The Artist | 2011
“I won‘t talk. I won’t say a word.”
With this title card (which proves to be very nearly true), Michel Hazanavicius wittily launches his silent drama, cheerfully borrowing from A Star Is Born, with countless film buff nods to Citizen Kane, Grand Hotel and lifting wholesale Bernard Hermann’s Wagnerian love theme from Vertigo.
It’s a French film, but how could it not have been made around Hollywood – or at least, Los Angeles.
A Russian Affair, the action movie being premiered at the start of the film, was made at the first of several familiar locations. It’s the disused Eagle Rock Substation, 7888 North Figueroa Street, north of Eagle Rock itself, on the way to Pasadena, previously seen as the interior of the hi-security prison in John Woo’s Face/Off; in futuristic satire Demolition Man; and in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
The premiere itself, where Jack the terrier steals the show, is held at the beautiful Orpheum Theater, 842 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles. Opened in 1926 as the fourth, and final, house operated by the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, legends including the young Judy Garland (when she was still Francis Gumm) and Jack Benny appeared on its stage. It’s fortunately been restored, when so many of its neighbours have been gutted to house markets, and still hosts live events.
The Doors play here (though it’s supposed to be ‘New Haven’) in the Oliver Stone biopic, Kenneth Branagh conducts the orchestra in his own enjoyably daft thriller Dead Again, and it supplied the interior of the 'Pantages' for the grand premiere of Plan 9 From Outer Space in – again – Ed Wood. It’s also where Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) makes her ‘Broadway’ debut in Spider-Man 3. It also features in Last Action Hero and Austin Powers In Goldmember.
You won’t recognise The Artist’s theatre exterior, which was filmed on the studio backlot.
With the arrival of sound, George Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) subsequent silent film, Tears of Love, plays to a near-empty house in another, and even more elaborate picture palace – the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway. And – like the Orpheum – a backlot set is substituted for its distinctive frontage.
Also restored to its former opulence, it’s a cinema veteran, used for the ‘Transported Man’ trick in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and as ‘Carnegie Hall’ in Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon. The theatre’s red and gilt lobby, though, is most often used on screen – in Richard Attenborough’s biopic Chaplin, Cameron Diaz’s dance fantasy in Charlie’s Angels, as nightclubs in both Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Michael Bay’s Armageddon and as the Vatican in End of Days.
It’s off to the real Hollywood to find the ‘Kinograph Studios’, where starstruck Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) first goes to audition as an extra, which is now Red Studios Hollywood (it was formerly Ren-Mar Studios), 846 North Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood. Beginning its life in 1915 as a Metro Pictures (later MGM) backlot, the studio hosted the production of films including High Noon and the excellent 1949 film noir DOA. Before it appeared as ‘Kinograph’, it had already masqueraded as ‘Maroon Studios’ in another affectionate look back to old Hollywood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
DOA was also, famously, filmed at the Bradbury Building, 304 South Broadway at Third Street, downtown, which is the location of the bustling studio staircase on which George and Peppy pass.
The photogenic lobby (which is open to the public) of the Bradbury has a long history on-screen, including the 1949 Douglas Sirk drama Shockproof; Frank Tashlin’s Richard Harris-Doris Day comedy thriller Caprice (as ‘Paris’); Murder in the First, with Christian Slater (as ‘San Francisco’); Mike Nichols’ Wolf, with Jack Nicholson (as ‘New York’) and, finally, as Los Angeles in (500) Days Of Summer. It found worldwide fame in 1982 as the waterlogged home of Sebastian in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Still downtown, the gleaming art deco restaurant, where Peppy dismisses silent movies in an unfortunate interview within earshot of George, is Cicada, Oviatt Building, 617 South Olive Street. Another Los Angeles original, dating from 1928, you might recognise this one-time department store from Pretty Woman, Indecent Proposal, Bruce Almighty or Mr and Mrs Smith.
The mansions of both movie stars are, unfortunately, off limits. They’re a block apart in the (very securely) gated community of Fremont Place in the heart of midtown Los Angeles. George’s old-style brick mansion (supposedly ‘1110 Las Palmas Avenue’ in Hollywood) is 104 Fremont Place (though the practice of painting the house number on the kerb wasn’t invented until 1931 – two years after the scene is set).
Peppy’s more classical palace is 56 Fremont Place, and really was once home to the nation’s sweetheart, silent star Mary Pickford. The same mansion is also seen in Rocky IV and in Pierre Morel’s 2008 thriller Taken, with Liam Neeson.
Close by, but much more accessible, is another screen regular, the Ebell of Los Angeles, 4401 West Eighth Street at Lucerne Boulevard, south of Wilshire Boulevard. Ever adaptable, this theatre and women’s club complex supplies three separate locations for the film. It’s not only the office of movie producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and the auction house where George’s belongings go under the hammer (which is the Ebell’s Art Salon), but it also provides the interior of the hospital where George recovers from his burns. This is at least the third time the Ebell has played a hospital – after Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The hospital entrance, though, is that of the American Film Institute, 2021 North Western Avenue, northeast of Hollywood toward Griffith Park.
It’s back to upscale Hancock Park for George’s neighbourhood, with Jack the dog alerting the cop that that George is in trouble on the corner of Oakwood Avenue and June Street, and Peppy racing her car along Hudson Avenue to his rescue. This area not surprisingly supplies many of the screens famous mansions, seen in films such as Pretty In Pink and What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Check out the Los Angeles city tour for more details of the city and its filming locations.
• Many thanks to Woody at Houses of Hancock Park, and to J Eric Lynxwiler for help with this section.