States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

United States of Cinema: the Atlantic

The Eastern Seaboard is the next stop on our cinematic road trip, as we pick one film which best represents each of the 50 states

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Still from "The Warriors"

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

Every day this week, we'll be taking a cinematic road trip through all 50 states of America – what are the clichés, the archetypes, and the shining examples that represent each state's individualistic character? We split the US into five regions (the Pacific, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Atlantic). So hop in the car for the United States of Cinema.

If you were to choose a film for each American state – one that best describes the character of the place – trends start to emerge. There are the obvious clichés (horse films in Kentucky), and the inconspicuous (coming-of-age dramas in Illinois). Surveying the Wikipedia listings of which films were set in which states, we combed through to pick the best films that represent each of their respective states.

CONNECTICUT – Trouble in suburbia

THE ICE STORM (1997) – ANG LEE

Thanksgiving always brings out the best – or the worst – in cinema's dysfunctional family units. Featuring fresh-faced turns from Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood (none of whom seem to have aged since, anyway), The Ice Storm revolves around two families residing in New Canaan, Connecticut. The year is 1973, and both adults and teenagers are trying to cope with tumultuous political and economic change in any way they can (read: alcohol, adultery and sex). I swear this film revived the "keys in the bowl" swingers party.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: For Hollywood studios and independent directors, Connecticut equals suburbia. Just close enough to New York for young couples to settle down with their growing families, it's the simmering tensions of married life plus 2.4 kids that give films set in this state their dramatic tension. With its classic tale of the dysfunction shared by teens and their parents alike, Ang Lee's film is a staple of the family drama. 

Other films set in Connecticut: The Invitation, Stepford Wives, Revolutionary Road

DELAWARE – What happens before a Big Bang

FIGHT CLUB (1999) – DAVID FINCHER

The first rule of Fight Club? You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club? You do not talk about Fight Club. Needless to say Brad Pitt's advice rang true in the case of this '99 adaptation of Palahniuk's novel, with its engrossing style and gut-wrenching, "must-rewind" twist at the end. Everybody remembers the first time they saw this film, and you might wish you could un-remember it.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Hear us out. Whilst filming may have taken place in and around Los Angeles – including in Wilmington – Palahniuk's original novel is set in Wilmington, Delaware. And it's really the latter location that infuses itself into the film – the apartment that the narrator lives in is called "Pierson Towers", and the motto is "a place to be somebody" (the city motto for IRL Wilmington, Delaware). That irony-laced statement sums up Delaware's film history pretty well, as its residents all have to take a long look at themselves in the mirror before their life – and the movie – reaches its inevitable, explosive conclusion. 

Other films set in Delaware: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World 

MAINE – Cuddly creatures great and small

CUJO (1983) – LEWIS TEAGUE

"Now there's a new name for terror" declared promotional material for this 1983 horror by Lewis Teague; unfortunately, audiences and critics weren't so convinced that this tale of an adorable St. Bernard turned evil could match up to earlier Stephen King adaptations Carrie or The Shining. Post-Beethoven, of course, it starts to look even sillier.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Whether it's set in a sleepy family town or a holiday destination, Maine's main movies almost always feature cutesy creatures. Cujo might not be so cuddly, of course, but The Iron Giant and Charlotte's Web are as family-friendly as they come. And, as The Parent Trap proved in 1998, even Lindsay Lohan was once cute as a button.

Other films set in Maine: The Iron Giant, The Parent Trap, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Charlotte's Web 

MARYLAND – A John Waters playground

CRY-BABY (1990) – JOHN WATERS

Before turns as a pirate and, er, a computer, Johnny Depp first won our hearts as Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, a leather-clad, motorcycle-riding teen dream in 1950s Baltimore, Maryland. The cult classic was John Waters' follow-up to Hairspray, the 1988 smash set a little later, in 1962. 

WHY WE CHOSE IT: While there might be more to Maryland than Baltimore, in the viewing public's eyes, the city is John Waters territory. Somewhere between the PG joys of Hairspray and the X-rated "exercise in poor taste" Pink Flamingos, Cry-Baby is a happy medium: not as clean-cut as Grease, but not as greasy as other Waters outings nonetheless. Plus, Johnny Depp is a total dreamboat.

Other films set in Maryland: Hairspray, Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble

MASSACHUSETTS – The trouble with being a genius

PROZAC NATION (2001) – ERIK SKJOLDBJAERG

Christina Ricci is a grenade in this film. It's most definitely one of her best performances as she can turn into a tear-drenched raging bitch at the drop of a hat. The film is an adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel's bestselling, generation-defining autobiography of the same name charting her highs and ultra-lows during her first year at Harvard. Prescribed Prozac for her severe depression, Elizabeth (Ricci) gets a scholarship to Harvard after writing a tell-all for Rolling Stone. Throughout her depression, she brings friends (a young Michelle Williams!) and lovers along for the tumultuous ride as she crumbles on screen, losing her ability to write.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Cambridge, Massachusetts is home to the world's most famous university, and plenty of filmmakers have captured the not-entirely-painless experiences of those who attend its hallowed halls. Good Will Hunting and The Social Network are good examples of the onwards-and-upwards trajectory that talented students both fictional and non-fictional undergo in this environment. But its Prozac Nation that really brings home the realism of a disorder that brings neither glamour nor fame to its sufferers – only writer's block, and pills.

Other films set in Massachusetts: Good Will Hunting, The Social Network

NEW HAMPSHIRE – Faithful page-to-screen adaptations, for better or worse

THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (2002) – ROGER AVARY

Hi, James Van Der Beek! This 2002 adaptation of Bret Easton-Ellis's 1987 novel stuck by the book – in fact, Ellis has been quoted as saying it was the only film he sees as having truly captured the spirit of his work – but unfortunately, that may have been its very problem in the eyes of audiences. But with sex, drugs, and characters doing ultimately nasty things to each other at every turn, this tale of dissolution in a fictional New Hampshire college has become a cult classic. 

WHY WE CHOSE IT: From critical panning to sleeper cult-classic, this page-to-screen adaptation has the unusual honour of being well-regarded by the novelist, and poorly regarded by viewers. But for a generation used to discovering early-noughties movies on the internet, the superficial events ring hollow in a pleasant way. Other, more traditionally successful adaptations range from On Golden Pond to Lolita. Also, there's James Van Der Beek (which is just fun to say). 

Other films set in New Hampshire: Lolita, On Golden Pond, Affliction

NEW JERSEY – Odd couples that go against the grain

RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988) – SIDNEY LUMET

Sidney Lumet's film chronicles a counterculture couple on the run from the FBI – so far so Bonnie & Clyde, but add in River Phoenix as one of their sons and you've got one helluva moving family drama. With Judd Hirsch and Martha Plimpton playing the parents who blew up a napalm lab in the 70s to protest the war, this film asks the question: at what point does a rebel turn into the authority figure that must be protested?

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Seems that going against the grain is a New Jersey speciality. From Jack Black to Mos Def (Be Kind Rewind) and John Cusack and Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovitch – yes, we're talking about that turnpike wormhole), New Jersey's odd couples are always coming up with kooky schemes to get ahead. Running on Empty takes our prize though, for turning the zaniness down to a minimum – the emotional turmoil of giving up one's family is very real, and stays with you on a first viewing. Okay, and River Phoenix may have been a factor. Try not crying after you hear "Fire and Rain" after watching this.

Other films set in New Jersey: American Hustle, American Gangster, Being John Malkovitch, Be Kind Rewind

NEW YORK – The city that never sleeps

THE WARRIORS (1979) – WALTER HILL

"Warriorrrrs, come out to playy-eee-ayyy" (this was apparently improvised). Based on Sol Yurick's 1965 novel of the same name, The Warriors chronicles the titular gang on a single journey through Manhattan from the Bronx to Coney Island. Sounds simple, except that every other gang in the city – "the armies of the night" – is hunting each of them down. Framed for the murder of the leader of the most powerful gang in the city, the premise sees the Warriors dodging policemen and gang members under and on the night-covered streets of NYC. Surely the worst commute ever committed to celluloid, Walter Hill's adaptation caused havoc at cinemas on its release – most controversially when it was connected to outbreaks of vandalism and three killings involving moviegoers.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: How to whittle down the film output of the Big Apple? One way is to take a bite into the juicy nightlife. As films like the Last Days of Disco and Saturday Night Fever bear witness to, in NYC you can dance all night long. When the music stops, however, things get a little darker. The after-hours atmosphere of the city permeates Scorcese's best work, of course – but its the timeline and tempo of The Warriors that brings the tensions of a single night on the run, on this seemingly endless Island, closest to home. Plus the most sultry radio announcer of all time.

Other films set in New York: Taxi Driver, After Hours, Saturday Night Fever, The Last Days of Disco, Party Monster

PENNSYLVANIA – Am I crazy, or…?

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) – HAROLD RAMIS

The last Bill Murray smash hit before the Murraysance of the early 00s, Groundhog Day took a simple (and certainly not entirely original) premise and made movie gold. Between Murray's comic timing and the strange "stop-and-chats" he has to have with the locals ("Ned! Needlenose Ned, Ned the Head, c'mon, buddy! Case Western High!"), this film about living the same day again, and again, and again made audiences come running – again, again, and again. Funnily enough, film critic Roger Ebert, who originally donned the film only 3 stars, reckoned that he only recognised its true merits after repeated viewings.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Because it will make you hate your alarm even more and now whenever I order a sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, I toast to world peace. Pennsylvania (which, neatly enough, is known as the "State of Independence") is home to people who are crazy. Or, rather, people who might be crazy. Set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the best thing about Groundhog Day – compared to the Sixth Sense, say is how real it all seems, despite the (literally) loopy premise. 

Other films set in Pennsylvania: 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Girl, Interrupted

RHODE ISLAND  Farrelly family gross-out

OSMOSIS JONES (2001) – PETER FARRELLY & BOBBY FARRELLY

Forget Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Osmosis Jones is the 21st century's (that's post-00's, can't discount Space Jam) most underrated marriage of live action and animation. It's also highly educational. Directed by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon for the animated segments and the Farrelly brothers for the live-action ones, the film stars Bill Murray as a zookeeper who eats a hard-boiled egg that's got chimpanzee germs on it (and I quote, "Ten second rule!"). Taking place inside his body, the animated plotline sees smooth talking Osmosis "Ozzy" Jones (voiced by Chris Rock), a blue and white blood cell, fighting to save the day. As with much of the Farrelly brother's output, the level of scatalogical humour turned most critics off. 

WHY WE CHOSE IT: Because, if Rhode Island is going to be claimed as the cinematic terrain of Misters Peter and Bobby Farrelly, we might as well learn something while we're at it. 

Other films set in Rhode Island: Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene, There's Something About Mary

VERMONT  Something stirring in the idyll

DEAD POET'S SOCIETY (1989) – PETER WEIR

Peter Weir's 1989 movie about an English teacher in a private boys school cemented Robin Williams's reputation as an acting force to be reckoned with. But the film isn't really about Williams at all – instead, its stars are the impressionable young boys whom he teaches about appreciating poetry, living life to the fullest, and wooing girls.  

WHY WE CHOSE IT: The autumnal leaves and scholastic environment of Dead Poet's Society sums up perfectly the sense of films set in Vermont having something of a "Trouble in New England Paradise" feel.

Other films set in Vermont: The Trouble with HarryShopgirl, Sucker Punch

KENTUCKY – Fighting for free speech

PAPER CUT (2004) – ARCHIE BORDERS

Surely set to become a cult classic within the decade, Paper Cut is the Kentucky based chronicle of three college grads who set up an alt-newspaper, Gonzo. But when Carly, Morgan, and Chuck enter into a bizarre love triangle, both business and friendship come under threat.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: There's more to the Bluegrass State than horses. No, really – there's a mini-genre of Kentucky-set films that all concern themselves with "fighting the power" in some respect. We chose Paper Cut because, unlike The Insider or The People vs. Larry Flynt, it's not based on a high-profile, true story cases – instead, in depicting the highs and lows of running an alternative newspaper, it keeps to the gonzo, cut-and-paste spirit of that other famous Louisville resident: Hunter S. Thompson

Other films set in Kentucky: The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Insider, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson

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