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On Location: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Welcome to "On Location," a micro-feature taking you to little-known cinematic locations of SF and taking a look at the films shot in the city by the bay over the years.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1978 version) is perhaps the quintessential San Francisco movie, falling only behind stone-cold classics like Bullitt, Vertigo and (depending on who you ask) Dirty Harry. I'd considered placing it above the Eastwood's inner-city western–as well as being set and the city and taking place positively everywhere, it also carries a very San Francsican theme: The justifiable paranoia that we're being colonized.

To wit: What if the people you thought you knew were being replaced by soulless aliens made of space goo while the city you love is stolen out from under you? Sound familiar? Maybe I'm revealing a bit of my own paranoid strain here? I'll stick to the facts: The San Francisco in Body Snatchers is, in part, the San Francisco David Fincher worked so painstakingly to recreate in his 2009 film Zodiac–bustling, impersonal, suffused with secrecy, and covered in a patchwork of deafening sounds and eerie silences.

As the film opens the gelatinous aliens (then played by some painting supplies the crew found at an SF art store) of the title slide through space toward earth's atmosphere and before you can say Leonard Nimoy, crash down to earth. Any tourist who's done his homework knows where to go first: Stop one is the Golden Gate Bridge, then through the toll plaza, then directly to Alamo Square, where they sprout tiny buds on some of the foliage during a heavy rain. That would have been more than enough local color for most movies, but director Philip Kaufman (who returned to the Bay for the recent Hemmingway and Gellhorn) decides to go native, taking us right up to the Painted Ladies–and actually inside one of them. Beat that, Full House!

Even the indoor locations are mostly set in the city: The supposed mud baths where the first of the Pod People is discovered is actually a set built in an empty storefront on Clement Street. Clement has a good track record for these kind of things–Woody Allen filmed the bank robbery in Take the Money and Run just down the block in the former Bank of America location on 8th. Civic Center, the Flood Building and City Hall also have starring roles. Outside the later, Donald Sutherland stops to give a banjo pluckin' bum (pluckin' actually done by Jerry Garcia himself) some money before going on to his office. Sutherland lives up on Telegraph Hill, and the Transamerica pyramid looms in the background of many shots like an ominous ziggurat or the all-seeing alieneye. Business people are constantly scuttling through Market Street's now all-but-erased neon corridor of strip joints and porn shops and even the Tenderloin has a special cameo as the resting place of the original Body Snatchers' star Kevin McCarthy, who makes a convincing appearance as a ranting lunatic before he's wiped out. Maybe those guys are on to something...