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Tuesday December 18th 2018

Celebrity | 1998

Celebrity filming location: 85 South Street, New York
Celebrity location: The riverfront apartment of ambitious journalist Lee Simon: 85 South Street, New York | Photograph: Google Maps

Woody Allen seems to be aiming for a Big Apple Dolce Vita with fitfully ambitious journalist Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh, adopting Allen’s persona) adrift in the predictably shallow and self-absorbed world of showbiz.

Like Manhattan and Stardust Memories, the broad but engaging satire is photographed in sparkling monochrome, this time by cinematographer, Sven Nyquist – the last of four films shot by Ingmar Bergman’s longtime collaborator for Allen.

Lee spends most of his time and energy ingratiating himself with the rich and famous  in an attempt to pitch either his great Hollywood screenplay or his great novel, on which he’s alternately working.

The film opens with a harassed movie director pressured into getting a one-off shot as the word “HELP” written in the sky above New York, quickly fades, on location outside 375 Park Avenue between East 52nd and East 53rd Streets.

Lee is attracted to film extra Nola (Winona Ryder), but is more concerned to get an interview with the production’s glamorous star Nicole (Melanie Griffith).

Nicole takes him to visit her childhood home in Long Island City, on the corner of 31st Drive and 12th Street, where she goes beyond and above the call of duty to ensure a favourable write-up.

A flashback sees Lee breaking up with his wife Robin (Judy Davis), who explodes with fury as Lee reveals he wants a divorce, in the Ladies’ Pavilion in Central Park. This elaborate structure of cast iron, slate and wood was built in 1871 as a shelter for the trolley stop at 59th Street and Eighth Avenue. It now stands on a secluded spot near 75th Street on the west side of the park, next to The Lake, providing a photogenic location for Central Park weddings and fashion shoots – and also pops up in the big-screen version of Sex And The City.

Lee quickly moves on to vacuous Supermodel (Charlize Theron), whom he meets at a catwalk show held at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge – the bridge made famous of course by the poster image from Manhattan.

Supermodel’s impressive apartment block outside which Lee parks his Aston Martin before a hectic night on the town, is the Cherokee, 517 East 77th Street at York Avenue, on the East Side.

A couple of the evening's locations have now gone. The Serge Sorokko Gallery occupied 430 West Broadway in SoHo, which is now office space. This was where the fun kicks off with a party for artist Bruce Bishop (played by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi).

It starts to go downhill at El Flamingo Nightclub, which stood at 547 West 21st Street, where Supermodel starts coming down with a cold. There’s little to see – the nightspot hasn’t just closed down but the site has been redeveloped.

The evening ends in disaster as Lee crashes his car into the window of a store in the Meat-Packing District.

Things go much better for Robin, meeting television producer Tony (Joe Mantegna), who drops her off at her apartment, 49 East 42nd Street at Madison Avenue.

Lee turns up for a meeting with brattish actor Brandon Darrow (Leonardo DiCaprio) just as he’s trashing his hotel room and trying to throw his girlfriend out of the window. The long-suffering hotel, willing to take back the little scamp after he’s signed a few autographs for the cops, was the Stanhope, 995 5th Avenue at East 81st Street up on the East Side. There's unlikely to be such behaviour there now. In 2005, the building was converted to a residential co-op and renamed, imaginatively, 995 Fifth Avenue.

The breakup between Yale Pollack (Michael Murphy) and Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton) in Woody Allen's Manhattan, took place at the since-demolished sidewalk cafe that wrapped around the ground floor of the Stanhope.

Lee unwisely finds himself roped into Darrow’s entourage for a flight to Atlantic City, where he loses $6000 at the gambling tables of what was then the Trump Marina Hotel and Casino, and finds himself unwillingly participating in a coke-fuelled orgy. The establishment lives on as the Golden Nugget Casino Hotel , Brigantine Boulevard at Huron Avenue. The hotel is also seen in The Godfather Part III.

Celebrity filming location: Barbetta Restaurant, West 46th Street, West Side, New York
Celebrity location: Robin disappears from the wedding ceremony: Barbetta Restaurant, West 46th Street, West Side, New York

Just as Lee seems to be settling down with Bonnie (Famke Janssen) and invites her to move in with him, he runs into Nola again. It’s at a book launch held in Elaine's Restaurant, which stood at 1703 2nd Avenue and East 88th Street. The famed celeb hangout, also featured in Allen’s Manhattan and Manhattan Murder Mystery, has since closed down.

He arranges to meet her later at ‘the kiosk opposite El Teddy’s’. Teddy’s was the bar which stood at 219 West Broadway in Tribeca graced by a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Sadly, it closed in 2004 and has since been demolished. It’s in front of the traditional, old style Franklin Street Subway Station entrance here that Lee and Nola meet up.

Rekindling the romance with Nola is not the best timing, with Bonnie moving in the next day. Lee’s apartment is 85 South Street, on the riverfront at South Street Seaport, which gives Bonnie the opportunity to storm out with the only manuscript of Lee’s novel, and scatter the pages dramatically into the East River from the East River Ferry.

With Tony’s help, Robin has moved to a career in TV, conducting gossipy interviews for the ‘Luncheon at Le Bijou’ section of Manhattan Moods TV show. ‘Le Bijou’, where she discovers that Donald Trump is intending to buy and redevelop St Patrick’s Cathedral, is the Jean-Georges Restaurant in Trump International Hotel & Tower Central Park, 1 Central Park West at West 60th Street.

In fact, she’s all set to marry Tony when she suddenly disappears from the wedding ceremony being held in the garden of Barbetta Restaurant, 321 West 46th Street. The upscale West Side restaurant is a favourite Woody Allen location, previously seen in Alice and also in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

A visit to a rather worldly psychic sets her back on track and the wedding goes ahead.

There’s one final meeting between the now-happily married Robin and the still [confused] Lee at the premiere of The Liquidator being held at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street and 6th Avenue. Opened in 1969, the Ziegfeld was the largest single-screen cinema in New York and was indeed used for film premieres. Sadly, it finally closed its doors in 2016, and there are plans afoot re-open it as a luxury event space called the Ziegfeld Ballroom.

This turns out neatly to be the production which was being shot at the opening of the film, with the skywritten word ‘HELP’ completing the circle.