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.
The other day I had the privilege of interviewing legendarily controversial director William Friedkin (The Exoricist, Cruisin') for the upcoming release of his film Killer Joe. The interview was a tremendous pleasure and will appear here next week. While we were chatting about Killer Joe, I managed to sneak in a few words about one of my favorite San Francisco-centric titles of his, the terribly maligned (probably justifiably so) sexual thriller Jade, starring a young David Caruso. Some would say the film is less Friedkin's than screenwriter Joe Eszterhas', as he was all the rage in Hollywood at the time because he'd just scored a huge success with Basic Instinct and his lame-duck script provides for most of the film's folly.
I digress. I'm talking about Jade here in On Location because it's a quintessential San Francisco movie. It's filmed here, it's about our corrupt political system, and it features a slew of high-end San Francisco locations throughout, all clustered around the films piece de resistance: Perhaps the best car chase scene ever filmed in San Francisco. The film leading up to the car chase is a regular San Francisco scavenger hunt. It starts in the downtown landmark The Palace Hotel, a location so rich I've never even set foot inside. I didn't recognize it until Caruso made his way into the Pied Piper Bar down the hall (which I can just barely afford), and I recognized turn of the century illustrator Maxfield Parrish's Pied Piper mural in the background. If you've ever paid a traffic ticket, or, god forbid, appeared for one, you'll recognize the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant where they go next. The imposing court also appears in Eszterhas' claim to fame, Basic Instinct, the Dirty Harry movies and a ton of others filmed here over the years.
But let's cut to the chase. While we were talking, Friedkin made a case for the chase as the only real art exclusive to the filmic form. To wit: "the chase scene is the only kind of scene you can't do anywhere else." Whether you agree with him or not, the chase scene in Jade is a scene you couldn't have done anywhere else but San Francisco. In a matter of minutes it crosses the city top to bottom, making a tour of some of its most photogenic environs.
It starts outside of an unspecified North Beach cafe when one of the prime suspects of interest a murder case is run down by a black Mustang right after crossing Washington Square Park, where a troupe of elderly Chinese people are doing Tai Chi as they often do on early mornings. Leaving his coffee to cool, Caruso speeds up the hill and abruptly finds himself ditched by the black mustang at Graystone Terrace, an almost hidden route at the base of Twin Peaks (halfway across the city!) which hides some of the best hill views in the Mission. Spinning the car into a U-turn, he rounds Graystone Terrace and cruises down the hill to an ocean view finding himself trapped one hill away from the Mustang on what looks like Russian Hill Open Space, an odd parcel of land owned by SF Public Utilities Commission that's just above Bay Street and Russian Hill Park (and right next to Gary Danko). In a move surely not approved by Parks and Rec, he takes the easy way–straight over the grassy hill–and pops up back on Grant Street, right outside of the Broadway Tunnel, almost back where he started on the Chinese side of North Beach.
The chase's big moment happens on Grant Street too, mostly right outside of the Chinatown Kite Shop and Chinatown's forgotten celebrity stop-in, the Empress of China. Credit Friedkin with inventing the modern convention of killing innocent bystanders here: Both cars slow almost to a stop at the Chinatown parade, but the Mustang speeds up and decides just to crash on through, killing revelers as it does, and Caruso's car is stumped behind him by angry relatives. After an inexplicable few moments on the Bay Bridge, once he finally catches up the final showdown goes down on the docks–at what looks like the Embarcadero. Since it was under construction at the time, it's nearly impossible to tell which one, but it looks like IDEO hideout Pier 28, right next to Red's Java House, one of the last townie bars standing in San Francisco (always good for a chill cheese dog before the Giants game!). The chase ends, as all San Francisco chase scenes do, with Caruso driving his car directly into the bay.
Follow the route here.