Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coming Soon: Roman à clef

According to J.E. Luebering of the Encyclopædia Britannica, a roman à clef ("novel with a key") is a work of fiction that has "the extraliterary interest of portraying well-known real people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters." This tradition apparently began in 17th-century France, "when fashionable members of the aristocratic literary coteries...enlivened their historical romances by including in them fictional representations of well-known figures in the court of Louis XIV." Modern novels, short stories, films and television dramas have dutifully, sometimes scandalously, continued this longstanding tradition:
  • Somerset Maugham's 1919 novel, The Moon and Sixpence, the saga of an English stockbroker who abandons his family to become an artist and live out his years pursuing his passion in Tahiti, was loosely based on the life of French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. The novel was adapted to the screen in 1942 (starring George Sanders), served as the basis for an opera of the same name in 1957 and made its way to television in 1959 with Laurence Olivier in the starring role.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reel San Francisco Stories

Christopher Pollock's annotated filmography of the San Francisco Bay Area

While visiting Northern California, evangelist Billy Graham once commented, "The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I'm here." Not only lovely, the region is also uniquely photogenic, and many, many films - more than 600 - have been shot in San Francisco and the surrounding area over the past nearly 90 years.

My interest in local film locations and history dates back to the 1990s when I worked in offices located at 170 Maiden Lane, a building that had, years earlier, been part of Ransohoffs, a high-end San Francisco department store. The offices were posh, with lofty ceilings, wide archways and other elegant touches. Notably, the archway motif was echoed by tall arched mirrors that adorned several walls. I learned that the floor had once housed Ransohoffs' dress salon. And then one day an architect (the company I worked for was a design firm specializing in destination resorts and hotels) told me that a classic scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo had taken place within our walls. This bit of information motivated me to do some research and I learned that though the sequence in which Scottie Ferguson takes Judy Barton shopping for a new wardrobe had not actually been filmed on site, Hitchcock had replicated the setting - precisely - on a Hollywood sound stage, just as he had recreated the Podesta Baldocchi florist shop and Ernie's restaurant for the film.