Continuing an occasional series in which I share how I wasted spent my summer vacation. The First Lady of Inkville and I decided to spend a week in San Francisco. Here we are hanging out in the stables of an old Spanish mission just a little over an hour south of the city:
Oh, whoops. That's actually a shot of James Stewart and Kim Novak in Hitchcock's 1958 noir masterpiece Vertigo, one of our favorite films here in Inkville. How'd that get in there? Here's a photo of us in San Francisco:
Hm. You know, come to think of it, Vertigo coincidentally takes places almost entirely in San Francisco...
Hey, I have an idea! Wouldn't it be really nifty if Aaron and his wife totally took a pilgrimage to all the shooting locations, and photographically recreated the high points of a fifty-year-old film storyline panned by contemporary critics? By golly, I think it would!
But wait, what point would such a jaunt serve? Well, perhaps it would make a statement about the continuity of fan culture, or comment on the subversion of traditional American gender roles and filmic tropes, or serve as a sort of urban archaeological expedition. Or heck, maybe it would just be an excuse for Aaron to to annoy his wife all week with Jimmy Stewart impressions.
Or maybe it would be all of the above. I think we should find out. Let's skidoo, shall we?
Like all mid-century detective thrillers, this one begins in a flower market. Okay, maybe I'm reaching, but that is in fact where our journey began. Vertigo is about a retired police detective hired to tail one looker of a suspicious character. Kim Novak plays the distant, ethereal Madeleine Elster, the object of our hapless ectomorphic detective's passions. It seems Madeleine has been zoning out of the here-and-now of 1958, falling into a trance in which she believes herself to be 18th-century Spanish gentry. It's up to Stewart to bust this case wide open, Scooby-Doo style.
So why a flower market? Over the course of the film, Novak, in fact, dies three times. (Uh, right. Sorry. Spoiler Alert. The movie is half a century old, people.) Novak and her freaky, romantic longevity are represented in the film by means of a visual device: flowering perennials, which bloom everlastingly. Or, um, is that annuals? I can never remember.
At any rate, like Jimmy Stewart says of the redwood trees, "Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens, 'ever living.'" Kim Novak's connection to the natural world and plant life is typified by her penchant for gadding about the Presidio sporting a small, trim bouquet like the one she has seen in a painting of her Spanish noblewoman...
...which is my roundabout way of explaining why we started at a flower market. My wife's bouquet, however, was neither small nor trim:
In the film, Kim Novak's noblewoman painting is housed in the museum at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a location Jimmy Stewart is obliged to stake out:
So we followed suit:
Stewart next tails Novak to the absolutely beautiful Mission Dolores, in San Francisco's aptly-named Mission District...
...where we discovered some quite interesting funerary statuary and markers:
In the film, Novak, still in a trance, proceeds to pay her respects at the grave site of her maybe-time-traveling-or-haunting-or-something Spanish predecessor...
...so I did the same. Novak's grave marker was a film prop, so I improvised, and found something similar. R.I.P. Carlotta Valdes, and all that. Special thanks to the interred, who, to my knowledge, did not object to my play-acting. Hope I look appropriately contemplative and reverent, all the same:
Wow. Kim Novak never had her view spoiled by barb wire and bare grass-less patches. Or maybe Hitch just engaged in some creative editing.
Stewart and Novak have one more stop on their I'm-obviously-tailing-you-but-you-pretend-I'm-not spree, Fort Point, where Novak tosses flower petals into San Francisco Bay a bit, and then tosses herself into San Francisco Bay a bit:
Here I am recreating the scene while three local people and one local dog try to figure out why the annoying tourist guy is acting weird while they try to fish:
I have to admit that Novak's foggy, people-less Fort Point is a darn sight more atmospheric than is mine.
Anyway, Stewart fishes Novak out of the Bay, and takes her to dry out by a toasty fire in his Lombard Street apartment, just down the road from the European tourist-pleasin' "crookedest street in the world." Here's Stewart scoping his own front door:
And here I am, creepily trespassing to do the same thing:
This photo, by the way, is a pictorial representation of Novak's line, "I remembered Coit Tower. It led me right to you." You can't tell in the above hastily-taken-so-we're-not-confronted-by-the-homeowner photograph, but a breathtaking view of Coit Tower is indeed right around the corner, ripe for the pointing by nerds:
In this below shot I'm all like, "Madeleine is late! She said she'd meet me here for another session of haunting, flirtation, and story-advancing misdirection!"
Right. I know. I just said I'm a nerd, okay?
After Novak's second death in the film, Stewart is in his own sort of trance, and is even institutionalized. He emerges like a sort of zombie, shambling around the streets and professing his love for girls bearing a resemblance to the one he's lost. Wow, and I thought I was being creepy.
Stewart tails Judy Barton, one particularly Madeleine-esque beauty, to this character-filled Sutter Street hotel, which bore a smart-looking neon "Empire Hotel" sign in the film:
For the true (or truly geeky) Hitchcock fan, the modern site bears a bit of a surprise. The building has been renovated into the intriguingly mod, maddeningly hip Hotel Vertigo:
Their website PR prominently states that the hotel serves Madeleine cookies. No, I am not kidding. We can't afford to stay in the Hotel Vertigo (or at least, not until you all begin paying me for the pleasure of reading this blog), so we secured perfectly serviceable but more modest digs. But I did engage in what has evidently become my new favorite hobby of trespassing, to bring you a shot of the oh-so-trendy lobby:
In their few blissful days together before things all go south, Stewart and his maybe-reincarnated-or-whatever girlfriend enjoy a stroll past the beaux arts Palace of Fine Arts, the most striking survival of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a location that furthers the themes of the connection of past and present, and the timelessness of undying love, and blah blah blah...
...so we decided to give it a go by connecting 1958 and 2009.
Well, that's about it. We didn't recreate the final scenes of the film, because a) we didn't have time to drive all the way down to Mission San Juan Bautista, and b) it seemed maudlin to pretend to throw one another out of a bell tower.
Hope you've learned something. As for me, I've learned that one of the best ways to see the sights of an unfamiliar city is to manically give yourself over to a quixotic campaign of fanboyish boosterism.
"I should have liked to have lived here then," says Kim Novak's movie husband, indicating a print of 19th-century San Francisco hanging on his office wall. "Color, excitement, power, freedom." The character is suggesting that those qualities have drained out of San Francisco.
But he forgot one quality, the one that brings them all back. He forgot about Vertigo.