page, and 13-year-old Cameron Bright, who glittered in the comedy Thank You for Smoking, were preparing for one of their final scenes.

Boy of Pigs is a "twofer" coming-of-age movie: It's about a teenager's and a country's parallel loss of innocence.

Raging hormones have long been cinematic go-to material. Each generation feels compelled to make its own coming-of-age contributions. Mickey Rooney wrestled with adolescence and World War II in 1943's The Human Comedy. James Dean gained immortality thanks to Rebel Without a Cause.

Toss a personal favorite onto the pile: To Kill a Mockingbird ... Breaking Away ... The Last Picture Show ... Stand By Me ... American Graffiti ... What's Eating Gilbert Grape ... Cinema Paradiso ... Francois Truffaut's autobiographical The 400 Blows. Extend the parameters a bit and you can include Diner, Barry Levinson's definitive refusing-to-come-of-age film, or The Graduate, the biting 1967 coming-of-adulthood satire that was Dustin Hoffman's breakthrough movie.

"Everybody had these emotions and these feelings. I think that's why the genre will never go away," says Alex Metcalf, who grew up in Georgetown and wrote the screenplay for Boy of Pigs.

The title is a wordplay twist on a political low point of the Kennedy years, the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that failed to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

"It really weaves the two stories together in a way I've never seen," says Mol, explaining why she decided to squeeze this shoot into her schedule around a big-budget Russell Crowe Western. "It's such a period of intrigue and drama. ... The script really moved me. It pulled me in."

It also struck a chord with Noah Wyle, the former hunk-doctor of TV's ER, who signed on to play Bright's father. Both he and Mol opted to roll the career dice and work with first-time director William Olsson on a modest-budget project that has no distributor.

The city was agog a few months ago over Bruce Willis, who also used Baltimore as a Washington stand-in while filming Live Free or Die Hard. Boy of Pigs kept a much-lower profile. The producers want to generate their buzz at showcases such as the Sundance Film Festival. They're betting that a bit of star power and a strong story line will draw an audience, and that the Kennedy-era backdrop might also work some magic.

Kennedy has become a symbolic bridge between the Cold War and the computer age, between the end of segregation and the beginning of Beatlemania. The Hollywood-handsome president is the face of simpler times. Good guys and bad guys were easier to distinguish, right and wrong came in fewer shades of gray - largely because more secrets stayed under wraps and the media circus wasn't open 24 hours in those days.

Mol, who's 34, wasn't alive when Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Her parents have told her about that awful day. She learned even more about that era when preparing for her Boy of Pigs part, in which she plays a painter who was once married to a CIA operative - and who's having an affair with the president.

"The sort of paranoia that was there, I didn't totally have an understanding of it before I started working on this," says Mol, who is now familiar with the likes of Operation Mongoose, code name for assorted anti-Cuban CIA activities that included, of all things, trying to kill Castro with an exploding cigar.

Mol's Boy of Pigs character, blond-bombshell Catherine Caswell (shades of rumored Oval Office flame Marilyn Monroe?), becomes embroiled in a web of high-stakes political machinations by virtue of her Kennedy dalliance.

Adam Stafford, a precocious, raging-hormone neighbor played by Bright, develops a crush on her - and pries into Caswell's very private life, discovering more than he bargained for.

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