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The Reeler Blog

Will the Real New York (Or London, Or Paris, Or...) Please Stand Up?

By S.T. VanAirsdale

We've had related discussions around here a number of times, but Michael Hann has an interesting take on The Guardian's Arts Blog about the frustration caused by geographic inaccuracy (or, more specifically, impracticality) in movies. This is always a problem with New York films, but Hann is a Londoner, and he's not fucking around either:

I find London-set films virtually unbearable. It's not the procession of tourist set-pieces in the background, so much as the wholly avoidable errors that set me on edge and blind me to any other merits the movie might have. This Year's Love, for example, was destroyed for me by the ending -- when a character hails a cab from Camden Town, in north London, to go to Gatwick Airport.

Here's where I get anal: what the character should be doing is hailing a cab on the southbound side of Chalk Farm Road, to go south and east, towards the Thames crossing at the Blackwall Tunnel, from where it's a simple run of A2, M20, M25, M23 (I said I would be getting anal). Instead, they get a cab going northwards, up Haverstock Hill, and disappear in the general direction of Luton.

Preach it, son. The most severe transgression I've witnessed in a recent New York movie occurred early in American Gangster, when Det. Richie Roberts and his partner discover a trunkful of cash in a lot in New Jersey -- right in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. Even the forthcoming film Cloverfield, in which a monster lays waste to Manhattan, promises only semi-realistic subway depictions like this one featured in a recently released studio still:

IND? IRT? WTF? The subway as imagined by Cloverfield (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Is that supposed to be the Sixth Avenue C/E stop at Spring Street? The Lafayette St. 6 stop? Or maybe the one that drops you at the Paramount commissary in Hollywood? But it's minor, really; my favorite location snafu in NYC film history probably belongs to Moonstruck, during one part of which Loretta Castorini parks her car in Little Italy before walking the hop, skip and a jump to her family's brownstone -- in Brooklyn Heights.

But for every misstep there's a Godfather, Part II to meticulously make over the full length of Mulberry Street for an early 20th-century Feast of San Gennaro revival, or, on a smaller, contemporary scale, the sublime spatial contrasts of Heights, the swirling Port Authority psychosis of Keane, the west-to-east round-trip ordeal of Man Push Cart... I could go on. Harvey Keitel's SoHo sprint at the end of Fingers? Or the entire premise of The Warriors: How to get from The Bronx to Coney Island in one piece? Brilliant.

What say you? Is there a best and worst New York trip you've ever seen on-screen?

Posted at November 16, 2007 11:20 AM

Comments (6)

This is interesting. I wrote about the same thing a few days ago on Cinematical, after being confused by the use of Williamsburg as New Jersey in "American Gangster."

Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Campbell -- great post. Sorry I missed it!

I can think of (and even live with) lots of misused locations, but knowing the Point A-Point B liberties certain directors take can be enough to yank me out of a film. A commenter on your post mentioned Benjamin's Bay Bridge drive in The Graduate, which is probably the quintessential time-space goof. It's almost embarrassing.

Hah. That was a great comment. And it was made by my mom.

I was thinking about when they called West Long Island Westchester in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" which is funny because I've eaten at the Ben's Deli that the jewelry store is next to a couple of times.

And by West, I meant East.


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