Media

'The Walk' by William Farley, review

Sam Whiting, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 2011

Photographer William Farley is drawn to images of low fog and glowing street lamps in the wee hours. As a diversion, he ended up making a film about his walks in a Candlestick Point park.

 

As a fine art photographer, William Farley's subject matter is the low fog at 3 a.m., lit by the street lamps of the deserted city.

A dark obsession like that needs a light diversion, so leaving his home in the Bayview district, Farley searched out a quiet park for walking. Over time, the diversion became a bigger obsession than the nocturnal obsession he needed diverting from.

The ensuing film, "The Walk," which will be premiered Oct. 8 and 11 at the Mill Valley Film Festival, is mesmerizing in that the viewer never knows where he is, other than on a dirt road that bends around an oak tree on a lake somewhere. The shifting focus from wide to narrow gives it the mood of a nature film Robert Redford might narrate.

So it comes as a great surprise when Farley, 68, leaves his upstairs flat and drives there, taking a route through a knot of freeway interchange curlicues that could never be retraced. Eventually he ends up on a spit of bayfront in between the parking lot at Candlestick Park and the roar of Highway 101, neither of which can be seen or heard in the film.

"This walk," he says, while parking on the shoulder in his Honda hybrid with the word "Breathe" taped to the dash, "is larger than my neurosis."

The entire film was shot here at the ignored western end of the Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, where a weathered sign announces, "Last Port Picnic Area."

"What is compelling for me is what the elements did to shape the contour of this place," Farley says, by now out on the dirt footpath, making his usual 20-minute loop. There is a rotting wooden pier and a fitness course that has been equally neglected. The advertised picnic tables are uninviting, bordered as they are on two sides by high wooden baffles against the winds that come barreling through the gap in the mountains.

"It's very rugged and it's been totally shaped like a piece of sculpture from the wind and the rain and the ocean breezes and the fog." After walking it two or three days a week for a year, Farley brought a pocket camera out "just to shoot stills with no purpose," he says. But just like the walk, the purpose found him, so he brought his Panasonic HD video camera and a tripod.

"I felt like I owed this place something. I had a lot of gratitude," he says, and by the time he'd finished paying it back he had 25 hours of footage. He was still waking up at 3 a.m. But it is with the first line of a poem having to do with his walks.

"It feels like I've had a double cappuccino," he says. "I can't get back to sleep so I get up and I write."

Five of these free-verse poems are strung together to comprise the dialogue read in the soothing timbre of his buddy, the playwright and solo performer John O'Keefe. If Farley himself had narrated, half the words would be unintelligible because he retains a thick Boston brogue 40 years after he arrived to get his MFA in sculpture at CCAC in Oakland.

He doesn't appear in the film and neither does anybody else, not even the windsurfers whipping back and forth. The footage is all shorebirds and nature except for the rotting man-made pier that gives the place its name. Last Port sounds like something from a murder mystery and Farley evokes a detective in the Karl Malden style when he's out walking around in his brimmed felt hat.

True, he has been at the scene of murder, but that was out his door on the industrial thoroughfare Oakdale Avenue. Also, out his door is where he found his editor. To be specific she backed into his blue hybrid, which looks like a bumper car, while it was parked in front.

The driver was a stranger named Hyeyon Moon, who turned out to be an intern at the photo studio across the street. Moon was honest enough to ring his buzzer, and Farley returned the honesty by asking her to edit the film. A year later, it was finished, 54 scenes each with a distinct ambient sound designed by Jim McKee of Earwax Productions.

This is the 21st film for Farley, who has had two features and one documentary screened at Sundance.

A film always tells him how long it wants to be and "The Walk" did its part. It told him it wants to be 10 minutes.

"The Walk": William Farley's film will be shown Oct. 8, 1:30 p.m. at CineArts@Sequoia, and Oct. 11, 9:15 p.m. at Rafael Film Center. www.mvff.com, (877) 874-6833.

E-mail Sam Whiting at swhiting@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

For more information about William Farley's fog photos, see www.williamfarleyphotos.com