Frisco Flix Fascist Nix

By ann summers

Hollywood North is not San Francisco South, nor North Hollywood or South San Francisco. But maybe in an age of media crime fascination there can be high-tech tours of location specific cinematic crime, something better than the Alcatraz Island Tour. Here, “location specific cinematic crime” does not mean sneaking food into the movie theater or being more at home with food in the Drive-in; it’s more like the carceral rather than car cereal and represents the true amorality of the Zodiac Killer more than Ted “Carnival” Cruz.


Vigilantism in a democracy can range from online shunning and bullying to the lynch mob where a modern weapon can amplify a mob of one, and the cinema as site and transmitter makes those interactions more complex.The location as represented cinematically can overdetermine a collective consciousness, much like Hollywood is really the TMZ that includes Culver City and Burbank. But it has always been the locus of discourse about controlling culture and propaganda whether wars were hot or cold.


Avenge Me!


In the time of the Hollywood Ten, a prisoner’s dilemma occurs for those prosecuted by HUAC, where one of them decided to defect, and provided information to HUAC that unraveled the Ten’s defense and had his career rehabilitated by Stanley Kramer. The collateral effects of the Hollywood Blacklist has had lasting, repeated effects in the current climate of ad hominem fear of socialism promoted by RWNJs.

De facto blacklisting still occurs to this day as both agency and structure, where reputation is manipulated and magnified in the current 2016 election process. These are all aspects of the surveilled world — from DNA, to geneology, to eventually biometric access to toilets, we will all be controlled.



Hollywood Blacklist

The growth of conservative political influence and the Republican triumph in the 1946 Congressional elections, which saw the party take control of both the House and Senate, led to a major revival of institutional anticommunist activity, publicly spearheaded by HUAC. The following year, the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA), a political action group cofounded by Walt Disney, issued a pamphlet advising producers on the avoidance of “subtle communistic touches” in their films. Its counsel revolved around a list of ideological prohibitions, such as “Don’t smear the free-enterprise system … Don’t smear industrialists … Don’t smear wealth … Don’t smear the profit motive … Don’t deify the ‘common man’… Don’t glorify the collective”.



The Lineup is a 1958 American film version of the police procedural television series of the same name that ran on CBS radio from 1950 until 1953, and on CBS television from 1954 until 1960. The film was directed by Don Siegel. It features a number of scenes shot in locations in San Francisco during the late 1950s including shots of the Embarcadero Freeway (then still under construction) and the Sutro Baths.

The film The Lineup contains the line, “When you live outside the law, you have to eliminate dishonesty,” of which Jonathan Lethem writes that “Bob Dylan heard it…, cleaned it up a little, and inserted it into ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie‘” (as “To live outside the law you must be honest.”)blackmariasf.jpg

The name Black Maria is common for race horses beginning with an 1832 appearance in Niles Weekly Register (Oct. 10) and then again in Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine and Humorist (1841). The OED lists the first usage as the Boston Evening Traveller from 1847 which mentions them as a new type of wagon. An example from Philadelphia was published in 1852. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (and the OED) suggests the name came from Maria Lee, a large and fearsome black keeper of a sailors’ boarding house who the police would call on for help with difficult prisoners. The French detective novel Monsieur Lecoq, published in 1868 by Émile Gaboriau, uses the term Black Maria when referring to a police van.
The term also exists in Norwegian, where the same vehicle is called “maja” or “svartemaja” (alt. “-marje”, “-marja”), originating from “Black Maria”, in Icelandic as “Svarta María” and in Finnish as “mustamaija”. In Serbian and Croatian, it is “marica” (with a small “m”), while “Marica” with a capital “M” is a diminutive of several female names.
The Black Maria is also called ‘Mother’s Heart’ as it is said that there is always room for one more.


The paddy wagon doesn’t feature much in media except when tragedies occur. In the 1950s San Francisco Beat (The LineUp) SF police used Black Marias and the SF EMTs used trucks that were like meat wagons rather than the stretched Cadillac ambulances. That Baltimore’s cops seem to misuse them seems endemic to police departments. In SF it seems the cops now don’t even bother to arrest suspects, but gun them down as though they needed more tactical training. Black Marias’ Lives matter as well…

The first films shot at the Black Maria, a tar-paper-covered, dark studio room with a retractable roof, included segments of magic shows, plays, vaudeville performances (with dancers and strongmen), acts from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, various boxing matches and cockfights, and scantily-clad women. Many of the early Edison moving images released after 1895, however, were non-fictional “actualities” filmed on location: views of ordinary slices of life — street scenes, the activities of police or firemen, or shots of a passing train.












On the other coast’s Menlo Park, Edison’s Black Maria did serve the same purpose, to contain bodies (Foucault’s carceral panopticon). The (movie) Industry however finds a way to distract us all, as David Duchovny’s new book reminds us that his life would have been different had he finished his dissertation — a question one can always hope to ask James Franco and one that curses Al Gore’s college roommate Tommy Lee Jones not in Love Story but in The Eyes of Laura Mars.

Cinemas are the site of much cultural reproduction, the sites of tragedy, the sites for a whole range of pandering, and sites that can represent urbanity and the cosmopolitan. They are the reciprocal projection of that filmic source as a cinematic panopticon, now transformed as the cellphone selfie, uploaded to a global audience that pays no ticket fee.

San Francisco as a carceral city a possible sniper’s paradise, but it is of a crime genre site going back to Dashiel Hammett and Nick & Nora Charles. As the City (see Herb Caen and Steph Curry) it also has a history of underground, Othered cultures in any international port city, some with victimless crimes, others more victim-filled. Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. Plus street crime…

the opening scene of Dirty Harry occurs 100 feet above this intersection on the roof of the Holiday Inn on Kearny Street which sits on the site of the old SF Police Station, remember the establishing shots of the Ironside TV show


Stanley Kramer and Edward Dmytryk’s Sniper (1952) The film’s comparatively comprehensive outdoor footage of 1952 San Francisco remains unsurpassed in variety for a narrative film.

Edward Dmytryk, who grew up in SF, had his own kind of Lineup as he identified his contacts for HUAC. Did Dymtryk’s information really keep his career viable.

On April 25, 1951, Dmytryk appeared before HUAC for the second time, answering all questions. He spoke of his own brief Party membership in 1945, and named 26 other Party members. He said that John Howard LawsonAdrian ScottAlbert Maltz, and others had pressured him to include Communist elements in his films. His testimony damaged several court cases that others of the “Ten” had filed. He recounted his experiences of the period in his book, Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten (1996).

Beginning with the eponymous Dirty Harrydirected by Don Siegel, that block of films as a unit do have a kind of coherence over their life. Mainly one that contests the political position of law & order as the often unwilling agent of vigilantism.

Pauline Kael condemned DH as, “’right-wing fantasy [that is] a remarkably single-minded attack on liberal values’. She also called it ‘fascist medievalism’.” Siegel just wasn’t like Arthur Penn to Kael since Bonnie & Clyde perhaps had an even more historically rooted depiction of vigilantism. Oddly, the remaining films in the series have meta-commentaries on art, style, culture, and the film industry. Sorry Pauline, the City is the real auteur.

The City doesn’t over-determine the cinematic, rather it is a landscape that shapes narratives within a sub-genre of “streets of San Francisco” media narratives. There are several films that feature the same sense of detail using the city and incorporating its landscape. In the SF genre there are always multiple paradigmatic touchstones, going back to the silent era but a series of 1970s films set in SF used similar locations and suggest the complexity of that landscape.

Bullitt did serve as a kind of major milestone, combining the edited car chase and the political contradictions of liberal rule of law, with reflections on race and the need to ultimately function with a lone sense of anti-procedural justice that can be also seen as vigilantism. And of course the car chase.

In Freebie and the Bean, a transgendered subtext amidst the usual problem of non-Latino actors playing those parts uses the city as again the city threatened by rampant, yet organized crime.

The application of Scandinavian narrative to that sexualized landscape in The Laughing Policeman makes the choice of all location shooting by similar production teams within a square mile an interesting one, as Freebie’s car crashes into the third story room of the hotel in Bullitt within 100 yards of the final bus shooting in Laughing Policeman.

Modern media can place us in all of those spaces with new and additional information as though we can’t just enjoy film itself but need to understand the production apparatus or as VR will do, put us more into that apparatus, albeit within primarily FPS gaming.

IMAX on a yacht


Witness the increased use of databases, new surveillance mechanisms, the alternatives of home detention and electronic tagging, as well as the shift toward managerialism, action ‘at-a-distance’ and ‘self-governmentalism.’ Foucault described the transformation of penality as a “technical project” or more cynically as a “technical mutation” and an “insidious extension” of disciplinary mechanisms (Foucault 1977: 176-7, 257). As penality has changed, so too has the penal subject; once a ‘docile’ object of the workings of power, the prisoner has now been subjectified as an active participant in the carceral…

So here’s an idea to pitch: using one of the new VR devices, conduct it in a Google Car using every location from every SF crime flick, so you can be immersed in film and feel yourself ride over each location rather than the Disney simulator rides that stay in one place. And then a vigilante, someone at Anonymous hijacks the system and forces you to experience it with the soundtrack to the Small World ride. or scale it all up on the Gray Line irony ride, an entire bus wearing VR goggles does the tour, while street urchins pickpocket the lot of them.

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1 Response to Frisco Flix Fascist Nix

  1. wordcloud9 says:

    Thanks ann – very scary stuff, and only going to get worse as the technology continues to evolve.

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