The Trouble with Hitch 

Retracing Alfred Hitchcock's celluloid footprints -- but not in the East Bay.

A few years ago, when they both worked for an economic consultancy in Emeryville, Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal discovered their mutual interests in Bay Area geography and the films of Alfred Hitchcock -- or, more importantly, Bay Area geography in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Kraft, who is adept at digging through library archives, and Leventhal, who enjoys taking photographs, considered ways to combine their shared curiosities and compatible skills; perhaps, they figured, with a map or poster highlighting local Hitchcock locations.

But as they settled into the routines of movie-watching and other time-consuming forms of detective work, materials accrued and the project swelled. "We both got so obsessed -- maybe to the point that Hitchcock would be proud of us," Leventhal recalls. What resulted was a nearly three-hundred-page book, the copiously detailed and photo-laden Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco.

The authors, who discuss the book with a slide show at the Oakland Museum on Thursday, April 10 (1 p.m.), admit a "broad definition" of their purview: "If a location is a day trip away from San Francisco," they write, "it is eligible for inclusion." This could seem like cheating to anyone who doesn't live here, but to locals it is the prerogative of regional pride. The expansion of boundaries is a very Bay Area conceit.

And it raises the uncomfortable question of why, given his traveler's appetite, the director so neglected the East Bay, which in many ways seems like a fine setting for elaborate and photogenic melodramas of human compulsion. "There are a few East Bay references in Hitchcock's films," Kraft explains. "But they're just references. Not even settings."

"To a certain degree the East Bay was kind of the poor sister to San Francisco, culturally," Leventhal says. "You could say that San Francisco snobbery was rubbing off on him. But more likely it just didn't work in any of his films. After all, he lived in Santa Cruz, but didn't shoot there either."

Kraft and Leventhal describe themselves as East Bay guys, and take no umbrage from the master's apparent snub. Besides, to stake a proprietary claim in a great Hitchcock film can be dubious. Should we really be grateful to this visual fetishist, with his epicurean tastes and sadistic tendencies, for encoding an American lore of ethereal paranoia with the icons of Bay Area geography? Consider what must be something of a wrangle for the Convention and Visitors Bureau: Hitchcock exalted the romance of the Golden Gate Bridge with a view of its underside, where, cinematically, he consummated an obsessive courtship by means of a staged suicide. This was the first of several damp and horrible epiphanies James Stewart earned by spiraling around the city's streets and through its dizzying hills in Vertigo, that precipitous high tower of Bay Area movies. There was also, among others, the sinister corrosion of a quaintly wholesome small town in Shadow of a Doubt's Santa Rosa, and the stylized Sonoma coast apocalypse of The Birds. Those films are specific to Hitchcock's vision, but rarely do they betray the places they inhabit. The environments, however unnerving, always seem uncannily accurate. As Kraft puts it, "The reason it's so interesting to live here is the same reason he loved to film here. It's got everything." Call 510-238-2200 or visit www.museumca.org for more information.

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