Artists have long relied upon Dumbo’s timeless architecture, ethereal light, and melancholy atmosphere for inspiration and source material. It’s a secret that film and television artists have increasingly exploited. As recently as December, the makers of John Wick 2 were painting at least part of their dark tale on the Dumbo canvas. But film buffs know this is no new phenomenon; here are some famous films and television series that have set part of their stories in Dumbo.
Once Upon a Time in America
The distinctive view of Manhattan Bridge as seen from Washington Street serves as the official poster of Serge Leone’s masterwork about a Jewish gangster who returns to the hard luck streets from which he rose. The film is loaded with iconic Brooklyn locations.
This 1955 independent noir film — the first full-length feature by film giant Stanley Kubrick — is the story of a down-and-out boxer, the taxi dancer he falls for, and the gangster who tries to kill them both. Killer’s Kiss includes scenes shot in the old Penn Station and in Times Square, but it’s Dumbo’s warehouses that give the film its foreboding atmosphere.
In 1980s films, cool artists’ lofts were more likely to be set in SoHo or the Meatpacking District. By the time of the 2001 film Vanilla Sky, a remake of the Spanish film Abre los Ojos (or Open Your Eyes),Penelope Cruz takes Tom Cruise back to her loft at 57 Jay Street, at the corner of Water Street. His car is parked across the street, in front of the lot where Dumbonians now grab their meals from various food trucks.
In this prequel of sorts to the Batman story, the Gotham City of Bruce Wayne’s youth gets its gritty aesthetic from the look of New York in the 70s and 80s. In several episodes, the Manhattan Bridge archway at the Pearl Street Triangle serves as the back entrance to the Gotham City Police Department, as in this scene from season 2 where Detective James Gordon chases a perp into the alley behind the Department of Transportation’s Iron Shop.
The official Cruel Summer video courtesy of RHINO via YouTube
For some reason, the British band Bananarama decided to film the music video for their first U.S. top ten hit in New York City. The video for “Cruel Summer” is a silly romp, with scenes inspired by the car chases of TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard. Much of these scenes were shot in Dumbo and surrounding neighborhoods.
“[It] was just an excuse to get us to the fabled city of New York for the first time,” said band member Siobhan Fahey. “It was August, over one hundred degrees. Our HQ was a tavern under the Brooklyn Bridge, which had a ladies’ room with a chipped mirror where we had to do our makeup.”
At that bar, according to Fahey, they met some dockworkers who shared vials of a certain illicit substance with them.
“That was our lunch” said Fahey. “When you watch that video, we look really tired and miserable in the scenes we shot before lunch, and then the after-lunch shots are all euphoric and manic.”
Bonus Nearby Location: The French Connection
This 1971 thriller was the first R-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar (though the then-X-rated Midnight Cowboy won two years earlier). The Bensonhurst chase scene is probably the film’s most famous Brooklyn location, but the waterfront made an appearance, too, in the scene where a car full of heroin is unloaded from a freighter. Today it’s a soccer field and part of the Pier 6 portion of Brooklyn Bridge Park.