Friday, March 4, 2011

E.T. is our home

Our Los Angeles home is in Porter Ranch, a residential area in “the Valley”, making up the north of Los Angeles. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have to cross streets like White Oak Avenue, while Brasilia Drive is locally notorious for the house on the corner with Reseda, whose Halloween display attracts thousands of local visitors each year. None of these streets will ring a bell with anyone – not even most people from the Valley – as they are nowhere near as famous as other “real L.A.” streets like Sunset Boulevard or Rodeo Drive. But this area of Porter Ranch is where many of the scenes of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” were filmed. It is why Porter Ridge Park, at the top of Reseda, is better known amongst locals as “E.T. Park” than under its real name.

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is a movie that is remembered for all the right reasons. It left an imprint on an entire generation. Shortly after we had moved in, Giorgio Tsoukalos came to our home and we related the E.T.-connections of this area. He explained how as a child, he had identified with Elliot, but as he grew up, he realised that he was Peter Coyote’s unnamed character, but nicknamed “Keys” because of the keys he has on him. Though for many he is the nemesis of Elliot, “Keys” tells Elliot that he has waited to see an alien since he was ten years old. What is happening – alien contact – is therefore a dream come true for both of them.

The vision of E.T. was Spielberg’s, who developed an imaginary alien creature as his personal companion when he was a child himself, after his parents had divorced. The movie is largely autobiographical, on an imaginary scale. But living in Porter Ranch, driving up Reseda at night and seeing the lights of the Valley below you (as in the movie) or driving along White Oak and imaging Elliot take off on his bike are a magical dimension laid onto this landscape by Spielberg. The crew spent only eleven days filming here, but its legacy on Porter Ranch is – three decades later – still alive.

Porter Ranch thirty years ago was being built – as is apparent in many of the scenes. The police car chase ends with a view of Mission Peak and its surrounding area, a view we can see from our home which was not yet built at the time. Today, Porter Ranch is residential and known for it. The only somewhat weird activity that occurs in Porter Ranch and which is visible to residents is geocaching, but imagining NASA personnel walking through the streets with Geiger counters in search of extra-terrestrial beings is something where your mind wanders to because of the movie. For E.T. is so… real. It is like a layer laid upon reality, but touchable – and I guess to some extent it is, for you only need to put the movie into your DVD player and there it is.

What happens in Porter Ranch is to me a 20th century version of an ancient shamanic landscape. The shaman saw not only the land with his physical eyes, he always so it with his mind, as a result of which he saw spirits, demons, the ancestors, each and all of which he could connect with. The movie E.T. is like a film (pun intended) that is placed over Porter Ranch. Always there, as soon as you are aware that this is the landscape where E.T. was filmed. It is that knowledge that gives the eyes to see…

If E.T. was a religious experience, the sites immortalised on celluloid would have been marked with oratories and churches –to some extent that is what has happened. When the Porter Ridge Park playground was to be refurbished, there was a campaign to make sure that the caterpillar remained, as it was so linked with ET. It had become a landmark and when you go on film buff websites, you will find it is an important destination for those doing an ET pilgrimage to Porter Ranch. For them, the area has become sacred… Why? Because it is not so much that the gods walked here, but because it is a landscape where magic and emotions were experienced, and for which we want it to be remembered. The History Channel’s slogan is that history is made everyday. So are sacred places…

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