As I set off from the old San Francisco apartment where Miles and Irma Archer once lived at Leavenworth and Geary, the sun was still high in the western sky, and not a cloud nor wisp of haze marred the rare clarity of the summer evening. Walking east on Geary Street toward Union Square, I reasoned that the "Films in the Park" people would not be showing CITIZEN KANE in bright sunlight, even if it were nearly eight o'clock, and so seeing that Swig (once the The Blue Lamp) was unusually quiet, I stopped in for a Martini. With their hair tied back, reading glasses perched on their pretty noses, the stable of blonde bartendresses were still reading their Irish Times. They accomodated me charmingly.
In fact, I had two Martini's with them before pushing on through the dusk to the great traditional mercantile center of the City. Mounting the central steps, I was transfixed by the spectacle of a thirty foot high self-contained translucent screen, like a huge life raft, hawsered and upended at the Square's western end. The "Newsreel" from CITIZEN KANE had just begun. Nearest to me, three people were sitting on the edge of a massive flower bed, watching the picture.
Ah, well, I thought, at least the idea of showing Welles' masterpiece within mortar shot of the Examiner Building had been a noble effort.
I asked to sit down, and a couple dressed in touristy t-shirts and shorts welcomed me. [The other guy jumped on his bicycle and pedaled off, looking as if he had been accosted by a gay serial killer!] What had been showing the first hour? I asked.
My shivering hosts said that they didn't know; they had been attracted by a trailer for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S; now old newsreels were being shown. They hoped the main feature would soon begin. It was then that I noticed, "1898" was flashing upside down and backwards under flickering images of the Spanish American War. Adjusting my vision, I realized that on the other side of the screen, the vast space was entirely filled with nearly a thousand people intently, silently, watching the Year 1898, right side up.
Picking up a plastic chair, I excused myself and joined the crowd, who were sitting on similar chairs, or spread out on blankets, finishing the last nibbles and tipples of picnic dinners. The ornamental lamps along the sides of the Square were off, and the only distraction was a waterfall red neon sign advertising "Dancing," high on the wall of the Sir Francis Drake two blocks to the north. Even if I was near the front, at an extreme angle to the screen, the picture was sharp and clear, the sound from big portable speakers fine.
So sharp, clear and fine was the presentation that I was able to ascertain that an unobtrusive figure at the top of the frame in the second "El Rancho" scene was indeed probably Nat "King" Cole in his first screen appearance, and that the muscians at Kane's beach party were reasonably Cole and his trio.
By the end of the movie, a chilly breeze had sent those Martini's through me, and finding no other wellesnetters, I followed the crowd into Lefty O'Doul's (a place I haven't been in for over a decade) to take care of that.
My evening ended west on Geary at an almost empty Ha-Ra Club, one of a vanishing breed of old San Francisco bars, where I filled in Bartender "Cruel Karl" Kickery, a Film Noir buff, on the event. I played some cuts of Cole, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, in honor of the occasion, and followed up with "Body Heat" and "White Heat", my Jazz at the Movies Band CD's, which I have stocked on "Fireman Rick" Fugari's juke box at the Ha-Ra. Then, excusing myself of necessity again to the head, I somehow conjured up, in Wellsian style, a bachelorette party of nearly two dozen beautiful young women, feeling no pain, who were suddenly entertaining Karl, as if in spray of Champagne, when I emerged.
The girls liked the music, and before I left dutifully to to take my rest in order to fashion this report for you all, I kissed the bride-to-be, another blonde with flowers in her hair, a veritable Susan Alexander. I gave her requested advice on making a marriage work, and gifted her with links to wellesnet, epinions, and my phone number, in case her fears about the wedding were justified.
Good Old Charlie Kane might have approved , even if the Colorado Load no doubt would have helped.