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Volume 40 Number 38
June 21 – June 27, 2006
Kahlil Sullivan hasn’t had time to do much lately other than plan for his younger brother’s funeral. He hasn’t even had time to find out exactly why his brother is dead.
“We feel like we’re lost,” he said over the phone a week after his cornered and unarmed brother was shot and killed by the San Francisco Police Department.
The cops have offered two stories as to why officers fired a still-undisclosed number of bullets into the body of Asa Sullivan on June 6. And neither one seems to make much sense or explain why they shot Sullivan.
Meanwhile, the family hasn’t been offered a dime for burial expenses from the Victim Services Division of the District Attorney’s Office. The state won’t spend money to help the families of former felons, but there’s local money available too. That’s off-limits, it turns out, because the SFPD hasn’t classified Sullivan’s death as an “unlawful killing,” according to the DA’s office.
Sullivan’s mother, Kathleen Espinosa, even told us on the day of his funeral, June 15, that the department did not provide a liaison to the family, as the Office of Citizen Complaints two years ago recommended the SFPD do for the families of officer-involved shooting victims.
In fact, Espinosa hasn’t heard a word from the department. Everything she knows has come largely from two stories in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Espinosa, a short, relentlessly cheerful woman with chestnut hair, held a smile throughout her son’s funeral while hugging Sullivan’s tearful young friends. She said any new information from the department right now hardly matters.
“Let them get their story straight first before they come to me,” she said. “I don’t want another wrong story.”
According to early reports, Sullivan and his friend, 25-year-old Jason Martin, were staying with two tenants at a Villas Parkmerced townhouse, part of a 3,200-unit complex close to the San Francisco State University campus. Sullivan had been in some trouble in the past; his criminal record included an armed robbery, and he was on probation for selling pot. But he’d secured a job at Goodwill and had a six-year-old son to look after.
Martin and Sullivan were helping to clean up the townhouse so their friends could receive their security deposit when they moved out. The tenants were being evicted for not paying rent, but a Parkmerced official told the media that the tenants were still legally living there.
The cops said a neighbor called the police, believing the unit had been taken over by nonresidents. Police Chief Heather Fong insisted in press statements that the complex was having problems with squatters. But Parkmerced public policy director Bert Polacci told the Guardian that the complex had no such problems. If the cops had called him, he might have cleared up the residency status of the occupants of 2 Garces Drive.
When Officers Michelle Alvis and John Keesor arrived, they immediately detained Martin, in response to the neighbor’s complaint. Sullivan, who feared going to jail for a probation violation, fled to a two-and-a-half-foot-high attic space.
The officers attempted to talk him down with Martin’s help but eventually went into the attic. Martin later insisted, according to Espinosa, that he told the officers Sullivan was unarmed before they went after him.
The way the cops tell it, Sullivan — who would have been unable to stand up in the tiny space — took a combative stance from inside the attic, and the officers believed he had aimed a gun at them.
The department first reported that Sullivan had shot at the officers through the attic floor. Further, the cops reported that Sullivan’s gun was found at the scene. The truth is, all they found was the case to a pair of eyeglasses.
SFPD spokesperson Neville Gittens told us only that the first story was based on “secondhand information” and “witness statements.”
The official story changed several hours after the department offered its first explanation of what happened. According to Gittens, Keesor fired first, and a ricochet nicked his partner’s ear, “perhaps” causing her to fire as well. When the smoke cleared, Sullivan was dead. No gun was ever found.
“They got flashlights,” Sullivan’s brother Kahlil exclaimed. “Can’t they see his hands? Why didn’t they ask him questions first? We may never know the truth.”
One of the two officers had their flashlights on, Gittens said, but he couldn’t confirm whether the illumination was enough to identify exactly what was in Sullivan’s hand. Gittens told the Guardian that Fong has not yet made a decision about whether to return the officers to regular duty.
Gittens initially refused on June 9 to release the names of the officers involved to the Guardian, but the day after we asked for them, they appeared in the Chronicle. And the department has not yet responded to a Guardian request for documents associated with the shooting.
In 2004, the police commission voted unanimously to conditionally require the disclosure of incident reports to the families of officer-involved shooting victims as swiftly as possible. That change, and the request that the SFPD provide a liaison to the family, were inspired by the death of Cammerin Boyd, who was shot and killed in the spring of 2004 by SFPD officers following a car chase.
But during several subsequent commission meetings, the recommendations disappeared into the ether. And it’s not the first time that proposed reforms were simply ignored by the SFPD, a fact commission vice president Theresa Sparks readily admits.
“I was a little surprised the chief released the names as fast as she did,” Sparks told us.
Sparks nonetheless said that she is still troubled by the so-far inconsistent stories the department has offered to the public and the commission.
“The first story that came out was totally incorrect, [and] the chief could not tell us why the story changed,” Sparks said. “It’s criminal that these families sit there with no specific knowledge about what happened.”
Sullivan’s funeral was attended by his siblings — Kahlil, brother Sangh, and sisters T-sha Sullivan and Tasha Mosby-Greer — and a capacity crowd of Asa’s friends and other family, all in Duggan’s Funeral Home, right across from the Mission Police Station.
Born on Sept. 8, 1980, Asa grew up in San Francisco and attended Bay Area schools. Friends remembered his playful sense of humor. For a time recently, he stayed with his mom while working at Goodwill, commuting from San Jose at 5 a.m. and returning late.
“He made everybody laugh,” Espinosa said. “He didn’t deserve to be cornered in an attic and gunned down.”
The family has contacted Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who told the Guardian that during his handling of hundreds of officer-misconduct cases, he’s seen families victimized by police denied documents, explanations, and the truth.
“If there’s one thing I’ve found, it’s police agencies do a disservice to the victim’s family when they don’t provide information,” Burris said. “When the families ask questions, they don’t respond.” SFBG
Before the pinks start flying, let’s get the snap critique out of the way: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is completely ri-drift-ulous. Start with the deeply tanned, pastel-loving, hella-bleached-blond ganguro girls (now with highly buoyant boob jobs!), proceed to the silly gang-drifting scene down a mountain (why not make it Mt. Fuji?), and fly toward the smirking absurdity of Sonny Chiba playing a deeply tanned, pastel-loving ganguro yakuza boss — this movie throws as much sex and speed in the mix as it can, yet still manages to lag disastrously mid-race.
What is fast-cinating is the fact that The Fast and the Furious (2001) has become a franchise with a record of roping in quality independent directors: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) dragged out John Singleton, and Tokyo Drift apparently got Asian Amerindie filmmaker Justin Lin to roll over as well. Lin became Asian American film’s great yellow hope after some hard-won success with Better Luck Tomorrow (2002), and he’s a politic choice. The original Fast and the Furious cast its Asian characters in such a villainous light that certain viewers were blinded by the hypocrisy. After all, the LA street-facing flick was loosely based on a Vibe story by Chinese American writer Ken Li. In that initial installment, the gangs of gearheads broke down along color lines as they prepped for a tourney called “Race Wars.”
At the time, I read the demonization of the Asian crew as a sort of hangover from the American vs. Japanese auto industry wars. Everything, however, has been upended these days, as Japanese imports of the cinematic variety are being made over regularly and J-pop culture has steadily filtered into the mainstream. A genre film set in Japan with a determinedly multicultural cast doesn’t seem out of the question, if somewhat odd, in that fairly homogenous country (the lead, Southern-accented honky Lucas Black, is joined by African American short stuff Bow Wow, Korean American friend Sung Kang, and South Asian Aussie love interest Nathalie Kelly). Where’s the Russian drift monger?
Betraying his indie filmmaking roots, Lin spends so much time developing the characters and detailing the Japanese mise-en-scène that he actually puts a dent in the movie’s pacing. And the racial mix seems closer to Better Luck Tomorrow’s melting-pot LA than Tokyo, or even Yokohama. But the absolutely weirdest quirk that Lin brings to Tokyo Drift is the fact that he has Better Luck Tomorrow’s Sung Kang reprise his role as the honorable teen grifter, Han, in the film. “Tokyo is my Mexico,” Han says mysteriously at one point, referring to the Wild West gunfighters who’d run for the border. Han’s character bleed, it’s implied, might be attributed to a flight from Better Luck’s black market of cheat sheets. It’s fitting then that Kang strides into his initial frames of Tokyo Drift like Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name or Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter. As if we’re supposed to know who he is. I loved Better Luck, but I still didn’t get it till I checked Internet Movie Database. If only Han had a classier vehicle, one that wasn’t built for a quick buck. (Kimberly Chun)
(Electronic Arts; PS2, Xbox, Windows XP)
GAMER This game is not bad. It’s no God of War, but really, nothing is or ever will be. Godfather is Grand Theft Auto with bits from the beloved Coppola movie used as story line guidance and inspiration.
You play a character who lives on the periphery of the Corleone family, making his way up the Ragu-stained mafioso ladder. Fully immersed in the ravioli-gorged dimension that is Little Italy in 1947, you track down Luca Brasi’s assassin, go to movie producer Woltz’s house and sneak around with the severed horse’s head, protect the Don at the hospital, etc. These things don’t happen on-screen in the movie, but do happen in some way in this universe. Some things are just thrown in, like your character’s love interest.
Your character is the coolest part of the game. You can choose how he looks: his hair, facial hair, eyebrows, eyes, lips, body type, height — everything. There are, like, 25 faces to choose from and the facial hair–hair combos add up to an almost endless array of possible greasy Italians. There is actually a “grease” setting you can toggle to make your goombah more, or less, greasy. Up to you. At first I tried to make my guy look as much like Sonny Corleone as I could, since he was always my favorite character in the movie (yelling all the time, hitting women, etc.), but he came out looking more like Michael from Mean Streets. (“Do I look like a jerk-off to you?” That guy. He shoots Robert De Niro at the end.) I had to start over and I came up with a guy who looks more Latino knife-thrower than Sicilian. I named him Rico Brogna. Now I really like my guy.
The only problem is that playing the game itself is kind of boring, at least at the early stage. There are a lot of shoot-outs (fine), but your character dies after getting hit, like, twice (enemies have a tendency to materialize out of nowhere with fucking bazookas and just blow you away), and there is much repetition. I don’t need a game to be easy, but Jesus, I go nuts when it seems like the AI is geared to making me miserable on purpose.
But I am having fun playing it — I am approaching the halfway mark — and would recommend it to fans of both GTA and The Godfather. It’s got the same massive scope of GTA, city-wise, and the creators really chose the right characters from the movie to have big roles: You deal with Luca Brasi, Sonny Corleone, Clemenza, and Tom Hagen — all the coolest characters. It’s fun. I didn’t realize I’d been waiting all my life to interact with a video image of Abe Vigoda, but apparently I was. When he came on the screen and told me to go whack Spaghetti Righetti, or whomever, I got really excited and yelled out, “Whatever you say, Tessio!” (Mike McGuirk)
Are you a good dwarf or a bad dwarf? In the storied production history of The Wizard of Oz, there were notoriously (and no doubt, apocryphally) so few of the former that Glinda-like attempts at taxonomy seem pointless. They were all bad, or at least naughty, as dwarves have historically seemed in the popular imagination. Celebrated novelist Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and screenwriter Dean Cavanagh’s ribald new stage comedy, however, about four “Munchkins” housed together during the filming of Oz, brings such stereotypes of good and evil center stage, where size may not count at all.
Babylon Heights, receiving a rocky world premiere at San Francisco’s Exit Theatre, builds on the towering Hollywood tale that has the 100-plus dwarves cast as Munchkins running amok in their Culver City hotel, converting it into a den of drunken rioting and sex orgies. But if the premise climbs to the heady stratosphere of urban legend, its story keeps us resolutely low to the ground. First of all, its average-size actors play on an oversize set (a dingy hotel room designed to surreal effect by Tony Kelly and Colby Thompson), giving us a waist-high perspective on the big-people world throughout. Moreover, the germ of its story line has to do with an even more sordid detail in that lasting legend: the rumored suicide of an MGM Munchkin on the set of the film (supposedly just visible in the background, swinging from an artificial tree, in the scene where Dorothy and company set off down the Yellow Brick Road).
With that tasty morbid morsel as an appetizer, Babylon introduces four misfits thrown together by circumstance, each drawn for subtly different reasons to Tinseltown’s mirage utopia, not unlike Dorothy to Oz. There’s Bert Kowalski (Russ Davison), an archetypal ’30s Brooklynite in all but stature, and a bilious, foulmouthed, raunchy little opium addict to boot. There’s Raymond Benedict-Porter (Dennis McIntyre), the self-styled master thespian and an unctuously pretentious name-dropper (who Bert mercilessly teases, recognizing the poseur from the circus circuit). There’s the equally disingenuous Philomena Kinsella (Brittany Kilcoyne McGregor), an Irish working-class girl who’s left the drudgery of a nunnery for the adventure of Hollywood and who artfully feigns fearful innocence in the face of a roomful of men. And finally there’s the true innocent, Charles Merryweather (Chris Yule), the play’s own Dorothy. Cast as a Munchkin infant, the sheltered Englishman (once in the king’s employ at Kew Gardens until driven off by big bullies) is the literal babe of the story, and its sacrificial lamb.
It sounds like a good arrangement for a saucy Rabelaisian send-up of the existing order of things. After all, the dark corners of Oz will never cease to fascinate. And as a depression-era tale, tall or otherwise, the desperation, tribulations, affinities, and infighting among a far-flung group of irregularly employed actors take on some added significance from the vantage of the “little people.” But Babylon never does much with the themes it broaches. In fact, its sardonic comedy never really takes off, although much of the blame could be laid at the feet of a lackluster production that, on opening night at least, could only stumble down the runway.
Contrary to the cavalier myth, the actors who played Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz were more like overworked and underpaid studio fodder, and Babylon’s gritty focus plays on that harsh reality. But here at least the focus blurs, and the surprisingly halfhearted dialogue repeatedly goes slack. Welsh and Cavanagh probably wrote something slightly different, and no doubt director Jesse Reese intended something a bit tighter, but it’s hard to tell going by opening night’s performance (and absent the published version of the play, which is not yet available). Merryweather’s lines are decidedly dull, confining Yule, for the most part, to one or two wide-eyed reactions. McIntyre and Davison, meanwhile, though both capable actors, seemed to be fishing for their lines so often that it began to resemble an evening of unflattering improvisation. The only suitably sharp performance came from McGregor, who immediately infuses the proceedings with much needed energy, while helping to pick up the pace in two acts that drag out to nearly three hours.
Leaving aside opening night missteps, for all its ribaldry, Babylon Heights ends up giving conventional morality much less of a comeuppance than you might expect, or would find, for example, in a wittier Joe Orton farce. SFBG
Through July 1, Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.
156 Eddy, SF
America is unquestionably the land of the large. We well realize that gigantic things generate a sense of awe — along with danger — as it currently applies to presidential hubris and supersized snacks. It’s no accident that the artists who work biggest are United States residents — not to mention men: Think of James Turrell, who transformed a crater in the Arizona desert into a massive temple to natural light; Richard Serra, whose hefty steel sculptures have blocked public plazas and famously crashed through a gallery floor; Christo, whose canvases are world landmarks and entire states; and even Jeff Koons, who effectively inflated a topiary puppy to the size of a mountain. They may have international reputations (and a few peers in other countries), but there is something undeniably American in the desire to realize dreams that large. The trick is to translate that sense of awe into something more than size envy.
Matthew Barney is perhaps the first contemporary artist to translate the idea of that monumental impulse to the media age. His latest venture, “Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint,” which opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week (look for a review in these pages soon), is a sizable, career-spanning project. Like most of his work, it involves a feature-length film, and objects and images that relate to a self-invented universe, one filled with references to the human body, landscapes, and landmarks. Perhaps, as some critics have suggested, Barney’s work extends the enveloping nature of film into three-dimensional space, or synthesizes various art forms into a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk — that total, epic extravaganza of a term that’s frequently attached to Barney. Whatever it’s called, it feels like something major.
A HIGH PRICE TO PAY?
Barney’s Drawing Restraint series — which comprises performances, videos, a feature film, and drawings — is rooted in the idea of struggle, transformation, and creation. The pieces in the ongoing series reflect the artist’s changing means — the earliest of them were done with Barney attempting to make drawings on the wall while shackled with rubber tethers or jumping on a trampoline and inscribing a self-portrait on the ceiling. Drawing Restraint 14, which was recently executed at SFMOMA, involved the artist scaling the building’s tubular skylight and drawing on the curved wall. Drawing Restraint 9, as has been widely reported, costars Barney’s real-life partner Björk, was filmed on a large Japanese whaling ship and employed the full crew as extras (a primary theme of the film is Barney’s identity as an occidental — read: American — in an inscrutable Japanese culture), and was realized on a budget of nearly $5 million.
That seems an attractive sum for an artist to be working with, but not when you compare it to the costs of this country’s greatest cultural exports — Hollywood movies — or even the price of an impressionist painting at auction. It definitely pales before Damien Hirst’s recently publicized bid to make the priciest work of art ever: a diamond-encrusted skull costing some $18.8 million. If Barney could raise those kinds of funds, most likely he’d have little trouble taking his vision to a next level, be it with CGI effects or with greater amounts of his signature material, petroleum jelly.
EXCESS AND RESTRAINT
The SFMOMA exhibition involved casting 1,600 gallons of the stuff, a relatively small amount in Barney terms, in a rectangular mold — a process that was slowed by clogged hoses and a minor rupture on the museum steps. As he did at the Guggenheim with his 2003 Cremaster Cycle exhibition, Barney easily occupies a good chunk of the museum. The show covers the whole of the fourth floor, which has, for the first time, most of its walls removed. The now-vast galleries house a few whale-sized sculptures, all illuminated with hundreds of industrial-looking lightbulbs installed by Barney’s crew. Clusters of sleek flat-screen monitors hang from the ceiling throughout. While it’s not the most expensive show that SFMOMA has mounted — recent ones involving less exotic materials have had much bigger price tags — Drawing Restraint feels deluxe, even if its most used material is cool, white plastic instead of precious stones.
Is Barney’s work gracious or self-absorbed? Is his work fueled by ego, the art market, or artistic drive? These are difficult questions, and although the Cremaster exhibition was accompanied by a telephone book–sized catalog with reams of explanatory text, it’s still difficult to know. Critic Jerry Saltz, in a review of Drawing Restraint 9, described Barney as “a mystic exploring his own inner cathedral.” It seems apt, as that religious edifice is a cavernous container in which to contemplate mystical phenomena, not to mention a form to which museums are often compared. We’re meant to enter them and be quietly wowed, whether we believe the dogma or not.
Those who have tickets to the already sold-out Barney lecture on June 23 — an example of his rock star status — will most likely come away with a sense that the artist possesses a genuine humbleness and an unerring drive to realize his vision. He thinks big, and manages to live up to his ambitions with dignity. Whatever you think of his work, you gotta admire his supersized pluck. SFBG
MATTHEW BARNEY: DRAWING RESTRAINT
June 23–Sept. 17
Fri.–Tues., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.;
Thurs., 11 a.m.–>8:45 p.m.
151 Third St., SF
$7–$12.50, free for 12 and under and members (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–8:45 p.m.)
For Drawing Restraint events, go to www.sfmoma.org
What’s a three-letter word for ejaculate? Whether 58 down in the May 28 edition of the New York Times crossword is meant as a noun or a verb is unclear, but I’m hoping it has nothing to do with the clue for 37 down, “It runs down the leg.” Ewww. I knew the Times’ Sunday crossword had the reputation of being the Mt. Everest of word puzzles, but I never knew it was so dirty. As it happens, though, Will Shortz is a smarty-pants and a smart-ass: The answer, wincingly appropriate to any normal human being trying to finish one of these suckers, is “cry.”
Still, the mustachioed Times crossword editor seems remarkably un-smart-assy in Patrick Creadon’s entertaining new doc, Wordplay. He’s more of a likable nerd with Asperger’s syndrome–ish tendencies, as are the featured puzzle aficionados, who worship his work with the fervent zeal accorded to fundamentalist doctrine. Actually, for the celeb followers (who include Bill Clinton and Ken Burns), Shortz’s crossword puzzles aren’t much more than welcome diversions. But for the rest of his impassioned converts, the born-again religious metaphor isn’t much of a stretch. Most, after all, seem pretty unexceptional — until you plunk them down in front of a puzzle and they channel the word like possessed Holy Rollers with Paper Mates.
Wordplay follows a handful of these nerdlinger types as they compete in the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Contestants include city girl Ellen Ripstein, a mousy former champion who twirls a mean baton and looks a bit like a middle-aged Sofia Coppola; Al Sanders, a paunchy, middle-American perpetual runner-up; and young Tyler Hinman, a cocky, small-town frat boy.
The contest is surprisingly intense. Still, what elevates Wordplay beyond Spellbound: The AARP Years is not the competition, but the community born of it. “It’s like finding a lost tribe,” says musician Jon Delfin, who started competing in 1985. Usually his kind feel judged for their peculiar talent, but for one weekend a year, they wander out of social purgatory to bask in the glow of the promised land and its balding godhead. The only thing is, for this crew Valhalla just happens to be the Stamford, Conn., Marriott. (Michelle Devereaux)
Embarcadero Center Cinema
1 Embarcadero Center, SF
1115 Solano, Albany
The Road to Guantánamo is the true story of three British citizens who were held without charges for two years at the American detention camps in Guantánamo Bay. Director Michael Winterbottom’s film combines documentary with dramatization in a way that is slightly confusing in the beginning, as we quickly cut between the men who were actually detained (Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Rhuhel Ahmed) and the actors who play them (Rizwan Ahmed, Arfan Usman, and Farhud Harun). The performances are first-rate, however, and the illusion of reality is created with harrowing enough detail that the gap between reportage and acting, or between documentary footage and reenactment, quickly seems irrelevant.
The worst thing a film like this can do is leave its audience feeling manipulated into believing something it was inclined to believe anyway. But The Road to Guantánamo consistently lets the story do its own work, and dumps us into the basic situation without too much backstory; it doesn’t make its protagonists overly heroic, paste any love stories over the narrative, or overwhelm its audience with music that tells us what we should be feeling.
For a film loaded with war casualties and torture, it’s disarmingly entertaining. What begins as a buddy-flick road movie quickly becomes a journey into hell. Three friends leave Britain for Pakistan, where a bride is waiting for one of them. A naive side trip to Afghanistan, just as the US bombing is getting under way, quickly carries them beyond the typical budget travel annoyances of gastrointestinal illness and makeshift restrooms and into a war-torn landscape full of the mutilated citizens of a country being indiscriminately bombed. Their final circle, however, is that abyss located both at the center of the American psyche and in Cuba. Rounded up with a batch of suspected Taliban fighters, our heroes come face-to-face with the Bush administration’s love affair with torture, humiliation, and endless detention without charge.
“Where’s Osama bin Laden?” the American interrogators ask their clueless victims, a question so ridiculous it is comic. The Americans are so perfectly American and so perfectly piggy that it’s easy to forget these scenes are being acted. Even in other recent films that package their torture as political critique, like Syriana and V for Vendetta, the subjects and objects of the verb “to torture” have been muddled; we’ve watched only white Americans and Brits enduring the worst, at the hands of Muslims, cartoon characters, or — in movies like Hostel, in which the torture is pure entertainment — East European whores and Germanic S-M fags. As in dreams, audiences probably understand that the roles are confused, and that Americans should actually be the ones wielding the clubs and attack dogs. Finally, however, we’ve been presented with a more accurate grammar: The Americans and British are torturing and the Muslims are tortured. For that reason alone, The Road to Guantánamo is an important and necessary film. SFBG
THE ROAD TO GUANT
During the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, where Lady Vengeance screened under its original title, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, director Park Chanwook (through a translator) discussed payback, villains, and cyborgs.
SFBG Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance don’t really form a conventional trilogy in terms of characters and plots — but they share themes [betrayal, revenge] and motifs [child kidnappings, kidney transplants]. Were all three films conceived at once?
PARK CHANWOOK They just happened. I didn’t plan them from the beginning. After the first film [Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance], I didn’t want to make another film about revenge, but somebody brought me a very nice script about revenge: Oldboy. The third one [Lady Vengeance] actually came out in relation to the questions I received at a press conference before filming Oldboy. People asked, why would I deal with revenge again?
SFBG What made you decide to have a female character as the lead in the final film?
PC Because it’s the last film of the trilogy. In my previous films, the females did not have any major roles. I wanted to compensate for the lack of female presence, so I decided to have a female as the lead character. I wanted to give it a different touch, so I thought a female would be best.
SFBG The lead actor from Oldboy [Choi Min-sik] also appears in Lady Vengeance. Why did you choose to use him again, and why did you cast him as a villain instead of a hero this time?
PC There’s no direct connection between those two films, simply because it’s the same actor. He happens to be a great actor who can portray the role of a villain. Actually, the actor Choi had never taken any role as a villain previously — his image in Korea is warm and like a patriarch. In this film he has this image of a children’s teacher, but underneath there is this image of villain. The fixed image actually helped to disguise the real villain.
SFBG Your films are known for being violent, but there is also a sense of humor, however dark, that’s very apparent in all of them. What do you think is the connection between humor and violence?
PC I wanted to avoid ending the film with a dark, heavy scene because I wanted to give the audience room to have a more intelligent interpretation of the whole story. If you have only violence then you may miss that chance. This way, you can step back and think about it more objectively.
SFBG What’s next for you?
PC The title of my next film is I Am Cyborg — that’s the direct translation from Korean. Once I release it the English title might be different. It’s the story of this mental patient who thinks that she may be a cyborg, and she meets a boy. It’s a romance! (Cheryl Eddy)
“It has to be pretty. Everything should be pretty,” explains Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae), who throughout Lady Vengeance is variously referred to as “a real live angel,” “Geum-ja the kindhearted,” and “the witch.” The fact that what has to be pretty is a gun should surprise no one who’s seen Korean director Park Chanwook’s gruesome Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or his staggering Oldboy. His latest is the glorious female-revenge film Quentin Tarantino wished he could make, ending up with two so-so Kill Bills instead.
And Lady Vengeance has similarities with Kill Bill: a very bad man, a stolen child, and an agonizingly long period of inactivity preceding a fevered, focused pursuit of payback. But Geum-ja doesn’t fall into a coma; at the start of Lady Vengeance she’s exiting jail after serving 13 years for a crime it’s pretty obvious she didn’t commit. Behind bars, she’s been plotting, sweetly luring fellow inmates into her debt so that they have no choice but to help her on the outside. As the film’s intricate story line slowly reveals, she’s most intent on punishing the man responsible for her confinement (a children’s teacher with sinister tendencies, played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik), but there are other considerations — including a reunion with her long-lost daughter, now an English-speaking adolescent being raised by a square Australian couple.
Park’s previous revenge films drew some ire for their vicious violence, but they also earned the director a passionate following among genre fans. Lady Vengeance is no less cleverly brutal — granted, nobody cuts off their own tongue with a pair of scissors in this one — but it’s also Park’s most elegant effort, starting with graceful opening titles that introduce a classical, harpsichord-laden score. Overall, the film has a more feminine quality than Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy — obviously a result of the casting, but it’s a twist that also permeates Park’s visual and tonal style. The film’s obligatory moments of over-the-top nastiness are tempered by an overall mood of delicate, lusciously colored restraint.
A big part of Lady Vengeance’s success is owed to Lee, perfectly cast as a woman caught between the conflicting forces of maternal instinct and the need for sweet, sweet revenge. Her years-ago arrest is chronicled for us by a breathless newscast; it seems Geum-ja became a media sensation not just for her confessed terrible crime (kidnapping and killing a child), but also for her refined beauty (the TV says, “tabloids compared her to Olivia Hussey”). And indeed, Lee is an exquisite actor, slipping between perfectly telegraphed emotions with often-wordless ease.
After prison, Geum-ja reenters society with relative ease, partially because of her skills as a baker (no accident, a stereotypically feminine talent), and her cool good looks. Her transformation into the lady of the title is achieved by applying crimson eye shadow (“People are always saying I look kindhearted”), a kind of superhero disguise that foreshadows the blood she’s hell-bent on spilling.
To fully explain Geum-ja’s motivation would deprive the viewer the pleasure of following Park through Lady Vengeance’s brambly maze of a plot. However, the statement “the kidnapper had kidnapped a kidnapper’s kid” (delivered in complete seriousness, though the film’s not without plenty of gallows humor) sums things up pretty well. Lady Vengeance falters only in its final quarter, when Lee steps back from the action for a few key scenes. Her quest for revenge is what drives the film, and without her red-rimmed gaze front and center, things meander a bit.
By the end, thankfully, she’s back in focus; her mission may be completed, but there’s no Kill Bill–style sense of triumph. “He made a sinner out of me,” Geum-ja says about the man she desperately wants to punish. And he will die, of course, but will Geum-ja ever find atonement? Lady Vengeance ends on that question — as pretty as ever. SFBG
1572 California, SF
2230 Shattuck, Berk.
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for showtimes
SONIC REDUCER You can keep your majestic soundscapes, your rewrites of “Rocky Raccoon,
CHEAP EATS Years ago when I haunted the other edge of this continent I lived in a chickenless shack under the bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. Me and Bikkets kept our bed on the screened-in porch in order that there would be room indoors for the Ping-Pong table.
From the other side of our see-through dream-through blow-through walls at night came the lights, sounds, and smells of a cross-river gypsum plant, Boston-bound 18-wheelers, seagulls, lobster boats, and salt water. At high tide the Piscataqua River flowed right up under our little fish house and deck and slapped rather romantically against the cement block foundation of the shack proper. At low tide you could follow the pipes from the toilet through the mud under the fish house, and out a little ways to a river-bedded mosaic of toilet paper and brown things.
I’ll never forget the mix of horror and delight with which I discovered, one low, low tide, that rich tourists, seacoast summerers (including the family Bush), and fancy-pants restaurant-goers who could afford to order Maine lobsters were in one manner of speaking eating my shit.
But my favorite memory from that era (late late ’80s) was waking up one weekend morning in the middle of the afternoon, putting on my glasses, and seeing my big buddy Carl camped on the roof of the fish house with a book and a bag of chips, respectfully waiting to see me stir before booming, “SKINLESS FRANKS!!!!!!”
All caps, six exclamation marks. This, from the rocking voice of Boston’s best newscaster by day, the Charm Dogs’ shirtless drummer by night. And, more importantly than all that, the only one I know who can beat me five games out of ten at Ping-Pong. Or six.
The reason I bring this all up, when I do have a new favorite restaurant to tell you about, is because this morning when I rolled out of bed at six in the morning, being a chicken farmer now, not a rock star, I put on my glasses, fired up the computer, and had an e-mail from Carl saying, “SKINLESS FRANKS!!!!!!”
Through the years, as we have slid in and out of touch with each other, this is our way of picking up where we left off, with our old skinless franks greeting. I don’t remember where it came from, except that in those days, before I moved out here and became soft, that was what was on the grill. Hot dogs. Chicken thighs. Not all these prissy, highbrow things I live on now, like pork butts.
Hey Carl, my skinless franks brother, I think the reason I let us lose track of each other this time is because it’s hard to say to the guy you used to hang out in sports bars with that you’re going around now in capris and lipstick. Even when you know it’s going to be OK.
So, OK, since it’s still Pride month and not quite next month, let’s let this be about poop and pride. All mixed up. If you’re an old friend or great-aunt of mine, and you haven’t seen me in a couple years, and if you’re just tuning in, or if you’ve been tuned in and still don’t get it, get it: I’m trans!
To review: hormonally female, gonadically male, and in every other way somewhere in-between. That’s the easy part. The hard part is semantics. I think of myself as “me,” and I prefer to be thought of from the outside as “she.” So, hell yeah, if you ask, she me. Sister me. Humor me.
Watch what happens.
But you know, San Rafael is hard up for Chinese food. I know because I had some serious time to kill there the other day while they scraped up a body or something from the road.
I don’t know where to eat in San Rafael. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten in San Rafael in my life, have I? So I had to do a thing that I of all people should know better than to do: I had to look at the restaurant reviews in the windows.
House of Lee, of all the downtown places I saw, had the most positive write-ups. Glow glow glow, tea-smoked duck, salt and pepper prawns, green onion pancakes. . . Cheap, cozy, the place had new favorite Chinese restaurant written all over it.
Except you can’t believe what you read, see, even if someone else besides me wrote it, because they don’t have tea-smoked duck, the green onion pancakes are lame, and the prawns didn’t make much sense to me. How do you eat fried prawns with the shells still on, without losing all the deliciously seasoned breading?
A: Use your hands, lick your fingers. SFBG
HOUSE OF LEE
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
885–887 Fourth St., San Rafael
Takeout and delivery available
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then paella is a dish best served … not in a restaurant. Yes, if it’s good paella you seek, you are well advised to start inquiring among your friends as to which of them has a paella pan and might be prevailed upon to use it, perhaps at a summertime party. For paella could be summer’s ultimate party dish: Not only is it one of those rare preparations in which the home cook has a distinct advantage over commercial short-order kitchens, but it is also easy to make in party quantities, and it affords considerable spectacle if made the traditional way, over an open fire.
Last week my intrepid brother entered the party-paella sweepstakes, the party being the graduation from high school of his stepdaughter and the paella suggestion being mine, since I like paella and have a good recipe for it (adapted from Pierre Franey’s invaluable 60-Minute Gourmet) and have made it successfully over an open fire, though not for 80 people, many of them overexcited teenagers stoked on mojitos. My pan is just 14 inches across; the one he procured for the party was three feet across. It looked like something that had fallen from a jet passing overhead.
My thoughts went out to him, across two time zones, on the evening of the party: Now he must be laying the fire in the steel drum, now he must be softening his onions and peppers. We had discussed ingredients, quantities, shortcuts, possible problems, and remedies beforehand — too much fire and too little fluid were paramount in my mind — but in the end, he was there, he was the wielder of the long-handled spatula, and he would have to pull it off. I would only hear about it, for better or worse, the day after. And, the day after, I did hear, and he did pull it off, and the crowd cheered, then accepted leftovers.
Other graduation parties, he told me, offered cocktail wieners or burritos ordered in en masse from Chipotle’s — the latter being, perhaps and sadly, the way things are done now in affluent exurbia: Write a check and let somebody else do the work. I’m sure the graduates enjoyed their burritos, but I’m even more sure they will never forget their first sight and taste of a dish made for centuries in the centuries-old way of making it, by someone skilled and interested enough to make it for them.
The popular imagination supposes that restaurant writers are Olympians, dispatching thunderbolt justice to places that scorch their garlic (a sin smellable from several blocks away) or fail to refill the water glasses, or whose restrooms are in a state of untidiness that would make the White Glove Lady shriek. But the real powers of restaurant writing, at least as I have understood it, are more subtle and have to do with bringing attention to worthy spots that might otherwise languish unnoticed. A kind word or two might help a small place breathe — or not. One hopes, but at the same time one develops a certain aversion to glancing in the rear-view mirror, there to see a restaurant one had liked and written about, sometimes just a few months earlier, with windows now newspapered over and one of those change-of-ownership placards taped to the door. It is a little bit like seeing balls of sagebrush tumble through a ghost town.
A slightly less chilling variant of this transformation is the restaurant that, in the wake of a favorable notice or two, changes its name but not much else. This is a mystery to me. If you got a good review and you change the name, people who come to you because of the review may well be confused and a little suspicious. If you acquire a well-reviewed restaurant, what do you gain by changing the name but not the essence of the place? Food writers might be likely to review anew if a barbecue spot becomes a temple of raw cuisine, but they will be considerably less inclined to do that if a Chinese-Vietnamese place becomes a straight Vietnamese restaurant or a pan-Mexican place a Yucatecan one.
My examples are neither random nor hypothetical: The Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant called Lucky Time that I wrote about just over a year ago (on March 9, 2005) did indeed become, in recent weeks, a Vietnamese restaurant called either Will’s or Will’s House, depending on whether you consult the menu card, the awning over the door, or the records of the county clerk; while the Noe Valley restaurant favorably reviewed in these pages as Mexico City (on Dec. 24, 2003) became a branch of Mi Lindo Yucatán the following July, after some ownership juggles. (I wrote about the original Mi Lindo Yucatán, on Valencia near 15th Street, in March 2004.)
Last things first. I have eaten at Mexico City/Mi Lindo Yucatán a number of times before and after the change of name and slant and am not sure I notice much difference other than that a hand-lettered sign proclaiming “the art of Mayan cuisine” now dangles over the sidewalk. Inside, the look is still Daliesque, with bright blues and reds, rectangular panels slanting away from the walls near the ceiling, and paintings (presumably in the style of the Maya) on the walls. The salsa is still smoky and excellent; the chips crisp, well salted, and reliably replenished. I was surprised to find less turkey on the menu than at the Valencia Street location, for the turkey (despite its associations in American consciousness with the Pilgrims and all-American Thanksgiving bloatoramas) is native to the Yucatán and has long been central to Mayan cooking. (There is an excellent discussion of all this in Jared Diamond’s recent book Collapse.)
The nightly specials menu did offer a pair of turkey tamales ($11.95), served like an open-faced sandwich on a square mat of corn husk and dressed with a slightly sweet tomato salsa. The turkey itself was a little tough, like the Thanksgiving leftovers that get made into sandwiches, but our expectations for turkey are fairly modest in this country, so it didn’t matter much. Otherwise, the food was what we think of as Mexican: a wonderfully smoky tortilla soup ($3.25), a fish taco made with grilled (rather than batter-fried) catfish ($5.50) — healthier, no doubt, but lacking the sinful rush of crunchiness — and a quesadilla mar y tierra ($10.95), with shrimp and strips of grilled steak whose tenderness amounted to a polite rebuke of the turkey.
A neighbor recommended Will’s House to me.
“It’s right on 14th at Market,” she said.
So it is. So was Lucky Time, which served an agreeable hodgepodge of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes in the very same space from the fall of 2004 until late this winter. One of Lucky Time’s owners was Billy Deng; the proprietor of Will’s House is named Will … something. I called, wondering if Billy had become Will. At first I was told by an employee that Will’s surname was Lee, then someone else got on the line to say the surname was uncertain. So, a mystery wrapped in a muddle.
The food, on the other hand, is a simpler matter. It is now “authentic Vietnamese,” according to the menu card, with pho, lemongrass, Saigon salads, lotus root, and vegetarian options well represented. There is one of the better Vietnamese sandwiches in town ($5), with a choice of lemongrass chicken, grilled beef, or pork on a first-rate baguette and rounds of fresh jalapeño pepper for some real flaminess. Grilled five-spice chicken over rice ($8) has the butter-tender quality of confit, while grilled barbecue lemongrass pork rolls ($6.50) sound more heart-unfriendly than they turn out to be, with lean meat wrapped with fine noodles in uncooked rice paper.
Design-wise, not much has changed. The restaurant’s interior is still cool and softly lit, and the ribbon of mirror still encircles the dining room. Plus ça morph … SFBG
MI LINDO YUCAT
March 21-April 19
Just party, Aries, OK? Seriously. There’s nothing but major good-time rays beaming down on you people, so do what the universe wants you to do and just go nuts. It’s like the cosmos has thrown an intergalactic Aries block party. Muster up the best, most positive, and honest version of yourself and take it out on the town.
April 20-May 20
Taurus, what the hell do you want for yourself? Do you know? We seriously hope you do, because this week is a great one to kick up your efforts toward manifesting your hopes. We think that working toward making your personal life more satisfying and supportive of your ambitions is a good way to exploit this excellent energy.
May 21-June 21
Gemini, this week marks the cosmic beginnings of a very major, long-term project in Gemini land. You can prepare for it by spending some time getting grounded in the people and things you’ve invested in emotionally. It’s time to look at how you can participate in intimacy without giving up your sense of security.
June 22-July 22
Oh Cancer, ye of many scarcity issues. You’re not going to let your crummy, pain-in-the-ass problems prevent you from leaping wholeheartedly into some brand-new endeavors, are you? Hells naw! Adopt a pace that lets you engage in you new projects and is steady enough to calm your freaky feelings.
July 23-Aug. 22
Leo, don’t spend your free time daydreaming about what dive bars and thrift stores you’re going to pillage on your cross-country trip. Instead, get your tires rotated, pay your car insurance, and make sure you’ve got enough minutes on your celly when you hit the road.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
You’ve got a big challenge, Virgo, and it’s in the relationship realm. You’ve got to look at the larger picture and directly confront both your need for things to be different and your participation in bringing them to the point where they currently are. Your relationships require tending — get to it.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
Silly Libra, boundaries aren’t just for bad times. In fact, it’s ignoring boundaries when things are going swimmingly that leads to people having massive unbounded meltdowns when shit gets hard. So while you’re having a blast this week, take a minute here and there to playfully enforce your rules.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
Scorpio, you might not know what the hell we’re talking about. ’Cause we’re predicting the beginning of a closure on something that’s been a wide-open wound for a wicked long time for you folks. It’s going to be a very long process, healing this thing, so we understand if you don’t even notice the first twinges yet.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sometimes you just have to decide to be OK, Sag. Sometimes it’s just that simple. it appears that a humble and sane resolve to be fine will do wonders for you. The sadness you’re processing right now isn’t terribly tragic, but it’s real, and we encourage you to play your way through it.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
OK, curmudgeons. We’ve got the ultimate challenge for the crankily inclined. We dare you to sustain maximum positivity throughout the coming days. We dare you to remain totally open to the buckets of joyfulness, idealism, and potential the universe is dumping on you right now.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Aquarius, what’s the damn problem with you people these days? You’re all jumpy and sketchy and inconsistent and scattered. We’d just send you to the disco and have you work it out on the dance floor, except we think you might have some important decisions and details to attend to. Get it together.
Feb. 19-March 20
Pisces, some of the methods you’ve come up with to handle life are dazzling and genius. The rest suck ass. It’s now your job to figure out which systems really benefit you and which are absurdly outmoded. Don’t be scared of what you’re losing — what you’re perfecting are tools for handling stress. SFBG
TECHSPLOITATION In an alternate universe, the National Security Agency’s database of every telephone call made over the past five years in the United States is being used in couples counseling sessions to prove that some guy really did say that mean thing his boyfriend says he said. But in this universe, where the government spies on you rather than keeping couples from breaking up over stupid shit, we must rely on our personal phone surveillance logs to preserve social connectedness.
That’s why I’ve been having an etiquette crisis about my smart phone. It’s a Treo 650, the kind that holds a zillion numbers in memory and can therefore identify anybody calling me who has called before. It’s like a just-in-time call-tracing system. Even when people try to block their numbers, I can often tell who they are based on how the block looks. One colleague’s blocked caller ID always pops up as “4321” and another as “9999999.” My phone also maintains a fairly extensive log of who has called me, so I can browse through my own personal phone records for the past year and a half to figure out names, numbers, and times called.
As more people acquire similar phones, I become increasingly alarmed by all this record keeping — not so much because of the mini-NSA feelings engendered, but because I’m not sure what the social rules around it are. For example, I can now be fairly certain that if I call a friend or colleague’s cell phone, they’ll know it’s me before they answer. Even creepier, they’ll know I called, and when, even if I don’t choose to leave a message. And they know that I know the same things about them when they call. Thence comes my etiquette crisis.
You see, the whole practice of calling and hanging up without leaving a message has taken on a new meaning. Calling and hanging up is no longer really an option — even if you do hang up, a record of your actions lingers on. And there’s no benefit in terms of stopping cranks or fraudsters here because caller ID is easy to fake or block. There are at least a dozen services that help you spoof the number on your phone so it looks as if you’re calling from 6969696 or whatever. So this is really only an issue for the casual phone caller who isn’t energetically paranoid enough to go through the trouble of altering her phone number.
All this is an elaborate explanation for why I stood in the street the other day, staring at a missed-call notice on my phone and wondering if the person who called intended for me to call him back. He hadn’t left a message, but then again, he didn’t need to — he’s a pretty tech-savvy person and would certainly have anticipated that I would know he called and precisely when. Was it like a “call me but not urgently”? Was it just a transient sort of request, like an invite to lunch that would time out by the time I got a message, so he didn’t bother leaving one? (In that case, I thought to myself, I really didn’t need to call him back.) Or was it some new form of passive-aggressiveness, in which my decision whether or not to call him back based on the call trace became the measure of my loyalty to our friendship?
Charlie, who watched me staring at my phone, opined that I didn’t have to call the person back. But then I reminded her of a spat we’d had where she cited my cell phone log, saying she could prove that she’d called 10 times before I called back. She conceded, “Well, you should always call me back if I don’t leave a message, but nobody else.”
This seemed to me an awfully arbitrary rule. Miss Manners would be indignant.
Caller ID is causing a politeness aporia in my life. I suspect this is because surveillance and etiquette are both tools that help us monitor and control what everybody around us is doing. Of course, no matter how stringent the etiquette enforcers are, we still have a choice about how and when we choose to adhere to their little rules. With surveillance, there is no choice.
And, in case you’re wondering: No, I didn’t return the phone call. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who has a record of every time you called her since late 2004.
About getting past my gag reflex while giving blow jobs: I have no idea what’s the best way to practice this. I’ve tried bananas, but honestly that was just weird. I never bothered trying to deep-throat my ex because he was happy with a hand job. The new boyfriend has expressed much interest in it, and I think trying to deep-throat without practice first would be really awful. Any books on this? Recommended dildos? Anything?
Willing but Worried
Indeed, but first let’s get our terms straight: Are you confutf8g the standard-issue blow job with the X-treme sport called “deep-throating” (taking the penis all the way into the throat), or has the boyfriend specifically requested the latter? “Deep-throating” has long had its place in the lexicon, but it has not replaced and ought not to replace “blow job,” “giving head,” or “going down on.” They are not at all the same thing.
If all you two are interested in is mouth-penis contact, you shouldn’t need a textbook or a night of, you should pardon the expression, “cramming.” You can practice a bit with nothing fancier or more banana-flavored than your own finger or a popsicle stick, just to determine how far back you can tolerate an oral foreign body before you need to expel it. It does get easier with practice. Once you graduate to the real thing, you will find that the more control you take over the process (you do the moving, he just lies there being happy he has a penis), the less gaggy you will feel. If it still feels overly intrusive or out of control, wrap your hand (spit into it generously first, as though sealing a bargain) around the base and move this in concert with your mouth. Some men can easily detect the difference but many don’t care — friction is friction, after all, and warm, wet, and deep are usually good enough without having to get all picky about it. Most men enjoy a blow job, period, and few — I cannot say “none,” but let’s not get distracted by the corner cases — get off on making girls gag or produce involuntary Roman showers.
If you can imagine yourself practicing on a dildo and not immediately collapse in giggles, you’re ahead of the game and I give you my blessing. Buy something realistically sized and inexpensive (jelly rubber, probably), pretend it’s attached to your boyfriend (the sillier the color the harder this is to carry off, I imagine) and see how deep, fast, et cetera, you can go without gagging. Keeping your neck straight and head slightly back are supposed to help, although the often recommended lie-on-your-back-with-your-head-off-the-edge-of-the-bed position strikes me as ill advised at best, since we are trying to avoid panic here, and what could be more panic inducing than having your airway and vocal capability cut off while somebody straddles your chest? Try lying prone or crouching, with the dildo upright as though projecting jauntily from your boyfriend’s pelvis as he lies on his back, and practice opening your throat as though chugging a beer or saying “Ah.”
You may find, in time, that you really can control your gag reflex. The feedback provided by a real live boyfriend, though, in the form of appreciative gasps and groans, is a motivator the likes of which mere plastic, no matter how colorful, will never achieve. Not, at any rate, with today’s technology. Androids and replicants haven’t yet started rolling off the assembly lines and into our toy boxes.
Faking it with inanimate objects will only get you so far; if you really want to learn, you’re going to have to try it on the real thing. I don’t know your boyfriend, but I bet he’d be game for a little experimentation. Just make sure that the session is approached as an experiment, and that neither of you brings to it unrealistic expectations of immediate, spectacular success. Nobody’s born knowing how to do this sort of thing, at least not until those replicants get here.
If you two get this far and wish to — oh heck, there’s no better way to put this — go a little deeper, there’s good information to be found in instructional videos and DVDs, like the ones Nina Hartley puts out, and in books such as Violet Blue’s The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio, which contains nifty tips like how to keep your lipstick perfect throughout, as well as, yes, bona fide deep-throating techniques. I think deep-throating is overrated, myself, but then, I only borrow a penis and ought to defer here to those who possess them full time.
One last word of warning: Yes, there can be a somewhat unpleasant surprise at the end of a successful blow job. Inform him that he is responsible for early warning and withdrawal, no “whoopsies” allowed. This probably ought to be considered nonnegotiable at the beginning, subject to later review.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. She is currently preparing to give birth; thus, we’ll be rerunning some of her favorite columns from adventures past until she recovers. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view more archived columns.
EDITORIAL The attack ads started almost the moment Phil Angelides won the Democratic nomination for governor, and they’ll continue until November, funded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seemingly bottomless war chest and carrying a misleading message that has become the vicious refrain of right-wingers everywhere:
The Democrat wants to raise your taxes.
Let’s get this straight, just for the permanent record: Angelides is not proposing to raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year. That’s means the vast majority of all Californians will not face a tax hike under the economic proposals the Democratic candidate for governor has set forth. Angelides wants to do something that Democrats (and Republicans) considered perfectly reasonable public policy for more than half a century, until the wing nuts got ahold of American economic policy: He wants to make the very wealthy pay a reasonable share of the costs of society.
The philosophy here is simple: Millionaires have reaped the benefits of this society — far more so in most cases than those who are struggling at the margins. They can afford to pay a higher marginal tax rate. They’ve won huge tax cuts on the federal level and pay far less in taxes than their peers in almost every other industrialized society. Asking the top tier of the taxpayers to cough up a little more money (nowhere near as much as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, but a little bit more) to get the state’s revenue in line with its spending is hardly a radical idea.
Californians want extensive public services. Schwarzenegger’s approach to providing them is to borrow more money. That’s never a terribly good idea, and given the state of the state’s pocketbook, it’s a particularly bad idea right now.
So Angelides is actually talking fiscal sanity — but a lot of people aren’t going to get the message. The “no new taxes” mantra is so powerful that it could well be the biggest factor in the fall election — and could mean defeat for Angelides unless he moves now, aggressively, to counter it.
His campaign, which in the primary was bold on policy but thin on promoting it, ought to turn the governor’s attacks upside down. Imagine a series of ads that went like this:
Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or: Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — his own. Or: Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — but not yours.
Democrats who are willing to talk seriously about economic inequality in our society get accused of waging “class warfare.” Angelides, who made a personal fortune as a real estate developer, is in an excellent position to make a national statement about how wrongheaded and dangerous that sort of attack can be. And he’s in an excellent position to start a national conversation that’s long overdue — and start it in a state that brought America the awful “tax revolt” of the 1970s.
Memo to Mr. Angelides: Don’t fear the t-word. Use it right, and it will put you in the governor’s office. SFBG
I saw the (somewhat) glorious past and the rather dubious future of the Democratic Party last week in Little Rock, Ark. Not the sort of place you’d expect to see progressive politics clash with hard reality, but there we were: a few hundred members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies — many of us charter members of the left wing of the party — listening to a pair of native-son Dems, Gen. Wesley Clark and former president Bill Clinton, lecturing on the state of the nation and the future of the White House.
Clark, who didn’t even bother to deny that he’s seriously considering running for president (“I haven’t decided not to run”), decried the loss of national purpose in what sounded an awful lot like a stump speech. The retired military man seemed to long for the days of the cold war, when Americans were Americans and commies were commies, and we all knew who the enemy was. In those days, he said, Democrats and Republicans joined together in common cause to defeat the red menace. (Oh, there were differences: Republicans wanted to bomb first and ask questions later, and Democrats wanted to try to talk and make nice before summoning the Marines. But that was just the sort of difference you see between men and women, he suggested, implying in a really weird way that all cold war Democrats were actually female.) But overall, we were, well, united.
Clinton, who spoke and took questions for an amazing two hours or so (and charged us not a nickel), picked up the unity theme and encouraged the press to understand the nuances between hard-line partisan positions. He was critical of Bush’s foreign policy (“You can’t kill, jail, or occupy all your enemies) and talked Jimmy Carter–like of what good Americans could do for the world, but said he liked Bush personally (“He’s a man of great will and … intuitive intelligence”).
When I asked him about same-sex marriage, he ducked beautifully, saying it should be left to the states — but made a point of disagreeing with my premise, which is that some issues aren’t nuanced at all. Some things are just right and wrong.
And in the end, he had a message for the Democratic left: Get with the program. “I am,” he said, “about winning.”
I dunno. Maybe sometimes I’m not. SFBG
OPINION Three years ago, on June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, and adults of all sexual orientations were, for the first time in the history of our country, totally free to engage in consensual sex “per os or per anum.” That monumental decision freed our collective genitals from one of the most repressive laws ever slapped on them.
The act of sodomy was named after the infamous city in the Bible that was destroyed by the Old Testament god-patriarch either for inhospitality (the liberal interpretation) or propositioning angels for anal sex (the fundie read). The term sodomy was first used by St. Peter Damian in the 11th century, when antihomo sentiment ran rampant in Europe. By 1350, most of the continent had sodomy statutes on the books, according to gay historian John Boswell.
The prohibitions against oral and anal sex in America were enacted state-by-state and followed English law. The first colony to ban the “crime not to be named among Christians” was Virginia in 1610. By the 1950s, when the first “homophile” groups formed, all the states had sodomy laws.
The post-Stonewall gay liberation movement pushed hard for the decriminalization of all sex acts between consenting adults. The movement got its first poster boy in 1982: A police officer caught Atlanta bartender Michael Hardwick in his own bedroom engaging in anal sex with another man. The officer, who had come to serve a summons at 3 a.m., entered the apartment on the invitation of Hardwick’s roommate. The district attorney declined to prosecute but, at the urging of the ACLU, Hardwick decided to fight.
In 1986, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to America’s libidos: It upheld the Georgia sodomy laws (Bowers v. Hardwick).
In 1988, two Texas men, John G. Lawrence and Tyron Garner, were jailed overnight and fined $200 after police found them having sex in Lawrence’s apartment. The cops had come in response to a weapons disturbance falsely reported by a neighbor. The men followed Harwick’s lead and took the matter to court. In a surprising turnaround, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law (Lawrence v. Texas) and killed all the sodomy statutes in the 13 states that still had them. America had finally entered the modern world — except for the US military, which still punishes sodomy (Article 125) among straight and queer service members.
In light of Lawrence v. Texas, that law will be struck down eventually too.
Good riddance to it all.
In an age when many queers are fighting for the more mainstream goals of getting married and joining the military, let us not forget the fight for sexual liberation that our LGBT movement once championed. As feminist anarchist Emma Goldman might’ve said: “If I can’t fuck, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” SFBG
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime radical working-class southern Italian sodomite writer, performer, and activist.
EDITORIAL The rate of violent crime in San Francisco, including murder, is climbing, and it’s way past unacceptable. Progressives aren’t generally known for their crime-fighting plans, but in this case the left flank of the Board of Supervisors, led by Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, has offered a real, functional plan: an increase in community policing and additional funding for violence-prevention programs. However, Mayor Gavin Newsom and the cops are against that, and they helped knock it down on the June 6 ballot.
So what does the mayor want to do? He wants to put surveillance cameras — perhaps as many as 100 new surveillance cameras — all over the city, recording everything that happens in big swaths of public space, 24 hours a day.
The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the mayor to drop the plan. We agree.
For starters, there’s no evidence that cameras deter crime. Studies in England, where crime cameras are ubiquitous, show no decrease in criminal activity that can be linked to the cameras, and even studies in the United States suggest that criminals aren’t deterred by them. It’s possible cameras will help identify killers, particularly in neighborhoods where it’s almost impossible to find witnesses willing to talk — but it’s also possible (even likely) the bad guys will know exactly where the cameras are and either move somewhere else or wear masks.
And in exchange for this dubious benefit, San Franciscans will give up an immense amount of privacy.
We already live in a society where surveillance is an ugly fact of life. Credit card customers, grocery shoppers, cell phone and FasTrak users — almost all of us have our names and other details of our lives in electronic files, controlled by private firms and (as we’ve seen in the post–Sept. 11 era) easily accessible by government agencies.
The cameras offer such a huge potential for abuse. Will local or federal authorities use them to monitor political protests? Will they become a tracking device for people the feds consider a “threat”? Will they be used to monitor and suppress perfectly legal political activities and private associations?
No matter what the mayor and the San Francisco Police Department say, those cameras will be recording in public spaces, and those video files will exist somewhere, and even if they’re regularly erased (and given the SFPD’s record on following its own rules in other areas, we don’t trust that for a second), all it takes is a visit from the Department of Homeland Security to overrule all the safeguards. And anybody who thinks that won’t happen has been utterly out of touch with the state of the body politic in the past six years.
Another possibility the ACLU raises: Those videos could be considered public record in California — meaning stalkers, angry ex-spouses, and people planning violent crimes will have access to the daily movements of their potential victims.
The supervisors have, to their credit, tried to come up with rules to limit the potential abuses. But these sorts of technologies have a way of expanding, and law enforcement agencies have a way of avoiding oversight and scrutiny. There are much, much better ways to deter and fight violent crime. The best solution here is to simply cut the funding for the mayor’s cameras from next year’s budget. SFBG
It takes a lot to knock an obsession out of Built to Spill singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch. Behind the beard, the down-low home life with wife and child, and the phone conversation padded with softly undercutting “Oh, I dunno’s,” once lay the heart of a raging pickup basketball junkie.
“I kinda got sucked into the NBA play-offs seven or eight years ago,” explains Martsch, 37, from his home in Boise, Idaho. “Then I quit smoking cigarettes five or six years ago, and when I quit smoking, I decided to go shoot hoops, and then I just got really addicted to it, totally loved it. That was kind of my main passion.
“Yeah, I played music somewhat, but basketball was what I lived for and did every day.”
A seemingly harmless hobby, except that Martsch threw himself so vigorously into the game that he was starting to do some real damage — to himself. Most recently, Built to Spill — one of Northwestern rock’s most respected representatives and one of ’90s indie/alternative/modern rock/whatev’s most influential bands — had to push back the tour dates for their new album, You in Reverse (Warner Bros.), because of a detached retina Martsch suffered while banging around the court. And then there was the last time Built to Spill played in San Francisco, two years ago …
The band was staying at the Phoenix, and as usual while on tour, Martsch ventured out, looking for a local pickup game. He found one at the Tenderloin Golden Gate YMCA. “I was playing noon ball with the people there, and I got smacked in the ear and popped my eardrum, and I was deaf in my right ear for a couple months,” he recalls. “I kept waiting for my hearing to come back. We had to finish the tour, and I could only hear out of one ear, and it was driving me crazy!” After he returned home Martsch finally, reluctantly broke the news to his wife, who had been worried about basketball injuries for some time. One can imagine the I told you sos ringing out all over Boise.
“Yeah, I had my right ear destroyed, and my right eye destroyed so far, and my right knee also,” continues Martsch, who, at one point, also suspected he had a torn ACL. “So, I dunno — I’m about done. I also started taking it a little too seriously. I started not having very much fun unless I was playing well. If I missed a few shots, I’d just become really frustrated, and I wasn’t really enjoying myself.” After his eye injury Martsch followed his doctor’s orders to stop playing for a few months, and in the process, some of the fixation dissipated (though plucky challengers can get a taste of it by playing Martsch via a game on the band’s Built to Spill Web site).
Luckily for patient Built to Spill fans, Martsch reimmersed himself in music. Those listeners had been waiting for five years for a studio follow-up to Ancient Melodies of the Future (Warner Bros.). Touched by Martsch’s passion for the Delta blues — which resulted in his 2002 solo album, Now You Know (Warner Bros.) — You in Reverse finds the band shaping less characteristic jams and experimenting in the studio, sans their longtime producer Phil Ek and accompanied by only engineer Steven Wray Lobdell (who ended up getting the producer credit). Pitting himself against longtime contributing guitarist–turned–permanent member Brett Netson of Caustic Resin, Martsch unfurls guitar solos that are both economical and impassioned, beginning with the lengthy, multitextured suite “Goin’ Against Your Mind.” He buries his vocals as guitars chime brightly in the foreground on “Liar,” then throws indie listeners for a loop with souped-up ska and flamenco tempos (“Mess With Time”). In all, Martsch sounds more like a ’burb-bound Neil Young than ever before, harnessing a semi-tamed Crazy Horse for his garage jams with his Seattle- and Boise-based bandmates while sidestepping the dangers of repeating himself and working in almost undetectable jabs at the current political environment.
Looking back at the gap between Ancient Melodies and You in Reverse, Martsch is quick to point out that the band actually took only a yearlong breather between tours and recording. But the reason they took the break, he confesses, was that “I just really burned out. I was just kind of tired of Built to Spill and wasn’t very interested in alternative rock in general.” He discovered Delta blues around the time he recorded Keep It Like a Secret and, he explains, “that’s all that sounded very good to me.”
That changed when the group got together to jam for You in Reverse, which Martsch describes as Built to Spill’s most collaborative album yet. He hopes with the official addition of Netson that he can write songs with the rest of the band while Built to Spill is on tour and recording songs at studios across the country. “I’m just kind of excited,” says Martsch. And that’s a major score for someone who claims he doesn’t think he has a “real lust for life.”
“I think the best things Built to Spill ever does are yet to come on some sort of level.” SFBG
BUILT TO SPILL
Wed/21-Sat/24, 9 p.m.
333 11th St., SF
Before Hedwig was a glimmer in John Cameron Mitchell’s eye, before some Bowie-imitation bathhouse spillage bloomed into Velvet Goldmine’s Brian Slade, before Freddie Mercury was frightened mid-rhapsody by thunderbolts and lightning, there was Jobriath, the first (and the lost) truly out, gay glam rock star. “He’s one of my favorite artists,” the Ark’s Ola Salo enthuses when the stage name of Bruce Wayne Campbell, the man behind epics like “Space Clown,” is mentioned.
The recent compilation Lonely Planet Boy (Sanctuary) takes its title from a New York Dolls tune, but the songs are by the one and only Jobriath, and for every hilarious Ziggy Stardust–inspired misfire there is an odd moment of spine-tingling magic, such as agoraphobe ballad “Inside,” which could give Rufus Wainwright a lesson or two about how to rein in the braying while racing up and down the scales. A street hustler and classically trained pianist, Jobriath was also a self-described schizophrenic, just one of many reasons why his valiant attempt to kick down the closet door and race to the top of 1973’s charts was doomed.
Lonely Planet Boy songs such as “Be Still” and “Ecubyan” prove just how eerily beautiful — if not exactly commercial — Jobriath’s page from the book of glam could be, but he also was no slouch at giving a good quote. The gatefold sleeve of his first album featured a nude Jobriath with a truncated lower torso. “They used a mannequin’s ass and it wasn’t as round as Jobriath’s,” the artist himself told one interviewer. “That’s probably why Jobriath didn’t make it.” It is odd how closely the manic Oz-like titters of Jobriath’s “What a Pretty” resemble some Klaus Nomi songs, because Nomi and Jobriath were two of the earliest casualties of AIDS. A Chelsea Hotel resident who appeared in a BBC documentary about it, Jobriath died there in 1981.
Lonely Planet Boy was reissued thanks to one of Jobriath’s longtime fans, Morrissey. “I’d told the reps from Elektra in Sweden that they should reissue the Jobriath albums or put them out on CD,” says the Ark’s Salo. “So when that comp appeared, I thought that was very nice.” The author of Lonely Planet Boy’s liner notes, Manchester-based Robert Cochrane is working on a Jobriath biography titled Gone Tomorrow, and it’s fair to say that Jobriath, however obscurely, is here today. His follies are now successfully realized in the celebratory sound of the Ark. (Huston)
When I reach the Ark’s rock idol Ola Salo on the phone at his apartment in Malmö, Sweden, he’s getting ready to meet friends to watch his country’s team take on Paraguay in the World Cup. Sheer lack of time calls for forward gestures, so I ask him to describe his boudoir, a CD- and book-strewn “one and a half” room apartment. “It looks like a pretty storage room,” he says, amusedly. “I have a plastic chandelier. I’ve got my big black piano and my black angel wings. I have art and furniture that friends of mine have made, such as a big purple lamp made out of ladies’ stockings. The apartment is a color explosion of chlorophyll green and bright yellow and pink and black and white. That’s the scheme — and purple. It’s harmonic but playful and energetic.”
Sort of like the Ark’s music, as showcased on State of the Ark (Virgin), the band’s first US album and third to date. In the recent glam sweepstakes, Salo and his four bandmates trump the Darkness with greater songcraft and less falsetto gimmickry — they also have more chops than any prefab pseudo-punk American loogie hocked up by the MTV machine in the last decade. Basically, the Ark prove a 21st-century band can honor the likes of the New York Dolls, Bowie, Queen, and company while still being relevant. On songs like the fabulous handclap stomper “Calleth You, Calleth I” (from the 2002 Virgin import In Lust We Trust) they are capable of turning a banal gesture — in this case, the fleeting impulse to reach out to phone an ex — into an act of ludicrously glorious, wide-screen, Bic-waving grandeur.
Perhaps it’s fate that gave Salo a last name that echoes the subtitle of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s filmic revision of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Because he’s the son of a priest, it’s tempting to think of him as a real-life rock version of bishop’s stepson Alexander from Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, rebelling against punishing strictures. But it’s a bit more complicated — Salo taps into and adds a twist to his religious roots, embracing the Bible’s (and rock’s) messianic outcast aspects and imagining his own miracles. One example is In Lust We Trust’s “Father of a Son,” which hit big in Sweden at the precise moment that a law preventing homosexuals from adopting children was banished. The song doesn’t just refer to queer parenthood, it drapes an ascendant Salo in choral hallelujahs.
“The Book of Revelations was the coolest part of the Bible to me because of all the parts about smoke and fire and demons,” Salo says. “It’s very heavy metal. Growing up in a Christian family gives you this kind of stigma of being a pussy. People think that Christians are … forget pussy, they’re Ned Flanders–like. I wanted to do something of Biblical proportions, something magical or sensational, something with power and joy, something that if people thought it was silly or uncool or ludicrous I wouldn’t mind.”
The Ark’s new State of the Ark might not contain anything quite as spine-tingling and sublime as “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane,” the gauntlet-throwing leadoff hit from their 2000 debut We are the Ark. (That track has the “Hand in Glove” urgency of someone who has waited years to sing their life, and in pledging allegiance to the queer kids, the weird kids, and the fat kids, Salo’s probably saved some lives.) But it has some great moments, such as the single “One of Us Is Gonna Die Young,” an anthem to the joy of life rather than the allure of death. On State of the Ark, as on the Ark’s previous album, Salo called upon Velvet Goldmine soundtracker and ex–Shudder to Think member Nathan Larson (whose girlfriend Nina Persson fronts Malmö’s other top group, the underrated Cardigans) to help him recognize the difference between “stupid strange” and “creative strange” English lyrics.
Nonetheless, Salo agrees that one billion ABBA fans can’t be wrong in noting that a Swedish band’s approach to the English language as an “artifact” yields special interpretive appeal. He’s also more than willing to discuss the country’s past and current role in the musical landscape, lauding Göteburg-based Sarah Assbring’s el Perro del Mar project for making “probably last year’s best debut album” and playfully admonishing me for ignoring ’60s garage instrumentalists the Sputniks when I race through a shorthand version of the country’s pop history. “Sweden has a very good social welfare system and people have good living standards and we haven’t had any wars,” he pointedly observes. “We have had a lot of time to do luxurious peacetime things like making pop music.”
Perhaps because Salo is “too egocentric” to be a fan of the past rock stars he admires, the Ark’s brand of performance is exactly the type designed to incite maniacal worship. Such fan-demonium hasn’t kicked in all over the United States, but it has in other countries. “Fans are crazy in Italy, which you know if you’ve ever watched Italian television,” says Salo. “And the paparazzi — there’s a reason why that’s an Italian word.” He goes on to tell the story of a girl who was paid by an Italian tabloid to sleep with him. “I was not interested at all,” he concludes, with a dry laugh. “She got drunk and failed at her goal — miserably.”
As opposed to Salo, who is more than ready to seduce at any time. All those who saw or read about the Ark’s springtime South by Southwest shows know that he has no qualms about treating an industry barbecue like a stadium gig — he’ll bump and grind in his boots and tighty whities right on past the most jaded zombie. Something tells me that sort of attitude and behavior mean this city will love him even more frenziedly than he might love it. What might he wear, or not wear, for his first visit to San Francisco? “Some flowers in my hair, I guess,” he deadpans. “I’ve heard that’s obligatory. Actually I’m getting a new suit, or dress, for the SF shows. I hope it’s a smash.”
That said, it’s World Cup time, and who is Salo’s favorite player on the Swedish team? “Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” he answers, in a tone suggesting that looks might have something or everything to do with it. “Now I’m going to go watch him do his thing.” SFBG
With Mon Cousin Belge
Fri/23, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
SF Pride Festival
Sun/25, 3:30 p.m. (Shadowplay stage) and 5:15 p.m. (main stage)
Civic Center, SF