Over the past 150 years, San Francisco had been the base of operations for Eadweard Muybridge and Philo T. Farnsworth—inventors of the zoopraxiscope and television, respectively—as well as filmmakers as well-known as George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, and as lesser-known as avant-garde legend Bruce Conner. Gary Leva's documentary Fog City Mavericks tries to encompass them all, making a case for the city as a welcoming place for innovation and art. But while his argument is hard to dispute, the way Leva makes it is often confounding.
Working non-chronologically, Leva starts with Muybridge's early experiments in high-speed photography, then jumps ahead to the founding of Lucas and Coppola's idealistic filmmaking collective American Zoetrope. From there, Fog City Mavericks keeps returning to the Zoetrope crew, while zigzagging around to pick up anecdotes about Charles Chaplin's brief stint in San Francisco, as well as stories from the careers of filmmakers as diverse as producer Saul Zaentz and directors Caroll Ballard, Philip Kaufman, Clint Eastwood, and—ahem—Chris Columbus.
The presence of Columbus in any documentary with the word "maverick" in the title should be cause for concern, as should Leva spending 10 minutes on the making of Mrs. Doubtfire, while consigning a bunch of other Bay Area legends to a too-short "also" montage at the end, and ignoring the contributions of the city's gay community altogether. Leva strains to tie it all together, mostly via a chipper Peter Coyote narration that sounds like it was recorded for the San Francisco tourism board. Still, while Fog City Mavericks is far too uncritical and mainstream-minded, his interviewees' anecdotes are interesting, and a line can undeniably be drawn from Muybridge to the experimenters at Skywalker Ranch and Pixar Animation. And there's something romantic about Coppola's vision of a San Francisco filmmaking community where artists "play together like children, making magic."
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