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updated: 5/15/2014 10:48 AM

What happens in elevators doesn't stay in elevators

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  • These simple buttons are a sign that you are standing in a place where anything can happen, and nothing usually does.

       These simple buttons are a sign that you are standing in a place where anything can happen, and nothing usually does.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • This photo of Jay Z and Beyoncé at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala isn't nearly as compelling as the grainy surveillance video from the elevator ride that followed.

      This photo of Jay Z and Beyoncé at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala isn't nearly as compelling as the grainy surveillance video from the elevator ride that followed.
    Associated Press

  • Looking cool in this photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York, Solange Knowles got more publicity from the elevator-surveillance video showing her slapping and kicking at her brother-in-law Jay Z.

      Looking cool in this photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York, Solange Knowles got more publicity from the elevator-surveillance video showing her slapping and kicking at her brother-in-law Jay Z.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Buster Keaton's elevator clip

  • Video: Blues Brothers take elevator

  • Video: Pushing the buttons in "Elf"

  • Video: Jay Z and Solange in elevator

  • Video: Buzz Lightyear vs. Zurg

 
 

When Elisha Graves Otis sold his first elevator in 1853, he couldn't envision that his product would become the setting for viral videos of celebrity spats. This week's viral surveillance-video of Solange flailing away at brother-in-law Jay Z with her fists and feet during a 3-minute elevator ride in New York feeds society's appetite for celebrities gone wild.

But the elevator is the star of that video.

A box used to transport people to different levels of a building sounds boring. But an elevator is a space unlike anything else.

"It's really everywhere," says Tom Downie, director of worldwide communications for Otis Elevator Co., which has offices around the globe, including one in Lombard. "Otis products are truly everywhere, and people across America interact with them every day."

Typically smaller than the bathrooms in most homes, elevators give a single occupant a sense of privacy, and strangers an immediate feeling of intimacy. Elevators create loneliness and solitude, awkwardness and claustrophobia, and they harbor romance, humor and horror.

"A lot can happen in that confined space, away from prying eyes," says Angie Baldwin, managing editor of Elevator World magazine, which, predictably, covers the world of elevators.

More than a ballroom, bedroom, kitchen or garage, elevators have become settings for iconic movie scenes. An elevator is a room where social norms are a little off, and you can't be sure when it will stop and what will be there when the doors open.

"It's an adventure," says Lee Gray, associate dean for the College of Arts and Architecture at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who has written books and 130 articles on the cultural significance of elevators, escalators and such. "It's a mystery box. Hollywood really likes them."

Elevators are the backdrop when the young protagonist of "The Shining" gapes at a river of blood washing into the hallway. An elevator gives us the gasp-inducing plot twist in "The Departed," when its door opens so that Leonardo DiCaprio can get shot in the face before a stunned Matt Damon. The elevator is the place where Angie Dickinson gets butchered with a razor blade in "Dressed to Kill," and where Anthony Hopkins stages his bloody escape in "Silence of the Lambs."

Elevators in those "Die Hard" movies give us gift-wrapped thugs while spreading the news that Bruce Willis' hero character has a machine gun, and they serve as settings for deadly shootouts and awesome explosions. Elevators make possible the gruesome deaths in "Resident Evil," "Final Destination 2," "Drive" and the 1983 horror movie "The Lift," where the decapitations and such are committed by an evil elevator.

Elevators know how to push our buttons when it comes to upping the tension for Cary Grant in "North by Northwest," Robert Redford in "Three Days of the Condor" or Sigourney Weaver in "Alien."

Buster Keaton used an elevator to fabricate a funny chase scene in his 1921 film, "The Goat." Jim Carrey got chuckles and a well-deserved slap while riding an elevator in "Liar Liar." Will Ferrell's first ride in an elevator made folks laugh in "Elf."

The Blues Brothers calmly rode the elevator while listening to "Girl from Ipanema" as squadrons of heavily armed law enforcement officers ran up the stairs. Mr. Chow sang "Time in a Bottle" during what should have been a tense elevator ride in "The Hangover Part II."

For people old enough to remember the 1983 movie "Class," it's impossible to ride a glass elevator at Chicago's Water Tower Place without thinking of sultry Jacqueline Bissett purring, "I love elevators. I love the way they go up and down," as she seduces her son's friend.

Glenn Close did the same to Michael Douglas on an old-fashioned elevator in "Fatal Attraction." Mr. Big and Carrie found romance on an elevator in TV's "Sex and the City," as did characters from "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Good Wife."

Then there's that urban legend about a black male celebrity (Lionel Ritchie, Eddie Murphy, Reggie Jackson, others) who gets on an elevator with a scary dog (pit bull, Doberman, others) and the only other passenger (white and female and often elderly) is so frightened that when the celebrity says "Sit!" to his dog, the woman drops to the floor, and the celebrity finds that so funny that he does something surprising (treats her to dinner, pays for her hotel room, buys her the L.A. Clippers).

"LA Law" made television history when it sent one of its main characters to her demise by way of an open elevator shaft. But the Evil Emperor Zurg survives getting knocked off the elevator in "Toy Story 2," giving him time to patch things up with his one-time enemy and son, Buzz Lightyear.

"There's a real connection with people because our equipment and services keep them moving every day," Downie says. "At Otis, we think of movement as the very heart of urban life, and it's our responsibility to help keep it beating."

Whether it's love and sex, murder and mayhem, chuckles and slapstick, or the next celebrity meltdown, elevators can handle it. As Willy Wonka proved by breaking through the confines of his chocolate factory, elevators have no barriers.

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