Dancing on Thin Ice

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. —R.W. Emerson

Tag: San Francisco

George Kuchar 1942-2011

06 September 2011 marked the passing of friend and film-maker George Kuchar. He left an indelible mark on the world with his wit and humor and his many films.

Farewell, George. I’m honored to have known and worked with you.


George Kuchar 1942-2011

Still from Thundercrack! copyright © 2004, Melinda McDowell.

another glorious sunrise

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01 April 2011

and then . . .

something unexpected happens to inject some pure, undiluted joy into my life.


Leonardo and me at the Noir City 9 opening party. (Photo by Mike Humbert)

Last week my friend Mike Humbert drove all the way to San Francisco from Paradise, California to take me to the opening of Noir City 9 at the Castro Theater. Before the show we met with festival director Eddie Muller, “the voice of Noir” Bill Arney, and a handful of others at Dashiell Hammett’s old Post Street apartment, which is being lovingly restored by Robert Anderson. Altogether a completely delightful evening, one I’ll remember for a long time to come.


Friend and fellow historian Peter Field and me at Noir City 9. (Photo by Mike Humbert)

sky on fire

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A recent sunset as photographed from my rooftop.

the upside of insomnia

If indeed there is anything at all good about having a sleep disorder, it’s that I’ve witnessed many glorious sunrises. From my rooftop, I recently photographed the sun’s ascent above the horizon as the full moon was setting.

Sunrise with Cloud

“Sunrise with Cloud”

Dawn and Moonset

“Dawn and Moonset”

a visit with Serge

This post has been moved and incorporated into my story about Serge titled “Temple of the Heart’s Imagination”, on my history site Up from the Deep.

italianate lanterns

The next time you find yourself walking about the San Francisco Civic Center, take a close look at the lanterns on the War Memorial Opera House and the Veteran’s Building and especially those that illuminate the gateway between the two buildings. Of course the architecture is beautiful, but the lanterns are sublime.

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another lifetime

“Curt McDowell and Mark Ellinger, circa 1979”

Not long after my friend Curt McDowell died, I drew this picture from a photograph of the two of us shooting a scene for his film Initiation on King Street. The drawing was a gift for Curt’s older sister Marce, who lives in Indiana where Curt grew up. It’s a shame that Curt never finished King Street. It was, or would have been, one of his best films: dreamlike, dark and moody, unsettling and prophetic,* densely layered with metaphor; it was an allegory of Curt’s self-discovery as an artist. Initiation on King Street was not Curt’s final film, but it was the last film on which I worked with him. It was another lifetime—we were so damn young.

In ’78 and ’79 Curt and I shared a flat near the foot of Utah Street at the bottom of Potrero Hill, when it was still an active industrial district. There were no condos, galleries, or jewelry marts. Our neighbors were companies like Forderer Hollow Metal Products, Best Foods, Kilpatrick’s and Hostess Bakeries, Crown Zellerbach Paper, Lone Star Concrete, Hamilton Hardware, and diners; lots of little diners that fed the factory workers, truckers, and trainmen. Most streets in our part of town were embedded with train tracks, spur lines to the area’s industries, and at night we were often serenaded by the soulful chimes of Western Pacific air horns as switching engines shuttled raw materials and finished products to and from the factories. Much of Initiation on King Street was filmed near the Southern Pacific train depot, within a cobble-stoned labyrinth of low, wooden warehouses between King and Berry Streets, stretching from Fourth Street almost to Seventh.

It was the end of an era and I deplored its passing, so to live amidst the industrial remnants of that era was a little slice of heaven. It breaks my heart to think that nearly all of Curt’s and my documentation—motion pictures, photographs, and sound recordings—has been lost, for it captured the zeitgeist of that too-brief moment in history, of which only my memories now remain.

*The film foretold Curt’s untimely death, and included an eerily prescient scene of my own mourning.

shameless horn tooting

The vivacious and multi-talented Julie Michelle recently interviewed me for the excellent photo website Caliber. If you’re at all interested in photography (and San Francisco), it’s a website well worth visiting.

julie michelle

Julie Michelle, self-portrait

“The City” at 1:AM

"The City"

Roman Cesario has been doing some fine work in the central city and past shows at his gallery (corner of Sixth and Howard) have been worthy of note. I have seven pieces in this show, including some new cityscapes, all of them previously unexhibited and all most definitely for sale. I hope to see you at the opening—it should be a lot of fun!

more cloudy skies

I’ve been preoccupied with other projects and have thus neglected this site for months. Tsk-tsk! For the next little while my posts might be just random images that I like. For starters, here are some San Francisco skies that I shot with a little Canon G3 back in 2003.

“Gathering Clouds”

“Throne Lights”

“After the Rain”

Thundercrack! makes national news

. . . that is if anything on Fox can be called “news.” In a piece headlined “Perverts Put Out,” Fox talking heads get their panties in a twist over San Francisco Frameline’s screening of a thirty-five-year-old film. It’s heartwarming to know that Thundercrack! still offends the delicate sensibilities of conservative prigs, but watching them express their outrage on national television is exquisite. I would like to personally thank Rupert Murdoch and especially Roger Ailes and his minions for giving national publicity to Thundercrack! I know that George (Kuchar) also thanks you, as would Curt (McDowell) if he were still with us.

Disclaimer: I developed the original story concept for Thundercrack! with friend and director Curt McDowell and also wrote and performed the film’s score.

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Thundercrack! stills are copyright © 2004, Melinda McDowell (thanks, Mindy!).

Click here to listen to excerpts from the score.

orological atmosphere

One of the best things about the building in which I live is an accessible rooftop, where I have a fairly unobstructed view of the sky. Last night I was fortunate to see a spectacular sunset made even more luscious by the appearance of lenticular clouds in the northeastern sky. Altocumulus lenticularis are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes over mountainous regions, normally aligned perpendicular to the wind direction. When stable moist air flows over mountains, enormous standing waves sometimes form in the mountains’ lee. If the temperature at the crest of a wave is at or below the dew point, moisture in the air can condense to form a lenticular cloud. When multiple lenticular clouds are generated by the crests of successive waves, the resulting formation is known as a wave cloud.

“Altocumulus Lenticularis”

one for the history books

500e block O'Farrell

“500E block O’Farrell Street”

Written by architectural historian Michael Corbett* and photographed by me, the survey nominating the Tenderloin to the National Register of Historic Places has been accepted and approved by the State Historical Resources Commission and the National Park Service. The most fascinating and, in my opinion, the best neighborhood in San Francisco is now officially the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District.

Speaking for Heritage, we are delighted with this anticipated news.

We very much look forward to working with stakeholders in the Tenderloin to advocate and educate on preservation of our city’s great architectural and cultural identity, and how, with good planning and neighborhood participation, we can improve the quality of life in this great neighborhood.

Congrats to you for your keen eye and careful documentation, Randy Shaw for his vision and leadership, to the superb architectural historian and author, Michael Corbett, who continues to document and write on places important to all San Franciscans, and to the many other important people who made this happen.

Jack A. Gold, Executive Director
San Francisco Architectural Heritage

*Corbett, Michael R. 1979. Splendid Survivors: San Francisco’s Downtown Architectural Heritage. San Francisco: California Living Books.

200o block Leavenworth

“200O block Leavenworth Street”

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