San Francisco International Film Festival - Day Three

Monday April 30 2007  I took advantage of the free day of public transportation issued by Governor Schwarzenegger in the wake of Sunday's East Bay freeway collapse.  Had a brief nostalgia trip taking the 122 bus (formerly the 21A) to El Camino Real - the route has now been extended to the relatively new Bart station in South San Francisco.  Less than an hour later I was in Japantown to reunite with Cindi (who told me about how our good friend Chi-hui Yang of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival had come to her rescue after a gruesome but minor leg injury while getting out of a cab the previous evening).  Our intended film itinerary was to see Daratt and possibly Opera Jawa afterwards, but Gretjen Claussen mentioned that the festival guest services was offering a Vertigo tour of San Francisco locations.  Given that it was a beautiful day, and that we could see those films back in NY, we decided to do the tour. 

Designed by the Film Society's creative director Miguel Pendas, the self-guided tour takes about two and a half hours and zips through a dozen locations - some no longer existing - where scenes from Vertigo were shot.  Even though we'd been to many of these locations before, seeing them in the context of the film and hearing Miguel share his extensive knowledge of the film and its production made it a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.  Among our company were a Korean film festival director, two Canadian shorts filmmakers and a couple of Brazilian filmmakers who had a feature in the festival, The Twelve Labors.  Someone asked if Vertigo was well known among young people in the States today, to which I answered, "for most people, film history begins with Star Wars."  Speaking of which, along the route of the tour we passed by George Lucas' production facilities in The Presidio.  It's worth taking a brief moment to compare two San Francisco filmmakers relationship to San Francisco as a shooting location.  Lucas' recent films are made in a world of complete fabrication with no shred of actual place (even the original trilogy was shot in actual locations), Hitchcock's San Francisco in Vertigo seems to occupy a strange in-between zone of real location and dreamscape.  At times it's hard to tell if the location is actually there or if it's a rear-projection:

Miguel assured us that this shot was not a rear-projection, but it may as well be!

Miguel also mentioned that only a couple of the interiors in Vertigo were shot on location - the flower shop and the museum of the Palace of the Legion of Honor where Madeleine stares at Carlotta's painting.  The rest were all shot on Hollywood soundstages. However, most of the interiors, esp. those based on actual locations, like Scottie's apartment or Ernie's restaurant where Scottie first sees Madeleine, were reproduced as faithfully as possible to the original locations - in fact Hitchcock even flew down two of the staff of Ernie's restaurants to fill their positions on the set replica.  For a director as notoriously opposed to realism as Hitchcock (to the point that he'd ridicule Rossellini and neo-realism), this strikes me as a remarkable insight into his own obsessions with reproducing lived experience.  Miguel's answer to this seeming contradiction to Hitchcock's methods: that Vertigo was Hitch's most personal film, and so those personal details could not help but be included.