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FROM SAN FRANCISCO

High Society: There are three good reasons why they chose the Castro Theatre to show the newly restored version of the classic Hitchcock thriller Vertigo. The cinema itself is an exquisite example of retro kitsch, complete with an organist who descends into the orchestra pit as the music reaches its crescendo and the lights dim. The audience thrills and the effect is only slightly spoiled by the fact that the organist apparently suffers from night blindness, and spends the first 10 minutes of the movie groping and inching his way off the stage and back up the steps to the safety of the foyer.

Secondly, the Castro is the perfect venue because it is the heart of the gay district. At her appearance for the premiere Kim Novak's fans turned out sporting freshly shaved legs and Fifties high heels crowned with blonde wigs swept into the signature Novak style as a tribute. "I love all [Hitchcock's] blondes," one man gushed to the cameras.

Thirdly, this is San Francisco and the setting for Hitchcock's story of love, madness and murder. What better place to set a thriller featuring a protagonist with a fear of heights than a city where there are streets so steep they have to be made one-way - downhill - because most cars would never make it to the top. San Franciscans have gone giddy over Vertigo, packing out the Castro cinema on successive nights and causing the management to extend the run for an extra week.

And it's not just the Castro which is cashing in on Vertigo fever. Many of the locations in the film really existed and people are searching them out in droves. First step is Mission Dolores, my neighbourhood. In the movie, Jimmie Stewart's girlfriend refers to the Mission district as "Skid Row". I prefer the tag "the New Bohemia", a reference to the abundance of radical bookshops, cafes and the area's multicultural spirit. The church and graveyard have been there since 1776, but an attendant told me that Carlotta's tombstone, which was kept for a few years after filming, was removed on the orders of the bishop because busloads of celebrity tourists "trampled the resting places of the faithful" to get to it. Now they're back.

The winning Vertigo venue, though, is the Essex Supper Club in North Beach. That's where Scottie (Jimmie Stewart) first spots Novak's flaky socialite Madeleine. The original restaurant, Ernie's, closed last year. This fall the new owners opened The Essex Supper Club, one of a wave of post-war dinner-dance clubs currently in vogue. The very antithesis of California casual, in the supper clubs cocktail dresses are de rigueur. "Even Californians are tired of dressing down," remarked the barman. Already popular among thirtysomethings fleeing the ear-splitting downtown clubs in search of soothing jazz and somewhere to sit, the Essex is packed even on weekdays and the membership list is closed. Of the fortuitous timing of Vertigo's re-release, which sent his club's popularity rating into the stratosphere, the manager pronounced himself: "dizzy with pleasure".

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