Culture Snappin’ USA – Part 3 – Death Wish (1974): Filming Locations

“We were driving to Kennedy airport in 1973 to shoot the last scene of The Stone Killer, the third film we made together, when Charlie asked me what we should do next. I told him I had this script about a man whose wife and daughter are mugged and then the man goes out and shoots muggers. I mentioned that I’d had it for five years but no one seemed interested. Charlie said, ‘I’d like to do it.’ I said, ‘What, you mean you want to do this movie?’ And Charlie replied, ‘No, I’d like to shoot muggers”.

Michael Winner – Director of Death Wish

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Michael Winner’s 1974 film ‘Death Wish’ rarely sits upon any film guide’s top ten and yet it is one of the more referenced and controversial films of its era. Providing the same kind of view of the big apple that the Dirty Harry films had of San Francisco, the film shows muggers, hoods and rapists lurking around every corner and the thin blue line too powerless or apathetic to make any difference.

Enter one lone individual with a loaded gun and a sense of frontier justice and a franchise is born.

Following on from both the amazing Dirty Harry (1971) and the frankly pretty shit, Walking Tall (1973), Death Wish helped usher in a wave of vigilante films and was based upon Brian Garfield’s identically titled 1972 novel. Garfield reportedly having left a party on the upper west side of Manhattan (coincidently where Bronson’s character lives in the film), came back to find his car window broken and his coat stolen. Thinking to himself how he would’ve killed the perpetrator if he had caught him in the act, Garfield conjured the idea of a twisted avenger, an accountant no less, taking revenge on any scumbag that crosses his path in the wake of his wife’s murder.

Like the protagonist of First Blood by David Morrell, which was later turned into the first Rambo movie, this character was damaged and becomes increasingly more so though out the course of the story. The film’s main character Paul Kersey however, like the cinematic version of John Rambo, was seen as a hero at the time of the film’s release with his psychopathic actions ignored or downplayed. Echoes of the psychosis may be seen in Bronson’s stony faced performance, but whether by Winner’s design or Bronson’s lack of ability, they remain only that.

Winner & Bronson(Ronald Grant Archive)

Michael Winner & Charles Bronson On Set. Ronald Grant Archive

The book was purchased by a film production duo, who after commissioning several drafts, on sold it to the Italian movie magnate Dino de Laurentiis, who hired Michael Winner, who in turn cast Charles Bronson with whom he had previously worked. Filmed on location in New York City in January 1974, Bronson, as Vincent Carnaby memorably describes in his contemporary review, “…roams the night time streets of New York, which… are so filled with vandals, would-be muggers, rapists and the like that Charlie never goes home without scoring. On streets, in parks, on subway platforms, in subway cars. It’s like shooting ducks in a bird sanctuary”.

In the face of such criticism, producer de Laurentiis stated, “Violence is not typical of New York alone. All big cities are jungles. New York is a symbol of all the metropolitan areas of our planet”.

Certainly, along with the previously noted The Warriors (1979), Taxi Driver (1976), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Coogans Bluff (1968) and The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (1974), this was a film that perversely made me want to visit New York City. An urban nightmare on the edge of insanity, an asphalt playground where anything went, New York seemed a million miles away from where I grew up watching it from the comfort of a VCR. Thankfully though, it was not like that when I visited and I was able to walk in Paul Kersey’s footsteps without fear of having to clock a mugger with a sock full of pennies.

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Charles Bronson And His Sock Full o’ Pennies. Screenshot by Author

As it was filmed in winter, many of the places I visited looked much the same 41 years later. The night before searching the locations, I watched a copy of the film from my base at the St James Hotel, itself featured in a number of films, notably Maniac (1980), Big (1987) and Cruising (1980).

St James Hotel

St James Hotel. Diptych by author

Over the course of the next afternoon/evening, I managed to find the D’ Agostino market featured prominently in the film, Kersey’s uptown apartment, the stone steps he walks down to shoot his first mugger (coincidently also used in The Warriors) and the midtown café where he lures two heist men to their doom. The café, although shuttered, still has the same neon sign it had in 1974, but midtown itself no longer has the scary vibe shown in Taxi Driver or Maniac. The closest thing I saw to crime was when some guy tried to sell me weed on the street.

Death Wish Credits

72nd Street Station. Diptych by author

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Kerseys Building/ Sidewalk. Diptych by author

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Kersey’s Building / Sidewalk. Diptych by author

Death Wish Service Entrance

Apartment Service Entrance. Diptych by author

Death Wish Steps

Riverside Park Steps. Diptych by author

Death Wish Bus Stop

Where Kersey Gets Off The Bus. Diptych by author

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8th Avenue Subway. Diptych by author

The results of this exploration may be seen in another shakily filmed clip below. In my own defence, it was freezing when I shot this footage and every removal of my gloves almost resulted in frostbite.

 

Almost a decade later Winner resurrected Paul Kersey for the incredibly scuzzy Death Wish II (1982) and the so bad, it’s downright awesome, Death Wish III (1985). Indeed Death Wish III has to be seen to be believed. Its cardboard characters are so caricatured as to almost be rendered as a live action cartoon.

Speaking of which, the 1974 Mad Magazine satire of Death Wish is pretty funny and I’ll close out this post with some selected panels. New York based William Gaines & Co. were on a streak between 1965 and 1985 that no other publication has ever matched.

Mad Panels 1

Death Wishers – Copyright E.C. Publications 1974

Mad Panels 2

Death Wishers – Copyright E.C. Publications 1974

 

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and The Eastern Terraces with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Culture Snappin’ USA – Part 2 – The Warriors (1979): Filming Locations

Eastern Terraces_ The Warriors Logo

As previously posted in February, I took an opportunity to visit the United States earlier this year and whilst there indulged myself in tracking down the locations of some of my favourite twentieth century cultural moments in an attempt to match the present with the past. (See: https://theeasternterraces.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/culture-snappin-usa-part-one/)

One film above all others had long incited me to visit New York City… Walter Hill’s 1979 gang opus ‘The Warriors’.

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Wonderwheel and Bridge. Diptychs by author.

Having first seen it at the tender age of ten and some sixty times since, its power to entertain, thrill and delight me has certainly not diminished over the years. Scripted by Hill from Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel of the same name, the film elected to discard much of the social commentary and depressing reality of the original story to instead distil it down to the more photogenic tale of one gang crossing turfs in a bid to “make it back” home after being unfairly blamed for a rival gang leaders death.

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Conclave. Diptychs by author.

People have tipped their hats to it more times than anyone could likely remember in the thirty-five years since its release. From being extensively sampled in any number of electronic and hip hop tunes (such as Schoolly D’s Run or PWEI’s Can UDig It?), referenced (NWA’s 100 Miles & Running) or just plain ripped off in a slew of early 80s gang movies that tried to copy its flavour (such as 1990: The Bronx Warriors), the film has gone on to become enshrined in a certain segment of the world’s memory. Certainly, having been released at the beginning of what was expected to be a big gang film cycle in 1979, The Warriors has gone on to vastly outlive its progeny which included Boulevard Nights, The Wanders, Walk Proud and Defiance.

Conclave Gate72nd Street Swan

Conclave Cops and 96th Street Station. Diptychs by author.

Walter Hill, like all great directors who have made a magnum opus, kind of shot his wad on this one. And after creating it, he sadly never did anything to equal it. In much the same way that Orson Welles struggled to follow Citizen Kane or Francis Ford Coppola dropped nothing but turkey’s after Apocalypse Now. Sure, he subsequently created some good flicks such as the prototype buddy comedy 48 Hours or the Vietnam War parable Southern Comfort, but this remains the high water mark from which his career receded rather than developed. Which is a shame, because earlier efforts such as the Charles Bronson vehicle Street Fighter and 1978’s The Driver, featuring somnambulist / actor Ryan O Neal showed great promise and were influential in their own right too. The inspiration of the latter being most obviously seen in Nicholas Winding Refen’s 2011 virtual homage Drive.

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Baseball Furies Chase. Diptychs by author.

The Warriors continually walks an interesting line between surrealism and reality. The Koch era big apple is portrayed as some kind of neon lit playground and the beautiful – if eerie – blinking lights of cityscape contrasted with the litter strewn streets and subway platforms. Similarly the use of real locations (primarily Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Coney Island), is juxtaposed with Sam Peckinpah style slow motion and fast cuts which creates a heightened tone which feels unique to the film.

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Baseball Furies Chase. Diptychs by author.

Upon its release, it was met with a mixed critical response and some violent incidents in the theatres in which it was shown. A shooting at a drive-in, brawls between actual gangs during showings and a fatal stabbing were just some of the stories reported. Whether the film itself was an incitement to violence, or more likely, actual gang members realised they were sitting across from their enemies in the aisles and chose to throw down, it nonetheless caused citizens groups to stage protests and ultimately forced distributor Paramount Pictures to pay for cinema security and tone down their advertising campaign.

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Baseball Furies Chase and Cyclone. Diptychs by author.

Having promised myself after my first viewing all those years ago, that one day I would soldier those same streets and see that Wonder Wheel close up, it was a happy (albeit incredibly cold) day when I finally managed to give it a shot. The results are in the shakily filmed video below.

P.S. Special thanks must be given to the Scouting New York blog (http://www.scoutingny.com/) which helped me to find many of these locations and which is an excellent blog in its own right.

P.P.S. I certainly did not sign up to display advertisements on youtube. The powers that be likely notice the use of third party music or clips and spam accounts accordingly.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and The Eastern Terraces with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar

LOGO

Lower Level, Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St., Lower Level, Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St., New York, New York, 10017, USA

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Looking down the main area (Click on Pictures for Larger View). Photo by author.

Situated within the bowels of the Grand Central Railway Terminal opened in 1913, The Oyster Bar simultaneously started business as the more pedestrian named Grand Central Terminal Restaurant and has been in near continuous operation ever since.

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Looking at the counter bar. Photo by author.

Originally designed by architect Raphael Gustavino, The Oyster Bar has served clam chowders and oysters to various passengers and local business people for decades. Apparently influenced by the French in both its Beuax Arts styling and the food served within its space, it comes as little surprise that The Oyster Bar received weekly imports of produce from Paris up to the mid 1990s until the costs were considered too prohibitive.

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The Grand Central Terminal Restaurant Space Circa 1913. Photo stolen from the web.

According to Henry Chancellor’s fantastic book, ‘James Bond and his World’, this was Ian Fleming’s self described favourite restaurant in America and he would visit every time he was in New York. His preference was apparently oyster soup mixed with cream, paprika and Worcestershire sauce with a bottle of Miller’s High Life beer to wash it down.

Miller High Life Ad

Miller High Life Beer Ad. Photo Stolen From the Web.

The space was predominantly owned and operated in the late 20th century by a restaurateur named Jerome Brody who also controlled at various times other New York culinary institutions such as the Four Seasons and the Rainbow Room.

Jermoe Brody (Slinging Hash)

Jerome Brody (In white coat slinging hash). Photo stolen from the web.

Famed for turning the Rainbow Room from a shell of its former self into a hangout for the famous faces of the mid 1960s and 1970s, and the Four Seasons (located within the modernist marvel Seagram Building) into the penultimate theme restaurant of its day, Mr Brody was astute operator who generally got other people to front the money for the space and renovations whilst he provided the acumen and ability to give their buildings cache and foot traffic.

This phoenix like ability to transform dead institutions into culinary gold was likely on the mind of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when they asked him to take over The Oyster Bar in 1974 for having fallen into disrepair and been shuttered at the time of his appointment, the space was in desperate need of a steady hand.

Mr Brody improved the food, creating daily varieties of oysters, adding a larger number of modern dishes to the menu and fashioned a seafood focussed wine list any sommelier would be proud of. The result spoke for itself and The Oyster Bar again became a destination that any serious food lover would wish to visit.

According to a magazine article in Australian Business Insider, the produce is sourced from a fish market in The Bronx early every morning which surprises the shit out of me, as I – thanks to my 1980s cultural upbringing – only associate the Bronx with hip hop and urban decay. A further selection is provided by the Atwood Lobster Company which is based out of Maine, and the famed oysters themselves are shipped from Connecticut.

I went there just before 9.30pm on a Friday evening, sat at the end of the counter and was informed that the food service was about to finish. Having repeatedly heard that New York was the city that never sleeps, I was a little surprised to find an institution like this stops serving food after 9.30pm on a Friday. Particularly in such a central location that could keep providing customers well after that time. Nonetheless, I asked the guy behind the counter to give me an assortment of a ten oysters that he himself would recommend and ordered an IPA.

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Counter setting with a neighbour’s detritus plainly visible. Photo by author.

They had a variety of condiments, including the aforementioned Ian Fleming favourite of crackers, traditional salt and pepper, classic Tabasco sauce and its more modern variant Cholula.

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The condiments on offer. The reality is plain is best. Photo by author.

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I shucked these fuckers in about two minutes. Photo by author.

Gotta say, they were some good oysters (the Belon in particular) and I wish I had requested double when I had still had the chance to actually order them.

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Menu obviously subject to change. Photo by author.

Bill with tip was around $50 for ten oysters and a beer and although pricy was one of the best (if most basic) meals I had while in the U.S.A. If I lived in the area, I would be there regularly, surveying the internationalist interior of the Met Life (previously Pan Am building) and chowing down on some of the best the sea has to offer.

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Paying with my crisp folded tourist dollars. Photo by author.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and The Eastern Terraces with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

LINKS:

http://www.oysterbarny.com/

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/record/archives/vol21/vol21_iss25/record2125.17.html

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/oyster-bar-at-grand-central-station-2012-3