Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn | 2020
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It comes as a surprise each time ‘Gotham City’ is name-checked in Cathy Yan's Birds Of Prey as there’s nothing traditional about this brightly-coloured, sun-drenched Gotham.
Suicide Squad was filmed around central Toronto, and the idea from moving from Gotham’s centre to the Outer Boroughs is interesting, but ended up pre-empted by Todd Phillips’ ultra-grim setting for Joker. Despite some impressive CGI tweaking (which probably goes unnoticed), the setting never really feels like anything other than Downtown Los Angeles, particularly since there are some quite familiar locations.
Having broken up with ‘Mr J’ (there seems to be some problem with the use of the name Joker), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) gets a space of her own, with Bruce the hyena and a stuffed beaver in a pink tutu, with a room above ‘Doc’s Place’, a corner takeaway in Gotham’s Chinatown.
This is Phoenix Inn Chinese Food, 301 Ord Street at the corner of New High Street in LA’s Chinatown, just north of the Downtown area. In fact, two blocks east, the corner of Ord Street and Spring Street was used for the final scene of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, though it has changed quite a bit,
‘Taco Dirty’ where Harley is furious to hear gossip suggesting she’s not really over Mr J, is Gil's Super Burger, 730 South Hill Street, Downtown. This is also where the Birds gather to celebrate with Margaritas at the end of the movie. For trivia buffs, it’s right alongside the store which was used as the 'Tech Noir' nightclub in James Cameron’s original The Terminator.
To bring closure once and for all, and more importantly to prove a point, Harley destroys that most romantic of spots, the ‘ACE Chemicals Plant’, which meant so much to Harley and Joker.
For this, we move east of Downtown to the light industrial district across the Los Angeles River. Not being one for subtlety, Harley steals a truck from outside the handsome 1950s building on the west side of South Anderson Street at Boyd Street, which now houses Garment Group, and sets it careering south down the road.
What appears to be a little service road leading to the plant is South Anderson Street itself, where the entrance ‘gate’ was faked at at Artemus Street, and the complex then added digitally for the impressive explosion.
Arriving at the scene of mayhem, it’s pretty obvious to by GCPD Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who’s responsible.
Strutting along South Los Angeles Street, after getting a perfect breakfast from ‘Sal’s’, Harley finds herself suddenly confronted by Montoya at Winston Street, east of Main Street in the area of Downtown traditionally called Skid Row (though, like so many places, it's in the process of being gentrified).
You wouldn’t notice from the film, but there’s an extraordinary amount of CGI going on in the background to try and sell this as more of a ‘New York-style’ street corner.
Harley’s not about to go quietly and races off, ducking into the first little alleyway on the left, alongside Lucky Ave, 215 Winston Street.
From here she makes a quick right into a crowded outdoor market, pausing only to pick up a dinky little handbag that catches her eye.
It’s not only Montoya that’s on her case. Now news has spread that Harley is no longer under the protection of the Clown Prince of Crime, plenty of people feel free to settle old scores. This includes the brother of the animal dealer Harley fed to her hyena, with whom she suddenly comes face to face.
Diving for safety into the rear of Wall Street Wholesale indoor market, she emerges from the front onto Wall Street, where she meets the former driver whose legs she broke, loses her egg sandwich and faces hyena-man’s van barrelling along the road towards her.
Narrowly giving everyone the slip, Harley sneaks out of the back entrance of a store only to run smack into someone else bearing a grudge – ‘Happy’, the man whose face had been tattooed by Mr J.
Another of LA's little alleyways, this is Werdin Place at East 5th Street, about a block to the west.
The stretch of Werdin Place, north from 5th to Winston Street, is called Indian Alley. It was a gathering place for homeless Native Americans flocking to the city after the 1956 Indian Relocation Act, intended to ‘encourage’ Native people to leave reservations and ‘assimilate’ into cities. Predictably, the results weren’t always as positive as had been intended.
That history is now recognised in the Alley’s murals and colourful street art. Indian Alley has appeared in several movies, including 1973’s The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, as well as such classic TV cop shows as Starsky & Hutch, Baretta, and Quincy ME.
This entrance to Indian faces the GM Hoff Building, East 5th Street, a historic property seen in Martin Brest’s 1988 Midnight Run, with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, in Francis Lawrence's 2005 supernatural thriller Constantine, with Keanu Reeves, and in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. It's here on East 5th Street that a mysterious crossbow killer appears, quickly dispatches ‘Happy’ and roars away on her bike.
Montoya is having her own problems, with her work colleagues. The interior of 'Gotham City Police Dept' is another familiar spot. It’s what was the old Unocal Building, which was being used so much as a movie location, it was finally converted into the LA Center Studios, 1202 West Fifth Street at Beaudry Street, Downtown. It's been featured in The X-Files, Doug Liman’s Mr & Mrs Smith, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Constantine, again.
The 'Black Mask' club, run by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) is an elaborate set, but the rear entrance, where singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett) rescues a totally wasted Harley from being abducted is more of LA’s Skid Row District. It’s the northern end of Harlem Place alongside 116 West 4th Street (just across from the street from screen regular, the Barclay Hotel).
Lance returns to her apartment building, with that distinctive arched entrance, at 1312 Ingraham Street, south of Wilshire Boulevard in the Westlake District, between Downtown and MacArthur Park.
She briefly speaks to another tenant, Cass (Ella Jay Basco), a petty street thief who unwittingly sets the plot in motion by casually filching a huge diamond from the pocket of Sionis’s right-hand man Zsasz (Chris Messina) outside ‘Gotham City Imports’.
The doorway with the decorative brass grill is the entrance to the Trust Building, 433 South Spring Street, just west of Harlem Place. This screen stalwart previously provided the art deco interior of ‘Gotham City Stock Exchange’ for The Dark Knight Rises, Kate Beckinsale's ‘Manhattan’ hotel in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, and the ‘New York’ TV station office in Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla.
The stolen rock, which also contains some vital MacGuffinesque information for Sionis, gives Harley a bargaining chip with the crime lord when she claims she can retrieve it.
It doesn’t take Harley long to track down Cass, but the crafty Sionis hedged his bets by putting a ginormous bounty on Cass’s head. There’s now a slew of people chasing both Cass and Harley, including a crazy Freda Kahlo-lookalike, who’s quickly dispatched with a stick of dynamite as she follows them across the Fourth Avenue Viaduct toward Downtown LA.
On ‘Dixon Street’, Harley pulls over, and Cass is forced to admit she's swallowed the diamond. The magnificently tiled building behind them can be found on the north side of Pico Boulevard at corner of Fedora Street, in Pico Union, west of Downtown, and Cass is forced to admit she's swallowed the diamond.
There’s an odd detour from Downtown up to the San Fernando Valley, to find the supermarket where shop for laxatives to, um, ease the passage of the jewel (the alternative is too horrible to contemplate).
There is a reason for this shift. This independent store, with no big recognisable brand identity, has found a niche standing in for generic markets in 'Anytown, USA'.
It’s Fields Market, 23221 Saticoy Street, at Woodlake Avenue, way over west of Canoga Park toward West Hills.
A rundown old store when it was taken over in the early 1990s, Fields has been lovingly spruced up to become the focal point for the neighbourhood. Following an appearance in TV’s Seventh Heaven, the market began a parallel career as a filming location.
Apparently, it’s just a short walk to Harley’s place, so we’re straight back to Chinatown. When Doc’s place comes under attack, it’s the last straw. Harley phones Sionis and arranges to hand over Cass if he’ll call off the desperate bounty hunters.
The phone box was a prop for the movie, installed on Ord Street opposite Doc’s, where you’ll find that striking red wall with the diamond patterning.
Haley arranges the meet at the old ‘Booby Trap’ arcade on 'Gotham’s Amusement Mile' – who doesn’t need a big old deserted amusement park for that big confrontation?
Sionis sends Dinah to drive Zsasz to handle the affair, but as she drives west along South Central Avenue across 7th Street, she realises they’re being followed by Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the crossbow killer.
Suddenly, they’re on 7th Street itself, heading north to South Alameda Street and the huge Alameda Square complex, once warehouses for the goods terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The crazy ‘female torso’ entrance to the 'Booby Trap' was constructed on the south side of the vast SCS Warehouse, 516 South Anderson Street opposite Willow Street East – which is just south of the ‘ACE Chemical Plant’ location. It overlooks the open space on the east side of Anderson at 6th Street, where the old fairground was constructed and CGI used to take out the surrounding industrial buildings. The 'Booby Trap'’s deliriously wacky pop-art interior was built in the studio.
After the enjoyably violent face-off between the Birds and all the heavies Sionis can muster, Sionis himself slips away.
Harley follows his car on roller-skates, aided by a helpful tow from Huntress. This odd stretch of road, lined with nothing but parking structures and spiral ramps is the rear of the disused and empty Hawthorne Plaza Mall, Hawthorne Boulevard at 120th Street, Hawthorne, to the south of Los Angeles.
Did you recognise it as the big garage from The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift? The long-empty Mall was briefly brought back to life for Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, with Tom Cruise, but was back to a glumly decrepit state in David Fincher’s Gone Girl.
‘Founders Pier’ is another studio set, and then its back to Gil’s Super Burger for those well-earned Margaritas. True to form, Harley makes off with Dinah’s car to sell that big diamond. She finds a store on Broadway, Downtown, returning to her car with Cass and Bruce the hyena, parked in front of the old Roxie Theatre – and finally getting her long-delayed egg sandwich.