Friday, January 16, 2015

Cinematic San Francisco: Noir City

"San Francisco is a town made for noir." -Peter Maravelis, San Francisco Noir 2

The 13th annual festival of film noir hosted by the 'Czar of Noir', Eddie Muller, takes up residence at the Castro Theatre for ten days starting tonight, Friday, January 16. Several of the films featured at this year's Noir City are set in San Francisco, including the opening double-feature of Woman on the Run and Born To Be Bad. And since this year's theme is 'Til Death Do Us Part - A Festival of Unholy Matrimony, we couldn't help but think of the rather perfect union that has been formed between film noir and the city of San Francisco.
Ross Ellott and Ann Sheridan in "Woman on the Run" (1950). San Francisco Public Library.
Caption: "WOMAN ON THE RUN - UNIVERSAL INTERNATIONAL Life-saving medicine is passed to fugitive Frank Johnson (ROSS ELLOTT) by his wife (ANN SHERIDAN) in this scene from Fidelity Pictures' "Woman On The Run," dramatic story of a tottering marriage saved when a mutual peril makes the partners realize their love for one another. Dennis O'Keefe co-stars with Ann in this Universal-International release." Oct. 24, 1950 [P641 SHERIDAN, ANN] (Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)

What is it about San Francisco and noir? In San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, editor Peter Maravelis suggests it is the city's siren call to all who want just a little bit more from life than the usual.
Drawn to the romantic landscape by the lure of possibility, millions have flocked here to cast their stakes in the hope for prosperity, pleasure, and a personal freedom seldom dreamed of elsewhere. Following the imperatives of manifest destiny, the city's pioneers engaged in fraud, larceny, kidnapping, and murder. The prospect of gold led many to their demise while establishing a terrain ruled by human passions.
Edmond O'Brien and Ida Lupino in "The Bigamist" 1953. San Francisco Public Library.
Caption: "KEEPS SECRET FROM HER - Edmond O'Brien, in and as "The Bigamist," doesn't tell wife Ida Lupino he has a mate (Joan Fontaine) in San Francisco. The Filmakers' [sic] picture will have its world premiere tomorrow at the St. Francis, with evening stage appearances by the above stars, Miss Fontaine, Edmund Gwenn, Producer Collier Young and Matt Dennis, who sings the film's theme song. All are here today in preparation for the premiere." Nov. 23, 1953.
[P426 LUPINO, IDA (groups, doubles)]
(Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Nathaniel Rich, author of San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present, believes it might have more to do with the weather, specifically, San Francisco fog.
It is a looming, shape-shifting mist that, especially at night, plays tricks of perception on anyone it engulfs. It is eerie not so much for what it conceals [...] but for what one fears it might conceal. More than anything else it is this feeling - dread - that is the subject of film noir.
Whether it is unleashed human desires or natural air-conditioning, San Francisco and noir have been in a long relationship that is still going strong.
Caption: "WILLIAM POWELL AND MYRNA LOY BLOCK TRAFFIC.....When Director W.S. Van Dyke takes the "After the Thin Man" company to San Francisco for scenes of the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture, sequel to "The Thin Man". Motion picture fans on Market Street had a field day. In the foreground are Van Dyke and Ollie Marsh, cameraman. Hunt Stromberg is the producer." Oct. 28, 1936. [P558 POWELL, WILLIAM] (Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Books about film noir:
San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present by Nathaniel Rich
The Art of Noir: Posters and Graphics from the Classic Film Noir Period by Eddie Muller
Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir by Eddie Muller
Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller
The Gang That Shot Up Hollywood by John Stanley, which features the article "Eddie Muller: Czar of Noir"

Noir stories:
San Francisco Noir edited by Peter Maravelis
San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics edited by Peter Maravelis
All of the city-based titles in the Akashic Noir Series.
The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories edited by Otto Penzler
And, of course, anything by one of the San Francisco History Center's favorite authors, Dashiell Hammett.

If you would like to create a San Francisco film noir festival of your own, we suggest these titles:
Lady From Shanghai (1947)
Thieves' Highway (1949)
D.O.A. (1950)
The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
The Sniper (1952)
The Lineup (1958)
Experiment in Terror (1962)

Photos of some of your favorite noir actors, actresses, and directors can be found in the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin Photo Morgue, accessible through the San Francisco History Center Photo Desk on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Caption: "Lieutenants Cody Owen, left and Mel Avery, Naval Reserve pilots from Oakland Naval Air Station, are the lucky two carrying Doris Day beside the F2H Banshee jet... Doris was unanimously chosen the "Sweetheart of the Naval Air Reserve" today, in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Naval Air Reserve this year... She is working in the Arwin Production "Julie", in which she plays an airline hostess. It is presently being filmed on location at Oakland Airport, also the site of NAS Oakland and the "Weekend Warriors". May 9, 1956
[P DAY, DORIS] (Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library)
Previous "Cinematic San Francisco" posts: Big Eyes
Coming soon: At the Oscars

Monday, January 12, 2015

The 4th Annual Valentine Broadside Printing Event

presents the 4th Annual Valentine Broadside Printing Event on 
Saturday, February 14th, 2-4pm, in the San Francisco History Center.

Come experience letterpress printing on the library’s 1909 Albion handpress 
and take home a unique keepsake for your valentine. 
Our co-sponsors, the American Printing History Association’s NorCal Chapter, 
 will provide printing expertise.

Everyone is welcome; broadsides are limited to the first 100 people.

Here's a peek at the fun we had last year.

celebrating 50 years logo

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Paste Paper Paradise

The Main Library subject departments provide an extraordinary array of materials for a lifetime of exploration. For librarians, discovering the mysteries and histories behind the subjects we specialize in furthers our knowledge and expertise, as we guide our patrons in their own explorations. This is part of the joy we derive from working in the library.

One such interest for a certain librarian is the art and application of paste papers. An early form of decorated paper originating sometime in the sixteenth century, paste paper was used in the end papers and covers of books through the eighteenth century. Interest in the craft of paste papermaking resurged again in the twentieth century and continues to be practiced by makers in San Francisco and beyond. 

In her classic book on the subject, historian Rosamond Loring describes two distinct styles of paste papers: “those that were printed and those on which the design was made with freehand brush strokes or drawn with some tool directly on the colored, paste-covered surface of the paper.” (Loring, Decorated Book Papers, 4th edition, 2007, p.65).

Developing an interest in a subject requires examples upon which to learn; a search of the Library collection is not only a requirement, but a serendipitous activity. It was a search of the Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing & the Development of the Book a few years ago that resulted in the discovery of a lovely red printed paste paper. In an album of eighteenth century Italian decorated papers, this was the first paper to appear, followed by many more samples of paste papers, brocade, Dutch Gilt, and marbled papers. Why did this red printed paste paper stand out? It wasn’t long before the answer revealed itself. 

A faded pattern of this same design was discovered in another area of the library stacks. Probably Italian-made, it was used as the binding for Catalogo degli Ordini Equestri e Military (Rome, 1741), an illustrated catalog of military religious orders, documented by Filippo Buonanni (1638-1725), pupil of Athanasius Kircher, the last of the Renaissance men.  Kircher founded a remarkable collection of curiosities in Rome, recording the contents in published catalogs, two of which may be found in the Grabhorn Collection. After Kircher’s death in 1680, Buonanni became curator, but after his death, the collection declined; eventually it was merged into Rome’s Museo Nazionale. In some instances, Kircher and Buonanni’s books are the only visual evidence of what they collected. 

The eighteenth century album of Italian papers and Buonanni’s illustrated catalog are now on view through January 31, 2015, in the Skylight Gallery, South Salon, part of Celebrating 50 Years of Special Collections.