Published on : Wednesday, December 18, 2019
He was interested in one that had appeared in the film American Gangster, a long set of steps that would convey the hopeless, 1980s urban feel he wanted for his new movie Joker. The movie’s protagonist, Arthur Fleck, would trudge up them on his way home from work.
So a location scout, Aaron Hurvitz, did his research and tracked down the American Gangster stairs in a South Bronx neighbourhood.
But when he got there, he found the steps were not quite right. New York was not Gotham City anymore.
“As with many stairs in the city, they’re getting a makeover,” Mr Hurvitz said. “They’re getting repaved; they’re getting beautified. It wasn’t going to work for the aesthetic.”
So, he drove around looking at various staircases, sometimes called “step streets”, that Bronx residents use to get from higher-altitude roads and sidewalks to lower ones. The right staircase would be a little bit dramatic but also unmistakably gritty, the kind that no one would confuse with a tourist destination.
That is how a humble staircase rising up from Shakespeare and Jerome avenues became the city’s newest tourist destination.
Almost every day since the movie’s release in early October, dozens, sometimes hundreds, of visitors have travelled to the staircase Mr Hurvitz found to visit and take selfies on the same steps Joaquin Phoenix’s character hikes up, and later descends in one of the movie’s memorable scenes as he celebrates his transformation into the Joker.
By Wednesday, Instagram had more than 2,000 posts associated with #JokerStairs, many of those photos of people prancing on the steps in Joker attire and makeup, mimicking Phoenix’s extravagant dance moves.
There are so many posts that it is getting hard to tell them apart, but fans are trying to make their shots stand out. In one Instagram video, two Jokers played table tennis on a landing.
Even on a weekday afternoon, with a constant drizzle making the 132 steps slick and a bit precarious, a steady stream of visitors took turns this week posing and playing photographer.
A young woman wearing a Joker-esque red jacket and black shorts improvised some jazzy dance moves for a video camera. She paused to empty some water from a bottle onto her head for effect, then she kicked and twirled and gyrated as the cameraman followed her.
A group of tourists from Moscow sang romantic Russian songs with guitar accompaniment partway up the stairs. “Our friend told us this was an atmospheric place,” one musician said.
In less than a month since the film’s release, the Bronx site has joined a list of iconic stairs from movies and television. Its company includes The Exorcist stairs in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Law & Order stairs at the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, which the show’s lawyers often climb.