San Francisco and the Bay Area have a history with the movies that goes back nearly to the very beginning of the medium. Even casual film fans can probably think of a San Francisco-based film, whether it be Vertigo, Bullitt, Dirty Harry, or The Maltese Falcon. And, of course, the City by the Bay has been a home-away-from-Hollywood for the likes of Lucasfilm and Pixar. But San Francisco's cinema history is richer, deeper and more complicated than what immediately leaps to mind, a point made by the overview on display in the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's new exhibition at the Old Mint, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: San Francisco and the Movies, running June 16-24, 2012.
Let's not bury the lead: the event is largely built around the bestowing of the San Francisco Cinematic Icon Award on Kim Novak, star of Vertigo (among many other films). The award will be presented at the SFMHS Standing Ovations gala Thursday, June 14, when Novak will also unveil and chat with patrons about "Life Is But a Dream," a collection of over a dozen Novak paintings, almost all of which have been unseen by the general public until now. Novak's preference for pastels and "surrealistic storytelling" yields shimmering, rainbow-inflected dreamscapes (such as the title work) and vivid portraiture ("Aunt and Uncle") and philosophical expression ("My Life —My Choice"). Novak started out with two scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago but answered the call of Hollywood before returning to a focus on her artwork. Also in honor of Novak and the iconic San Francisco film Vertigo is a room dubbed "Contemplating Carlotta" and featuring Nicole Schach's recreation of the film's "Portrait of Carlotta," a rare VistaVision camera used to shoot the film's most memorable footage of the City, an ashtray from Ernie's Restaurant (from the collection of exhibit curator Miguel Pendás), and an original shooting script from the film (once owned by screenwriter Samuel Taylor).
The rest of the exhibit tells the story of film in San Francisco from 1880 (when the first moving image exhibition in history unspooled on Pine Street) to today (concept art from the upcoming Pixar film Brave). Three figures loaned from the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf testify to icons associated with the Bay Area: Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Clint Eastwood. Chaplin plays into a room devoted to "The Early Days" of film in Niles, California where, over 100 years ago, the Essanay Studio set up shop; the room—prepared by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum historian David Kiehn—includes old cameras and film canisters, vintage posters, a 1914 San Francisco Chronicle spread entitled "Consider the 'Movies' — How they grow!" and the 1906 Miles Bros. film "A Trip Down Market Street," which runs throughout the day. (Side note: long before Bullitt, Chaplin staged the first filmed car chase in Golden Gate Park.) Adjacent to the "Noir Era" room (more on that anon) is a vault celebrating The Maltese Falcon, with Bogie and what Pendás calls "an authentic reproduction of a genuine fake" of the black bird—loaned by John Konstin of John's Grill. The Eastwood figure presides over a room honoring the SF Film Commission and the San Francisco International Film Festival, where patrons can walk a red carpet for photos with the former Carmel mayor and peruse decades of snapshots by longtime official festival photographer Pamela Gentile, as well as a high-quality reproduction of a 1958 fest poster designed by Saul Bass.
Resident noir expert and collector Eddie Muller is responsible for the noir room, which features a number of San Francisco-themed movie posters from his collection. Muller told the press that two of his top four most-desired posters are here: Raw Deal and Born to Kill. Other titles include Woman on the Run, The Midnight Story, Thieves' Highway, The Lineup, Fog Over Frisco, The Sniper, Experiment in Terror, The Man Who Cheated Himself, Portrait in Black and Hell on Frisco Bay (another room has a half-sheet of The Lady from Shanghai). Elsewhere in the exhibition are posters reminding of other San Francisco films: Petulia, Milk, Fishermans Wharf, Port of Wickedness, and Days of Wine and Roses. Rare location stills by Morton Beebe depict the San Francisco shoots of Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run, Petulia, and Dirty Harry, and the exhibit also includes oversize prints of photos from R.A. McBride's book Left in the Dark: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres.
Other themed rooms in the exhibition include "The Dream Factories" (primarily Lucasfilm and Pixar), "Chinatown Then and Now" (you have your Flower Drum Song and then you have your Chan is Missing), "Cars, Cops and Cocktails" (including an authentic replica of "Dirty Harry" Callahan's service revolver), and "The Independents" (celebrating local documentarians, independent and experimental filmmakers, and film enthusiasts with materials from the Pacific Film Archive). The exhibition runs from 11:00am—4:00pm daily; admission is $5 for SFMHS members and $10 for the general public. Tickets also remain available for the Standing Ovations benefit Thursday, June 14.