In 1981’s Escape from New York, felon Snake Plisskeen (played by Kurt Russell) traverses some pretty rough looking places in the post-apocalyptic New York setting. In this grim future (1997 in the film), New York had become a maximum security prison and pretty much left to rot. When an airplane carrying the President of the United States crashes on the island, Snake is charged with rescuing him in exchange for his freedom.
While the special effects are quite dated by today’s standards, the grim abandon buildings which served as the backdrop for filming were the best kind of special effect: they were real. Director John Carpenter really made you feel like you were in a city which had been virtually abandoned. And did I mention that the movie was filmed in the City of St. Louis?
Being the shooting location for most films is usually considered an honor, but for this particular film it was anything but. St. Louis was chosen as the filming location, not for its scenic skyline or spacious urban park, but for its barren and desolate urban landscape. This was an era prior to the loft conversions of Washington Avenue; prior to the building of the Edward Jones Dome; even prior to the renovation of the Fox Theatre and Union Station. In fact, a careful viewing of the film reveals many of these structures for the dilapidated structures they once were.
St. Louis still has it’s fair share of problems, but we sure have come a long way in years since this movie was filmed in 1981. We might be moving slowly in repairing ourselves as a region, but you can’t argue that we haven’t made any progress. If Escape from New York were to be remade today (an idea that seems to be resurrected annually), any filming scouts visiting St. Louis would be met with an entirely different landscape than during the filming of the original. What was once a dangerous eyesore has become an increasingly desirable residential and commercial area. We might not be an urban mecca that rivals the nation’s finest, but at least we are no longer a stand-in for a warzone.