Notes on the Port of St Francis is a 1951 impressionistic and culturally significant portrait of San Francisco, directed by experimental filmmaker Frank Stauffacher, based on an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, and narrated by Vincent Price. In celebration of the 240th anniversary of the founding of the city (that was named after Saint Francis) on June 29, 1776, here’s a look back at Vincent Price’s first foray in film narration.
Opening with text from Walter de la Mare’s poem, An Epitaph, this evocative 22-minute short film consists of eight short visual and aural notes which director Stauffacher uses to capture the soul of the city.
Making his debut film narration, Vincent Price gives an engagingly melancholic recitation of the words, which were drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1882 essay, A Modern Cosmopolis, about the author’s own recollections of his year long stay in the Californian city. Stevenson’s fascination with the city’s architecture, bustling commercial life, enduring fog, and the odd tremor are all visualised through Stauffacher’s experimental eye that avoids gloss to create an authentic, atmospheric portrait of the iconic city.
Stauffacher (1917-1955), was an important figure in 20th-century avant-garde film on the West Coast in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is best known for his Art in Cinema programmed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
He co-produced this film with the help of the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the California Historical Society. It is now preserved by the Pacific Film Archive at University of California, Berkeley and in 2013 was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry.
The director’s widow, landscape architect, Barbara Solomon, also donated a re-mastered print of the film to the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive.
• You can watch it in full by clicking on the photo collage (above), or by clicking here: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/208804