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The Man Who Knew Too Much 

Hitch in the Bay Area, zombie social structures, and theater-chain shenanigans

Wednesday, Oct 1 2003
"Nowadays we look at Coppola, Lucas and Phil Kaufman," Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan writes in an e-mail, "and understand that they live and work away from Hollywood to establish an independence from much that is wrong with Hollywood -- an independence that is part psychological, but part actual geographic. In their era, the Hitchcocks were unusual if not unique in choosing to live 'up north,' and their logbooks, etc., prove they spent nearly every weekend in northern California once they bought their house. ... Hitchcock went from 1939 to 1950 without a formal vacation, so the Bay Area represented rest, relaxation and regeneration for him, in a real way. ... The closest Hitchcock friends were the ones with invitations for weekends up north."

The Milwaukee writer's new tome, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (ReganBooks), follows his diligently researched and lauded biographies of Cagney, Cukor, Lang, and others. From the beginning of Hitchcock's U.S. career, McGilligan's e-mail continues, the director envisioned stories set in the part of America he loved best. "It was very clever, hard work moving Vertigo from WWII France to San Francisco [and] The Birds from Cornwall to Bodega Bay. ... He was unusual if not unique among major directors of his time for avoiding southern California as a setting. ... Starting with Shadow of a Doubt, he imagined so many of his stories taking place 'up north,' and apart from the famous ones there were several others that he developed, intending to film them in the Bay Area, but they went awry for one reason or another. Even when an entire film wasn't [set] in the Bay Area, key ideas came from his trips back and forth -- like the famous cropduster sequence in North by Northwest. This preoccupation with the Bay Area as a background is pretty rare in that era, and really is just one more autobiographical element of his work." McGilligan is in town for several events next week, including a conversation with Terrance Gelenter on Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Mechanics' Institute, 57 Post; call 393-0100 or visit for details.

Night of the Living Dead Ben Stork is one of the 13 graduate cinema students at S.F. State who organized this weekend's academic conference, "Identifiable Remains: The Body and the Moving Image." Anticipating the seasonal glut of scary movies, the Vermont native delivers a paper (illustrated with film clips) titled "'It's a bit more complicated than that': Resident Evil, Late-Capitalism and the Pleasure Principle." Freud, Stork reminds us, posited that human beings are always striving for pleasure, but regulate that urge through societal conventions. "Once you become a zombie," Stork explains during a recent phone conversation, "those social structures and restraint cease to exist. You can give yourself completely to pleasure." He adds with a chuckle, "But in the zombie film that's not a positive thing."

Stork recognizes that the walking undead in movies have long represented consumerism taken to an extreme. But he argues that late capitalism's ability to satiate every impulse -- like cell phones that stream porn videos or sports highlights -- nudges people closer to the zombie state. "The consumer will never have to give way on the lifestyle, since we will always have a product that fits it," he asserts. Stork's talk is Friday, Oct. 3, at 4 p.m. in the August Coppola Theatre on the S.F. State campus. For the full conference schedule, go to

Scared Stiff In a setback for the zombies, the country's largest theater chain, Regal Entertainment Group, announced that it's pulling video games featuring graphic violence, obscenity, and sexual behavior from its lobbies. Regal operates the UA Alexandria, Coronet, Galaxy, Metro, Stonestown, and Vogue in S.F. ... Landmark Theatres has been sold yet again, this time to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and a partner. The new management may take a more aggressive approach to expanding the exhibition of digital features.

About The Author

Michael Fox


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