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Sunday March 3rd 2024

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Downtown 2

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Gas Company Building, West Fifth Street
Gas Company Building, West Fifth Street

Indeed, the movie industry is quick to showcase Downtown’s newer structures.

Across Grand Avenue, the 52-storey Gas Company Towers, 555 West Fifth Street, is the highrise where Jack (Keanu Reeves) rescues the trapped lift passengers at the opening of Speed.

You’ll recognise its distinctive entrance at the corner of South Grand Avenue, which was also the site of the party in Charlie’s Angels, and the 'United States Courthouse' outside which cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise) in Michael Mann’s Collateral.

And, although it’s supposed to be ‘New York’, it’s atop the tower’s almond-shaped rooftop – built to resemble the shape of a giant gas flame – that Megatron ominously announces that “the time is right” in Transformers.

John Ferraro Building
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – the submerged world of Inception

There's plenty of screen action around this area. On South Hope Street stands the John Ferraro Building – the offices of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, surrounded by its own moat which Christoper Nolan put to great use for the imagined submerged world conjured up for Inception.

South on Grand Avenue at Third Street stands the MOCA Grand Avenue (Museum of Contemporary Art), 250 South Grand Avenue, which became ‘San Angeles’ of the future in Marco Brambilla's smart satire Demolition Man.

A little further south brings you to California Plaza, Grand Avenue at Fourth Street, one of a pair of 42-story tower blocks which was 'Nakamoto Tower’, the site of the boardroom murder in Philip Kaufman’s 1993 culture clash thriller Rising Sun, with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. The road crossing here is where Spock (Zachary Quinto) chases Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) after he crashes his ship in Star Trek Into Darkness.

The openings in the central divide of South Grand Avenue here look down to the lower level from which Batman (Christian Bale) takes off with the atomic device at the climax of Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.

At the rear of California Plaza itself you'll recognise the water feature attacked by Tyler Durden's anarchic Project Mayhem as part of 'Operation Latte Thunder' in David Fincher's Fight Club.

Disney Concert Hall
Disney Concert Hall

Across Second Street, you can hardly miss the sinuous stainless steel curves of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Avenue, opened in 2003, which housed the ‘Stark Industries’ bash in Iron Man. The hall was also featured in 2008 spoof Get Smart and  as the concert venue in Joe Wright’s The Soloist, with Jamie Foxx as troubled cellist Nathaniel Ayers.

It’s Downtown’s grand old architecture, though, that’s proved such a boon to movie makers. Like New York, LA once boasted its own Broadway of grand movie palaces and theatres. Most have now been gutted to provide loft apartments and markets but, naturally enough, location managers have been eager to exploit what still remains of the 20s and 30s opulence.

Although it’s set in ‘Edwardian London’, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige showcases four of Downtown’s notable treasures.

Los Angeles Theatre, South Broadway
Los Angeles Theatre, South Broadway

The most dazzling is the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, which is used in The Prestige’s opening ‘Transported Man’ trick. With crystal chandeliers, gold leaf and marble, its Baroque splendour has turned it into a cinema veteran. Its auditorium became ‘Carnegie Hall’ for Milos Forman’s Man On The Moon, with Jim Carrey as subversive comic Andy Kaufman.

But it’s the theatre’s lavish red and gilt lobby which is most often seen on screen. It was the site of the premiere of Limelight in Richard Attenborough’s biopic Chaplin, Cameron Diaz’s fantasy dance number in Charlie’s Angels, ‘Gotham’s Excelsior Grand Casino’ in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, a somewhat raunchier casino in Michael Bay’s Armageddon and even as the ‘Vatican’ in End of Days.

The loft of the Palace Theatre, 630 South Broadway, which became the workshop of Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) in The Prestige, was previously seen as the studio of performance artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) in Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski, and its exterior became the mysterious ‘Club Silencio’ in David Lynch’s noirish puzzle Mulholland Drive.

Though the Tower Theatre, 802 South Broadway, another cinema, is a more modest venue, you can’t miss the exterior with its huge vertical sign – seen as the ‘Pantages’ in The Prestige, as the entrance to the Devil’s underground lair in millennial thriller End Of Days, or with one of the mechanical beasties perched atop its landmark tower in Transformers.

The interior featured prominently in The Mambo Kings; as the site of a cartoon festival at which Chow Yun Fat and Mira Sorvino thwart an attempt on the life of a cop’s son in The Replacement Killers, and the interior of ‘Club Silencio’ for Mulholland Drive.

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