Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina (2003) Poster

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The color full history of Catalina Island gets the Hollywood glamor treatment in this well-crafted documentary film.
Mark DeCew9 March 2005
It's a wonder this is the sole documentary in IMDb on the subject of Santa Catalina Island. Considering it's rich and recent history; the wealth, quality, and availability of existing audio-visual elements; and the proximity of Hollywood's film community to this special place. Already famous as a location for motion picture production and a movie star good-time get-a-away, it almost seems too obvious. Just 26 miles off the southern California coast lies this rocky bra-shaped island and its single port town of Avalon. From the Los Angeles metropolis , it is but a day-sail or afternoon cruise through the busy commercial Pacific ocean sea-lanes serving the port of Long Beach . Most of the land mass is protected nature preserves with human habitats so small, after the boat. a golf-cart is the preferred mode of transport. The village citizens share this community with a transplanted population of buffalo (descended from a western movie's animal extras) and steady flow of mainland visitors both famous and common. In one of the numerous well-produced interview segments of the film, the renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau describes the uniqueness of Catalina as an unspoiled marine community in such close proximity to industry and big cities. Maybe that is why other filmmakers had yet to tell its story - the island provides the creative mind with magic environment to relax and be free, so why not keep it as 'our little secret.'

Greg Reitman has done a yeoman's job of stitching together a researched collection of animated stills, interesting archive footage, and passionate and intelligent interview subjects in a style weaving together the perspectives of official town historian, the "islander" local, the chamber of commerce booster, the show business publicist, and the good old fashion film fan. Actor Gregory Harrison, a third generation islander playfully recalls his thespian roots affecting exotic accents to coax coins from ferry passengers he would free dive under the propeller stream to retrieve, stuffing his cheeks like a chipmunk with the booty. His deep connection with the character of the Catalina community is shown as he touchingly described the 'god-like' figure of his father, the glass bottom boat entrepreneur who commanded harbor traffic from the bridge and used record making breath hold skills to chum the sea beneath his tour boats so his customer would see more fish. Reitman has a background in underwater photography, and he cleverly integrates some nice beauty shots from below the surface of the sea. Throughout, great respect is held for nautical culture, the historical record, and entertainment industry rules of etiquette.

The Avalon Casino Ballroom, the landmark rotunda structure the locals exploit as a marketing logo, is the prominent visual feature of the island and a focal point for this documentary too. Its history as a big band dance hall and radio broadcast site provides motivated soundtrack selections and connections to legends. Surf guitar great Dick Dale shares his thrill riding the same elevator used by the biggest names in music and is brought to tears remembering the joy of the time.

The use of the word "Magical" in the title says a lot. Industry icon A.C. Lyles tells of how a young Ronald Reagan came to Catalina from the Midwest as a sports reporter covering the Chicago Cubs. The team trained there because the the largest property holder on the Island was their owner, Mr. William Wrigley, the chewing gum millionaire. The visit directly led to his discovery and studio contract signing. Lyle speculates ".and what if..." The film inspires this feeling of good energy emanating from the special place and the people it has made better. I have been to Catalina more than once and I too would have good things to say if they turned the camera on me,
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Beautiful film, beautiful subject
yoav-124 March 2004
Although I've never been to Catalina Island, Greg Reitman's film takes the viewer by the hand and leads him through all the many splendors of this wonderful location. Everything is covered: History, art, music, film, celebrities, lifestyle and most important the wondrous nature of this unique place. Peter Coyote's narration is outstanding. The original material that Reitman has discovered from the beginning of the 20th century until today, truly bring forth the richness and diversity of Catalina, and make you want to stay much longer than the 52 minutes of the film.

Anyone who loves the island, and for anyone that loves life should seek out this gorgeous film.
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Reitman Reveals the Story of an Intriguing Island Getaway
erikopolis29 June 2004
As an award-winning documentary journalist, I recommend "Hollywood's Magical Island." It is a captivating exploration of the rise and fall and (almost) rise again of Catalina, a little known island off the coast of Los Angeles. Reitman has done a superb job of integrating images, music, and interviews. The voice of actor Peter Coyote (Jagged Edge) adds to the pleasure of the viewing journey. The result is a documentary worth watching.

Over the years, Catalina Island has served as a tourist mecca, a World War II base, and a get-a-way for Hollywood stars. This documentary might attract a new wave of visitors to the island. But for those who never make it to Catalina, this documentary will be a satisfying substitute.
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This film is good, but Catalina now not worth it!
yessdanc1 September 2010
I enjoyed this film when it came out in 2003, and was in love w/ Catalina as a great place to slow down and recharge in a pleasant, family and couples oriented tropical paradise. My wife and I (and now kids) had been going for almost 16 years when we had to stop in 2005 due to financial pressure of our own. We went back this summer (2010), and found it almost circus-like in the Island's present approach to tourists, which is 'Gouge em for every dime, cut corners, and don't worry about giving their money's worth.' Everything had doubled in cost, including the tours and attractions (45 minute underwater sub tour- $75 each). On the the inland bus tour, we were driven up into the hills, and the driver was supposed to tell us Catalina history. We also got a 10 minute verbal commercial for their 'new Zipline ride'. Basically a trapeze swing across the canyon- $90. I believe the Santa Catalina Island Company is to blame. I was told by a (nameless) employee that someone new is in charge, and the Island is losing its family charm. So true!!!
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Kudos to Greg Reitman
alimpaul9 March 2005
As a member of Hollywood Heritage Organization, this was a real treat. For the first time the magic of Catalina Island was revealed through a lovely and researched documentary. Even more inspiring is that there is so much to be researched and filmed on the topic of Hollywood and how the stars lived in the golden ages. Perhaps Greg will feel the need to research other Golden Era hot spots and bring the stories to the attention of the public. Perhaps a story on the Roosevelt Hotel, or research into the many interesting architectural digs that have survived the every growing changes in Hollywood. I like to see that someone is preserving our rich history here in Hollywood. Kudos to Greg Reitman.
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