There are certain iconic film scenes synonymous with the built environment in which they were filmed, and we as viewers are naturally drawn to them.
Who could resist running up the 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art while humming the Rocky theme tune? Or visit Savannah’s Chippewa Square without musing on the similarities between life and a box of chocolates?
Now there’s a new cinematic destination in the already movie-saturated city of New York. And it’s proving to be an ideal location for Instagrammers.
The so-called ‘Joker stairs’ can be found in the Bronx neighbourhood of Highbridge, sandwiched between the parallel Shakespeare and Anderson Avenues.
A little dark and grimy around the edges, this steep staircase is pure Gotham, and a loving reminder of how New York City architecture has long shaped the imaginations of those who wrote The Joker into existence.
There have been many staircases of significance in America cinema. But these particular steps don’t represent an individual man’s triumph over personal hurdles, fists raised determinedly towards the bright blue sky as our hero powers towards self-betterment.
The very reverse of Rocky Balboa, the tale of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is the grubby, fly-specked mirror of the all-American origin story; a story of individual ambition dully and humiliatingly ignored.
Indeed, these stairs are perhaps more comparable with the infamously creepy staircase from The Exorcist’s climactic scene, a dark, cramped stairwell located between Prospect Street and 36th Street in Georgetown, Washington.
Horror fans will no doubt recall the climactic scene where Father Damien Karras dies in a bloodied heap at the foot of these steps; man-made concrete having been transformed into a stairway to hell.
Rather than fall down the stairs, Fleck dances, but the effect is equally disquieting. Here we see a man unhinged; blissfully revelling in the agency he finally feels through murder and violence.
Dancing is supposed to be joyous and life-affirming, and the way Phoenix turns this on its head makes for eerie – and memorable – viewing. Much like Fleck’s hollow laugh, the way he moves his body is uncanny and not quite like dancing at all.
This scene has provided some of the most instantly recognisable frames of the movie, destined to paper university bedrooms for years to come.
Now fans from far and wide have made a cinematic pilgrimage to these steps. Many have taken pictures where they – or even their dogs – are dressed like Fleck himself in full Joker garb; all greasy emerald hair and garish suits.
Some have taken pictures of themselves holding Joker poses, or even videos that show them dancing along in the same darkly comedic style.
As reported by The Independent, these stairs are known as ‘step streets’ and can most commonly be found in the Bronx and upper Manhattan.
Step streets were initially built to help pedestrians circulate in hillier areas of New York City where motorised transportation wasn’t available.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.