October 03, 2010

In Search of Christopher Maclaine 3: The THE END Tour - A Work in Progress 2: WALTER A

This is the third in a multipart series unofficially conjoined to the publication of Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, and the accompanying film series currently being presented by the Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco Cinematheque (in partnership with SFMOMA). This Wednesday evening’s show at the PFA features a rare screening of Christopher Maclaine’s six-minute masterpiece from 1958, BEAT.

With my friend Brian Darr, proprietor of the great Bay Area cinephilia blog Hell on Frisco Bay, I’ve been scouting out the San Francisco locations used in Christopher Maclaine’s first (and arguably greatest) Masterpiece, THE END.  What began as an attempt to identify and document what physically remains of the (often mysterious) places at which THE END was shot, has, however, evolved into a larger project to also analyze the film, and to identify all its many actors and extras (all of whom appear uncredited).  At the beginning of our research, only two of these actors’ names were known to us, including that of Christopher Maclaine himself.  After much searching, we were finally able to make contact with the other, and still very much extant, identified member of the cast, Wilder Bentley II (also known variously as Wilder Bentley the Younger, and Wilder Bentley, Jr.), who identified several of  THE END‘s other cast members for us.  Still, many of the film’s personages remain elusive. As THE END was made circa 1953, and much of its cast was in their twenties, it’s quite likely that many more are still with us, could be identified, and could themselves participate in the unearthing of further details.  This is very much a project, therefore, on which YOU, dear reader, could have an impact, and I urge everyone in the Bay Area arts community, and elsewhere, to join in.  I will credit anyone who is able to contribute (if so desired), and will update these posts as soon as new info is confirmed.  The Tour,  as well as functioning as a critical and archeological project, of necessity supplies a digest of the film’s narrative, but by all means acquaint yourself with the work itself!  A superb video transfer of the entire film is available as part of the fantastic 2-DVD Treasures IV:  American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 set.  Those who want to see the REAL THING can rent a print from the Filmmaker’s Cooperative.  Readers desiring further information regarding Maclaine are invited to check out the intro to this series. For the previous post of this Tour, click here.

NEW FEATURE: a Youtube of the WALTER episode is viewable here.

NOTE: portions of Maclaine’s Voice-Over narration are transcribed in italicized sections. The images, for the most part, are stills documenting many (but by no means all) of THE END’s shots. Those unfamiliar with this film will probably want to scan images and transcribed narration first, before making their way through the (hopefully enjoyable) notes and explication.

And now we enter the world of the film’s first character, WALTER:

THE END’s second unidentified musical theme (which sounds to my ear produced by harpsichord, violin, and a reed instrument) continues from previous section.

1) WALTER dashes into view, heading towards the SE corner of San Francisco’s Alta Plaza Park, at the intersection of Steiner and Clay.

My dear friends, he was simply running.

2) Continuation of shot from picture #1. Walter turns right, and hurdles up stairs, camera panning to follow. Notice the structure resting on the spires of St. Dominic’s in the distance. According to the church’s website, the building underwent construction from 1923–73, and this structure was apparently part of the building process.

3) A recent photo from a similar view to shot in picture #1.

4) A recent photo of the SE Alta Plaza Park stairs.

Needing his friends, he had used them too much.

5) Wilder Bentley II has identified these actors, in order, from left to right, as Doris Hull, Leonard Hull, and Bob van Es.

Demanding more, he was told to go. Suddenly, he saw them as masks, leering at him in his ugliness and his loneliness.

6) We have elided a few flash-cut images to return to the Hulls, Bob van Es, and the unidentified location of #5, above. The Hulls, as you might have guessed, were a married couple. Wilder Bentley will have choice words to describe this trio in an interview to be posted subsequent to this Tour.

Suddenly, he wanted to run away from all of them. Now, he never wanted to look another person in the face. But still he was lonely.

7) We see Walter from the bottom of the grand four-tier south central stairway of Alta Plaza Park (near the intersection of Clay and Pierce streets), first seen from a side view in part one of this Tour.

8 ) A recent photo from roughly the same position as the shot in #7. I think you’ll agree Brian steps into Walter’s shoes (so to speak) quite nicely.

His friends were lonely, too, only they were adults, and were bored with grown-up children looking for the specious comfort of reassuring eyes and mutual understanding.

9) From the image in picture #7 (in which Walter has exited frame), Maclaine jump cuts to this image of a woman crossing an upper tier of the same staircase. He then cuts from this b&w shot to:

10) This color shot of flowers (at a flower vendor’s? — a recurring motif — or on a coffin?). He then cuts back to the woman finishing her crossing of the staircase, then jump cuts to Walter again at the top tier, whereupon he once again charges out of view. This is a typical, and typically brilliant, example of Maclaine’s groundbreaking associative/metaphorical montage. My reading of this sequence of cuts is that Maclaine suggests that although Walter is a haunted, even ghostly presence, with little connection to the world of daily existence (his robust physicality to the contrary), the very real woman passing through him is a manifestation of his anima (soul), given vivid impact by the additional soul image of the flowers within her. That Walter and the woman are headed on perpendicular courses indicates his disconnection to his anima.

11) An image which recurs several times over the course of THE END: an arm on a bed or cushion of some sort, flexing and twisting about in a manner usually quite tense. It suggests a physicalized version of the tension (some of it consciously willed) experienced by the film’s pressurized characters, and also probably alludes to the self-administration of heroin and/or other injectable drugs. A later version of this image will be in color.

So now they told him in very clear, late 20th-century language, that he had better clear out until he learned something about give and take …

12) Walter dashing through hedges (possibly also shot in Alta Plaza Park).

… and less demand.

13) This actor lighting a cigarette is probably Leonard Hull. Location is very likely, given the textured wall in background, to be the same as in 5–6.

14) Unidentified woman and location (probably Doris Hull in the location seen in pictures 5–6). Consumption of ice cream, like smoking in #13, is a form of “adult” self-pacification not applicable to Walter’s “childish,” hysteric condition. The callousness of the “adult” attitude is, of course, ironized by an image of an “adult” eating ice cream, an item often associated with childhood.

So he ran away screaming, thinking almost that it was his own idea. His friends were relieved to see him go, after all, and so went about their maturational therapy, hoping he would find somebody to play his little romance game with before he blew his top. Now he saw himself as a plunging charger …

15) Walter barrels down an unidentified street (Financial District, probably?). Brian and I expended quite a bit of shoe leather attempting to find this location, both certain we’d stumbled upon it before, to no avail. Wilder Bentley suspects it might have been part of the environs around Montgomery Street torn down to build the Transamerica Pyramid. Nevertheless, the search continues.

… carrying the lone knight to the Holy Grail he would find as soon as he left these adults to their stupid, idle pleasure. With the utmost equilibrium of maturity, they went about their games — passing the mask, dancing the dance — and generally forgetting themselves quite admirably. They knew the morrow would come, bringing with it the guilt and pain of this tormentous night …

16) Doris Hull possibly in the same unidentified location as 5–6, at the end of a strange and slightly dramatic session of trance/dance behavior, in which she rolls herself along a wall.

… but they were prepared to face it, prepared to stay asleep throughout the day, feeling and knowing as little as possible …

17) Walter continues the charge first seen in #16, rapidly passing two chatting ladies. After panning to follow, Maclaine cuts back to:

18) The two unidentified ladies, who’ve turned to watch his retreating figure. While not technically a jump cut, the effect of cutting from a shot in which there’s rapid movement by both camera and primary subject to a relatively motionless shot of some of the same physical space and subjects just glimpsed in passing is typical of Maclaine’s disruptive technique, which constantly prevents the viewer from slipping into a passive experience of his narratives. The difference in tone between the two shots also clearly expresses the disjunction between Walter’s reality and the apparent everyday world of the ladies.

… until night fell again, and they could return to their precious toys and the complete ignorance of sleep: they were Adult.

19) Could this be Doris Hull from 5–6/16 ? — now performing an “adult” handspring against a wall in an unidentified location (and shot in lovely Kodachrome)? Second unidentified musical theme (which, as indicated above, sounds to my ear rendered by harpsichord, violin, and a reed instrument) fades out.

Click here for the next post in this series, the conclusion to the WALTER saga!

Click as indicated for the previous post of this Tour. Click as indicated for the intro to this series.

If you have any information or (nonpublic) feedback to contribute to the Tour, please click here.

Comments (6)

  • Joseph Javorsky says:

    Has the Wilder Bentley interview mentioned in this post ever been published? If so, where can it be read?

  • That hits the target pertycfle. Thanks!

  • Brecht Andersch says:

    This is a fantastic contribution, Devin, thanks so much! You have no idea how many man-hours Brian Darr and I have expended searching for this location, and we’d all but given up hope. We’ll be down to Jackson Square to check it out for ourselves asap.

  • I don’t know if you ended up finding it in the end, but your “unidentified street (Financial District, probably?)” is the S. side of Jackson St., E. of Hotaling Place. This is in Jackson Square, which was one of the few downtown areas that survived 1906 and was among the first designated Historic Districts in the city. Among the buildings you see there are the Hotaling Warehouse and Annexes (East and West) and the Medico-Dental Building (see: http://noehill.com/SF/LANDMARKS/sf012.asphttp://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/sf013.asphttp://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/sf020.asphttp://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/sf014.asp).

  • Brecht Andersch says:

    Thanks, Christian! This is a great lead — somehow this book slipped under my radar. Funnily enough, I dropped in at a tiny class being taught by Rainer at the University of Texas back in ’86, around the same time I first saw THE END. I was astonished that one who’d already acquired such a legend seemed so young, and now to think that she’d been involved with an actor from Maclaine’s film, made over thirty years previously?! My brain is frankly boggled…

    Thanks, also, for your very kind words re. the project — and we’re saving a couple spots in the City for your return!


  • Hey Brecht,
    If I am remembering correctly, Yvonne Rainer was dating one of the actors in THE END. She mentions this in her fabulous memoir, FEELINGS ARE FACTS. Maybe you’ve already discovered this (and if you haven’t read FEELINGS, you gotsta—it’s up your alley.)
    This is such an awesome project—-especially for a very-recentyly transplanted Friskan like me!

See all responses (6)
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