Inside Llewyn Davis | 2013
The Coen brothers follow a week in the life of a Greenwich Village folk musician in 1961, before Bob Dylan catapulted folk into the mainstream. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, who performed in the Village’s bohemian hangouts, and who died in 2002.
The directors claim the screenplay was inspired by Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street – but then they also said that Fargo was based on a true story. The cover for he 1964 album Inside Dave Van Ronk does look extraordinarily like the cover for the fictitious Inside Llewyn Davis, though.
Much of the film revolves around the West Village’s Gaslight Club, which was a real venue, standing at 116 Macdougal Street. The Gaslight closed its doors in 1971, to become a bar called 116, which in turn closed down in 2012.
A stretch of East 9th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, in the East Village was transformed into the Village of the Sixties, with 424 East 9th Street becoming the Gaslight. The club’s interior was recreated up in Brooklyn, inside events space the Red Lotus Room, 893 Bergen Street in Crown Heights.
The little alleyway, seemingly alongside the club, where Llewyn is confronted by an extremely irate audience member, is alongside St James’ Roman Catholic Church on James Street, just off Madison Street, southern Chinatown alongside the Manhattan Bridge.
With no place to call his own, Davis crashes on a series of friends’ couches, including that of the well-to-do liberal Gorfeins on Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side, where life gets complicated once he inadvertently allows their house cat to escape.
Along with the bemused pussycat, Davis takes the subway from 96th Street Station down to Greenwich Village, where he emerges from Christopher Street Station in a tight shot which manages to avoid modern additions, but does include the venerable landmark Village Cigars, 110 Seventh Avenue South at Christopher Street.
His next base turns out to be the apartment of a pair of fellow folkies Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). The exterior of their home is 77 East Second Street, in the East Village (it’s just northwest of Katz’s Deli, from When Harry Met Sally), though the interior filmed a few blocks north on the third floor of the Isaac T Hopper Home, 110 Second Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets – taking advantage of its convenient fire escape, which provides yet another escape route for the wandering cat. Built in 1838, the Hopper house has, since 1874, been home to the Women’s Prison Association, an advocacy and assistance organisation for women with criminal records.
Jean reveals she’s pregnant and, during a tense conversation in Washington Square Park, lets Llewyn know that he’s quite possibly the father.
Faced with the need to get money for an abortion, Llewyn visits his long-suffering and not too sympathetic sister Joy (Jeanine Serralles) to ask for a loan. Her suburban home is 58-56 41st Drive in Woodside, Queens.
It’s on the platform of 61st Street-Woodside Ave station on the IRT Flushing Line that Llewyn gets news of a recording session. This station was previously seen onscreen in John Cassavetes' 1980 film Gloria, with Gena Rowlands.
Llewyn meets Jean to discuss arrangements in one of the Village’s longtime institutions, Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street at West Third Street. The coffee shop was previously seen in Shaft, as well as the rather dull 1976 thriller The Next Man (with Sean Connery as an Arab diplomat!) and Next Stop, Greenwich Village. The girlfriend of Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) works in the Reggio in Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, though it's not seen in the film, and it’s often listed as a location for The Godfather Part II, but I can’t see it anywhere in that film.
Llewyn’s next crash pad is the apartment of singer Al Cody (Adam Driver) on Thompson Street between Bleecker and West Houston Streets, opposite the (now closed) Rocco Ristorante, 181 Thompson Street.
Heading to Chicago, he’s picked up by Roland Turner (scene stealing John Goodman) and his driver Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) outside ‘Varick Street and 7th’ station – or so it appears. The subway station entrance is a fake, built for the film on Mott Street at the northwest corner of Bleecker Street.
There’s a spell away from New York, but the driving scenes are not the road to Chicago but second unit shots of the wintery roads around the towns of Faribault and Medford in the Coens’s home state of Minnesota.
The forlorn service station at which they stop is an old barn in Riverhead, over on Long Island.
The ‘Fred Harvey Oasis Dining Room’, where Turner collapses in the rest room, is the Briarcliff Dining Center of Pace University Briarcliff Campus in upstate New York, north of White Plains. The interior of the Pace building was transformed into a replica of the 1960s-era Fred Harvey Oasis restaurant which once straddled the Tri-State Tollway in South Holland, Illinois, outside of Chicago.
In fact, all the ‘Chicago’ locations can be found in New York.
After Johnny Five is hauled off by the cops, Llewyn hitches a lift, getting dropped off at a bus station, which in reality is the parking lot between the northern entrances of the Robert F Kennedy (Triborough) and Hell Gate Bridges on Randalls Island, in the East River.
The ‘Chicago’ diner, where Llewyn sits at the counter with uncomfortably wet feet, was Prime Burger, 5 East 51st Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, midtown, which having opened in 1938, and remaining unchanged since 1963, closed in 2012. Just when you’d want to visit.
The ‘Chicago’ railway station in which Llewyn tries to get a bit of sleep, is the lobby of the Surrogate’s Court, 31 Chambers Street, behind City Hall, which has been seen in plenty of productions including Batman Forever and Romeo Is Bleeding.
The striking, vertical-striped exterior of the ‘Gate of Horn’, the ‘Chicago’ club, is the Greater Refuge Temple, 2081 Adam Clayton Powell Junior Boulevard/7th Avenue at 124th Street in Harlem. Once one of Harlem's oldest ballrooms, it’s now a church. The interior, where Llewyn performs traditional English ballad The Death of Queen Jane for impresario Bud Grossman (F Murray Abraham), is the Gramercy Theatre, 127 East 23rd Street, in the Gramercy Park district, a Thirties cinema turned concert venue. Grossman’s cramped office is in fact the cinema’s old projection booth.
The audition comes to nothing and Llewyn finds himself once again back at the Gorfein’s Riverside Drive apartment, where their cat Ulysses has miraculously found his way home.
Walking away from the apartment, Llewyn notices a poster for the Disney film The Incredible Journey, at the Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway.
It’s a neat touch, although nitpickers will notice that the film, in which two dogs and a cat negotiate a perilous 200-mile journey to find their way home, wasn’t released until 1963.