Tenderloin Blues (1987)

Tenderloin Blues (1987) title card

director Chuck Hudina
viewed: 10/13/2014

Fandor offers a lot of things you won’t find on Netflix or Hulu.  I am not entirely sure about how they select what they select, how they get particular pieces of content, but they feature a number of shorter, non-feature length films and it’s led to a couple of interesting discoveries for me already.

Tenderloin Blues is a shot on video documentary by Chuck Hudina.  This is a film that doesn’t even have a spot on imdb.com, which is odd, really, since imdb does cover video and shorts.  In fact, it’s obscure enough to really not have much available information about it at all.

It features interviews with a variety of street people in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, snapshots from 1987 or 1986, whenever it was captured.  Being a longtime San Francisco resident, this is of particular interest to me.  I moved here not more than four years after this film would have been shot and so the familiarity with the neighborhood makes it very recognizable.  As much as has changed is almost as much as hasn’t changed in that world today, if you were to go an try to find some similar folks to meet and talk with.

The neighborhood doesn’t feature as many strip clubs as it did back in the 1980’s, not that I think there were ever that many.

Another thought that struck me, the type of thought that occasionally strikes me with certain films: that most of the people caught in this movie are probably long dead.

The 1980’s was the onset of the modern perspective on homelessness.  I know that many people attribute the huge flux of homeless on the Reagan gubernatorial administration, having shut down a lot of the bigger mental health facilities that housed a lot of folks who were forced out onto the street.  It’s probably a combiniation of the growth of the population and some tipping point that moved over into referring to people as “homeless” rather than “bums” or “hobos”.  But this snapshot is right from that era.

Diane Feinstein is mayor at the time.  One of the people spoken with, a woman with brain damage and a speech impediment actually speaks very eloquently about the problems that her mayorship had at the time and how the problem of homelessness was not a city problem but a federal one.  Another man, a Vietnam vet, speaks very positively and hopefully about the Tenderloin, the possibility for the neighborhood to evolve and become a community.

Other folks are super-destitute, barely conscious.

He also speaks with a couple transvestites, one who claims to work tricks.

The video quality is pretty bad.  Technology of the time.  And it’s not edited with the greatest of flair.  Some interviews just kind of taper off into nothing.

But it’s a fascinating picture of a time and place in an ever-evolving city.  It’s interesting because you probably could find a Skid Row in any major city at the time and find a lot of similar scenes.  I think I’ve actually watched a short film on New York Skid Row denizen from the 1970’s.  I’ve also seen photographs from the San Francisco Chronicle documenting the “real” Skid Row in town from an earlier time (somewhere South of Market that isn’t at all the same anymore).  So there is this aspect of something that is everywhere but at the same time is unique to the City.

Really quite interesting, especially as an image of a city in constant flux, an image of a time come and gone.

He also gets some street musicians to add additional flavor and character to this portrait, some quite talented.  Even gets the name of the film from it.

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