Anthony Stern’s San Francisco, could be described as a city film and allied with Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice (France, 1930) and Walther Ruttman’s Berlin: die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a City, Germany, 1927). It could also be described as a film of visible and invisible journeys. It moves between day and night, the city centre and its outskirts, the shops and the counter-culture. The invisible journey travels between the two 1960s psychedelic capitals of the world, San Francisco and London; Stern shot the film in the city of its namesake but returned to edit it in London, firstly at the BFI Production Board’s facilities at Waterloo and then at the Arts Lab at Drury Lane.
The music that accompanies the film is occasionally synched to various San Franciscan musicians – march bands, street musicians, bands on stage – it was, however, recorded in London (returning us to the invisible journey) and was played by Pink Floyd. The track, ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, at first drives the film, the flickering and flashing images matching the music’s propulsive beat. Later, as the music calms, our attention is led more explicitly to the images. Now the rapid cutting decreases and the film concentrates on a house and the ritualistic occult activity contained therein. (The music and the long haired occultists very much place the film in the time of its making, but the distinctive editing techniques manage to partially dislodge it from this anchor.) These changes in music and image create a focus point and then, as the music returns triumphantly to its original pattern, a grand finale.
Another kind of commercial break
The use of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, came about through an intermix of relations between Stern, The Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, and filmmaker Peter Whitehead. All three had lived in Cambridge and all three had had painting exhibitions in the same upper room of the Lion and Lamb pub in the village of Milton. Stern later worked on several Whitehead films, including Tonite Lets All Make Love in London (1967) and, through his friendship with Barrett, succeeded in bringing the three together again in London. This lead to the use of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ in both Tonite and then in San Francisco.