San Francisco has a long and diverse film history, yet most roads in Fog City Mavericks seem to lead to either the Skywalker Ranch or Pixar Studios. The city in Gary Leva’s relentlessly reverential documentary on Bay Area filmmaking is painted not just as a mellow artists’ enclave, but also as the epitome of artistic independence in schematic opposition to the commercialized jungle of Los Angeles. Though underrated artists such as Philip Kaufman and Carroll Ballard are given room to recount their experiences as American cinema came of age in the 1970s, the bulk of the film focuses predictably on Movie Brat luminaries Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, whose American Zoetrope venture is hailed as the direct descendant of the United Artists Studio founded by Griffith and Chaplin. Indeed, the dissolve from the Little Tramp to Luke Skywalker’s two robotic sidekicks is but one of many associations that trade inquiry for glib celebration: No Easy Riders, Raging Bulls downfall here, just a steady ascension best illustrated by a match cut suturing the beards of pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge and the Star Wars impresario. The main problem with Fog City Mavericks isn’t so much that it omits many the most memorable SF-set pictures (Vertigo, Point Blank, Petulia) in favor of a few Finding Nemo sketches, but that it never bothers to ask about the significance of the cultural upheavals which brought this motley crew of artists together in the first place. (Even the film’s geography is dubious: Carmel staple Clint Eastwood as a “Bay Area director”?) Snazzily made and brimming with clips and (oft-repeated) anecdotes, the film is a mild documentary but an illustrative chronicle of self-congratulation gone astray. When “maverick” is thrown around this cheaply, it’s just a step for somebody to mount an auteurist case for Chris Columbus.
The slick transfer reproduces the many film clips pleasingly, though San Francisco itself is flatly lit. The sound is fine during interviews but comes up short when showcasing sequences from Apocalypse Now or The Black Stallion.
Three brief ("brief" as in one-minute long) promos presented by Richard Ropper are the only extras, which, given the possibility of extended footage of Robin Williams pulling out his repertoire of Darth Vader voices, may be a blessing in disguise.
It's difficult to see the real brilliance of the Bay Area film scene through this self-congratulatory Fog.