July 1, 2008
It’s the archetypal car chase, often cited as the most thrilling in movie history. And though legions of movie analysts will tell you that the car is the star, we all know perfectly well that San Francisco’s voluptuous topography is what turned this notorious scene into legend.
What we also know perfectly well is how the filmmakers played cut-and-paste with the city’s map — apparently borrowing a trick or two from Star Trek, as the two vehicles teleport from one neighborhood to another via the editing console. From Potrero Hill, to Russian Hill, back to Potrero Hill, back to Russian hill and the Marina, zapping over to VisitaÃ§ion Valley, and finishing up on the Bayshore roaring towards Brisbane — hello, movie magic!
A God’s-eye view
But this video takes things about ten steps further. It’s a side-by-side display that — through the techno-wizardry of geocoding — shows the schase scene’s logic-defying route from space. Now you can track Steve’s ’68 Mustang GT turn by screeching turn through every neighborhood in the city — just like a James Bond super-villain:
Not to give the filmmakers too much credit, but perhaps there’s a meta-narrative of San Francisco’s inherent instability at work here too: Intersecting layers of history, invention and reinvention, kinetic faultlines at edge of the world … it’s easy to see the echos of San Francisco’s many earthquakes in Bullitt’s physics-defying leaps.
Charlie Chaplin was probably the first to take movie liberties with San Francisco, a half-century before Bullitt editor Frank Keller pulled out the scissors — and now, almost a century later, the list is anything but short.
Afterthought: At one of the early Lollapalooza music festivals, this clip played on the Shoreline’s in-house monitors as a warmup for the headliner. What a mistake! The gut-shaking roar of that Mustang’s engine swamped the amphitheatre, and after nine hair-raising minutes of adrenaline-fueled, high-speed action, the audience was completely wrung out. Finished!
The headlining act (the Smashing Pumpkins) sounded weak, tinny, and insignificant in comparison — nothing but an afterthought.