Footsteps In The Fog: Introduction (page 1 of 2)

 

"San Francisco would be a good location for a murder mystery."
- Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s connection to the San Francisco Bay Area can be traced to the filming of Rebecca, his first American picture, in 1939. Hitchcock made his first 23 films while in England, the country of his origin. Due to the severe downturn in the British movie industry in the 1930s, Hitchcock decided to leave England and continue his movie career in Hollywood.

While filming Rebecca, that stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, Hitchcock became friends with Fontaine’s mother and stepfather who lived in Saratoga, 40 miles south of San Francisco. Rebecca itself uses background footage of coastal scenes from Monterey County. At the time, Hitchcock and his wife Alma were searching for a property in Northern California. The Fontaines recommended the Vine Hill area, near Scotts Valley. The Fontaines knew the area well, since Joan Fontaine attended high school in nearby Los Gatos.

In 1940, while filming Foreign Correspondent, Hitchcock discretely purchased a ranch near Scotts Valley. A wine connoisseur, Hitchcock admired northern California for its’ grape-growing climate, and he also purchased a vineyard adjacent to his ranch. Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto quotes Hume Cronyn on Hitchcock’s fondness for the wine country:

"Hitch asked me if I had ever been in NorthernCalifornia. I said no, and he told me what a marvelous country it is, with miles and miles of vineyards. ‘When the day’s work is done, we go out to the vineyards and squeeze the grapes through our hair,’ he said. I suggested that this sounded more like a part for him than for me. All I could see was Hitchcock as Bacchus."

The Scotts Valley ranch became a weekend escape from the pressures of Hollywood over the next three decades, and became the catalyst that led to Hitchcock’s filmmaking and personal connections in the San Francisco Bay Area. He blended both his work and personal life, with hisranch as the jump off point: He entertained Hollywood stars, scoped out nearby locations for his films, and frequented San Francisco’s fine restaurants and culture.

Starting with Shadow of A Doubt (released in 1943), some of Hitchcock’s most admired films were set principally in the Bay Area. His intimate familiarity with the region allowed him to blend his stories with the area’s unique geography. The "all-American" Santa Rosa is a cozy setting for the dark Shadow of a Doubt. Big Basin Park, the Avenue of Tall Trees, San Juan Bautista, Cypress Point, and, of course, the streets of San Francisco, are central characters in Vertigo (1958). The Birds (1963) is set in the quaint towns of Bodega Bay and Bodega, with a movie reference to a real life bird attack near Santa Cruz. Some of his other movies, including Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Psycho (1960), and Family Plot (1976), also include a scene or sequence of scenes from the San Francisco Bay Area.

For his Bay Area movies, Hitchcock, with the assistance of a talented team of collaborators (such as art directors and set designers Robert Boyle, Henry Bumstead, Joesph Hurley and Robert Clatworthy), used four primary film-making techniques to convey the settings of his movies. First, the director filmed live action footage with the principal actors on location. Hitchcock was a master of composing visually dramatic shots, tying the geographic characteristics of the location to the setting and plot. Second, he meticulously recreated interiors and exteriors on studio sets, exhaustively researching the subtlest details of actual locations to add authenticity. Third, Hitchcock took background footage on location, sometimes sending out a second unit led by the assistant director. He frequently used the resulting film as rear projection footage in combination with live actors on studio sound stages, known as "process shots." Finally, he often modified the images he filmed with special effects such as matte paintings, adding scenery or architecture to enhance the films' settings.

For purposes of this book, we use a broad definition of "the San Francisco Bay Area," including other parts of northern – and some times even "central" – California. If a location is a day trip visit from San Francisco, it is eligible for inclusion.

 

All images © JLP, Inc. and may not be used or downloaded. Top and Middle pictures courtesy of Tere Carrubba. Bottom picture courtesy of J.R. Eyerman/Timpix.

 

 

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