Volume 40 Number 43

July 26 – August 1, 2006

  • No categories

Feds let Singleton off the hook


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The United States Department of Justice has refused to intervene in the largest media merger in Bay Area history.

In a brief press release, the DOJ said that the deal under which Denver billionaire Dean Singleton will buy almost every daily newspaper in the Bay Area “is not likely to reduce competition substantially.” That, of course, is crazy (see the Bruce Blog).

But the deal is by no means done yet.

Although the local news media have played up the fact that real-estate investor Clint Reilly was unable to block the merger deal, Reilly’s lawyer, Joe Alioto, says the case has only begun.

“We are requesting all of the Justice Departments documents, and we want to make them public,” Alioto told me. “We’re going to notice the depositions of the CEOs and ask for a trial date.”

Alioto said that the judge, Susan Illston, refused to issue a restraining order — but said in court that the case rasied serious questions. She also said that if she finds a violation of law in the merger, she will order the parties to undo it, Alioto said.

The judge — along with the Department of Justice — also acknowledged that there’s another potentially problematic element here: Hearst Corp, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, is slated to enter into a financial deal with SIngleton that would give Hearst a stake in one of Singleton’s operations. That offers serious competitive problems, since the Chron would be the only remaining competitor to Singleton after the merger.

“She said that when the agreement with Hearst is finalized, we can come back and file for another injunction, which is exactly what we will do,” Alioto said.

Josh Wolf in jail


A federal judge has thrown video journalist Josh Wolf in jail for refusing to turn over material subpoenaed by a grand jury.

Judge William Alsup ordered Wolf incarcerated Tuesday afternoon, and denied bail, meaning Wolf could be stuck behind bars until either the grand jury finishes its investigation or Wolf chooses to turn over a video tape recorded during a demonstration last summer. Investigators believe footage from Wolf’s tape – material that was edited out before Wolf released the tape publicly — contains evidence of protestors torching a police car.

Wolf has maintained that no such evidence exists, but insists upon his right as a reporter to withhold the material from authorities.

An attorney from the National Lawyers Guild who’s been assisting Wolf with his case, Carlos Villarreal, told us just moments ago that while Judge Alsup seemed considerate of First Amendment concerns, “I think he made it clear he’s not very supportive [of] journalists. He gave the federal government a lot of leeway.”

Villarreal said Alsup argued that existing case law may extend to journalists who decline to testify in court in order to protect confidential sources, but it does not do the same for unpublished materials accumulated by journalists while reporting a story. Villarreal told us he believed the point of such protections was to allow journalists to build relationships of trust with their sources, which means material derived under those circumstances should be protected, too.

“[Alsup] basically said that he has to follow the law, and the law according to him is that a person who is not complying must be found in contempt,” Villarreal said. He added that around 40 states have shield laws designed to protect reporters, but at the federal level, only previous cases exist to guide judges on determining journalist’s privileges.

In addition to the National Lawyers Guild, Wolf has received assistance from the Society of Professional Journalists. The ACLU and the French organization Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press both filed amicus briefs on Wolf’s behalf.

The demonstration that led to the video footage took place in the Mission last summer, while the G8 summit was occurring in Scotland. Wolf himself said in a prepared statement released yesterday, “People protesting or on strike for better wages or marching for amnesty should feel free to do so in front of a journalist’s cameras, just as they should feel free to talk to journalists. A free press benefits all of us.”

Another attorney for Wolf, José Luis Fuentes, has pointed out that the San Francisco Police Department to date has not stepped forward with any description of damages or subsequent costs related to the allegedly vandalized cop car.

Hidden in the Chron


It was the lead item on the widely-read Romanesko media news column, but you had to dig deep into the Bay Area section of the San Francisco Chronicle to find it: There’s breaking news in the deal that would give Dean Singleton’s Media News Group near-monopoly control of daily newspapers in the Bay Area.

Clint Reilly, a former mayoral candidate, is the only one doing what the U.S. and California Justice Departments should be doing: Going to court to block the deal. But yesterday, a judge moved to deny Reilly’s request for a preliminary injunction to put the deal on hold until the court could determine how it would damage the local journalistic and economic landscape.

All of the local papers that are a part of the deal covered it; read the Contra Costa Times story here and the San Jose Mercury News story here.

But none of the stories quoted outside sources on the problems with the deal, and none of them pointed out the essential flaw in the judge’s argument: Judge Susan Illston claimed that Reilly hadn’t shown “imminent, irreparable damage” – although she did see irreparable damage to the Denver billionaire who is working overtime to corner the Bay Area news market and impose a chokehold on it for the duration. What she missed is that Reilly is representing not just his own economic interest here, but the public interest – which will of course be damaged, irreparably, now and forever.





Bat Makumba

In contrast to other outfits reaping the fruits of Brazilian music, Alex Koberle, Carl Remde, and Emiliano Benevides chiefly perform original compositions. The payoff is in the obvious passion with which the songs are played. They also allow Bat Makumba more leeway in their particular flavor of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB). (Peter Nicholson)

9 p.m.
Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF
(415) 552-7788


Hot Chip

Hot Chip have been stealing and reimagining smooth synth loops from ’90s R&B songs for the past five years – but the stupidity doesn’t stop there. Rather than baring their souls over twisted samples and digital bleeps like that whiny dude from Postal Service, Hot Chip choose to focus on shit that really matters: Escalades, macaroni and cheese, and agoraphobia. (Justin Juul)

With Bobby Birdman and Fabulous Entourage
8:30 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421





Goblin Cock

Haven’t gobbled enough Pinback spinoff heavitude? (Kimberly Chun)

9 p.m.
Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF
(415) 625-8880


“X Libris”

X marks the spot this week at the San Francisco Center for the Book. The Center celebrates a 10th anniversary with “X Libris,” an exhibition highlighting some wildly imaginative books from the past decade. Beyond workshops dedicated to traditional individual binding, the SFCB offers instruction in the creation of board books, accordion-shaped books, and sculptural pop-up books. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through Oct 13
San Francisco Center for the Book
300 De Haro, SF
(415) 565-0545



JUlY 30


“Saxophonists Who Play Other Things”

Any jazz cat worth their salt knows that music’s most cerebrally unbuckled moments tend to emerge from sheer heady improvisation. Acknowledging this, 21 Grand will play host to a “new sound” multi-instrumentalist session prominently featuring saxophonist Jason Robinson, as part of the Bay Area’s annual Edgetone Music Summit. The premise is that all 10 of the musicians, including Ralph Carney and David Slusser, are saxophonists and can skronk their saxes in a variety of ensembles. (Michael Harkin)

8 p.m.
21 Grand
416 25th St., Oakl.
(510) 444-7263


“Jonathon Keats: The First Intergalactic Art Exposition”

A conceptualist worth his weight in ideas, another art world P.T. Barnum, or both? Jonathon Keats has copyrighted his mind and auctioned off futures contracts on the neurons in his brain. Now Keats claims that a radio signal detected by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is delivering deep-space artwork. Putting together what he bills as the world’s first collection of extraterrestrial abstract art, Keats will discuss art, collaboration, and Jewish culture with fellow artist Vitaly Komar at the opening. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Discussion, 2 p.m.
Through Jan. 14, 2007
Judah L. Magnes Museum
2911 Russell, Berk
$4-$6 museum admission; $12 discussion
(510) 549-6950



JUlY 29


The Case of the Headless Murder

Cantonese opera was very likely the first opera performed in San Francisco. Taking its name from a vine native to China’s Guangdong province, the Red Bean Cantonese Opera House is helping it thrive. This weekend Red Bean celebrates a decade of Cantonese opera with a Sunday vignette collection and today’s performance of The Case of the Headless Murder. (Johnny Ray Huston)

1:30 p.m. (also, medley event Sun/30, 12:45 p.m.)
Great Star Theatre
636 Jackson, SF
(510) 663-8216


Paul Reubens’ Day IV

The Drunken Redheaded Sluts take the party out of the playhouse and onto the streets of the Castro, with the fourth annual Paul Reubens’ Day Celebration. The tequila-infused crawl around the Castro ends at the Dark Room for Reubens trivia, red-bike photo ops, the Miss Yvonne Beauty Pageant, film clips of “the movie” – not Pee Wee’s Big Adventure but the blue movie playing at the Sarasota theater “that fateful night” – and a lineup of the most scandalous variety acts San Francisco has to offer. (K. Tighe)

Meet up, 1 p.m.
Café Flore
2298 Market, SF

9 p.m.
Dark Room Theatre
2263 Mission Street, SF
$10, $7 in costume





Manu Chao

Manu Chao has referred to himself as a “human sampler” and his unmistakable style showcases multilinguistic lyrics of love, ghetto life, and leftism. Most recently his turn producing Amadou and Mariam’s Dimanche á Bamako (Nonesuch, 2005) put him back on the pop-culture radar. Don’t miss this rare stateside appearance … what with his open criticism of US international policy and globalization, who knows when Homeland Security will allow him through the borders again. (Mirissa Neff)

7:30 p.m.
Greek Theater
Gayley and Stadium Rim, Berk.
(415) 421-TIXS

David Pajo

If singer-songwriters wore Boy Scout uniforms, you could bet that David Pajo’s would have a whole lot of merit badges. His eclectic résumé includes Slint, Tortoise, and Zwan, and he’s staked out a quiet solo folkster career as M, Aerial M, and Papa M. Performing as “Pajo” on a self-titled release last year and on the forthcoming 1968 (Drag City), he rolls out wispy, contemplative yarns that’ll remain intact if given a gentle enough listen. (Michael Harkin)

With Holly Throsby and Garrett Pierce
9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923



JUlY 27


Annalee Newitz

The title of Guardian contributor Annalee Newitz’s weekly column, Techsploitation, is perfect on so many levels: she has a Ph.D. from Berkeley, but she’s also totally down with porn, true-crime books, and Z-grade sci-fi movies – viva “sploitation”! Fittingly, her new book, Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, is based on her doctoral research – and it contains zombies. Tonight’s reading also features a B-movie trivia contest. (Cheryl Eddy)

7 p.m.
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus, SF
415) 362-8193


Jeff Adachi campaign kickoff

Party with the public defender and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin at a re-election campaign kickoff. (Deborah Giattina)

5:30-8:30 p.m.
Glas Kat Supper Club
520 Fourth St., SF
(415) 553-9520




{Empty title}





JUlY 26

Disabilities Act anniversary

Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, and the Mayor’s Office on Disablility invite you to a celebration of the 16th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with keynote speaker Mayor Gavin Newsom, food, fun, and entertainment. (Deborah Giattina)

11 a.m.-1 p.m.
City Hall, South Light Court
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF
(415) 554-6789


Will Bernard Trio

Kicking off the North Beach Jazz Festival on Wednesday evening are 20-plus free jazz performances. My pick for opening night is the funky jazz trio led by guitarist Will Bernard, who has worked with the best of the best in jazz and funk including T.J. Kirk and Robert Walter. His work in Walter’s 20th Congress made the keyboard master opine that “he is one of the greatest musicians I’ve come into contact with.” (Joseph DeFranceschi)

8 p.m.
1402 Grant, SF
(415) 271-5760

Close encounters


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Love is more than metaphor in Orbit (notes from the edge of forever). Love is like the intractable need connected to the exploration of space — especially when the search is bent toward the hope of some ultimate encounter: that contact with somebody, out there, who knows who you are. It’s as if an inner wilderness were turned inside out and projected to infinity.
And so Orbit starts with the mutual seduction of two lovers onstage, and with flickering TV screens (the sets dangling from long vertical skewers loaded with books and the occasional table lamp) tapping classic sci-fi movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Alien, with their mix of rapture and terror. Here promise and betrayal collide with gravitational conviction, at the point where the yearning for communion meets the blind panic of a self dissolving; a body waylaid, violated, no longer your own (if it ever was). “That transmission? Mother’s deciphered it,” says Sigourney Weaver. “It doesn’t look like an SOS…. It looks like a warning.”
But Orbit itself is never warned off. Rather, as the title implies, it’s continually reapproaching. A new dance theater work from the Erika Shuch Performance Project — the brainchild of San Francisco–based choreographer, director, and performer Erika Chong Shuch, and the resident company at Intersection for the Arts — Orbit spirals around our obsession with UFOs, extraterrestrial life, alien abduction, and other moon-age daydreams. The piece pulls a variety of texts, media, and simulacra into its elliptical trajectory (including recorded interviews, pop music, original songs, and some wonderfully transporting interactive video segments designed by Ishan Vernalis and lll), and is a playfully eclectic, moody, and deeply romantic whirl, danced and acted by Shuch and cocreators Melanie Elms and Danny Wolohan. Joining them is an ensemble, dressed in street clothes and postal uniforms, composed of Kieran Chavez, Joseph Estlack, Daveen DiGiacomo (also responsible for the live music and sound design), Courtney Moreno, and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart.
Elms comes on as the extradimensional counterpart to Shuch’s and Wolohan’s young lovers — whom we’ve seen alternately drifting over the sensual ridges of the lunar surface projected behind them (luxuriating in the exploration of personal space), helping one another (with a touch of comic strain) to moonwalk off the walls, or defending favorite metaphors for their place in the cosmos and their search for ETs. Behind them Elms’s retro space alien glides around as if invisibly in mischievous blue gloves, the show’s intergalactic pixie, puppet mistress of hapless earthlings.
At times, moving about the stage in an idiosyncratic way coolly reminiscent of some ray gun–toting go-go dancer, Elms seems no more than a figment of the collective imagination. (In one eerily comic scene, the strange hands rooting around in a panicky Wolohan’s sweatshirt turn out not to be blue-gloved, but the hands of his lover.) From other angles, however, she becomes an active force of violently erratic potential, like a galactic succubus. The chorus, meanwhile, in alternately trancelike and frenetic motion, do everything from dance, sing, and play instruments to operate the ropes and pulleys that rearrange those TV-and-book kebabs around the stage. With Elms they circle the lovers as forces of nature both internal and external, mercurial ones too, capable of imparting a gentle caress one minute, a savage abuse the next.
One or two segments veering toward the madcap — like Wolohan’s admittedly hilarious puppet-show narration of his rescue by a friendly lighthouse (Shuch) — can be funny at the cost of some subtlety, and in truth the parts don’t contribute equally to the whole. But the surprises in store are several, and there’s a cumulative force to the loose but inspired patterning of movement, theme, and image. If part of that pattern is the idea of lives in eternal orbit around some elusive whole, always approaching and never landing, Shuch and company manage a not insignificant union all the same, joining the passion of the true believer with the wry alert eye of the perennial searcher. SFBG
Through Aug. 5
Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF
$9–$20 (Thurs., pay what you can)
(415) 626-3311

Get the funk out of here


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
For more than 30 years, Afrobeat has been slowly grabbing ears in underground music circles like a revolutionary movement steadily arming itself for a coup d’état. Rawer than jazz, more organic than R&B, and as politically and socially relevant as hip-hop, this genre binds American styles to percussive African rhythms, chants, and 10-piece-plus horn-heavy orchestras. This is a high-energy music with the street appeal of blaxploitation grooves and the third-world desperation of reggae, a sound that is as mysterious and at times as daunting as the continent itself. The huge sound and unstoppable momentum require that Afrobeat’s direct political message be taken seriously and unequivocally. As our government takes either the middle ground or simply the wrong ground, the liberal locomotive of Afrobeat is moving ahead full speed, proving that funk beats and dance music slam home a message harder than an acoustic guitar ever did and with more attitude than Neil Young could ask for.
Afrobeat has always had a direct agenda, ever since Fela Kuti, its legendary inventor, decided to fight back. Kuti’s Afrobeat style bloomed in Nigeria during the late 1960s, taking the global explosion of funk and mixing it with African highlife and Yoruba music. He translated the musical message of Curtis Mayfield and Sly and the Family Stone, written on the streets of urban America, for millions of oppressed West Africans. Viewers tell of Kuti performances that resembled a heated battlefield with dozens of musicians backing their fearless leader — he often donned war paint for shows — and bouts that seemed like they would never end till one side surrendered.
Even now, Afrobeat won’t kill you with kindness or change your ways through love — put a flower in Kuti’s gun and you’ll get blasted. This is music for the huddled masses, not a feel-good exercise to tug at the heartstrings of the powerful. It follows that Kuti — a polygamist, presidential candidate, and cultural phenomenon — became a political prisoner when Nigeria’s military junta attempted to quell the musical movement that was planting the seeds of revolution.
Fast-forward to the 21st century: With war and political deception once again on the front pages and, more important, on the minds of young people, Afrobeat is providing a much-needed niche. The sound is being embraced among jam-band earthies who want an honest government that will work to reverse human-made environmental devastation and Latino listeners faced with the anti-immigration issues.
Filled with activist-minded residents ready to get behind authentic revolutions, San Francisco is proving a leader in the revival, playing host to the second annual Afrofunk Music Festival, the only gathering in the world devoted to Afrobeat, though the event encompasses music from great world music artists like Prince Diabaté. Sila Mutungi, the festival’s producer and vocalist of Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, describes the festival’s goal as a fun, positive one, “but ultimately, we’re here to raise awareness and money to fight the tragic famine and genocide happening right now to children and families in Sudan, Niger, and my own country, Kenya.” Proceeds will go to the Save the Children Emergency Relief Fund to aid Africa’s most susceptible population.
For the hard-hitting in-your-face funk that got Kuti chased around the globe, catch Afrobeat artists Aphrodesia and Albino from San Francisco and Los Angeles’s Afrobeat Down. As the first American band to play in Lagos’s New African Shrine, a venue made famous by Kuti, Aphrodesia proudly boast an acute political consciousness, a tight brass section, and a female leader, Lara Maykovich, who demands to be heard. She condemns environmental destruction as she sings, “Somewhere beyond the bulldozed rows/The fallen giants laying low./Sometime before the earth has died/Is where we all must draw the line” on their latest album, Frontlines (Full Cut, 2005). Frontlines is a worthy contribution to the Afrobeat movement, with well-crafted originals, stirring lyrics, and, of course, a Kuti cover. Southern California’s Afrobeat Down is known as its area’s premier Afrobeat combo, one with an unabashed desire to re-create the hard-driving funky sound of its early-’70s inspirations, and 12-piece Albino won the 2005 San Francisco Music Award for Best World Music.
Those three Afrobeat acts should get you dancing and feeling good and help you realize that the answer isn’t blowing in the wind but can be heard at polling places, in lumberyards, on battlefields, and on Afrobeat stages around the globe. SFBG
Thurs/27–Sat/29, 9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Swordplay time


The tug in the 2003 girl samurai flick Azumi between that J-cult of kawaii, cute — as embodied by the button-nosed, bee-stung-lipped assassin Aya Ueto, who resembles a pert Japanese version of Jessica Alba — and the particularly cutthroat scenario fueling the manga-based, CGI-ridden film make it the perfect pop vehicle for director Ryuhei Kitamura. His mission: drag the Japanese swordplay genre into the 21st century if it kills him — and leaves him choking on his own blood in the most mangled yet decorative way possible. Kitamura, who mixed swordplay with yakuza and zombies in his 2000 debut, Versus, ransacks as many flashy devices from cinema, TV, and games as he can.
To enact what might be considered the perfect post-9/11 scenario, Azumi and her otherwise all-boy crew of adorable youngsters have been trained from birth as killing machines in order to “neutralize” the warlords vying to destroy the tenuous peace in Tokugawa-era, 19th-century Japan. They’re forced to ignore the down-home atrocities committed in random villages under the orders of their stern samurai teacher, Gessai (Yoshio Harada). But when the kids are put to their final test and forced to kill or be killed by their favorite fellow student, Azumi begins to question her training-slash-brainwashing.
From her school uniform–like tunic to her eager-to-excel mien, Azumi is as much a child of Charles Darwin — a fresh-faced schoolkid of Kinji Fukasaku’s soon-to-be-remade Battle Royale (Dakota Fanning swinging an ax versus Emma Roberts toting an AK-47?) — as she is the daughter of Japanese cinematic swordswomen like Lady Snowblood. Comparing Azumi to other female-centered revenge fantasies such as the Snowblood series, Lady Vengeance, and Ms. 45 will ultimately disappoint: Her gender seems almost incidental; her empathy, yet another self-preserving tool. Flirting with pacifist — and sadistic — subversion but ultimately succumbing to blood and conditioning, Azumi proposes that a kind of unjust justice is its own justification. If that ain’t kitsch — and if Azumi isn’t a signpost in a decadent period of samurai filmmaking — what is? (Kimberly Chun)
Opens Fri/28
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for theaters and showtimes

A flickering light


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Acclaim is often decreed as much by fashion as by accomplishment. While Frank Borzage spent four decades as a well-paid Hollywood director and was honored with two Oscars, his talent wasn’t — and still isn’t — fashionable. In his hundred or so features, he routinely elevated or rescued contrived material. Typed as a director of romances and melodramas, he made myriad movies that were phony in concept — but never in their treatment.
Indeed, purity was often his subject, transcendence a running theme. What sometimes looked like “mush stuff” to critics now seems an oft-extraordinary intensity of unforced emotion. “Frank Borzage’s Philosophy of Desire,” a retrospective starting at the PFA this week, just scratches the surface of a very deep filmography. Its 12 titles can match up against any dozen by John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, and Howard Hawks.
Making his unlikely way into showbiz from a working-class Catholic immigrant family in Salt Lake City, the strapping, athletic Borzage entered movies as a popular mid-1910s actor. Disgusted by the poor product of a fledgling company he signed on with, he offered to direct himself, and early two-reel westerns distinguished him as an innovator with sophisticated visual and psychological instincts.
He abruptly jumped to the A-list when chosen to direct the first film version of Fannie Hurst’s Humoresque. This tale of a concert violinist rising from New York City’s Jewish ghetto was detested as “too realistic” by its own producer (Paramount’s Adolph Zukor) but became a surprise smash — winning praise from Russia’s Sergei Eisenstein and Europe’s surrealists. As Herve Dumont’s fine Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic puts it, Borzage’s usual narrative centered on “the young couple facing adversity.” Using poetical imagery and few words (Borzage admitted to being a de facto silent film director well into the sound era), his genius lay in mixing beauty and pain, happiness and sorrow in profoundly telling sequences he often invented himself.
These near-mystic surges of human yearning found quintessential expression in films he made for Fox during an eight-year stint starting in 1925. That year brought his first masterpiece, Lazybones, which cast cowboy star Buck Jones against type as a country layabout who ends up raising a local girl’s abandoned child. There’s one scene when the tot is crying because she’s teased and shunned as a “bastard,” and he comforts her with a self-deprecating lie. The moment is classic Borzage — character stoicism and directorial restraint at a point of crushing sadness — and for anyone who likes an honest cry at the movies, it is almost unbearably good.
Lazybones was not a hit, but the later films (most famously, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel) that Borzage made with newcomers Janet Gaynor (herself the subject of a current PFA program) and Charles Farrell were huge. Later the director found another elfin, fragile, yet morally fibrous favorite femme in Margaret Sullavan, heroine in a trilogy that subtly charted the growing fascism in Germany: 1934’s Little Man, What Now?, 1938’s Three Comrades, and 1940’s The Mortal Storm. These ambitious movies blended comedy, romance, thriller, and drama to unpredictable effect. But no film of the era exemplified Borzage’s penchant for unclassifiable projects more than 1937’s History Is Made at Night, an exquisite-corpse narrative lent total emotional truth by his handling of Jean Arthur’s flight from a demented rich husband into the arms of headwaiter Charles Boyer.
Demands for more focused escapism and propaganda during WWII paired Borzage with inappropriate projects, and the postwar cynicism and penchant for spectacle made him seem even less relevant. What snowball’s chance in hell is there that 1959’s The Big Fisherman (which former Max Ophüls, Josef von Sternberg, and Hitchcock cinematographer Lee Garmes called “the finest thing I ever did — a visual masterpiece”) might ever get restored? Holding one’s breath is ill-advised.
Borzage died of cancer at 68 in 1962. Back then, his greatest films seemed antique. Now we know better. The summer of 2006 has brought the latest universal insights by M. Night Shyamalan and Kevin Smith. Guess what — the least worthy work by Borzage never stunk up the joint like Lady in the Water or Clerks II, nor auto-serviced such undeserved directorial narcissism. SFBG
Through Aug. 23
PFA Theater
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
(415) 642-0808

Ramblin’, man


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER He’s been at home on the range, in the skies overhead, on the South Pacific sea, and on the streets of Greenwich Village. He was taken under the migrant wing of Woody Guthrie, read to Jack Kerouac, backed up Nico, was called the sexiest man in America by Cass Elliott, thieved Allen Ginsberg’s girlfriend, married James Dean’s ex, and was ensconced in the heart of Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue. Mick Jagger said he purchased his first guitar after seeing him play, and his “San Francisco Bay Blues” was one of the first songs Paul McCartney learned to play. ’Nuff said — Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is a legend and would be even if Bill Clinton hadn’t dubbed him an “American treasure.”
I caught up with the singer of cowboy songs, working stiffs’ ballads, salty sailor chanteys, sad songs of the blue, down and out, and lonesome, near his Marshall home, at a Petaluma watering hole, on the occasion of his forthcoming 75th birthday on Aug. 1.
“I don’t like to think about it,” says Elliott of his age. Still sharp, superarticulate, and a consummate flirt, the Brooklyn-born cowboy digs into his Caesar salad — don’t hold the anchovies, man — in the shade of the restaurant, then pokes at our shared plate of fries with his fork. Despite the heat, his hat remains clamped on his head, a bandanna around his neck. “I like to say, in 17 days and 25 years I’m gonna be 100.”
He isn’t quite ready to hang up his boots and sit at home accepting accolades: The still-riveting interpreter of America’s folk songs attended bull-riding school at 47, still harbors an abiding fondness for ponies and long-distance trucks, and hasn’t given up a dream of someday, well, writing songs on a regular basis. “I’ve only written about five songs in 40 years,” he says, proudly sticking to that story. “I’m not a writer. I want to learn to write, I really do. I’m incredibly lazy, though. I can spend 15 days just sleeping after an airplane trip.”
But much travel is on the horizon for this singer of other folks’ songs — he’s now in demand with the release of a wonderful, spare new album of seldom-played tunes, I Stand Alone. David Hidalgo, Corin Tucker, Flea, Nels Cline, and DJ Bonebrake joined him on the Anti- album, in studios of their choosing. Turns out the man truly stood alone — though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the palpable tough love and hardscrabble synchronicity evident on “Careless Darling,” his gritty-sweet pairing with Lucinda Williams.
I tell him I saw him perform five years ago at the Guardian-hosted “Power to the People” show at Crissy Field, put together, incidentally, by I Stand Alone producer Ian Brennan. “Outdoors!” Elliott exclaims. “Right by the bay. I don’t like performing outdoors because I feel nooo connection with the audience. I can see them getting up or eating a sandwich. I want them to be able to be focused on me, because I’m focused on them and I’m trying to focus on what the heck the song is about. Like, what does it mean?”
But let’s wander back to I Stand Alone. “I’ve never been with a hip company before,” Elliott says of Anti-. “My daughter [Aiyana, who directed the 2002 documentary The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack] wanted to call it Not for the Tourists. Her husband asked, ‘Why don’t you sing those songs in your show, Jack?’ And I said, ‘They’re not for the tourists.’” The songs were long gone from his set simply because he tired of them, having sung them so often in his early years. Yet they possess a taken-for-granted ease found in things that are so worn and familiar that they’re second nature.
“It’s like what Woody told me one time. I asked him to show me how to play a certain cowboy song. I loved it, and Woody had a very unusual way of singing that song and playing it on the guitar,” says Elliott, recalling the year as 1951 and Woody as a hard-drinking 39 to his 19 years. “I said, ‘Woody, can you show me how to play that song ‘Buffalo Skinners,’ and he said, ‘That’s on the record, Jack, and you can go listen to it.’ I listened to it about a hundred times, and I pretty much learned what he was doing, but I never could quite do it exactly the way he did it. He just wasn’t in the mood to be teachin’ guitar.”
Those days of shadowing Guthrie around the country and following his every move, which often got Elliott pegged as a mere imitator, are now “like a dream. I think it was one of the happiest times of my young life because I got to hear all his stories. I’m sorry,” he says, pointing to my recorder, “I didn’t have one of these to record with.” SFBG
Sausalito Art Festival
Sept. 2, call for time and price
Marinship Park, Sausalito
(415) 331-3757
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
Oct. 6–7, visit Web site for schedule
Speedway Meadow, Golden Gate Park, SF
Manchester reunited? The punk-pop progenitors are still snarly — just check their latest, Flat-Pack Philosophy (Cooking Vinyl). Thurs/27, 9 p.m., Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. $20 advance. (415) 625-8880.
OK, I’ll give it up if you do: I’m a stone-cold junkie for karaoke. This time you can skip “Rock of Ages” and head straight for “My Adidas” at this launch event hosted by the SweatBox. Fri/28 and the last Friday of every month, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., Bar of Contemporary Art, 414 Jessie, SF. $5. (415) 756-8890.
Two once and former Holy Rollers come down to earth. Thurs/27, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $10. (415) 621-4455.

{Empty title}


JULY 12-18
Mercury goes direct on the 29th. Somebody have a party!
March 21-April 19
Aries, it’s a lucky but not lazy week. Get off your happy ass and follow our instructions: Figure out what it is you really love. Next, introduce yourself or open up to people and other resources that will support you in your pursuit of this great love.
April 20-May 20
Don’t forget to be available to your own damn self, Taurus. You risk forgetting to be available to those people around you whom you adore, which means you really risk ignoring your own needs. Stay checked in with everyone.
May 21-June 21
Gemini, you have a serious responsibility: you. Be clear about your boundaries, follow through with enforcing them, cop to your feelings and requirements. No amount of hemming, hawing, or head-tripping will relieve you of these duties.
June 22-July 22
Batten down the hatches, Cancer — whatever that means. We think it’s an old-timey way of saying “secure your foundations.” ’Cause once you get that taken care of, you get to do the fun stuff, like putting yourself out there and taking excellent risks.
July 23-Aug. 22
Leo, are you out in the social swirl? Put yourself smack in the middle of your local mix. It’s a this-is-the-first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life day, every day this week. The more open you are to your life being different, the more wonderfully different it will become.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
Anxieties are just anxieties, Virgo. Try to get a grip. We know you hard workers love a challenge, and the universe has dealt you a real one — to dare yourself to be proactive and courageous as you deal with whatever is making you so nervous.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
Libra, do you want success and power or what? If that’s your jam, be prepared to make some serious sacrifices. And while you’re making some serious sacrifices to propel yourself ahead, make sure you’re wicked grounded so you don’t spaz out.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
Go ahead, Scorpio, make some clear choices. What are you waiting for? Your life couldn’t get any more tranquil. Things are nice right now, and it’s prime time for reclining and chillaxing and working shit out from a place of calm.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sag, if you can temper your baser drives with your higher aspirations, it’ll be an awesome week for you. There is serious love in your sphere, and you can ride that wave smack into some powerful healing and creativity or you can wipe out into some compulsive hooking up and über-boozing. Your choice.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Capricorn, are you feeling yourself? If your answer is no — and knowing you stoic goats, it is — we suggest taking a moment to really focus on feeling and cultivating some presence in the world. Don’t take on anything new: Luxuriate on your laurels.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Nothing is clear, Aquarius. Can you roll with that? You’re going to have to, ’cause you people are not supposed to know the answers this week. Difficult for such cosmic know-it-alls, we know. Be wary of blind faith in the face of such cloudiness, and be patient. All will be revealed.
Feb. 19-March 20
Pisces, your horoscope could not be easier. Simply emotionally invest yourself in the relationships that matter the most to you. There’s a bunch of happiness at your disposal this week, but you’re going to have to swim after it. SFBG

Monstrous politics


› monster@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION I didn’t want to see it, and then I did. When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest came out, I was beyond underwhelmed. But then the box office numbers started rolling in — it was the biggest weekend take in movie history — and I was intrigued. I kept wondering how Johnny Depp’s prancing pirate Jack Sparrow could pack more punch than square-jawed Superman. After seeing the flick, the answer was obvious.
Jack Sparrow lives in a world of magic and monsters, a place where half-fish zombies stalk the seas in a mysterious ship and a giant kraken fells merchant vessels with fat, sucker-covered tentacles. His greatest enemies are Davy Jones, an undead sea captain with a squid for a head, and the British East India Company. How can Superman’s boring domestic troubles and a bald, Method-acting real estate mogul ever hold a candle to that? Metropolis is drably realistic compared with Jack’s South Seas. And yet the films’ supreme enemies do have a lot in common. The British East India Company and Lex Luthor’s real estate firm are both ruthless corporate enterprises whose owners mow down human life in search of bigger profits.
It’s only in an overt fantasy like Pirates, however, that we get a story capable of capturing the full horror of uncontrolled corporate greed. Representing Halliburton-size evil is a toady for the British East India Company, who coerces hero Will Turner into hunting down Jack to get the pirate’s magical compass, which points the way to whatever its owner desires. In exchange for this perfect colonizing tool — essentially, a never-ending source of information about where the raw materials are — the king of England promises to grant Jack a full pardon and make him a privateer.
But Jack is a true pirate. He steals and swashbuckles for the love of it and has no interest in working for a boss. Instead of selling out to the British East India Company, he faces down Davy Jones and his zombie crew, who are cursed to spend their afterlives working under the iron discipline of their tentacled captain. As they get older, they literally merge with the ship itself, melting into the wood until they are just flattened, grimacing faces poking out of the bulkheads. Fleeing the British East India Company’s brand of domination, Jack falls right into the path of a boss whose monstrousness mirrors it.
Of course, this is also just a movie about people fighting monsters with goo and suckers and claws. And that’s what makes Pirates both fun to watch and fun to endlessly analyze. Monster stories leave room for interpretation; they allow us to tell stories that are subversive, that question why we should have to take shitty jobs and respect corporate power. At least, some monster stories do.
I just finished writing a book that’s all about how monster stories in the United States reflect often-buried fears about capitalism run amok. The book is called Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, and you can actually buy the damn thing now. It’s in bookstores and on Amazon and crap like that. I don’t want to tell you how long it took me to write, but suffice it to say that before I became a tech and science geek, I was a horror and science fiction geek.
The weird thing is that I learned to excavate the cultural meaning of real-life technologies by analyzing movies about imaginary ones. That’s because the process of innovation is nearly identical to the process of dreaming up a monster. Just as new devices like the iPod or TiVo respond to changes in social norms, so too do our fantasies. I mean, it’s no accident that a horror movie like The Ring came out during the heyday of file sharing. Let’s think about it — the flick is about a haunted videocassette that will kill you unless you make a duplicate copy and show it to somebody else. It’s like a nightmare analog version of BitTorrent. If you do not share your media, you will die. Creative Commons really should do a cartoon parody of The Ring.
There will always be people who want to consume their electronic toys and mass media without having to think about what they mean. Sometimes they’ll even claim that there are no politics of science fiction — or science — because politics only take place in Congress or at the United Nations. But I say that until we understand the monsters in our dreams, we’ll never defeat the ones who run the world. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who just published a book — w00t!
Come hear her read from it (and enter a B-movie trivia contest): Thurs/27, 7 p.m., City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, SF. (415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com.

Standard deviation


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
I’m a young, mostly heterosexual woman, and I don’t get much out of ordinary sex. I rely on (safe) sex with one-off partners, which just doesn’t satisfy me.
I’m increasingly interested in S-M — tattoos, piercings, bondage, and I like to be dominated. I’ve also been having fantasies about being cut, which I find a bit worrying. Maybe not being able to fulfill the other, milder desires is causing me to think up more twisted things? Obviously it’s difficult to bring this up with strangers, but I’m not interested in having a long-term partner now. I also don’t want to buy into a whole subculture when all I want is the occasional bit of harmless deviance. What next? Do I even have a problem?
Deviant Dallier
Dear DD:
Ha! Good question. I wish more people would ask me if they even have a problem, so I could just say, “Not really, no,” and go back to my book. And you don’t, particularly. You seem to know exactly what you want. The only question is how to get it.
The S-M scene does not care if you “buy into it.” You will not hurt its feelings by failing to identify with it. Think of it not as a club but as a marketplace: Is there something you want? What are you willing to pay for it? Is it really so hard to attend a meeting here and there or some events at the local Sexe Shoppe? You don’t have to buy a lot of shiny, unflattering clothing or pierce your face or anything, just go and check out the scene. Meet some nice deviants, get invited to some parties. I’m not a joiner either but sometimes you just have to shut up and do it, whatever it is. It’s competitive out there, and if you want to be properly abused you’re going to have to assert yourself.
As for the cutting, it’s less scary in the doing than in the contemputf8g. Most people into blood play are obsessively careful, occasionally too careful, if you know what I mean, and few will come near you with anything sharpish without undertaking exhaustive negotiation first. You do not want to get into this with total strangers, though, or at least I’d rather you didn’t. There’s a whole realm of “play partners” out there, perverty people who get together at parties or less public arenas to exchange some affectionate floggings or piercings and then go on their way again, no strings attached, or at least not for long. I’m sure someone would want to do the same with you, but if you want it you’ll have to, oh, I dunno, leave the house?
Dear Andrea:
My girlfriend and I have explored a number of fantasies, and last week she let me in on one that worries me: She wants us to act out a rape fantasy. She says she wants to be dominated and forced to submit, especially by someone who minutes ago was holding doors open for her.
I’m the first to admit that I’m interested and I think it could be fun if done right. I like the idea of the “woman in a frilly Southern dress gets ravished by muscular lover” stuff of romance novels. Unfortunately, her fantasy is closer to “girl gets dragged off the sidewalk and pounded hard while being called a slut.” I really worry about forcing myself on a woman while she screams “No, don’t!” — no matter that she asked me to do it.
Sorry to kill your immediate reaction, but yes, we have talked openly about it. I’ve told her my concerns, and she understands. So what do we do here? Should we even be considering it? Have we accidentally stumbled into one of those relationship-killing zones where it’s best for a couple to just forget the idea and move on?
Dear Hes:
I dunno. There are interracial couples who act out slave dramas without psychological harm. There are incest survivors who reenact their childhood traumas in “daddy’s girl” scenarios and the like and end up the stronger and saner for it. If they can play with this combustible material without getting burned, I don’t see why you two can’t. It’s worth noting, though, that the bottom/submissive/“victim” in a scene is not the only one who can get hurt. Not only can tops develop “flogger’s shoulder” or other repetitive strain injuries, they are just as vulnerable to psychological harm as the bottom, but without the built-in safety valve: Bottoms can cry and regress and call a safe word if things get too intense. So can you, but you’ll have to break role to do it. If you try this and it’s too much for either one of you, stop. (You’ll need a safe word other than “stop!” or “no!” or this will never work.) It’ll be fine. It’s not like you’ll accidentally actually rape her or anything. It’s a game, and games end when you’re done playing.

Saving local industry


EDITORIAL It’s almost an axiom in San Francisco planning policy: High-end housing drives out industry. That’s only logical: When people buy million-dollar condos, they don’t expect to get woken up in the middle of the night by delivery trucks or deal with the smell of diesel fuel or look out their windows at barrels of chemicals. When the dot-com boom turned parts of South of Market into a housing mecca for the newly rich and hip, the problem became serious: Businesses (including some nightclubs) that had been around for years and were operating entirely within the law, conducting operations that were well within the existing zoning, found themselves under attack from an influx of residents who considered many of the traditional uses of the area to be nuisances.
As high-end housing creeps farther and farther into San Francisco’s industrial areas and the Planning Department continues to push for expensive housing in the southeast neighborhoods, the potential for even more clashes — which tend to end with an industrial business being forced either to leave or to spend a fortune revamping its operations — just grows.
The simple answer, of course, is to stop building pricey condos in industrial areas. But it’s unlikely that anyone at City Hall is going to put a total halt to housing construction in or near industrial areas, so at the very least there ought to be some protection for existing businesses. Sup. Sophie Maxwell has introduced legislation that would bar newcomers to an area from taking legal action to define existing legal industrial activities as public or private nuisances. That means people who move within 150 feet of a business that’s been around for two or more years and conforms to the local zoning laws would simply have to deal with the regular impacts of living next to industry. The law would also require that anyone selling a housing unit adjacent to an industrial area inform the buyers in clear language that there might be noise, odor, or visual issues. If that brings down the price of condos in the southeast, so much the better.
It’s a simple proposal that makes perfect sense. The supervisors ought to approve it. SFBG

No more dam discussion


EDITORIAL The state Department of Water Resources released a long-awaited study July 19 concluding that restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley would cost at least $3 billion and possibly as much as $10 billion.
Let us put this in perspective.
The state of California is facing extreme pressure on its electrical grid because of record high heat. If this is an early sign of rapid and dramatic climate change (and that’s a very possible scenario), then the problem is going to get worse before it gets better. Most electricity in this country is generated by burning fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming, which puts more pressure on the grid…. It’s getting so bad that some desperate environmentalists, flailing around for answers, are starting to argue that nuclear power might be an option.
Renewable energy? Gee, the experts say: It’s just not financially feasible right now.
And with some very scary problems looming, the state is actually talking about tearing down a hydroelectric dam that provides clean electricity for 200,000 homes — and spending $10 billion to do it.
This is insanity.
The O’Shaughnessey Dam, which holds back the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, flooded a spectacular Sierra valley, breaking the heart of conservationist John Muir. Even the San Francisco Chronicle, which supported the dam and attacked Muir about 100 years ago, now agrees that it was a mistake.
But there’s a lot more to the story. For starters, the compromise legislation that gave San Francisco the right to build the dam required the city to use it as the centerpiece of a public power system — a legal mandate that the city defies to this day. As long as the dam is generating power, it offers a huge opportunity for San Franciscans to get out from under the private power monopoly of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. And while hydroelectric dams have serious environmental problems, they don’t create greenhouse gases — and a dam that’s been around this long is actually a fairly ecologically sound way to generate power.
The price tag for wiping out the dam is staggering — and from a purely environmental perspective, spending that cash on this scheme would be a gigantic mistake. For $10 billion, California could undertake a huge crash program in developing renewable energy, spurring a lucrative industry that would create tens of thousands of jobs. With that kind of money behind it, solar power would not only be competitive, it would be cheaper than other forms of electricity. And the state would be leading the nation into a new era of safe, clean power.
Sure, in 50 years when solar, wind, and tidal power provide 90 percent of the state’s energy needs, and California has joined Nebraska in outlawing private electric utilities, and there’s money to burn … then restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley will be a fine idea. But for now it’s time to put this foolishness to rest. San Francisco — which, after all, owns the dam — should take the lead here. The supervisors should pass a resolution stating that the city will not consider any further proposals to tear down the dam — at least not until the city’s and nation’s energy policies have advanced a long way in a very different direction. SFBG

{Empty title}


› tredmond@sfbg.com
I started down Valencia Street around 8:30 last Thursday morning, trying to get to Mission and Embarcadero for a 9 a.m. radio show, and I caught up with two other bicyclists at a red light around 23rd Street. None of us said anything, but we rode more or less together for a couple more blocks, then picked up a few more riders here and a few more there, and by the time we hit Market Street, there were probably 15 of us, riding along in some sort of impromptu Critical Mass–style convoy. We (carefully) ran lights together, rode around cars together, and somehow, I think, psychically watched each other’s backs. I was on Market Street during rush hour, and I actually felt almost safe.
It was a San Francisco moment, one of those instances of accidental community that make you remember why this is the world’s best city. And while the greedheads keep trying to ruin it, we can still dream of making it better.
That’s what this Best of the Bay issue is dedicated to: a celebration of all that is wonderful in San Francisco and the Bay Area — and a vision of what it could be, maybe even might be, if we can wrest control of the future from the people who brought us the high-rise boom, the war against fun, dot-com development, Gavin Newsom, and the $2,000 studio apartment.
It could be, it can be, and sometimes it is — the city of the future. SFBG

All Lebanon is collateral damage


OPINION Once again, Lebanese civilians are getting blasted, killed, and bombed by high-tech American weapons because Israel is angry and lashing out. I remember this well; even some of the targets are the same. I spent part of my childhood in Beirut. I remember my mother yelling at me to get off the balcony where I was busy trying to see if it was an American F-4 Phantom Israeli Air Force jet or a French-made Dassault Mirage screaming by our apartment building at rooftop level on its way to bomb the Beirut airport yet again.
My mother wasn’t happy with my plane-spotting endeavors. But Beirut at the time was frequently called the Jewel of the Middle East, and I was lucky enough to go to the American elementary school. I remember Pigeon Rock, the cedars, the beaches — and the Israeli raids. In fact, such raids led to my family being evacuated from Lebanon on more than one occasion.
Whenever the Palestine Liberation Organization conducted a military engagement, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. It became almost a regular Sunday outing for Beirut residents. How many Middle East Airlines jets did Israel bomb today? If the Syrians lobbed shells or anybody else in the region displeased Israel, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. If there was a border incursion, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. Do you see a sadly familiar pattern?
The Lebanese are once again civilians paying for the actions of others. Lebanon is and always has been Israel’s whipping boy. It has become a pawn between Israel, Hezbollah, and possibly Iran. An entire nation is collateral damage. Two-year-old children dying with perforated eyes. Kids blown up when they go swimming in a canal. Are they any less innocent than the children killed in Hamas suicide bombings?
Believe it or not, your elected representatives care what you think, if you let them know in no uncertain terms. The United States supplies billions of dollars of no-strings-attached money to Israel. That money directly and indirectly supports Israel Defense Forces that have, in the last few days alone, killed more than 200 Lebanese citizens. Write your elected officials a personal letter. They pay attention to those. Demand that the United States stop funding Israel’s war — its terrorism with a bigger budget — on Lebanon.
The terror attacks on Israel are hideous, as is the region’s poisonous anti-Semitism. But so are Israel’s bombing raids that are destroying a recently revived Lebanon. Israel will not help its case with tit-for-tat attacks on civilians or the wholesale destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure. The Germans’ bombing attacks on Britain in World War II didn’t break the people’s spirit and make them turn on Churchill; the opposite happened. One would think Israel might learn this lesson and act accordingly at the negotiating table.
War begets war, not peace. Write, don’t e-mail, don’t call — write a personal letter to your congressperson, your senator, your elected officials, demanding that the United States cut its military aid to Israel by half. That at least would get the Israelis’ attention off the bombs they’re dropping on the Lebanese and might even force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to start negotiating for real. It would level the playing field just a bit. SFBG
Tim Kingston
Tim Kingston is a freelance writer who lives in the East Bay.