Five Moments on Market Street, 1905-2006

Melinda Stone April 14, 2006

1. A Trip Down Market Street, 1905

I first saw this remarkable film at the Exploratorium about seven years ago. I remember the chills I felt as I gazed into San Francisco’s past — at the crazy hustle and bustle of Market Street in 1905. After the film was over, I remember saying to Liz Keim, Exploratorium’s film director, that we had to do a centennial celebration of this film. Liz looked at me and said, "You are absolutely right." Our partnership was born at that moment. No one knows for sure who shot the 1905 film or even if it was shot in 1905. We state in all our publicity that Jack Kuttner shot the film, but we don’t know for certain. Michael Lampen, historian at Grace Cathedral, unearthed through interviews that Jack Kuttner was the creator — and since no one else had been mentioned, we credited him. We thought that by crediting a person, someone might more readily come forward to give us more information about the true date and maker of the film. Recently, David Kiehn, an independent film historian, discovered some 1906 advertisements for the Miles Bros. Film Company that herald a "Trip Down Market Street" film that was shot just days before the earthquake and fire. Could the 1905 film really be from 1906? Are the ads declaring truth or creating hype to sell some movies?

2. Tripping down Market July 24, 2005

Two thousand and five snuck up on Liz and I. There was lots of work to be done: working with Parks and Rec to secure the new park in front of the Ferry Building for our outdoor screening on September 24, negotiating with MUNI, writing grants, meeting with funders, creating a call for proposals beckoning filmmakers to make other trips down Market, locating more archival films to show the grand boulevard throughout the past century, and working with Beth Custer to score music for both the 1905 and 2005 Trips. It took many phone calls to MUNI to find the hearty, open-minded, artistic souls who ended up enthusiastically supporting our project and granting us use of an open-air trolley car for our 2005 shoot, which took place on July 24.

3. Making history

The centennial film shoot, which consisted of Sprague Anderson operating a 35mm hand-crank camera and me shooting with an HDV camera, went off without a hitch. We chose to use both the old and the new technology for a couple of reasons. First, we thought it would be nice to use the same technology, the 35mm camera, that was used to shoot the 1905 film, but we also thought we should use the most advanced technology of our time because that is what they were doing in 1905. We couldn’t decide in the end and decided to shoot with both. I think the high definition color footage looks amazing, however no one knows for sure how long the digital image will last. We wanted to make sure that audiences 100 years from now could gaze with wonder at both the 1905 and the 2005 films, and knowing that black-and-white 35mm is the known champion when it comes to longevity, we chose to shoot with both formats. The night of the outdoor screening, our 2005 Trip starts with the HD footage, switches to 35 for the bulk of the journey and then ends with HD footage. On our DVD, released at the end of April, there is this amazing special feature that allows you to see the 1905 film, both the HD and 35mm film footage from 2005, and a post-earthquake trip down Market all on the same screen. The comparison is mind-blowing.

4. We were quite a spectacle

While we were shooting this footage, I imagine that the selected filmmakers who were commissioned to make films about Market Street for the outdoor screening were busy with their creations. The commissioned filmmakers were Tomonari Nishikawa, Kerry Laitala, Rachel Manera, Ken Paul Rosenthal, and Katherin McInnis. Tomonari Nishikawa’s film can be seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival. All of the films and videos made by these filmmakers will be included on our DVD. (The DVD is available through the Exploratorium’s store and Microcinema International.)

5. We were blessed with a warm San Francisco night on September 24, 2005

We had an incredible crew on hand to assist with set up, and within hours we had transformed the city’s new grassy park across the street from the Ferry Building into an outdoor theater. The backdrop of the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building were divine — and of course the trolleys that passed behind the screen made for dramatic moments that could not have been scripted with more finesse. Some say there were 3,000 people in attendance. Other more conservative estimates put the number at 1,000. We will never know for certain. All I know is that the folks who were there enjoyed themselves and were part of a one-of-a-kind historical moment.*

*I want to thank all the folks who made the event possible. Without the generous support of our funders — Gerbode Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission and the University of San Francisco — this event and subsequent DVD would not have been possible.

Melinda Stone, Ph.D., is director of film studies at the University of San Francisco. Her DVDs, "The California Tour" and "A Trip Down Market 1905/2005" are available through Microcinema International.

  • Nov 3, 2011

    Essential SF: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

    With riveting characters, cascading revelations and momentous breakthroughs, Epstein and Friedman’s work paved the way for contemporary documentary practice.

  • Nov 2, 2011

    Essential SF: Susan Gerhard

    Susan Gerhard talks copy, critics and the 'there' we have here.

  • Oct 31, 2011

    Essential SF: Karen Larsen

    Universally warm sentiment is attached to the Bay Area's hardest working indie/art film publicist.

  • Oct 28, 2011

    Joshua Moore, on Location

    Filmmaker and programmer Moore talks process, offers perspective on his debut feature and Cinema by the Bay opener, ‘I Think It’s Raining.’

  • Oct 26, 2011

    Essential SF: Canyon Cinema

    For 50 years, Canyon Cinema has provided crucial support for a fertile avant-garde film scene.

  • Oct 24, 2011

    Signs of the Times

    Director Mina T. Son talks about the creation of ‘Making Noise in Silence,’ screening the United Nations Association Film Festival this week.

  • Oct 21, 2011

    In Orbit with ‘An Injury to One’

    Accompanied by a program of solar system shorts, Travis Wilkerson’s 2003 look at ruthless union-busting and the rise and fall of Butte, Montana, offers eerie resonance.

  • Oct 20, 2011

    Children’s Film Festival Moves in and out of Shadows

    Without marketing tie-ins, plastic toys or corn-syrup confections, a children’s film festival brings energy to the screen.