“So… You want to go and wave a half-eaten pickle at a building?”
“… Ookay! …”
(A perfectly normal conversation, held in our Montreal hotel room of an evening.)
This, in movie location terms, was “The Big One”. To stand outside the fabled ‘Starliner Towers’ apartment building, setting for Cronenberg’s debut feature ‘Shivers’; a quest dreamt of for some 30 years, right back to the old days of holding the ‘Cans Festival’ – an event at which we’d line up 10 or so genre movies, starting around noon and finishing sometime on Sunday, and which Shivers would always “headline”. (‘Cans Festival’, because er – we’d buy lots of cans of beer for the duration.)
Over the course of those many decades, I’d become reasonably convinced that I’d never get to see the building in The Flesh; surely by now an old, cruddy looking tower block like that would be demolished and replaced with some modern, soulless behemoth? Of course, back then I was unaware that a) the building was designed by Mies Van der Rohe, an architect of some renown, and b) Montreal – unlike London – seems in a blissful lack of hurry to get rid of its brutally dated façades. Having the benefit of Google search, Google maps etc. proved that, yes – it was indeed still standing tall and proud by the banks of the St Laurence river; thus was the “post-Boston Marathon Shivers Quest” idea hatched.
This visit was, fittingly, on the last day of our Montreal trip; the headliner, if you will. A bright and sunny morning saw us up reasonably early, and headed out to Nun’s Island (‘Ile des Soeurs’) on the bus. Getting there is simplicity itself; grab the 168 bus South from downtown, get off at stop Ile des Sours / De Gaspe, cross the road – and there it is right in front of you:
Apart from the make and models of the cars in the ground-level parking (“…if friends have followed you home...“), there’s really very little to suggest that you haven’t just de-bussed straight back into 1975, and that Mr & Mrs [Sweden] Sviben aren’t about to pull in on an apartment-search:
Having come this far, I wasn’t about to settle for just standing outside and gazing up at the building; 200 Rue de Gaspe, like its counterpart opposite, no. 100 – which was not built at the time of the movie (at least, not in the early aerial shot of Nun’s Island, showing Starliner Towers stood almost utterly alone – though this may have been a production conceit aimed at increasing the sense of cut-off isolation) is still a reasonably sought-after residential location, and as such entry to the building proper is controlled by security pass. You can, however at least go into the entry vestibule:
In the movie, this is where the security guard first meets Kresimir and Benda (and where we first meet Ronald Merrick):
There were no security buzzers in the vestibule any more; just a rack of local ad papers (one of which I took as a souvenir, obviously).
The underground parking garage – referenced by Merrick in the opening ‘promo’ voice-over, and from which the residents emerge in their cars right at the close of the movie – presumably, we are to intuit, to head off to downtown Montreal and spread the parasites to the wider population – is still there, sat between ‘Starliner’ and its twin:
And, perhaps almost as smile-inducing a discovery as the building itself; if you walk to the end of the garage (towards the St. Laurence River), there between the buildings is the underground swimming pool that features in a key closing scene, still surrounded by the landscaped banking up which Roger attempts to make his last, futile bid to escape:
I sat on the benches and just soaked in the location for a while; I didn’t, however attempt any photos of the pool itself. I could see through the glass that there were families and children having a morning swim, so pointing my camera at them seemed far from appropriate.
“Hey, how ’bout the pickle?… It’s used!”
Oh yes, the pickle. Well, during a meeting over lunch, Dr. Rollo Linski attempts to convince Dr. Roger St. Luc that their old teacher, Dr. Emil Hobbs, is up to strange and unnerving experiments at Starliner Towers. As Roger is departing, Rollo asks him – in the manner above – if he might be not wanting the pickle he had with his lunch? Roger tosses it over to him, and – on catching it and seeing a bite already taken out – Rollo mock-moans “it’s used!”
The Pickle thus became something of a cult reference whenever ‘Shivers’ was being discussed; I even named my YouTube channel “Used Pickle Productions”.
And yes, I really did take a half-eaten Pickle from Schwartz’s in a baggie, that I’d kept in the hotel minibar for 2 days, all the way to Starliner Towers. And I really did wave it at the building. (Or rather, hold it Liberty-torch aloft, in proud salute.)
Cruise the seasons, the sun and the stars, without ever leaving the great ship ‘Starliner’…
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