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Tuesday October 22nd 2019

The Shape Of Water | 2017

The Shape Of Water film location: Massey Hall, Victoria Street, Toronto
The Shape Of Water location: the frontage of the 'Orpheum' theatre and the entrance to Elisa's apartment: Massey Hall, Victoria Street, Toronto | Photograph: wikimedia / PFHLai

Set in 1962 ‘Baltimore’, Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning fable was made around Toronto and Hamilton, about 30miles to the west, Ontario.

The shabby, if spacious, flat above a grand old cinema in which Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) lives was a set built at Cinespace Studios in the Etobicoke district of west Toronto, but the gorgeous picture-house interior is real.

It’s the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street at Queen Street East.

The Elgin was built in the early 20th Century as Loew's Yonge Street Theatre, a populist venue presenting a continuous programme of movies and vaudeville acts. Seven storeys above the Elgin is the Winter Garden Theatre, which catered to a more upmarket clientele. Together they make up the world’s last remaining Edwardian ‘stacked’ theatres.

The Shape Of Water film location: Elgin Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto
The Shape Of Water: the Gill Man finds refuge in the auditorium of the 'Orpheum' theatre: Elgin Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto | Photograph: wikimedia / Anton Bielousov

In 1928, the Elgin was adapted to accommodate that great new invention, talking pictures, but the poor Winter Garden was closed, remaining shuttered for sixty years.

Like so many cinemas in the Sixties and Seventies, the Elgin was reduced to surviving by showing soft-core movies until in the late Eighties, when both theatres were fully restored and reopened.

Using the Elgin now seems to be a good omen for film-makers – it supplied the interior of the ‘Chicago Theater’ for Rob Marshall’s 2002 film of the musical Chicago, another film which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

That’s not the Elgin/Winter Garden exterior you see in the film, though. The ‘Orpheum’ theatre marquee, advertising 1960 Biblical epic The Story Of Ruth, is a frontage added to Massey Hall, 178 Victoria Street, a performing arts theatre just around the corner from the Elgin/Winter Garden.

'Dixie Doug's', the faux-Southern pie restaurant where Elisa’s understandably closeted neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) harbours a crush on the server (Morgan Kelly) is the Lakeview Restaurant, 1132 Dundas Street West. The restaurant has seen screen fame before, having appeared in 1988’s Cocktail, with Tom Cruise.

The film is set in a time of great change in the US, as Giles discovers when he tries to get his hand-painted artwork accepted by an ad agency which has moved on to photography.

The smart office of the ‘Klein and Saunders’ agency can be found in Hamilton. In fact, it’s Hamilton’s City Hall, 71 Main Street West.

The Shape Of Water film location: Hamilton City Hall, Main Street West, Hamilton
The Shape Of Water: the advertising agency: Hamilton City Hall, Main Street West, Hamilton | Photograph: wikimedia / Saforrest

Elisa’s job is as a cleaner at the ‘OCCAM Aerospace Research Center’, which is used to house The Asset – seemingly a cousin of the Gill-Man from The Creature From The Back Lagoon (which was also dragged from a river in South America) – regarded as little more than research fodder.

Considering this is the height of the Cold War, security seems to be remarkably lax. Elisa, without speech herself and naturally proficient in non-verbal communication, is able to form a bond with the Gill Man.

OCCAM’s interiors were again filmed at Cinespace, but its Brutalist concrete exterior is that of the John Andrews Building, 1265 Military Trail, the Humanities Wing of the University of Toronto's Scarborough Campus.

In the film the building looks well used, in fact it was built in 1963-64.

The Shape Of Water film location: John Andrews Building, University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, Toronto
The Shape Of Water: ‘OCCAM Aerospace Research Center’: John Andrews Building, University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, Toronto | Photograph: wikimedia / Loozrboy

Of all the scientists working with The Asset, only one shows any empathy with the creature, and that’s Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who, ironically, turns out to be a Russian agent.

It’s back to Hamilton for Dr. Hoffstetler’s apartment, which is 179 MacNab Street South, between Duke and Robinson Streets in Corktown.

From here he sets off to meet his Soviet controllers among the towering conical heaps of the Lakeshore Sand Company, 800 Strathearne Avenue, Hamilton's poetically-named Industrial Sector K.

With both the Americans and Soviets independently deciding that the Asset would be more useful to them dead, Hoffstetler joins forces with Elisa, Giles and Elisa’s co-worker Delilah (Octavia Spencer) to free the Gill-Man.

After springing him from the OCCAM facility, they take him to Elisa’s apartment, where the two outsiders develop an unexpectedly intimate interspecies connection.

With time running out, the Gill Man needs to be returned to the sea. This being Toronto and not ‘Baltimore’, the sea is actually Lake Ontario. The spot chosen to release him is Keating Channel, the dock at Lake Shore Boulevard East where the Don River flows into the lake at Port Landis.

It’s overlooked by the elevated Gardiner Expressway, seen throughout the film as Elisa travels to work, although the instantly recognisable Toronto skyline had to be erased digitally, of course.