Sunday, May 04, 2008

John Carpenter's L.A.

Try as I might, I just can’t get through a day of exploring Los Angeles without tracking down a few filming locations. After Union Station, we headed south to get a peek at the seedier side of downtown Los Angeles popularized by filmmaker John Carpenter in the 1980s. Carpenter loves L.A. – as evidenced by the fact that many of his films have been shot in a variety of locations throughout the city: “Assault on Precinct 13” in South Central and Venice Beach, “Halloween” in South Pasadena and Hollywood, “Christine” in Oak Park and East Los Angeles. “Escape from New York” was shot on location in St. Louis(!), but the opening sequence (at the detention center) was shot right here at the Sepulveda Dam. “The Fog” takes place on the coast above San Francisco, but one key scene at the beginning of the film was shot at Laurel Canyon Country Store in Hollywood. (For more details, see Horror's Hallowed Grounds.)

“Big Trouble in Little China” also takes place in San Francisco, but one significant location from the film (Egg Shen's loft, with fire poles leading to the Chinese underworld) sits right on the edge of L.A.’s Skid Row. Fire house #23 on 5th Street also allegedly provided interiors for “Ghostbusters.” Unlike some of the other historic fire stations in downtown L.A., this one has not undergone any renovations – which isn’t too surprising, given its location. Fire house #23 sits just a few doors down from the New Los Angeles Mission and across the street from San Julian Park: the ill-reputed heart of Skid Row. This is not a terribly inviting neighborhood, though an article by Dana Goodyear in the May 5 issue of The New Yorker magazine says that the recent filming of a big-budget movie (“The Soloist” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx) in this neighborhood is part of a dramatic gentrification.

A few blocks north, on San Pedro Street, I snapped a photo of a new condo development in the warehouse district – proof, I suppose, of the influx of new money into "Central City East." As I eyeballed the construction site, I couldn’t help thinking of the tent city in Carpenter’s 1988 film “They Live.” That film got a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing the homeless settlement with L.A.’s nearby skyscrapers – a none-too-subtle comment on class conflict in Reagan-era America. (The more things change, the more they stay the same…)

A few more blocks to the north, San Pedro becomes Judge John Aliso Street. This is where the homeless masses converged and surrounded the heroes of Carpenter’s apocalyptic film “Prince of Darkness.” Several scenes in the film were shot at the San Fernando Mission in the northern part of the Valley, while others were shot at nearby USC (Carpenter’s alma mater), but the bulk of the action takes place at a small church downtown. Inside the church (now the Union Center for the Arts), a team of religious scholars and scientists struggle to unlock the secrets of a canister filled with Liquid Evil. Outside, Alice Cooper prepares a gang of Skid Row slashers for an unholy siege. In Carpenter’s Los Angeles, the disenfranchised underclass is in league with a demon that’s poised to take over the world. If that doesn’t drive you out of downtown, nothing will.

Escape from Sepulveda Dam

Big Trouble in Skid Row

They Live on San Pedro Street (the "tent city" on John Carpenter's film was actually constructed on the other side of the financial district, near the corner of Beverly and 2nd Street, but you get the idea...)

Union Center for the Prince of Darkness

This is the dark alley where Alice Cooper and his droogies intimidated the heroes of John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness."

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