Check Sources for a bibliography and an evolving collection of other reference resources.
A mini-archive of feature-length, amateur, and sponsored films in and around San Francisco
Compiled by the Curatorial Practice MA students, Class of 2010, California College of the Arts
The Fall of the I Hotel
Harry Bridges: A Man and His Union
The Times of Harvey Milk
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Amateur video and Sponsored film: Amateur film of San Francisco
Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me
Bridging San Francisco Bay
Fixed-gear bicycle riding
Parkour San Francisco: Story of a City Skateboarding
Three to Get Ready: A Progress Report from BART
A Trip Down Market Street 1905
The Bridge Directed by Eric Steel, 2006 TRT approx 93 min
Fog sweeps over the familiar San Francisco landscape as tourists walk back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge on a warm Sunday afternoon. A man in a baseball cap stops to look over the railing at the kite-boarders and boaters enjoying the weather and the bay. Without a moment of hesitation –or even taking off his baseball cap—the heavy man thrusts himself head first over the railing. Director, Eric Steel in making the haunting 2006 documentary The Bridge captures 23 out of 24 suicides that occurred on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. Although only six of the suicides were included in the final edit, the film captured enough to elicit the horrifying frequency of these occurrences.
The Golden Gate Bridge is rated the most popular place to commit suicide in the United States and is one of the most popular in the world. The structure is a masterpiece of civil engineering, but this site has a disturbing mythology attached to its concrete, steel and wire structure. Many people imagine the bridge as it appears on post cards and key chains, as an idyllic symbol of the beauty and allure of San Francisco. About nine million people per year come to see this modern Wonder of the World and experience the bridge that appeared in their favorite movies and television shows. Steel’s film calls attention to the darker nature of the bridge and uses panoramic views of fog blanketing the city to shroud this post card image in mystery. The film includes interviews with the friends and family of those who jumped, but as they recall the lives of their loved ones many describe the magnetic character of the bridge and how it lends itself to the false romanticism of suicide.
The shock experienced in the opening scene sets the stage for the rest of the film’s psychological tenor. In this scene San Francisco is portrayed as a stunning place where everyone seems to serenely enjoy life, but this adds to the horror when we learn that the bridge is commonly a site for the most desperate of circumstances. The shots of fog rolling over the landscape accompanied with haunting and foreboding music, invites an emotional reaction from the viewer. A reaction that will forever change how one looks at this site. These scenes are carefully orchestrated to expand upon the mythology of the Golden Gate Bridge. Steel used multiple telescopic lens cameras in varied positions around the bridge to capture the footage. Thus, the shots are at a distance, far enough to see the visual beauty of the bridge, but close enough to make out the facial expressions of people moments before they jump. Steel claims that he hoped this film would help proposals to build a fence around the bridge. The fact that this is real footage of people committing suicide raises serious questions about the ethics of those involved in the making of the film. Why didn’t the film crew attempt to intervene or alert the authorities when they had the chance? Is this film providing awareness on the issue or offering something meaningful to the public or is it simply eliciting a morbid voyeurism? Steel contends that his film crew had the Bridge Office on speed dial to alert the authorities, but the way the camera follows the action of the jumpers for extended periods of time— including their impact with the water—provokes suspicion.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is an extension of the image of San Francisco, which is a place distinct in its complexity and diversity. Although The Bridge purports to capture an alternative to the post card image of the city, it remains a Hollywood-esque portrait of San Francisco. It builds upon the false romanticism of suicide, saving the most dramatic, backwards, arm stretched jump for the final scene. Those who were interviewed do not reflect the multitude of diverse voices that have an opinion on this phenomenon. Although the shock of suicide is captured in this film, the reality and intricacy of the issue remains lost in the fog. —KK
The Fall of the I Hotel Directed by Curtis Choy, 1993 TRT 58 min
“We had support from the outside but you get the sense you are being trapped in the inside” –narrator, The Fall of the I Hotel
The Fall of the I Hotel is a documentary that captures the complexities of an important eviction in San Francisco. The place in dispute was the International Hotel built in 1907, which was located at the corner of Kearny and Jackson streets in Manila Town. The hotel’s prices attracted new immigrants and older members of the Filipino community. The International Hotel witnessed generations of Filipinos come into California, and became a home away from home for these immigrants. However, in the 1960s San Francisco was going through another redevelopment phase that threatened to close the hotel. A development company bought the property and decided to turn it into a parking lot.
The Fall of the I Hotel focused on the struggle of the hotel’s occupants to maintain their right to live in the building, while portraying the dynamics of this community. The Fall Of the I Hotel locates a community trapped between the problems of gentrification and the expression of their own voice in San Francisco. This eviction caused a great conflict in the city. There were numerous protests. Ultimately, the development company won the case and the occupants of the hotel were forced to relocate.
The film’s director, Curtis Choy, used multiple strategies to document this struggle. First, he released of the film two years after the hotel was demolished. When The Fall of the I Hotel came out the issue was still fresh in the minds of many San Franciscans. Also, Choy did not restrict his filming to Manila Town. On the contrary, he shot around the Financial District, Chinatown, and the Philippines. Though keen at portraying classic views of San Francisco, like the hills, murals and Victorian buildings, Choy is most interested in capturing a sense of community within the city. He took great footage of the riots and how other San Franciscans addressed this struggle as their own.
This allowed for proximity between this issue and the viewers of the film. Choy proceeded to reference other contemporary events that had an effect on the local landscape, such as the Golden Gate expansion project and the relationship between cheap labor and Manila Town. Those situations expand our view of the cultural and political landscape of San Francisco. Furthermore, for the narration Choy opted for one narrator. This voice interwoven with interviews of everyday people involved in the conflict: protesters, barbers, tourists, women, police, etc. The interviews allow different points of view to enter the conversation. One hears the perspective of an evicted tenant, as well as, that of the development company’s CEO.
The Fall of the I Hotel captured multiple dimensions of San Francisco’s social landscape. The film depicted a community that was anonymously inserted into the city, but was in the process of fighting to be heard. Choy introduced us to members of a community that are a fundamental part of San Francisco, but are usually not represented in the mainstream culture. In many ways even Choy’s project became an extension of his portrayal of the city, as he utilized film to become a voice for this community and expand this cause to a wider audience. —MEO
Harry Bridges: a Man and His Union Directed by Berry Minnott, 1993 TRT 50 min
Harry Bridges was an incredibly influential and powerful labor union leader who organized workers on the San Francisco waterfront, and eventually in Hawaii, from the early 1930s through the late '70s. This documentary tells the story of Bridges’ life-long involvement with the labor movement, from his arrival in San Francisco as a young longshoreman from Australia in 1922 to his rise to president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), a dock and warehouse workers' union that operated on the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii.
The film begins with amazing and violent original footage of the 1934 longshoreman strike which was led by Bridges. Also, there are passionate interviews throughout the film with dockworkers who knew him. These elements combined with contemporary footage of the docks paint a vivid picture of Bridges’ lasting impact in San Francisco and within the labor movement as a whole. As viewers, our eyes are opened not only to Bridges’ life and work, but also to the lives and livelihoods of the generations of dockworkers in the Bay Area. We realize their invaluable role in Bay Area commerce and also their marginalization; they keep the city moving, but most of us are hardly aware of their existence.
When Bridges arrived in San Francisco, the longshoremen were working up to a 72-hour workday and safety conditions were terrible. Additionally, the hiring practices on the docks were corrupt, with the foreman typically requiring kickbacks from the men hoping to be assigned for the day. Bridges was a member of the informal Albion Hall Group of dockworkers that elected to join with the International Longshoreman’s Association in 1933 and he was quickly elected to be an officer.
Bridges’ early goals included: the establishment of a hiring hall run by the union (and paid for by the employer) for more equal hiring practices, an eight-hour workday, and increased syndicalism among the dockworkers, meaning that they would take a more active role instead of waiting for government aid that often never came. On May 9, 1934, the West Coast Longshore Strike began. It lasted 83 days and paralyzed every port on the West Coast, but the workers won their hiring hall that Bridges has campaigned for.
During this time, the Communist Party and the unions shared similar goals and ideologies and there were Party members in the unions with Bridges. Red-baiting was a commonly used tactic to attempt to break the strike, but it was rarely effective. Bridges was an admitted Communist sympathizer and Marxist. This was the main argument used by the government to attempt to deport him. He was tried in court multiple times, up to the Supreme Court of CA, but consistently denied under oath that he was a Member of the Communist Party. There were repeated efforts to discredit him throughout his life because he was such a threat to the employers.
As the times began to change in the 1960s, Bridges saw his power and influence fading and became defensive about his position in the ILWU. His last major coup was negotiating a controversial agreement to [[mechanize the docks. The number of jobs were reduced, but in exchange the workers received generous job guarantees and increased benefits. But workers accused him of being too soft on the employers and he was eventually forced to retire his position as President in 1977.
On July 28, 2001, on what would have been Bridges' 100th birthday, the ILWU organized a week-long event celebrating the life of Harry Bridges. The longshoremen shut down the port of San Pedro for eight hours in his honor. On this date, Harry Bridges Memorial Plaza was dedicated in San Francisco, across from the Ferry Building. —KHM
Screaming Queens: The Riots at Compton’s Cafeteria
In Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, historian and emerging filmmaker, Susan Stryker employs multiple platforms—crafting a documentary from filmic autobiography, historic reenactment, and interviews. The film explores the oft forgotten 1966 riot in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district; Transgender women and gay sex workers fed up with police harassment resisted violence and victimization by the state. A spark was lit in Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, spilling onto Turk and Taylor streets in San Francisco and into a larger Gay Rights movement. The events highlighted in Screaming Queens precede more familiar queer histories, the Stonewall Riots and in this way Styker's retelling extends the timeline, lengthening the trajectory on the movement.
Stryker uses archival footage, interviews and still images. The film opens with archival footage and although not explicitly from the Tenderloin in 1966, Stryker successfully uses it to craft a more complete understanding of time and place. Screaming Queens is a portrait of the Tenderloin through the lens of this event and she spends much of the film building a context for the riot. Stryker interviews a variety of residents in a studio and on the street; she is included in the shot or her voice can be heard off screen. The film as a document is reflexive, presenting a history—the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria—along with the “discovery” of that history. Stryker does this by merging the personal with the public; throughout the film she tells her story of personal transition, her professional journey and her uncovering the Compton’s Riot through her work at the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California. More than a filmic vehicle, Stryker’s retelling highlights contemporary indebtedness to protestations of the past.
Stryker’s portrait of San Francisco is a portrait of the Tenderloin, consistently impoverished and forgotten. San Franciscans today and in 1966 see The ‘loin as a blight and its residents, an inconvenience. Stryker includes the socioeconomic conditions that contribute to this understanding; she presents the Tenderloin’s duality as an oasis of affordable living space and a “ghetto” for the city’s unwanted—the poor and those with the “special condition of transexualism.” Stryker includes racial hierarchies within the transgender community of the 1960s and unspoken boundaries between sex workers. Contrastingly, the Glide Church and eventually the San Francisco Police Department found interesting ways to recognize and eventually support their residents. These elements led to a uniquely liberal but highly productive contemporary San Francisco.
At times, Screaming Queers was heavy on context and light on the riot itself but ultimately, the film is a consideration of the body as landscape and history; how one changes oneself, how time changes community and how personal action changes the world outside. —JC
The Times of Harvey Milk directed by Rob Epstein, 1984 TRT 1:27:34
The Times of Harvey Milk, an academy award-winning documentary, follows a neighborhood activist’s journey to local politician. The film begins with Dianne Feinstein’s public announcement that both Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone had been shot and killed. Interestingly, this is also how the formation of this documentary began. Rob Epstein had initially intended to create a documentary on Proposition 6, a plan to prevent homosexuals and their supporters from working in the public school system. Once Milk was assassinated, Epstein shifted his focus to the life of Milk and also, perhaps inadvertently, created a portrait of his neighborhood.
Epstein’s film focuses on the life of Harvey Milk as the “Mayor of Castro Street.” The narrative is centered on the beginning of Milk’s political activism, which coincided with his move to the San Francisco Castro neighborhood in the early 1970s. The film includes archival footage and still photography as well as contemporary interviews in order to document Milk’s life, which at that time, revolved around Castro Street and the rights of its residents. Castro Street, the setting of the film, is depicted as a landscape for a strong community. The film is not comprised of just Harvey Milk and his campaign team, but the community of people in the Castro, bound by commonalities and location. Epstein recreates this community in archival footage of the residents living life on that street. We see them partying in the first Castro Street Fair, organizing around Milk, celebrating on election night, sitting outside of the camera store, and watching a parade. These images are interspersed with news coverage of Harvey Milk in public debate, still photographs of him working at City Hall, and footage of interviews of Supervisor Milk. As a result, viewers get a sense of Milk’s political life in San Francisco as well as a portrait of the neighborhood that first inspired his sense of civic duty and his passion for activism. The image depicted here is one of a very active neighborhood whose residents live there by choice, rallied together behind their “Mayor.”
The images that are not a part of Epstein’s landscape are the residents that are not a part of that growing community of gays moving to the Castro. Milk was Supervisor for District 5, which included Noe Valley, Haight-Ashbury, and Duboce Triangle. Aside from news footage of Duboce Park, viewers do not get a sense of what other neighborhoods looked like or the character of their separate communities. This angle is reinforced by numerous shots of the glowing “Castro” neon sign above Castro’s theatre, contemporary interviews with Milk’s friends and supporters, as well as footage and photography from around Castro Street. This documentary best serves Harvey Milk’s specific community, those moving to and organizing around Castro Street in the early 1970s. —NC
The Times of Harvey Milk is a documentary film, directed by Rob Epstein and released in October 1984. The film chronicles the political career of Harvey Milk; documenting Milk’s career trajectory from small business owner to gay activist to district supervisor and his subsequent assassination at the hands of fellow supervisor, Dan White. Epstein utilizes interviews with those close to Milk, including Anne Kronenberg (Milk’s campaign manager and assistant at City Hall), Tom Ammiano (friend and fellow activist), and Sally M. Gearhart (scholar and activist against the Briggs initiative). However, much of the film is made up of archival footage of Milk, White, then-Mayor George Moscone and of the Castro neighborhood where Milk was based.
Epstein’s film focuses largely on the Castro neighborhood, crafting a compelling portrait of the neighborhood in the 1970s. The title shot pans across the intersection of Market and Castro, a focal point for the neighborhood with the marquee of the Castro Theater acting as a landmark. Milk and lover Scott Smith moved to the Castro in 1972. From roughly the 1930s and mid-1960s, the Castro was primarily known as a working-class Irish neighborhood yet by 1967, a large influx of young gays and lesbians moved into the neighborhood. Still known as Eureka Valley, the Castro did not become “the Castro” until Milk’s political activism made the neighborhood a lightening rod of gay activism. Milk opened Castro Camera in 1975 and used it as campaign headquarters for his campaigns for the Board of Supervisors and for state Assembly. In the 1970s, numerous bars and bathhouses opened in the neighborhood further cementing the neighborhood as a “gay Mecca.” Epstein’s documentary features numerous archival footage of the camera shop and chronicles the Castro as it becomes a center for a queer lifestyle – the Castro Street Fair sequence is one example of this.
These shots of the Castro focus on one neighborhood, one aspect of the city, yet it speaks to a larger representation of San Francisco at large. San Francisco is known as a site of political activity – from the early labor movements with the longshoremen, to the free speech movements of the 1960s, to the anti-war movements today, one major perception of San Francisco is a place of counter-culture movements. By focusing on one political movement, one neighborhood, Epstein manages to capture the larger spirit of San Francisco and the ideals that take place within the communities.
The Times of Harvey Milk portrays a neighborhood that is largely made up of young gay men and as a hotbed of political activism. Epstein’s strategic use of archival footage creates an accurate yet enigmatic portrait of the neighborhood. Much of what is seen in the documentary lends to the mythos or rather aura of the Castro. The neighborhood continues to attract young queers, yet the fascinating part of viewing the documentary today is to look at the Castro then and the Castro today. The area was hit hard by the AIDS epidemic and in the dot-com boom, the rising rents dramatically changed the demographic of who was able to live in the neighborhood. The intersections of Castro and Market and 18th Street and Castro remain bustling with bars and boutiques and the neighborhood is far from its working class roots. Currently there is concern about protecting the neighborhood as a primarily gay neighborhood, particularly for younger gays who now cannot afford the high rents. The neighborhood is still a site for political action (see: campaign against Prop 8 in 2008), yet it is not the centerpiece that Milk’s work made it to be. Many of what Epstein documents it remains – in spirit if not physically – yet it is hard not to notice the changes of the landscape today. —JI
'Careful now. 'We're dealing here with a myth. 'This city is a point upon a map of fog; 'Lemuria in a city unknown. 'Like us, 'It doesn't quite exist.
—Ambrose Bierce, San Francisco journalist, poet, and novelist of the early 1900's
The grave of Carlotta Valdez, A favorite lurking spot of Vertigo’s doomed heroine Madeleine, remained in the Mission Dolores cemetery for several years after the film. It was removed because tourists were trampling over the real graves in order to see it and this seemed altogether a bit vulgar to the Mission fathers.
I would like for a moment talk about San Francisco in 1958. Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo premiered in the city in May of that year, but it is also the year that Jack Kerouac published his book Dharma Bums, a record of his time living in the Bay Area after writing On the Road. San Francisco is where, I am told, the term 'Beatnik' was first coined. It is a strange thing looking back at these accounts of one place that are so entirely different from each other and somehow still occupy the same year. It is a city that by 1958 is already seeped in 182 years of myth (if you want to start the story off with the founding of the first mission in 1776) and this is hardly lost on Hitchcock. Vertigo storyline is framed by a “historical” San Francisco. As Virginia Wright Wexman states in her abundantly titled essay The Critic as Consumer: Film Study in the University, "Vertigo", and the Film Canon: “Hitchcock indulges the touristic impulse by showing all the famous sights of the San Francisco Bay Area: the Golden Gate Bridge; the Embarcadero, Ernie’s, the city’s best-known restaurant; the art museum; a forest of giant sequoias; hilly streets; scenic, oceanside highways; and cable cars.”
San Francisco is as well groomed and controlled by Hitchcock as our view of Kim Novak. Gavin, husband to the beautiful blonde Madeleine Elster states sadly: “San Francisco has changed. The things that spell San Francisco to me are fading fast… I would have liked to live here then: color, excitement power freedom.” If we feel a longing for a San Francisco past, fifty years later it is for the San Francisco in Vertigo: a back drop of vibrant Technicolor land marks and its unfortunate but beautifully dressed people.
But the film’s landscape always retreats from us in some way: first with the “rack focus,” the frame lurching before our gaze and sickeningly downward—the illustration of Scottie’s illness and also as Scottie (James Stewart) drives through out the city the camera focused on his face so the landscape is forever expanding and disappearing behind him.
There is no vision of the future of San Francisco or even an alternative present under the tight carefully crafted world of Hitchcock—there is just the past. In a city that is only slightly over half Caucasian, a city that will erupt under cultural tensions in the next ten years, all this is invisible. Kerouac is down the street and you would never know it. If Hitchcock offers a kind of tourism so does Kerouac, and he is just as self-conscious of his construction of the city as the latter. There is the feeling of a curtain raised, of the “real” San Francisco underneath: skid row, drunks, poets and bums. He writes, “I followed the whole gang of howling poets to the reading at the Six Gallery that night, which was, among other important things, the night of the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Everyone was there. It was a mad night … by eleven o'clock when Alvah Goldbrook was reading his, wailing poem ‘Wail’ drunk with arms outspread everybody was yelling "Go! Go! Go!" (Like a jam session) and old Rheinhold Cacoethes the father of the Frisco poetry scene was wiping tears in gladness.” Burroughs would latter say “Jack Keraouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million Levis to both sexes.” I like that. All that beatnik self –awareness can really wear on you sometimes. —JZ
The Vertiginous City of San Francisco
Other than a handful of set-based scenes, the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock feature-length film, Vertigo takes place on streets, in public buildings, and amongst the landmark sites of San Francisco and the Bay area. The story itself is quintessential Hitchcock – a murder mystery with a twist.
The film spirals and turns throughout the streets of San Francisco as retired detective John “Scottie” Ferguson follows Madeleine, the wife of his old friend, on her possessed journey as she purportedly enters into deep hallucinogenic trances during her daily doings. When, unsurprisingly, Scottie falls in love with Madeleine, the confounding nature of his acrophobia—a fear of heights from which the film derives its title—further complicates a storyline that quickly takes shape as a murder mystery with no clear answers or alibis.
On a day’s stroll throughout the city’s northern half, we follow Madeleine as she moves through her daily ritual of going to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor—the fine art museum erected in 1924—to visit the portrait of Carlotta, her great grandmother (who she may or may not be possessed by). She then enters the Presidio, and with Scottie close on her tail, winds through the forested roadway of Park Presidio Drive and ends up under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point. The scene is vivid and shows the Bay and the bridge on a bright, sunny day—the tree and bushes on the road’s shoulder are manicured (due to the area’s military presence), demonstrating a clear, unobstructed view that we no longer have today. Cypress and eucalyptus trees line the Presidio road, creating a canopy effect that elevates the mystery and tension of the scene. The drive continues through a steel gate past an official and vaguely military signpost that is carefully ignored by the protagonists. Madeleine ends up at the water’s edge and in her trance-like state meditates on the concrete ledge, tossing flower petals into the blue bay. Clearly possessing a death wish, she then leaps into the chilly waters only to be rescued seconds later by the heroic Ferguson. This scene speaks loudly to cinema lovers, fulfilling the emotions of an enigmatic journey through a lovely landscape, and complete with a fast-moving plot, riveting climax, love story, and happy ending. The four-minute sequence could sum up the main themes and ideas of Vertigo, the place of the film in cinematic history, and the reeling impact of San Francisco—a city full of oddball residents, rolling hills, and a history rich with thrills.
Created by animator Saul Bass and composer Bernard Herrmann, the opening credits are particularly spectacular. A vortex of spiraling images engulfs the viewer into an anxious harmony, and the introduction serves as a visual foreshadowing for the experimental, artsy, and thrilling film. The film’s “dizzy vertigo effect” was a camera manipulation produced when Hitchcock would zoom-in as he physically moved the camera back, a trademark film device of Vertigo. Yet despite the originality of the film’s operation and the fact that it was taped in the relatively provincial city of San Francisco, Vertigo showed surprisingly little if any ethnic diversity, be it extras or the places the characters would visit. Madeleine and Scottie demonstrated minimal exploration beyond the sites south of Market Street, excused only by their visit to the Mission Dolores graveyard and the Mission San Juan Bautista, which lies ninety-one miles south of the city. Additionally, Hitchcock has carefully manipulated the barrier hills—they now become a thick wall of lush landscape that allows for no sign of outside life to creep into the safe and sound city(scape) of San Francisco. Though a successful and noteworthy director, Hitchcock had a specific image of the city and its people that he envisioned, however seemingly unrealistic in a post-war urban environment. —AS
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Directed by Judy Irving, 2005 (first screened at the Austin Film Festival in 2003) TRT 83 min
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a documentary that takes a close look at the life of Mark Bittner, a homeless musician in San Francisco, and his particular relationship with a flock of wild South American Parrots that live and breed on Telegraph Hill.
Mark Bittner’s direct testimony accompanies the images on the film, although Irving’s voice (off-scene) interrupts the narration for brief periods. Bittner tells us about the origins and the personalities of the parrots in the flock, the development of his relationship with them (he started feeding them when he began “semi- squatting” a cottage on Telegraph Hill). Bittner developed an intimate relationship with the birds by getting to know them in depth and becoming an unofficial expert on them. The rest of the film includes testimonies and opinions of other San Francisco citizens. In a section entitled “Urban Legends”, people speculate about the origin of the alien tropical flock and its appearance in the city.
While exploring Bittner’s history and the process of his becoming a musician, the film creates a historical look at the city (from views of Colombus Avenue and the Beatnik’s history and San Francisco’s historical bohemian life, to the typical tourist-like shoot of the cable cars…). However, this film portrays a very different image of the city, one that challenges our conventional way of seeing it.
The wild parrots form a hybrid flock, (one that includes North Peruvian cherry head conures, a South Peruvian conure and an Argentinean blue headed conure—and the eventual addition of a perriquite…), that lives freely on Telegraph Hill. In the film, the neighborhood is depicted as a ‘small wild forest’ in the middle of an urban jungle, a little green island surrounded by concrete.
There is a certain parallel established in the narrative between Bittner’s life as an outcast and the displaced nature of the parrots. Throughout the film, the viewer observes these birds, ‘alien elements’ that adapt to survive and eventually force their presence and amalgamate within an urban context. They breed and nest and their numbers increase. Some of the hybrid crosses among their different species may as well be only original from San Francisco. Though one could call them native now, their mere presence still causes controversy. Some examples include people that care to feed them, radical conservationists—or quasi xenophobes— who worry about the native species that might be affected by them and make official claims for them to be killed, people that want to send them to the zoo to be taken care of, and so on…). The film shows us the disruption to the daily life in San Francisco and helps us understand aspects of the socio cultural composition of this particular site.
Irving’s use of the camera favors zooms and short panoramic tracking shots but mainly remains in a low angle directing our gaze towards Bittner and the flock in the trees and on telephone cables. When she interviews San Francisco’s citizens about the origin of the flock in the “Urban Legends” section, the shots are taken from an eye-level perspective. This neutral shot or “real life perspective” contrasts in a powerful way with the perspective used to depict the birds. In this sense the film also gives us a framework for analyzing the weirdness or the “wildness” of human behavior in the city, drawing a parallel between Bittner’s character and the flock both with distinct personalities and a great capacity for adaptation. The overall effect seems the one of “naturalization” of the alien subject of the birds and consequently alienation of the human characters that share the most outrageous versions/reasons for the apparition of the group of birds.
Like many of other Irving’s films, this documentary depicts wild life in an urban environment, but it also casts a particular light on some aspects of San Francisco’s political, social, cultural and historical life. In the film, there is definitely a subjective point of view, which is evidenced at the very end when Irving and Bittner (i.e. director and main character) reveal the love relationship that began during the shooting of the film. —SL
Skate, Run, Ride: San Francisco on Youtube.com
In examining several videos of skateboarding, fixed-gear bicycle riding, and parkour shot in San Francisco (found on youtube.com and vimeo.com), the urban landscape emerges as an essential part of the action. It is not just the background for tricks, but functions like plot in narrative film: the landscape compels the movements of the athletes, which is the basis of the video. Building on the tradition of Situationist Dérive, to explore the built environment without preconceptions, the skaters, cyclists, and traceurs navigate the urban environment with optimism and energy. The videos are made by enthusiasts for the activities, many of whom are participants; their excitement for documenting colleagues and friends is evident in their framing and editing.
Though each activity has different ways of moving through the city, the style of the videos is similar: quick edits, tracking shots, musical soundtracks, close-ups and point-of-view (POV) shots. They feature numerous ‘performers’ around whose tricks the camera is focused. In some shots, you can see multiple cameras used to capture a variety of angles. Unsurprisingly, the videos recall the style and feel of a low-budget MTV production. The videos show the successful tricks and sometimes the bloopers, but never the time of setting up the shot, nor the multiple tries taken until the angle is perfect and the trick is landed.
In these videos, San Francisco is an urban park, an obstacle course, a gym. The parkour traceurs push the boundaries of what is assumed to be the scale of humans. They climb up walls, jump from building to building, and flip from embankment to sidewalk. The athletes attempt to move in a straight path from point A to point B, and have fun on the way. Skateboarders negotiate the curbs, streets, skate parks, and landmarks with abandon, seeing potential in every piece of concrete around. The hills of San Francisco are an opportunity for fixed-gear cyclists, a place to try out skidding and fishtailing. The cars on a flat street become flags of a slalom through which the cyclists bob and weave, attempting to ride faster and faster on the pavement.
The space and weather of San Francisco allow fun, fluid freedom of movement. Practitioners reimagine the use value of the urban landscape, transforming the city into a giant playground. Though intended for automobiles, pavement allows for swift and easy travel for all kinds of wheels (and daring climbers’ limbs). The videos depict landscapes that are easily understood and recognized from all over the city: the Embarcadero, Market Street, City Hall, Alemany Farmer’s Market, Golden Gate Park, along with many less iconic but resolutely urban locations: hilly streets, concrete buildings, alleys, doorways, wide plazas, and stairwells. Though these practices evolved out of a spirit of D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) ethics and punk attitudes about taking over space, making a place for oneself, and making something interesting out of what one has access to, San Francisco’s landscape has become a destination, a place to come and skate or bike. Videos like the ones made by skateboard companies and cycling crews (once available on VHS, and now on DVD or youtube) help to promote the terrain and the style of San Francisco’s self-ambulatory subcultures.
The classic narrative of human triumph over environment through ingenuity and creativity is told over and over again, in thousands of examples on youtube.com. As humans ‘overcame’ nature and learned how to live in new places, so the athletes in these films look at the impulse to regard the built urban environment with determination to take it over, to make it into a place whose functions are multiple and whose faults can be turned into features. —CD Sources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL5y8WeIp_8&NR=1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzT8nMaD4eo&NR=1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0AFpq6jFok http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTEWIiFPDN4&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H63FivObTLM&feature=related http://www.vimeo.com/2885078 http://www.vimeo.com/1156102
PARK(ing) Day by Clarence Eckerson Jr., 2006
PARK(ing) Day documents the activist demonstration that was organized by REBAR Group in San Francisco on September 21, 2006. The annual event aims to raise awareness among the general public about the disproportionate allocation of public space to the personal vehicle, the car, whereas natural or planted public access areas such as parks are greatly underrepresented in American urban areas. The action involves paying the meter on a parking spot or a few consecutive spots, and establishing a temporary mini-park at the rented site. Although initiated by REBAR, in 2006 sixteen parks by other groups were created in San Francisco (thereby liberating over two dozen parking spaces), and countless more were established in other American cities, and in other countries. The video documents several San Francisco projects, including those designed by artists, architects, food activists, and bike activists. Matthew Passmore and Blaine Merker of REBAR are interviewed, as are other park designers and several casual passersby.
PARK(ing) Day was made by Clarence Eckerson Jr. in conjunction with REBAR to promote and document the organization's endeavor. The video is not narrated, rather the story of PARK(ing) Day is conveyed through the editing of interviews, footage, still images, and music. Text is used to establish the title at the beginning, to identify the names of the REBAR members who were interviewed, to identify the individual park projects, and for co-sponsors of the event and/or video. The immediacy of the footage suggests a hand-held shooting technique; ambient street noise, background conversations, shaky footage, and irregular lighting, rather than detracting from Eckerson's vision, contribute to convey the feeling of the day. The editing focuses on how fun the event was, and brings in statements that reveal the political motivations as well as appreciation by viewers.
Humor is not lost on Eckerson. The absurdity of these tiny parks is heightened with the wide shot of the “Hanging Gardens Patio PARK(ing)” (4:45-5:05), which reveals how precariously the park sticks out into the street, while the people interviewed in the patio look rather uncomfortable. Similarly at the “SF Bike Coalition Park(ing) Beach Party” (5:27-5:50), the party guests sit awkwardly with their backs to traffic.
The documented parks are all in downtown San Francisco—one can observe SFMOMA signage and the Civic Center building in the background of several shots. Wind blows through the trees and the hair of the people being interviewed. Taxi cabs and private cars drive by in heavy mid-day traffic. The high-traffic scenario underscores the streets as existing primarily for vehicles rather than bikers or pedestrians. San Francisco is depicted first as a busy, urban city with few parks, and secondly as a fun city full of energetic, smiling people. —JS Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXkL7FBxAnA
Critical Mass 2007
Although large group bike rides were undoubtedly not invented in San Francisco, in the early 1990s, the term Critical Mass for such rides supposedly was. Every last Friday of the month, anywhere from several to thousands of bikers ride together through the streets of cities worldwide. Critical Mass documents a sizable San Francisco ride in April 2007.
No text or narration occur in the video, save an introductory title. It appears to have been shot with a small hand-held camera. Parts of the video appear to be shot while the operator is riding a bike. The camera-person focuses on giving a general understanding of the event, often showing the mass of bikers and onlookers, as well as following or zooming into unusual or notable moments, such as particularly interesting bikes. The editing is minimal—perhaps no editing has been done besides starting and stopping during shooting, and adding the title at the beginning and the fade at the end. The sound recording contains voices from the bike crowd and cheering onlookers, bike horns and bells, music playing loudly on the street, and ambient street sounds. The film documents downtown and residential areas of San Francisco, and intersections full of trolley tracks, though its primary intention appears to be documenting the social movement or event known as Critical Mass. —JS Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7-MxK8AvHI
The Prelinger Archives
The following short films are part of the Prelinger Archives, an online database and library of films collected by Rick Prelinger, a current resident of San Francisco. The films in archives are diverse in subject matter, creators, and purpose. The aim of the Archive is to provide access to and preserve films of historical significance. These selected films are all set in San Francisco and build a depiction of the city as diverse in landscape, multicultural, and progressive in ideas and technology.
A Trip Down Market Street 1905 1905 TRT 13:52
Created by an unknown filmmaker, A Trip Down Market Street 1905, is a silent black and white film shot from a single camera at the front of a streetcar as it moves down Market Street to a train station. The camera does not move on its own or focus on any buildings, cars, pedestrians, or bicyclists as they move alongside or cross in front of the streetcar. The cityscape seems busy, but passive as the streetcar slowly moves down Market Street in the direction of the Ferry Building. The film was shot before the earthquake and fire of 1906 and the city is almost unrecognizable. A characteristic fog covers the city. At the end of the film the streetcar rotates to head in the other direction and the viewer gets a panorama shot of the city. This documentary film may have been made to commemorate the streetcar line. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/TripDown1905
Bridging San Francisco Bay 1937 TRT 16:42
The Jam Handy Organization produced this film for United States Steel, probably as promotion for the company and to praise the accomplishments of the bridge. It was made on black and white film and narrated by a male voice. The film opens with panorama shots of the skylines of San Francisco and Oakland and then the finished Bay Bridge. Yerba Buena Island is featured as a connector between the two bridges and refuge in the expansive San Francisco Bay. The film moves through the construction of the bridge and shows workers precariously moving steel and fixing joints above the dangerous waters. The fog of San Francisco again appears as a main characteristic of the city. The film ends with a view of San Francisco and the bridge at night from the Yerba Buena Island. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/Bridging1937
Amateur film of San Francisco 1941 TRT 13:13
This silent color film was made by John H. Summers, probably for his own enjoyment and for sharing with friends. Summers begins the film with views of the coastline and the bay area from an airplane, the wings of which often appear in the shots. The plane lands in the San Francisco Airport, and after watching other planes take off, the film moves to the city. Summers also features a scene on the Market Street streetcar as in the 1905 film, but his camera moves to focus on buildings and follow other cars as they pass by. While the camera does move in sweeps along sidewalks and storefronts, all of the scenes seem to be taken from a stationary place. Chinatown, it’s hills, and views of the Bay are also featured. The skyscrapers of the city are juxtaposed with pedestrians, depicting San Francisco as a lively modern city. The film ends with a view of the city likely taken from the upper level of a skyscraper. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/Summersc1941
Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me 1961 TRT 22:18
Made by David Myers for the American Friends Service Committee in black and white with sound, Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me tells the story of the Youth for Service group and of their accomplishments in activating gangs for community service and staying out of trouble. The different neighborhoods of the city are depicted along with their ethnic majorities. At the beginning of the film, the teenagers stick to their own neighborhoods (the Mission, Chinatown, etc.), but move and mix throughout the city as they progress together. They even move outside of the city to El Viso and the Latenville reservation to work on other projects. In the end of the film they are shown in the “countryside” building a bridge and frolicking in a pond. It reinforces the idea that city youths can return to their natural states of innocence if they become active in their communities and visit the wilderness every once in a while. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/AskMeDon1961
San Francisco: Story of a City 1963 TRT 21:27
This documentary of San Francisco’s history was made by Poel Hoefler Productions with sound and color film. The city is depicted as historic, diverse, exotic, refined, and modern. A fog horn sounds through the credits, again playing up the city’s renown for fog, while images of the landscape change. The Presidio, Mission Dolores, the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Telegraph Hill, Union Square, Chinatown, Little Italy, Montgomery Street, and Golden Gate Park are among the neighborhoods featured in the film. Scenes of the historic sites are juxtaposed with historical drawings or photos to illustrate the changes of time and development. Streetcars, flower stalls, and Victorian buildings are among the characteristic features of the city. People of different ethnicities are shown as friendly and able to coexist in the city. This film could have been made to lure people to visit or even move to San Francisco. The film is very positive and does not hint at any civil unrest within the city. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/SanFranc1963
Three to Get Ready: A Progress Report from BART 1967 TRT 13:41
This film was made by Carol Levene for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District in color and with sound. The public service announcement shows the construction of the BART and its progress. It excuses the inconvenience of the construction and blocked streets with the promise of easy transportation in the future. Aerial shots of unfinished and finished lines are juxtaposed to reinforce the promise of progress. The interiors of manufacturing plants and tunnels are shown to give viewers an insider look at the process of building the system. —EG Source: http://www.archive.org/details/ThreetoG1967