THE NEW KAUA’I MOVIE BOOK: Films Made On The Garden Island. By Chris Cook with landscape photography by David Boynton. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing. 2013.
“Filming on Kauai was probably one of the best times of my life in filmmaking. The Island is so magic it just grabs you” (p. 72), emoted one of the many movie directors who worked on the Garden Island. Chris Cook—who lifts the largely historical record of movie making on Kauai beyond a chronicle in his book for a popular audience—also offers a reliable source about a geographic site that will engage students of American culture, geography, history, movie making, and tourism.
Cook generated this second edition, adding films made since his book’s first edition (1996). Hollywood’s first film on Kauai dates back to 1933. This second edition opens with a thirty-seven-page description of the movies made since the first edition and then repeats the original book over the following eighty-seven pages. Donovan’s Reef (1963), directed by John Ford and staring John Wayne, for example, is part of the section about the beach at Hanama’ulu and Elvis Presley’s celebrated film, Blue Hawaii (1961), is under the heading of “Coco Palms,” the famous post-World War II resort hyping Hawaiiana. Throughout the wide choice of Kauai scenes, movie makers have utilized the island’s idealized landscape not only to depict Kauai, but also Vietnam, South Sea islands, Australia, and Africa among other places.
Several short sections conclude the book but they are not necessarily minimal in meaning. “Surfing Films” includes only one lengthy discussion about a particular movie, Free and Easy (1930), and introduces “Surfing Films” with allegiance to local surfers’ code of silence about the specific surf breaks filmed in order to protect them. In the section about Japanese-made films, Cook carefully includes a lengthy quote testifying that Japanese films recently “are more concerned about preserving things” (142). Documentaries are briefly summarized in two pages, but three pages are given to a map of Kauai showing the movie locations and facilitating its use with driving directions to those locations. An eight-page section gives the facts of the movies and adds DVD sources.
But why have so many succumbed to rank the Kauai landscape as magical? Near the book’s end, Cook arouses the reader with two pages naming organizations that began over a century ago promoting filming on Kauai. However, what promotional work was done on Kauai? It is not enough to link scenery with humidity-free atmosphere, the absence of snakes and bothersome insects not native to Hawaii, and the Native Hawaiians’ “aloha” spirit to help finish the work about Kauai’s admittedly remarkable record for movie settings. In what ways was the culture of those who came to the Garden Island predisposed? The very nickname—“Garden Island”—intrigues as part of the largely unexamined subject of popular culture’s Hawaiiana.
Cook has created a reliably researched and delightfully readable record about where on Kauai filmmaking centered. The photographer—who contributed numerous splendid photographs to the first edition and has them reprinted in this latest edition—achieved a very solid compliment for what Cook intended. It is easy to enjoy this book. And, in keeping with good scholarship, those interested also have a reliable platform for further investigation.
Reviewed by Keith A. Sculle, Ph.D.
(retired) Head, Research and Education, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency; Springfield, Illinois