The Cliff House and Sutro Heights - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

For my 12th birthday, I was treated to a brunch at the Cliff House.  It was special and beautiful and even though I considered my childhood over by the age of five, I was convinced that no one else would consider me a kid in the sixth grade!  The attractions of the Cliff House and Playland at the Beach were always rooted in the past, though.  Not my past, the long ago past.  The Fun House and Laughing Sal and the Giant Slide were slipping away from me at a time I thought they would go on forever.

Director Tom Wyrsch's new film on The Cliff House and The Sutro Heights captures that sense of "Look close feel everything, this world will be gone before you know it."  The clever title cards remind us that we're not in the nineteenth or twentieth century.  Unfortunately for the first half of the feature two park rangers give us the facts as if we were on a guided tour. Then, suddenly, we arrive at 1903 when we see a batch of adorable children running towards the sea.  One of my ghostly ancestors would have been about seven that year: is she one of the sea sprites reveling in the sun and sea and sand?

The Cliff House was fated to burn down at least twice.  It looked great, but it was made of wood.  The Sutro Baths fire of 1966 was sneakier: arson was rumored.  But The Baths, unlike The Cliff House, were never resurrected.  You can see them in their incarnation as an ice rink in the 1958 film noir "The Line Up", along with the newly built and equally doomed Embarcadero Freeway.

The Cliff House was never just a place to eat.  It was an entrance to a wonderland of nature.  You could soak up the sun from your table, or watch storms splash against the picture windows, or pay a visit to the Musee Mechanique and time travel with toys and games.  "The Cliff House and Sutro Heights" opens at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco on April 12.  It is not a perfect film, although there are many perfect moments in it.  It's well worth a look before you visit the real thing.

© 2013 -  Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 04/10/13
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