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Film Travel North South America
By Museyon Inc.
Museyon, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Museyon, Inc.
All rights reserved.
HAUNTING AND BEAUTIFUL
SAN FRANCISCO, USA
Most memorable experience in film/travel: Having spent some formative years in San Francisco, I'm always thrilled and terrified by the scene in Vertigo when Kim Novak throws herself into the Bay at Fort Point.
Maybe it's San Francisco's topography: all those hills and peaks, the picturesque streets lined with brightly painted Victorian houses that suddenly give way to sheer, plummeting angles. Or maybe it's the climate. In San Francisco, there are days shot through with clear northern California light, and then there are days bound up in dense, clinging banks of fog. Whatever the reason, the men roaming the city streets are haunted. At least the ones on film are. Despite its reputation for Summer of Love-loving, Beat-living, rainbow flag-waving and all-around-cheerful eccentricity, the city has contributed to a startlingly large number of celluloid misfits and obsessives to the silver screen.
There is no question that the city is easy on the camera eye. So many films set here open with long panoramic shots, sweeping across postcard-famous vistas including Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, the Ferry Building, the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Alcatraz, the Embarcadero, the Marin Headlands and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. In some movies, the city may remain a mere backdrop, but San Francisco itself is usually an essential element of the drama, as if the people who settled and developed the land planned the streets specifically for chase scenes.
HARD-BOILED FILMS FROM THE 1940s TO THE 1960s
The quintessential hard-boiled man in pursuit is Humphrey Bogart — brooding, smoking and slugging his way through the shadows as detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon(1941). Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel and directed by John Huston, the film was produced mostly on studio sets in Los Angeles, but key scenes were shot on location. On Burrit Alley, just off Bush Street above the Stockton Tunnel, you can find a plaque indicating the spot where Spade's partner Miles Archer is killed.
In Delmer Daves' Dark Passage (1947), Bogart's Vincent Parry is both the hunter and hunted. Framed for his wife's murder, he escapes San Quentin prison to track down the real murderer and undergoes plastic surgery to disguise himself. He's also picked up and sheltered by the ever-sleek Lauren Bacall as Irene Jansen, an artist who fittingly lives in a fantastically stylish white art-deco confection at 1360 Montgomery Street (at Filbert Street).
Maybe it's really quite simple: the manhunt is such a popular form for films set in San Francisco because it requires a large-scale tour of the city. From Bogart you can trace the lineage of the taciturn detective-on-the-trail to Steve McQueen's Frank Bullitt and Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan. Hardened and cynical, they buck the system to bring mobsters, politicians and serial killers to justice. In Bullitt (1968), directed by Peter Yates, McQueen is in search of the men who murdered a witness held in custody at the Hotel Daniels, (at the time the Kennedy Hotel) across from Pier 18. The elevated freeway that ran alongside the building was destroyed along with the hotel in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. But many other key locations are still standing: 1153 Taylor Street, where Bullitt lives, as well as the market across the street where he buys his TV dinners; San Francisco General Hospital; the Grace Cathedral, where the slimy pol played by Robert Vaughn serves papers to Bullitt's captain, at California and Taylor Streets on Nob Hill; the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel; and Enrico's Sidewalk Cafe at 504 Broadway, where Bullitt meets with an informant. The film's famous chase scene — which required two Mustangs and two Dodge Chargers — begins at Portrero and Army streets, races through Bernal Heights, and manages to jump between the Russian Hill and North Beach neighborhoods, the Portrero Hills, and the Marina, veering past Saints Peter and Paul Church, Bimbo's 365, Fort Mason and the Marina Safeway before the big explosion along the southbound Guadalupe Canyon Parkway.
THE ZODIAC KILLINGS, THEN AND NOW
Directed by Don Siegel, Dirty Harry (1971) was inspired in part by the real-life Zodiac killings in the late '60s and the efforts of detective Dave Toschi, one of the investigators on the still-unsolved case. Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Harry Callahan — blunt, hard-edged, squinting — would become an iconic persona. Whether apprehending a bank robber while holding a hot dog or pursuing the baby-faced psychopath "Scorpio" (as played by Andy Robinson), Callahan roams the city far and wide. The existing landmarks featured include the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street, the Marina Boat Docks, the Portrero Hills, the Mount Davidson Cross above Portola Drive, City Hall, Kezar Stadium and the buffalo paddock in Golden Gate Park. The final showdown's rock quarry in Marin County, however, has since been turned into the Larkspur Landing Shopping Center.
David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) revisited the events of the actual murders, and in his incredibly fetishistic recreation of 1970s San Francisco, there are three men on the case: Mark Ruffalo's Toschi, Jake Gyllenhaal's cartoonist Robert Graysmith and Robert Downey, Jr. as a crime reporter. While Fincher shot many of the film's interiors in Los Angeles, the Bay Area native, with a reputation for punishing exactitude, insisted on shooting at the precise locations of the Zodiac attacks, such as Lake Berryessa — which meant building an entire irrigation system and replanting 24 trees, plus a thousand clumps of grass, to replicate the area's earlier scenery.
THE VERTIGO TOUR
And then there's the obsessive of all obsessives: Jimmy Stewart's John "Scottie" Ferguson in Vertigo (1958). Riven by phobia, fantasy and fetish, he lusts for Kim Novak's glamorous Madeleine Elster while cruelly remaking her counterpart, the plain, always-yielding Judy. A "womanhunt," Alfred Hitchcock's film uses the city's vertiginous, winding streets to reinforce the suspense and foreboding of Scottie's growing psychosis. A devoted fan can tour many key locations, starting with the upscale Brocklebank Apartments at 100 Mason Street, where Madeleine lives. There is no portrait of Carlotta Valdes at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, but you can visit the museum in Lincoln Park. Nor is there an actual grave for Carlotta in the cemetery behind the Mission Dolores at 320 Dolores Street, though one stone does exist to commemorate the thousands of indigenous people who died after Spanish missionaries occupied the region. Dolores Street is also the site of the oldest building in the city, Mission San Francisco de Asís, completed in 1791. Just beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at the northwest edge of the city lies Fort Point. Built in the 1850s, it's where Madeleine takes her suicidal leap into the crashing waves of the Bay, and Scottie soon follows. Take a pass by 900 Lombard Street at the base of those famed hairpin turns to see Scottie's apartment where he brings Madeleine after fishing her out of the water. Other significant spots, such as the red-walled Ernie's Restaurant or the McKittrick Hotel, no longer remain, but you can stop in at what was Hotel Empire, Judy's low-rent lodging at 940 Sutter Street, which is currently the York Hotel and will be renamed Hotel Vertigo upon completion of its renovation.
MOVIE PANIC AND PARANOIA
Perhaps less imposing — but no less driven — than the iconic characters played by Stewart, Eastwood, McQueen and Bogart is Gene Hackman's buttoned-down, uncharismatic Harry Caul in The Conversation (1974). Francis Ford Coppola's unsettling plunge into the world of surveillance and spiraling paranoia opens on Union Square where Harry and his partner Stan (John Cazale) are huddled in a van on Geary Street, listening in on a young couple's conversation. The City of Paris department store is gone now, replaced by Neiman Marcus. Other critical scenes take place in the then-newly erected Embarcadero One and outside the Maritime Plaza. It is in the Jack Tar Hotel, now the Cathedral Hotel, that Harry makes his final attempt at surveillance.
Of course men are not the only ones who succumb to dangerous fixations in San Francisco. While most of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) was shot either on studio lots or on location up the coast at Bodega Bay, the film begins with Tippie Hedren's socialite Melanie Daniels making her fateful purchase of a pair of lovebirds at a pet store on Powell Street, just across the way from where Harry Caul sets up his first spy operation in Union Square.
And certainly Zasu Pitts' Trina Sieppe is a woman possessed in Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924), a silent film tour de force that was butchered by studio editors. A four-hour version of the once nine-hour film has since been reconstructed. Based on Frank Norris' novel McTeague, the movie follows the travails of an unlicensed dentist (Gibson Gowland) and his wife, who wins the lottery; her lust for gold comes to know no bounds. In one incredible scene, the wraithlike, kohl-eyed Pitts slithers against her pile of coins under the bed covers with total sexual glee. Von Stroheim shot much of the movie on location, including the Sierra Nevada mountains, Death Valley, and the corner of Hayes and Laguna streets, which is the site of McTeague's dental office.
HAPPIER EVER AFTER
As von Stroheim clearly saw, and as plenty of gold miners and dotcom entrepreneurs have come to know all too well, San Francisco was built on cycles of boom and bust. Today, though, that particular narrative about sudden change of fortune is not a gimlet-eyed account of hoarding and rapaciousness, but a heart-warming tale of overcoming adversity in Gabriele Muccino's The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). As Will Smith plays him, Chris Gardner, a homeless optimist and struggling single father, manages to leap from his unpaid internship at Dean Witter to starting his own brokerage firm, ultimately selling it at a multimillion-dollar profit. This particular American Dream, based on a true story, plays out at such locations as the Glide Memorial Church on Ellis Street and 555 California Street, the former Bank of America headquarters and the very skyscraper that the "Scorpio" killer shoots one of his victims in Dirty Harry.
In spite of being host to The Lady From Shanghai (1947), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), the city has been the site of plenty of light-hearted pictures. One movie that takes bizarro quirk to staggering heights is Otto Preminger's cult film Skidoo (1968), a fascinating, candy-colored collision of hippies and squares, featuring Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Mickey Rooney, Groucho Marx and Jackie Gleason. (The latter sneaks into the prison on Alcatraz where he ends up having a deliriously mind-blowing acid trip.) Other merry adventures by the Bay feature Woody Allen relocating his usual New York neuroses in Play It Again, Sam (1972) and Whoopi Goldberg going undercover in Sister Act (1992). Although whatever fuels resident Robin Williams (a.k.a. Mrs. Doubtfire and Patch Adams) in his comic mania, it's probably not exactly free-flowing ebullient joy but something much murkier.
And finally, take the story of the huge and hugely popular Fatty Arbuckle. Thanks to YouTube you can see his jolly plump face and take in the city circa 1915 in Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco. (The Palace of Fine Arts, another Vertigo location, is the one remaining structure from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.) Six years later, at the height of his fame, Arbuckle was back in San Francisco hosting a party at the St. Francis Hotel when he allegedly raped Virginia Rappe, an aspiring actress who died from a ruptured bladder two days later. Arbuckle was tried three separate times and ultimately acquitted. His career never recovered. There probably isn't a plaque at the hotel commemorating the sordid event, but the party was reported to have been in room 1220. (A curious side note: Before he was a famous novelist, Dashiell Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Agency as a private investigator, where one of his cases was this very scandal.)
So what is it about all those glorious panoramas? Why are the men and women of San Francisco's screenscape so driven and so dark? Maybe knowing that beneath that breathtaking landscape — staggering hills, an expansive coastline, a sprawling bay, that spectacular bridge — the earth, or more specifically the North American Plate, is always in motion, always sliding, always grinding against the Pacific Plate, will do that to you. §CHAPTER 2
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
NEW YORK CITY, USA
Most memorable experience in film/travel: I hope she never sees this, but my sweet, kind, doting aunt in Bombay was a member of India's film censorship board — which, with all due respect, I consider absolutely mortifying.
For roughly one year in the 18th century (1789-1790, to be exact), New York City was the capital of America ... before Philly and then D.C. nicked that honor. But what it ultimately lacked in civic distinction, the borough of Manhattan more than made up for in vitality. Because somewhere between the 1620s, when the Dutch ponied up just 24 bucks to buy the land from Native Americans (unpaved highway robbery!), and the turn-of-the-century industrial era, when the subway sprawled and immigrants abounded, this former Revolutionary War stomping ground swelled into a booming metropolis. Unimpressed, English author Rudyard Kipling once described the Big Apple as the "shiftless outcome of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance" — and indeed, it's proven an inspiration to many a artist, whether awed or disgusted by the unruly setting before them.
In recent years, sentimentalists have lamented the glossier, safer NYC, a locale far removed from the crime-ridden, hedonistic, art-stoking '70s or the '80s, during which a crack epidemic, the AIDS crisis and bombastic Wall Street glitz curiously coexisted. Despite the grousing, this protean city has remained fertile ground for thought. And so it's here — at the crossroads of infatuation and skepticism — that we lead you on a tour of NYC-set films that have proved decade-spanning cultural markers of this urban playground's persistent relevance.
The mistaken-identity antics of Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Susan Seidelman's benign paean to East Village postpunk bohemia, begins in a thrift store where Madonna hawks her one-of-a-kind jacket — the awesome one with a gold pyramid on the back — that's later picked-up at Love Saves the Day (119 Second Ave. at St. Mark's Place — closed) by hausfrau/Madonna-wannabe Rosanna Arquette.
If '70s soul is more your thing, head to the West Village's still-standing Café Reggio (119 Macdougal St., between Minetta and 3rd St.), immortalized in the like-titled instrumental on Isaac Hayes' soundtrack to Shaft (1971). The restaurant, which declares itself the home of America's first cappuccino maker, is where Richard Roundtree's "black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks" (you're damn right!) meets up with an associate, then winds up taking a bullet in his badass shoulder.
While you're here, you may as well move along to TriBeCa (or, the Triangle Below Canal Street). The former home to John F. Kennedy, Jr. and preferred hood of Robert De Niro, this nabe housed the Ghostbusters(1984) headquarters, better known as Hook & Ladder Company #8 (a fully functioning firehouse at 14 North Moore St, between Varick and West Broadway). Also in the area: a parking lot at West Broadway and North Moore where that ridiculous "freak gasoline fight accident" goes down in Zoolander (2001), leaving Ben Stiller's pouty character as its only survivor.
After Vito Corleone survives an assassination attempt in The Godfather (1972), good son Michael visits him at an infirmary, shrewdly orchestrating a bait and switch there in anticipation of another attempt on his dad's life. (The interior hospital shots actually take place near the East Village at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, at 310 East 14th St., between First and Second Ave.) Outside, at the Bellevue Hospital Center (462 First Ave., between 26th and 28th Streets) — the oldest public hospital in America — he gets a knuckle sandwich after confronting no-good cop Captain McCluskey, who's clearly on a rival's payroll. Oh, that knave will get his later! Michael crosses over to the Dark Side when he guns down McCluskey and the boss who tried to whack the Don over pasta and vino at the dearly departed Luna restaurant in the Bronx.
Excerpted from Film Travel North South America by Museyon Inc.. Copyright © 2015 Museyon, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Museyon, Inc..
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