Volume 41 Number 15

January 10 – January16, 2007

  • No categories

Venue list



853 Valencia

(415) 970-0012


917 Folsom

(415) 974-1585


3187 Mission

(415) 824-1447


10 Sixth St

(415) 255-7920


201 Ninth St

(415) 255-2742


3049 20th St

(415) 648-1047


2183 Mission

(415) 255-7227


601 Eddy

(415) 885-5088


3388 19th St

(415) 643-3558


5927 California

(415) 831-5620


2299 Mission

(415) 285-0323


1025 Columbus

(415) 474-0365


401 Mason

(415) 292-2583


1624 California

(415) 474-6968


1601 Fillmore

(415) 673-8000


1233 17th St

(415) 621-4455


435 Broadway

(415) 291-0333


2389 Mission

(415) 648-7701


714 Montgomery

(415) 434-4204


354 11th St

(415) 863-5964


139 Eighth St

(415) 255-8783


7 Claude

(415) 392-3515


650 Indiana

(415) 824-6910


2170 Market

(415) 861-5016


508 Haight

(415) 665-9915


1200 Ninth Ave

(415) 504-0060


527 Valencia

(415) 863-9328


312 Harriet

(415) 621-1722


1190 Folsom

(415) 431-3332


715 Harrison

(415) 546-7938


298 11th St

(415) 255-2232


1509 Haight

(415) 552-6949


525 Howard

(415) 339-8686


60 Sixth St

(415) 863-1221


100 Connecticut

(415) 552-4440


34 Mason



3121 16th St

(415) 252-7740


668 Haight

(415) 431-4724


3139 16th St

(415) 552-5525


375 11th St

(415) 626-1409


440 Broadway

(415) 989-3434


501 Dolores

(414) 621-2936


3192 16th St

(415) 503-1670


1525 Mission

(415) 355-1525


398 12th St

(415) 626-0880


950 Geary

(415) 885-4074


1151 Folsom

(415) 431-1151


647 Valencia

(415) 552-7788.


1028 Geary

(415) 571-1362


3200 16th St

(415) 552-1633


401 Sixth St

(415) 357-0827


1805 Geary

(415) 346-6000

540 CLUB

540 Clement

(415) 752-7276


662 Mission

(415) 615-6888


493 Broadway

(415) 788-2706


520 Fourth St

(415) 495-6626


1300 Van Ness

(415) 673-5716


1371 Grant

(415) 693-9565


859 O’Farrell

(415) 885-0750


Sir Francis Drake Hotel

450 Powell

(415) 395-8595


1131 Polk

(415) 923-0923


2125 Lombard

(415) 345-TONE


2301 Folsom

(415) 282-4663


500 Fourth St

(415) 546-6300


39 New Montgomery

(415) 495-5436


1192 Folsom

(415) 626-4800


628 Divisadero

(415) 771-1421


3920 Geary

(415) 386-6173


2545 24th St

(415) 641-5371


256 Columbus

(415) 291-8255


295 Terry Francois

(415) 495-3099


243 O’Farrell

(415) 954-0777


579 Howard

(415) 882-7240


817 Terry Francois

(415) 626-5355


1351 Polk

(415) 885-4535


3223 Mission

(415) 550-6994


2534 Mission

(415) 401-0810


1710 Mission

(415) 864-5585


3464 19th St

(415) 863-2052


1469 18th St

(415) 355-0001


916 Grant

(415) 982-0072


316 11th St

(415) 701-8111


300 Jefferson

(415) 771-5687


580 Sutter

(415) 398-0195


530 Haight

(415) 626-7279


500 Divisadero

(415) 241-0202


3225 22nd St

(415) 647-2888


1830 17th St

(415) 252-9000


444 Jessie

(415) 625-8880


119 Utah

(415) 626-7001


1840 Haight

(415) 387-6455


1652 Stockton

(415) 989-7800


460 Haight

(415) 621-6508


1751 Sacramento

(415) 474-1608


111 Minna

(415) 974-1719


747 Third St

(415) 974-1925


1600 17th St

(415) 503-0393


Pier 23

(415) 362-5125


2925 16th St

(415) 431-8889


116 Clement

(415) 751-1122


York Hotel

940 Sutter

(415) 885-2800


1751 Fulton

(415) 441-1710


1489 Folsom

(415) 552-3065


140 Columbus

(415) 217-8400


855 China Basin

(415) 621-2378


1534 Fillmore

(415) 346-8696


1695 Polk

(415) 921-1695


2698 Folsom

(415) 826-2402


Clift Hotel

495 Geary

(415) 775-4700


628 20th St

(415) 626-7386


155 Fell

(415) 861-2011


2700 16th St

(415) 437-9240


3158 Mission

(415) 282-3325


3639 Taraval

(415) 240-8360


2099 Folsom

(415) 552-6066


3140 Mission

(415) 648-6611


406 Clement

(415) 387-6343


3809 Geary

(415) 221-5095


1326 Grant

(415) 433-4247


420 Mason

(415) 693-0777


2937 Mission

(415) 285-3369


133 Steuart

(415) 896-5600


1337 Mission

(415) 421-1916


3089 16th St

(415) 621-9294


430 Mason

(415) 421-1916


333 11th St

(415) 255-0333


272 McAllister

(415) 621-2200


550 Barneveld

(415) 550-8286


399 Ninth St

(415) 252-7883


314 11th St

(415) 252-7100


383 Bay

(415) 399-9555


377 Hayes

(415) 255-7144


181 Eddy

(415) 345-9900


657 Harrison

(415) 348-0900


1015 Folsom

(415) 431-1200


330 Ritch

(415) 541-9574


Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel

One Nob Hill

(415) 616-6916


601 Bush

(415) 986-8900


2565 Mission

(415) 970-9777

26 MIX

3024 Mission

(415) 826-7378


424 Haight

(415) 864-7386


443 Broadway

(415) 788-0228


56 Belden

(415) 677-9242


982 Market

(415) 775-7722


1539 Folsom

(415) 431-1661



1822 San Pablo, Berk

(510) 843-2473


2120 Allston Way, Berk

(510) 841-JAZZ


1317 San Pablo, Berk

(510) 525-5054


2271 Shattuck, Berk

(510) 647-1790


2367 Telegraph, Berk

(510) 848-0886


1621 Telegraph, Oakl

(510) 763-7711


2102 Shattuck, Berk

(510) 649-3810


711 Fourth St, San Rafael

(415) 454-4044


1111 Addison, Berk

(510) 548-1761


2087 Addison, Berk

(510) 845-5373


2181 Shattuck, Berk

(510) THE-ROCK


3332 Grand, Oakl

(510) 465-KING


2318 Telegraph, Oakl

(510) 465-4073


19 Broadway, Fairfax

(415) 459-1091


924 Gilman, Berk

(510) 525-9926


6500 Shattuck, Oakl

(510) 595-5344.


2025 Broadway, Oakl

(510) 465-6400


132 14th St, Oakl

(510) 444-7224


2284 Shattuck, Berk

(510) 548-1159


3101 Shattuck, Berk

(510) 841-2082


2330 Telegraph, Oakl

(510) 444-6174


153 Throckmorton, Mill Valley

(415) 388-2820


1822 Grant, Concord

(925) 798-1811


416 25th St, Oakl

(510) 444-7263


1928 Telegraph, Oakl

(510) 451-8100


6551 Telegraph, Oakl

(510) 652-3820


510 Embarcadero West

Jack London Square, Oakl

(510) 238-9200 *

Politics blog



iPhones! SmartCars! He’Brew! Pakistani trannies!





Jan. 16


Rob Curto’s Forró for All

The official party soundtrack of northeastern Brazil, forró welds European polkas and mazurkas with Afro-Brazilian rhythms, and the result lands itself somewhere between zydeco and samba. As America’s finest purveyors of the forró sound, New York funksters Rob Curto’s Forró for All combine a wildly imaginative jazz sensibility with their obvious reverence for traditional Brazilian get-down sounds, and the fusion is exhilarating. (Todd Lavoie)

With Nobody from Ipanema and DJ Felina
9 p.m., $10
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF
(415) 552-7788


“Saints and Sinners”

In their new exhibit, “Saints and Sinners,” Bay Area artists Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock explore the various permutations of good and evil. Plock references Dante’s account of the seven deadly sins, while Tunstall evokes different forms of femininity to inform her ethereal paintings of factual and fictional saints. Saints and sinners finally converge in the form of a collaborative painting by the two artists titled Original Sin, a meeting of Plock’s ghoulish monsters and Tunstall’s heavenly paper dolls in the Garden of Eden. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

Through Jan. 27. Tues.-Wed., noon-10 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., noon-2 a.m.; Sat., 9 p.m.-2 a.m.
Free except during event and club nights.
111 Minna Gallery
Dragonfly Lounge, 111 Minna, SF
(415) 974-1719



Jan. 15


“Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Your day-off tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could stop at couching it and watching a documentary. But seeing as how the civil rights leader was a supremely gifted orator who inspired millions with his speeches, a night of roof-rattling performance seems a bit more fitting, doesn’t it? For the 10th year, Youth Speaks honors King’s legacy with “Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Host Chinaka Hodge oversees an action-packed lineup that includes spoken word by iLL-Literacy; hip-hop with the Attik; and DJ J. Period, who rocks the event’s annual “I Have a Dream” speech remix. (Cheryl Eddy)

7 p.m., $5-$12
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
700 Howard, SF
(415) 978-ARTS


Absolute Wilson

Though he’s been the most famous American avant-garde stage director for at least three decades, Robert Wilson remains a rather remote, enigmatic figure at home. The surprise of Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s documentary is how accessible – even delightful – he turns out on close examination. Predictably, given his arresting, architectural stage aesthetic, the archival performance excerpts and still photos here are striking. Wilson is funnier than you’d expect as an interview personality – though we also get strong evidence of his tantrum-prone perfectionism on the job. (Dennis Harvey)

In Bay Area theaters
See movie clock at www.sfbg.com



Jan. 14


Emily Jane White

At last humanity gave the finger to the dreadfully polite platitude-plopping coffeehouse strummers of the world and pulled up a chair for the folkies with songwriting worthy of our time. Good-bye to the contrived sensitivity of the ’90s, hello “I had a dream last night. There were ravens above my bed. And they took my newlywed.” So sings Emily Jane White, local ambassador of dusky ruminations and deliverer of mighty ass-kicks to the legacy of Jewel. (Todd Lavoie)

With Blushin’ Roulettes and Pete Bernhard
9 p.m., $6
Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St., SF
(415) 647-2888


Ferry worker rally

March to the Alcatraz Ferry dock at Pier 31 with union members, who are rallying to return to their jobs running boats to the island. (Deborah Giattina)

11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Hornblower’s Headquarters
Pier 3, Embarcadero and Market, SF



jan. 13


Rupa and the April Fishes

Run off and join what’s being billed as an “urban circus party” to celebrate the debut CD release of the Mission District’s Rupa and the April Fishes. It promises to be a beautifully tangled affair, featuring stilt walkers, puppets, tabla players, and live mural painting by Guardian Best of the Bay 2006 illustrator Mona Caron. Topping off the spectacle will be Rupa, whose sounds lay bare the effects of dividing her life between California, France, and India. Backed by her April Fishes, she delves into French chansons, tango, American folk, and Indian ragas. (Mirissa Neff)

With El Radio Fantastique
9 p.m., $12
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1422


Shut down Guantánamo

Call for the release of detainees at Guantánamo Bay on the fifth anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at the torture facility. (Deborah Giattina)

1-3 p.m.
Union Square
Geary and Powell, SF



Jan. 12


Maga Bo at “Stateless”

The globe-trotting beat purveyors at Six Degrees Records are kicking off 2007 with “Stateless,” a monthly party bringing emerging and experimental international artists to the Rickshaw Stop. January’s installment features a live DJ-laptop set by Maga Bo, Rio’s foremost digital contortionist. Mixing street sounds to gritty, booty-shaking perfection, Maga Bo’s music isn’t a melting pot: it’s an intercontinental riot. Working with beats from Brazil, Morocco, Senegal, India, and beyond, Maga Bo creates a divinely borderless mashup of batucada, rai, capoeira, bhangra, and skewed electronic beats. (Mirissa Neff)

With Lemonade, the Worker, and Roots and Wires Hi-Fi
10 p.m., $10
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011


Annie’s Social Club
One-Year Anniversary

The address 917 Folsom has a storied history. Sometime shortly after a giant asteroid struck the earth 65 million years ago, someone opened the venerable, venerated, and urinated-upon dive known as the Covered Wagon Saloon at this very spot. Things went swimmingly for a long time, since there were no longer dinosaurs around to wreck the place. However, when the extinction of drunk bike messengers and punk rockers appeared imminent, the bar was sold and transmogrified into a sapphic disco called Cherry Bar. Last year, OG bar folk Annie Whiteside and Sean Kennedy brought the punk back with somewhat swankier decor and a bangin’ karaoke back room. This weekend they celebrate a year like true drunks: with the Stitches on Jan. 12, the Scrawnies on Jan. 13, and the Whoreshoes on Jan. 14. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

With the Stitches, the Applicators, and Texas Thieves
9 p.m., $8
Annie’s Social Club
917 Folsom, SF
(415) 974-1585



jan. 11


POOR Press Reading

The Bay Area is particularly rife with innovative niche publications, one of which is POOR Magazine. POOR’s mission is to provide media access to and advocacy for very-low- to no-income inhabitants of San Francisco and beyond and has birthed both a multifaceted news service (PNN: PoorNewsNetwork) and a small-press publishing company (POOR Press). Join POOR editor Lisa Gray-Garcia at City Lights as she reads from her new book, Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America (City Lights, 2007), with a posse of POOR Press authors. (Nicole Gluckstern)

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


In the Blood

What if Hester Prynne were a down-and-out African American woman living in an urban wasteland who instead of wearing the scarlet letter has the word slut spray-painted over her makeshift home under a decrepit bridge? Welcome to the brainchild of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, whose In the Blood turns the Hawthorne classic on its head while confronting questions of gender, race, and sexuality with gritty dialogue and cynical humor. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

8 p.m., $10
Through Sun/14
California State University, East Bay
25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward
(510) 885-3261



jan. 10


Oil awareness meeting

Come to the monthly meeting of San Francisco Bay Area Oil Awareness, an environmental group interested in replacing oil with sustainable energy sources, facilitated by Chuck Payne. At the meeting Raines Cohen, just back from Al Gore’s group training project for global warming activism, gives a report on the course. (Deborah Giattina)

7 p.m.
Citizen Space
425 Second St., suite 300, SF
cwpayne@aol.com, www.sfbayoil.org


Haitian war crimes

Hear Athena Koble and Dr. Royce Hutson, authors of a study published in the UK’s September 2006 Lancet medical journal, speak about violence committed against Haitian women and girls by police and paramilitary troops following the 2004 US-led coup d’état that removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (Giattina)

7 p.m.
Women’s Bldg.
3543 18th St., SF
$5-$7, sliding scale
(510) 483-7481

James Broughton’s liberation machine


AVANT DVD "At an early age I arrived in San Francisco," James Broughton says in his 1974 cinematic self-portrait, Testament. "There I spent the rest of my life growing up." A straight-hearted honesty and smiling irony here lie snug side by side, as they do typically throughout the work of the poet and avant-garde filmmaker. Adults behaving like children are hardly an unusual sight in a Broughton film.

Lou Reed has a line about "growing up in public with your pants down," bemoaning (with his own habitual flair) the inevitable fate of the modern artist. But if becoming one today necessarily means dropping trou, no one ever did it more gleefully, readily, and speedily than Broughton, who died in 1999 at 85. Born in Modesto in 1913, Broughton was what you could call a self-made man — though not the kind his mother had in mind when she pictured him growing beyond the family’s generations of bankers into its first surgeon. Broughton created himself through his art: a playful, deeply erotic, and self-questioning poetry that, in its joyful and childlike (but never naive) reaching out to the world, ended up wedding itself brilliantly to the medium of the century.

Maximum exhibitionism was the idea. As Broughton explains in his lively autobiography, Coming Unbuttoned, he was visited one night as a lad of three by his angel, Hermy, who revealed his destiny and bestowed on him three attributes that would make his job easier: "intuition, articulation, and merriment." And so a liberator of the body and mind was christened a poet in his crib by an angel whose sparkling, throbbing wand made the boy wet his jammies. (Years later that wand was still making magic, as in 1979’s Hermes Bird, an 11-minute film in which Broughton reads a phallic ode over the profile of a slowly wakening penis, bathed in an ethereal light that sets it out shimmeringly against absolute darkness.)

In a film career (and life) that had more than one end and rebirth attached to it, Broughton had originally intended Testament as his epitaph, but he soon followed it with other projects, including an erotically charged close-up tour of bodily surfaces titled Erogeny (1976), after which began what can be considered his third and final period, the films he made with Joel Singer. (It was the prize-winning piece that began his second period of filmmaking, 1968’s The Bed — a multifarious 20-minute romp on a roving outdoor bed involving a large number of naked bodies — that first put full frontal nudity all over the art-film map. With a cameo by the filmmaker meditating naked before a semicoiled snake and another by friend Alan Watts, it’s still a curious, jovial work and leads into Broughton’s explicit mapping of human geography and erotic energy in films such as 1970’s The Golden Positions.)

It’s often pointed out how perennially unfashionable Broughton managed to be through a long career. In an era overshadowed by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, muscular Beat howling, and virtuously inscrutable language poetry, Broughton clove happily to his Mother Goose rhyme schemes (which he endowed with a sly wisdom and ribald play she would not have completely approved of). Although Broughton took his own good advice to "follow your own weird," he never lacked for influences, including giants on the American experimental film landscape such as his friend Maya Deren. His was a singular voice drawn from a merry mixing of lifelong passions: Mother Goose and Lao-tzu, Carl Jung and Alan Watts, Episcopalian ritual and Greek mythology, Jean Cocteau and Buster Keaton. It made him a representative figure in the San Francisco arts scene from the postwar renaissance through the next four decades, even while seeming to frolic forever outside the trends and categories of his day.

Recently, there have been at least three reasons to think about Broughton’s films. One is the release of The Films of James Broughton ($59.95) on DVD by Facets. While not quite complete, the three-DVD set is a pretty thorough overview of his film work, which was as central to the formation of a West Coast avant-garde as it was inherently and persistently individual.

Another reason is the April 2005 passing of Kermit Sheets. A gifted literary and theater artist in the Bay Area for many years, Sheets was a conscientious objector during World War II who afterward joined fellow COs in forming a San Francisco theater company, the Interplayers. In these years he was Broughton’s companion and collaborator on many early projects, including all the films that make up the first period of the latter’s always poetical filmmaking, four of which (out of a total of six, counting The Potted Psalm) are included in the Facets collection, beginning with Mother’s Day (1948) and culminating with The Pleasure Garden (1953).

There’s no end to the pleasure in watching Sheets play a crooning cowboy hero combing the grounds for a gal as sweet as Ma or, for that matter, his Charlie Chaplin–like tramp, Looney Tom, the eponymous hero of an 11-minute film made in 1951. His boyish grin and carefree capering through Golden Gate Park in search of one love after another might have made his career in comedy (or so you can’t help thinking). Over Looney Tom’s gleeful abandon, to the tinkling of a piano, Broughton’s gently raunchy storybook rhyming is merry and fey:

Give me a tune and I’ll slap the bull fife,

I’ll spring the hornblower out of his wife.

Any old flutist you care to uncover,

give me his name and I’ll be her lover.

La diddle la, the hydrant chatted

Um titty um, the milkpail said.

The best reason to revisit Broughton’s work, however, remains the cheering buoyancy and brightness of his vision — a serious tonic to the mordant hostility and hopelessness of the culture’s Apocalypto moment and one that comes close to justifying his definition of cinema as a "liberation machine." (Robert Avila)

Funny business


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The world has rushed headlong and with questionable taste into 2007. Whatever else that implies, it wouldn’t be funny if not for SF Sketchfest. The annual comedy showcase, which sails in buoyantly every January, grows fresher by the year, despite being nearly as old as this increasingly passé century.

Admittedly, the Bay Area has several admirable places to go for comedy — evergreen locales like Cobb’s, newer nooks like the Dark Room, and a couple yearly improv festivals, for example. But since its inception in 2002, SF Sketchfest has not only made room for more, it’s featured unique programming that only gets savvier.

"Each year we like to add new elements," cofounder David Owen says, "new acts, new venues, new styles of comedy, new workshops and interactive events." Audiences, meanwhile, have responded with enthusiasm. Houses are packed, and the lineup is almost always impressive. To run down the roster of SF Sketchfest 2007 is to press nose to glass and ogle the comedy candy on display: Upright Citizens Brigade’s Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh; MadTV ‘s Andrew Daly; Mr. Show ‘s David Cross and Bob Odenkirk (albeit in separate acts); Naked Babies (with Rob Corddry of Daily Show fame); a tribute to Paul Reubens (that’s Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens, of course); and much more.

Although Owen says the plan was always to grow SF Sketchfest into something bigger and better, he and colleagues Janet Varney and Cole Stratton originally conceived of the project in narrower, rather pragmatic terms — namely, as a means of getting their own act, the comedy troupe Totally False People, an extended run on a downtown stage.

"We frankly couldn’t afford to rent a theater on our own," he says. "So we teamed up with five other Bay Area groups — and we called it SF Sketchfest." Six years later, Owen looks back on this modest scheme with some justifiable awe. "When we were first putting it together, I don’t think we ever dreamed it would be where it is today."

There was plenty of magic even in that more low-key first year. But SF Sketchfest almost immediately reached out to national acts, which have seemed only too willing to oblige. The program has since blossomed into a sweet-smelling potpourri of wit from around the country while staying true to its original impetus by giving ample room to local groups such as Kasper Hauser, Killing My Lobster, and deeply strange soloist extraordinaire Will Franken.

If casting their net nationally while maintaining the fest’s original commitment to local acts takes considerable work ("Every year it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle," Stratton says, "only we don’t have a picture to work off of"), Sketchfest’s directors have, to their credit, repeatedly struck a fine balance, producing a formidable mix of major headliners and more up-and-coming comedians. "It gives audiences a chance to see groups they love with potentially the next big thing, and it gives the performers enthusiastic, packed houses," Stratton says, explaining the strategy. "We probably put together 50 calendars before we can put a lock on things, but it always comes together beautifully."

"We’re so particular about what we program every year," Varney says. "There isn’t a show in the calendar that we’re not incredibly excited about." Still, Varney cites among the festival’s particular strengths this year its "more interactive side," including workshops in comedy screenwriting (with The Baxter ‘s writer-director-star Michael Showalter), sketch writing (with San Francisco’s Kasper Hauser), and an improv master class (with Upright Citizens Brigade’s Matt Walsh). "These are seriously respected people offering their expertise," she says. Moreover, she promises with understandable confidence, "The workshops are going to be tremendously fun."

Then there’s TV-style audience participation. "Some of the performers from the ‘Comedy Death-Ray’ show [David Cross, Maria Bamford, and Paul F. Tompkins] will be doing their version of the old ’70s game show Match Game. Jimmy Pardo hosts the show, and it’s a really fun, relaxed environment where the audience gets to both participate and to see the comedians think on their feet," Varney says.

"And of course," she adds, "we’re really excited to honor Paul Reubens at this year’s SF Sketchfest Tribute." The event — which in years past has saluted the likes of Amy Sedaris (2004), Dana Carvey (2005), and Cross and Odenkirk (2006) — includes an audience Q&A with Reubens after he has a sit-down conversation with journalist Ben Fong-Torres.

Closing night builds to a crescendo of sorts with a program of music and comedy, featuring Kids in the Hall veteran Bruce McCulloch (2005’s hilarious opener, back for more with accompanist Craig Northey) and two returning Los Angeles acts, the fine duo Hard ‘N Phirm and comedy rapper Dragon Boy Suede.

"Sketch is very strong right now," Stratton notes. "I think sites like YouTube are ushering in a new wave of sketch groups. High-quality cameras and editing equipment are readily available, so a lot of funny things are being produced and immediately snatched up online." It’s had a feedback effect on the comedy circuit. "A lot of groups mix their filmed stuff with live performance and tour festivals with it, a trend we’ve noticed increasing in the last few years. With festivals popping up in Chicago, Portland, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Vancouver, sketch is in high demand." *


Jan. 11–28

Various venues


(415) 948-2494



Surreal genius


Are Kasper Hauser’s members the funniest people in San Francisco? Just try not busting a gut over the sketch troupe’s new SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy from a Plane, a takeoff on the SkyMall catalogs you find on airplanes. An uncanny takeoff. It’s stuffed with lovingly photographed faux products (including Our Safest Electric Jungle Gym, a steal at $599.99) and excessively cheerful copy (for the Racial Globe Toaster: "Press any country, and your toast will toast to the shade of its inhabitants’ skin!").

If you’ve seen Kasper Hauser live, you’ve witnessed their ability to write sketches that mash up the familiar and the absurd. And then there’s Kasper Hauser’s Web site, www.kasperhauser.com, which further showcases their talent for injecting surreal elements into a variety of media: short videos ("A Solution for Male Camel Toe") and the popular Kasper Hauser Comedy Podcast, plus a takeoff on Craigslist that’s equal parts bizarre and hilarious. The busy comedians are also working on a pilot proposal for Current TV.

As the quartet prepared for SkyMaul-themed shows at both the Chicago and San Francisco Sketchfests (local performances are Jan. 17, 19, and 21), I visited KH HQ in the Mission, where Dan Klein, Rob Baedeker, James Reichmuth, and John Reichmuth — former Stanford classmates who’ve been performing together since 2000 — chatted about parody, creativity, and the importance of staying staunchly San Franciscan. (Cheryl Eddy)

SFBG Have you noticed that audiences have more awareness of sketch comedy, given the rise of festivals like SF Sketchfest? Or do people still want to yell things out like it’s an improv show?

JOHN REICHMUTH I don’t really like to use the word sketch very much because it usually gets a bad reaction. That is what we are, but people take that as sort of a euphemism for "quick and undeveloped" and "over the top." "Zany." We hate the word zany — random, zany, silly. Those are just words that mean that the person did not watch you. [Other members laugh.] I think that each city that has a sketch fest has seen [awareness of the form] grow. Clearly, it’s happened in San Francisco; what you have is an audience with much more clearly defined expectations.

SFBG What can audiences expect from this year’s show?

ROB BAEDEKER With SkyMaul, we adapted material from the book and then used some old characters and sketches and sort of cobbled together a show that’s new in most ways.

JOHN REICHMUTH It’s a narrative about the company, the imaginary [SkyMaul] company, but it’s surreal like we are. It just sort of transcends time and space and physical laws.

SFBG How did you come up with the premise for the book? Obviously, everyone who’s been on a plane has seen a SkyMall catalog.

DAN KLEIN We’d fly to festivals, basically, and we’d grab the SkyMall….

JAMES REICHMUTH We would write captions above [the photos] and try to crack each other up.

KLEIN We have a great book agent, Danielle Svetkov, who actually came to us and said, "You guys gotta have a book in you somewhere." When we gave her the proposal, we had two offers in two days.

JOHN REICHMUTH We also started the proposal with the words "fuck you." [Everyone laughs.] It said "Fuck you. No, I’m serious. Fuck you — that is such a great idea."

BAEDEKER That was all in quotes, and then it said, "That’s what people say when they hear that we’re working on this book."

JOHN REICHMUTH That is actually how we pitched it. The first words of our pitch were "fuck you." But one of the things that we deal with now is wanting to make sure people read the book — we don’t want people to think that it’s just funny photos but to find the little gems in the writing.

SFBG Anything that didn’t make it into the book?

JAMES REICHMUTH Our publishers suggested very few changes contentwise. There were two products that they said no to: al-Qaeda action figures, which I’m sure someone has done, and the "One True Cock Ring." But that was more of a Lord of the Rings copyright thing.

SFBG You’ve obviously found ways to channel your creativity into a variety of avenues, not just live performance. How has living in San Francisco influenced you?

JAMES REICHMUTH As a comedian, staying in San Francisco is to really choose to have a different kind of career. The biggest choice you make as a comedian is to not move to LA or New York.

JOHN REICHMUTH It takes you off this track where you’re waiting for someone else to validate you or make you into a star or something. You just make your own business. You create something different.

SFBG You’ve performed in SF Sketchfest every year since its inception. What’s your take on the festival?

JAMES REICHMUTH If you look at the lineup now, it’s one of the best comedy festivals in America, without question. Their ambition every single year is astounding, and it’s all Dave Owen, Janet Varney, and Cole Stratton who just make this happen. The thing that’s so great about it is that it’s not just sketch comedy — it’s basically everything but straight stand-up. And straight stand-up is the one kind of comedy that everybody in America has seen way too much of. So anything they see at the festival is bound to be surprising to them as well as being at least as funny as anything they’ve seen before.

SFBG When you’re writing, do you have a pretty good sense of what’s going to be funny to an audience?

KLEIN There have been a couple of things that have made all four of us laugh over and over and just — if the audience doesn’t laugh at some point, you just gotta give up and move on.

JAMES REICHMUTH It’s pointless to say something like "Well, that audience didn’t get it." It’s either a success or a failure. Finding your audience is one thing, but it’s, like, they laughed or they didn’t. We try to avoid being hack or cheap —


JAMES REICHMUTH In the end, it’s just all about laughs.

KLEIN If you can get the whole audience, then you get them crying and laughing so hard they’re spitting on the people in front of them.

JOHN REICHMUTH As a comedian, I think getting people to spit stuff out is number one. *

Posi posse


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What’s the expiration date on cute? Is it just limited to the length of time you can tag a cat a kitten, pull off head-to-toe pink, tolerate unironic smiley faces, or maintain a Britney Spears fan site? Does anyone older than 21 still strive to be cute — or anyone not in a boy band, not a showgirl, not wearing mouse ears? Maybe cool stole cute’s thunder around the time kindercore and twee pop faded from view, got into Stanford, and sold their Belle and Sebastian albums, because except for the brief bandying about of the posicore label, as embodied by inspirational party starters like Hawnay Troof and Barr, cute has been, alas, the wallflower at the hoodies’ and headbangers’ balls. Even indie kids have generally distanced themselves from the terrifyingly twinkly adjective — cute and all its shiny, blank surfaces just doesn’t fit the grim, grimy tenor of the times.

Perhaps that’s why it’s the moment for Matt and Kim, the Brooklyn drum-and-keyboard successors to Mates of State and the latest, freshest, most upbeat iteration of the rock duo approach to come along since all those bands with "-s" tacked to their names. They’re supercute; get the kids to dance, stage-dive, and generally act up at their live shows; dream up funny, lovable, and yes, cute videos of food fights; and make lots of energetic pop punk (not to be confused with punk pop and Hilary Duff dumpees). The c word has been a hassle, though. "We get cornered into ‘cute’ a lot as a category," says Matt (né Johnson, 24) from Brooklyn, where he and Kim (last name: Schifino, 25) have settled down briefly amid their nonstop traversing of the country, spreading the gospel of fun. "If someone told me a band was a really cute band, I wouldn’t want to see that band. But a lot of people enjoy it — we smile, we have fun, Kim’s cute. I mean, a lot of people say that we’re cute in a really positive way, and that’s fine, but I wouldn’t want a video or photo shoot where we’re swinging on swings. I don’t want to brand ourselves as cutecore."

The "core" suffix is the kiss of death, isn’t it? Worse than the "-s" because it sounds like it might be cool — there might be a community of sorts there, but instead there’s just the distinct whiff of curdling dismissiveness. Similarly, all the bands that got tagged "screamo" should have just fallen on the neck of their guitars the instant they heard that insult applied to their music.

"Kim doesn’t like cute," Johnson says.

Thus the band decided to drench its new video for "5k," from its self-titled debut on IHEARTCOMIX, with fake blood, mock dismemberment, and pseudo gore. The pair aren’t afraid to mix a little jeopardy into their joy — so they’re not too scared of the warm winter that’s throwing down in their Brooklyn neighborhood at the moment we talk. "Over in New York City it’s ridiculous!" Johnson raves. "People are wearin’ T-shirts. It’s 70 degrees. It’s like the end of the world. It’s definitely colder in San Francisco in the summer than New York City in January."

Yet the unseasonable heat fits the sunny dispositions of the two-and-a-half-year-old combo, who haven’t had any time to write new songs since they bought their touring van in October 2005 ("We used to travel in an ’89 Honda Civic sedan and cram in all the stuff to the roof and drive with the back on the ground and the front in the air"). "We’re totally a summertime band," says Johnson, a onetime political punk fan who worked in film production.

"We like fun songs and fun things related to summer. I guess people get a little grumpier in winter, so as far as writing fast and up-spirited songs goes, it’s much better for it."

Never ones to shun the fun times, Matt and Kim still agree it’s the worst of times that stand out. In fact, one of their most memorable tour tales from the last year had to be their first performance in the Bay Area, at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland.

"We got the show the day before we were playing there, and somehow the word was that we were an acoustic band and we’re a really loud band," Johnson recalls. "And it’s their knitting night, and a bunch of people are sitting around at tables knitting. I think we made it through three songs…." *


With Girl Talk and USA Crypt

Fri/12, 9 p.m.

$13, sold out


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422




Choose whom you go with wisely. "If they’re your friend, be ready for them not be your friend anymore," Matt Johnson says. "Kim is the first person it’s really worked out with. We went with another person on one of our tours, and Kim now seems to disdain him."

Pancakes can be a costly proposition. "I definitely realized that once we went to IHOP," Johnson says. "We just got pancakes, and it cost $20. That was a real realization."

Check the weather before it wrecks it. "I feel like the hottest place I’d ever been in my life is Colorado — I thought I was gonna die," he bemoans. "And the coldest place was in Arizona. I thought that was the desert and it was gonna be hot. Be careful about thinking the south is always warm, when it really is not. Cleveland, Miss., in February — boy, that was cold."


"I often describe what we listen to as a lot of people’s guilty pleasures," Johnson says. "I grew up listening to political punk, and I went from being close-minded in general, and then my mind blew wide open."

• T.I., King (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

• Beyoncé, B’Day (Sony)

• Best Fwends, next year’s album

• Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art)

• Flosstradamus

In our cups


Although the holiday orgy of gift giving includes the giving of many pointless gifts, I was pleased to score yet more coffee-brewing equipment: a matched set of implements from Vietnam, like little tin cups with filter bottoms. I have a large and unwieldy collection of French presses, stove-top mokas, drip pots, pump-driven espresso machines, grinders manual and electric — but I didn’t have these things, had never heard of them, and did not think I was missing anything until I tasted the coffee they produced.

The cups are something of a cross between percolators, mokas, and drip devices: ground coffee is placed between a layer of filters at the bottom, the cup is placed over the destination vessel, and boiling water is poured in at the top. The water slowly drips through the layer of coffee to whatever you’ve set underneath, and while this can take several minutes, that interval gives a fairly long steep and produces an intense but smooth brew.

The charm factor is raised, at least in Vietnam, by the brewing of the coffee into a small pool of condensed milk, which is (as we bakers of cream pies know) sweetened. I no longer keep cans of the stuff around, but I did discover that a few ounces of scalded milk mixed with a teaspoon or two of sugar produces a pleasantly creamy sweetening.

More important is the use of Vietnamese coffee. We were given, with our cups, a packet of Nam Nguyen brand coffee, coarsely pre-ground and looking quite ordinary. Then we brewed it and found ourselves bewitched by a distinctly chocolately bouquet. The presence of chicory was suspected (as in New Orleans–style coffee), so I ground some Trader Joe’s decaf espresso roast and brewed it in a Vietnamese cup to make sure the brewing method wasn’t somehow producing a miracle. It wasn’t, though the coffee was quite good.

The resemblance of Vietnamese to New Orleans–style coffee isn’t surprising, given the long French tutelage in both places. Chicory root has been used for centuries to stretch coffee supplies and mask staleness, and because it contains no caffeine, its blending with coffee probably helps reduce the nerve-jangling effects of the latter. There is also some evidence that it has a tonic effect on the liver — an encouraging factoid to keep in mind if you seek a coffee to help lift any fog remaining from New Year’s Eve.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Barrington Levy


PREVIEW Outside Luciano Pavarotti and Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), Barrington Levy may be in possession of the best set of pipes in modern music. He has the unique ability to go from smooth sweetness to blistering power and then back in the same breath, sometimes in the same note. That he can belt it out without breaking a sweat makes everything he does all the more impressive. Born in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1964, Levy started performing in the late 1970s and quickly became the undisputed king of the dancehall craze that took over the island’s music scene in the ’80s. While lesser artists might have been content to rest on their laurels, Levy has toured and recorded relentlessly, releasing 25 full-lengths over the course of his career. Opening on both nights for Levy are the Reggae Angels, an up-and-coming San Francisco roots reggae band. (Aaron Sankin)

BARRINGTON LEVY With Reggae Angels, Green Up Soundsystem (Wed. only), and DJ Wisdom (Thurs. only). Wed/10–Thurs/11, 9 p.m. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $27. (415) 771-1421, www.independentsf.com


High tide


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Let’s face it: half the kick of discovering a little-known noodler or late-night four-tracker lies in the shock of the unknown. Jaded ears perk up at the sound of some never-was untouched by time, history, or, hell, pop itself — after all, musical obscuros like High Speed and the Afflicted Man, one of Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson’s favorites, were far from popular.

Wooden Shjips itself — give or take that copycat culture–jamming "j" — might have easily slipped past notice. I first heard their 2005 three-song 10-inch, Shrinking Moon for You, by chance when Holy Mountain honcho John Whitson spun the disc at Hemlock Tavern — the ears pricked up to a dusty, droning cluster of fuzz, the hips jiggled along with those sleigh bells until the second guitar shrieked to the foreground. Hark, the groovy in extremis, raw ’60s-style teenage-riot drama of the Velvets or Spaceman 3. I was told it was a single by a local band that was giving away its searing psych stomp to anyone who e-mailed for a copy. I seem to remember dutifully firing off a message later. No response.

No wonder — Johnson ran through the original 300-copy pressing of Shrinking Moon after raves from music sites and blogs such as Dusted and Siltblog and the random high-five by Byron Coley in Wire. The next Wooden Shjips recording, the 2006 7-inch "Dance, California"/"Clouds over Earthquake," garnered further positivity, completely spoiling Johnson’s original plan of a worldwide free musical giveaway — a goodwill crusade of vinyl shareware, if you will, that embraced its own mystery.

"It became a little tricky once people started writing about it, like on blogs and stuff," Johnson said last week, chilling on a chilly SF evening with bassist Dusty Jermier in Eagle Tavern’s beer garden. "Then record stores wanted to carry it, but if it’s free, you can’t really sell it to them, and they wouldn’t take it for free."

Most artists should be so unlucky. But Johnson explained, "It was important to be consistent. Since no one knew the band, there was no way to sell them, so the initial idea was to just give them away, and if I couldn’t give them away, I actually had a plan to leave them on bus seats and in libraries. It didn’t work out that I had to do that.

"I mean, the one thing I didn’t want to end up with was a box of records that just sat in my closet, because I’ve been there before."

But it is fun for the treasure-trawling music collector geeking out on the thrill of discovery, which Johnson can relate to. "I think the other big inspiration was from private press records from the ’60s and ’70s — people who’d make their own record, maybe 100 copies, and it would be forgotten, and then 30 years later people would discover it and decide it was the greatest record they’d ever heard," he said, citing High Speed and George Brigman on San Francisco’s Anopheles Records as inspirations. "Just press the record, make music — why wait? Why do you need a label? Why do you need people to like you to make a record? You can just make it, and if people don’t like it, maybe they’ll like it in 20 years."

Instead, "there was a lot of going down to the post office every day and mailing out records, which is really fun to a certain degree," he continued. "It’s cool to be contacted by people all over the world." They’d PayPal him shipping and extra money to coax him to send his single as far afield as New Zealand, Japan, and Lebanon. All of which has led to a forthcoming full-length for Holy Mountain, singles for Sub Pop and France’s Pollymaggoo imprint, and shows at South by Southwest — after Wooden Shjips play their first show at Cafe du Nord on Jan. 15.

"We’re actually having goals thrust upon us," said Johnson, a Wallingford, Conn., native who works as a systems administrator at CNET. "We’re sort of drowning in goals at this point — a lot of offers to put out records, show offers."

It’s a radical change from Johnson’s last, late ’90s band, Botulism. "We would pretty much clear rooms," he recalled. The first "iteration" of Wooden Shjips, which began a few years ago, consisted of nonmusicians. Johnson wanted bandmates who would bring the willingness to learn but leave the ego at home. "Musicians are a pain in the ass," said the grinning guitarist, who confesses he did want to "dictate a little bit." Unfortunately, nonmusicians also didn’t often come with the dedication. "In fact, in the first version our drummer quit because we started talking about playing shows," Johnson added, chuckling.

Making music — white label or no — continues to be the focus: Johnson, Jermier, "nonmusician" keyboardist Nash Whalen, and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin have already begun recording on a creaky eight-track reel-to-reel in the SoMa practice space they share with the Fucking Champs. And perhaps Johnson will find use for the box of Botulism singles he has in his closet, selling them as Wooden Shjips juvenilia. "I’d rather just revert to the old plan and put them on bus seats or in the library," he said with a smile, "and see if people discover them on their own." *


Mon/15, 9 p.m.

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF


(415) 861-5016


Kirby Dominant



Starr: The Contemplations of a Dominator


In a moment when Bay Area hip-hop is synonymous with hyphy in most people’s minds, it’s radio-shock savvy of Kirby Dominant to throw down a solo effort that follows no trends while his Niggaz and White Girlz project with Chris Sinister continues to generate word of mouth. Though its cover art features the same fuchsia hues of Niggaz and White Girlz — according to the man himself, fuchsia is the current signature color of the Rapitalism label — there is no denying that Starr: The Contemplations of a Dominator finds its creator on what he’s described as "some Jack Pollock shit," throwing different ideas and sounds at your head and seeing what sticks.

The first thing that does is the leadoff track, "Shenanigans," on which Dominator taps into an Irish atmosphere derived from time spent in Saskatchewan — but make no mistake, the guitar riff–driven result is no Leprechaun in the Hood pure silliness, and he steps far outside any record collection you’d find in a house of pain. Tapping into various space scientist and chemist cadences (much like Kool Keith in Dr. Octagon mode) to formulate what he deems musical style number 1,576,384,979, Dominant mocks faux producers with no range and knowledge, informing them that "Gil Evans would stab your ass with a toothbrush."

From there he journeys through the warm soul of the title track, lowering a voice that can be as mischievous as early Q-Tip in order to target MCs with no vocabulary whose rhymes are "fermentin’ like orange juice in prison." Going "solo like a nigga at the rodeo," he moves through "Come Outside" to a rock jam coda and then pays tribute to homegirl Joni Mitchell during "The Power of Stephen Padmore’s Shirt." On "So Right" he even gets so loose mentally that he turns instrumental, collaborating with Roy Hargrove to create a trumpet-inflected epic. In the near future Dominant plans to spread the new wave thuggin’ gospel further with Bloody Tuxedos, and he’s even venturing into classical music with Ensemble Mik Nawooj. Starr proves his wild wordplay can comfortably occupy and redesign any space between those wildly different zones.

New wave on the tracks


› johnny@sfbg.com

Hip-hop’s maze is infinite in size, shape, and perspective, but sometimes MCs get trapped at an impasse and start repeating each other like a gaggle of parrots. During times like that — times like now — it takes imaginative minds to break through and open new verbal doors. That’s what the two-brained Bay Area rhyme machine known as Kirb and Chris does on Niggaz and White Girlz (Rapitalism), a mixtape-turned-CD that launches the sound of new wave thuggin’: loops of ’80s hits and obscurities coupled with hard and hilarious truths about sex and race in America.

"We liked to go to the new wave clubs and do our thing," Kirby Dominant says when asked about the inspiration behind the concept. "We’d go out during the week and then on Sunday just compose what we went through, whether it was little chicks fuckin’ with us, kissin’ on us or dudes tryin’ to downplay us. We wanted to come through and fuck with taboos and myths and stereotypes. It’s not necessarily something we take to heart — I’ll fuck anything that moves, first of all, I don’t care what color it is."

Before they began recording, Kirb and Chris tried out the title Niggaz and White Girlz in social situations to see what kind of reactions it provoked. "A lot of people in our crew were, like, ‘Dude, that’s fucking ignorant,’ " Dominant remembers. "I’d say, ‘But if I called it Niggaz and Mexicans, you wouldn’t say anything, huh?’ "

"Or Niggaz with Niggaz," Chris Sinister adds.

Dominant claims some black-on-both-sides (or in clear jewel boxes and on the outs?) big names were up for cameos — until they heard about the subject matter. "I’m not going for these rappers saying they aren’t fucking white girls," he says. "I’ve been on tour, and there ain’t no fuckin’ black girls in Canada. I’m not believin’ it. I’ve been to those towns!"

The truth is calling the shots on Niggaz and White Girlz, and it’s open season on any gender or color that just can’t get enough. Dominant and Sinister sprinkle a ton of pop culture references on top of what one of the album’s characters calls a "Rick James and Teena Marie love" theme that could have been just a gimmick: Hill Street Blues, the Cosby kids, New Kids on the Block, Vampire’s Kiss, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Malcolm Little are all recruited for dissing or boasting purposes.

But dig beneath, and you’ll find track after track that takes post–P.M. Dawn new wave rap in unexpected directions. The keyboard stabs of Gary Numan’s "Down in the Park," for example, are an ideal sonic setting for Sinister to live up to his last name with a realist tale of the hustling that takes over city rec areas at night. Inspirational and even kind of spine-chilling, "In You" keeps Bono’s histrionics on "With or Without You" to a minimum, allowing Sinister and Dominant to spin candidly detailed morality tales with different endings about a greedy promoter and a woman turning tricks to support a habit. "Human" gives Dominant an opportunity to provide the frankly hilarious sequel that LL Cool J never made for "I Need Love." On "Money" the duo get hot but not counterfeit, and DJ Ice Water is at his coldest in revealing what the B-52’s "Legal Tender" has been all along — a prototypical money-stacking rap track, complete with synths and hand claps.

Some of the more obscure musical sources on Niggaz and White Girlz give Kirb and Chris the chance to lay down tracks on which the new wave sound is wholly submerged. "Change Your Mind" might be the album’s hottest cut, with Dominant mocking the "foul quotations and little heart murmurs" of MCs who have a fear of the kind of music made by, say, the Talking Heads. But the most mind-blowing moment is "Doorstep, Girl." There the duo flow over Morrissey — specifically, the Smiths’ single-mom scenario "This Night Has Opened My Eyes." Sinister, whose mother, Diane, gave him a copy of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis when he was young, taps into his own version of Moz’s melancholic and literary approach to lyric writing, addressing a girl who "turned my open heart into an abyss."

"Before the album I really got my heart broke," Sinister says when asked about his words. "I think the best thing is that Kirb really told me, ‘Man, just talk about what’s goin’ on.’ "

"A lot of times, people in hip-hop, they try to tell their whole life in one song," Dominant says. "I study songs, and I’m, like, ‘How come you can’t write a song about just waking up in the morning and how the sun looks while your girl’s still asleep?’ "

Misery and comedy live next door to each other on Niggaz and White Girlz. The many skits that Kirb and Chris create don’t just shame all the wack between-song scripts that have stunk up too many recordings since gangsta crashed Prince Paul’s party — they’re better and more perceptive than most sketches by comedians. On "Don’t You (Take All My Money)," Ice Water scratches and scribbles over the voice of a woman who says, among other things, "Y’all wasn’t playing when you said ’80s dance music shit!" According to Dominant, the woman’s cameo came from club hopping on the block during a typical 16-hour recording session. "We were at Hyde Street [Studios], and I was, like, ‘I need chicks.’ "

"Literally, we pulled those girls out of the club and got them in the studio," Sinister adds.

Dominant: "All we did was play the song and put them in the studio and let them talk over it. Whatever we liked, we took."

Sinister: "We could do outtakes of the shit they were sayin’. And that was a beautiful woman too."

A top contender for funniest skit has to be "Fuck You and White Bitches," in which a Goapele-loving young woman gets heated with Dominant because he took a girl named Becky to see Revenge of the Sith. "It got really strange, because I swear to God, when Kirb was doing that skit with her, she really started feelin’ it," Sinister says, referring to the skit’s actress, the cousin of one of Dominant’s ex-girlfriends.

"You know the part when she says, ‘I bet she can’t ride a dick like I can,’ and the white girl goes, ‘You wanna bet?,’ " Dominant asks. "That was my uncle’s idea."

"At first it just ended, but my uncle was, like, ‘You should add "You wanna bet?" on that shit,’ " he says to general laughter.

Creativity is a family affair in the world of Kirb and Chris. "No one could have made this album but us," Dominant says. "How many hood-ass niggas are you going to find listening to the B-52’s and knowing about them who can rap?" *


With C.L.A.W.S., Matthew Africa, Ryan Poulsen, and Special Fun Ambassador Cims

Sat/13, 9 p.m.

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF





Fireworks and smoke


› johnny@sfbg.com

Kenneth Anger and Jean Genet are two greats with outlaw tastes that still taste salty together. So a viewer discovers via a program that marries — for two nights — this pair of master onanists. In compiling the showcase, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts film curator Joel Shepard follows in famous fancy footsteps — none other than Jean Cocteau once showed both Anger’s 1947 Fireworks and Genet’s 1950 Un Chant d’Amour at an event called the Festival of the Damned Film. Presenting a Poetic Film Prize to Anger’s movie, Cocteau said the piece blooms "from that beautiful night from which emerge all true works." Such a poetic evening must have included Cocteau’s own 1930 The Blood of a Poet, because its influence is apparent on Fireworks and Un Chant d’Amour, a pair of vanguard works that arrived roughly two decades in its wake.

Balls-to-the-wall sexuality has never been rendered so tenderly as in Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, a prison scenario from which video-era gay porn Powertool codes have picked up next to nothing in the way of imagination or humanity. (In terms of love triangles in lockup, the one here is rivaled only by the bond between Leon Isaac Kennedy, cutie Steve Antin, and Raymond Kessler as the one and only Midnight Thud in retrospective-worthy Jamaa Fanaka’s unbelievable Penetentiary III — a TeleFutura stalwart flick that might even improve when dubbed into Spanish.)

The phrase "That’s when I reach for my revolver" might be the chief unspoken thought of Un Chant d’Amour‘s repressed warden figure — that is, when he isn’t reaching for his belt. He wields societal control and loses the pride and the power that come with maintaining a strictly straight sense of self while overseeing — or more often spying on — a pair of inmates. The older prisoner, as bristly and worry furrowed as his cable-knit sweater, lusts for the younger one, a muscular cross between Sal Mineo and the young James Cagney, complete with his thieving sneer. (According to Edmund White’s bio Genet and Jane Giles’s Criminal Desires: Jean Genet and Cinema, both prisoners were Genet’s lovers. In an irony the author-filmmaker must have enjoyed, the younger one, Lucien Sénémaud, to whom Genet dedicated a 1945 poem titled Un Chant d’Amour, missed the birth of his first child due to filming.)

In Screening the Sexes, the too-oft ignored critic Parker Tyler locates the antecedents of Genet’s butch characters in Honoré de Balzac, but Cocteau’s influence on Un Chant d’Amour is apparent as well in areas ranging from the whimsically scrawled title credits to the movie’s hallway-roving voyeurism (a more sexual, less effete echo of the dream passages that are the narrative veins of Blood of a Poet). Genet made Un Chant d’Amour after writing his novels and before the playwright phase of his creative life, and as in his novels, the film’s dominant prison setting, with its hated and celebrated walls, creates (to quote Tyler) "rituals of yearning and vicarious pleasure." Some images — such as blossoms (romantic symbols bequeathed by Cocteau?) furtively tossed from window to window — are heavy-handed. Others are as light as a naturalist answer to romantic expressionism can be, as when tree branches seem to echo prison bars. The most vivid and intoxicating visual has to be the prisoners passing cigarette smoke mouth to mouth via a long straw poked through their cell walls. Smoke gets in their eyes and gets them to undo their flies.

Official stories have it that Genet made Un Chant d’Amour for private collectors, and in veteran high-society petit voleur fashion, often fleeced them with the promise that he was selling the one and only copy. The 26-minute version showing at the YBCA is both more explicit than anything that sprung from Cocteau’s less rugged cinema and more graphic than the censored 15-minute version that has often showcased in underground public circles. (According to Giles, a benefit screening for the SF Mime Troupe in the ’60s was raided by the police.) Just as the character Divine in Genet’s book Our Lady of the Flowers gave John Waters’s greatest star, Harris Glenn Milstead, a stage and screen name, Un Chant d’Amour‘s smoke trails and imprisoned schemes have inspired visions from James Bidgood’s 1971 Pink Narcissus to the "Homo" sequence of Todd Haynes’s 1989 Poison.

Still, these same smoke trails came in the immediate wake of Anger’s Fireworks, and both Giles and Anger claim Genet viewed Fireworks before he began shooting his only movie. Unsurprisingly, the child of a midsummer night’s dream in Hollywood Babylon who partly inspired Un Chant d’Amour had his own copy of the film, but tellingly (according to Bill Landis’s unauthorized bio, Anger), he’d edited out the pastoral romantic passage in Genet’s movie because "it’s two big lummoxes romping." Such a gesture, typical of Anger, shows just how wrong it is to assume Genet’s comparatively masculine aestheticism means he is less sentimental.

Greedily inhaled and ultimately drubbed, the cigarettes of Un Chant d’Amour are a not-so-explosive, if no less effective, très French response to the American climactic phallic firecracker of Anger’s landmark first film and initial installment in the Magick Lantern Cycle. Unlike the SF International Film Fest’s once-in-a-lifetime (I’d love to be proven wrong) presentation of the latter at the Castro Theatre, the YBCA’s program features a rare and new 35mm print of Fireworks. It also includes similar prints of Anger’s exquisite, blue-tinted vision of commedia dell’arte, Rabbit’s Moon (which exists in three versions, dating from 1950, 1971, and 1979); his most famous film (with a pop soundtrack that essentially paved the way for Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, not to mention music videos), 1963’s Scorpio Rising; and his beefcake buff–and–powder puff soft-touch idyll with a pair of dream lovers in a sex garage, 1965’s Kustom Kar Kommandoes.

Viewed together, these movies cover dreamscapes of a length, width, and vividness beyond past and present Hollywood, not to mention a new queer or mall-pandering gay cinema that even in the case of Haynes’s son-of-Genet portion of Poison remains locked in a celluloid closet of positive and negative representation. Anger’s relationship with the gifted Bobby Beausoleil might be an unflattering real-life variation of Genet’s adoration of murderous criminality, but whereas Un Chant d’Amour resembles almost any page from any Genet novel, Anger’s films are a many-splendored sinister parade. For all of his flaws and perhaps even evil foibles, his films are rare, pure visions. "Serious homosexual cinema begins with the underground, forever ahead of the commercial cinema, and setting it goals which, though initially viewed as outrageous, are later absorbed by it," Amos Vogel writes in the recently republished guide Film as a Subversive Art. Many of the films in that tome seem dated today, but in Anger’s case, the forever to which Vogel refers may indeed be eternal. *


Fri/12–Sat/13, 7:30 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, screening room, SF


(415) 978-2787


Dark days indeed


French noir rarely darkened, deepened, or explored more nuanced shades of gray and shadow than in the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. From his breakthrough gangster ode, Bob le Flambeur (1955), through 1962’s underrated Le Doulos to the trio that put Alain Delon’s icy beauty to proper use, Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970), and Un Flic (1972), Melville infused the genre with a rigorous, formal power while simultaneously shooting quickly, stylishly, and on location. In the process he inspired new wavers–to–come with his resourceful quasi-vérité derring-do.

Yet not all of the director’s films were caper exercises: Melville started his career with a 1950 collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Les Enfants Terribles — World War II loomed large over the onetime Resistance fighter’s imagination. Joseph Kessel’s Army of Shadows was the book he waited to shoot for 25 years after discovering it in 1943, and in 1969 the filmmaker applied his eminently masculinized brand of hard-boiled cool as well as his compelling yet oppressive sense of landscape and character — and their interplay — to the text. The stunningly beautiful and shockingly poignant product finally saw its release in the States last year, and it says as much about Melville, his cold dreamscapes, and his idealistic though traumatized response to war (and resistance) as perhaps The Big Red One, Battle Royale, and even Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! might say about the works of kindred battle-scarred directors Sam Fuller, Kinji Fukasaku, and Russ Meyer, respectively. Here Melville, who later told an interviewer he never intended to make a film about the Resistance, and Kessel — also the author of that psychosexual romp into the subconscious of an immaculate bourgeois, Belle du Jour — use wartime experiences the director later described as "awful, horrible … and marvelous" to illustrate a piercingly conflicted existential love letter to the past that fellow Resistant Albert Camus could have signed off on.

The past, as it turns out, was both enthralling and dreadful. Melville’s camera almost vibrates with the morose shock value of Army of Shadows‘s opening long shot: German troops filing through — or defiling — the Champs-Élysées. From there Melville jumps to a van carrying a gendarme and a dark figure in spectacles, and the cop personably remarks on the convenience of their concentration camp destination and how it can now be used to house prisoners of France’s Nazi occupiers — until he spies the handcuffs on his traveling companion and catches himself. The viewer is pulled into the deceptively friendly scene, lulled by the bland banality of evil — and French complicity — while Melville continues swinging between points of view, from the soft gray matter of the forgetful cop to the blunt-object reverie of a French concentration camp commander dealing with the other man in the vehicle: Resistance leader and civil engineer Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura).

The director finally settles mainly in the mind of Gerbier, who, as played by onetime wrestler Ventura, can’t shake an antihero veneer despite his upper-crusty suits. The watchful Gerbier bides his time in the camp, gauges the prisoner demographic makeup, and begins to hatch an escape plan with a young Communist, until he’s suddenly summoned to the area’s Nazi headquarters. His act of daring there — based on a story told to Melville by a Gaullist deputy — almost leaps off the screen. The director calibrates the tension, engineers its release, then does it once again in an exquisitely loaded scene between a Vichy barber and a customer, each playing at normalcy during insanity.

Army of Shadows reveals the rest of Gerbier’s shadowy group with the offhand vibe of a chat with the local gendarme, and they’re more a gang than an army, including the stalwart Felix (Paul Crauchet); former Legionnaire Le Bison (Christian Barbier); the quivering Le Masque (Claude Mann); the boldly heroic, Marianne-like Mathilde (Simone Signoret, portraying a loosely sketched Lucie Aubrac); playboy Jean François Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel); and network chief, Jardie’s seemingly ivory-tower intellectual, deep-undercover brother, Luc (Paul Meurisse as a Jean Moulin figure). We find ourselves less in a traditional war film than embroiled in a tangle of arduous trips to England to visit a sequestered Charles de Gaulle, sudden arrests, subsequent betrayals, and then methodical hits, executed by the underground fighters, who operate under a code as rigid as any other gangster’s in Melville’s Guyville.

In an interview for the book Melville on Melville, the director bristled when he was reminded that some French critics equated the Resistants with thugs. Still, anyone familiar with Melville’s films will recognize the fighters’ toughened miens, accustomed to operating outside the law — and the feeling of dread at having to strangle a onetime compatriot quietly with one’s bare hands (when a previously arranged killing floor is now a few audible steps away from crying babes and frolicking schoolchildren). The dread here emerges from the fact that these ordinary citizens are compelled to commit both heroic and horrific acts: much like the jitterbuggers at the USO canteen that Gerbier crashes during a brief trip to England, these underground fighters — otherwise known as "terrorists" to the Nazis — are caught in an exhilarating and ultimately tragic tango with their occupiers.

Melville’s underground fighters resemble thugs because they’re operating in a similar mise-en-scène at the fringes of their occupied country’s laws. "A lot of people would have to be dead before one could make a true film about the Resistance and about Jean Moulin," the director told writer Rui Nogueira. "Don’t forget that there are more people who didn’t work for the Resistance than people who did." Nonetheless, Melville never shies away from his truth, gazing at the foes and fighters with equanimity, as when Gerbier confesses that his only love is for the chief, is forced to run from a Nazi machine-gun firing squad, and orders the death of a deputy who succumbed to weakness.

Though Melville’s cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, who supervised the 2004 digital restoration of the film, did a remarkable job recreating the film’s steely blue, brown, and gray palette, it’s the sound design that stands out today — for example, the rush of the ocean as Gerbier and Felix march a traitor down a small seaside town’s cobbled streets to his death. Wheels, motors, and heels clank like that dread old mechanism, the march toward denouement, a.k.a. death, found in any noirish plot. "You — in a car of killers," Gerbier sighs, regarding his beloved boss at Army of Shadows‘s close, one that reduced Kessler to tears when he read the biting coda added by the filmmaker. "Is nothing sacred anymore?" Melville achieved a sense of closure in making Army, certainly — and it rings true to his sense of manly fatalism like the clang of a cell door. (Kimberly Chun)

ARMY OF SHADOWS Thurs/11, 7:30 p.m., and Sat/13, 8:20 p.m. PFA, 2575 Bancroft, Berk. $4–$8. (510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu


Let them eat pancakesi


› paulr@sfbg.com

Not too many years ago, the intersection of Church and 30th streets had a distinctly end-of-the-line, Hooterville flavor. It was there that Muni’s J-Church streetcars ran out of track and had to turn themselves around for the voyage back to Market Street. The restaurants were a motley crew too, a helter-skelter bouquet of old, dimly lit places — Italian, Burmese — and a few brash arrivistes, such as Valentine’s and Café J.

Nowadays the southbound J takes a left and disappears for hours, like that model train Monty Burns once gave Bart, briefly his heir, on The Simpsons. ("Where does it go?" Millhouse asks in awe as the toy train chugs into a tunnel, and Bart replies, "I don’t know, but it’ll be gone for three hours, and yesterday it came back with snow on it!") The expansion of public transport is doubtless a good thing, especially in times like these, but the growth of the J line has certainly helped end the backwater days at Church and 30th. In the past few years there has been a tremendous efflorescence of upmarket restaurants south of 26th Street, including Incanto, Bistro 1689, La Ciccia, Pomelo, and Pescheria (from Joseph Manzare of Globe).

A small lacuna in this splendid list — but a striking one, considering Noe Valley’s reputation as the city’s baby belt — has been a place families could eat with small children. Outer Church’s resurgent restaurant row is very much tilted toward hip young adults with money. The baby-stroller set does most of its prowling along 24th Street, with Savor serving as a kind of Grand Central Station for people with little ones. Of course there was Hungry Joe’s, an old-time, greasy-spoon hamburger joint — yet the nearest relation to Hungry Joe’s wasn’t Savor but Herb’s, a place where I’ve never seen many baby strollers or children.

But now that the Naser brothers (Eddie, Anis, and Kamal) have reinvented Hungry Joe’s as Toast — complete with fresh paint the color of sunshine, brilliant new windows, and a shiny redo of the lunch counter — the outer Noe neighbors need no longer herd their tykes, tots, nippers, and other small folk up the long blocks to 24th Street. Toast, launched early in September, is much snugger than Savor, and although it doesn’t serve crepes, the menu does offer pancakes from dawn to dusk and beyond.

If the place also lacks Savor’s rear terrace, where fantasies of being in Nice can plausibly be entertained, it offers plenty of sidewalk seating by way of compensation. This small amenity is already attracting a big brunch crowd on warm weekend afternoons. And lovers of toast will not come away disappointed. Toasted bread, a simple pleasure that really can’t be improved upon, is standard issue for many of the restaurant’s broad array of sandwiches, and while this might seem like a minor detail, minor details have a way of making the difference between good and merely mediocre cooking.

The only untoasted bread we came across was the little loaf of sliced baguette that appeared shortly after we were seated one evening. It was butterable, of course, but it also made nice chunks for dipping into a surprisingly excellent lentil soup ($4.75) dotted with diced carrots and celery and shreds of tomato but also bewitchingly perfumed with an eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Turkish, bouquet of spices. I definitely detected paprika (we associate paprika with Hungary, but the spice was brought there by Ottoman invaders) and possibly sumac. Another small detail that made a noticeable difference.

And yet another: pepper jack cheese, with its agreeable fruity sharpness, along with cheddar in the grilled cheese sandwich ($7.25), whose slices of white bread had assumed pale golden sheen, sign of a quick turn in oil rather than a toaster. And more: heavy gratings of parmesan, a wealth of nicely oily croutons, and a garlicky vinaigrette over perfect romaine leaves in the side Caesar salad, which is a 75¢ upgrade for most of the sandwiches. The corned beef in the Reuben ($8.75) seemed to have been house-cured, judging by the juiciness of the meat and the liveliness of the bits of fat still attached to it. Corned beef has nothing to do with corn, incidentally, except that the cattle might have been fed it in their last days. "Corn" refers to the coarse salt with which the meat is cured; the word used to mean "grain" or "granular" — hence "corn snow."

I did find the ground beef in the patty melt ($8.50) to have been slightly underseasoned, but this deficit was made up by plenty of excellent sautéed onions and slices of (toasted!) rye bread. The side of fries, though not of the elegant French matchstick variety, was flawless and must be counted among the better versions in the city. Like the Reuben, the bacon cheeseburger ($8.50) was made with Niman Ranch beef — 1/3 pound’s worth — but the quality of the meat was largely eclipsed by the intensity of the toppings: a heavy mat of melted cheddar cheese and lengths of well-crisped bacon.

One evening we sat near a young family whose little girls, while waiting for their evening pancakes, were crawling over everything like monkeys — up on the table, down the back of a chair, across the floor, making little squeaks and yips all the way — while their parents patiently shepherded them back toward civilization and kept a conversation going between themselves. The gist of their remarks seemed to be: When will the pancakes arrive, and perhaps, Will we be toast by then? Answers: soon and no, everybody happy. *


Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m.–4 p.m.

1748 Church, SF

(415) 282-4EAT


No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible


Gentle surrogates


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Right now I only have three chickens and a song stuck in my head. "All Her Favorite Fruit," by Camper Van Beethoven. Often I dream I have many, many more chickens than three. They come out of the woods and are colorful, quirky, and wild, but for whatever reason they choose to be my chickens. In my dreams they are welcome both by me and the three real chickens I have. Always they are welcome and weird, these dreamy messengers. I never do figure out what exactly their message is, but my sense is that there is something off about them, like they lay square eggs, are made out of smoke, or cock-a-doodle-don’t.

Whatever the flavor of their surreality, I am charmed and afraid, and invariably (so far) I wake up to exactly how many chickens I have. Which has never been more than nine, at my chicken farmerliest, and is now, as I said, three.

I’m not complaining. Even just one chicken could be a tremendous source of comfort and amusement to me, and if I didn’t have any, which might happen when I move back to the city (I am looking), then I would spend more time than ever with chicken soup, chicken vindaloo, chicken chow mein, fried chicken, barbecued chicken, and so on.

And you would be a little better informed about Bay Area restaurants, I guess … so there’s that.

Right now, however, it’s a warm morning for January, and I’m sitting outside on a log. I’ve been awake for a long time, long enough to feel like I’ve entered another time zone that no one else has ever been in. I’m not tired. I’m drinking black coffee and feeding brown rice to my three exact, awake, real live chickens. I’m feeding them brown rice, chow fun noodles with black beans, red peppers, and cabbage ($6) and spicy green beans without chicken ($8.50).

Last night on my why-why-why way home to the woods I made a wrong turn at Nan King Road in the Sunset. Not that it’s not a great restaurant, and not that it doesn’t have a unisex bathroom, but you know what? I don’t feel like talking about bathrooms or food, and if I did feel like talking about food, I would much rather be talking about bacon, as surely as my three chickens would rather be eating bacon. Rather than brown rice and chow fun noodles.

Bacon is every sensible animal’s favorite food, and the Ebb Tide Cafe, where I’d made a right turn on the morning before, has a unisex bathroom and a bacon platter, which is just that, a platter of bacon, bacon, bacon, just bacon.

And my chickens are looking at me, going, So why are we eating brown rice and chow fun noodles? Tell us again.

I will tell you again and again and again.

My mom and grandma live in the house I grew up in, snow belt Ohio, without electricity or running water. They shit into a bucket. Last time I talked to her on the phone, my mom said, "Don’t put me in your column."

How can I not? This is the stuff I am made of, and anyway she doesn’t read my column. My dad does. He’s a good Catholic and goes to church in Ohio, which I am also made of, and he prays for me and probably all of us. Which is great.

In the woods sometimes when the wind blows real hard at night and the redwood trees creak and crackle outside my window, I fear for my life. I hear every little thing, see absolutely nothing, and wonder how strong this old shack’s walls are.

Weirdo the Cat sleeps under the covers, curled up to my belly. I’m outside now in the dirt, watching my chickens have Chinese. But earlier this morning, like at five, I was in bed on my back with my hands behind my head. Weirdo came up for air, sniffed my lips, rested her little black head on my arm, and sighed and went back to sleep.


I laid there, human, for hours, my brain racing like space probes through the void, trying to find intelligent life inside my strange body — or grace or hope or something, my open eyes watching the air around me change ever so slowly from black to gray to pink to clear.

The chickens that I have were starting to fuss, wanting out. It was time, but no way was I getting up yet, not with this cat on my arm like that, snoring pretty much exactly like a man. *


Daily, 7:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

1500 S. Van Ness, SF

(415) 643-4399

Takeout available

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted


Wheelchair accessible


Careers and Ed: Look Ma, no grants


› culture@sfbg.com

Starving is overrated. No matter how romantic your notions of the long-suffering, misunderstood artiste, it’s hard to get around the fact that you’ll never get that big one-person show if the rain reduces your paintings to gesso mush because you don’t have a roof to put over them.

Enter the grant provider. Part john, part pimp, and possessing all the bureaucratic zeal of the most exacting mafioso, a grant foundation can seem like an ambivalent overlord to struggling creative types: while most artists want and need grant money, they may find expectations frustratingly impossible to meet. When you factor in an ever-increasing conservatism in the arts-funding world, it’s enough to make anyone wonder how to take artistic risks while still being kept in acrylic paint and photo fixer, much less food.

"That’s the thing about the arts these days. It’s so hard to get your project off the ground," Chesley Chen, a 38-year-old independent filmmaker, says over a piece of Safeway strawberry-rhubarb pie ("It’s surprisingly good") in his Sunset District flat. "The vast sum of money goes to sustain these megalithic art houses rather than nurturing local artists." Chen points out that because of today’s conservatism, most organizations are looking for safe projects to fund — ones lacking controversy and with an obvious social relevance.

It’s ironic, then, that Chen’s latest project is about as socially significant as it gets and yet he’s still struggling to secure meaningful funding. After being moved to tears by a piece in Harper’s last year written by a Ugandan woman suffering from AIDS, Chen began an e-mail relationship with Beatrice Were, an HIV-positive Ugandan mother who started the Memory Book Project for similarly afflicted women. Shunned by their communities because of the AIDS stigma, these mothers are given the chance by Were’s organization to share their thoughts and dreams for and with their children.

Chen soon realized what a powerful documentary the story would make. Problem was Chen found that most funding groups require a pitch reel to give an indication of what a finished project will look like — a logistical impossibility given Were’s location. But for Chen, abandoning the project wasn’t an option, so he was forced to look for alternatives.


Some organizations do offer seed money for projects, but these grants are extremely competitive and definitely for those who don’t mind plenty of demands and hand-holding. Creative Capital (www.creative-capital.org) is unique in that it views its funding model not as a philanthropic effort but as a venture capital investment. Founded in 1999 and offering grants in multiple disciplines, the organization usually works with its artists over a period of three to four years and offers advisory services, continuation funds, and even a yearly retreat. In return, each funded artist agrees to share a small percentage of profits with the group, which is used to fund other works — but only if their project turns a profit. The average grant is for $35,000, but out of roughly 3,000 applications a year, Creative Capital only awards about 50 grants.

For filmmakers, the Independent Television Service (www.itvs.org) offers research and development funding on an ongoing basis in conjunction with PBS. The grants cover expenses such as travel, script development, and the crucial fundraising reel. The group concedes that these funds are "extremely limited and highly competitive," but for those lucky chosen few, the ITVS offers something no other grant provider can: a "comprehensive public television launch" that provides marketing, publicity, station relations, and outreach support. In other words, people actually get a chance to see your work when it’s done.

For the record, Chen has been turned down for both. "With the exception of walking my dog, I don’t think I left my home for three or four days," he remembers. After the initial bout of earth-shattering depression, he decided that if he had to, he would shoulder the whole $60,000 budget himself and just go into debt. "Bankruptcy is not the most desirable thing, but there are worse things to go bankrupt for."


Chen decided to get a fiscal sponsor, a strategy he used to help fund his documentary Sandman, which aired on KQED last year. On paper, fiscal sponsorship seems like a counterproductive measure — the artist ends up actually paying the sponsor, not the other way around. But sometimes it makes real financial sense. Because of a sponsor’s nonprofit status, any person or organization making a donation will be able to write it off come tax time. Donations are made to a foundation under the project’s name, the foundation processes the paperwork, and then it gives the money to the artist less a fee. Essentially, the artist is piggybacking on the organization’s charity status. Any nonprofit can offer fiscal sponsorship, but it’s a good idea to go with one that knows what it’s doing — this will involve the IRS, after all. Another big benefit: sponsorship allows the artist to apply for grant funding that is usually only available to tax-exempt organizations.

For Memory Book, Chen is partnering with the San Francisco Film Arts Foundation (www.filmarts.org), which takes 7 percent of funds raised for its fee. This is higher than the 4 or 5 percent fee some foundations charge, but Film Arts makes up for it with a speedy turnaround time. Instead of having to wait for his money for up to seven or eight months, Chen will get it "as soon as the checks clear." Attaining a Film Arts sponsorship can be an arduous two- or three-month process, but the organization’s criteria are based more on fiscal feasibility and sound planning than inherent artistic value. If your fundraising outline consists of, as Chen puts it, a "cupcake sale every Saturday," you’ve got problems.

For fiscal sponsorship for all disciplines, check out the New York Foundation for the Arts (www.nyfa.org), which sponsors artists nationwide, offers assistance in everything from fundraising and budgeting to bookkeeping services, and has a detailed online database of available grants, NYFA Source.


Now that you’re nonprofited up, what’s the next step? For Chen, that was the $60,000 question. First he made sure his current lifestyle wasn’t going to siphon any money away from his project. "I cut out all luxury items," he says. "I stopped going to movies." He budgeted $20 a week for groceries (including pie). "I let my hair grow," he continues. "People wanted gifts for weddings. That wasn’t going to happen. Their present was me not starving."

Then Chen talked to a friend who mentioned she had experience arranging benefit dinners for various causes and asked if he was interested. "It was such a foreign idea," he says. "But she took care of almost everything." That included securing a private chef (who donated his services and provided his home for the feast), contacting retailers such as Mission District specialty grocery Bi-Rite Market (which donated the meat and produce), and convincing wine wholesalers to donate three bottles of vino per course. Students from City College’s culinary department volunteered to serve the 16 guests, who each paid a minimum of $250 to attend. From the dinner alone Chen raised $3,500. It might not sound like much, but put it in perspective: the Uganda hotel for his crew of four will cost $2,000 for the 21-day duration of the shoot.

Chen soon realized that directly soliciting in-kind donations might be the way to go. "Once I got over that initial reluctance, it was actually quite easy," he says. The dinner invitations were sent via e-mail, but Chen snail-mailed subsequent requests for cash for a more personal touch. First he sent requests, complete with self-addressed stamped envelopes, to the wealthiest people he knew, followed by the mere well-off, and finally, friends who may only be able to pitch in $10 or $20. He figures he’ll have raised upward of $10,000 before heading to Uganda this month.

Soon he’ll have his precious fundraising reel, which he plans on using in pitches to the Sundance Documentary Project and possibly HBO. Then, who knows? Maybe he’ll splurge and treat himself to a haircut. *

For more information on Chesley Chen’s Memory Book documentary or to make a donation, e-mail him at ccc@chesleychen.com.