Volume 42 Number 31

Children of the (pop)corn

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Must be summer — every movie I want to see in the next three months is either a sequel, a superhero movie, or a superhero movie sequel. Granted, I’m girly enough to want to see Sex and the City (May 30), snarky enough to eagerly anticipate M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (June 13), and arty enough to get excited about Werner Herzog’s Antarctica doc Encounters at the End of the World (June 27). But extra-butter cinema is the season’s stock in trade, and if you can’t squeal like a teenage boy over the following, you might as well go live in a cave till fall. All dates subject to change.

Iron Man (May 2) He’s smart, rich, and glamorous, with a built-in Black Sabbath theme song. What’s not to love? Robert Downey Jr. is an inspired choice to play Marvel’s billionaire inventor, and if the movie is half as good as the trailer suggests, Iron Man‘s gonna have theaters full of believers even before the Stan Lee cameo.

Speed Racer (May 9) Normally I don’t care for kid’s movies, but if those wacky Wachowski brothers are involved, I’m curious. Burning question, though: is Chim Chim gonna get the crucial role he deserves?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22) If you’re not excited about this movie, you might want to seek professional help.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13) Will the sour taste of Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) be erased by this new take, featuring Edward Norton as the big green guy? Though Internet snipers have fussed over the film’s über-emo poster, Marvel’s other summer beefcake still looks intriguing — and it’s hard to deny the inherent radness of "Hulk smash!"

Hancock (July 2) I didn’t like I Am Legend. Win me back, Will Smith.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11) Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative directors working today. Ron Perlman is a cool cat no matter how many prosthetics he happens to be wearing. The first movie (2004) ruled. How can Hellboy II miss?

The Dark Knight (July 18) Heath Ledger’s death cast an instant pall over this one — but Batman was always a melancholy fellow, and Christopher Nolan’s first Caped Crusader flick (2005) still rules as one of the best comic book adaptations ever. Plus, in this sequel: no Katie Holmes!

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25) I’d pretty much follow Fox Mulder anywhere, even to a movie that arrives way, way past the X-Files sell-by date.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Aug 1) I actually liked the first two movies. I even liked that spin-off prequel, or whatever it was, with the Rock. I just like mummies, OK? Anyway, this one is set in China and co-stars Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and the ever-cool Anthony Wong, in addition to Brendan Fraser, that annoying British guy, and an inevitable army of CG beasties.

Tropic Thunder (Aug 15) To borrow a line from The X-Files, I want to believe this Hollywood spoof–war movie mélange from Ben Stiller and company will make me laugh my ass off.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Aug 15) George Lucas finally does away with those pesky flesh-and-blood actors once and for all in this animated series entry, about which little is known other than when (a long time ago) and where (a galaxy far, far away) it takes place.

Loss leader

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The head of a team of HIV researchers (Lauren Grace) tries to safeguard what may be a breakthrough — a concoction they have been testing on monkeys seems, albeit mysteriously, to inhibit transmission of the virus in The Monkey Room. Meanwhile, a fallen fellow researcher turned funding hatchet man (a slickly imposing Robert Parsons) acts as proverbial wolf at the door. Time and money are running out; desperate measures must be taken.

Unfortunately, despite sharp performances by director Mark Routhier’s cast (which includes Jessica Kitchens and Kevin Rolston), the nature and impact of these measures seem artificially flavored in Magic Theater’s world premiere of The Monkey Room. This is a little surprising, given that Monkey Room playwright Kevin Fisher’s background in epidemiology and HIV diagnosis research make him something of an insider. If Fisher’s laboratory drama doesn’t go very far, it has less to do with the play’s familiarity with the subject — including, one assumes, the sexual and bureaucratic politics of the lab, which here get respectively physical and fiscal. In its lightly comic mode, the play credibly suggests how such politics (especially the latter) push the pace of research, often unreasonably and recklessly. But this is no great revelation.

INKBOAT STRIKES A CREATIVE C(H)ORD


The opening notes of inkBoat’s c(H)ord were struck forcefully by a tall man with a shorn head and a microphone (Sten Rudstrøm): "Every picture requires a frame," he intoned, pointing to the stage. "Tonight, this is your frame. But I’m not here to explain things," he continued. "This is a warning. At one time this place was ruled by dinosaurs. Now all we have is birds. Get out. Get out while you still have a chance."

Of course, it’s a little late for that. But the sense of life’s transitory, muddled magic was distilled so wonderfully here that for a time we glimpsed an aboriginal point of entry: when the first humans were a loose-knit tribe of sensuous, wondering wanderers arriving from nowhere.

In this ambitious new work, which enjoyed its world premiere April 24-26 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a low wooden mound bathed in ochre light functioned as a perch and refuge to these wanderers, an appropriately international cast of excellent modern dancers. The costumes shared a uniform tone while suggesting a mishmash of cultures and periods, a feeling underscored by the polyglot dialogue that came in snatches, whispers, wails, shrieks, and songs alternately delicate and boisterous. The dynamic vocabulary of movement on display, the pantomime, the raucous drum line, the insubstantial yet gracefully human shadows against the wall, the outbursts of absurdist humor and surrealist provocation, the sudden solo flights and incandescent duets — all of these added up to a deft, often exhilarating continuation of inkBoat founder and choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga’s hybrid, internationally collaborative explorations over the past decade.

MONKEY ROOM

Wed/30–Sat/3, 8 p.m.; Sun/4, 2:30 and 7 p.m., $20–$45

Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Marina and Buchanan, SF

(415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

Classical, remixed

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Ten world premieres in three days is a huge deal, even for a troupe as accomplished as the San Francisco Ballet. Even so, it was disappointing that the choreographic choices for the New Works Festivalthe culmination of a season-long celebration of SFB’s 75th anniversary — were, for the most part, so extraordinarily conservative. Artistic director Helgi Tomasson has been far more adventurous in the past in challenging audiences and dancers alike. Despite these limitations, the performances were a festive end to an important company milestone. That four of the 10 anointed choreographers were homegrown added a special luster. Generally, ballet companies are not known for fostering in-house talent; this one does. Val Caniparoli, Julia Adam, and Yuri Possokhov, who all have international careers now, started choreographing while still dancing with the company. Margaret Jenkins, who taught modern dance at SFB for years, could not be farther removed from being a ballet choreographer. Hers was Tomasson’s single most daring commission.

Even within the conventions of the ballet medium, the four pieces were worlds apart. Ballet, after all, is a language that can be modulated and used for poetic, dramatic, humorous, and narrative purposes, just like English or French. Though not totally successful — due to issues of timing and some musical disconnects — the originality of the concept and of its realization made Adam’s A rose by any other name the festival’s winner for me. A sly yet ever-so-elegant take on the apogee of 19th-century classicism, The Sleeping Beauty, A rose tweaked conventions thoughtfully and charmingly.

Jenkins’ Thread translated her free-flowing approach to movement onto a ballet company. She explored the myth of Ariadne, who spun a thread to keep her lover Theseus safe from the Minotaur and was later betrayed by him. Though Jenkins kept the story on the metaphoric level, using language both balletic and individualized, it was as clear a narrative as she has worked with in a long time. Caniparoli’s enthusiastically acclaimed portrait of repressed womanhood in Ibsen’s House appealed because of his proven ability to create easily flowing phrases, but his character delineations needed to be much sharper. SFB resident choreographer Possokhov’s fine Fusion put the spotlight on styles of male dancing and included three sparkling pas de deux. There would be many more of them to come in the following week.

SAN FRANCISCO BALLET’S "NEW WORKS FESTIVAL"

Through May 6

See Web site for schedule, $20–$265

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF

(415) 553-4655, www.sfballet.org

Cover me

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Cover albums — critics stuck on music-maker-as-auteur theories, singer-songwriter elitists, and band-as-prime-mover rockists have long believed them the easy way out. Cat Power has succumbed twice, Dirty Projectors once, Scarlett Johansson completely surrendered to the mix of her forthcoming Tom Waits covers long-player — only to be upstaged by the production of TV on the Radio’s David Sitek. Still, despite the presence of so many tuneless, karaoke-jacked wannabes ready to grab their 15 minutes, even the talented are tempted to linger in the shadows of giants, bringing their own ideas and sound to a few of the many great, perhaps forgotten, songs and stories swirling in the ether. Why look down on the cover disc?

San Francisco songsmith Andy Cabic, who plays Great American Music Hall with his band Vetiver on May 6 for the first time since August, dusts his shoulders of such snobbery. "I don’t know why there would be a critical bias against cover records," he opines outside Sacramento at the Hanger studio where he’s three days into the next Vetiver album of original numbers. "Maybe a critic should try to do a covers record and see how good it comes out before they say there’s something wrong with it."

Cabic’s not ashamed to point out that "throwback is all over" Vetiver’s new collection of offbeat covers, Thing of the Past (Gnomonsong). The retro album art depicting a pretty girl studying old vinyl was shot at Cabic’s Inner Richmond flat, highlighting just a fraction of his impressive stash of records — and the music was made by the band a group of old friends from North Carolina that Cabic assembled to tour Vetiver’s To Find Me Gone (Dicristina Stair, 2006).

Wasn’t it Bob Dylan and the Beatles who triggered so many critics to privilege songwriters over interpreters? "I was just having a conversation with someone about what caused it," Cabic says. "I think you’d have to attribute it to Bob Dylan. The Beatles’ first two records had covers. I still love those records that were put together by the whole machinery of an A&R person, a singer, and songs by the great writers of that moment. But I chose songs that weren’t of the moment — songs that were timeless or not easily heard today, songs I thought we could do well." Well is an understatement: Thing is a lovely, tenderly rendered amalgam of the band’s distinctive sound, Cabic’s hushed voice, unusual covers — which run the gamut from Biff Rose’s "To Baby" to David Brock and Hawkwind’s "Hurry on Sundown" to San Jose mystery songwriter Dia Joyce’s "Sleep a Million Years" — and guest turns by underground folk luminaries like Michael Hurley and Vashti Bunyan. "The interesting aspect of doing covers is that there’s a mixture of restraint and freedom in doing them," Cabic muses.

Another recent notable cover project is Shelby Lynne’s sensuous dust-up with Dusty Springfield’s catalog, Just a Little Lovin’ (Lost Highway). Lynne, who plays the Fillmore on May 1, has caught her share of acclaim for this spare collection — sans the plush arrangements of Springfield’s versions and teeming with Lynne’s tremulous, haunted soul. So why covers, apart from the fact that Lynne’s chum Barry Manilow suggested it? "I think people want to hear good stuff," she says from her Houston tour stop, with sharpshooter directness and the twangs of a tempestuous girlhood spent in Alabama. "Not a lot of good out there. I’m talking about if you wanna listen to classic music, you always reach back."

What Lynne loved about Springfield was "the song selection — and she was a great honest singer. The production I love — it was Jerry Wexler and the Memphis sound," though she quickly adds, "I was trying to stay away from that. That’s why I left it bare."

The woman who played Johnny Cash’s mother in Walk the Line isn’t a vocalist to be trifled with. A survivor to the core (her father shot her mother and then killed himself when she and sister Allison Moorer were teenagers), she may have been, in her words, "too young to understand the heaviness" of duetting with George Jones on the same mic when barely 19 with producer Billy Sherrill behind the board, but she does know "it doesn’t hurt to have a Grammy," as Lynne says of her 2001 Best New Artist award.

And she knows she doesn’t want to collaborate with her sister — yet. "We have two very different kinds of things — I tell her maybe when she’s an old lady," Lynne drawls firmly. So listen closely to her turn on Springfield because next, Lynne says, "I’m gonna be writing songs. I’m not going to be doing covers again for a long time — if ever. This is it. I think you should be allowed one cover record per career." *

SHELBY LYNNE Thurs/1, 8 p.m., $25. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.ticketmaster.com

VETIVER Tues/6, 9 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com

PETER BJORN AND JOHN’S PETER MORÉN BREAKS FROM THE PACK

The Last Tycoon, the title of the new solo full-length by Peter Morén, one leg of Peter Bjorn and John, is only that — not a way of life, despite the omnipresent whistle of the group’s "Young Folks" last year. Morén swears that he’s no mogul — he just wants to gently mock the solo project conceit while referencing the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. "I thought it would be funny to have a grandiose, pretentious title for a homey album," he tells me from Montreal. Tycoon, which Morén describes as "low-key and folky," came about when he brought a song, "Le Petit Guerre," to the rest of his longtime band. "The other guys wanted to take it in a more German kraut-rock direction, but obviously with the French refrain I thought it should be more melancholy, chanson-like, dreamy, like it is on the record now. That’s what started the project." And the rest of the band approved. "I needed another outlet," says Morén, "because I’ve been playing with the boys since I was 15. So it’s nice when you have to make all the decisions yourself, even though it can be a little bit scary."

PETER MORÉN With Tobias Frobert and Big Search. Thurs/1, 7 p.m., $15. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

Chefs that go crunch

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Watching people cook provides its share of voyeuristic pleasures while also, in theory, offering bits of edification. It’s far easier to learn how to make a dish by watching somebody else make it than by tip-toeing your way through a recipe’s thicket of words, and this is true whether you’re watching in person or via television. In the 1980s I was a faithful viewer of Jacques Pépin’s cooking shows on public TV, and I still use several recipes he demonstrated offhandedly.

But those were the old days, when the point of putting chefs on the tube was to transmit knowledge, skills, and confidence to the viewing public. Today’s chef shows are quite different. Recently I spent a long, not-quite-voluntary interval watching several episodes of Bravo’s "Top Chef," and was reminded not so much — or really, not at all — of Jacques Pépin but of "The Real World" and "Survivor." The themes are pressure, ruthlessness, panic, and triumph, leavened with desire. Ancient Rome had its gladiators, and we have this. And is this, I wondered, any way to treat food and the people who make it? You scorch your broccolini and are voted off the island by a celebrity tribunal to the strains of Wagnerian doom music? And what about your crush on one of the judges, not to mention some of the other tasty chefs? Emotional confusion and torment must make for high ratings, if "Top Chef" is any indication. Still, I’m not sure they conduce to a better world, or even a better-fed world.

It isn’t surprising that cooking has become an occasion for competition in America. We turn all subjects, no matter how inappropriate — even poetry! — into competition. We hallow competition and competitive people, particularly when televised, and don’t seem to recognize that civilization is, at its core, a cooperative venture. Competition is no better than a necessary, well-regulated evil in a civilized regime, and the unthinking American exaltation of it is, possibly, part of the reason we are a warrior society rather than a civilized one.

What happens to the dismissed? I wondered. Do they fall on their knives, one by one, alone and unmourned, off camera? Or do the survivors conspire to cook the lost a send-off meal, in which food is a gesture of love rather than a commodity?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Sara Shelton Mann

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PREVIEW Only a few seasons into a more extensive performance schedule, ODC Theater began an extensive remodeling of its well-appointed building on 17th Street at Shotwell — and found itself without a space to showcase its work. What to do? Artistic director Rob Bailis seized the opportunity to move a few blocks up the street to the much beloved but lately much neglected Theater Artaud. For the rest of the year, ODC Theater plans to take advantage of the cavernous space, decent technical equipment, and stadium seating with a series of mini-festivals. "For the Record," the first in the series, examines the relationship between the body dancing and the body politic with three separate programs.

Few in the Bay Area dance world have examined this nexus more extensively than Sara Shelton Mann, whose works make up the second week of the festival. Founder of the highly praised Contraband, she revolutionized multi-disciplined dance theater, launching the careers of original thinkers and artists as Kim Epifano, Jess Curtis, and Keith Hennessy. Shelton Mann is working with fewer dancers these days but is no less committed to digging into the flesh. For proof, watch her dance/video trilogy Inspirare, three years in the making. In Telios/Telios, two couples — Kathleen Hermesdorf and Yannis Adoniou, and Hana Erdman and Alex Zendzian — reprise their passionate give-and-take roles of 2006. In Inspirare, Hermesdorf and Maria Francesca Scaroni expand notions of the body’s physicality. The triptych opens with its newest section, the ensemble piece RedGoldSky, which Shelton Mann describes as a "stream of consciousness ramble that touches on the absurd."

SARA SHELTON MANN Thurs/1-Sat/3, 8 p.m., Theater Artaud, 450 Florida, SF. $20–$25. (415) 626-4370, www.odctheater.org

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys

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PREVIEW Imagine an entry called "Hillbilly Music" on the Web site "Stuff White People Like." The lexicon of that sage barometer of upper middle-class culture might render something like, "Old-timey string band music, especially when performed by specimens plucked from unsophisticated rural communities; appeals to white people’s yearning for authenticity with the promise of a true white folkloric inheritance." Well, forget all that. It’s true that one of the most transparent examples of institutionalized segregation exists quite happily in the "traditional" aisle of your local record store (if you still have one) where soul and blues mean black; country and folk, white. Needless to say, our heritage of "string bands, songsters, and hoedowns," to quote a Rounder release of music by black Appalachian performers, is a glorious amalgam of Celtic, English, French, African, and Native American cures for hard labor, heartbreak, and hard times. Luckily, the Coen Brothers and their team knew that when they looked to the legendary bluegrass artist Ralph Stanley to provide the weight and pathos at the core of O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) with his startling a capella rendition of "O Death." Sure enough, "O Death" has shown up in both Anglo and African American traditions, folklorists say. And at the tender age of 81, Stanley still delivers a timeless performance that puts the soul in bluegrass and the country in the blues.

RALPH STANLEY AND THE CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS Fri/2, 8 p.m., $49.50. Also Sat/3. Freight and Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison, Berk. (510) 548-1761, www.freightandsalvage.org

Loaded

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REVIEW How do you say Kier? "Kia" like the car, if you had asked former Deee-lite diva Lady Miss Kier, when she was, er, hea for a special performance at monthly, genre-defying club Loaded on April 4.

The once de-groovy entertainer whose Brooklyn drag queen persona, complete with exaggerated accent that can best be described as a Rosie Perez-RuPaul collision, charmed audiences back in the early ’90s when she convinced us we could bomb the world with ecstasy, armed only with the power of love and a good beat.

Maybe the routine’s grown stale, maybe the drugs have worn off, or perhaps I’ve become too jaded for a World Clique (Elektra/Wea, 1990) mentality after watching bombs over Baghdad, part two, but Kier’s performance this time around lacked sincerity. In fact, the once vibrant and agile songstress, who worked video screens and club stages in retro-futuristic catsuits and platform boots as part of the groundbreaking Dee-lite two decades ago, could no longer bring us together — or even get it together — that night, even aided by a skilled backing band including P-Funk’s Ronkat and trippy background visuals.

Before the set began, Kier — in a lime and aqua space-age church dress, topped off by an over-the-top monster weave that housed more extensions than AT&T — kept the ironically mustached and spectacled crowd waiting for a good 20 minutes while rigging up her PowerBook. The purpose of this preliminary step became clear as Kier opened with her new material, including the less-than-stellar "Go Down on Me."

If she managed to maintain her soulful vocals, it was difficult to hear, since they were so heavily processed. If her eyes were still glimmering beacons of hope, it was impossible to see, since they continually searched her computer screen for lyrics. And forget about high kicks, when tightly trussed-up Kier could only manage the occasional hand-chopping move. As expected, Kier’s closer — the perennial favorite "Groove Is in the Heart" — continues to set the dance floor ablaze. Still, Kier should heed her own wise words: "You’re only as good as your new material." I wonder: if that’s true, how one might say, deee-sappointed?

LOADED First Fridays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., $20. Rickshaw Stop, 188 Fell St, SF. www.myspace.com/clubloaded

Cross-cultural cosmology

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REVIEW There are many films about Asian immigrants and their cross-cultural experiences after they come to America in hope of a better future. But none of them are like Dark Matter, the feature debut of China-born and New York–based Chen Shi-zheng. Chen is an established opera actor and opera and theater director who left China for the United States in 1987 in search of artistic freedom. Although his innovative staging of the 19-hour-long Ming Dynasty–era play The Peony Pavilion (1999) received international critical acclaim, whether Chen found what he was looking for in the States is debatable — particularly if Dark Matter contains even the slightest hint of autobiography. Starring prominent Chinese actor Liu Ye (2006’s The Curse of the Golden Flower) and the great Meryl Streep, Dark Matter is loosely based on a 1991 incident at Iowa University when a Chinese graduate student picked up a gun and started firing. Chen’s tale about a Chinese PhD candidate at an American university whose initial enthusiasm gives way to frustration and helplessness when his professor turns against him for questioning his cosmology addresses many issues, including the claustrophobic world of academia and where goals and aspirations can lead if violently crushed — revealing how misleading the idea of the "American dream" can be.

DARK MATTER opens Fri/2 in Bay Area theaters.

Unfreeze my tableaux

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REVIEW Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation’s epic 2006 video opera The Rape of the Sabine Women is a sprawling and beguiling reinterpretation of classical myth, art history, and film-as-sculpture. Working improvisationally on the scale of a Cecil B. DeMille production, Sussman — no relation to this critic — and her international cast and crew unfreeze Peter Paul Rubens’ and Jacques-Louis David’s grand historical tableaux of the oft-painted episode from Rome’s founding, in which the women of the Sabine tribe, having been abducted by Roman men, persuade their captors and rescuers to lay down their arms.

Sussman’s retelling swaps Italy for Greece and loosely swathes this antiquarian narrative in mid-century cool. The Roman men — in skinny suits befitting Cold War spies — brood within the desolate classicism of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. After an exhilarating abduction scene crosscut amid the stalls of Athens’ meat market, the Sabine women lounge around a modern seaside bungalow like so many extras from an Antonioni film. But while love or the Stockholm syndrome — saved the day and ensured the future of empire in the original story, Sussman’s far more ambiguous finale lingers on the costs of such an intervention. While the film is visually arresting and at times even exhausting, Jonathan Bepler’s stunning score — composed of echoing coughs, scuffed museum floors, the rhythmic fall of butchers’ knives on wood, shimmering clouds of bouzoukis, and the final tidal wave of a swelling 800-person choir — interacts with the images in a way that gives unexpected heft and affective depth to the constant stream of eye candy. Expect an immersive experience at the piece’s San Francisco Museum of Modern Art premiere as cast and choir members — and that fleet of bouzouki players — create a live extension of the film’s soundtrack.

THE RAPE OF THE SABINE WOMEN Opening screenings and performances Thurs/1–Fri/2, 8 p.m., $15–$20; screening and panel discussion Sun/3, 3 p.m., $7–$10; screenings May 9–June 27, 3 p.m., free with museum admission. Phyllis Wattis Theater, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St, SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

Dance, horn dogs and damsels, dance

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Warning: listening to the Brass Menazeri is addictive — once they start, you can’t stop. After a sold-out show at Ashkenaz in Berkeley last month, the band of nine was dragged out for an encore or six — not an easy feat for an exhausted group of horn players. Meanwhile, the crowd got busy losing their minds the old-fashioned way: dancing and moving any way they knew how.

Though unquestionably exciting, brass band music from Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece sounds exotic to most American ears. But vocalist and baritone horn player Rachel MacFarlane isn’t concerned about being written off as an novelty act.

"It’s not a flash in the pan," she says of the growing interest in Eastern Europe and Romani, or Gypsy, culture in the wake of successful acts like New York City’s punked-out, spectacle-oriented Gogol Bordello. She sees the band’s success as part of a wider public engagement with cultures of the world, with roots in the folk revival of the 1970s.

Not that Balkan brass music has become mainstream, exactly. When vocalist Briget Boyle signed up for a college course on music from the former Yugoslavia, she says she had never even heard of the Balkans. Then she listened to the music. "Once I got it in my head," she remembers, "I couldn’t stop." Boyle developed a serious cultural crush, not just on a collection of poignant melodies, but on a way of life in which music, rather than being a commodity, represents a "life-giving force."

I knew what she meant that evening at Ashkenaz as I unselfconsciously sang along to refrains in the Romani language, without a clue as to what I was saying. That vitality, though, is part of what makes the flair and pathos of native Romani and Slavic performers so hard to replicate. Though band member Peter Jaques has cultivated phenomenal stylistic command on both trumpet and clarinet, he’s the first to admit this. In his efforts to learn from some of the region’s master musicians, he resembled a nonnative speaker trying to shed a foreign accent: "No one needed to tell me that there were nuances I just didn’t have," he explains. Still, Jaques says his teachers encouraged him, sending the message: "This is our music. We love it. You should play it, too!"

Moving toward a musical identity of their own, the Menazeri plans to include original tunes alongside the traditional picks on their second, still-untitled CD, which is slated for recording in May. It seems the group is feeling justifiably emboldened by steady support from wildly disparate Bay Area audiences, from folk dance enthusiasts and Balkanophiles to supporters of Romani culture and urban tastemakers like the Monterey Jazz Festival and Amnesia proprietor Sol Crawford.

Indeed, every band member I spoke with singled out Amnesia as a tinderbox for just the kind of music-driven near-rioting Brass Menazeri encourages. And it turns out the song I joined in with, "Opa Cupa," translates as a colorful invitation to work it out on the dance floor. So whether or not you can find Serbia on a map, the rat-a-tat of the tupan (a Balkan drum) mixed with sparkling, agile trumpets, unabashedly soulful vocals, and the gut-rattling throb of the low, low sousaphone is likely to send the same unignorable message as a New Orleans brass band during Mardi Gras. That message is: no matter who you are or what you know, dance!

BRASS MENAZERI

With Rupa and the April Fishes

Sat/3, 1 p.m., free

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Mission and Third streets, SF

(415) 543-1718

www.ybgf.org

Also the Herdeljezi Roma Festival

Sat/3, 6:30 p.m., $15

Ives Park, Sebastopol

(707) 823-7941

www.voiceofroma.com

Unlock your Sons and Daughters

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Raw, skin-glistening sensuality and brooding, lip-curled menace — ah, what a combination at the club. There’s something to be said for straddling the edge of a knife like that, simultaneously titilutf8g and unsettling those witnessing the spectacle onstage. When my partner and I first caught the fearsomely hot ‘n’ bothered Scottish quartet Sons and Daughters at a music-shop appearance in their hometown of Glasgow back in 2005, we were spellbound, rendered immobile in a mighty glue of arousal and trepidation. It felt wonderful.

Despite the bright lights and merchandise displays, the foursome had cloaked the room in lurid, late-night basement ambience: nothing but broken bottles and dark-corner encounters to be regretted the morning after. Force-of-nature vocalist Adele Bethel brandished the mic cord like a whip, lashing away at the floor like a bedroom punisher as her bandmates stoked rockabilly wildfires behind her. The powder keg at their core, shrapnel-blues guitarist Scott Paterson, provided the perfect sparring partner for Bethel’s tales of scary love and lusty violence, his soulful baritone bellow and spiked riffs further elevating the drama. Then there were the rhythms of drummer David Gow and bassist and occasional mandolinist Ailidh Lennon — alternating between deathly lurches and full-blown Sun Records shuffles on speed, their purely primal, low-end grind hit squarely between the gut and the groin. We were transfixed. And so the love affair — sordidness and all — began.

To locate the first strokes of desire, one must consult Sons and Daughters’ 2003 debut, Love the Cup (Domino), for answers. A seven-song collection of murderous urges and dirty romances, the mandolin-blazing mini-album threw fevered glances in the direction of X, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and as the song title "Johnny Cash" would suggest, the Man in Black himself. Offering both sweltering come-ons and skin-burrowing creep-outs, the highlight arrived with the ominous chug of "La Lune," in which Bethel offered some small comfort for listeners’ inevitable sneaking feelings: "The fear’s making sense."

The courtship blossomed with 2005’s The Repulsion Box (Domino), a continuation of the Glaswegians’ frenzied rockabilly trawls through id territory. But my head officially tumbled over my heels with the arrival of the recently released This Gift (Domino). Produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, this third outing is an immense leap forward, heaping compellingly glamorous levels of reverb-heavy drama to the band’s more tightly focused explorations of the dark side of the pleasure principle. "Living’s so dangerous / Try to conduct yourself," Bethel counsels on the twisted soul rave-up "Darling." But somehow I have to wonder whether Sons and Daughters follow their own advice. Meanwhile, I seem to have fallen a bit deeper.

SONS AND DAUGHTERS

With Bodies of Water

Fri/2, 9 p.m., $15

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

www.musichallsf.com

Talking ’bout pop

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Ah, to be young and in love. Or out of love, for that matter. Or maybe even charting the leaps and wobbles of the heart up and down the romantic continuum, wondering all the while if this romance thing ever gets any easier. The drama, the pure blazing surge and spark of it all. Every smile, every stumble, every stuttered confession and misinterpreted admission consumes the entire universe with its deafening acknowledgment of what you knew all along: each emotional episode between you and your special one is the most earth-shattering event in all of human history.

Therein lies the pulsing, burning, white-hot core of any good old-fashioned no-nonsense pop song. It’s no secret. Take a trawl through the annals of ear-sticking melodies and you’ll follow Cupid’s arrow, soaring in a straight line from the Brill Building to the Beatles all the way to Natalie Portman’s starry-eyed assertion, "The Shins will change your life," in Garden State (2004). Follow that arrow a bit further, and you’ll find your heart racing to the love-is-all indie-pop of Berkeley’s Morning Benders.

The Morning Benders, “Waiting for a War”

The quartet’s debut, Talking Through Tin Cans (+1), chronicles the highs and lows of young romance in exuberant three-minute bursts bubbling with guitar jangles and winsome harmonies. Largely indebted to the sunny sounds of 1960s songwriting, the Morning Benders craft teenage anthems dedicated to the giddy wonders and tongue-tied stammers of the heart. Recalling moments of the Shins and Sloan in its indebtedness to classic pop, Talking is a remarkably confident debut, especially for a bunch of guys barely in their 20s.

"It’s the stuff we were raised on," says vocalist-songwriter Chris Chu of the Phil Spector, Beach Boys, and Beatles references that appear so boyishly and exhilaratingly updated on Talking. Chu, along with drummer Julian Harmon, met me at the Mission District studio where the disc was recorded. Sitting across from me, both positively vibrate with youthful optimism and boundless enthusiasm, not just for their latest accomplishment but for music in general.

For all of their cheeky grins and waggish humor, this is a band that takes its work seriously: during the past two years, the Morning Benders self-released two EPs (2006’s Loose Change and 2007’s Boarded Doors) and played extensively in the Bay Area, opening for everyone from Yo La Tengo to MGMT. While Chu was rushing to finish his degree at the University of California at Berkeley — "school was getting in the way of what I really wanted to do," he confesses — he orchestrated a work/share arrangement with the studio, thus learning the ropes of engineering and production. It was time well spent, as evidenced by the Chu’s thoughtful reappropriation of the group’s beloved decade on Talking. Throw in the bonus of an upcoming nationwide tour as the openers for the Kooks, and we’ve got pretty compelling proof that the Morning Benders carry much more spark than their layabout moniker implies.

Speaking of sparks, Talking creates plenty of them, thanks largely to Chu’s impressive whisper-to-yelp acrobatics and Joe Ferrell’s frisky guitar work. "Loose Change," with its soaring, sweet-release cries of "Why can’t you say what you mean?" over Harmon’s and bassist Tom Or’s rumbling, tumbling rhythm, will surely connect with fans of the Shins, while the melancholic double-punch of "Wasted Time" and "Chasing a Ghost" bristle with guitar bluster worthy of Built to Spill. Mostly, though, the disc revels in the sweeping melodrama of young love with playful arrangements laden with tambourines, piano twinkles, and room-warming organ whirs.

"We were listening to Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited [Columbia, 1965] a lot at the time," Harmon explains of the homage, and the addition lends tremendous intimacy to the confident cover with which Chu frequently masks vulnerable confessions. "Patient Patient," for example — a fetching doctor-prescribing-love metaphor sprung along by a boing-boing rhythm — pairs soulful Rhodes with earnest pleas of "All it takes is a little commitment / I’m a patient patient." Then there’s the elegantly understated "Crosseyed," a simple construction of strummed guitars and tambourine in which Chu ruefully observes that "our empty promises keep us from bearing our hearts" over the subtlest black-and-white-keyed sighs of agreement.

The kicker, of course, is being able to make all these admissions of weakness and fess-ups of lovesick anxiety connect with listeners — and the Morning Benders have done exactly that, having amassed a devoted following in relatively little time. Mercifully, with so much else in the world constantly in flux, there’s still comfort to be taken in tightly written, hook-loaded pop songs. And personally, I can think of few acts better prepared to provide the comforting than this outfit.

THE MORNING BENDERS

Tues/6, 7 p.m., free

Virgin

2 Stockton, SF

(415) 397-4525

www.virginmegamagazine.com

Also May 9, 9 p.m., call for price

330 Ritch

330 Ritch, SF

(415) 541-9574

www.mrrobotopresents.com

Magazinester

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Green mania is old news or no news for the weekly tabloids. A quick perusal of In Touch and OK! reveals someone out there still cares about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Life & Style frets over Angelina Jolie’s doc visit, while US Weekly creates a baby album for Shiloh.

Martha Stewart appears with two equally fierce-looking toy canines on the cover of her "Color" issue: the bitches are back! Every Day with Rachael Ray presents a new shorter, darker ‘do for Rachael-holics to digest. Men’s Vogue sports a car on the cover — a mystifying first for the supposed tout le monde of men’s fashion. Rolling Stone‘s package on the best of rock in 2008 is equally perplexing: is the year even half over? Simon Doonan’s interview with Madonna is a refreshing change of pace for Elle. Wherever Madonna goes, a touch of green is sure to follow.

The Wire’s oft-excellent Wire Tapper CD series entreats Magazinester to make a purchase. Cover girl Gudrun Gut doesn’t. The Eddie Harris and "Funky Cuba" features in Wax Poetics are more appealing. At the end of the day, tired eyeballs turn to what’s free and brave, such as the first issue of the handsome rock mini-zine Low Life. ANP Quarterly has the most stories (including ones about Hamburger Eyes, Colette, Tom of Finland, Jim Goldberg, and Emory Douglas) Magazinester wants to read. A close runner-up: Vice‘s fashion issue, which spotlights frilly cat costumes, Ryan McGinley’s wardrobe, wildly embellished trucks, international street fashion, and, er, an investigative report on men’s rooster cuts in Iran.

Been there, done that

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> a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Bruce Williams and Donnell Alexander’s Rollin’ with Dre (One World/Ballantine, 192 pages, $25) is a strange and sinister book. What makes it strange is that it’s actually about Williams, who worked as a bodyguard, valet, personal manager, and confidante for Dr. Dre. It’s his biography, not Dre’s, so it falls into the category of an insider’s tale. Typically I avoid this subgenre like I avoid the boasting "friend of a friend of somebody famous" at a party.

But as I read about Williams’ small-town upbringing, love of sports, time overseas, arrival in Los Angeles, and 20-year tenure as Dre’s confidante, Rollin’ with Dre took on a picaresque sheen. Plus, its story is intriguing. Thanks are due to ghostwriter Alexander, who helps mold a samurai-like image of Williams.

As for Dr. Dre, Williams and Alexander render him an introverted genius most comfortable in the studio, surrounded by friends and fellow artists. Suge Knight at Death Row and Jimmy Iovine at Interscope serve as the story’s ravenous, predatory lords, preying on Dre’s talent. Williams plays the part of loyal, selfless guardian from Dre’s early days with NWA through his blockbuster success with Eminem and 50 Cent. He keeps dire forces at bay so the artist can create masterpieces and travel the world.

A surprising thing about Williams’ book is how little actual sex and violence it contains. It’s rare that a tell-all is so frank without giving way to lurid gossip and dish. Rollin’ with Dre is a manly man’s tale, complete with free weights, fast cars, drinking contests, and plastic bags of stagnant urine dropped from building-tops. There are bitches and niggas here, yet the book is damn near scandal-free. In places it appears that Williams is still protecting Dr. Dre, only this time from the potential fallout of his tell-all.

We get the story of a reasonably stable, sober, law-abiding father and husband who once guarded a mutually beneficial arrangement with a mega-star by tapping into a cool detachment acquired from his days as a Marine and as a corrections officer. Indeed, a remote tone permeates even the most intimate of passages. When near the deathbed of Eazy-E, for example, Williams’ emotional investment in the moment seems sparse. With every flying fist, whizzing bullet, and falling body, he shakes his head, says "That’s a shame," and keeps moving. The same tact that served him well in his profession sometimes leaves the reader outside in the cold.

Still, Rollin’ with Dre‘s glimpse into the creative process of a world famous hit-maker is compelling, as is its look at the pitfalls and perils of the unscrupulous, violent, and larcenous world of corporate gangsta rap. Throughout the episodes involving groupies, the tales of blunts getting smoked, and weapons being brandished, Williams seems to effortlessly walk a tightrope that separates cool-headed big guy from Type A gung-ho asshole. Yet Alexander allows him to stumble on enough occasions for the reader to suspect the book’s overall sheen of sugarcoating. With violence, double-dealing, and revenge the norm, how could anyone survive for more than 20 years without getting a little blood on their hands? There seems to be a lot going on between the beats.

"Gangsta," Williams remarks at one point, "I don’t know if it’s right, but I know that it’s true." It’s that perspective that makes Rollin’ with Dre sinister.

Black, white, and color

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Clip this article. Put it on your refrigerator to remind yourself, your roommates, your friends and family to see Medicine For Melancholy.

The story seems simple. In the aftermath of a party, two 20-something San Franciscans wake up in bed together with no recollection of how they got there. They exchange names at a Noe Valley coffee shop and share a cab in cold silence with no attempt to reconnect. She leaves her wallet behind. He hunts her down online to return it. From there, they begin a convincing dance of seduction infused with excitement, disclosure, and tenderness. Micah (Wyatt Cinach) is immature, self-effacing, and strong, while Jo (Tracey Heggins) is confident, grown-up, and intense. What they learn about each other — and what the film reveals — is on par with any postmodern romance. Writer-director Barry Jenkins has created complex characters trying to negotiate simple feelings in a difficult world.

It’s always enriching to see talented artists at work. In mixing black and white with color to explore the relationship between setting and dialogue, director of photography James Laxton captures the sublime and gritty sides of San Francisco. The city he sees is the city we know. From the grassy lands of Noe Valley to the quiet hush of the Tenderloin at dawn, Laxton’s eye makes the nearly deserted SF that the two main characters inhabit lush, promising, and sinister.

Medicine for Melancholy is important because it spotlights the most overlooked aspect of SF’s changing face: black people, and the lack thereof. Micah and Jo are black and their race plays into the affair in surprising and subtle ways.

Jenkins has said that Medicine for Melancholy is "a simple, straightforward film that illuminates the modern complexities of living as a declining minority in America’s major cities." At the time Medicine for Melancholy was filmed, SF’s black population was 7 percent and dropping. As one of the remaining black people in SF, I know that black flight is a reality here. The self-evident gentrification and anti-black sentiment of the city play heavily into the dynamic of this movie’s couple: Micah doesn’t do SFMOMA; Jo hadn’t known that MoAD existed. Micah sees himself as black first and a man second. Jo refuses to define herself.

At Micah’s apartment, a poster with a 1962 quote from the Redevelopment Agency sparks a conversation. Jo wants to let go of the past. Micah, the native, sees the poster as relevant to Mission Bay.

"Why is everything that is ‘indie’ mean ‘not black?’" Micah asks at one point. Conversations like these have been going on among my dwindling number in San Francisco for too long. Until now, only we have heard them.

Tell people about Medicine for Melancholy. In the face of an impending cultural extinction and the potential loss of SF’s soul, this excellent movie is part of a necessary discussion.

MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY

Wed/30, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki; Sun/4, 8:15 p.m., PFA; May 7, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

The 51st San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 8. Venues are the Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Clay, 2261 Fillmore, SF; Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; and Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk. For tickets (most shows $12.50) and information call (925) 866-9559 or visit www.sffs.org.

Highway 51

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Pixel Vision blog: Additional SFIFF movie reviews, and daily reports by Jeffrey M. Anderson

WED/30

I Served the King of England (Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic, 2007) The sheer delight of this typically spry, witty film by Czech master Menzel is enough to remove the sting from the fact that it’s been 14 years since his last feature. The story presents the dizzy rise and fall of a resourceful waiter during the Nazi occupation. Only Menzel could make a chronicle of such amoral ambition so funny and charming without trivializing the underlying themes. (Dennis Harvey)

6 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/3, 9 p.m, Kabuki

Vasermil (Mushon Salmona, Israel, 2007) Salmona’s feature debut threads the stories of a few disaffected adolescents — one an Ethiopian Jew, another a recent Russian immigrant. Asshole fathers and cruel, amateur gangsters abound in this dystopia. Salmona’s skilled handling of nonprofessional actors brings across the script’s twin-toned slice of prejudice and menace. (Max Goldberg)

6:30 p.m., PFA; Sun/4, 1 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/5, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 7, 7 p.m., Kabuki

THURS/1

Valse Sentimentale (Constantina Voulgaris, Greece, 2007) With this infuriatingly pessimistic yet haunting film, the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Pantelis Voulgaris tries her hand at feature filmmaking. The story is set in the Athenian neighborhood Eksarxia. There, misfits Stamatis (Thanos Samaras) and Electra (Loukia Mihalopoulou) struggle to come to terms with each other. (Maria Komodore)

1:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/3, 6:30 p.m., Clay; May 7, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

FRI/2

All Is Forgiven (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2007) All Is Forgiven might be compared to Olivier Assayas’ 2004 Clean for its autumnal portrait of one character’s drug abuse, but it avoids that film’s flat reading of an addict’s self-absorption. Unlike most other movies about drugs, it isn’t exclusively about the user. The era-evocative soundtrack selections within Hansen-Løve’s subdued melodrama are emblematic of the film’s assured flow. (Goldberg)

9:30 p.m., Clay. Also Sun/4, 3 p.m., Clay; Tues/6, 9 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 4 p.m., Kabuki

The Art of Negative Thinking (Bård Breien, Norway, 2007) A big fuck you to self-help culture, this amusing black comedy is as coarse, antisocial, and ultimately soft-hearted as its protagonist. A stoner recluse who seeks solace in Johnny Cash records, spliffs, and his gun, he instigates a mutinous program of catharsis through hard partying. By the end credits, though, the Harold Pinter–esque dinner party has given way to Farrelly Brothers comedy. (Matt Sussman)

9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/4, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 8:15 p.m., Clay

Linger (Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 2008) Johnnie To is a one-man HK film industry, and his finely honed skills allow this romantic ghost story to at least occasionally step over puddles of sentimental goop. Li Bingbing stars as a student who loses new boyfriend Vic Zhou in a car accident. The story overstretches, but To’s strikingly clear and vivid compositions — full of nature, architecture, and light — help his film breathe. (Anderson)

8:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/3, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/5, 3:15 p.m., Clay

SAT/3

Flower in the Pocket (Liew Seng Tat, Malaysia, 2007) Marred only by a wafer-thin Casio score, Flower in the Pocket is one of those slice-of-life revelations that makes you wonder why there aren’t more promising auteurs. The broken flowers here might well be the film’s two neglected, elementary school–age Chinese brothers — adrift after the disappearance of their mother and barely able to speak Malay. Director-screenwriter Liew has an acute eye for detail and a way of teasing poetry out of throwaway interludes. (Kimberly Chun)

3 p.m., PFA. Also Mon/5, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 6 p.m., Kabuki

The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, US, 2007) The kind of movie people get overexcited about within the Sundance Film Festival’s hype bubble, Jonathan Levine’s feature isn’t that good — but it is good. New high school grad Luke (Josh Peck) is a 1994 loner whose parents are on the verge of being evicted from their Upper East Side apartment. A wired and inspired Ben Kingsley provides this coming-of-age flick’s comic high points. (Harvey)

7:30 p.m., Kabuki

SUN/4

Stay Tooned, Kids! (Various, 2007) This sturdy collection of nine above-average cartoons, totaling 66 minutes, is largely suitable for kids of all ages, though the longest one, France’s Saint Feast Day, may teeter a bit too far into suggested violence and gore. (An ogre prepares to eat a child for an annual holiday, but accidentally knocks out all his teeth.) The amusing Claymation Still Life revisits the Shaun the Sheep character from Nick Park’s 1995 A Close Shave. (Anderson)

10:15 a.m., Kabuki

TUES/6

American Teen (Nanette Burstein, US, 2007) When is a documentary so slick it’s not a documentary? You might ask yourself that while enjoying Nanette Burstein’s portrait of senior year for several high schoolers in an Indiana small town. American Teen seems staged, and the ultraslick packaging — including animated sequences that caricature the subjects’ dreams — feels like an upscale version of reality entertainment. (Harvey)

6 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 8, 3 p.m., Kabuki

Volume 42 Number 31 Flip-through Edition

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Locus Solus

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"Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child’s world and thus a world event," declares Gaston Bachelard in his 1958 phenomenology of domesticity, The Poetics of Space. In its attempts to reconcile a science of atomic futurism with visions of quotidian psychology, to link the aberrations and fetishes of modern design with the traditions of hearth and home, Bachelard’s unique poetics are largely identical to the cinematic worlds of Guy Maddin. The Canadian director’s latest film, My Winnipeg, a so-called "docu-fantasia" of his birthplace, engages headfirst in a surrealist topoanalysis (to borrow from Bachelard’s ideas) of the city in which his own poetics of childhood dwell.

Speaking by the phone from his current Winnipeg home, the affectionately christened Atelier Tovar, Maddin waxes rhapsodically of a dream life bound by interiors and interiority. "After 30 years of dreaming about people I miss, I now dream almost exclusively of architecture," he confesses. "Sometimes my old house, sometimes other people’s — neighbors’ — houses, that I never went into. I think my dream self is trying to empathize with what those houses must have meant to someone else. But they’re always missing every second [floor] board, and are incredibly drafty and filled with this incredible longing and unspeakable joy. It always comes down to the house now, there are rarely any people in these dreams. Just houses."

In My Winnipeg, Maddin has taken his lexicon of family trauma and frigid Manitoban climates and deposits it on the doorstep of his childhood home. Raised in a storefront at Winnipeg’s 800 Ellis Street — which was divided into his aunt Lil’s beauty salon, an extended family wing, and an immediate family suite — Maddin was imprinted with the sights and sounds of multidimensional living. A television echoing around catalog furniture and muffled radio sounds droning through thin walls provided the soundtrack of a bee-hived gynecocracy. To this day, the 52-year-old still luxuriates in the simple pleasures the dreamy house afforded him — specifically orange Jell-O, his answer to Proust’s madeleine, and hairdryer slumbers. "I’ve taken many a nap under a hairdryer," he laughs. "I’ve still got a couple of old ones and you have to wear a hairnet or you get sucked up into the propellers. You wake up with a dehydrated head and a pounding headache, but it’s fantastic. My sister [does it], too. We’re like Beckett characters, sitting across from each other with these roaring domes on our heads."

As the youngest of four children, Maddin admits constructing a phenomenology of dreams from his first waking moments — culled mainly from wonder and boredom. "I spent a lot of time imprinting myself on the couch, listening and watching, not particularly attentively. I think I could have averted disaster if I had just been more attentive," he recalls, zeroing in on the instant when, at seven, he learned of his brother Cameron’s untimely death. "I remember when my brother died: he had gone missing and I was sitting on the couch reassuring my parents that he would come back. And that was the last time I ever felt confident about predicting anything. There was this comfortable rug underneath me, and I remember how it just fell away when I found out he wasn’t coming back.

"And that was the final, important piece of the universe for me," he laments. "There seemed to be these trap doors everywhere in my model of the universe — this place of great comfort, and more comfort, and more comfort, and great tracts of idle time. These secreted trap doors could open at anytime in your own home. And that made the place even more exquisite."

Like Proust and Bachelard before him, Maddin’s artistic communion with spirits long gone originates in the everyday objects and machines that share space with the living and the dead. From within the protection of the house, or rather from within its cavernous isolation, he continues to dream his way backward into the perfect womb of the past.

MY WINNIPEG

Sat/3, 8:30 p.m., PFA

Loló

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› paulr@sfbg.com

The turkey is native to Mexico and one of the few animals to have been domesticated by the Indians. Turkey is central to Yucatecan cooking in particular — and by "turkey" I of course mean the bird, the roasted star of so many Thanksgivings, not the country east of Greece. No turkeys there (though plenty of lamb) or really any other connection to Mexico. Which makes Loló difficult to explain.

And what is Loló? A kind of soda? A male stripper? No, it’s a restaurant that opened last fall in the old Vogalonga (and before that, La Villa Poppi) space, with an important addition: the annexation of the storefront immediately to the east. So now, instead of seating fewer than a dozen, the place can accommodate … well, not mobs, but a couple dozen at least, if you factor in the bar. I loved the intimacy of Vogalonga and La Villa Poppi; eating in them was like having been invited into somebody’s home for dinner; only the nearby Gravity Spot was cozier. But Loló does breathe more easily with the added square footage. And the second dining room is done up in newspaper broadsheets that give the Mexican lottery results in mind-bending detail. This is the Mission the way it ought to be: sophisticated but playful and even a little silly, with whimsical improvisation more important than money and all the overdesigning money can buy.

A further point of interest is that Loló serves a kind of hybrid cuisine (I decline to describe it as "fusion") that adds Turkish flourishes and grace notes to what is basically a pan-Latin or nuevo Latino menu. The marriage might be an arranged one, but it reflects the realities of the restaurant’s ownership (the principals are Merdol Erkal and Jorge Martinez) as well as a surprising harmonic convergence between cuisines and cultures that would appear largely unrelated. A Turkey-Mexico combination might be something you’d expect to see in a World Cup soccer final, not on your plate. It’s worth remembering, however, that Mexico’s mother, Spain, was not unfamiliar with the Ottoman Turks. Their relationship might be described as peppery.

Pepper is a binding agent at Loló. The food as it emerges from the kitchen doesn’t lack liveliness, but if you want to do some tweaking, you’ll be given a small dish of crushed black Turkish pepper to brighten up the party. Even if you don’t feel the need, you’ll find plenty of pepper on your plate anyway — in the oily sauce ladled over octopus tiradito ($8), a version of carpaccio. The combination of pepper flakes, lemon juice, and olive oil lent this dish a real presence, and the slices of octopus were too paper-thin to be tough. But the dish was served a little too cold to be fully awake. It was as if it had been plated well ahead of time, then grabbed from the refrigerator.

Just right, temperature-wise, was a handful of what the menu called "dumplings" ($8): fried, empanada-like pockets filled with a mince of huitlacoche (a truffle-like fungus that grows on corn) and served with a pot of thinned ricotta cheese for dipping and a few ribbons of roasted yellow pepper for color and a slight smoky sweetness. An arugula salad ($7) was a flea market of colors, tastes, and textures, a jumble of apple slices, pine nuts, shreds of cherry and crumblings of feta cheese, all drizzled with a deep-voiced orange muscat vinaigrette.

The bigger plates aren’t quite full-size, and — here is a sizable difference from typical Latin-American restaurant practice — they aren’t stuffed to the rafters with starches, either. The only starch on a plate of "three meat bites" ($12) was the trio of grilled bread spears the meat patties were seated on. Those patties, incidentally, were the most purely Turkish items we were able to find on the menu. They could easily have passed for kofte. The accompanying mushroom side sauce seemed neither Turkish nor Mexican — French, if anything.

Seafood sopes ($13), on the other hand, did seem Mexican. This dish consisted of a pair of sopes — disk-shaped corn cakes with a lip, like shortcakes from strawberry-filled summers of yore — topped with a mélange of sautéed bay scallops and shrimp and pipings of guacamole and sour cream. The Mexican bistros we don’t have enough of could probably survive by offering not much more than this dish alone. The braised shreds of red cabbage on the side were a bracingly vinegary, colorful bonus.

The chocolate fondue dessert is a staple at fondue restaurants, where many of us tend to eat too much anyway. Loló, in keeping with its trim-waistline philosophy, takes a quasi-minimalist tack; its version ($7) consists of a modest amount of good dark chocolate melted in a chafing dish, and a fistful of blueberries, raspberries, and squares of banana bread for dunking. Because fondue can’t be gobbled down but must be eaten rather painstakingly, jab by jab, one has the impression of eating more than what is actually being eaten — and is satisfied accordingly. At the end, we were given two spoons to finish off the remnant of the chocolate — about a spoonful each, like a kiss goodnight before heading off to dreamland, where sooner or later we all win the lottery.

LOLÓ

Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

3230 22nd St., SF

(415) 643-LOLO (5656)

Wine and beer

AE/MC/V

Noisy

Wheelchair accessible

A time to kill

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS It’s a question of balance. If I brag, it’s because I also put myself down a lot, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think me insecure. That’s not it at all. I am capable of saving the day, but probably more likely to trip over a milk crate with a crunched, empty can in it. My fuck-ups are occasionally spectacular and always well documented. You don’t have to read Cheap Eats. Just look at my shirt.

I mean, read Cheap Eats, by all means. The thing about failure is that it makes better copy than success. That almost has to be a saying already, and I’m either an idiot for repeating it or a genius for inventing it — in which case I’m a braggart for pointing it out and an idiot for bragging. It’s a question of balance.

For some reason there was this idea afloat that, if the puerco pibil came out great, we would have no choice but to kill Earl Butter. I know, I know. It didn’t make sense to me either, because he was the maker of the pork — and the chief advocate for killing the cook.

If it was a suicide attempt, it failed. Maybe a cry for help?

I think not. It had something to do with bisexual people’s favorite film ever, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, starring Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek. I never saw it.

My favorite movie is Vernon, Florida. Still! Almost thirty years later! I’ve worn out two video tapes already, and it’s the only movie I ever made a CD of, so I could listen to it in my car, the visuals having long since been stamped onto my brain. Some day, after I finish film school, I’m going to do a remake of Vernon, Florida starring Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek as the couple who sits on their steps and talks about sand. Nobody ever does remakes of documentaries, I’ve noticed. Why is that?

Don’t think too hard. That’s my job. And you can rest assured I’ll do it. As soon as every other restaurant reviewer in the world is writing about movies, their friends, cars, sports, and chickens instead of restaurants, I’m going to go to film school and start making remakes of all my favorite documentaries.

The beautiful thing about Once Upon a Time in Mexico, according to Earl Butter, isn’t Johnny Depp or Salma Hayek. It’s pork. Specifically, puerco pibil, the marinated, slow-roasted pork dish that Johnny Depp’s character just loves. And, if you think following Cheap Eats can be tough, check this out: apparently if a chef’s puerco pibil tastes too good, Johnny Depp kills him.

I never understood why people complained about violence in movies, until now. You can’t kill someone for cooking something real good! Not even in real life. I just saw No Country for Old Men. Didn’t like it, but I have to admit that you can kill someone for losing a coin toss, pissing you off, trying to kill you, being married to someone who pisses you off, just for fun, or for no reason at all. But killing someone for cooking something too good, that crosses the line. I didn’t even see Once Upon a Time in Mexico and I’m going to have nightmares about it.

Well, Robert Rodriguez — writer, director, producer, editor, music maker, cutie-pie, and complete bastard for making me have nightmares — puts on a little cooking show at the end of the DVD, according to Earl Butter. You also can watch it on YouTube. That’s what I did.

Earl Butter followed the director’s directions, I believe, except for the banana leaves. He invited seven people over for dinner: one was me and none was Johnny Depp.

But he’s out there somewhere, you gotta figure, and for all we know he reads Cheap Eats as faithfully as everyone else in the world. So at the risk of reviewing my best friend’s cooking, the pork was quite … hmm, good? But not great. A little dry. And perhaps not spicy enough. Middle of the road. I say this for your own protection, Earl.

———————————————————————-

My new favorite restaurant is Thai Noodle Jump, mostly for the name, and because it’s on my way to the bridge from pretty much anywhere. Sometimes I need a bowl of duck noodle soup. Can’t recommend the grilled beef salad, though, because the meat was way overcooked. But the soups … big bowls, decent prices. Small, cozy place. Great name.

THAI NOODLE JUMP

560 Balboa, SF

(415) 379-6422

Daily: 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

Beer

MC/V

Taking the lead

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I am a 21-year-old college student and am looking for boys about my age to have sex with. But whenever I approach one, I end the conversation with absolutely no idea if he is interested. The signals are so mixed, they cancel each other out. A lot of the time, a boy will avoid eye contact, keeping his arms folded and swallowing a lot, then ask if I’d like to get coffee sometime. If I do something extremely forward, like touch his arm and leer, it’s like I pulled out a gun. I’ve had boys run away from me before.

I tend to be attracted to guys who are shy, ectomorphic, and slightly younger than I am. I’m not a huge S-M fan, although I am aggressive. I hesitate to call myself sexually dominant, though, because my last boyfriend was so submissive he wouldn’t exert any kind of effort. I got really bored and frustrated with always having to do the work.

I tried the whole alcohol thing, but hated feeling drunk. It made me even more depressed, and talking to guys is not a problem for me, sober or not. I’ve tried going places where other people were drinking, but the problems persist. I take a lot of film classes (which is where I meet most of these kids) and have no problem approaching them, but the dynamic remains the same. Should I find some other type of boy? Go out with someone I find unsexy? Be more assertive? Be less assertive? What?

Love,

No Action

Dear No-A:

Be less Vulcan, perhaps? There is something a little chilling in your approach ("I am looking for boys about my age to have sex with"), something that falls somewhere between the robotic and the predatory that your targets may be picking up on. Is sex really all you’re interested in? I ask because despite their reputation for happily sticking it into anything with a concavity capable of receiving it, even very young men often prefer some human interaction with their nookie. Shocking, but true.

To be fair, one needn’t have pointed ears and a dispassionate air to have a hard time judging whether a would-be partner is interested. In general, the best judges of others’ interest are straight women and gay men, with lesbians and straight guys often professing an utter inability to read signals, no matter how loudly broadcast or animatedly mimed. To some extent it may correlate inversely with willingness to make the first move. Straight women, who are used to being approached, develop the necessary radar. Straight men, who must usually do the heavy lifting, don’t. You, as a habitual first-approacher, wouldn’t have developed yours much either.

If you often get a delayed but gratifying "Um, coffee?" in response to your no-grabbing, no-leering approach (my preference for you, in case you missed that part), then I fail to see the problem. You may not be able to predict whether you will get a bite during the bait-dangling phase, but what of it? Anything is preferable, surely, to kissing the boys and making them cry.

If you want to learn something, though, try paying attention to any emerging patterns: how do the guys who eventually mumble something about coffee act compared to those who run away? The kind of guys you like are never going to thrust out a beefy arm, give you a hearty handshake, and ask you back to their place for some truly epic boinking — but guys like that can be tools. So if you like the shy, mumbly dudes, you must learn to appreciate them in all their mumbly glory. Cultivate a little Zen. Be the mumbly guy.

I do have one more question for you though, if you don’t mind: do any of the coffee-offerers ever come back for seconds? (And I don’t mean refills.) Do you want them to? If not, OK, you’re a little too efficient for me, but I don’t have a problem with single-minded female sex-seekers, provided everybody’s happy. If you’d like to see them again, though, you might consider spending more of your time pondering that question and less on trying to second-guess the college boys, who likely don’t even have a reason for their behavior and are just doing whatever they can manage with their immature social skills and fully-formed, if underinformed, sex drives.

I also feel the need to point out, in defense of submissives everywhere, that being passive should not be equated with being submissive. Passivity is annoying; submission is hot. Since you are not into S-M, you probably want to avoid such terms lest you find yourself in situations that are not at all what you had in mind.

Love,

Andrea

Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

User-generated censorship

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› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION There’s a new kind of censorship online, and it’s coming from the grassroots. Thanks to new, collaborative, social media networks, it’s easier than ever for people to get together and destroy freedom of expression. They’re going DIY from the bottom up — instead of the way old-school censors used to do it, from the top down. Call it user-generated censorship.

Now that anyone with access to a computer and a network connection can post almost anything they want online for free, it’s also increasingly the case that anyone with computer access and a few friends can remove anything they want online. And they do it using the same software tools.

Here’s how it works: let’s say you’re a community activist who has some pretty vehement opinions about your city government. You go to Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, and create a free blog called Why the Municipal Government in Crappy City Sucks. Of course, a bunch of people in Crappy City disagree with you — and maybe even hate you personally. So instead of making mean comments on your blog, they decide to shut it down.

At the top of your Blogger blog, there is a little button that says
"flag this blog." When somebody hits that button, it sends a message to Google that somebody thinks the content on your blog is "inappropriate" in some way. If you get enough flags, Google will shut down your blog. In theory, this button would only be used to flag illegal stuff or spam. But there’s nothing stopping your enemies in town from getting together an online posse to click the button a bunch of times. Eventually, your blog will be flagged enough times that Google will take action.

And this is where things get interesting. Google has the option of simply shutting down your access to the blog. They rarely do that, though, unless it’s a situation where your blog is full of illegal content, like copyright-infringing videos. Generally what Google does if you get a lot of flags is make your blog impossible to find. Nobody will be able to find it if they search Blogger or Google. The only people who will find it are people who already know about it and have the exact URL.

This is censorship, user-generated style. And it works because the only way to be seen in a giant network of user-generated content like Blogger (or MySpace, or Flickr, or any number of others) is to be searchable. If you want to get the word out about Crappy City online, you need for people searching Google for "Crappy City" to find your blog and learn about all the bad things going on there. What good is your free speech if nobody can find it?

Most sites that have user-generated content, like photo-sharing site Flickr and video-sharing site YouTube, use a system of flags similar to Blogger’s that allow users to censor each other. Sometimes you have to pick a good reason why you are flagging content — YouTube offers you a drop-down menu with about 20 choices — and sometimes you just flag it as "unsafe" or "inappropriate." Generally, most sites respond to flagging the same way: they make the flagged stuff unsearchable and unfindable.

Censorship isn’t working the old-fashioned way. Your videos and blogs aren’t being removed. They’re simply being hidden in the deluge of user-generated information. To be unsearchable on the Web is, in a very real sense, to be censored. But you’re not being censored by an authority from on high. You’re being censored by the mob.

That’s why I find myself rolling my eyes when I hear people getting excited about "the wisdom of crowds" and "crowdsourcing" and all that crap. Sure, crowds can be wise and they can get a lot of work done. But they also can also be destructive, cruel, and stupid. They can prevent work from being done as easily as they can make it easier. And just as the Web is making it easier for crowds to collaborate, the Web is also making it simple for mobs to crush free expression.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitaiton.com) is a surly media nerd whose blogs cannot be censored by the mob, even though she’s well aware that there are mobs who would certainly like to do it.

No peace, no work

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OPINION Organized labor is set to mark May Day — International Workers’ Day — with what could be the loudest and most forceful demand yet for rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will lead the way by refusing to work their eight-hour morning shifts at ports in California, Oregon, and Washington. For them, it will be a "no peace, no work" holiday — in effect, a strike against the war.

Like many other unions and labor organizations nationwide, the ILWU has long opposed the war in Iraq as an imperialist action in which the lives of young working-class Americans and Iraqi citizens are being needlessly wasted.

The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war.

The coalition behind this movement, US Labor Against the War (USLAW), has been growing steadily since the invasion of Iraq. It’s now the largest organized antiwar group of any kind and is drawing important support, not only from unions but from a wide variety of socially-conscious activist groups outside the labor movement.

USLAW’s members, which represent millions of workers, significantly include the AFL-CIO and most of the federation’s 56 affiliated unions. No one can doubt USLAW’s ability to organize a massive protest like the one ILWU is hoping to lead: it was USLAW that put together the antiwar demonstration that drew half a million marchers to Washington, DC last year.

USLAW is demanding primarily that "our elected leaders stop funding the war, bring our troops home, and start meeting human needs here at home," notes Fred Mason, an AFL-CIO official in Maryland.

In the meantime, says Gerald McEntee, a key public employee union leader, "We are spreading violence in Iraq, not democracy." The Bush administration’s policies, says Musicians Union leader Tom Lee, "make us less secure, increase the threat of terrorism, and have put Iraq on a path of civil war."

ILWU President Robert McEllrath has urged unions and allied groups outside the United States to also mount protests "to honor labor history and express support for the troops by bringing them home safely."

The AFL-CIO’s role is particularly notable. It marks the first time the federation has ever opposed a war, whether the president was a pro-labor Democrat or, as now, an antilabor Republican.

The longshoremen’s union, which was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO at the time, was firmly opposed to the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. The ILWU also was a major opponent of dictatorial regimes in South and Central America and the apartheid regime in South Africa, its members often refusing to handle cargo coming from or going to those countries. Just recently, ILWU members in Tacoma, Wash., refused for conscientious reasons to load cargo headed for the Iraq war zone.

We can only hope — and hope fervently — that the union’s May Day show of strong opposition to the war in Iraq will help prompt millions of others to conclude that they, too, cannot in good conscience support that seemingly endless war.

Dick Meister

Dick Meister is a San Francisco–based writer who has covered labor and political issues for a half-century as a reporter, editor, and commentator. Contact him through his Web site: www.dickmeister.com