Montreal Location Scouting with Ginger Coffey

I attended a rare screening of The Luck of Ginger Coffey (Canada, 1964) last Saturday, as part of the Cine Gael Irish Film series. It stars Robert Shaw, who was just beginning to be something (he shot this a year after he starred as “Grant” in From Russia with Love) and was directed by Irvin Kershner, who went on to an illustrious career shooting little-known space romps such as The Empire Strikes Back.

In brief, The Luck of Ginger Coffey (Wikipedia) is the story of an ambitious but somewhat misguided Irish immigrant to Montreal in the early 1960s. Ginger Coffey is a master of well-meaning but destructive lies and misdirections, as he wages a tug-of-war between telling his wife and teenage daughter that yes, the Montreal experiment is over and we’ll soon be back in Dublin, while simultaneously chasing down his next big opportunity. The fact that he cannot afford return passage further complicates things and makes his situation even more desperate.

The film is based on a Brian Moore novel of the same title (Moore also penned the screenplay). I read the novel a couple of years after I moved to Montreal, and I found a lot of myself in that character, as I too was an outsider with great but unfulfilled ambitions, and was at a loss as to how to go on.

Ginger is almost delusional in his desperation to find legitimate and meaningful work that provides good appearances. When he hears of an “assistant to the sales manager” position all he hears is “manager.” When told about a proofreading job, he says “so it’s like an editor then,” to which he is told “it’s sort of a sub-editor.” By the end of the conversation Coffey is convinced the “sub-editor” job is “only temporary” (which is essentially his catch-phrase for the entire film) and he proceeds to tell his wife that he’s been hired as an editor.

This is a very Montreal film in that the city does not stand in for elsewhere. It is set, and filmed over a Montreal winter, with plenty of cold and wet black-and-white exterior shots from various places around the city. On such occasions it is fun to location-check those shots; some were easy to identify, and others less so.

After the screening I took advantage of the tools of our modern times to do a bit of research, and I’ve identified some of the key locations, as indicated below.

The Coffey’s first apartment

This is on Drummond, above Sherbrooke. The old redstones are gone now, but the large apartment building is still there.

Tight view:
house on drummond

Wider view:
wider view

Google Street View:
street view

Ginger’s apartment at 1221 rue Plessis

This one was easy, as Ginger gave his address at his arraignment for indecent exposure (see the film for details on that). He said “1221 Plessis Street,” and indeed that is the address of the location used. It’s between Ste-Catherine E. and René-Lévesque.

Stairs view:
1221 Plessis

Balcony view:
21221 Plessis balcony

Google Street View:
street view

Vera Coffey’s Apartment

This is on Square Saint-Louis. Specifically, the building on the north side of Laval and Prince-Arthur. The walking route they took to arrive there makes no sense; they walked through the west side of Square Saint-Louis, in a north-east direction, then turned and crossed Ave. Laval near the intersection at rue du Square Saint-Louis (north side), then doubled-back on Laval. But that’s cinema for you.

High view of Square Saint-Louis:
square saint-louis

Crossing Laval:
square saint-louis

Google Street View:
street view

Entrance to the apartment:

Wide view:
laval and prince-arthur

Google Street View:
street view

Newspaper Presses

A few times we see Ginger step outside of his workplace at the fictional Montreal Tribune and pause for a moment against a bank of windows where you see newspaper presses chugging away. I’m pretty sure this is the old Gazette building on Saint-Antoine near Bleury.

In the first screenshot below, you see Ginger rounding a corner with a large round column barely visible except for the light reflection. The next shot is him with his back to the presses; the large column is just out-of-frame to his left. That building is now a hotel, but I recall seeing the press machines behind those windows back in the 1980s. You can see the column in Google Street View.

The column:
gazette 1

The presses:

Google Street View:
street view

Scene of the Crime

Ginger’s fateful call of nature occurred while he was waiting for a bus in front of the Windsor Hotel. He went around the corner onto rue Cypress to find a darker and quieter spot to relieve himself. Specifically, he seems to have done the deed in the doorway of what is now 1100 rue Cypress.

Side of the Windsor Hotel:
crime scene

Google Street View:
street view

Palais de Justice

This one shouldn’t be hard, but for some reason a lot of Montrealers don’t recognize the Palais du Justice on rue Notre-Dame. Perhaps it’s because it’s set back from the street a bit so we don’t notice it, or maybe it is overshadowed by the magnificent Ernest Cormier building across the street that houses the Appeals Court but for me will always be the place where Jane Fonda had a moment in Agnes of God. But there it is, unchanged, in all its neoclassical glory.

Tight view:
palais de justice

Google Street View:
street view

You can watch The Luck of Ginger Coffey yourself on YouTube, although the highest resolution is 480p.

Two Views

This is a true story in two versions. Each is very different. Both are very true.

First View

The cinema was crowded, but we found two seats on the aisle next to a man who seemed a bit dirty and smelled a bit foul. He was young, in his thirties, with a short cropped beard, short dark hair, and dark eyes. Mediterranean probably, or maybe Arab. He stared at the blank screen, motionless, his heels resting on the back of the occupied seat in front of him. He fidgeted with a backpack.

We were there to see a politically charged film set in the middle east. A film replete with guns and the slaughter of innocents. Thoughts about the man sitting next to us appeared in my mind. Worrisome thoughts. Imaginings of an angry man with a few loose screws in his head embarking on his own private jihad. A psycho off his meds, charging himself up with a movie that matched the feverish visions in his head, tightly wound, ready to spring. That backpack was easily large enough to hold a bomb or a gun. As the previews rolled my inner debate raged. Am I overreacting? Am I being näive? Parsing the probabilities, combined with knowledge of my highly active imagination, I found myself not willing to stand up and walk out. My intuition told me he was out of his mind but probably not dangerous. We stuck it out, one eye on the screen and one on the glassy-eyed man sitting next to us.

Ten minutes into the screening his phone rang. He answered it and began a mumbling conversation as if he were on the street and not in a darkened cinema surrounded by people intent on watching a movie. Someone objected and threatened to call the manager, provoking a fury of invective from the increasingly more dangerous-seeming man. I began making high-alert plans, what to do if he stands up and starts screaming, what to do if a gun comes out. Where to dive to avoid the brunt of a bomb blast.

45 minutes into the film he gathered his belongings, stood up, and left. He did not come back.

Second View

We went to a movie the other day and sat next to this drunk arsehole sitting there all by himself. He was really out of it, and he stunk. He stuck his feet upon the back of the seat in front of him, even though somebody was sitting there. After the movie started, his phone rang and he started talking on it like he was out in the lobby or something. The guy sitting in front of him told him to get off the phone, but the guy yelled back “shut the fuck up and look at the screen ya fuken douchebag!” Half an hour later he left, thank gawd!

Revolutionary Road Movie

vintage richard yates cover revolutionary roadIf you don’t know by now that Revolutionary Road was my favorite of all the books I read last year, then you’re just not paying attention. But as I’ve said before, I have my doubts about the film version, directed by Sam Mendes (of American Beauty), which opens in Montreal any day now.

I’m doubtful because the book was such a writerly novel; as much, or more, about the telling as about the story itself. Not that cinema can’t achieve the same level of art and craft in its narrative, but doing it that way generally doesn’t sell a lot of extra tickets, and with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead roles, there are some big salaries to cover.

However, I’ve seen a few reviews that indicate the film may indeed be somewhat true to the grindingly anxious subtext and nuance that we find in Richard Yates’s book.  But first, Adelle Waldman, writing in The New Republic, provides us with a latter-day review of the novel, reminding us of what’s really going on in the book. Her review’s blurb says “Revolutionary Road, considered the original anti-suburban novel, isn’t actually anti-suburbs–but something far more devastating than that.”

…if Mendes’s new film is to do Revolutionary Road justice, it will transcend the easy anti-suburban categorization. While Yates’s depiction of suburban life is nightmarish enough to exceed the worst fears of Jane Jacobs’s devotees, Revolutionary Road is far more than a complacent takedown of the ‘burbs. It is in fact less an anti-suburban novel than a novel about people who blame their unhappiness on the suburbs.

Katrina Onstad, reviewing the film on, had similar things to say about the book:

… Yates tells the story of a married couple living miserably in the suburbs, but they’ve imported their own pain and dysfunction from the city.

And about the movie:

…their fights are colossal and verbally lacerating, with each party projecting their own failures onto the other. Yates’ clear, colloquial language gets a full workout in these devastating rounds, which measure just how low lovers can go.

There’s more:

Both the book and film take place on the eve of second wave feminism, and April’s rudderless, identity-free existence doesn’t have a name yet; it will take Betty Friedan, in 1963, to identify the plague of discontent felling housewives in The Feminine Mystique. April’s misery may quietly exist in the shadow of what’s coming next, but Mendes doesn’t delve deep into the kind of broad social satire of television’s Mad Men, where housewives regularly disintegrate. There, our pleasure is in watching the racist, sexist characters march obliviously towards the precipice of the late ’60s.

Revolutionary Road is not as moored to its historical moment; there’s actually a timelessness to the psychological portraits Mendes paints. We watch the lit fuse that is Frank and April’s relationship, wondering just how many compromises they can make, how cornered they have to feel before the inevitable explosion.

OK, I’m convinced enough to give it a go. Don’t let me down, Sam Mendes!

180 Foot Homer Invents a New Sport

The folks behind the marketing of the upcoming The Simpsons Movie have angered pagans worldwide by creating a 180-foot tall image of an underwear-clad Homer Simpson on the same hill as the famous Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, England. The image of Homer is made of biodegradable paint which will eventually dissolve and wash away.

The image of Homer holding a donut aloft is already iconic of the movie’s publicity, but this image puts a new spin on it. Not only is Homer clad only in his underwear (in contrast to the giant’s brazen and aroused nakedness), but I can’t help but think of the donut as a sporting instrument instead of a fattening snack.

donut toss

Go, Homer, Go!

he scores!

Woo hoo! Homer gets a ringer in the Erotic Donut Toss.

As for the pagans, they are understandably upset over this apparent desecration of a sacred place. After all, the giant is a revered icon that has aided the fertility of countless Lord of the Rings fans. We should all be upset over this brash and profane display of commercial publicity.

On the other hand . . .

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!