The word “peep” on 42nd Street is more likely than not to be preceded by “Little Bo” these days. So what if you need the sex shops and porn shows of 1970s Times Square for a movie shoot? You recreate it.
And on Wednesday, a movie crew recreated the old 42nd Street on today’s West 38th Street just off of Eighth Avenue, for the film “All Good Things” starring Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling, set for release next year.
Thus, a tourist shop owned by Pakistani immigrants was converted into a peep show (eXXXotic!), the Japanese curry shop became a massage harem with “Oriental” girls, the Chinese bakery (not “Oriental bakery”) became a Times Square coffee shop (much to the dismay of Midtown diners) and the Manhattan Hotel became the Luxor Hotel.
The crew members shot from Wednesday evening to 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, when they disassembled the set. The businesses are loosely based on real ones.
The movie, directed by Andrew Jarecki, is a murder mystery based on the bizarre life of the real estate heir Robert A. Durst — a troubled multimillionaire with mild autism whose existence has been marked by the unsolved disappearance of his first wife; the unsolved fatal shooting of his confidante in Los Angeles; a secret second marriage; another fatal shooting (this time paired with a grisly dismemberment); living on the cheap disguised as a woman; a nationwide manhunt that ended with a shoplifting arrest; and an acquittal for the murder dismemberment but prison time for parole violations. (Whew! Got that?)
Ms. Dunst plays the missing wife who was a young dental hygienist named Kathleen McCormack living in a building owned by the Durst family when she met Mr. Durst. After the two had gone on two dates, he asked her to live with him. In January 1972, she did.
In 1982, Mrs. Durst disappeared. Mr. Durst told the police that he had put her on a train in Katonah, N.Y., after they spent a weekend together at their nearby cottage. He told detectives he spoke to her by telephone later that night in Manhattan but had not heard from her since. Others reported seeing her after that supposed trip. Investigators traced leads, developed suspicions and questioned Mr. Durst, but nothing solid developed. Years later, the New York Police Department continued to list the disappearance as a missing persons case, not a murder.
The name of the film comes from a health food store he owned, called All Good Things, in Vermont.
The scene that was shot this week is set in Times Square around 1974, when Mr. Durst visited the Luxor Hotel. In 1977, there were nearly 100 sex-related businesses in the area; in 1987, there were 35. Now these kinds of businesses are scattered, and mostly pushed to the Eighth Avenue border.
Times Square has been the subject of endless fascination by academics and journalists. (There is even a category called Times Square Lit for all the books on the subject.)
Manhattan’s 42nd Street has long been a magnet for the risqué. At the turn of the 19th century, from Madison to Eighth Avenues, it was lined with “silk hat'’ brothels and burlesques; discreet men in carriages gave way to giddy soldiers on leave in wartime. During the Depression, male prostitutes filled its sidewalks as barkers lured customers into theaters to see nude dancers. Those establishments gave way to the more economical peep shows, massage parlors, pornographic bookstores and strip clubs in the 1960s and 1970s.
Through it all, there were vigorous campaigns to clean up Times Square. Perhaps the most successful effort came in 1995, when the city passed strict zoning laws governing sex-related businesses that were later updated.
These days Times Square is more Hello Kitty than Playboy Bunny. AMC has displaced S&M, and the most gawked-at bodies are made of wax, courtesy of Madame Tussaud. Various politicians have claimed credit for the cleaning up of Times Square (how many ways can a Disney contract be signed?).
But when the last of the great peep shows, Peep-o-Rama, closed in 2002, there was little sentiment among city officials to preserve it (they declined to discuss that possibility with our reporter.)
Others felt differently. William R. Taylor, editor of “Inventing Times Square” (Johns Hopkins, 1991), said the presence of a sex-oriented shop on 42nd Street was as significant as having the Tenement Museum of the Lower East Side. “New Yorkers love our underworld in film and fiction,” he said, “so it makes sense to somehow preserve it in reality.”
Some would argue that a lone peep show is no more an eyesore than some of the modernist architecture the Landmark Preservation Commission seems willing to protect, and it certainly is historically significant.