starring san francisco theater.jpg

This column had a good run, but this is where I get off. Turns out you can only watch so many San Francisco movies until all the film noirs blend into each other and shots of the Golden Gate become expected signals. And jokes about freewheeling sexual types? Don’t get me started.

Not that this column didn’t teach me anything. I’ve learned that Hollywood doesn’t always see San Francisco as kink headquarters (or care), though it is (you know this is NSFW) kink.com headquarters.More often than not, moviemakers use San Francisco for its picturesque and recognizable features, like the aforementioned bridge or even the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Palace of Fine Arts, the Transamerica building (depending on year of the movie), Lombard Street, the cable cars, or all those damn hills. Much of the time, San Francisco serves as comfortable backdrop to the action at hand, as if to say to viewers, “Hey, we’re in a city you know (of), so you can rest assured the story will follow now that setting’s nailed down.”

So now I leave you with two parting gifts: first, a retrospective look on the films I watched the past several months. No, I didn’t watch all the San Francisco movies, but I parsed some of the most popular…and least. After that, a guide of other San Francisco flicks I never got to. It certainly won’t be comprehensive, so feel free to chime in, but at least it’ll arm you for your own foray into San Francisco film.

Lessons Learned

It sounds obvious, but auteurs’ films don’t show the city but rather an auteur-tinted reflection on the city. Case in point: Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

The perfect city for a car chase, as proven by Bullitt, comedied in What’s Up, Doc?, and swept into BART by The Organization.

The target of serial killers and other such murderers: So I Married an Axe Murderer, Basic Instinct, Zodiac, Time After Time, Sudden Fear, Pacific Heights, and of course Dirty Harry.

Woo! Debauchery! (That means sex, alcohol, and other drugs!) These films know what’s up: 40 Days & 40 Nights, The Sweetest Thing, Woman on Top, San Francisco, Days of Wine and Roses, Psych-Out, and Little City.

But don’t forget family values, say Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Princess Diaries, The Other Sister, I Remember Mama, and The Other End of the Line. Hey, that’s kind of a lot.

Nerds! Trekkies! Hackers (Sneakers)! Subjects on Mythbusters (Escape From Alcatraz)!

Oh, and one last thing: don’t insult John’s Grill and its connection to The Maltese Falcon.

Netflix This

  • The Rock(1996) – Sean Connery (and Ed Harris and Nick Cage) does Alcatraz
  • The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) – more real prison tales fictionalized
  • Nine to Five (1980) – feminist comedy featuring Dolly Parton
  • It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) – Yes.
  • Copycat (1995) – psycho on the loose against Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter
  • The Presidio (1998) – Again, Mr. Connery
  • A View to a Kill (1985) – Roger Moore’s Bond against Christopher Walken
  • Harold and Maude (1971) – a pure classic
  • The Towering Inferno (1974) – a buncha big names plus FIRE
  • Big names: Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971), Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock parody High Anxiety (1977), and to a small extent Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963)
  • Film noirs: Dark Passage (1947), with Bogie and Bacall; The House on Telegraph Hill(1951), D.O.A. (1950); Impact (1949)
  • Documentaries: 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005), The Bridge (2006), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Fog City Mavericks (2008)

There are more, but this is a good start.

Starring San Francisco was Appeal culture reporter, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Got something to say? Tell her at christine@sfappeal.com.

Image by Steve Rhodes.

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  • Greg Dewar

    Theives’ Highway is a good one, esp. if you wanna see what the area around the Embarcadero used to look like.

  • Rain Jokinen

    “Petulia” is probably my all time fave San Francisco movie…

  • Beej

    Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine starring Vincent Price & Frankie Avalon was filmed in San Francisco. There’s a chase scene in West Portal.

    Aaand I’m kind of embarrassed I know that.

  • cedichou

    The only movie I have seen shot in SF was Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness. Not that it’s a good movie, but they were shooting in our neighborhood at duboce park (http://sfist.com/2005/10/10/in_pursuit_of_pursuit_of_happyness.php) where they had dug a hole for a bart entrance. In the movie, will smith is running away from a cab driver through dolores park to use that bart entrance. They had round the clock security to prevent people from not taking fake bart or something, for like a week. It was a one second shot. Monumental waste of money.