In The Heights (movie)

Started by scenicdesign71, Dec 15, 2019, 06:30 am

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Quote from: KathyB on Jun 02, 2021, 10:53 amNo, the apprehension is due to being in a theatre where a mass shooting took place and 12 people were killed.

Your proximity to THAT theatre had gotten so entirely lost in the murk of my brain that I couldn't put two and two together.  Deepest apologies, I'm an idiot.


:-* :-* :-*
I actually saw one of the Star Wars movies at That Theatre in 2016 or so, and nothing happened to me, and although I admit to not feeling entirely comfortable with being there, the experience was... well... nothing happened.

P.S. I think the theatre has a good COVID policy because when I bought my seat, they automatically excluded seats to either side of it, so those are seats that can't get sold now.

But back on topic, I am still very much looking forward to seeing In the Heights, regardless of where I see it.


Jun 03, 2021, 02:01 am #17 Last Edit: Jun 07, 2021, 01:08 am by scenicdesign71
That thing of excluding seats to either side must be nationwide theatre-chain policy, it's what they're doing here too.  Front and back too, maybe?  If I were Sondheim, I'd have intuitively grasped the pattern of existing X's on the seating chart, mosaic'd around other people's previously-purchased seats, and thereby immediately deduced the "game" rules; but I didn't look that hard.

Quote from: KathyB on Jun 02, 2021, 09:47 pmBut back on topic, I am still very much looking forward to seeing In the Heights, regardless of where I see it.

Me too!  :) :-* ;D


Jun 07, 2021, 01:06 am #18 Last Edit: Jun 09, 2021, 12:22 am by scenicdesign71
17-minute "Behind-the-scenes" featurette with book/screenwriter Quiara Alegria Hudes, producer Scott Sanders, and cast members:


Cinematographer Alice Brooks:

Production Designer Nelson Coates:

Costume Designer Mitchell Travers:


Sneak preview of the entire title number:


And, at long last:

The question now is, can I wait nineteen more hours for tonight's screening, or will I give in to temptation and watch it on my laptop as soon as it drops on HBOMax three hours from now?  I'll undoubtedly watch it there at some point (probably more than once), but part of me really wants to stick to my guns and see it first on the big screen with an audience.  On the other hand, paciencia has never been my strong suit.


Wow! I have more to say than that, but I have some work I need to get done. :( I am very glad that I stuck around to see the credits for the scenic artists  :-* (which nobody else in the theatre did--not that it mattered much, because I think there were fewer than ten people in the theatre).


Jun 10, 2021, 09:18 pm #22 Last Edit: Jul 27, 2021, 10:57 pm by scenicdesign71
Their loss: they missed the post-credits scene!

But seriously: thank you, Kathy.  I was astonished and tickled when my name scrolled up -- I've gotten so used to working in television, where listing entire crews is almost unheard-of, that I don't even bother hoping for screen credit anymore.  But unlike TV, movies can afford to have endless credit-crawls -- and making it into this one, in particular, has me giddily happy.

What tickled me even more was that my favorite mural made it, briefly but prominently, into several scenes -- once even before the opening number: a smaller-scale re-creation-from-scratch (no digital printing involved) of three iconic "curler girls" from original street murals by the brilliant Dominican artist Evaristo Angurria (we even replicated his signature).  Painted in just under a week by me and two other scenic artists, if I had to pick just one single project as my happiest and/or proudest professional experience to date, this mural might well be it.

That, and just seeing scene after scene that I had worked on in one capacity or another: most of the street locations, all the principal apartment interiors, the "Carnval del Barrio" courtyard, the bodega and salon interiors, even (briefly) the crazy gravity-defying fire-escape set.  In the end, sets/locations that I wasn't somehow involved with were a slim minority (including, sadly, the subway for "Paciencia y Fe" and the pool for "96,000" -- but the former was hellishly hot and the latter cold and wet, so maybe I'm not too sorry to have missed out on those locations).

I'm in too much of a happy daze to say much else about the movie itself right now... except that the dancing-on-the-side-of-the-building sequence is even more breathtakingly lovely than I'd hoped.  Beyond that, I'll just say that A.O. Scott's NYT review (glowing, despite caveats) is dead-on, and beautifully-written to boot.  I will be watching this again (and again) on HBOMax in the coming days, and probably seeing it at least once more in the theatre too.  Tonight's screening was in an IMAX theatre, and I got there early enough to nab an ideal seat -- not a bad way to see this film, especially after fifteen months of watching things on small screens!


I loved, loved, loved it. I am saying this as someone who is medium-familiar with the music and lyrics, zero-familiar with the book, and who has impatiently waited a year to see this. Unfortunately, I had no idea of an audience reaction to any of the movie, because there were so few people in the theatre, and no others in my row--it was as if I was isolated and seeing the movie by myself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing (especially since I spilled my drink around my seat).There were at least a couple other people whom I could hear talking--I guess they felt that if there weren't other people there, they could comment on the movie as much as they wanted. :( Fortunately, they weren't all that loud.

I noticed the beautiful murals right away, maybe because I had been somewhat conditioned to pay attention to them. :)

It was--well--exhilarating to see the music and choreography come alive after only hearing the score before. I was wondering how certain moments worked on stage (I thought the dancing wigs would be terrific onstage), and also wondering how the fire escape set was constructed and how that number was filmed. When I was leaving, the usher asked me what my favorite number in the movie was. I couldn't think at the time, because I enjoyed all of them so much, but looking back, I would say "Paciencia y Fe," which is also my favorite song on the cast recording--but now I know what happens during that number.

I definitely want to see it again, although I don't have HBO Max, and my list of friends who (1)might be interested in seeing this and (2) are in town this summer is small to nonexistent, so I will probably go see it solo again. At a different theatre. (I was unnerved by, of all things, the standard movie announcement to look for the exits and remember where they are in case of an emergency.) The weather is supposed to hit triple digits next week, which might be a really good excuse to see it again.


Jun 12, 2021, 09:37 pm #24 Last Edit: Jul 06, 2021, 04:01 am by scenicdesign71
There's been a common criticism (even in otherwise favorable-to-glowing reviews) about the film's framing device, set on a postcard-perfect beach in the D.R.  I might have agreed with the charge that it's superfluous (and even that the kids in those scenes, serving as a surrogate audience for Usnavi's narration, risk becoming "oppressively cute," as one writer had it)...

I might have agreed, that is, until:
Spoiler: ShowHide

...the payoff at the end. (As A.O. Scott observes, the name of Usnavi's [dad's] beachfront watering hole is "at once a spoiler, a clue, and a key to the themes" of the film).

[Sidebar: those child-actors, including the little girl who played Usnavi's daughter, were sitting directly in front of me at the cast & crew screening the other night; they're just as impossibly cute in real life, and clearly very excited to see the finished film, but thankfully also very well-behaved].

Maybe I should have seen it coming, given Mr. Chu's well-established-by-then affection for movie-musical magic realism, but the ending actually took me completely by surprise -- despite having worked on or around most of the sets involved: the reconfigured "bodega boutique" showcasing Vanessa's creations; Graffiti Pete's beach mural; the "El SueƱito" palapa, playing both inside the bodega-interior set and on the real beach (Long Island, digitally Caribbean-ized in post-production).  But without having read the screenplay, I never fully grasped what all these elements were meant to add up to. (Nor did I try especially hard to find out, figuring that it might be classified information anyway, and that it would be more fun to wait and see; who knew that wait would balloon from nine months to twenty-one?).

In the end, Ms. Hudes's epilogue landed for me with such emotional force that I almost wonder whether the complainers had stopped paying attention by then, or whether they were just too jaded to take its full measure.  The final tableau of sunset celebration in the streets isn't exactly a jolt of brutal reality, but it's a far-enough cry from the fantasy of white-sand beaches and endless summer to bring a catch to your throat -- just as Vanessa displaying her designs in the bodega is beautiful and moving both despite and because of being such a far-distant echo of the glamorous life she had dreamed of.

The clincher is the kids' begging to "go in the water," threaded through the framing sections and finally granted at the end, when the water in question turns out to be not those sparkling Caribbean waves lapping at Usnavi's vividly-remembered beach, but just a quenching summertime hydrant-spray en el barrio.

Cue the waterworks:  in its insistence on honoring not just the "big dreams" (in Busby Berkeley Technicolor, gravity optional) but also "the little details" (photographed no less gorgeously, and with palpable love and respect) that dignify apparently humble lives, this movie touches a nerve and makes my eyes all leaky.


Jun 13, 2021, 02:59 pm #25 Last Edit: Jul 22, 2021, 11:40 pm by scenicdesign71
After several viewings of the movie, and granting both my built-in bias and my therefore immoderate excitement now that it has finally opened... I'm think I'm gonna withdraw my earlier semi-agreement with Mr. Scott (among others) that In The Heights is a great time (and perfectly-timed, re: cinemas reopening) without actually being a great movie. His review remains the loveliest and most perceptive of the many I've read, but I'm starting to think ITH might in fact be a great movie, deserving of major awards, of "classic" status, of academic study, the whole nine yards.  The more I watch it, the more its intricacies -- of writing, direction, and performance -- reveal themselves, and the more respect I'm developing for a screenplay some have viewed as baggy and uneven (and I had initially been inclined to agree, however reluctantly).  Turns out, it's actually -- unless I really am completely delusional -- a whole lot tighter and more focused than it might appear on first viewing.  I suspect it of being the best movie musical in years, perhaps even decades.

During production, I kept my growing excitement partly in check by focusing on the experience of simply being there: however good or not the movie itself might eventually turn out to be, it was clearly being made by exceptionally talented creatives whose passion, artistic ambition, and love for the material was infectious, trickling hierarchically all the way down to my level as sixth-painter-from-the-left.  Though I didn't yet understand exactly how the fantasy elements fit into the story structure, they at least suggested an exuberant embrace of movie-musical spectacle; and [what very little I understood of] the plot changes intrigued me.  But without reading the screenplay -- or even being present on these sets during the actual filming, except in a couple of very brief and not very informative instances -- I just didn't know enough to get a really clear sense of what the finished picture would be like, never mind whether or not it would succeed, either artistically or at the box office.  Still, by the end of production I had an inkling that there was, at the very least, a non-trivial chance that we had been making something kinda special.

When the first trailer was released, I got goose bumps. Maybe "something kinda special" had been too modest a hope... notwithstanding my still-relatively-minimal knowledge of both the original show and Ms. Hudes's adapted screenplay, I started to wonder whether Mr. Chu's film might possibly stand as a worthwhile companion, on Mr. Miranda's growing list of achievements, to the Hamilton phenomenon.  Not that it would top or even equal that juggernaut, but that it might prove that Hamilton was not a fluke-ish brush with greatness by a writer who had never before (including with the stage version of Heights), and would likely never again, be touched by real genius.  The trailer left me only a little less vague about what to expect from the movie than I had been while working on it, but it suggested thrilling possibilities (as any good trailer, of course, is meant to do).

For me, the finished film surpasses those hopes.  If it took me a second viewing to fully appreciate the movie's artistry on every front, that may have been because I had become so habituated, over the past two years, to tempering my expectations as a hedge against possible disappointment.  No matter what he does now or in the future, LMM may well remain best-known and -loved for Hamilton, and perhaps rightly so.  But the movie of In The Heights is a supremely graceful addition to his oeuvre, the furthest thing from a sophomore slump or an embarrassing bit of juvenilia brought to the screen as a vanity project or a cash cow (or even as a sincere but clumsy valentine to his multicultural upbringing) -- all plausible dangers after such a meteoric rise as his.  And that, in turn, gives me hope that he might have more wonders in store for us.  (It also makes me very curious indeed to see what's next for Hudes, and what Chu will make of Wicked).  Sooner or later, LMM will presumably have to stumble at least once (and at this point, he does have a worryingly long way to fall).  But I think this film should dispel any lingering concern (if any exists) that Hamilton was a flash in the pan.  It was almost certainly a once-in-a-generation (or -lifetime?) revelation; but what it revealed was indeed -- again, if there was any doubt -- a dazzlingly original and important voice, not just a single lucky inspiration.

I'm sure the film (of Heights) will accrue a contingent of haters, if it hasn't already.  But my hope is that once the hype and the inevitable backlash both settle down, it might come to be regarded as LMM's second-greatest achievement (so far, anyway) -- by a not-so-very-wide margin.


Jun 23, 2021, 06:06 am #26 Last Edit: Jul 21, 2021, 11:49 pm by scenicdesign71

Check out the "Toolkit video" about a quarter of the way down the page, directly above the section headed "The Anti-Gravity Concept".  (If this were viewable on YouTube or Vimeo, I'd embed the video directly here, but it seems to be viewable only on the IndieWire page).

It shows stage footage of the fire-escape wall in action as the cast and crew work -- very cool stuff. 

There's also some discussion about selecting the background location for the VFX plate.  I believe "When You're Home" would have been filming around the time that plate was shot, and I remember noticing Manhattan-henge somewhere around that same time, and wondering whether it was making the magic-hour light even more ravishing.  But it wasn't until I saw the completed "When The Sun Goes Down" sequence that I noticed how perfectly the setting sun is framed by the GWB.

Nelson also talks here about the intricacies -- collaborative as well as visual and technical -- of designing the wall itself:


Jul 07, 2021, 03:22 pm #27 Last Edit: Jul 27, 2021, 11:30 pm by scenicdesign71
I'm not the first to note that no elevated trains exist in Washington Heights proper: Vanessa's reference to one outside her window in "It Won't Be Long Now" has reportedly been an acknowledged "oops" ever since those lines were written in the early aughts.  The 1 train emerges aboveground briefly at 125th St in West Harlem, then plunges back underground and doesn't come up again until Dyckman St in Inwood, where LMM grew up: technically Dyckman itself is the northernmost border of WaHi, but it's a good thirty blocks uptown from the intersection where the bulk of the film is set.

I don't know whether or not the Inwood apartment of LMM's childhood had a view of the el which he then bequeathed, consciously or otherwise, to Vanessa.  But its questionable existence in ITH's fictionalized Heights doesn't bother me because, as a trope of picturesque urban shabbiness (something for her to escape, however much she insists it "doesn't faze" her), it's too effective to lose for the sake of mere geographical accuracy.  In fact, I guess you could say the movie manages to raise her stakes even further by suggesting that she's only a denizen of the Heights at all by virtue of commuting -- from even further uptown -- to her crappy day-job there.

Vanessa's apartment interior was shot in an unoccupied apartment on 172nd St, in the heart of the Heights, with nary an el train to be seen (the one we do see passing outside her windows was CGI'd-in later on, and the apartment made to tremble, as if from the passing train, by the ultra-high-tech movie magic of -- I'm guessing -- crew members just out-of-frame rattling stuff around).  With her flair for fashion, Vanessa (by way of our set decorators) has furnished the place with budget-conscious yet breezy charm; we repainted the walls, among a few other temporary modifications including -- brilliant production-design touch -- a "built-in" sewing nook, actually custom-designed and installed by our carpenters; then carefully aged, by me, to look like a "well-loved," somewhat dilapidated pre-war feature.

The ostensible exterior of her building -- where Usnavi will later tell Vanessa he's always wanted "to see the whole world through her eyes," while she demurs bitterly that she's "just the girl who paints nails" -- was filmed on 204th St (unambiguously in Inwood), with the real elevated #1 train overpass clearly visible just down the block.  (The el stop right around the corner is where Nina earlier met her father for lunch at the end of "Breathe"; the restaurant where they eat, Floridita, at 206th St and 10th Ave, coincidentally shares its name with another restaurant located just two blocks from the movie's main "neighborhood" intersection at 175th and Audubon).

Back to "It Won't Be Long Now": Vanessa's trip downtown to see a realtor includes a quick stop-off at the Fashion Institute of Technology -- here renamed "NY Fashion Design College" -- to scavenge some discarded fabric samples from a dumpster in an alleyway adjoining the school building. (This alley also looks onto a tall vertical billboard advertising "Downtown Living," the name of the real-estate agency that's about to reject her rental application on grounds of insufficient credit).

This scene was actually filmed just a few steps east of Fifth Ave -- the "NYFDC" building directly faces my freshman-year NYU dorm, as it happens -- rather than on the F.I.T. campus, which, in any case, is quite a hike from the Astor Place subway stop from which Vanessa has inexplicably just emerged.  (The subway-map graphic illustrating her journey seems to sort of split the difference, at least crosstown-wise, designating Washington Square as the epicenter of "downtown").

Apart from the establishing shot of the building's NYFDC-emblazoned awnings (with shrewdly matching dumpster lid, in the ensuing aerial shot as Vanessa slips into the alley to claim her castoff treasures), the resemblance to F.I.T. hangs largely on a single production-design choice that will ring a subliminal bell with many New Yorkers even though it flashes by in a foreshortened blur: the phalanx of slim vertical-panel murals lining the side of the building, inspired by similar murals which adorn 7th Ave for several months each year, an annual student project since 2013.  In order to mimic this smartly-observed detail of the downtown streetscape, we were given a stack of reference images to draw from, with each scenic artist creating a single panel, about a dozen in all.  Mine, shown below, evokes a rather old-school, costume-y, midcentury illustrational style; the cartoonish figure (who must be on stilts beneath that voluminous skirt!) could be a Disney princess-themed Drag Race contestant, but the rendering is more wannabe-Bob Mackie.

You cannot see attachments on this board.        You cannot see attachments on this board.
L: several panels in the shop, before their final arrangement on set had been determined;  R: screenshot detail, with groups of panels flanking the building entrance at left.


Jul 17, 2021, 09:42 pm #28 Last Edit: Jul 18, 2021, 12:14 pm by scenicdesign71
I was going to bookmark these, then figured I'd post them here in case they're of interest:

ITH Workshop Demo (2000):

ITH Demo Lyrics:


Jul 20, 2021, 01:30 pm #29 Last Edit: Jul 27, 2021, 11:42 pm by scenicdesign71

I dunno whether you guys have seen the movie more than once already, or have any desire to, or even whether it's still playing in a cinema near you.  But I'm not alone in the opinion that (a) obviously it needs to be seen on the big screen, and also (b) it gets even better with repeat viewings.

Director Chu and his creative team have embraced LMM's brand of what seems to me a particularly modern style of geek culture ("Easter eggs," with which any self-respecting film, TV show or IP "universe" must now be stuffed unto bursting, and the Genius website, a wiki for annotating song lyrics, might both be considered avatars of this phenomenon) to cram the screen with interconnected details that belie the impression some have gotten of ITH's ostensibly loosely-plotted, even meandering quality.


Note, for example, the contents of Usnavi's island palapa from the very first scene.  It's not a bar at all, or even any plausible kind of snack bar; it's a surreally tiny open-air bodega stocked entirely with items from his Washington Heights store which, on second viewing, suddenly look oddly -- and revealingly -- incongruous on the beach.  And note, especially, the little green crab seen scuttling among those provisions in a throwaway insert shot (he gets his own close-up) during one of the beach scenes midway through the film.

Or the unremarked but poignant implication -- setting us up for the revelation of Abuela Claudia's lottery win? -- that she ended up splurging to have her mother's intricately embroidered napkins dry-cleaned after all, at a cost we'd been been led to assume was well beyond her means, before bequeathing them to Nina in what now looks like crisp, snowy-white mint condition.  (Earlier in the story, they appeared to have mellowed with age to a soft, gently-rumpled, distinctly off-white patina).

Or the graffiti tag ("Archangel") that appears behind Claudia in the 191st St pedestrian tunnel near the end of "Paciencia y Fe".  The lights even gently pull focus to emphasize this particular tag -- lest we miss it amid all the other artwork vividly wallpapering the entire 900-foot passageway -- as she turns, hesitating, from one end of the tunnel to the other ("Now do I leave or stay?"): behind, her colorfully illuminated past; ahead, the bright white light flooding in from above and beyond the Exit stairs.  (For further emphasis, these lights at both ends of the tunnel also subtly brighten, each in turn, as the camera shifts to follow Claudia's questioning gaze).

The film is packed with stuff like this: not what you'd call earth-shattering narrative twists, but more than just nifty staging concepts, or even just shrewdly-gauged atmospheric flourishes; these kinds of densely-layered and meaningful choices, big and small, in a sense are the film's story.  And while it could be argued that obsessive patterning and detail-orientedness do not, in principle, automatically equal emotional or thematic depth, as Sondheads we might agree that they suggest, at the very least, a certain type of intense authorial devotion to one's material.  (It's almost as if Team Miranda/Chu/Hudes had take a few pointers from Team Sondheim/Prince/Lapine about how plot per se needn't be the only, nor even always the most important, approach to story structure).  Such details certainly make this movie even richer on subsequent viewings, in ways that -- much as with Sondheim -- go far beyond mere Easter-egg-hunting geekery (though that's always fun, too).  Perhaps the filmmakers' biggest achievement here lies in somehow getting such pointedly deliberate (which isn't to say fussy or preening) choices, in all their tightly-woven profusion, to live comfortably and coherently in a recognizably naturalistic world.  From tiny plot points like the noticeably-clean napkins to extravagant conceits like suspending gravity, this virtuosic balancing act -- which of course also permits singing and dancing -- is in fact, broadly speaking, what I think makes In The Heights the best movie musical in well over a decade.