My Life in San Francisco on Screen
It’s quite possible San Francisco’s screen depictions have colored my view of my home as much as living here has. I love our rich film history and do that thing cinephiles and locals sometimes do pointing out filming locations, both when seeing them depicted on screen and while passing them in real life. Sometimes the lines blur…
An average day for me starts with getting coffee at my favorite Noe Valley neighborhood place. 24th Street between Noe and Sanchez was used as a stand in for Russian Hill in the Tales of the City miniseries so I always feel a little like the main character, twenty-something Michael Tolliver: a young gay man looking for love while living out loud in San Francisco. You’ve read my work, you know that’s not a stretch.
If it’s Sunday, I head down to mass at Saint Paul’s on Church Street a few blocks away. It’s a bitter disappointment every time I discover Dolores Van Cartier is not leading the other nuns in a Motown medley during the service. Actually, there isn’t even a convent attached to the church like there was in Sister Act and the shock of learning that hurts anew every time.
As you know from every film or television show set in our fair city, all citizens of San Francisco do all day is cross the Golden Gate Bridge (which you always have to do in a convertible) and run across the lawn in Alamo Square Park. If you run across the lawn holding hands with your dad and his gay best friends, then you’re probably a native. Extra points if you can work in a cable car ride to the wharf to buy crabs like the opening title sequence to just about everything.
When we’re not driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in a convertible, it’s only because a super villain is demolishing it.
Suddenly, you see a ’68 Mustang pull up along side a ’68 Charger at an intersection in the real Russian Hill and they’re off. If I were Bullitt (the Steve McQueen character, not the bourbon), I’d join them.
As much as I’d like to be the Steve McQueen car chase type, I’m actually more the Barbra Streisand car chase/Chinese Dragon type. I can never keep a straight face long enough to pull off that kind of McQueen stoicism in the face of danger and am far more likely to end up going into the Bay head first like Babs in What’s Up Doc?
I’m also kind of the Anne Hathaway-type. While gazing out at the vistas of Pacific Heights, I recite her entire coronation speech from The Princess Diaries and I’m filled with ugly duckling angst every time I pass her “high school” (it’s actually a private house) on Lyon. “This morning when I woke up, I was Mia Thermopolis. But now, I choose to be, forevermore, Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi, princess of Genovia.” And scene.
When you pass the Mrs. Doubtfire house on Steiner , ask yourself how those kids didn’t recognize their father in a dress for all those weeks. You think you’d have it together if Sally Field was your mom.
Speaking of people who have it together, no one in Blue Jasmine has it together, unless you count Cate Blanchett’s little sister who managed to get one hell of an apartment in the Mission, where I assume Benjamin Bratt is her neighbor.
Come night fall, everything changes. The postcard perfect views become fog-filled abysses and, around every alley, there’s Noirish danger. There’s the marker at Post Street indicating where Miles Archer was shot in The Maltese Falcon (not too far from author Dashiell Hammett’s real life apartment) and on Filbert and Montgomery, I always get an attack of Lauren Bacall when I pass the Art Deco apartment she lived in with escaped San Quentin convict Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage.
In Chinatown, I get a pang of Orson Welles. I never pass a hall of mirrors without hoping for a Lady from Shanghai-type shoot out. Here’s hoping I eventually get my wish!
San Franciscans must be aware of Body Snatchers and blondes wielding ice picks equally at all times. That and getting hit by a tech shuttle bus, but that hasn’t made it into a movie yet.
And of course, whenever you head to Alcatraz be sure to ask for Vicki.Related