From the inky mysteries of film noirs to the raucous humor of comedies, from the gritty realism of independent films to the iconic scenes of classics, few neighborhoods in the world have graced the silver screen as much as West Hollywood. For over a century, it’s been the location of countless films and the stomping grounds for the legends who made them. Its cinematic history is a point of pride for the neighborhood, and many of the locations used still exist today.
A Golden Era noir film that immortalized West Hollywood’s main thoroughfare, Sunset Boulevard explored the sinister underbelly of the seemingly elegant film industry. Opening with a striking image of a dead body floating in a pool, the film follows Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter, as he is slowly sucked into the dark world of an aging silent film star.
Since its release seventy years ago, the character of Norma Desmond and her famous final line “…Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up” has become cemented in the cultural imagination. Winner of three Academy Awards and deemed culturally significant enough to be included in the first group of films preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress, the impact of this classic cannot be underestimated.
Although the landscape of the neighborhood has changed much over the decades, the West Hollywood section of Sunset Boulevard, the Sunset Strip, remains an energetic and culturally influential area of Los Angeles. Landmark venues regularly featuring world-class artists include The Viper Room, London Fog, The Roxy Theater, and The Laugh Factory. As Hollywood hopefuls continue to struggle for success and accomplished actors fight for relevance, it’s not hard to see why the story of Sunset Boulevard remains so timeless.
Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere follows fictional actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his listless days as he recovers from surgery while living at the Chateau Marmont. This film has all the characteristics expected of its auteur director: the lead character struggling through an existential crisis, an emotionally empty life, and endless ennui all play out in a stunning location.
Despite its legendary status, this is one of the few films that have taken advantage of the rich history that played out within the walls of the Chateau Marmont. Since it was built in 1929, this gothic chateau-inspired establishment has been a haven for Hollywood’s elite and all of the excitement, scandal, and tragedy that comes with it.
Rebel Without a Cause was written and rehearsed on the grounds. Betty Davis nearly burned down the hotel with her cigarettes (twice). Actor John Belushi and fashion photographer Helmut Newton had their last days on the grounds, and Jean Harlow had an affair with Clark Gable in one of the historic bungalows. Despite its exciting and sometimes sordid past, the hotel remains an elegant place to have dinner at its restaurant, Chateau Hanare.
If the Chateau Marmont has Hollywood history, then Andaz West Hollywood has the rock n’ roll history. Academy Award-winning film Almost Famous taped into this hotel’s rowdy past by shooting several scenes in it, including the famous moment where frontman Stillwater yells “I am a golden god!” Purportedly, this scene referred to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, who is said to have hollered the same thing from the hotel's balcony.
Previously known as the Continental Hyatt House, the hotel’s proximity to clubs such as Whiskey Go Go made it a popular hotel for touring bands such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. Not surprisingly, the establishment gained a reputation for the wild parties thrown by these rock legends, garnering the nickname “Riot House”.
Today, patrons at Riot House Bar can enjoy cocktails and California wines, although trashing the establishment Keith Richards-style is no longer permitted. Featuring Kate Hudson’s breakout role and listed by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the top 100 films ever made, Almost Famous is a West Hollywood delight that’s not to be missed.
This Oscar-winning noir captured a pivotal cultural transition in 1950s Los Angeles when police activity emerged from the shadows and became fodder for gossip magazines. What better place to set pivotal scenes than in the neighborhood that epitomizes fame and scandal?
The producers of LA Confidential took advantage of the plethora of vintage architecture in West Hollywood to elevate the film’s authenticity. The exterior of Sid Hudgsens’ (Danny DeVito) office was shot at the Crossroads of the World. Built during the golden age of Art Deco architecture in 1936, this open-air mall features a central building designed to resemble an ocean liner, and can also be seen in Argo, Dexter, and Indecent Proposal.
The film also has two scenes with Russell Crowe playing Wendell White at The Formosa Cafe— a Hollywood nostalgia spot whose patrons included Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Elizabeth Taylor. Filled with suspenseful twists and thrills, this modern noir was hailed as “one of the best films of the year” by Roger Ebert and launched the careers of Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe.
The industry has been using West Hollywood as the backdrop for films for decades, but the colorful neighborhood has served as inspiration for independent cinema as well. Sean Baker’s groundbreaking comedy-drama film—which was shot entirely on an iPhone—used the neighborhood for its color, characters, and undeniably vibrant energy.
As the lead characters—Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor)—travel through the dazzling neighborhood in search of a boyfriend, a portrait emerges of the subcultures that make West Hollywood the exciting place it is today. Made on a micro-budget of $100,000, the producers found their lead actresses—neither of whom acted before—at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Despite its unconventional production, the work paid off. Tangerine premiered at Sundance and was lauded for its style and portrayal of transgender characters.
Few films skewer the insular world of Hollywood better than this deliciously sardonic masterpiece directed by Robert Altman. Altman, who dominated the film industry in the 70s with his runaway hits M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Nashville, was cast aside during the 80s as his unorthodox approach to filmmaking clashed with the profit-driven marketing studios.
He returned with a vengeance in the early 90s with this film. The Player follows a studio executive who is sent death threats from an aspiring screenwriter, a darkly satirical plot which leads to a murder. Altman used exclusive establishments frequented by Hollywood types to give the film a sense of realism, including a scene shot at the Sunset Tower on the Sunset Strip.
Built in 1931 and considered to be one of Los Angeles’s best examples of Art Deco architecture, the building was marketed to celebrities from its inception. Throughout the years, it provided accommodations to Clark Gable, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and countless other icons. Today, one can have a cozy rendezvous at the elegant Tower Bar, which offers sweeping views of the city Altman lampooned in his Oscar-nominated film.
Although it’s been fashionable for films to subvert the sunny, anything-is-possible stereotype of Los Angeles with cynicism and darkness, the 1991 comedy LA Story embraced the optimism the city affords. Written by Steve Martin, who also starred in the leading role of Harri, this critically-acclaimed film follows a quirky weatherman who tries to find love in Los Angeles with the help of a talking freeway billboard.
Martin’s mastery of comedy elevates the joy of watching this film. The production also features an early role of Sarah Jessica Parker, before Sex and the City made her an international star. West Hollywood serves as the main backdrop as Martin’s character navigates the wacky art scene, frivolous social life, and intensely chic restaurants. Produced nearly 30 years ago, the house they used as Harri’s home—1209 N Orange Grove Avenue—still remains and is only steps away from Santa Monica Boulevard. With its hilarious and refreshing take on the city, The Los Angeles Times states LA Story has “some inherent truth about the L.A. experience.”
Thinking of moving to the area to live among its cinematic history? Contact us today to explore homes and condos for sale in West Hollywood, CA.