Monday, November 22, 2010

San Francisco

Last month I mentioned that Elizabeth and I were going to spend some quality time in San Francisco, specifically at the Hotel Vertigo, a "newly-opened homage to Hitchcock." The building provided the exteriors for Vertigo's "Hotel Empire," one of several locations that featured prominently in James Stewart's struggle to maintain equilibrium.

Well, our week there ended yesterday and I'm pleased to report that it was every minute a pleasurable trip. Our purpose for going had nothing to do with movies or movie fandom, but — as in New York and London — a film buff can spot movie locations in San Francisco as easily as doughnut shops and art students. Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Petulia, The Conversation, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.... Staying at the Hotel Vertigo was an irresistible whim, and while the Tenderloin district wouldn't ordinarily be my first (or second, or...) choice of SF neighborhoods, the area served us well, especially being as close at it is to transit hubs and therefore to everywhere else we wanted to go.

The hotel doesn't go overboard on the Hitchcock references (the decor stays outside the definition of kitsch), though it did provide this view just down the hall from our sixth-floor room:

Along with movie locations, San Francisco of course foams over the brim with literary references, another plus for the Mrs. and me. So imagine our happy jumping-up-and-downness when we discovered that the Vertigo was within two blocks of one of Dashiell Hammett's digs at the corner of Post & Hyde — the building, in fact, where he wrote The Maltese Falcon and gave Sam Spade an address.

Yours truly at the shrine.

During that same walk to breakfast we also stumbled across William Saroyan's old stomping grounds. The neighborhood being the historical performance nightspot for habitués Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, and other jazz greats didn't hurt either.

When we got to the Embarcadero, naturally I was reminded of 1955's It Came from Beneath the Sea, where a souped-up cephalopod pulls apart the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building, reaches up to thwack a helicopter from the sky, and writhes its tentacles through Market Street as the military opens up with flame-throwers. Unlike later Harryhausen creations, this pissed-off 'pus isn't given any personality beyond being a Giant Rampaging Thing, but it looks great until Kenneth Tobey's atomic torpedo kicks off the Bay Area calamari trade.

Speaking of Ray Harryhausen...

Although not a movie reference, this enormous sculpture in front of City Hall — titled Three Heads Six Arms — absolutely brought to mind certain Sinbad and Argonaut films showcasing Mr. H's "Dynamation" artistry. I half-expected the thing to come to life and make a grab for me.

We also were driven by "the Mrs. Doubtfire place," but it would take more than that to sour our week.

"No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does. Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living." — William Saroyan
"I was married once — in San Francisco. I haven't seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There's no legal proof. Which proves that earthquakes aren't all bad." — W.C. Fields