Volume 41 Number 17

January 24 – January 30, 2007

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“Page to Stage”: Les Waters and Tony Amendola

A critical and crowd-pleasing hit in New York and London, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman just opened at Berkeley Rep – and if there’s anything that’s gonna lure me to the theater, it’s the promise of onstage mutilation. Presumably, however, the only thing that’ll be splattering is dish when Berkeley Rep artistic director Les Waters and actor Tony Amendola chat and reminisce as part of the company’s “Page to Stage” discussion series. (Cheryl Eddy)

7 p.m., free
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage
2025 Addison, Berk.
(510) 647-2949



If you want to sit in the dark for 100 minutes looking through the eyes of one of the best living photographers in the world, you’re ready for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates. Ceylan’s fourth film proves he could give David Lynch a lesson in leaping from film to video – so ravishing it’s threatening, the cinematography captures heat with an intensity that could make you sweat in an air-conditioned theater before blanketing the movie’s potentially cliché love story in snow so heavy and fatal it looks and feels like volcanic ash. (Johnny Ray Huston)

In Bay Area theaters



jan. 28


Neil Pollack

Best known for his hilarious takeoffs on pop culture and the music scene in books such as Never Mind the Pollacks, author Neal Pollack is back with a new tome, on a subject that readers of his previous works might not have expected from him: parenthood. In Alternadad, Pollack muses on becoming a father and points out how his generation is redefining the cultural notion of what it means to be a parent. (Sean McCourt)

With MC Beth Lisick, Pip Squeak-A-Go-Go, and the Time Outs
3 p.m., $5-$8
12 Galaxies
2565 Mission, SF
(415) 970-9777


“Sunday Gorey Sunday”

Is your tea cozy haunted, your sofa curious, your aspic blue? Grab your beastly baby, hop on your epileptic bicycle, and hie thee to “Sunday Gorey Sunday,” the hastily added second night of the Edwardian Ball – San Francisco’s annual tribute to the macabre master of laconic weirdness, Edward Gorey, RIP. Join pagan lounge ensemble Rosin Coven; creep-show chanteuse Jill Tracy; our favorite “flamin’ hot circus freaks,” Vau de Vire Society; and others for the Edwardian Variety and Sideshow Night. (Nicole Gluckstern)

With Vima Burlesque and Loop!Station
7:30 p.m., $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750



jan. 27


Michael Light: “Near Planet”

Michael Light might be capable of making you see the moon (and nuclear suns) anew. When he turns his vision to the landscapes of the American West, as he does in his newest collection of photos, the results can be amazing and more than a little unsettling. Light’s “Near Planet” is centered around a handful of large handmade artist’s books consisting of aerial photographs. The world’s largest human-made hole and Compton are just two areas overseen, with each of Light’s books devoted to one particular region and a single flight. (Johnny Ray Huston)

3-5 p.m. reception
Through March 10
Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., free
430 Clementina, SF
(415) 495-5454


War protest

Rally locally while a projected hundreds of thousands of people march on the federal capital to protest troop escalation and push for the end to the Iraq War. (Deborah Giattina)

Market and Powell, SF
(510) 484-5242



jan. 26


The Birthday Party

Five years before Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’s George and Martha deluded themselves into a drunken frenzy and then stupor, the characters of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party revealed that humankind’s potential for self-deception is just about endless. The award-laden Aurora Theatre has a strong and long relationship with Pinter – while The Birthday Party is his first play, it’s far from the company’s first Pinter production. (Johnny Ray Huston)

8 p.m., $28-$38
Through March 4
2081 Addison, Berk.
(510) 843-4822


Activating the Medium Festival

At the 10th annual Activating the Medium Festival, enthusiasts of aural pleasure will have the opportunity to ponder the musical value of a wide range of sounds. Focusing on the ambiguous periphery between the natural and the mechanical world – using field recordings from sources as diverse as a Vietnamese rain shower and an Australian industrial site – several world-class sound artists present their unique sonic perspectives at the Exploratorium and Recombinant Media Labs. Among the featured performers are B.J. Nilsen (a.k.a. Hazard) from Sweden and the Bay Area’s Keith Evans, who premieres his multimedia evocation of Mt. Tamalpais. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Fri/26-Sat/27, 7 p.m., free with museum admission
Exploratorium, Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon, SF
(415) 561-0308

Also Sun/28, 8 p.m., $15
Recombinant Media Labs
763 Brannan, SF




jan. 25


Mike Epps

It’s six days after last Friday, so what’s going on with Mike Epps? Those 21st-century cesspools known as message boards have been roiling and boiling with claims that he’s called out Dave Chappelle. Entertainment news outlets have brought soaplike installments of the turmoil-laden preproduction of a Richard Pryor biopic starring Epps. Epps might or might not have something to say about these things, but whatever he says will probably be funny. (Johnny Ray Huston)

8 p.m, $35-$40
Also Fri/26 and Sun/28, 8 and 10:15 p.m.; Sat/27, 7, 9 and 11 p.m.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
915 Columbus, SF
(415) 928-4320


Mezzanine Owls

Approaching the big-screen sound from an Anglophile perspective, this four-piece builds luxuriant canopies of shimmering guitars and propulsive rhythms reminiscent of British heart racers Doves and Elbow but bearing the intriguing twist of wounded vocals landing somewhere between Dean Wareham and Mercury Rev. Anthemic rock with dignity. (Todd Lavoie)

With Robbers on High Street
9 p.m., $8
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

Flowers unempowered


It’s been quite a year for local florist Guy Clark. His dad passed away about a year ago, and Clark suffered a heart attack shortly afterward. Two weeks later, the building at 15th and Noe where he rents garage space to sell flowers caught on fire. The good news was that his space was not damaged. The bad news was that his landlord, Triterra Realty, didn’t immediately renovate the destroyed apartments and let most of the tenants move out, telling the two who remained, Clark and Irene Newmark, that they would have to move soon, too: once the renovations were completed, the building would be put on the market and possibly sold as Tenancy-in-Common (TIC) apartments.

Some more bad news came the other day, on the morning of Jan. 22 when Clark discovered his space had been vandalized in an apparent hate crime.

“KKK” was scrawled across the garage door in blue paint. “Fuck you” with an arrow pointing to the door was written in off-white paint on the sidewalk. Additional garnishes of white and blue were splashed and smeared throughout the area.

“They totally trashed the place,” Clark told the Guardian. “I imagine that it’s geared toward me because I’m an African American.”

Clark said he notified the San Francisco Police Department, and an officer came by to file a report and take some pictures. The case will be referred to the Hate Crimes unit.

“I can’t really think of anybody who would do something like this,” said Clark, adding that he recently had a minor altercation with a neighbor up the street but no other suspects immediately came to mind. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who come by are a blessing.”

Clark has been living and selling flowers in the neighborhood for 25 years, and renting this particular space for five. The Guardian awarded his shop a Best of the Bay in 2005.

“This is more than tragic. Guy is very loved by this neighborhood,” said Irene Newmark, who lives in the building where Guy’s Flowers is housed. Newmark thinks increased gentrification, while not directly related to the hate crime, is changing the place where she’s lived for many years. Newmark listed off several nearby properties that have been sold recently or are on the market, including one that sits vacant across the street.

“They offered to buy me out for $10,000, but that’s not a financial incentive to move,” she said, adding that by the time she paid taxes on the money and found a new place to live most of the money would be gone. She said the owners of the building told her their intent was to sell the building on TIC speculation and “the day it sells you’ll receive your Ellis Act notice.”

Riyad Salma, a spokesperson from Triterra Realty, based on nearby Sanchez Street, said the company has joint ownership of a few other properties in the neighborhood and would be putting a different TIC on the market shortly. He didn’t want to comment on the TIC prospects for the building where Guy’s Flowers is housed, saying it was too market dependent and difficult to say at this point what they will do. He did confirm that the building would be put up for sale soon, “marketed as a whole building or TICs. Whoever will take it,” he said.

Salma also expressed dismay about the crime. “The vandalism seemed to be hate-motivated and race-motivated and it’s not something we’ve ever seen in the neighborhood,” he said.

Sitting on a bench among pots of flowers that decorate the sidewalk in front of her building, Newmark said, “It’s so ironic that those that are beautifying the neighborhood are being forced out.”

Nearby a Department of Public Works employee wielded a hose like a magic wand, trying to make the hateful slurs disappear.

Clark said he plans to keep doing what he does for as long as he can, whether it’s in this building or the one where he lives, four doors down the street.

“I’m usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays,” said Clark. “But I was thinking about just going and selling whatever I had left. The idea of selling flowers makes me feel better.”

Hot Green


Kale: what is to be done? Yes, kale has its virtues: it’s good for us (as indicated by its dark green color), it presents a variety of interesting textures, it isn’t too expensive, and it turns up in winter, when our farmers markets are desolate. Still, kale is among the trickier leafy greens to handle. Its flavor — much stronger than that of chard — can put people off, and its texture — much tougher than that of spinach — can result in chewiness if the cook is in a hurry or hasn’t added enough liquid to soften it.

One decent treatment for kale begins with a diced onion and some diced bacon (I use turkey bacon), cooked in olive oil until soft and fragrant. In goes the chopped and still wet kale along with a pinch of salt, and the pot is then covered to promote a combination of steaming and braising. The finishing touch, to be added when the kale has achieved an acceptable degree of tenderness, is a splash or two of good red-wine vinegar, along with additional salt and pepper to taste.

This is a good dish, but I wouldn’t want it every night. A fine alternative is the Portuguese soup caldo verde ("hot green"), which is substantial enough to serve as a main course. Begin with some oil (or butter) heated in a soup pot; add a diced onion (with pinch of salt). When the onion has softened, throw in a clove or two of chopped garlic, stir, and let cook a minute or two. Add a link of spicy sausage (andouille, chorizo, linguica) in chunks; a couple of peeled, cubed potatoes; and four cups of water (or stock or a combination). Simmer, covered, until the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes. Puree. (You can do this in a blender or with an immersion wand.) Add a head of kale, cleaned and finely sliced, and another sausage link cut into rounds. Simmer about five minutes more, until the kale and sausage are cooked through. (If your sausage is precooked, you only care that it’s warmed through.) Balance the seasonings and serve. With some warm bread, a green salad, and a bottle of red wine, this makes a fortifying supper on a cold winter’s night. Also, you can warm your hands with the bowls — a nice extra if you happen to live in a badly insulated, freezing house. Anyone?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

WOW now


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Every January the Women on the Way Festival throws a spotlight on the performing arts as practiced by the female of the species. Not that producer Mary Alice Fry has to dig very deep in the field of dance, which is still heavily dominated by women. (For the moment we have to leave the reasons to sociologists — or perhaps psychiatrists.)

If this year’s second of three programs is any indication, the festival’s move from a tiny space on Ninth Street to Dance Mission Theater a couple years ago has blunted its funky edge. Understandably, some of the informal give-and-take that comes when artists perform practically on top of their audiences cannot be reproduced in a larger venue. But more seriously missing were a sense of discovery, the daring of something new in the making, and the need to put big ideas into a tiny space. Given more time and a larger space, artists will fill both — and not always with the best results. Maybe that’s why so much of this WOW program, which was built around dance-music collaborations, felt so drawn out, despite the enthusiasm and real competence of its dancers.

Standing high above the fray were Molissa Fenley’s two solos: Dreaming Awake, set to Philip Glass; and Four Lines, to Jon Gibson. A veteran of more than 20 years of solo dancing — though a serious injury and recent residencies at Mills College have prompted more ensemble work — Fenley is a master at saying much with little. Unadorned, almost emaciatedly spare, her movements spun long phrases that trailed and curled but were never anything but crystal clear in their trajectories. Every stretched leg and turned arm transformed space into something thinner and more transparent yet completely owned.

Fenley’s ability to make us hear the music remains a wonder. She inhabited it completely; her choreography, though meticulously crafted, seemed to flow spontaneously out of the music. Glass is not always an easy composer to listen to, but Fenley makes him so with Dreaming Awake, set to his eponymous piano piece. She roamed inside this score as if it were a home, picking up a rhythmic pattern here and anticipating a phrase there. The conversation between dance and music never stopped, and it was fascinating throughout.

Four Lines, set to Gibson’s soprano saxophone, was just as rigorously playful. Each of the four sections seemed to ride a different type of breath; in one of them Fenley found herself close to the ground. By the end of the piece, one had the sense that Gibson (performing on tape) was actually responding to the dancer — no mean trick for a choreographer to accomplish.

The rest of the WOW program also offered work that stood out, although for different reasons. Take Goat Hall Productions’ Cats, Dogs, and Divas, with libretto and direction by Harriet March Page, music by Mark Alburger, and movement direction by Fry: for some inexplicable reason this mono-opera was performed by six aspiring sopranos, most of them singing more or less on the same pitch. They were quite a sight to behold and to listen to. The subject matter of this very long, very bedraggled affair was the suggestion of father-daughter incest, apparently originally inspired by the Teutonic gods’ rather complicated family relationships. It’s good for the artists to try a humorous approach to a taboo, but this piece needs lots of therapy. Still, cheers to Fry for taking a chance on it.

The festival also offered an always-welcome opportunity to see Printz Dance Project. The company has performed full-evening concerts of Stacey Printz’s choreography for several years. Skirting the edge of jazz, hip-hop, and show dancing and driven by a strong beat, Printz has developed her own following. A beautiful performer, with one of the most eloquent backs around, she can be at once lyrical and aggressive. What Printz lacks at this point is the ability to choreograph organically so that connections grow beyond one section simply following another. Finding the Morning, inspired by a personal injury, was the strongest piece, with a solo Printz searching for a place for herself. Carlos Aguirre’s live beatboxing immensely enlivened Beat Sequitur, performed by Printz’s beautifully trained, energetic ensemble of six.

Raisa Punkki’s red Xing, set to a score by Albert Mathias, remained incomprehensible. Inspired by an E.E. Cummings poem, it rambled endlessly; Punkki and dancer Kakuti Davis Lin traded off solos that were punctuated periodically with duets in which they exchanged mysterious smiles. The poem, however, was lovely. *


Thurs/25–Sun/28, 8 p.m., $15–$20

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St., SF

(415) 289-2000



Hairdresser on Fire


GOLDEN CLIPPERS "I’m all about spreading my message," local mane maestro Joe Hamer gushes breathlessly over the phone from his car en route to his Petaluma flagship salon. "And my message is beautiful, shiny, healthy hair."

Hamer’s just flown in from teasing celebs’ tresses at the Golden Globe Awards, as part of the beauty team in Showtime’s red carpet perk-up pit stop for volume-compromised VIPs — a freebie fluff tent for the rapidly flattening fab. "I know you want those names," he intones tantalizingly. (Teased: Lance Bass, Mimi Rogers, CSI ‘s Eva la Rue, Masi Oka from Heroes, Ugly Betty ‘s Ana Ortiz, Justine Bateman, Sunny Mabrey, many from Weeds).

Hamer and his crew had been specifically flown down to primp Globes dos after dazzling ’em with scissor wizardry at the 2006 Emmys. (Dazzled: Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, Blythe Danner, Lisa Edelstein from House, various American Idol finalists). "Showtime and everyone loved my work and wanted me back," the Bay-born chop chief effuses. "That affirmation was so wonderful — I was thrilled. It’s been a whirlwind!"

We here at the Guardian aren’t exactly starfuckers. (Well, no more than maybe 10 minutes a day — hello, Britney’s latest ex! Mrrow!) And from a progressive standpoint, the Globes aren’t really our bag — the only "surge" likely to be protested there would be the one bursting forth from Beyoncé Knowles’s neckline. But when we heard about Hamer’s slingshot to the tonsorial top — watch your ponytail, José Eber — we simply had to know more. It’s the kind of "local locksmith picks through LA poufs" scoop that allows our queeniest staff writer an ample go at tabloid torch-singing.

After 26 years of weaving and bobbing to the bangs of the Bay bristle biz, Hamer’s having his day on the dilettante dais, but he’s been at the forefront of the frizz fight for a while. Besides his successful Joe Hamer Salon in Petaluma, he’s established the Joe Hamer Academy at San Francisco’s Hairplay salon, which spreads his shiny, healthy message to rookie coiffeurs. ("My goal is to help as many hairdressers as possible," says the evan-gel-ical Hamer.) The look he currently favors? It’s " ’80s but natural; romantic yet lazy. Half-layered looks with a little drop-down."

Hamer’s also traveled the world spreading the gospel of Greyl — Leonor Greyl, that is, the hair care product company he represents as global artistic director. "I’ve traveled everywhere — Asia, Europe, Australia — bringing style advice and stunning beauty with me."

From global to Globesit’s quite a trajectory. But Hamer — a "weekend cowboy" who resides with a gaggle of goats, hens, and horses on his family’s 300-acre Petaluma ranch — also tears up about little things that make a big difference. "The celebrities were so warm and friendly … but the real joy was working on Holly McBlair from the Make a Wish Foundation, whose wish was to get the whole Golden Globes red carpet treatment. Taking a child like that in my hands and transforming her was something that means so much to me. She looked fabulous, and the stars treated her like royalty."

About those stars … was there any whiff of backstage Globes scandal? Did, say, Lance Bass bend over to fix his loafers, causing the crowd to gasp, "Oh, that’s what the fuss is all about"? Did anything happen?

Ever the professional, Hamer sighs and replies, "Of course! Beautiful hair happened." (Marke B.)


His world or yours?


Scarface: The World Is Yours

(Vivendi Universal; Windows XP, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Sony PSP)

GAMER One nice thing about Scarface: The World Is Yours is that although it is a first-person shooter–adventure game, there is no sewer level. It doesn’t matter what the story line is: at some point, dude is going into a sewer and tromping through ankle-deep water with rats skittering around.

Scarface doesn’t bother with that. It’s more interested in having you sell cocaine and brutally murder people, like a good game should do. You peddle so much coke that it’s really astonishing the game hasn’t offended nutty Christian groups. Maybe the makers were able to get around objections because your character, Cuban drug lord and world-class cusser Tony Montana, never kills innocent people. If you point your gun at a civilian, you find yourself saying, "Not in my game plan, bro," or the best one, "I kill one and I go straight to hell." In each case, the gun will not fire.

The game is still unspeakably violent. The story picks up right before the part in the movie Scarface when Ángel Salazar’s killer sneaks up behind Montana and airs him out. Instead of this happening, however, you direct Montana through an epic bloodbath in order to survive, so he can regain his spot at the top. Along the way, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’s formula is perfected, the makers take character interaction to a new level, and you end up playing a game that could go on forever.

The scope and game play are very much like those of GTA: San Andreas, but everything’s been streamlined. Montana doesn’t have to fucking work out, eat, and shit, and there is no repetitive dating scheme. Instead, you just sell coke and kill, drive around really fast, spend millions of dollars on useless items, and pick up women.

Interacting with the peripheral people is really fun too. Montana has some standard dialogue, but once in a while an actual unique conversation will occur. When talking to pretty women, he says predictable things, but when he pulls similar pickup moves on elderly women (who give "are you nuts?"–type responses), it’s really funny. He orders his lackeys around like Don Rickles on an f-bomb rampage. When he steals a car, he utters any number of one-liners, from "Um, this is Miami undercover police — I need your car" to "You can keep the puta — I just want the car." And on top of being hilarious, the character is almost perfectly voiced by a guy named Andre Sogliuzzo, reportedly handpicked by Al Pacino for the job. James Woods, Elliot Gould, and many other actors appear.

You have the option to play as three characters other than Montana: the driver, the enforcer, and the assassin. You steal cars, bust heads, or eliminate government officials for big paydays. These missions are inexhaustible. So are Tony’s drug dealing and delivery missions, all of which are chosen from a menu. It’s nuts. This means you are free to select what to do and when you want to do it, but more important, it means there is no real end to the game ever. Even after the extensive story line is completed, there are an endless number of rival gangs for you to tangle with. Once you have defeated all the big bad guys, you sell coke and collect money. It’s like a locked groove.

Sometimes these movie-themed games are really crappy rush jobs. But it is obvious from the very start that the folks behind Scarface not only love the movie — an important factor — but also were interested in making what is potentially the best game of the past year. (Mike McGuirk)



jan. 24


Robert Stone

Thanks to Robert Stone’s newest book, Prime Green: Remembering the 1960s, readers can get a clear glimpse of the era of race riots, war protests, and hallucinogens. Stone’s memoir chronicles time spent in the navy, cross-country road trips, memorable friendships with Lenny Bruce and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey, and a stint in Vietnam as a reporter. (Hayley Kaufman)

7 p.m., free
1644 Haight, SF
(415) 863-8688

visual art

“Free Chocolate”

For her first solo show, “Free Chocolate,” Bay Area artist April Banks traveled to the Ivory Coast, a prime site of cocoa harvesting, and found young teenagers working for pennies with machetes and pesticides to keep up with foreign demand for the precious beans on which Americans spend upward of $13 billion annually. That’s a lot of Hershey’s bars, and Banks makes clear in her multimedia installation – a smart mix of photographs, image-and-text collages, sculpture, and video projections – that the human price is much higher. (Steven Jenkins)

Through Feb. 17
Tues., by appointment; Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF
(415) 626-2787

Politics blog: SOTU



Bus lust


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What’s 40 feet long and 13 feet, 9 inches tall and fun all over? Sounding like a potentially lame "you’ve gotta be kidding me" joke and accelerating in Bay Area underground rockers’ imagination as a real alternative to your average bad show experience, John Benson’s converted Muni veggie-biodiesel bus is the latest in a bohemian nation’s short parade of party starters on wheels — driven by motorvators like the Merry Pranksters and Friends Forever in order to cavort, make art and sometimes community, and blow minds. Le difference is that this art ‘n’ good times vehicle is huge — able to fit an audience of 50 — and despite its whitewashed exterior, green.

Just join the scattered, happy misfits and in-the-knowsters wandering in from off the street on this particularly deserted stretch of the Mission-Potrero area Jan. 21. The bus is peacefully parked and perfectly inaudible beneath a pretzel of elevated freeway off-ramps, like the sweet overgrown offspring of Miss Open Road USA. Take a look under the hood as Benson — once in A Minor Forest and Hale Zukas and now with Evil Wikkid Warrior — opens up the works in the butt end of the bus with the cool little lookout tower on top. Two tanks hold the vegetable oil that primarily propels the bus and the diesel or biodiesel fuel that heats the radiator fluid, which keeps the vegetable oil liquid enough to course through the pipes. With a lot of help from friends, Benson spent only $300 to veggify the bus. And the beautiful part — especially to those in perpetually touring poverty-stricken bands who know what it’s like to spend all the money from a show on gas — is that he gets his fuel free from the pits of used grease behind truck stops and fast-food joints, which ordinarily pay people to take it away.

This is just the latest in a handful of vehicles Benson has vegged out (give or take a few fires caused to keep the vegetable oil flowing), including a Twin Towers dust–saturated ambulance retired after 9/11 service. In 2005, Hale Zukas ended up touring the country in the EMT vehicle alongside the mobile Friends Forever. "I really liked the whole paradigm shift of everything. People didn’t know what to expect," Benson recalls fondly. "We’d come in an ambulance, and everyone would say, ‘Someone got hurt!’ I was excited by the whole chaos and confusion and trickery, and you don’t have to rely on clubs or booking agents or soundmen." And of course there was that added sense of poetic justice, he adds, "driving it around on vegetable oil, the whole statement against the war for oil going on."

Inside the bus, far from maddened neighbors, the music goes on. Slight, skinny-mustached Carlos of Hepatitis C — in town from Bloomington, Ind., where Benson drove him around on his world-record bid to play the most shows in one day — is throwing the party. Living Hell, Ex-Pets, He-War, Noozzz, Erin Allen, and Russian Tsarlag are on the free-to-all, free-for-all bill, and Carlos runs down the street to the opposite street corner — the unofficial green room, where the bands and friends are milling — to tell them the first artist is starting. Backed by crunchy minimal beats, Sewn Leather is flailing around the small stage inside the bus, shouting, "Noise is dying, punk’s been dead, the only rock ‘n’ roll is in your head!" through a PA fed by a battery fueled by the bus’s solar panels. At one of Benson’s biggest events, which included Warhammer and Rubber-O-Cement among 13 bands, the overflow turned into a double Dutch jump-rope contest in the middle of the street. The vibe resembles a kid’s clubhouse taken to the next level — on the road and relatively off the grid.

"Another great thing about the bus is that during all that downtime usually spent staring out the window driving through Nebraska, you can actually plug in instruments. A full band can be playing in back like it’s a practice space," Benson says earlier over the phone of the bus that shall remain nameless (he likes the anonymity).

The all-ages club on wheels simply just "fell into my lap," he continued. "A retired Oakland cop was selling it, and I just saw it going by one day. It was a monstrosity."

The Oaktown police department had torn it up to convert it into a mobile police unit, he was told, and its last owner was going to remake it as a family RV. That intrepid soul was "so hilarious," Benson raves. "I was sold on it because of his personality. He was this 6-foot-7, really huge black guy with these huge hands — such a can-do person. He was sooo the antithesis of Burning Man, because my first reaction was ‘Oh, no, this is some big, gross Burning Man art-car thing.’ Being a retired cop, he said, ‘From driver’s seat back, it’s perfectly legal to rock out with your cock out’ — his exact words. ‘You can drink a fifth of JD and whatever,’ and he then did this funny little dance."

"It’s a surprising tidbit," Benson says. "You don’t have to have seat belts and can have open containers. And you can have a regular driver’s license. If the bus was any longer, you’d need a commercial license. It’s kind of shocking."

Shocking, especially when shortly after he finished converting the bus to use vegetable oil last summer, Benson took it on the road with a bunch of bands to the Freedom From Festival in Minneapolis, where they played before the Boredoms. Because of the bus’s height, they got stuck in an underpass in Chicago’s Wicker Park district. They also couldn’t get it into the Pennsylvania Turnpike and instead were forced to drive through the Poconos. "I got lost in a white-picket-fence neighborhood and was forced to turn around in this poor lady’s yard," Benson recollects. "She and her neighbors came running out, and she was, like, ‘What are you?!’ I was so busy trying to do a 20-point turn I could only yell, ‘We’re a bus!’ ‘What kind of bus are you?’ she yelled. And then someone in the bus jumped out and gave her a hug and said, ‘We’re a magic bus.’ "

You’ve gotta admit there’s a bit of magic going on when Sewn Leather finishes his riveting songs on dead lice, bad pickups, and the end of music genres and the kids pile out, over the oriental carpet cushioning on the floor, and share cookies and other comestibles outside. The cars rumble overhead, oblivious to this DIY snatch of culture-making quietly going about its beeswax. *


With the Fucking Ocean and other bands

Feb. 3, 8 p.m., free

Highway 24 overpass Shattuck and 55th St., Oakl.



The JonBenet Ramsey


REVIEW So magical it is to be a six-year-old beauty pageant starlet! Whether it’s vomiting backstage at Raven concerts, shooting free speed while having your nipples taped up, or getting "auditioned" on the hood of Tommy’s PowerWheel, the list of privileged moments seems to never end. The idolatrous adoration of your out-prettied first-grade class should be enough to coast on — but it never is.

For those of us who were never darling enough, the Argus Lounge presents a Wednesday night drink special, the JonBenet Ramsey, that reduces the pounding vigor of such a world into one neat drink. The cocktail’s base is Stoli Vanilla, which recalls the fussy sweetness of the pageant circuit. Ginger ale dilutes the vodka with a crispness that grabs at the throat.

But it’s the drink’s crushed cherry garnish that brings home the quiet heights of such an existence: Christmas days spent lounging in the cellar with friends for hours without being bothered by your family. It all comes together like a well-laid plan. (Jonathan Beckhardt)

ARGUS LOUNGE 187 Mission, SF. Mon.–Sat., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.–2 a.m. (415) 824-1447, www.arguslounge.com


Stand in the place where you live


› duncan@sfbg.com

I guess I’m a snob. It’s not easy to admit, since I like to fancy myself a salt of the earth type, but there it is. I’d just assumed that after making two albums for Fat Possum, 2005’s Stairs and Elevators and last year’s amazing All This Time; opening shows for the Drive-By Truckers and Lucinda Williams; and touring clubs relentlessly in the headlining spot, the next logical step for Cincinnati’s Heartless Bastards would be a change of geography.

I’ve never been to Cincinnati. My only experience with Ohio — besides the Neil Young song — was driving through the opposite end of the state on the I-80. What’s "hi" in the middle and round on both ends? Not Ohio — seemed to me it was flat all the way across. And humid. But what do I know? The only time I stopped was to gas up and indulge in an ill-advised all-you-can-eat steak (i.e., sinew and cartilage) special at a Truckstops of America. What I am familiar with is the great rock ‘n’ roll migration tale, featuring groups such as the Dead Boys moving from Cleveland to New York, which probably had more to do with the ready availability of smack than it did with making it. The West Coast version plays itself out as a southerly flight to the home of clapped-out hair bands and cheap tacos: Los Angeles. Even our beloved Melvins, who wended their way down from Aberdeen, Wash., and lodged in San Francisco for a magic period, ended up there, chasing the dragon of rock success.

So it’s ironic that after years of thinking it was lame when bands left the Bay for a chance at the big time I’d ask Erika Wennerstrom — the vocalist, guitarist, and principle songwriter for the Heartless Bastards — if the trio were thinking of moving away from their place in the heartland. I’ve bought into the stereotype that the edges are where it happens and that the center — with the exception of Chi-town — is a cultural vacuum.

"No, not really," Wennerstrom says over the phone. "I like Ohio." If I didn’t know where she was from — Dayton, originally — I’d be baffled by her accent. There’s a lilt, a slight twang, and a flatness to it, all at once — high in the middle and round on both ends, a hominess that’s entirely absent in her soulful, from-the-gut singing voice. Isn’t it just like a snobby SF bastard to find it quaint?

"I just think if we tour enough," she continues, "we’re eventually going through enough cities anyway. Plus, sometimes you end up being part of the whole rat race. I hate to use that word," she adds hastily. "There’s lots of big cities I enjoy, but I don’t know if it’s worth having to juggle three jobs."

They may not be juggling, but the HB’s are no strangers to work: drummer Kevin Vaughn works at an incense factory in nearby Oxford, while bassist Mike Lamping works for his family business, Superior Janitor Supply, which receives a shout-out in the "Very Special Thanks" section of the new album. After the last trip around the country in a van, Wennerstrom finally felt that she’d made enough to cut back on bartending and focus on songwriting.

And maybe that’s where my whole "why don’t you move" thing comes from. Listen to Wennerstrom’s dreamy ooh-wooh-hoos over the violin and viola on "I Swallowed a Dragonfly" — "in hopes that it would help me fly" — and you’ll hear a magic that transcends punching clocks and pulling beers. All This Time is so good, it gives me this "go tell it on the mountain" feeling, which, in turn, leads to a mild bitterness: Why aren’t the Heartless Bastards famous yet? Why are they opening for Lucinda Williams, great as she is, at the Fillmore and not headlining the Fillmore? How can they win Best Rock Group and Best Album of the Year two years in a row at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards and still be featured in Tom Moon’s "The ‘Overlooked 11’ of 2006" on NPR? Moon has the right idea, and I know I put them on my top 10 list, so who dropped the fucking ball here? And so, somewhat subliminally, my mind starts thinking that maybe it’s Ohio that’s holding them back.

But would they be as good, would the songs sound as sweetly powerful, if there was nothing quotidian to transcend? If they were ensconced in a Hollywood bubble of yes-men attesting to the brilliance of every note? I mean, Jesus, someone in Los Angeles convinced A Simple Plan that they don’t suck. Band members could get lazy if they didn’t have to make an honest living, though I’d have to add that’s what’s so damned appealing about the Heartless Bastards: there’s something honest and unassuming, something unpremeditated about their songs. Despite their name, their music clearly comes from the heart. More precisely, it comes from the hearts of working-class Ohio musicians who haven’t been feted by the same painfully out-of-touch A&R assholes who learned nothing from Nirvana’s momentary pimp-slap of the artistically bankrupt LA record industry: you can’t fabricate honesty.

"I really don’t need a lot," Wennerstrom sings on "Blue Day." "Just trying to hold on to what I got." *


With Beaten Awake and Ride the Blinds

Fri/26, 9 p.m., $10

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF

(415) 970-9777


Follow that bird


By Max Goldberg

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

With so many duos still adhering to the muddied-guitar-and-drums style years after the White Stripes broke, it’s refreshing to see local twosome the Finches reaching back to an earlier, folksier model wherein melody and songwriting win out over bombast and swagger.

"We actually tried to have our friend Justin play drums at the practice space with us once, and none of us really knew what we wanted at that point," guitarist-vocalist Aaron Morgan muses over tea at a noisy café a few blocks west of the UC Berkeley campus. "And it was Justin himself who told us, ‘You know, you guys don’t really need a drummer.’ "

When the boy-girl duo of Morgan and vocalist-guitarist Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs perform, their plain-harmony vocals and soft-spoken stage patter make it a little difficult not to think of A Mighty Wind, but the earnestness is clearly paying off. I’ve seen the group play several times over the last year, and it’s hard to miss all the kids drifting by the merch table to pick up the group’s self-released EP, Six Songs, an endearing batch of tunes topped with a tender Pennypacker Riggs print showing a girl with a finch, riding off into a dreamscape of mountains and night.

That merch table will be a little busier soon with the release of the Finches’ debut, Human Like a House. The full-length feels very much like a natural growth from Six Songs, and while fans will certainly be pleased to hear more of a good thing, there are subtle surprises here too. For starters, the Pennypacker Riggs album art that so catches the eye has expanded to an accompanying book, How I Was Carried Away.

"I like to conflate the visual and the aural," she explains. "They’re kind of the same stories."

For now the duo seem grateful for the support they’ve received on their own merits and are thrilled that they’ve been added to the Revolver Distribution and the Dulc-I-Tone label rosters. "I think the word will spread about them to people who really get it," Matt Lammikins at Revolver says, "and that’s how they have gotten a weird following all over the country [the world, really] that has no rhyme or reason, and my friends still don’t know who they are…. It’s just good honest songwriting." The confidence all this has inspired shows on Human Like a House, especially in Pennypacker Riggs’s increasingly varied singing range. There are several songs here — "Last Favor" and the title track — that elaborate on the Six Songs formula: song-pirouettes in which melodies circle one another, matching up with Pennypacker Riggs’s forlorn lyrics. This balancing tends to work best when the tunes are kept short. In "June Carter Cash," for example, we get a clear-eyed snapshot of love and loss in a few rounds of the stately chord progression. The song is about the way we express our own feelings and experiences in other people’s voices and music. Hence the heartbreaking lyric "June Carter and John have flown / Now I’m ready to let you let me go."

"My favorite songs were the last we wrote," Pennypacker Riggs confesses. It shows: "Step Outside" is ebullient, the sound of the Finches falling in love, singing, "When we stop / It feels as though / We’re rolling backwards" over descending chords. Elsewhere the band leavens its duets with drums, pedal steel, and cello. The last is provided by Vetiver’s Alissa Anderson on the shimmering "Two Ghosts," a song in which Anderson’s drones seem to reel in Pennypacker Riggs’s and Morgan’s conversing guitar lines like something caught at sea.

Guest shots aside, Human Like a House is a homespun affair. The pedal steel is provided by Morgan’s father, David, who also engineered much of the recording in the family’s San Diego garage. "My dad’s just beginning to learn how to engineer recordings," Morgan explains. "This was his learning experience, which, I have to say, I think he did a nice job on." Indeed, the guitars sound a little brighter than on Six Songs, the harmonies delivered with a newfound warmth and clarity. Finishing touches were added in Pennypacker Riggs’s family garage in El Cerrito, with the vocalist’s mother contributing a recorder overdub before the duo closed the book on Human Like a House.

These production choices seem appropriate given the ground the duo treads on this album. "Owning a home [in the Bay Area] is pretty much a fantasy, a domestic fantasy," Pennypacker Riggs says when I ask her about recurrent images of homemaking. "I love this area, but I won’t be able to afford to stay here forever, which bums me out."

It’s a rootlessness all too familiar to many of us and one that Pennypacker Riggs rubs up against on Human Like a House. The album’s centerpiece, "The House under the Hill," crescendos with a chorus fleshed out with vocals by Morgan’s parents in a swelling show of support. But then, moments later, it’s just the guitars and Pennypacker Riggs’s voice again: "Alone I am nameless / And fearless and faceless." Bob Dylan might ask her, "How does it feel?" but by the end of Human Like a House, we have a pretty good idea. *


Sat/27, 2 p.m., free

Amoeba Music

1855 Haight, SF

(415) 831-1200

Also Wed/31, 9 p.m., $8

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Czar of noir


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

One doesn’t feel far from the dark, stylized universe of classic film noir in Tosca, a long, obliquely angled bar in North Beach. It is where I am to meet Eddie Muller, the man behind San Francisco’s Noir City festival and corresponding Film Noir Foundation, a self-described "writer and cultural archaeologist" with several spry volumes of film history to his credit — alluring, fanatic titles such as Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, Dark City Dames, and Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of "Adults Only" Cinema.

"There seems to be an almost Freudian attachment to water. The empty noir streets are almost always glistening with fresh evening rain … even in Los Angeles," writer-director Paul Schrader writes in his seminal essay "Notes on Film Noir." Now, as the afternoon darkens, the Columbus Avenue strip is dry, but the Lusty Lady’s neon glows while I wait for the bar to open. Noir’s trademark deep focus would lend itself well to the space inside, filled with the stale smoke of yesterday’s cigarettes and deep red and mahogany: it’s a romantic kind of place, a remembrance of things past. One of the many dizzying plot twists in Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 Out of the Past — perhaps the most knotty and melancholy of the noirs, a preeminent example of the genus — has Robert Mitchum’s heavy chasing after a double-cross in a North Beach bar. I think about this as Muller strides in with an easy gait. We settle in to talk, and the jukebox turns to smoky jazz: "Mood music," he says and then laughs.

Setting the mood is something Muller is exceedingly good at. The first time I met him was at the press conference for last year’s Noir City, staged at the York Hotel’s appropriately named Empire Plush Room — deep red, again, with little flutes of champagne. The nightclub decor of last year’s festival may have been sucked up by the cavernous dimensions of the Palace of Fine Arts, but the attempt to establish a kind of interstitial lobby space was a nice gesture, especially since these films are, if nothing else, about atmosphere.

After two years away, this coming installment of Noir City, the fifth, will be held at the Castro Theatre. Muller’s decision to return to the Castro — made difficult by the theater’s firing of programmer and chief Noir City collaborator Anita Monga — speaks to the emphasis he places on the moviegoing experience, as well as his deep respect for Bay Area audiences. "We struggle to get 200 people to the theater in LA," Muller muses before adding excitedly, "I mean, we get five times that many people out here. The studios can’t believe it…. I always have to be careful when I talk about the numbers." He laughs. "You want it to be great, but you don’t want it to be so great that they’re thinking, ‘Wait a second, why are we giving these guys a break on these old films?’ "

It’s no wonder that studios take note of Muller’s successes. Hollywood’s big players trot out old movies on DVD not so much from altruistic preservation impulses as from an urge to fatten the bottom line, the sense that there’s an extra buck to be made from some old holdings. The studios have a long history of neglecting their archives, but when hundreds of people come out and pay their money for Raw Deal (a tough little 1948 Anthony Mann picture opening this year’s festival), heads turn.

Muller is modest when discussing some of the DVD sets he has helped spark, but this propriety does nothing to disguise his missionary zeal. When he describes a preservation victory, such as an upcoming John Garfield DVD set, he beams. But as he mulls over decaying prints, his countenance turns worried. (Though gussied-up imprints like the Criterion Collection give the sense that the classics are safe, the films they release represent only a small fraction of what’s in the vaults.) Muller details his maneuverings for Joan Crawford films ("She is the force behind these films…. She is the auteur as much as John Waters is an auteur") and how he ended up trading 1952’s This Woman Is Dangerous for 1950’s The Damned Don’t Cry for this year’s fest. The urgency in his voice is from more than just trying to score an outrageous Crawford vehicle. "In these last five or six years," he says, "I’ve learned the possibility is very real that American culture can just decay and slip away."

Muller’s experience runs deep enough that it’s easy to forget Noir City is such a babe. A spree through three venues in five years (the festival has also run at the Balboa Theater) has a way of making a festival grow up fast, though the major renovation to Noir City has taken place behind the scenes. Formed in the autumn of 2005, the Film Noir Foundation was originally conceived of as a means to land the best available prints of rare films, something very much on Muller’s mind after his experience booking Edgar G. Ulmer’s gonzo 1945 B-movie Detour for the second Noir City.

"What I came to realize was that there are prints that are circuutf8g prints and there are prints that are archival prints," Muller says. "When we had [Detour ‘s] Ann Savage as a guest that second year, the only print in circulation of Detour was junk. I knew that the Cinémathèque Française had a print that was good, but they would never ship it to the Castro [a for-profit theater]. So that’s where the San Francisco Film Society stepped in, and they said they’d book it for us…. Altruism wasn’t my initial motivation for doing this. It was about getting the good prints."

In the time since, the Film Noir Foundation has blossomed into a vital preservation group. "It achieved a life of its own," Muller explains, "because it became a viable way to create an entity that presents a united front to the studios to show that there was a reason and a value in saving these films. In the case of The Window [a 1949 film that anticipates Hitchcock’s Rear Window] and Nobody Lives Forever [from 1946, a taut con man picture with a typically strong John Garfield performance], we’ve done the restoration and put them back in circulation, and they show at other festivals, and the film carries the Film Noir Foundation logo. It’s a way of saying [to the studios], ‘Look, if we do this, you’re going to get more bookings out of the film.’ We’re almost like a lobbying group for film noir."

For every victory like those films’ restoration — or, for that matter, bringing celebrity writers such as Denis Lehane and James Ellroy on to the foundation’s board — there are many grueling and perhaps futile battles. The foundation, for example, has located the elements and "contacted the people we need to contact," Muller says, to restore 1951’s The Prowler, an edgy feature about a sociopathic cop. The film might be a key noir, but the Film Noir Foundation hasn’t been able to fund the process (which Muller quotes at $40,000). The ultimate trick would be to get the studios to realize the potential and take on these costs themselves, and that is happening but not necessarily fast enough to keep many prints from disappearing. "Even films by major filmmakers," Muller adds. "There are Billy Wilder ones that are questionable…. [1942’s] The Major and the Minor — is anyone preserving that film?"

Muller relishes talking shop about forgotten films (this year 12 of 20 films in the Noir City program guide are marked, in red type, "RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!" with one, 1949’s Abandoned, emphasized as being "RARE AS THEY COME!!!"). But it’s important to note that his programming is also deeply inclusive. Noir, like any singular, involved body of work, has its cult, but Muller’s aims are broad enough to keep the festival from feeling too much like a Trekkie convention. More important to him than his specific love of noir is his audience’s moviegoing experience.

"This is something that Anita really taught me," Muller explains. "When I was first programming, I’d try to load the program with all these rare, obscure things, and she said, ‘No, what you have to understand is that you appeal to people who get it, but they want to bring their friends and say, ‘You gotta see this! " He continues, "She was absolutely right. Show the traditional thing but book it with something obscure. Right out of the gate … [Noir City] showed The Lady from Shanghai with [the 1950 Ann Sheridan vehicle] Woman on the Run, and Woman on the Run was the rarest of the rare. No one had seen that. We filled the Castro that night, and people went nuts for that film, and that’s still the greatest moment we’ve had doing the festival."

Given Noir City’s emphasis on the big-screen experience, it might be surprising to learn that Muller himself first experienced many of the classic film noirs on late-night television. "I saw Detour for the first time at 3 a.m. on Movies ‘ Til Dawn," he reminisces. "You’re hallucinating these films. It’s great…. To have that be your first experience of Ann Savage: 3 a.m. when you’re 14 years old. You’re, like, ‘Who is this woman? ‘ "

It didn’t take long for Muller to graduate to the burgeoning rep scene in ’70s San Francisco, an era he reflects on in an aching piece ("Noir City, Our City") for Julie Lindow and R.A. McBride’s upcoming essay and photo collection about San Francisco’s dwindling movie theaters, Left in the Dark. "Theaters, as much as movies themselves, were landmarks of my early life," his contribution begins. "Films offered wishes and warnings about the life I could lead, the person I could be, but it was the movie houses that guided me through the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco, introducing me to every nook and cranny of my 49-square-mile hometown."

It was noir that gave shape to Muller’s passion, and he’s hardly alone in this. I’ve often thought that the way the classic femme fatale seduces her doomed prey is the onscreen equivalent of the way films draw in — and obsess — their audiences. A great many movies are stylish and smart to the point of irresistibility; how many times has the promise of hard shadows and unrepentant fatalism at the theater won out over a sunny afternoon in the real world?

Famous for being vaguely defined as a species — as with folk music or modernism, there are common landmarks, but everyone seems to have their own criteria — the dark crime dramas of the ’40s were first christened film noir by French critics when the films flooded Paris en masse following the close of World War II. This was 1946 and, as it turns out, only the beginning. The grittiest, most whacked-out instances of noir, startling films such as D.O.A. and Gun Crazy (both released in 1950), Pickup on South Street (1953), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), arrived as Americans wrestled postwar demons and Hollywood entered an identity crisis that hinged on both Communism and television.

Most experts close noir’s door at the end of the ’50s, classifying related films following 1958’s Touch of Evil as neonoir (e.g., Chinatown, Mullholland Drive). A college professor of mine considered noir less a genre than a virus: a stylish, fatalistic streak infecting normal melodramas, gangster pictures, and even westerns and comedies. This jibes with the different ways noir announces itself: sometimes in the overall tone of a film, other times in a single character or lighting setup. Definitions aside, one emergent truth is a high benchmark of quality for films under the rubric. This film species has survived the decades better than most, especially those born of Hollywood. Schrader put it this way: "Picked at random, a film noir is likely to be a better-made film than a randomly selected silent comedy, musical, western, and so on."

Schrader follows this with the observation that "film noir seemed to bring out the best in everyone: directors, cameramen, screenwriters, actors." In other words, film noirs are creditable examples of what the esteemed critic André Bazin referred to as the "genius of the system," that strange mix of artistry, economics, and streamlined collaboration that helped to define the studio era. It’s a point not lost on Muller. "There are business factors as well as artistic factors that are brought to bear," he says. "You can’t look at one without the other." During our conversation an implicit criticism of auteurism (the mode of movie critique that is interested in films in terms of their directors) begins to emerge.

Muller has his favorite directors, of course, but he’s more interested in untangling a film’s production history — the messy business of sorting out who did what — than in pontificating about why one director’s style is better than another’s. (Indeed, auteurist debates often have the quality of those childhood arguments over whether Superman would beat Batman in a fight.) There are, of course, those directors who really did shape their own work, exerting an unusual degree of control, but far more typical is someone like Robert Wise, a by-assignment director who turned in salty noirs such as 1947’s Born to Kill and 1949’s The Set-Up (a superior boxing picture that runs circles around Raging Bull ) in addition to better-known schlock like The Sound of Music.

Considering the fact that so many of noir’s characters are fallen (the forgotten man and the spurned woman), it seems all too appropriate that the achievements of many of the form’s major contributors remain unsung. To take a sterling example, cinematographer John Alton is as responsible for the noir look as any director, doing for the city landscape what John Ford did for the open West. "We always have a John Alton night [at Noir City]," Muller says. "The guy is the uncredited director of some of those pictures…. Every director’s best film is with John Alton." Accordingly, this year’s Noir City will double-feature a pair of Alton-shot films, Joseph Lewis’s top-notch late noir The Big Combo (1955) and a new 35mm print of The Spiritualist (1948).

With Noir City showing additional programs spotlighting other little-known noir luminaries such as screenwriter William Bowers (1951’s Cry Danger and 1949’s Abandoned ) and actor Charles McGraw (1949’s The Threat and 1951’s Roadblock), as well as beefcake-era Burt Lancaster (1948’s I Walk Alone and, from the same year and costarring Joan Fontaine, Kiss the Blood off My Hands), it’s clear that Muller’s emphasis on a broadened sense of film production isn’t an abstract philosophy. It’s about recognizing real people and contributions, something crystallized by the fest’s guest appearances. Actress Marsha Hunt (Raw Deal) and actor Richard Erdman (Cry Danger) will appear this year, and past festivals have featured actors Farley Granger, Sean Penn, Coleen Grey (Nightmare Alley), and, of course, Detour‘s amazing Savage.

"The greatest thing to me about having done these festivals with the original people is that it gives audiences a view of noir that is very blue-collar, on the ground," Muller muses. "They never attached the name ‘film noir’ to it, but [it’s important] to talk with the actresses and to hear firsthand what they thought they were doing, and to get the writers’ point of view, which was by and large more politicized … much more so than the directors or the producers, who are a riot because they always say, ‘We shot it that way because we didn’t have a cent.’ "

When I ask Muller how the old-school talent responds to all this attention decades after the fact, he says plainly, "I can tell you in Ann’s case, it was the greatest night of her life. I mean, she has not stopped talking about it since. In some cases, it’s almost overwhelming." Such events are increasingly a challenge to put together; 60 years outside noir’s prime, it’s not getting any easier to find the genre’s original contributors. Robert Altman, who directed one of the first key neonoirs (1976’s The Long Goodbye), died the day before my meeting with Muller. If he’s gone, one wonders, how many of the original lot can be left?

The talent, of course, isn’t the only thing disappearing. DVDs are a wonderful auxiliary format for digesting cinema, but in the case of studio films from the classical era, it seems silly to contend that something isn’t lost without the full theatrical experience. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Castro to see Casablanca, a classical classic, not an extraordinary one like, say, Citizen Kane. I’d seen the film several times but never on a screen like the Castro’s. The moments when I felt its size most acutely were the most intimate ones: those interminable close-ups on Ingrid Bergman that so revel in the star’s introspective glamour. One cannot really grasp what these close-ups were designed to do without experiencing them on this scale. Everything comes into sharper relief in the theater: the close-ups are more wrenching, the dialogue funnier, the fantasy more complete.

Toward the end of his "Noir City, Our City" essay, Muller reflects on programming Noir City: "We tried to connect the audience, in a sort of cinematic séance, with 1940s era filmmakers and filmgoers," he writes. "San Francisco theaters appropriate to such a concept comprised a short list: the Castro and Balboa were the only ones still standing with even a trace of the old-style panache that once was commonplace." According to Muller, we ought to count ourselves lucky for those two. "It doesn’t really happen anyplace else," he says, referring to the electricity of a capacity crowd at the Castro. "New York has nothing like this. The best they can do is the Film Forum…. The Film Forum fills a need, but New York does not have a venue like the Castro. It does not have audiences like this, honestly."

And so, in the end, it’s about sitting alone together in the dark. Noir films possess the dream logic and stylization that make the theater necessary and, as an added bonus, a cynical sting that disintegrates any of the sloppy moralism or cheesy gentility that might otherwise taint our experience of classical Hollywood cinema (Schrader again: they are "an uneasy, exhilarating combination of realism and expressionism"). The work Muller does with Noir City strives toward many ends, but its most important function is also its most basic — strange and seductive, the films of Noir City often remind us why we fell for the movies in the first place. *


Jan. 26–Feb. 4, $10 per show, $35 for opening night program and reception, $100 for full series passport

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120



A Tale of two malls


› paulr@sfbg.com

Whether euphemism is entirely a separate language or just a dialect, we need translational efforts to understand what is really being said in its slippery idiom. When foreign ministers tell the media they have enjoyed "frank and cordial discussions," we peek behind the fluttering veil of words to see that they bitterly argued and threatened each other. And when we read hosannas in the San Francisco Chronicle to the city’s burgeoning "service industry" — mentioned in that paper’s recent piece about our present and delightful "golden age" — we should understand that we are reading largely about the business of tourism. We might not yet be the Monaco of the Pacific Coast — a huge, gleaming apparatus whose principal function is to relieve visitors of their money; a bizarro ATM that sucks in cash rather than giving it out — but we are well on our way.

In this connection, we are blessed by the fact that tourists must eat and can be charged for the privilege. Restaurants are becoming our casinos. Not long ago, on a holiday weekend afternoon, I found myself swimming through seas of people in the basement of Westfield San Francisco Centre, the great new mall in the midst of the city. The basement is where many of the food establishments are, and I was en route to a rendezvous at the Out the Door, second offspring of the now world-famous Slanted Door. (The first OtD is in the Ferry Building, along with the mother ship.) If I had squinted slightly, I could easily have convinced myself that I was in the international terminal of some busy airport closed because of bad weather, leaving thousands of stranded travelers nothing better to do than shuffle through shops peddling chichi stuff and eat at fancified restaurants that seem more alike the more they struggle to seem different from one another. (Any casino in Las Vegas answers to this description, incidentally, and so do Honolulu’s Waikiki district and much of Palm Springs.)

As the name implies, Out the Door is set up to offer takeout, and the restaurant offers a small but appealing array of Southeast Asian grocery staples, such as cellophane packages of rice noodles and bottles of fish sauce, at reasonable prices. But there is also a huge dining room whose far wall — a checkerboard of flat glass rectangles in various shades of cream, beige, and brown — looks like a giant version of that sensor panel Mr. Spock was forever scanning on the old starship Enterprise. One difference: Spock’s panels blinked; Out the Door’s panels don’t. Maybe they will someday.

Befitting the restaurant’s pedigree, the food is prepared to a high standard, with immaculate ingredients, although the dishes themselves are modest in origin: a simple steamed bun ($3), say, the size of a baseball and stuffed with minced chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and surprisingly muted ginger. A bit more lively are the Vietnamese-style sandwiches on perfectly tender baguettes, among them a Saigon roast-pork number ($8) whose juicy, five spice–scented meat is enhanced with sprigs of cilantro, and a braised-meatball edition ($8), which includes coarse-ground pork of the sort you often see floating in bowls of pho.

Out the Door doesn’t call its beef noodle soup ($9.50) pho, incidentally, but that doesn’t dim its luster: it’s the one truly exceptional dish we came across, with a golden broth of almost espressolike density and smoothness. If, as a friend said, the measure of pho is the broth, then Out the Door’s pho measures up.

There are dressier, less street-carty choices available, among them grilled prawns over vermicelli ($10.50), elegant but a bit underpowered despite the strong presence of fresh mint, and barbecued pork spareribs ($10.50), beautifully tender under their honey-hoisin glaze. If these are higher-rent possibilities than sandwiches and steamed buns, they are nonetheless honest and sturdy. Still, the sense of being in ritz-land is pervasive. Bloomingdale’s bags everywhere. Diagnosis: affluenza.

Out the back door of Westfield and just a block or so along Mission Street is another mall, less heralded — the Mint Mall — and within its gritty confines a restaurant, New Filipinas, that is one of the very few Filipino restaurants in the city or indeed the metropolitan area. The setting has a run-down, 1970s look, poured concrete and ceramic tiles stained by time, and if you squint your eyes you might think you were at the foot of some faceless high-rise in Manila or Taipei. The restaurant itself is about as modest as it gets: a glass counter for ordering, a clutter of tables and chairs. The feeling is (as a mean birthday card once put it) "You’ve seen better days, but not many."

The food, prepared and served by chef-owner Tess Tuala-Diaz, has the unprepossessing look of an Army hash line: a steam-tray selection of chunked mystery meats stewing in various sauces of varying shades of brown. (A particularly chocolaty-looking tray held, we were told, pork in blood sauce.) There are adobos of pork and chicken, spare ribs, beef with broccoli, a beef and cabbage soup. For $4.90 you get your pick of one, plus a heap of white rice, while $6.50 buys you two picks, plus rice.

An advantage of bleak settings is that, if the food happens to be good, you will not be distracted from noticing it. And New Filipinas’ food is surprisingly good, its flavors deep and direct, its meats slow-cooked to a peak of moist tenderness. It is peasant food, adjusted to a greater fleshiness to reflect the biases and possibilities of this rich, flesh-addicted country. But vegetarians, I will speak frankly and cordially to you: Look elsewhere! Go east, to Westfield, even. *


Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

845 Market, space 80, SF

(415) 541-9913


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m.

953 Mission, SF

(415) 571-5108

No alcohol

Cash only

Bearable noise level

Wheelchair accessible


Ways we were


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I was sitting at the bar drinking whiskey with Hobosack, talking about art and writing and waiting for the band to go on so that we could move our heads and close our eyes and rattle on the inside. It’s like being back in grad school, I thought, and this was a warm thing to think on a cold, cold night, until I realized that … why the hell would I want to be back in grad school?

Actually, I can think of some answers to that question: namely, Dash would still be alive, and the Bomb. I wouldn’t be scared. Angelina’s sausage calzone and pasta fagioli at Tony’s … It’s warmer on the East Coast than the West one right now — but then, of course, it wouldn’t be now if I were back in school; it would be then. And snow would be piling up on top of my trailer, the roof sagging and starting to drip.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, innit? Why would we want the way things were? Even if times were great, they are history, and history sucks. Because it’s gone.

Whereas the here and now is here, and now, and still has everything, including sensation, whiskey, a strong backbeat, new friends, old memories, Thai food, and — begrudgingly I admit it — candy.

They said on the radio recently that looking at photographs releases more happiness chemicals in the human brain than chocolate or a stiff drink or other stiff … stuff, or drugs or even hugs — although this starts to seem improbable, so maybe I’m malremembering.

Anyway, I was out in my storage shed looking for something else when I accidentally came across two pictures of Yatee-Yatee-Bing-Eh-Eh-Eh, and then some ones of Crawdad de la Cooter, Feather River. Happiness chemicals were nowhere to be found in my human brain. In fact, these images brought me to my knees, and my storage shed floor, so you know, is concrete and cold and covered in rat shit. My tears were not tears of joy.

There were in the same box so many pictures of the Bomb, from baby to buddy, that I could have put them in order, if I were an orderly person, and made a flip movie of his life and a big bowl of popcorn to go with it.

Not a happy ending.

Hobosack is a man who cries, and this is in fact how we became friends, even though he doesn’t eat meat and actually prefers dessert to main courses.

We were downtown, trying to find a Vietnamese restaurant I keep thinking about and can never quite locate, when suddenly there was Banana House, and then: parking.

"You like Thai?" I asked, blinkering the open spot.

"Bananas are two of my three favorite foods," Hobosack said.

I was charmed and alarmed by this information. Hobosack elaborated: banana Laffy Taffy is his first favorite food, actual bananas his third. That his top 10 list also included coffee, beer, and cake cracked me up and made my teeth start to hurt.

"Are you sure you want to have dinner?" I asked.

He did! I agreed to yum hed, which is a mixed mushroom salad, for the sake of the lettuce and the spicy lime dressing ($6.95). By accident, I even liked one of the three or four kinds of mushrooms, and it happened to be the one Hobosack didn’t like, lucky us. It was clear and looked like something you’d see while snorkeling. Anyone?

There was mango curry, a red coconut-milk concoction with basil and peppers ($7.95), and chicken satay ($7.95) so that I could cut some meat up into everything else. It was dry and bland, but it was meat.

And the bathroom was gravy — unisexual — but so cold that I couldn’t stop clacking until we went back to Sack’s for some hot tea. Then to El Rio, where the heat was on and overhead ceiling vents poured artificial warmth down the outsides of us while we poured whiskey into the insides.

And nobody got hurt or lost time or even cried. Although, as nice a night as it was, somehow we’d neglected to have any bananas. And of course they were on the menu — for dessert! Fried, with ice cream or honey, which sounds good even to me. *


Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., noon–9 p.m.

321 Kearny, SF

(415) 981-9399

Takeout available

No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible


Up the butt, Bob


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend and I came home from the club blind drunk and started getting a little crazy. I was in her vagina as well as her anus and swapping between without cleaning myself. I also didn’t wear a condom. In the morning, I noticed there were blood stains on the sheets from her anus. I also licked her anus that night, but I’m not sure whether or not I got any blood in my mouth. I am really worried about diseases and infections even though we are both healthy with no infections. She has diabetes, however. Please help! I don’t know what to do.



Dear Fret:

You can stop worrying about catching diabetes, for one thing. Type 1 diabetes is a luck-of-the-draw thing, not brought on by excessive donut consumption nor certainly by having drunken butt sex with a diabetic person. You knew this, right? Tell me you knew this.

This is not to say that what you and you girlfriend got up to that night was not stupid. It was not smart. In a long-term partnership it’s possible to anticipate most moderately plausible disaster scenarios and come to some mutual agreement about what to do if X happens. There are some Xs that ought to be avoided no matter what, but I trust mature long-term partners to make reasonable decisions about who can be exposed to what (fertile gametes included here) and when. And then there are the couples I wouldn’t trust as far as I could roll their drunken asses down the stairs.

If neither of you has any infections, why are you "really worried" about diseases? I mean, chances are good neither of you is actually harboring anything ghastly, but I’m going to guess you actually know that. For instance, there is some disagreement in my sex ed circle as to who originated the line "If rimming did not exist, hepatitis would have had to invent it." (It was me, me, me!) You have to consider heps A, B, and C if you’re going to — there’s really no delicate way to put this — lick blood off of somebody’s asshole. Or you could just not do that, which means looking before you, uh, leap, and maybe trying new, potentially problematic activities while sober enough to think, if not to drive.

In all likelihood, the most you’ve done is put your girlfriend at risk for bacterial vaginosis, but if you feel sick or turn yellow or anything else dramatic happens, see the doctor. And both of you, go get tested for a whole bunch of stuff (including pregnancy — hello, condoms aren’t just for prophylaxis, you know) before you go quite that crazy again. You have not proven yourselves smart enough to act that stupid all the time and get away with it.



Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend and I were having sex, and he asked if I’d like it up my butt. I told him to go for it. It was a little painful at first but then started to feel kind of nice. He asked if he could come in me, and the thought turned me on, but I didn’t know what bad things might happen. After searching the Internet and finding only porn, I thought I’d ask you.

Should I have any concerns about him coming in there? Will I drip for hours? Will it all drip out? Also, he has tested negative for HIV. However, I have not. What would be the chance of him getting HIV from me in this situation (not that I have any reason at all to believe I have it)? Lastly, I would like to clean myself before if possible. If I wanted to give myself an enema of some sort, how should I time it?


So Many Questions!

Dear Quez:

Wow, you don’t waste any time, do you? One little spontaneous anal episode and look at you now!

I’m not one of those condom-every-time people. I’m really not, especially when we’re talking about (presumably) monogamous couples, but I can’t help noticing that nearly every one of your concerns could be addressed by 75 cents worth of latex. Nothing will drip (it doesn’t much anyway, since the lining of the rectum is nothing if not absorbent); HIV worries would be assuaged (as the penetrator he’d be at little risk from the virus you don’t have); and anything messy can be skinned off and disposed of, never to be thought of again. If that’s not clean enough for you, you can get a "rectal syringe for anus hygiene." I think you’ll find them next to the hemorrhoid cream and just down from the Depends, but you can mail-order if shopping in that aisle makes you want to die. You can use it whenever, unlike a real enema, which must be done the night before if you want to avoid a horrible mess.

Condoms are neater, but nothing too terrible will come of bare-backing with a trusted partner, although it may not be a habit you want to cultivate.



The video guy


› kimberly@sfbg.com

PREVIEW The public furor set off last November by the imminent publication of onetime football star and Avis flunky O.J. Simpson’s now-quashed book, If I Did It, on the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman, demonstrates how pivotal the 1995 Simpson trial was to so many, just as Newsweek‘s recent publication of details from a key chapter shows how much it continues to compel — and how tender the wounds remain on this country’s notions of race, justice, media, and celebrity. To many TV viewers overseas, the trial might have merely summed up the insanity of stateside news priorities when the World Cup telecast was interrupted for the Simpson Bronco chase, but for Kota Ezawa, who had just transferred from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) at the time of the trial, it was ripe, rich stuff.

The televised Simpson verdict announcement — documented in the snippet Ezawa reworked for his brilliant 2002 short animation The Simpson Verdict, now showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — "was really a shock to everybody, but a very different kind of shock," Ezawa said. "It was a real kind of shock and a very strange shock because it wasn’t a bomb hitting the ground! It was just a court official saying two words, ‘Not guilty,’ and it was enough to send really huge seismic waves through the entire nation. That I find interesting — that it was so psychological, a psychological event."

Sitting at a work table scattered with paper collage scraps of fallen soldiers intended for his 2006 "The History of Photography Remix" project in a spare, white one-room studio at the corner of 16th and Mission streets, the soft-spoken, even-tempered Cologne, Germany, native in a brown hoodie seems like the last person who’d gravitate toward incendiary subject matter such as the Simpson trial. Or the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, which are paired in his 2005 animated short The Unbearable Lightness of Being. From the aforementioned pieces to 2003’s Who’s Afraid of Black, White and Grey, Ezawa’s work boils history-making spectacle down to ultraflat pop shapes and hues — adding another layer of commentary to the race cards dealt in The Simpson Verdict. Though Ezawa’s works mimic the primitive, jerky moves of South Park, they rarely make light of history’s dark corners — rather they are minimalist meditations on memorable images, sampling, quoting, recropping, and editing visual pop ephemera and masterworks culled from our collective memory’s moving-image files.

And Ezawa’s reenvisionings, or remixes, have found a growing audience, eliciting an enthusiastic review in the New York Times for his current exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. SF Cameraworks recently feted the new Nazraeli Press volume compiling Ezawa’s "The History of Photography Remix" works, and this week the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art includes the artist in its biannual Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Art Award Exhibition.

"We were all enormously impressed by his practice — its clarity and range, the distinctness of his vision," SFMOMA painting and sculpture curator Janet Bishop wrote in an e-mail. "He was a top contender from the start of the award process." As a SECA award recipient, Ezawa will show parts of "The History of Photography Remix" as well as a two-screen animation, Stereo Stolen Honeymoon, which he described as a trailer for a longer adaptation of the purloined Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee wedding and honeymoon video, which the Guggenheim Museum is in talks to show.

"The Anderson-Lee tape is really most striking for how mundane it is," Bishop continued. "It has only become iconic because of our cultural response to it. Ezawa’s piece holds a mirror to our collective obsession with every tedious detail of celebrities’ lives."

A yearlong project featuring Ezawa’s idiosyncratic, hand-drawn computer animation and aided by assistant Ryan Thayer, voice actors, and assorted interns, the Anderson-Lee piece is also one of the artist’s most overtly comic pieces: the tabloid twosome’s cartoonish lifestyle slips seamlessly into Ezawa’s format as they exchange aggro vows, stroke tats, and chat up their pooch.

"I feel that I’m in the business of making moving paintings more than I’m in the business of making videos with a beginning and an end and a kind of dramatic curve," the 37-year-old self-described "video guy" confessed across his work table. "It’s a different kind of attention that people bring to a gallery or to a museum, and in that way, it almost has to work like a painting, meaning some people will watch it for 10 seconds, some people will watch it for a minute, but it really depends on how they will get grasped or not grasped by the image."


The half-Japanese, half-German artist traces his own initial attempts at image-making to ancestors. "If you ask any artist, if they’re really honest, there will be something way, way, way back — even sometimes before you were born," he said with a small grin. The drawings of his great-grandfather Hans Gelderblom, an architect, made an impact, as did his Japanese forbears’ silk paintings and bronze vases.

As a child in rural southern Germany, Ezawa etched his own path with cartoon flip books and hand-cranked panorama boxes resembling TVs. "I think there’s one thing about the countryside that informed or really influenced me and why I am how I am now," he explained. "In the city I think even as a teenager there’s already these peer groups — sometimes it’s ethnic, the Latino kids or the Asian kids, some listen to punk music or some are really good at school or math. In the countryside it doesn’t really work like that — you’re just stuck with your age group, so one of your friends is a fantastic athlete and a piano genius, and your other friend is a borderline alcoholic heavy metal fan, and you all just converge and hang out. And so I think even today … I sometimes think I don’t have any taste, you know?"

That ability to switch from high to low, between mediums and messages, fed his work at the Düsseldorf art academy, where he tried his hand at photography and performance art before scoring an opportunity to study with Fluxus video art innovator Nam June Paik. "He wasn’t there a lot, but to me, he was a really big inspiration," recalled Ezawa, who made his first video in order to be in Paik’s class.

At first he put together "still videos that didn’t move at all": one of his first, I Want to Buy the Empire State Building, was made when the structure was actually for sale. Working pre-Photoshop, Ezawa used a graphic machine to print the title sentence along with his phone number, reproducing the words on a C-print before hanging it on the wall and videotaping it. Paik had the piece, along with other student works, shown at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. "What’s similar to the videos I make today was I didn’t think of video as this entertainment format," Ezawa said. "I thought of video more as a light box. It was really just like this illuminated image coming out of the TV."


Ezawa’s light-box reworking of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void — part of "The History of Photography Remix" — looked down from an otherwise pristine wall above us. After finishing his BFA at the SFAI and his MFA at Stanford, Ezawa began teaching at California College of the Arts. While poring through the school’s slide library for a presentation on the history of photography for an introductory media arts course, he found himself thrilled: "I thought it was almost like DJing. ‘Oh yeah, this one will be really good. Maybe I’ll play this one after this one.’ " He took the Klein image home, scanned it into his computer, made a graphic sketch over the original, and kicked off his own "History," a compendium of transparencies, slides, collages, and intaglio etchings drawing on images as disparate as Ansel Adams landscapes and the surveillance shot of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. "That kind of became the idea for the work, to make this fake history slide show," he said.

Ezawa’s strategy stirs up the familiar cauldron of copyright issues in this age of digital reproduction. "You could call it visual hip-hop," he quipped. "But you can also call it somehow ripping off." He’s had only a few "sensitive reactions" from the creators of the original images. "I had long discussions, and it all got resolved," Ezawa said. "But with the book it was like, ‘OK, if you’re making this book and you’re ripping off tens and tens of photographs, you don’t want to have 30 angry photographers sending nasty e-mails." So in an effort to avoid a Simpson-like "legal nightmare," he contacted every shooter he sampled, and "the reaction was 95 percent very positive."

The SF artist has understandably mixed, and remixed, feelings about copyright, which he describes as being "really used to protect the interests of Walt Disney [Company] as opposed to actual artists. But then I feel like events like YouTube really help everybody and also the emergence of China as an economic player in the world, where they have Dior handbags that might say ‘Djor.’ I do think copyright might not exist much longer, though maybe long enough to ruin all of our lives."

He gave a compact chuckle. But then, the artist who once sang and played keyboards along with his wife, Karla Milosevich, in the Helen Lundy Trio seems to have his own quirky handle on the problem. "You know, like any hip-hop artist or DJ, I find my ways to manage this." *


Jan. 27–April 22; call for additional programs; $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–8:45 p.m.)

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



The wi-fi elephant


› sarah@sfbg.com

It’s been widely reported in recent weeks that San Francisco and the Google-EarthLink team have already reached a deal to offer free wireless Internet service citywide. In reality, the deal cut by Mayor Gavin Newsom is tentative and requires the approval of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the Board of Supervisors.

And getting that approval looks increasingly unlikely in light of a growing chorus of critics and a scathing assessment of the plan that Board of Supervisors budget analyst Harvey Rose laid out in his Jan. 11 report on the feasibility of a municipally owned wi-fi system.

As Rose notes, even though the city’s technology consultant, Civitium, recommended that officials examine all alternative approaches to bridging the digital divide, the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) negotiated with Google-EarthLink "without conducting a more formal analysis of the feasibility of wireless broadband or a completed study of the feasibility of wired networks."

That study of various options, including a municipal broadband system using fiber, was requested by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 5, 2004, before Newsom pitched his free wi-fi idea in his State of the City speech two weeks later. The DTIS and the SFPUC staff decided to fast-track Newsom’s plan; the fiber study began in June 2006 and is expected from Columbia Telecommunications Corp. (CTC) any day now.

Rose’s report questions why the city wasn’t studying all its options before going with the Google-EarthLink wi-fi system, which the mayor is pushing. Supervisors have now announced plans to study various digital options in board committee meetings and at the Local Agency Formation Commission before making any decisions.

All of this doesn’t bode well for Newsom because, according to Rose, the Google-EarthLink deal gives the two telecommunications giants potentially unfair business advantages, delivers San Francisco a technically flawed system, and leaves gaping holes in Newsom’s much-ballyhooed attempt to bridge the digital divide.

Rose’s not-so-rosy report reveals that EarthLink’s wireless network limits potential competition in the unlicensed radio frequency band, giving the company a quasi-exclusive franchise, "as any competitors would have to contend with EarthLink’s existing wireless signals."

The deal also gives EarthLink the appearance of a conflict of interest, because the company serves as wholesale network provider and one of the available Internet service providers.

The report warns that the plan’s sale and usage of user data for private purposes "exposes those utilizing the EarthLink wireless network to the wide dissemination of their personal data, even if such users opt out of the receipt of marketing materials." Rose also notes that Google gets exclusive access to users of EarthLink’s basic service — a setup that gives the telecommunications giant free access to millions of points of data, all in return for a free but slow service.

Perhaps most damning for Newsom, given the mayor’s repeated claims that the deal is all about helping the underserved, is Rose’s observation that the basic free service provided by EarthLink will be slower than existing DSL and cable Internet technology.

Rose writes, "To receive service roughly comparable to existing technology and similar networks being implemented in other cities, network users would have to pay an estimated monthly fee of $21.95, while 3,200 network users who qualify under a proposed ‘Digital Inclusion Product’ would pay a monthly fee of $12.95."

In the face of all these drawbacks, Rose recommends the board tell the city to reissue a request for proposals to allow for consideration of publicly owned, public-private, and privately owned systems — the three wireless models Rose contrasts in his 42-page report. While Rose concludes that it may be fiscally feasible to build municipally owned wi-fi, he notes the city would likely face competition from private interests and risk network obsolescence within a few years.

Rose suggests future proposals should provide wi-fi access for low-income residents that is "high-quality and free," including "state-of-the art connectivity that is at least equal in technological capability to nearby offerings," and "try to leverage existing public and private infrastructures." He also recommends such proposals include, to the extent practicable, the city’s existing fiber infrastructure — and incorporate results of Civitium’s and the CTC’s studies.

"Google-EarthLink only seems to be there to sell the advertising and collect the fees," Sup. Jake McGoldrick told the Guardian, as he vented frustration over how the Mayor’s Office and the DTIS focused exclusively on the Google-EarthLink deal.

"Every time they were asked for information that would advance other options, they stonewalled," McGoldrick said.

DTIS chief administrator Ron Vinson told the Guardian he hasn’t seen the fiber study, which was expected at the start of the year. "It’s not out yet. We haven’t seen it," Vinson said Jan. 19, the day after Newsom told the Chronicle that the wi-fi deal was too important to be killed off by politics.

But as wi-fi activist Bruce Wolfe told the Guardian, "It’s the mayor’s introduction of an insufficient plan that’s causing the situation to become political, when really it’s a technical question."

Fiber is a more reliable and faster technology than wi-fi, and it serves as a better backhaul to a wi-fi system than the phone lines that Google-EarthLink plans to use. Wolfe said the deal is "like buying diesel buses when everyone’s converting to hybrids."

He said San Francisco’s hilly, foggy, and built-out terrain means residents will get spotty wi-fi at best and no wi-fi at worst, particularly if they’re not within sight of a wi-fi node or on the third floor of a high-rise. Wolfe recommends that the city combine its preexisting fiber backbone and short-term contracts with groups of wi-fi providers to create a series of neighborhood access points, all managed by a nonprofit agency with technological expertise.

"If Google owned the city and needed to provide access to us, it wouldn’t go for a wi-fi-only solution," Wolfe said. "This is no time to be building a white elephant." *

Anti-Christian mythology


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION For several years I’ve heard Philip Pullman’s young-adult fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials called an antireligious response to the mega-Christian Chronicles of Narnia. Progressive fantasy about troubles with an otherworldly version of the Christian right? I’m there. So I snapped up Pullman’s three novels — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass — each named after a magical device that aids our heroes in a quest through parallel universes, including a parallel Oxford, England.

Right away, however, I discovered that these are not antireligious novels. Certainly, there are some bad Christians, but there are also a god and tons of angels. Plus, all the universes are united via a spiritual substance called Dust — or, in our world, dark matter. Turns out dark matter is a kind of psychic life-essence that fuels angels and souls. The Dust thing really bugged me. I expect magic in fantasy worlds, but Pullman turns astrophysics into spiritual goo. It was a rhetorical move right out of Jesusland, where believers have managed to convert science into intelligent design. There’s a difference between creating a magical world with its own rules and claiming that scientifically observable phenomena in our own world can actually be explained with angels.

So why has this trilogy been touted by the London Telegraph and countless grumpy evangelicals as anti-Christian? Probably because Pullman portrays the ruling Christian sects in a parallel England as bloodthirsty and cruel. In this enchanted version of our world, all humans have an animal familiar who represents an aspect of their souls — the emotional part that takes pleasure in worldly things. The government is disturbed by the anti-Christian sensuality represented by the human-familiar bond and gives some Christians money to experiment with separating children from their familiars so that they won’t ever become "fallen." After these operations, the "severed" children are either mentally broken or so overwhelmed with grief that they kill themselves. It’s a pretty nifty little allegory for all the freaky shit Christians have done to kids to crush their sexual urges.

But the problem here isn’t Christianity itself. It’s with a bunch of antipleasure adults who want to torture erotic desire out of kids in the name of God. In addition, as we learn in the later books, a similar social problem has emerged in the world of angels. The Christian God is actually a frail old creature being kept alive by fascistic, high-level angels who are using his reputation to reestablish the authority of the kingdom of heaven throughout all the parallel universes. And somehow, because our heroes are fighting to stop these power-mad angels and bad-actor Christians, we’re supposed to think the book is antireligion?

Perhaps the West is so steeped in Christian mythology that we can’t imagine an outside to Christianity. Pullman gets to be antireligious simply because he criticizes one aspect of Christianity. Instead of pushing hierarchy and sexual repression, he celebrates individualism and sexual expression — as long as everybody is heterosexual, in love, and conforms to appropriate gender roles.

Lyra, an adventurous little girl from parallel Oxford who rescues a bunch of children from the evil Christian sect in The Golden Compass, defies God but remains in thrall to biblical gender roles. The closer to puberty she gets, the more she hands off her power to violent, strong men. Eventually, she reaches puberty and falls in love with Will, whose "subtle knife" can cut doorways between worlds. After the two young teens have sex, they radiate enough Dust to help save the world. This moment of sex-positivity is Pullman’s way of signaling to us that the new "republic of heaven" will be better than the old one.

But many other tenets of Christianity remain intact: the belief that spirituality, rather than science, can explain the world; and the idea that it is natural for women to subordinate themselves to men. When Lyra returns to her Oxford, where only men attend university, she can only hope to be educated at a less-prestigious women’s college. And her attachment to Will has robbed her of her only power: reading the golden compass of truth. If Lyra’s transformation from hero to second-class citizen is what passes for anti-Christian storytelling, maybe we should be looking for a new way out of the religion problem. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who would rather open the doorways between worlds than kill a God who doesn’t exist anyway.

The war on trial


› news@sfbg.com

It is a sad day in American jurisprudence when a soldier of conscience is court-martialed — not for lying, but for telling the truth; not for breaking a covenant with the military, but for upholding the rule of law in wartime.

The court-martial of First Lt. Ehren Watada is set for Feb. 5 in Fort Lewis, Wash. The 28-year-old soldier from Hawaii is the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. He is charged with "missing movement" and "conduct unbecoming an officer" including the "use of contemptuous words for the President."

The story has received a fair amount of media attention, in part because the Pentagon is trying to force three journalists to testify against Watada (see "A Reporter Stands Up to the Army," 1/10/07).

But the soldier’s story is significant on its own.

A year ago, when Watada was on leave and out of uniform, he delivered a moving address to a Veterans for Peace convention. Watada is not a conscientious objector. He even offered to serve in Afghanistan.

But he questioned the legality of the war in Iraq, and he denounced the known lies of the George W. Bush administration. He said nothing more than what the world already knows, and he did not encourage any other soldiers to follow his example.

All the major issues of the Iraq fiasco — the fraudulent basis for the war, the absence of a formal declaration from Congress (which has no constitutional authority to transfer its war-declaring power to another branch), the war crimes, the flagrant violations of international treaties such as the United Nations Charter — are coming to a head in this historic battle between a junior officer and an army whose Abu Ghraib torture scandals shocked the world.

Ordinarily, the truth of a claim is a strong defense against any charge of defamation. Not in the Army, however. Army prosecutors do not intend to allow Watada any opportunity to prove in court that everything he said about the president is true. Prosecutors told the presiding judge, Lt. Col. John Head, that the truthfulness of Watada’s speech is irrelevant to the case.


On the charge of refusing deployment, Watada’s case may seem weak — he is, after all, an officer in the military, and he has failed to obey a direct order to go to Iraq. But his defense actually has legal merit: his actions are based on hard evidence about military conduct in Iraq and a clear understanding of the law.

Watada is raising matters of principle that concern the right of all soldiers to full protection of the law. Under the Constitution and the standard enlistment contract, every soldier has a right, even a duty, to disobey illegal orders. The legality of Watada’s orders pursuant to a "war of choice" is the central issue of the trial.

"The war in Iraq is in fact illegal," Watada told TruthOut.org. "It is my obligation and my duty to refuse any orders to participate in this war. An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."

No American soldier has any obligation to participate in military aggression, "crimes against peace," or any operation that violates the Geneva Conventions. Under constitutional government, the authority of military command derives not from one person alone but from the rule of law itself.

There are only two conditions in which a war is legal under international law: when force is authorized by the United Nations Security Council or when the use of force is an act of national self-defense and survival. The UN Charter, based on the Nuremberg Principles, prohibits war "as an instrument of policy." And the war in Iraq is just that — a war of choice.

There is a common tendency among lawyers and military commanders to sneer at international law. But the Constitution is unambiguous: Article VI states, "All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby."

In a celebrated case in 1900 (United States v. Paquete Habana), the Supreme Court ruled, "International law is part of the law of the United States and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for determination."

There is no exception for the military, no wall between domestic and international law.

In his speech to the veterans Watada noted that the US Army Field Manual states, "Treaties reutf8g to the law of war have a force equal to that of laws enacted by Congress. Their provisions must be observed by both military and civilian personnel with the same strict regard for both the letter and spirit of the law which is required with respect to the Constitution and statutes…."


In the end, though, none of that may matter.

The strength of Watada’s legal case will make little difference if Army prosecutors succeed in preventing him from presenting evidence in his own defense in court, especially if judges adhere to the Machiavellian view that "in war, the laws are silent."

The American judiciary has a long, sorry record of ignoring the right of American soldiers to due process and the treaty clause and war-power clause in the Constitution. Too often, judges and prosecutors, both military and civilian, claim war is a political question, a foreign policy matter, something beyond judicial review. Hence, commanders can do as they please, and those who disagree can be imprisoned.

The political question doctrine, as it is known among lawyers, is the primary way by which judges circumvent international law. It is a way by which prowar judges and commanders foreclose any substantive discussion of the legalities of a war.

Few Americans remember the dark days of wartime jurisprudence four decades ago, when US courts refused to hear GI challenges to the Vietnam War. The full implications of the Watada trial can be understood in that context.

In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, American soldiers and marines were imprisoned for refusing to commit war crimes. For example, Dr. Howard Levy, a Green Beret dermatologist, spent two years in prison after he refused to train special forces in dermatology. He argued that to do so would violate the Hippocratic Oath; the Green Berets, he insisted, used medicine as a political tactic in Vietnam, and for him to assist them would cause increased suffering.

In 1965, David Henry Mitchell II, who was eventually convicted of willful failure to report for induction, challenged the legality of Lyndon Johnson’s war. He raised basic constitutional issues: the absence of a formal declaration, broken treaties, a pattern of war crimes on the battlefield. No soldier, Mitchell argued, should be forced to participate in criminal policies, to choose between near-sedition and the commission of war crimes.

Federal Judge William Timbers refused to hear the evidence. When Mitchell’s attorneys argued that under the Nuremberg Principles soldiers have a duty to disassociate themselves from war crimes, the judge freaked out. It is, he said, "a sickening spectacle for a 22-year-old citizen to assert such tommyrot." The judge argued that treaties and conventions are "utterly irrelevant as a defense on the charge of willful refusal to report for induction." The message was clear, and a deadly precedent was set: even if war is manifestly illegal, soldiers are still expected to participate. United States v. Mitchell was the first in a series of infamous cases through which courts placed presidential war beyond the arm of the law.

In a 1966 ruling against Army Private Robert Luftig, Federal Judge Alexander Holtzoff ruled that the war "is obviously a political question that is outside the judicial function." With "no discussion or citation to authority," the Federal Appeals Court concurred. In the most celebrated trial of the period, that of the Fort Hood Three — soldiers who demanded the protection of the Constitution and international law — District Judge Edward Curran refused to hear any evidence of systematic war crimes. He called the war a political issue beyond judicial cognizance.

Taken together, the Vietnam War rulings contradict the landmark precedent Marbury v. Madison. In 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall captured the essence of judicial abdication: "It cannot be presumed that any clause in the Constitution is intended to be without effect…. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?… It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is."

In this case the argument is particularly clear: Watada is not taking a political position as part of his defense. The United States may be overextended; the invasion may create blowback; unilateral actions may alienate allies; war debts may boomerang on the economy; anarchy in Iraq may be unavoidable. These are political questions, but they aren’t what the first lieutenant is talking about. Watada is challenging the legality, not the political wisdom, of the war.

The president, he argues, is the final arbiter of foreign policy — but only so long as policies are carried out in accordance with the rule of law.


History has long since vindicated the soldiers of conscience who spoke out against the Vietnam War — soldiers who tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to uphold the Constitution and international law; soldiers who warned their beloved nation long before the My Lai massacre of America’s impending descent into barbarism. How many Vietnamese lives could have been saved? How many American soldiers might be home today with their grandchildren had American judges as well as presiding military commanders confronted the legal monstrosities of the war against Vietnam?

The cost of judicial abdication in the Vietnam War years, when American judges averted their eyes from the emerging holocaust in Indochina, is incalculable. Without judicial immunity, many of the horrendous deeds of the Johnson-Nixon years might never have occurred.

There were more than a dozen opportunities for American judges to confront the constitutional issues evoked by that undeclared war. When Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who publicly acknowledged the illegality of US invasions in Indochina, offered to hear a war-challenge appeal, his colleagues on the court overruled him.

So today we ask: How many more Iraqis and Americans will die before American judges fulfill their current obligation to uphold and enforce the rule of law? How long will it be before the infamous Vietnam War rulings are reversed, before the blood-drenched political question doctrine is buried for good?

Lt. Col. Head, presiding at Watada’s court-martial, is already preparing to repeat the follies of the past. At a pretrial hearing Jan. 17, he denied all defense motions to present hard evidence of systematic war crimes in Iraq. He rejected the Nuremberg defense. He also upheld a pivotal government motion "to prevent the defense from presenting any evidence on the illegality of the war." Like past accomplices, he claimed that Watada’s case is a "political issue" beyond the jurisdiction of the court.

Capt. Daniel Kuecker, the prosecutor in the pretrial hearings, could not be reached for comment, but Watada’s civilian attorney, Eric Seitz, expressed outrage at Head’s judicial abdication. These rulings, he told the press after the hearing, "are extraordinarily broad and subjective, which I find reprehensible. They are essentially saying there is no right to criticize, which we all know is not true." He added, "These rulings are about as horrible and inept as I could have imagined."

The question can no longer be avoided. Do American soldiers have any rights that their commanders and judges are bound to respect? As civilians, do we not have an obligation to provide our troops full protection of the laws for which they risk their lives? *

Paul Rockwell, who taught constitutional law at Midwestern University in Texas, is the author, with Cindy Sheehan, of Ten Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military, published by New Press in 2006.