October 24, 2010

In Search of Christopher Maclaine 6: The THE END Tour - A Work in Progress 5: CHARLES B

This is the sixth 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).

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 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 evolved into a larger project to also analyze the film, and to identify all its many actors and extras, all of whom appear uncredited. To read the full version of these preliminary remarks, including info on how YOU can participate in this project, click here. For further information on Maclaine, check out the intro , which serves as this series’ hub.

NEW FEATURE: a Youtube of the CHARLES 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 watch the video clip found above first, before making their way through the (hopefully enjoyable) notes and explication.

We now take up from the end of CHARLES A:

he now knew the penalties proscribed for his caprice. He realized also that it was possible that they might allow him the rest of his days to ponder his…

27) How Charles might “ponder his caprice” in prison is shown by the give-and-take of these street philosophers. The young man in the checkered shirt displays a classic gesture of primate aggression, the forward arm thrust.

…fate, if he could only bring himself to surrender to the police…

28) Maclaine cuts to the retreating figure of this woman just as he intones the word “fate”. This is the first of several such images obsessively returned to over the next thirty-or-so seconds of the Charles episode. It would seem the sight of rear ends of sexually mature women somehow stir up the issues swirling within Charles’s Oedipal complex.


29) Yes, the “I” word—irony—must again be trundled out in discussing Maclaine’s comparison of murder and child molestation to mere “nuisance”. “Nuisance”, however, is quite apropos to the shot in picture 28, above, and all similar ones to follow: one wonders how Belson and Maclaine managed to pull these off. Were these women complicit? Or were the filmmakers truly making nuisances of themselves? Whatever the answer to these questions may be, Wilder Bentley II has identified this great sign as one located outside Jordan Belson’s Telegraph Hill apartment. Recessed from the main row of buildings on Montgomery St. above Broadway, Belson’s house was reached through a tunnel, which “drunks used to piss in”. The sign was clearly directed at such activities. Did it possess legality or was it a novelty item? Let us know, legal historians!

…and confess to them…

30) Another of Charles’s POV (or possibly mindscreen) shots of the legs and feet of passersby. In this instance, we are shown an image consonant with the rest of the eroticised imagery in this part of Charles’s section of THE END. Throughout his film, Maclaine will pay keen attention to women’s feet and shoes.

…his dilemma, his guilt, and…

31) Maclaine returns to the rear view of the woman in 28 to discuss Charles’s “dilemma” and “guilt”. He then immediately cuts to:


32) This shot of an electric bus speeding away (location unidentified). The roundness of the bus’s posterior corresponds with the hind-parts of the retreating women. The rapidity with which the bus courses along evokes the vertigo the “bewildered” Charles experiences upon the activation of his Oedipal complex. (Interestingly, in Vertigo, which will be partially shot in San Francisco five years later, Hitchcock makes a similar comparison with Madeleine and the curvaceous rear of her green Jaguar.)

33) Another suitable target for Charles’ projection.

Unfortunately, for reasons we know nothing about…

34) This unidentified young man drives slowly by, displaying the universal thumb-and-forefinger-to-lips gesture indicating rumination. Like Charles, he “ponders” an “unfortunate” situation. The rest of the line quoted under this picture, “for reasons we know nothing about”, actually is heard during a flurry of images, examples of which include our next two pictures:

35) More irony, for, of course, we’re being shown the “reasons” (or at least evocations of them) as Maclaine intones the line.

…the torture chambers…

36) One final “reason” at Market and Powell, facing south-east, towards the Emporium department store (this location is now the site of the Westfield San Francisco Centre). Is Maclaine comparing these Jocasta stand-ins to “torture chambers”?

37) A recent photo from an angle and position similar (if not precisely the same) to the shot in #36.

…on the way…

38) At the end of the shot shown in picture 36, there is a tail-out flash of red incurred in the processing of the film. Maclaine cuts from this fiery red to the swan: a fantasy of Charles’s soul released and set on its “way”. The movements of all the female subjects of these recent shots (and now the swan) have been graceful and consonant: each motion seems to flow into and launch the next. Maclaine now cuts to a figure whose movement seems to flow from the swan’s:

…to absolution frightened Charles.

39) The anima figure who will be remembered from the tale of Walter (this barefoot actress is probably the same woman who walked across the grand stairway of Alta Plaza Park). It would seem she’s not Walter’s anima alone, but is perhaps rather the soul of the whole film. As in Walter’s case, her presence here does not bode well for Charles. Facing away from the camera, her body unseen from the waist up, she saunters out of frame. This will be her only appearance during Charles’s episode.

And he decided…

40) Charles broods on Grant Ave, near the NW intersection of Grant and Green St. in North Beach.

41) A recent photo in which Brian displays his grit via his determination to stand in for as many of Maclaine’s characters as possible, including the problematic Charles. Just around the corner on Green St. is Sodini’s, a restaurant I’ve paid quite a number of visits over the last ten-or-so years without having any idea that one of Charles’s key lurk-outs was only a few steps away. When in doubt regarding THE END‘s locations, trust to North Beach!

that he did not cherish the thought of spending the rest of his days pondering a guilt he knew nothing about. Not knowing what to do, he at least resolved not to surrender, even though his arrest was imminent.

42) From the shot shown in picture 40, Maclaine jump-cuts to the one seen here, in which Charles jay-walks to the east side of Grant Ave. On the end of the street shown in the left side of this image is the Savoy-Tivoli Restaurant/Bar.

43) A view from approximately the same position/angle as seen in 42, above. The Savoy-Tivoli, which opened in either 1906 or 1907 (both dates are cited) since Charles’s day has pruned its fare to just the bar (that is, beverage) side of the equation, and has torn out two of the three windowed sections seen in #42 to create decks suitable for people-watching.

He would take a walk and put the matter out of his mind, as if he had the rest of his life to live, as if he had not…

44) Charles makes his way north down the east side of Grant towards Union St. Brian and I were tipped off, once again, to this location by Wilder Bentley II.

45) Brian makes his way in Charles’s footsteps some 57 or so years later. To photograph the current incarnation of the Savoy-Tivoli sign, I had to cheat the camera left to avoid the street lamp pole installed at some point after ’53. (Note the pole’s decoration by a reproduction of the Italian flag, designating North Beach’s historically Italian character.) While Brian and I were taking these photos, we ran into none-other than filmmaker and Canyon Cinema executive director Dominic Angerame, who will be leading a workshop in Beat Cinema on November 14th (scroll down) dealing, in part, with Christopher Maclaine!

…virtually committed suicide back there in the night he could hardly remember.

46) A mindscreen shot of an unidentified young Asian or Eurasian hipster. Are the young male Asian figures seen in his episode part of Charles’s world due to his self-conscious awareness of his status as an outsider?

Click here for the the dark and stunning conclusion to the CHARLES story.

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 (non public) feedback to contribute to the Tour, please click here.


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