"The Star Girl" (aka "Star Maiden") was sculpted by A. Stirling Calder for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair held in San Francisco in 1915. Ninety-five plaster replicas of it decorated one of the pavilions. This bronze copy was made recently for a bank building in San Francisco.
Audrey Munson was Calder's model for "The Star Girl." She also modeled for other figures at the Exposition by Calder and several other artists. She appeared in so many sculptures, paintings, mosaics, coins and other media that she became famous as "The Exposition Girl." She was twenty-four years old.
Before and after the Exposition, Munson modeled for many nude and semi-nude figures that appear on federal and state buildings, museums, cemeteries, memorials---anywhere architects place allegorical figures such as Peace, Abundance, Sorrow, Justice, etc. She was the model for Liberty on the half-dollar coin issued by the US Mint in 1916.
Beginning in 1915, she appeared in four silent films, playing the role of an artist's model. She was the first woman to appear nude in an American film.
Her brilliant career was brought to an end in 1919 by Dr. Walter Wilkins who murdered his wife because, he said, he was in love with Munson. At that time, Munson lived with her mother in a boarding house in Manhattan owned by Wilkins. Although Munson strongly denied any relationship with the doctor, she could get no modeling work after this.
She tried to continue her film career and to capitalize on her fame in various publicity stunts, but ended up supported by her mother. In 1922 she attempted suicide. In 1931 a court ordered her committed to a psychiatric facility where she lived the rest of her life. She died in 1996 at the age of 104..
Her image can still be seen on buildings and monuments throughout the United States.
This plaza is at 555 Market Street, San Francisco. It's outside a couple of skyscrapers that started out as headquarters for oil companies, and now rent out to all kinds of companies.
Stare at the center line and then sweep your eyes side to side. You may notice the paving looks like it's starting to fold up like the bellows of an accordion, or like a folding screen.
In reality it's perfectly flat. All the black pieces are the same size and shape, and so are all the white pieces. You can stand at the end of any row and see the same illusion.
The only reference to a similar visual illusion I could find is the "Missing Corner Cube." It is supposed to have three possible interpretations, but I could see only two.
Until the twentieth century, the western half of San Francisco remained sand dunes. Then it was covered with attached houses and apartment buildings. It is divided into two districts: the Richmond, north of Golden Gate Park; and the Sunset, south of the park.
Since these districts cover such a vast area, San Franciscans refer to the side closer to the center of the city as the Inner Richmond and the Inner Sunset, and to the side closer to the ocean as the Outer Richmond and the Outer Sunset.
Because both districts were built up at the same time, they look very similar. Most people, looking at a picture like this, couldn't tell you whether it is in the Richmond or the Sunset. This street happens to be in the Inner Sunset district.
Readers of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries know this is where Nicole grew up. If she were a real person, her family would live on a street like this, though I imagine they live in a house that has just one floor of living space above the street level rather than two, as these do.
Nicole talks about walking from home to visit the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. It is an easy walk from houses like these on the blocks along the south side of the park.
The tall buildings in the upper-right corner of the picture are on Russian Hill, more than a mile east of where I was standing in Cow Hollow. Yet they seem to rise up and loom over the houses close to me.
Because it's built on hills, San Francisco is full of view like this. About four years ago, standing in about the same spot, I looked north and saw an ocean liner on the Bay seeming to loom over the houses down the hill from me.
Trying to understand what makes view like this so uncanny, I found an article on the psychology of perception. It seems we have several ways of understanding the sizes of objects.
For instance, if I'm standing close to a house, it fills most of my visual field, so it looks big. If I stand far from it, it fill less of my visual field so it looks smaller, but I know the house is the same size as it was, so I correct for that mentally.
But when I know a distant object (tall building) is bigger than closer objects (houses), and closer objects are going down hill, and distant objects are going uphill, I have a lot more mental correcting to do. So, I guess, that makes the view more fun to look at.
Fortunately we do all this without having to think about it.
Back in 1995, the reviews for To Die For were full of phrases like "black comedy," "sharp satire," and "witty parody." I was spellbound by this movie, but I didn't find much to laugh about.
The plot is lifted from James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. A woman is frustrated by her boring or boorish husband so she seduces some fool and persuades him to kill the husband.
But, in the screenplay by Buck Henry, based on a story by Joyce Maynard, there is a variation. The wife isn't bored as in Cain's iconic novel; she is ambitious. She wants to be a television personality, and she's willing to start her career by doing the weather on a local cable channel.
When the film was released, critics focused on the satire of America's obsession with celebrity, and there is some of that. But, in my humble opinion, they overlooked the film's chilling rendition of the archetypal noir plot.
For one thing, the fool is a teenager played by Joaquin Phoenix with heartbreaking vulnerability. And two other teenagers, brilliantly played by Casey Affleck and Alison Folland also fall under the wife's spell. That makes the noir a bit darker.
But most of all there is Nicole Kidman's performance. She compels belief as her character progresses from cute "little lady," to driven career woman, to ruthless exploiter, to deluded psychopath. This role should be studied and taught as an example of finding the arc of a character.
To be fair, back in 1995, critics recognized the high quality of the acting and writing, and of the direction by Gus Van Sant. Perhaps they came away laughing, because a woman with career ambitions was not taken so seriously then. After #MeToo, we're not laughing any more.
If you don't look too hard at this building, you might think it is one of those left behind in the Presidio by the U. S. Army. But in fact it is part of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, completed in 2005.
This complex of buildings is home to Lucasfilm Ltd. though you would never know it unless you wander into the lobby full of Star Wars memorabilia or notice the bronze statue of Yoda tucked away under an arbor.
The name of the complex is taken from the building it replaced, the Letterman Army Hospital. Both with its name and its architecture this creative powerhouse flies under the radar on the former army base turned national park.
Readers of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries will recall that in Dark Exhibit Nicole calls her childhood friend, Irene Gonzalo, and finds out that an acquaintance from her college days now works for Industrial Light and Magic in the Presidio. This would be his workplace.
On a hill near the southern border of the Presidio stands a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy called Spire. It is about ninety feet tall, and can be seen reaching above the surrounding trees. It is a bundle of trunks from Monterey Cypress trees that reached the end of their lives.
Goldsworthy visited the Presidio in 2006 and found the forestry crew replacing cypress planted by the U. S. Army in the 1880s with seedlings. Struck by this moment, new trees replacing old, he created Spire to memorialize the old forest, which can be seen in the background.
In about ten years, the project will be complete. By then the newly planted trees in the foreground will have grown nearly as tall as Spire. This remnant of the old forest will disappear into the new one. It will become a secret sculpture, discoverable only by walking to it.
The spire Goldsworthy created will not change, but, since the growth of the seedlings was part of the concept, Spire is a kinetic sculpture. It's moving very slowly, but it is moving.
This picture is not crooked. The house is standing up straight. The street is steep. That's why the cars look funny. This is the northern part of Fillmore Street, descending into Cow Hollow on the way to the Marina District.
In a city built mostly on hills, parking gets interesting. In general, turn you wheels toward the curb when you parallel park. That means, turn them as if making a left turn if your car is pointed uphill; turn them as if making a right turn when your car is pointed downhill.
If you don't, the parking authority will write you a ticket. Putting the transmission in park and setting the emergency brake won't always keep a car from rolling down hill. If your wheels are turned to the curb, apparently the car will stop before it can get rolling. I've never tried it.
But on really steep streets like Fillmore, parallel parking with wheels turned to the curb won't do the job, so we park perpendicular to the curb. On the signs it actually says, "90-degree parking only."
This way you can be sure the car won't roll down the hill on its wheels, but if you open the passenger-side door suddenly, it feels as if the car is going to roll over on top of you.
You know something is wrong, right from the beginning.
When Louis meets his bride-to-be, fresh off the boat on a remote island, she doesn't look like the picture she sent. Julie says she sent a picture of her sister in case she changed her mind about getting married.
When he drives her to his stately home, he confesses he lied to her too. He doesn't work in a factory. He owns the factory. He didn't want her to marry him just for his money.
This is the opening of Waltz Into Darkness, the 1947 novel by Cornell Woolrich, published under his pseudonym, William Irish. It plays beautifully in Francois Truffaut's 1969 film adaptation, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.
With minimal changes to the novel's plot, the movie tells this classic noir tale of two people, doomed by their personal histories to play out a downward spiral of crime. The many lessons Truffaut learned from Alfred Hitchcock are on full display here.
The movie falls short of Woolrich's dark vision in only one way. Belmondo and Deneuve are just too attractive. In the novel, Louis is an aging bachelor, which helps justify his obsession with holding onto Julie. It's hard to imagine Belmondo being desperate to meet women.
In the novel, Julie falls in love with Louis, but cannot stop being the psychopath her circumstances in life have made her. It's hard to imagine Deneuve as anything but an angel.
I've written several times about The Presidio, a former army base turned into a National Park. I have featured the view of San Francisco Bay from the Main Post and The Walt Disney Family Museum.
I've been volunteering there to introduce people to the four sculptures in the park by Andy Goldsworthy. I've featured two of them here, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.
But I haven't written about the neighborhood along the southern border of the park, Presidio Heights. These hillside homes are highly desirable because they look over the treetops of the forest planted by the U. S. Army and have a view of San Francisco Bay.
But it's not all sweetness and light. You can't walk more than a block or two among the mansions without coming upon a scene like this. Indeed sometimes you'll find two houses in the same block with a tool shed and a dumpster parked in front.
You should not conclude from this that the neighborhood became run down and has to be rehabilitated. I doubt Presidio Heights has ever been anything but splendid.
No, the orgy of remodeling is driven by the boom times in the city's economy. People with big houses have big bucks to spend swapping out the oak flooring for cherry, adding a roof garden, and doubling the size of the kitchen.
No one seems to mind the cluttered streetscape. I wonder how they would react if someone parked an RV at the curb.
I visited San Francisco's Old Mint over the weekend for the annual SF History Days, a chance for every organization in town to pass out brochures about how they preserve the city's history.
Walking by, it's easy to think this building is just another old court house, but it's architecture and history are extraordinary. To begin with, it's not the oldest mint in town. The first one, built in 1854 for turning gold from the Gold Rush into coins, occupied a modest brick building which still stands on Commercial street.
This grand building replaced it in 1874, when the amount of money in the city was much greater. At a time when gold was used in everyday transactions, this was the U. S. Government's factory for stamping out coins. It once held one third of the Treasury's gold reserves.
Those front steps are steep and hard to climb, the harder for robbers to run in and out. The foundation is built of granite and concrete to prevent tunneling into the vaults. It has its own water supply, accessible in a central courtyard.
But my favorite feature is the gallery that graces the old counting room.
It looks like a decorative feature, but it had a practical purpose. Back when people brought gold dust, bullion or coins to the mint, this room was set up for weighing and counting the precious metal as it changed hands. Men with rifles were stationed on the gallery high above to discourage any attempts to rob the mint.
In 2003, the federal government sold the building to the City of San Francisco for one dollar. There's been talk of converting it to a museum of the city's history, but at the moment it opens only once a year for San Franciscans to gather and trade information on that subject. It seems a shame to have it sitting empty.
No Man of Her Own (1950), directed by William Leisen, starring Barbara Stanwyck, is a rare instance of a movie that is as good as the book its based on.
I enjoyed the book, I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich. The opening chapters set up a tall tale: a pregnant woman meets another pregnant woman on a train; the train crashes and one of them dies; the one who lives is mistaken for the one who died.
The rest of the book plays out this premise. The survivor reluctantly accepts the new identity thrust upon her because her own prospects as an unmarried mother are grim, whereas the other woman was a newlywed mother on her way to meet her husband's wealthy family.
Once past this unlikely premise, the suspense mounts steadily as the mother lives a lie for the sake of providing a better life for her child. It's a classic noir dilemma: doing a bad thing for a good reason.
The film makes the premise easier to believe thanks to Leisen's efficient visual style. The director's craft is evident throughout the rest of the film as well. He frequently lets Stanwyck's face tell the story in long close-ups.
If you go looking for this film, don't confuse it with another film of the same title made in 1932, starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Also, don't be mislead by the film's credits, which say it is based on the book by William Irish. Woolrich originally published I Married a Dead Man under a pseudonym.
Scanning the swap shelves in the laundry room, I couldn't help noticing the similarities of these titles and covers. Both books were first published by William Morrow in 2015.
The similarity of the titles is not an accident. It's a formula: (pronoun) She (cognition). We could make up many more: When She Remembered, All She Wanted, Why She Chose, etc.
Formulaic titles have become common. After The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became an international phenomenon we had The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl and many other "Girls," all of them in distress.
The similarity of the covers is also a formula. Both feature bare trees in a rural place. Therefore that have similar season, place, and mood.
Giving books similar titles and covers tells she reader, "If you liked that one, you'll like this one." That has always been true, but it's even more important now. When readers look for books online they can look at more titles and covers more quickly than in a physical bookstore.
I read somewhere that online shoppers takes three seconds to decide if the cover looks interesting and ten seconds to decide if the title looks promising. Only then will they read the description of the book.
If that's true, showing potential readers a unique cover with a unique title almost guarantees they will shrug and move on. Look-alikes are the way to sell books.