The oldest existing motion picture film is a two-second scene filmed in England in 1888. Less than a decade later in 1897, George Curtis captured the hustle and bustle of the streets of Kansas City and possibly made the first film in the Midwest. Some of Curtis’ films can be seen on the Kansas City Google Arts and Culture page, courtesy of the Kansas City Museum.
Since then, Kansas City has featured as a backdrop and star in movies, television and short films. Streets and Skylines balances the atmosphere of a big city within easy reach of suburban and rural settings, with a steady crop of talented actors available.
During his Cinema and Kansas City talk for the Kansas City Public Library, UMKC professor Mitch Bryan highlighted some important films made right here in KC. The Kansas City Film Office also has a comprehensive list of works filmed in the Kansas City area.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at those iconic cinema settings.
The lights! Camera! Cowtown!
Director Robert Altman made his directorial debut here in Kansas City “Criminals“1957 cautionary tale. Most of the cast were local actors and scenes are set in the Loose Park Rose Garden and Kansas City Missouri Police Headquarters.
Bonus: You can see Kansas City legend Julia Lee and her lovers perform in the opening scene. Learn more about Lee in People’s History of Kansas City.
Almost 40 years later, Altman returned to Kansas City to film, well, “Kansas City.” Set in 1934, this thriller is a bleak depiction of the Jazz Age, filled with crime, violence, and political corruption. Scenes take place around the city, including Union Station (which was in great disrepair at the time) and in the 18th and Vine District. Many buildings are decorated with movie facades and neon. Marquees were provided to mimic the 24-hour nightlife of the era.
In 2011, KCUR’s Laura Spencer visited the area with one of the film’s set designers, where many faces were still visible and awaiting development in the district. You can still catch a glimpse of the movie at the Boone Theater at 1701 E. 18th Street.
Charlie Parker, one of Kansas City’s most famous sons, starred in the 1988 film “the bird“, starring Forest Whitaker and directed by Clint Eastwood, filmed many scenes in Kansas City.
The movie released in 1990.Mr. and Mrs. Poole,” starring Paul Newman and Joan Woodward, shows another spectrum of racial division in Kansas City. It is set during the 1930s and 1940s, within the social life centered around the Country Club Plaza.
The film is based on the books by Evan S. Connell, who grew up in Kansas City and modeled the character of Mrs. Bridges after his mother. Many landmarks still remain, including Country Club Plaza, Drexel Hall, the Liberty Memorial and the interior of the Midland Theater. (They also visit the vaults of the First National Bank, now converted into a movie theater by the Kansas City Public Library.)
If dramas aren’t your thing, relax with cute romances. “The Lifetime Movie”my sweet holiday“Filming took place at Annedor’s Fine Chocolate on State Line Road and 50th Street in Westwood, Kansas, and in the lobby of the historic Muehlebach Hotel at Baltimore Avenue and 12th Street. Filmmaker Isaac Alongi and writer/director Sandra Martin shot the summer 2020 Christmas movie with Casey Media Collective’s Flatland. They talk about that.
On the small screen, Kansas City and its environs sometimes serve as the show’s setting, although these are usually filmed in Los Angeles or somewhere similar.
So, how can you look more “authentic” on screen? Reality television.
Netflix Reboot”Queer Eye“Its third and fourth seasons were filmed in Kansas City. The Fab Five traveled throughout the region helping Kansas citizens “figure out” their looks, lives and businesses. While shooting, they lived in a loft at 2001 Grand Blvd., the old Firestone building that now Bears the iconic Abdiana sign in the Crossroads Arts District.
Visit KC has Queer Eye self-guided tours that promote local businesses and organizations featured in each episode, including the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Johnny Hamill Bass Studio.
Starting this past summer, a new television show has been filming around town. “The gentle art of Swedish death cleaning“Based on the book by Margareta Magnusson, the sure-to-be-inspired series helps Kansas citizens shed unwanted physical and emotional baggage. KCUR reported on the filming announcement in July 2022.
But reality TV isn’t just about makeovers and inner strength—sometimes it’s about outer strength, too. In 2015 and 2017, “American Ninja WarriorSet up its obstacle course in front of Union Station.
In an upside down, new TV show “Bel-Air“is set in Los Angeles, but represents a broad spectrum of Kansas City talent. The show is directed by Kansas City-native Morgan Cooper, who brought in a fair amount of the Kansas City crew to help with behind-the-scenes production, including the artwork and costumes seen on the show.
Straight to the music video
When the Irish band U2 When Arrowhead came to play at the stadium in 1997, they decided that Kansas City was the perfect location for a music video. They filmed the dystopian “Last Night on Earth” on the J. B. Dillingham Freeway and in a deserted downtown, the city shut down for a few hours.
Released in 2022, The yes yes yes yes “Spitting at the Edge of the World” was filmed in the Power and Light District, a closed punk club and county roads north of the city. KCUR reported how two Kansas City Art Institute graduates met the band and brought them here.
the rapper Tech N9ne KC’s famous Gates Bar-BQ hypes up Ollie Gates and the “OG” for this Kansas City institution. Not only is part of the video shot at Gates’ restaurant, but an animated “struttin’ man” nearly breakdances from the tray.
For local groups, it makes good sense to use the backdrop of the city. During 2020, Black creatures Their “Wretched (It Goes)” music video was shot in front of City Hall, Robert Graham’s Bird Lives Statue, and along Main Street and back streets of Kansas City.
Theaters were restored
An important part of Kansas City’s film history resides in its movie theaters. Only a few of the old movie houses still stand in Kansas City, but the rest have either been renovated or are planned to be.
In the 18th and Bell District, Bonn Theatre 1701 E. 18th Street is slated for renovations and will house the Black Movie Hall of Fame, which named its inaugural inductees this year. Built in 1924 and renamed in honor of piano virtuoso John W. “Blind” Boone, the theater is also a stop on the African-American Heritage Trail. Hopefully, the building will be open to the public in 2023.
The block is down Ratna Theatre, originally a silent movie palace, which has long been a venue for the performing arts. All the rest of Ebloon TheatreBuilt in 1922 as a “venue for vaudeville and motion pictures,” the building’s facade is also set for Altman’s film.
Kansas City is home to one of the largest remains Film Row Districts in the country. From the 1920s to the 1960s, major production studios had distribution houses in cities around the world.
On 18th Street between Baltimore and Broadway, many of those old buildings still stand, now an integral part of the Crossroads Arts District. 215 W. 18th St. In front of the Film Row Professional Building, the Kansas City Walk of Stars includes plaques for Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, Robert Altman, Joan Crawford and Walt Disney.
Speaking of Disney: He and friend Eub Iwerks started Laugh-O-Gram Studios 1127 E. 31st St. in 1921. The company only lasted a few years on the second floor, but Disney & Co. The final effect is undeniable. Thanks to the organizers, Walt Disney is currently raising funds to restore the building and create a museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of Laugh-O-Gram Studios. Listen to People’s History of Kansas City for more on this piece of Kansas City film history.
Although many of the remaining theaters have been remodeled into offices or event spaces, some have remained true to their silver screen origins, e.g. Screenland Armor in North Kansas City. Overland Park’s Rio closed during the pandemic, but by August 2022 its owners were hoping to finally reopen it.