Princess Street is transformed into a set for The Assassination of Jesse James (Dean DelBigio of Del's Electric)
From the Tsunami on Lombard Avenue to the Wild West on Princess Street: The new Real to Reel walking tour of the Exchange District shows you the neighbourhood through the eyes of Hollywood
A new 45-minute walking tour of the Exchange District reveals how the neighbourhood has been transformed -- with a few Hollywood tricks! -- into Kansas City, New York, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles, while spanning eras from the late 19th century to modern day.
A 20-square-block historical district packed with intact turn-of-the-20th-century structures, the Exchange has been an absolute boon for filmmakers. My tour guide, the wonderful, well-informed Erica Lasker, walks me around this beautiful, sometimes slightly battered 'hood, describing the buildings and their storied histories as well as the complex process of location shooting. Along with all this information, I get a smidge of Hollywood gossip - Brad Pitt loves our architecture! - and film still photos showing some amazing quick-change acts.
We start with Shall We Dance? Winnipeg stood in as Chicago, which is a natural fit, since much of the neighbourhood's architecture is classified as "Chicago-style." Filmed in 2003, when Dance star Jennifer Lopez had just started dating Ben Affleck, it attracted media from across the globe. Photographers hoping to catch a glimpse of "Bennifer" camped out in the McDermot Avenue parking lot behind the Ted Motyka Dance Studio.
We pass the Albert Street location where jet engines were used to roll cars down the street and poor old Randy Quaid dodged a tsunami in the weather-disaster movies Category 6 and Category 7. Then we stroll past the Ken Hong Restaurant, where the "Shanghai Shwartz's" sign is still left over from the made-for-TV flick Zaida and the Hitman.
On Notre Dame, we see where Philip Seymour Hoffman did some Oscar-winning work on the 2005 pic Capote, shivering with Method Acting commitment in windchills of -22C, across from the beat-up looking St. Charles Hotel.
Then it's off to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the fabulously slow, moody 2007 Western that starred Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Erica shows me pictures of Princess Street looking suitably frontiers-y, covered in sand and flanked with Dry Goods emporiums and livery stables.
This $35 million movie was a logistical minuet, which involved rerouting traffic, taking down Hydro poles, and establishing a whole block of Adelaide Street as a temporary paddock for the film's 40 horses and 20 carriages. And like J.Lo, Pitt was a hot tabloid property. It was the beginning of the Brangelina craze, and rumour had it that a paparazzi shot of the star could fetch $100,000!
The Reel to Real tour is expected to be popular with school groups and tourists, but I think it will work for Winnipeggers, too. I walk through the Exchange all the time, but this was a chance to view it from a new angle, to pick up on little details I'd stopped seeing. Take the" Drink Pepsi-Cola" sign painted on the side of a building on Notre Dame, which appears in Capote. It's such a piece of pure vintage gold that the movie people who saw the footage in L.A. assumed it had been created just for the film. But no, it's just part of the long, layered history of our very own town.