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Hitchcock Highlighted at SF Museum Film Show
by Doniphan Blair
A wax impression of Chaplin stands in front of a few posters from the early 20th c. Essanay Studios, out of Fremont, California. photo: D. Blair
The "Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" Show by the
San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
looked a little bare in the cavernous space of the Old Mint on 5th Street. Declared a national monument decades ago and bought by mayor Willie Brown for a silver dollar, it has yet to be renovated into a modern museum as planned, leaving large windows and architectural elements that reduce actual wall space. But the "Stuff That Dreams", which unfortunately closes on June 25th, is still an amazing window on our rich cinema world.
It starts with with Edward Muybridge's inventing motion pictures in Sacramento, covers the origins of narrative film here, with Chaplin working at the Essanay Studio in Niles (now Fremont) and all over San Francisco, and carries on into the massively popular phenom of noir. It's hard to conceive until you gaze upon noir's breadth and scope but Dashiell Hammett, the San Francisco fog and the fact that LA had no actual city, made San Francisco the iconic place where humanity could act out its struggle between good and evil on more local level then the chessboarding of armies around the world, a la uncle Adolph, Joseph and Franklin.
A scene from the Miles Bros long and languorous 'A Trip Down Market Street (1906). photo: D. Blair
Ironically, the intensity of noir highlights the dearth of great beat and hippies films not to mention its perfect counterpoint to the lightness of themes if not the realities of the 60s. Although the Bay Area kept hosting tons of great films, from the Graduate to Woody Allen and Harold and Maud, it lacked the unifying intensity and sheer style of noir.
That is until the Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1961), largely penned at Stanford, arguably the great novel of an generation was filmed by the master director Czech Milos Forman but produced here in 1975 by music impresario Saul Zaentz with not a little help from Michael Douglas, whose father, Kirk, played Nicholson's roll on Broadway.
"The Stuff That Dreams" sort of falls down on the real Golden Age of Bay Area Cinema, the 1970s and 80s, when the four horsemen of new cinmea, Coppola, Lucas, Zaentz and Kaufman, lived here and shot some of the top films of ALL TIME, most of them much better than the stylistically coherent noir. Where was the Star War, Godfather or Apocalypse Now rooms? I guess you have to go to Lucasfilm in the Presidio or Coppola's Rustic Restaurant in Geyserville.
The number of noir pics shot in San Francisco is stupefying. photo: D. Blair
It was also a bit meager on the indies who symbolize even more precisely the spirit of San Francisco who have produced lots of notable films from Zwigoff to Nilson, Shlain to Jenkins, Madden to Bradshaw. But "The Stuff That Dreams" of the SF Museum did dream big: it was a massive space, the budget was obviously stretched, and there were two fantastic treats.
The Miles Bros. 1906 "A Trip Down Market Street" was like a '60s structuralist film 60 years to soon. It really put you right there and proved why the early cineaste trope of just documenting reality was, while it seems boring as bunions on paper, was fascinating at the time, just as it is now as a life document.
One of Kim Novak's impressionist-expressionist paintings, entitled 'Life is but a dream'. image: K. Novak
And there is the Kim Novak paintings show. Entitled "Life is But a Dream" and described by the artist as "expressionist-impressionist," they were not ground breaking but still beautiful, emotive, and revealing of the artist behind the beauty. She was also painting when she was 25 and seemed touched by artistry of the "expressionist-surrealist" Hitchcock and their collaboration on the dream journey "Vertigo" in 1958.
On that quest, she fought to express her opinions, Hitchcock accommodated her on occasion and her intense performance is credited with making the character into an archetypal Jungian muse acclaimed by cineastes the world over. And in a tribute to the spirals of influence, there is a room devoted to a replica of the painting of Carlotta Valdes, with ambient sound from Ft. Point, with a bench on which to sit before the painting, as Kim Novak playing Judy Barton in the role of Madeleine Elster did in the movie, building nicely on another one of Hitchcock's many references to the power of art.
All in all hats of to San Francisco Museum, from director Miguel Pendás and his able team to the staff of dedicated volunteers. I can only imagine what they might do with the San Francisco cinema scene when properly funded and graphacized.
While not a masterpiece, Nicole Schach's copy of the painting from 'Vertigo', displayed by itself in a room with a bench replete with a posy of flowers for the viewer to hold, highlights the artistry of both Hitchcock and the SF Museum. image: N. Schach
Indeed, this brings back to the fore the
San Francisco Film Museum's
quest for recognition and location but I guess that will require, a little like the film noir movement of the '50s, a bit more conceptual coherence in the film community.
Posted on Jun 21, 2012 - 12:44 AM