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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

Seems Like Old Times Square: on location in New York with the LAST ACTION HERO

The first time you visit New York...well, it sure doesn't feel like the first time.

Everywhere you look in the city - up, down, left, right - it's a serious case of deja vu. You've never set foot here but you just know these places...

From Robert De Niro cruising the mean streets of Manhattan in TAXI DRIVER...Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis as the GHOSTBUSTERS, tackling the spirits haunting the high-rises of killing the beast, as the tragic figure of KING KONG tumbles down from the top of the Empire State Building...

Grand Central Terminal. The Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Chrysler Building. Central Park.

All iconic, all instantly recognisable from books, movies and television.  When you step out into the streets of Manhattan, it's like walking onto the biggest film set on the planet. 

I bust my Big Apple cherry twenty years ago: March 1993. Five days and nights of sensory overload. It was, and still is, the most vibrant, exciting, alive city I've ever visited. 

On the last night of the trip, there was an extra, surreal twist. Rosie (then girlfriend, now wife) and me stumbled across a proper big-budget Hollywood movie being shot on 42nd Street: Arnold Schwarzenegger's then upcoming comedy thriller LAST ACTION HERO.


At that time, courtesy of mayor Rudy Giuliani,
Times Square was undergoing a radical transformation,  Gone were the seedy cinemas, porn shops and street gamblers that were its hallmark in the '60s and '70s. The whole area was being systematically cleansed of anything, or anyone, identified as undesirable. Times Square was being relaunched - very successfully, as it turned out - as an attractive new destination for both tourists and big business.  

Ironically, the scene in LAST ACTION HERO being filmed needed to turn back the clock; the sleazy parade of grindhouse cinemas had to be recreated.  The formerly shuttered porno theatres of 42nd Street were temporarily revived, with lurid film titles slapped across their rusting marquees: HOT BLOOD! YOUR BLOOD OR MINE! One such theatre proudly displayed the name of the film the movie was centred around - JACK SLATER III.

That evening, we watched as a small army of stunt drivers positioned and repositioned their cars in the blocked-off street, creating the illusion of traffic. Assistant directors barked instructions through bullhorns, as crowds thronged behind the barriers, eager to catch a glimpse of pure Hollywood film-making. Despite the bulky costume and make-up trailers nearby, there was to be no sign that night of any of the cast - notably former Mr Universe and then box-office titan, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without the starpower, the novelty of the Panavision cameras and klieg lights eventually wore off and we relinquished our places at the barrier.

We went back to 42nd Street the next day. The massed ranks of filmmakers had gone but the location remained dressed, ready for a second night's shooting. I had my picture taken underneath Schwarzenegger's name on a cinema marquee - the closest I'd get to Arnie on the trip.

LAST ACTION HERO opened later that year and was promptly trampled into the dust at the box-office by JURASSIC PARK. After a run of massive hits, this was a huge blow to Schwarzenegger. LAST ACTION HERO had been expected to launch an ongoing movie franchise, like the James Bond series. The underwhelming public response ended that particular dream. You can't keep a good man down, however. Arnold rebounded the following year with yet another blockbuster action hit - James Cameron's TRUE LIES. 

That was my first time in New York. It certainly wasn't the last - we spent last New Year's Eve in NYC.

And in the words of the Austrian Oak himself - I'll be back.