Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Playland at the Beach and The Lady From Shanghai

In March, the Balboa Theater had a one night screening of Playland at the Beach. That screening was the world premiere. The screening sold out so the Balboa added some more screening at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Those screenings old out so they kept adding more screening.

I missed all the screenings due to SFIAAFF or travel. I figured I missed the film and would have to see on KQED or somewhere else on TV. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Balboa has programmed Playland at the Beach for a week starting April 23. Unfortunately, that week coincides with the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival. I still not be able to watch the film at the Balboa but it deserves a mention in a blog about a cinephile in San Francisco.

Here is the synopsis from the film's official website.

San Francisco’s now-extinct Playland at the Beach, an amusement park located next to Ocean Beach, was established in the 1880s as a collection of amusement rides and concessions all separately owned by various concessionaires. In 1923, The Whitney's opened their first concession, soon followed by additional concessions. They eventually purchased the 10-acres of land on which Playland sat, and the land adjacent to Playland, including the Cliff House. After George Whitney's death in 1958, and years of decline, the land was purchased in 1971, and Playland was dismantled in 1972 for condominium development.

More than three decades later, Tom Wyrsch has resurrected the city’s lost treasure in his new documentary, the first and only documentary ever made about Playland at the Beach. For those who enjoyed Playland as a child, Laffing Sal, the Fun House, the Carousel, the Big Dipper, the Diving Bell, Dark Mystery, Limbo, and Fun-tier Town will bring back fond childhood memories. For those who have only heard stories about Playland, the documentary will help bring it to life.

With 12 interviews, almost 20 minutes of archival footage, 187 photographs and original music. (60 minutes)

I moved to San Francisco 20 years after Playland closed down. They used have a lot of the arcade games (including Laffing Sal) at the Cliff House. They were still functioning too. Later they moved it to Fisherman's Wharf. I've visited both sites although it been 4 or 5 years since I was last there. For more information, visit the Musée Méchanique website. I'm not sure if this is the official website or if this one is.


As I recall, the end of The Lady From Shanghai (1947) starring and directed by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth (married to Welles at the time) was filmed at Playland. As if it were planned, the Castro Theater is screening The Lady From Shanghai on April 21. Film director Peter Bogdanovich will be introduce the film. The screening is in conjunction with the TCM Classic Film Festival. Admission is free; download your free ticket at this website.

When I read that the Great Star was reopening, I thought that it was the theater in which Orson Welles hides among the crowd during a performance of Chinese opera. According to IMDB, the scenes were shot at the Mandarin Theater. The Mandarin was located at 1021 Grant Avenue which is literally around the corner from the Great Star.

Another item about The Lady From Shanghai is that Chinese director Kar Wai Wong (Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, In the Mood for Love) is filming a remake.

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