Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is written by Casey Barber, a freelance food writer/recipe developer and the editor of the online magazine Good. Food. Stories. Read on for some of her favorite Chicago film locations…
Doesn’t it always seem like New York City always gets the starring role in the movies? From ‘Ghostbusters’ to ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s to, um, ‘Manhattan,’ the city has become an almost clichéd stand-in for the hopes, dreams, fears, and realizations of so many classic characters.
This incredible New York Movie Map from the site Alien Loves Predator gives you a sense of how many films have used the island as a supporting player. There are 91 movies on the map, and that’s just scratching the surface of what’s been filmed or set in NYC!
And then there’s Chicago, the perennial Second City. Though its celluloid star shines a little less ostentatiously than that of the Big Apple, it’s been the backdrop for a perfect cinematic moment or two over the past few decades.
I moved to Chicago from the rolling fields of western PA (cue Slap Shot) at the dawn of the 21st century to attend journalism school at Northwestern University. During my El-propelled travels throughout the city’s neighborhoods, I didn’t find any mobsters, showgirls, or Blues Brothers, but I did find an unshowy but striking vitality unlike the bombast that seems to overtake Manhattan on a regular basis.
Herewith are my favorite movies that capture the everyday grandeur I felt as a temporary citizen of the city of big shoulders.
Though Nick Hornby’s book was set in London, John Cusack smartly changed the venue to his hometown of Chicago when he secured the movie adaptation rights, and thus made it one of the very few book-to-film transitions that actually improved on the original.
Championship Vinyl, the record store owned by Cusack’s character Rob Gordon, is unbelievably still a vacant building at the corner of N. Milwaukee and Honore in Wicker Park. The neighborhood was just gentrifying when the movie was filmed almost 15 years ago, and now it’s hipster city. Rob and his cronies would have done much better business these days.
The movie really is a subtle love letter to the city’s robust music scene, with references to classic clubs Schuba’s, The Double Door and Lounge Ax, and stickers from Chicago bands like Veruca Salt, the Falling Wallendas and Apocalypse Hoboken plastered all over the interior of Championship Vinyl.
Best of all, a few prominent scenes are set in The Green Mill, one of the greatest jazz clubs/bars in the city. You can’t miss the blinking neon sign on upper Broadway; step inside for the rococo decor and elaborately framed murals above the booths. It’s a trip. [Buy [amazon_link id="B00003CXGA" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]‘High Fidelity’ on Amazon[/amazon_link]]
While You Were Sleeping
Sandra Bullock’s cute little movie about a lonely El attendant gets major points for its opening credits chockablock with beauty shots of the city: from the Hancock Building and the Sears Tower (I will never call it anything else) to the clock on the old Marshall Field’s building (now a Macy’s, booo!) to the Picasso sculpture in front of Daley Plaza and a nod to His Airness, Michael Jordan.
The Randolph and Wabash stop in the Loop, where Sandra’s character Lucy works the tollbooth, is another authentic location that remains comfortingly shabby. Though renovations and improvements pop up here and there, most of the elevated platforms are still wooden, even those in the main Loop, and the tollbooths are still sort of there, even though we all use swipey cards now.
Bonus points for knowing that the doctor who attends to Peter Gallagher in the hospital was played by John Cusack’s dad! (Yeah, he’s got a bit part in ‘High Fidelity,’ too.) [Buy [amazon_link id="6304765266" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]‘While You Were Sleeping’ on Amazon[/amazon_link]]
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
OK, so maybe most Chicago residents don’t get to sing in a parade float on State Street, but then again, most Chicagoans probably can’t motivate an instantaneous grassroots movement to save their not-so-ailing selves. Out of all the John Hughes movies set in and around the Chicago suburbs, ‘Ferris Bueller’ is the one that takes best advantage of the city scenery, with scenes at Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, and of course, a sweet Ferrari ride down Lakeshore Drive.
There is no real-life Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago, I’m sad to say. [Buy [amazon_link id="B000BNX4MC" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ on Amazon[/amazon_link]]
My Best Friend’s Wedding
This one’s for the foodies: back in the day, before Grant Achatz changed the world through molecular gastronomy at Alinea, before pork bellies and pig’s ears gave an upscale connotation to Chicago’s former stockyard output at The Purple Pig, there was a guy named Charlie Trotter, who had — still does, in fact — a lushly elegant eponymous restaurant on Armitage Avenue.
Chef Trotter, by all accounts, is an understated perfectionist, so what’s he doing making a cameo in the opening moments of a slightly ridiculous rom-com that imagines Julia Roberts to be a 28-year-old food critic? God knows, but I almost choked on my homemade truffle-salted popcorn when I realized what I was seeing.
And for another edition of Chicago films overlapping, Julia Roberts gets to chase her would-be beloved, Dermot Mulroney, down the very same Union Station stairs that earned a place in movie history for the suspense-building baby carriage sequence in ‘The Untouchables’ (the scene below gets really good around the 5:15 mark):
Of course, Julia’s butt — not the beautiful stairs — gets most of the focus in ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’ [Buy [amazon_link id="B00005JG6N" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ on Amazon[/amazon_link]]
Never Been Kissed
This one’s for the architectural nostalgists: in yet another slightly ridiculous offering starring Drew Barrymore as a socially inept Chicago Sun-Times copy editor who went to Northwestern (and gets her own office – what??), I strongly suspect most of the movie was not filmed on location in the Windy City.
But my post-grad journalism pride gets the best of me, and I’ve got to include the film’s loving exterior shots of the old Chicago Sun-Times building, which was sold in 2001 to a certain New York real estate magnate who goes by the name of Donald Trump. He tore the squat little mid-century building down, as you’d expect, and replaced it with a gleamingly bland tower. Sigh.
The Chicago Tribune’s crazy ornate Gothic tower across the river always got most of the architecture gawkers, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the old Sun-Times building, and for all the cinematic moments that remind me of my brief but indelible time in Chicago. [Buy [amazon_link id="B00006ZXSL" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]‘Never Been Kissed’ on Amazon[/amazon_link]]
Screenshots: Casey Barber