Bullitt, the movie with Steve McQueen features a scene often seen as the mother of filmic car chases. Certainly, cars speeding at full force of their engines, as an ambivalent proxy for escape and death, industrial perfection and doomed individual freedom are a token of many classic film noirs. There are memorable ones in Fritz Lang, Becker, Jules Dassin, Melville, to name but a few. Among what sets Bullitt’s chase apart from the preceding ones and makes it so influential for subsequent directors (and striking for us), is certainly the sense of time and location it is embued with. It was filmed in San Francisco and close surroundings in the spring of 1968.
Covering so much space through its streets, the movie maps in effect San Francisco. But of course, and this is one of the sources for its fascination now, it is a San Francisco which does no longer exist. Mapping the film, in return, is akin to a cartography of myths, of places which are essentially, or have become mostly, imaginary.
The movie is based on Mute Witness, the 1963 novel by Crime Fiction author Robert L. Pike (Robert Lloyd Fish).