Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Illuminating the Jewel City" Laura Ackley

SF Museum and Historical Society Presents: “Illuminating the Jeweled City: Spectacular Lighting at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition” by Laura A. Ackely. 
It had been a while since I had attended a San Francisco Museum and Historical Society program, but I didn’t want to miss this one. It was one of many events that would celebrate the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 
The Palace of Fine Arts is a San Francisco landmark that many tourists miss. It’s not too far off the beaten track, but visitors in a hurry usually head to the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. Once they get there, they look back and wonder what that orange dome is down in the Marina. 
I can still remember finding the place. It was one of those spots in San Francisco that seemed mythical. It was like you had stumbled on the remains of an ancient civilization. The architecture was classical, but I couldn’t help thinking of Atlantis. Was the Palace a relic of a lost utopian civilization that had once been in San Francisco? The tall columns, statues and the lagoon gave the Palace an aura of being in another time and place, far from the modern world.  
The lecture was at The Old Mint. Most of the gold the Forty Niners found passed through here. It was once the San Francisco History Museum, but that closed down during the recession. The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society has renovated much of the building, and they hope to open a San Francisco History Museum. 
The Mint is far from the Marina, where the exposition was held. The Marina is an urban, yet somehow bucolic part of San Francisco. The area around The Old Mint has seen improvement, but it’s still gritty. Signs directed us to a side door. A homeless looking couple lurked near the entrance. A guy was sprawled out on the cement.
Once inside we were able to wander the vaults and other rooms on the first floor of the Mint building. Thanks to iron walls and the efforts of heroic employees, The Mint had survived the fire in 1906. There are bare brick rooms that stored treasure, and there are rooms with period furnishings. Now the rooms are used for cocktail parties and other events. Most of the windows have the iron shutters that were used for fire protection back then. It was like stepping into another time. 
The lecture would be in one of the bigger rooms upstairs. Chairs were filling up fast. This event had drawn more people than they expected. About a third of the audience had to stand.
John Freeman is a local historian. He’s an expert on the history of the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. He made some announcements, and gave us a preview of the next lecture. John Minderman was a San Francisco police officer in the Sixties. He would talk about how police handled the wild days of San Francisco in the wild early days of the countercuture.  Minderman later joined the FBI and he was one of the first to respond to a break in at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. He used some techniques that he learned in the early days of Sixties San Francisco to help solve the Watergate case.  
Freeman introduced Laura A. Ackley. Ashley is a tall and attractive woman. Freeman told us her book: “San Francisco’s Jewel City The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915,” was “the seminal work on the PPIE.” 
She gave us some of the history of the fair. Officially, the PPIE was a celebration of the building of the Panama Canal, but to San Francisco it was a celebration of The City’s rebirth from the quake and fire. A slide showed us a huge grizzly bear looming over a map of San Francisco. “Undaunted.” 
“A lot of ink was spilled over the expo,” Ackley tells us. The plans and construction for the fair were closely watched by the press. There were battles with New Orleans and San Diego to get the fair.
Most of the known world would gather at PPIE. It was meant to display all the wonders of the world. Celebrities of the time gathered, including: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin. Famous aviators were huge heroes back then and most of them flew at the fair. Fatty Arbuckle, a big star at the time, filmed a short at the fair. Great artists and musicians came to display and perform their work.  
We’re shown a map of the grounds. It stretched from what is now Crissy Field to Van Ness. Crissy Field had been a race track before the expo. There’s a slide of what it looks like now. The Palace of Fine Arts is the only building left from the fair.  
Europe was mired in World War I and there were hopes that the United States would not get involved. Some countries canceled, but a surprising amount of the fighting nations showed up despite the war.  
There’s an aerial view of Opening Day on the screen. Two hundred and fifty thousand attended Opening Day. “Those little gray dots are people!” A huge parade started early in the morning and led people to the Expo. We’re shown a better view of the Opening ceremony. 
World fairs and expos had the most advanced lighting technology of the time. The Columbian Exposition in Chicago of 1893 had revolutionized outdoor lighting. It became known as “The White City.” It was easier to get to and drew 29 million. They used arc lighting, which looked harsh compared to later Fairs. It made the buildings “look skeletal.” The lights and extensive use of electricity were a spectacle at the time.   
  There was an expo in Paris in 1900. The biggest attraction was a lit up Eiffel Tower. There were two large fountains. Ackley heard they may have used perfume in the fountains, but she can’t find any proof of the “olfactory effect.”  
There were fairs in St. Louis in 1904. “Meet you in St. Louie, Louie.” The expo in Buffalo used the power from the nearby Niagra Falls to light up their fair. People were still fascinated by outdoor electrical lighting. The bar was set high for San Francisco. PPIE would use recent innovations in lighting to stunning effect. 
We’re shown an ad with a giant Underwood typewriter. Ackley says it’s one of her favorite images from the fair. The massive typewriter weighed two tons. I guess no one asked why back then. It is a bit comic.
Ackley says she’ll start with the most spectacular. The Great Scintillator was a product of “lumination technology.” The exhibits were closed at night, so the lights were the main entertainment. It was important to put on a spectacular show so that attendance didn’t drop off at night.  
Ackley tells us that before PPIE opened there were great doubts about the lighting. The organizers almost assumed the lighting system director Walter D’Arcy had put in place would fail. It was “foredoomed to failure.” They even hired contractors with alternate plans. There is no proof of this, but Ackley thinks that these contractors were hired, paid a retainer, and then when D’Arcy’s lighting plan worked the alternate contractors were paid and the contracts destroyed. 
The lights that shone on The Great Scintillator came from a pier that had a “weather proof” breakwater. At the end of the pier there was a Morro Castle. The lights were operated by marines. Usually the fog helped with the lights. It gave them a mysterious effect. If there was no fog they ran a locomotive near the Tower of Jewels and used the smoke to enhance the lights. The locomotive was loud! 
The lights dancing in air could have a plaid effect. There was another effect called the ghost dance. Refraction caused an aurora borealis effect. The lights could be seen for miles across the Bay.  
The Electric Kaleidoscope was in the Palace of Horticulture. The Palace had the largest dome in the world. Lights were projected through the ”opalescent dome.”
The Tower of Jewels was a little over forty stories high, which would make it about four hundred feet. In another picture people walking by the Tower give some perspective to how big it was.   
One hundred and two thousand cut glass gems hung from the Tower of Jewels. They were called Nova-gems. The Novagems were hung on hooks so that they would be loose and move with the wind. This produced a glimmering effect that was dazzling. There is black and white film footage of the fair, but it can’t reproduce the colors or the effect. 
Light reflected off the Novagems and neighbors in the residential district complained. Taking them down and trashing them was considered. The San Francisco Examiner suggested throwing them in the Bay! Ackley is glad they did not meet, “a watery demise.” 
Chicago’s Fair had been known as The White City, so a catchy name was needed for this Fair. The Examiner ran a contest and the winner was an Afro-American schoolgirl named Virginia Stevens, who came up with, “The Jewel City.” She later became the first black woman to become a lawyer in the state of California. 
We’re shown slides of:  
A Presentation Novagem. The Novagems used during the fair were marked “Patent Pending” near the hole that they were  hung by. Souvenir Novagems that were sold at the fair were marked: “Souvenir - Patents Pending.” They came with a box and certificate. Tipsicoin.com says that the certificates are very rare. The souvenir Novagems were sold for one dollar. When the Novagem was paid for the buyer was given a certificate. The buyer redeemed the certificate to get the Novagem. The certificate was usually taken by the merchant and lost. They are very rare. A presentation Novagem in great condition sold online for $500. They’re hard to find in good condition.
The slide show continues:  
The Court of the Universe had two large fountains facing each other in a courtyard. During the day it had a marble color. It lit up in many colors at night. The lights tried to match the travertine marble walls of most of the fair. It was said the lights used 2 billion, 6 million candle light power.
The Court of Abundance. 
The Fountain of the Earth. Four ornate dragons look into a column like the weeping maidens of the Palace of Fine Arts. The lighting was aided by gas flambeaux inside the building. There were “lighting banners” below lights throughout the Fair. They had the heraldic banners of Spanish explorers hanging from them.
The Fountain of Energy. 
It wasn’t all high culture at PPIE. The Joy Zone was an area with rides and other amusements of the time. There was a replica of the Grand Canyon and a recreation of the Dayton flood. Most attractions had large and wild facades.
Previous fairs used an “outline method of lighting,” the arc method of lighting that gave buildings a “skeletal” appearance. The Ferry Building had that look during the fair,  and it will again in 2015! There will be a lighting ceremony on March 3 at 5:30. 
The Court of the Universe. 
Banks of floodlights were used to light up The Great Scintillator and the other buildings of the fair. It was said PPIE had more search lights than the U.S. Navy! 
The Palace of Fine Arts. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck. It was meant to be a quiet, romantic spot where you could rest your eyes after being dazzled by The Great Scintillator and the other bright wonders of the Fair. 
So what is the legacy of the lighting innovations used during the fair? Ackley shows us some lighting effects of today that were developed for the fair: 
Fantasmic by Disney. 
A Zeiss Model One Projector from Munich, 1923. Planetariums need a curved ceiling to replicate the night sky, like the Laserium show that was in the old Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The Kaleidoscope had to use a flat surface. 
A slide of a sequin sign on the back of a truck brings laughs from the audience, but it is the concept behind the Novagems. It’s still used to catch attention for ads today. The motion draws our attention to the ad.  
The Palace of Fine Arts was relit in 1999. It will be relit like it was for the fair during the centennial celebration next week. 
People were saddened to see PPIE close that December. There was one last grand finale on Closing Night. Attendees were treated to a final light spectacular and a midnight fireworks show. Pilot Art Smith left trails of smoke in the lights. 
There is some black and white film footage of PPIE. Fatty Arbuckle shot a comedy short using the Fair as a backdrop. Witnesses said the films doesn’t come close to showing the color and grandeur of PPIE.  
All the buildings of the fair were meant to be temporary. The Palace of Fine Arts was saved by a campaign led by Phoebe Hearst. Most of the buildings were made of staff. Staff was a mixture of plaster and burlap. It was not meant to be permanent. There are disturbing photos and film footage of the grand buildings of the fair being torn down. The party was over, and most of the fairgrounds became the residential neighborhood now known as the Marina.

The Q&A: 
Why was the Palace of Fine Arts the only building saved? The building held an incredible, priceless art collection. The insurance company insisted that the building holding the art would have an iron framework. There were earthquake and fire fears.  
There was also a real estate angle. The Palace stood on ground that was owned by the federal government. A swap was worked out with some Presidio land and the City of San Francisco became the new owners of The Palace. The campaign to keep the Palace started before the fair was over.   
The dread two part question: Was there sound for The Great Scintillator? Was there a script for the marines running it? Ackley gives a quick no and yes. In her research she found a script for the marines, but it is indecipherable. The instructions make no sense unless you’re one of the well drilled marines. 
Was the breakwater outside of the St. Francis Yacht Club built for The Great Scintalator or the other light shows of the fair? Not that Ackley knows of, but it is a relatively unknown scenic spot in San Francisco. 
What happened to the Novagems after the fair? D’Arcy’s contract gave him the selling rights for the Novagems. He claimed that most of them were damaged and he had them stored. “They rotted for ten years.” This may have been a ploy to get a better price. He did sell some later for seven cents a piece.   
The Novagems had started disappearing during the fair. Many of the ones that were at “head height” were lifted by fairgoers. Ackley tells us that firemen used their ladders to get Novagems that hung higher and gave them to girls.  
A member of the audience volunteers that “years ago” he saw many of them for sale in a now gone antique shop on Shotwell Street. They were boxed with certificates! Ackley says that she is looking for Novagems. She does have a great collection of PPIE memorabilia, but she wants Novagems! 
An elderly man started ranting. It was hard to understand what he was saying. He said he was six or seven years old when his father ran a saloon near the dog tracks in San Mateo. He said there was talk of building a casino there. People started to head for the exits. There was applause for Ackley and many thanked her on the way out.  
There will be an event at the Palace of Fine Arts on February 20th celebrating the centennial. There is more information on PPIE events at www.SF1915.com


Monday, March 9, 2015

The 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair

It was the Bay Area’s turn for The 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s held every year, but it alternates between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. This year it was at the Marriott Convention Center in Oakland. This was a unique chance to browse. There aren’t even that many bookstores left to haunt, and walking the aisles here is a feast for the eyes of any book lover.   
The convention center is a large room in the Marriott. There’s plenty of space for many booths and treasures. The Concourse in San Francisco had been the home of the Antiquarian Book Fair for many years. It held a certain nostalgia for me after going to the fair there for years, but once inside the Oakland Convention Center, it was the same show. 
This event may sound a bit dry to most people. One friend told me it was stupid to see such expensive books that I can’t afford to buy. Why not just browse online? Like anything else, it is better live. I have new interest in the world of collecting, but I’m certainly not a buyer or accumulator right now. The details and stories about book collecting can be endless and fascinating. 
There are almost two hundred vendors. The layout is dazzling for any bilbliomaniac. There are dealers from around the world. There are very high profile book sellers from Europe. Their booths display museum quality incunabula, illuminated manuscripts and other tomes. This is a bit of a hodge podge and read more like a list,  but hang with me for the Jack London lecture. 
  Here are some of the dealers who were there. Most of them are titans in the antiquarian book world: Thomas Goldwasser, Philip Pirages, John Winkleman, Peter Harrington, Bernard Quaritch and an Antiquarian Book Fair stalwart, Ken Sanders. 
The Kelmscott Bookshop is here from London. Philobiblon, Antiquariat Botanicum, Blackwell’s, Liber Antiquus, and Sokol Books are here. Looking for maps or prints? Check out Antipodean Books. Sorry if I left anybody out.     
It’s interesting to scan the covers and prices of these rare books. There are sinister looking medical texts from the dawn of medicine. Most dealers look serious, especially the ones from Europe. This is a big business opportunity for them.
I’m content just to look at the books in the glass cases. It’s exciting to see books that are worth a fortune, but today I’m drawn to more modern, colorful works. There was plenty of them around. The last I heard, Bolerium Books still had a store in the Mission district of San Francisco. They have some great Robert Crumb stuff. There are posters that he had made for events before he became famous. There were small poetry books that Charles Bukowski had printed himself before he gained game.  
One of the first things I saw in the Special Exhibits area was the Patti Smith Collection from the nearby Mills Library. There was a hand written page from the manuscript for “Just Kids” and some hand written poetry. There were photos of the Punk Rock icon with Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s always exciting to see something written by an idol in long hand. 
Several companies at the fair specialized in autographs. You could find the autographs of figures in history and entertainment. Some famous, and some infamous.  
A friend had given me a copy of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. It was the tribute issue that came out after the killings. I saw a copy of it at the F.A. Bernett Books booth.  “Are you selling those?” She said that it was there to call attention to a blog posting, “Charlie Hebdo’s Ancestors.” (http://rectoversoblog.com/) It’s an entertaining look at the history of satire in France. Satire was banned in France until the 1800’s. Even after the ban was lifted libel suits and their penalties were severe.
Maybe I just noticed it more, but there were first editions of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake at various booths around the floor. One first edition of Ulysses was offered at $150,000. Another Ulysses first edition was offered for $36,000. The difference must have been the dread condition issue. 
I always see copies of John Steinbeck’s “Cup of Gold” at this fair. It’s his second book. There was a first edition for $48,000. It got me thinking of something that may be obvious to veteran book collectors. The early works of great authors go for big bucks. They weren’t discovered yet, and the print runs had to be smaller. Some of the early novels from a writer were duds. When an author proved he could sell books, they printed more. Sometimes the early, usually inferior books, demand a higher price.  
There’s always great Beat literature here. The dealers know there’s more interest in the Beatnik era in the Bay Area. I saw a copy of John Clellon Holmes’ “Go.” It predated Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and some consider it a more accurate portrayal of the Beat scene. John Fante’s “Ask the Dust.” There were obscure, early works by Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and even some Gregory Corso.
Another reason I go to this event is that you see books you just won’t see anywhere else. There was a volume by one Sam Clemens entitled “The Curious Republic of Gondour.” A copy of “To A God Unknown” by John Steinbeck. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep by H.P. Lovecraft. There are always Science Fiction classics. An original manuscript for “R.U.R.” A script from the movie “Metropolis.”  
The Lux Mentis booth had fetish scrapbooks that were made in the Fifties. It was someone’s personal work. Lux Mentis has a great blog.   
There was what looked like a complete run of an historic San Francisco poetry magazine, The Lark. Some of San Francisco’s legendary writers appeared in it. In another booth there was a complete run of early Star Trek comic books. 
The Douglas Stewart Fine Books booth offered a hand out advertisement on a book they were selling. “Aurora Australis” was the first book printed in Antarctica. They brought printing presses onboard for these expeditions. They printed scientific works, but it was also for the amusement of the crew. They did print poetry and other writings of the men on board. The book can be had for $108,000 American dollars or $135,000 Australian.
Another regular feature of the Antiquarian Book Fair is the Discovery Day appraisal event. Exhibitors would do up to three appraisals for free. It was like a small Antiques Road Show.   
Today’s big lecture event is “Jack London, the Photographer.” It was presented by Sara S. “Sue” Hodson. There was a small, but attentive audience. I had heard a few vendors comment that they were glad anyone showed up today after the rainstorm that morning. There were about fifty people filling about half the room. It was a fitting topic for Oakland. London had grown up here. A bar he frequented, Heinhold’s Last Chance, is still standing in Jack London Square.  
Hodson is a small woman and conservatively dressed. She’s the Curator of Literary Manuscripts at the Huntington Library. A screen shows us some of London’s photos while Hodson talks.  
“Everyone is familiar with Jack London the writer,” but few know that he took thousands of pictures. London called photography, “writing in light.” 
Hodson shows us two photos that Jack London did not take. They are stiff and formal looks at two natives. One is a side view of a native’s head, emphasizing his long skull shape. The other is a photo of a victim of elephantiasis. His arm has swelled up so badly that he has a forked stick supporting it. His arm is almost bigger than his torso. These were typical photos taken for their shock and medical value.
London had a different eye. He liked to take pictures of individuals. He said his photos were “human documents.” He saw people as people, not just the subjects of a photograph. London didn’t consider his photos a look at a freak show or primitive people. He looked at them as equals. He was looking for the soul and spirit in people.
In 1902 London went to London, England. He had been hired as a war correspondent, and he would ship out from there to the Boer War. The newspaper editors called him back. Apparently the war would be over before he would get there. There would be no story. 
London stayed in London. He visited the notorious slum in the East End. London wore shabby clothes. He could certainly pass as working class after growing up on the rough streets of Oakland. He noticed that those greeting him went from “Hello, Sir, or Governor,” to “Hello, Mate!” He lived in the East End for a while. He ate what they ate, and slept where they slept. 
The residents of the East End were in a constant struggle for survival. Some said the conditions were worse than those described by Dickens. It was subsistence living. London took pictures of them sleeping on park benches. In one shot bodies litter the lawn of a public park. People just dropped in their clothes and slept in the park. It looked like the aftermath of a battlefield. 
London called them, The People of the Abyss. He described the horrid conditions in letters home and in a later book. One thing that struck him was that most people had no hope. They couldn’t imagine a way out of the abyss.
A photo shows us one of London’s new friends, Bert. London did make friends wherever he went.  
An upbeat photo is of a group of children dancing in the street when an organ grinder went by. It was a rare bright spot in their day. London said that it was especially sad that the children showed little hope of escaping the East End. They could not see a way out.   
Another photo shows a woman staring off into space. Hodson points out her despair: “There is nowhere for her to go. Nothing to do.” 
London said that people were entities. They rose above their situations and their spirits shone through in his photographs. He returned home to his ranch in Sonoma and wrote Children of the Abyss. 

In the early morning of April 17, 1906 Charmian London was writing in her diary. “We know what happened that day.” We’re shown the page she was writing when the earthquake hit. In large red letters it says, “Earthquake!” The couple headed to San Francisco. London’s description of the ruins from the quake and fire would be published later in Collier’s: “Story of an Eyewitness.” “The fire raged for three days and nights.” 
We’re shown a series of London’s photos of the ruins: The shattered remains of the Crocker mansion. The ruins of the San Francisco Stock Exchange on Pine Street. It was one of the first descriptions of the destruction from the natural catastrophe. 
Did London’s celebrity status help him gain access to the ruins of San Francisco? Things were pretty tense there with martial law. Men were pressed into cleaning the wreckage. Did his celebrity keep him off the chain gang? 
In 1904 London was in Korea waiting to cover the Russo-Japanese war. He was also escaping “women troubles.” Hodson tells us that, “London was good at that.”  London was often the subject of cartoons. His celebrity overshadowed any news story he was doing. There was more interest in London’s adventures than there was in whatever story he was covering, and London knew it. He exploited it to sell more books. Then he’d use the money to have more adventures. What a life he had!
Both Japanese and Russian military authorities tried to keep the foreign war correspondents far from the action. London used the time to photograph the locals. Most of the photos were taken in Seoul. London took photos of the everyday people in the streets of Seoul. Beggars. An opium pipe salesman. He loved to take pictures of the children. The Korean people of all ages had a shining innocence about them. 
When London took pictures of people he went down on one knee. We are always looking up at them, into their faces. Most other photographers at that time used an angle at which they looked down on their subjects. London never considered people as just the subjects of a photo. He wanted to capture and show their spirit to the world. 
London had respect and admiration for the Japanese soldiers. Most of them had come from farms where they had never worn shoes. During training they were issued military boots. London saw their sore, blistered and bleeding feet. He was impressed that they never complained.  
London was also impressed by how little the Japanese soldiers in the field could live on. Rice was boiled down to small size to make it easy to carry into battle. The soldiers lived for days on the chow that they could carry. London was amazed that they did not complain.  
There are pictures of a village that had been taken and retaken by each side several times. “Imagine the suffering of these people,” Hodson said. It had to be a very unfortunate spot to be in.
London did get some pictures of the Russian side. He took a picture of a Cossack sitting on his horse. To Western eyes the horse looks small compared to his owner, but this was one of the biggest horses the Russians had. The horse was named Bell. London bought it, and brought it home to his ranch in Sonoma. 
London and his fellow correspondents did get to see some of the naval battle at Incheon. They’re shown looking over a battlement at the action. They look like quite a crew.
At the Battle of Yellow River London got some photos of the Japanese artillery in action. He also got photos of the aftermath of the battle. Exhausted and wounded soldiers are shown marching back from the battle. Some have to be carried. 

When London returned home he bought the ranch in Sonoma. The plan was to settle down and stop traveling so much. So of course, after a couple of months London started making plans for a trip around the world. They would start by sailing across the Pacific. His wife Charmian was into it. They were true life partners and she gladly joined in his adventures. 
London had a sailing ship built, The Snark. The earthquake hit during its construction. The ship suffered some damage in the quake. It wasn’t able to turn or maneuver. It was repaired at a much greater cost than expected. Building materials were scarce and expensive after the quake and fire. The cost to build The Snark was eventually $30,000, a very large sum for the time. 
Charmian’s uncle, Roscoe Eames, had been in charge of getting The Snark ready. They finally left on April 7, 1907 and headed to Hawaii. After a couple of days out London asked Eames were they were. Not only did Eames not know, but he admitted he had no idea how to navigate! 
London had brought four hundred books with him on the ship. Hodson says that, “God saves fools and Jack London.” London found books he had on navigation and started studying. He learned how to use a sextant. London believed he could learn anything if he could find something to read about it. There was great risk that they would get lost in the Pacific Ocean. London not only got them to Honolulu, but it was “like threading a needle.” Roscoe was sent home.
They visited the leper colony on Molokai. It was considered very dangerous to go there. He and Charmian stayed for a week. They participated in the daily life of the lepers. It was the week of the Fourth of July and photos show them enjoying a parade and donkey races. The lepers had been shunned by society and separated from their families. They not only survived at the leper colony, but they built new lives for themselves.  
The next stop was the Marquesas islands. There were three routes from Hawaii and of course London chose the shortest and quickest. “The route that nobody takes.” Nobody took it because it was the most dangerous. “They courted disaster on much of the trip.” This was not just a luxury cruise. Even the first leg to Hawaii had risk on the wide and wild Pacific.
A big danger was being caught in an area of the sea with no breeze to sail with. They were “becalmed.” This was another example of Hodson’s saying: “God saves fools and Jack London.” They were stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Food and water had almost given out when they chanced upon a rainstorm. It gave them water and a breeze. 
They survived and got to the Marquesas. London took photos of the natives and we see some of them gathered around an old gramophone. The natives were fascinated by the sound. There’s a picture of Ernest Darling, The Nature Man. Darling had gained some fame by rejecting Western society and “gone native.” 
London was the de facto doctor and dentist on board The Snark. The crew was reluctant, but London was confident that if he could read something about it, he could do it. He did pull some teeth. London had brought a mini-pharmacy with him. “He was always ready and willing to dose someone.” 
The only picture the newspapers refused to run was one of Charmian smiling as a group of naked natives passed by her on the Solomon Islands. it wasn’t censored because we could see the natives bodies. It was censored because Charmian looked relaxed, and didn’t have the shocked look on her face that the editors expected. Victorian morals were still strong. London insisted the picture was printed and eventually it was. 
It wasn’t a luxury cruise but Hodson tells us that they still partied their way across the Pacific. “They tried hash!” We see a shot of a masquerade party they had on Guadalcanal.  Among their friends in the picture is George Derbyshire, dressed in drag. He liked to dress in women’s clothes and was fascinated by Charmian’s lingerie and stockings. Martin Johnson, The Snark’s cook, is also in the picture.
Martin Johnson desperately wanted to be hired for the voyage. He wrote London and convinced him to hire him as the cook, even though he admitted he had never cooked anything! “He wanted to try something new.” Somehow London went for this. 
The photo of Johnson shows him with a huge bandage on his leg. He had yaws. It’s a nasty disease caused by a spirochete that digs into the flesh, sometimes all the way to the bone. Everyone on the trip got yaws and other tropical diseases. Hodson says London used mercury on the yaws, which draws a laugh from the audience.   
In the New Hebrides London took a photo of some natives surrounded by tobacco leaves. Almost every one has a cigarette in their hand or mouth. Tobacco was a status symbol. They were displaying their wealth.
Hodson ends by praising London’s humanity, caring and trust. He treated the people he met around the world as equals. She’s given us a great look at an adventurous man and his time. 
The Q&A. 
When did London start using a camera? Hodson tells us that they know he didn’t have one on his trip to the Yukon. Other writers did take photos, but they were not as perceptive as London’s. “London was always interested in something new.” He did his own developing in the dark room at first, but later he was too busy and had to give that up. 
Did he sell the photos? There’s no evidence that he sold any photos. Hodson does point out that often the newspapers would run a huge headline with a head shot photo of London underneath. They knew his celebrity would sell papers. They couldn’t wait for the photos he had taken for the story. They couldn’t be wired in. Text could be wired in. Editors knew a photo of London on the front page would sell papers.  
Were the photos numbered or cataloged? No, but many had captions on the back. Most of them were kept in albums and the curators at the Huntington were afraid to take them out. They feared they might get damaged. 
A woman says, “Tell us about the book.” Hodson says that she and her colleague at the Huntington Library, Jeanne Campbell Reesman, were getting many requests for pictures of London that had not been published before. This got them wondering why a coffee table book of London’s photos had never been published. At the Huntington they had access to some four thousand of London’s photos. There are four hundred more in the archives of the California State Parks.   
The book took ten years because they did it in their spare time. It was a labor of love, but it also became “a logistical nightmare.” Hodson praised the University of Georgia Press for doing a great job on the book. 
An audience member makes a comment on London’s use of mercury to cure yaws. At the time mercury had been used against syphilis, a similar disease, so London wasn’t “far off the mark.” The same guy asks, “What is the best biography to read?” Hodson says there are two: Earl Labor, Jack London - An American Life, and a biography by Jay Williams. She says Williams book, “Author Under Sail,” is more challenging. It’s a history of London’s imagination and the way he thought. 
London had been in ill health for some time. He had an appendectomy and learned his kidneys were failing. Hodson does not believe that he was suicidal or that he killed himself. A medical doctor, Dr. Philip Klemmer, has written a book theorizing that London died of mercury poisoning. Hodson adds that London had been studying Carl Jung and had been planning to use some of his theories in his writing. “He showed no signs of despair.” 
London had a short life, but he crammed many lifetimes into it. His books still sell, and he still has fans around the world.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Noir City 13

Every year I plan on going to more of the Film Noir Festival, but due to circumstances beyond my control I didn’t get there until Closing Night this year. There were nights I should have made it, but I avoided films I’d seen before. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. This year the festival had a very interesting theme: Marriage, especially marriage gone wrong. 
All the films would “revolve around the theme of marriage.” On the cover of the program a femme fatale holds another woman’s hand. She has a box of rat poison in her other hand. The hapless husband lies twisted on the stairs above the champagne glass he’s just dropped. The two women have gotten rid of an obstacle to their relationship.   
“When they said until Death Do Us Part... SHE meant it!” From the program: “You’ll see how the bonds of matrimony affect an array of characters - those who crave a perfect and permanent union, those who’ll stop at nothing to preserve it, and those who will do anything to escape it.” Somewhere the cinematic gods were smirking. I had a good laugh at the irony. “25 Cinematic Samplings of Unholy Matrimony.”   
It was great to be back in the jewel of San Francisco movie theaters, The Castro. The Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, and Miss Noir City 13, Audra, did the introductions. “After ten days, we’re still standing!” Eddie made a few cynical remarks about marriage, “Church and state’s most important institution.” Part of the theme is that Noir exposed the darker sides of the American Dream. Things were not what they seemed in post World War II America, especially domestic bliss.   
Most of the films were about mates trying to get out of a marriage. In Film Noir that usually means murder. There was also a double feature honoring Noir’s “perfect marriage,” Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man movies.
Miss Noir City 13 tells us that Eddie Muller had a deep secret. He’s been married for thirty years! “People ask me if I have a special secret to staying married.” Muller says that the way to stay together is, “Candlelit dinners at good restaurants once a week... I usually go on Tuesday or Wednesday. She always goes on Friday!”
I like the older Noir films more. Tonight’s films were made in 1966 and 1969. As usual, Muller does a great introduction to the films. “Seconds” was made in 1966 by John Frankenheimer. “There’s a lot going on in this one.” Rock Hudson was “living the lie” back then. He was living a nerve racking existence in the closet, and he plays a similar role in the film. This is a point not lost on a Castro theater audience. It was Rock’s favorite film.  
Studio executives freaked out. They didn’t want one of their top star’s image tarnished by a “depressing” movie. It was released, but they tried to bury it. It bombed at the box office, but then it became a big cult film.  
Director John Frankenheimer hired actors and writers who had been blacklisted. Most of them had evil, corporate roles. Muller says they had to have exorcised some demons playing sinister corporate types. 
Muller warns us that we will be seeing two very dark and depressing films.  
John Randolph plays Arthur Hamilton, a bored banker. The movie opens with  scenes of his routine commute and frustrating job. It’s the every day reality of the American dream. His wife is loving, but they both go through marital angst in the bedroom. Hamilton just can’t get excited. Their marriage is dead in the water. 
An old friend calls him on the phone. Arthur is stunned because this old friend is dead!  “Charlie” says he can get his buddy another chance at life. Hamilton is contacted by “The Company” with mysterious messages. There’s a bit of cloak and dagger, and he’s directed to a meeting. For $30,000 he can be “reborn” and have a new life. The Company will fake his death, give him plastic surgery and a new identity. Sounds like a great deal! The Company will provide “extensive training,” including psychotherapy.   
Hamilton is shown a film of him raping a young woman. He can’t remember this happening. How did The Company do this? He must have been drugged and filmed. The Company wants to make sure he won’t reveal their existence. He’s shown to an ominous waiting room. It’s full of white males at desks. They’re wearing suits and ties, and waiting for their name to be called. Some have been waiting a long time, but  Hamilton is quickly called and is wheeled to an operating table.  
So he wakes up as Rock Hudson. He’s living in a beautiful Malibu home on the beach with a pool. (They used Frankenheimer’s home for filming.) He has a new career as an artist. There is a butler, sent by the company to help him get started, and to keep an eye on him. He sees diplomas, awards and other evidence that there once had been a “real” Tony Wilson.  
He starts to question things. What does this guy want? Being Rock Hudson with a home in Malibu isn’t enough? He is a painter, a searching artist. During an existential walk on the beach, he meets a young woman who takes him to some kind of “wine ceremony.” It must have been fun shooting this scene. What must have been some of the original Hippies dance through the woods. They come to a huge wine vat. The revelers get naked and jump into the vat and stomp grapes. Rock (“Tony Wilson”) is shy at first, but he eventually winds up in the vat. (The wine ceremony scene was cut from the film for years. It was restored on DVD.) 
Tony’s valet keeps suggesting he have a cocktail party to meet the neighbors. He finally agrees. He gets so drunk at the party that he starts blabbing about The Company. He doesn’t know that all his neighbors are “re-borns.” Tony agrees to go back for a chance at another identity.  
It’s a dark, unsettling film. Even with his glamorous new identity Tony Wilson isn’t happy. The Sixties American Dream unravels in an ending that is disturbing, but not that surprising. 
Muller and Ms. Noir City conduct a raffle during the intermission. It’s a bit quaint. They read ticket numbers and if the winner isn’t present they keep pulling numbers. It’s the last night and they want to get rid of the prizes. The raffle is a bit of a throwback to the old movie house days.
The lobby was packed with Noir related merchandise. Green Apple Books had a great selection to browse. There were Film Noir paper dolls. Vendors sold great vintage Noir movie posters. Most of the vendors and many of the audience wore vintage period clothes. There was a bar setup giving away free vodka drinks.   
The second film is “The Honeymoon Killers.” 1969. Muller fills us in. Martin Scorsese was the original director, but after two weeks of shooting, they decided he was spending too much money. He was replaced by the writer, Leonard Kastle. It’s based on the true story of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez. They went on a “cross country murder spree.” They found their victims by running a Lonely Hearts club. The story was filmed four different times! 
Muller says it’s even more depressing than the first film, and “The weirdest film we’ve ever shown at Noir City.” Now, that’s impressive.  
Shirley Stoller is the female lead. She’s a bit heavy, especially for movies back then. Her size lends a strange realism to the film. Tony Lo Bianco is her lover and the murderer. The film looks cheaply made at times. It looks like they used a home movie camera. It makes the film a bit voyeuristic, like you’re watching someone’s home made porno film.  It adds to the desperation and despair. It’s “a favorite of both John Waters and Francois Truffaut.” 
Serena Bramble made another great mix for Noir City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A28hDtZbqUc