Revisiting the L.A. Locations From L.A. Confidential 20 Years Later

Excerpted from LA Weekly, Monday, September 18, 2017. Really full article here.

It’s Saturday afternoon in the City of Angels, and while I wait for location managers John Panzarella and Leslie Thorson at the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea, decent citizens run their weekend errands at Target, grab lattes at Starbucks and eat lunch at a variety of chain restaurants at West Hollywood Gateway shopping center. As some tourists snap selfies on the corner and top-40 tunes play over the mall’s sound system, I’m reminded that more than 20 years ago, when Panzarella and Thorson were amassing the filming locations for what is considered by many to be the greatest L.A. film of all time, this expansive shopping complex didn’t exist. Nor did the modern, blocklike apartment buildings across the street. The landmark Formosa Cafe and the old United Artists studios (later part of Warner Bros. and ultimately renamed the Lot in 1999) being the most visible buildings on the block at the time, the filmmakers could actually shoot this West Hollywood street and pass it off as the 1950s. A few years later and the film might not be the landmark picture that it is. L.A. Confidential came along at just the right time.

JJ’s Sandwich Shop in downtown L.A., the location of the Nite Owl coffee shop (Jared Cowan)

Thorson and Panzarella arrive within minutes of each other and it’s easy to see that they have a great relationship, cultivated over years of driving up and down streets trying to pinpoint the perfect locations for the two dozen–plus films they’ve worked on together. Panzarella, the veteran location manager of nearly 50 films spanning four decades, including Lethal Weapon, Jason Bourne and Hail, Caesar!, and Thorson, Panzarella’s key assistant location manager since 1993’s My Life, have coincidentally joined me in West Hollywood after getting haircuts by the same hairdresser. They’ve been going to only one person over the last 20 years, and it all goes back to the seminal L.A. film we’re here to talk about today. It turns out that the contact at one of the locations used in L.A. Confidential cut hair for a living and today works out of a barber’s chair set up in the living room of the Gramercy Place house that was immortalized in a scene known as “the Movie Premiere Pot Bust.”

On the 20th anniversary of L.A. Confidential, which was released Sept. 19, 1997, you might think that Panzarella and Thorson could be tired of rehashing old stories about the film’s locations. I interviewed Panzarella in 2014 about the Hancock Park house of Lynn Bracken, the film’s glamorous Fleur-de-Lis hooker made up to look like movie star Veronica Lake. However, Panzarella says that you’d be surprised which of his films people mention most often. “It’s funny, when I meet people, every once in a while somebody will say, ‘Oh, you worked on my favorite movie,’ and I always expect them to say Confidential. Once in a while someone says Midnight Run and I’m like, What?!,” says Panzarella, laughing about the 1988 action-comedy starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin.

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