Volume 41 Number 30

April 25 – May 1, 2007

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The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (4/30/07)


The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (4/30/07): At least 98 Iraqi civilians were killed today. 14 U.S. Soldiers were killed in Iraq in the past 72 hours.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Casualties in Iraq

Iraqi civilians:

At least 98 Iraqi civilians were killed today in violence across the country, according to the Associated Press:
32 civilian mourners killed today in a bombing of a Shiite funeral in Diyala.
5 civilians killed today in a car bombing in Baghdad.
4 civilians killed today in checkpoint bombing in Baghdad
4 cilvilians killed today when a tanker truck exploded near a restaurant in Ramadi.

98,000: Killed since 3/03

Source: www.thelancet.com

62,570 – 68,593: Killed since 1/03

For a week by week assessment of significant incidents and trends in Iraqi civilian casualties, go to A Week in Iraq by Lily Hamourtziadou. She is a member of the Iraq Body Count project, which maintains and updates the world’s only independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq.

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

A Week in Iraq: Week ending 29 April 2007:

For first hand accounts of the grave situation in Iraq, visit some of these blogs:

U.S. military:
Fourteen U.S. soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq during the past 72 hours, making April the sixth deadliest month of the Iraq war, according to CNN.

: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

For the Department of Defense statistics go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/

For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to:

Iraq Military:

30,000: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


153 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war four years ago, making Iraq the world’s most dangerous country for the press, according to Reporters without borders.

156: Killed since 3/03

Source: http://www.infoshout.com/


The Bush administration plans to increase quota of Iraqi refugees allowed into the U.S. from 500 to 7,000 next year in response to the growing refugee crisis, according to the Guardian Unlimited.

Border policies are tightening because one million Iraqi refugees have already fled to Jordan and another one million to Syria. Iraqi refugees who manage to make it out of Iraq still can’t work, have difficulty attending school and are not eligible for health care. Many still need to return to Iraq to escape poverty, according to BBC news.

1.6 million: Iraqis displaced internally

1.8 million
: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

Many refugees were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.

U.S. Military Wounded:

50,502: Wounded since 3/19/03 to 1/6/07

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (4/30/07): So far, $421 billion for the U.S., $53 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.

To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $46 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have hired 21,264 additional public school teachers for one year, we could have built 11,048 additional housing units or we could have provided 59,482 students four-year scholarships at public universities. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”

Music Blog: bez



Politics Blog: Democratic convention



Barons back off newspaper trial


See bottom of story for full Web package of Guardian newspaper-transaction coverage and documents related to the Reilly suit

Click here for the Reilly press conference documents.

Click here for the famous April 26, 2006 letter.

Well, it’s over before it ever truly began.

Clint Reilly’s federal civil suit against the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group, filed last year in an attempt to block the would-be competitors from sharing monopoly control of the Bay Area’s daily newspaper establishment, ended today in a settlement that left Reilly claiming victory.

The deal blocks any future business deals between Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, and MediaNews, which now owns almost every other daily in the region.

The settlement saved some of the nation’s biggest newspaper barons from the prospect of a long and embarrassing trial that could have produced alarming revelations about the way the big publishers do business.

The case was set to go before a judge and jury April 30.

But in exchange, Reilly says he got most of what he was asking for – in particular, an end to the prospect of a Hearst-Media News business deal.

At a morning press conference April 25, Reilly announced that the settlement puts the Chronicle back into competition with local MediaNews properties.

“The purpose of my lawsuit,” Reilly told reporters, “was to ensure we will not have one company or one partnership owning every single paid subscription daily newspaper in the Bay Area … I strongly believe in newspaper competition. Newspapers create the record of our civic life.”

The local real-estate investor and former mayoral candidate forced the two companies, along with minority business partners the Stephens Group and Gannett Co., to promise they wouldn’t carry out the terms of a now-famous letter dated April 26, 2006 that outlined how Hearst and MediaNews could consolidate distribution and advertising operations among their local papers to create revenue.

That was just one of many proposed plans Reilly’s suit called a violation of federal antitrust laws. Also according to the settlement, Hearst’s $300 million stock investment in MediaNews, which CEO William Dean Singleton relied upon to complete his takeovers last spring of the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Monterey County Herald, and eventually, the Torrance Daily Breeze near Los Angeles, would rise and fall in value based only on the performance of MediaNews assets outside of the Bay Area.

The “tracking stock” scheme, as it’s known, was initially conceived this way to clear Hearst and MediaNews of immediate antitrust scrutiny by justice-department officials, but Hearst hoped it would later be converted into general MediaNews stock that included its Bay Area papers, a fact confirmed by records unearthed in an earlier phase of Reilly’s suit. Hearst, it turned out, much preferred that its huge investment include the totality of MediaNews.

But today’s settlement would keep that from happening, according to terms laid out between the parties, some of which they’ve agreed not to disclose.

Any talk of conjoined operations during the next three years between the companies would have to first be divulged to Reilly and his legal team.

Singleton has also agreed to turn over all executive meeting minutes of the California Newspapers Partnership, formed originally with Gannett and Stephens in 1999, that detail any negotiations with the Chronicle or other major media companies looking to do business with MediaNews in the Bay Area for the next three years.

In addition, Reilly will be permitted to recommend a citizen for appointment to the editorial boards of CNP’s Bay Area newspapers and will himself serve on the editorial board of at least one of them.

“The ten-month-long legal battle gave us a chance to see confidential documents between Hearst and MediaNews, Stephens and Gannett,” Reilly said. “Numerous documents show these newspaper companies and their executives are capable of the very cover-ups they so vigorously prosecute in politicians, executives and celebrities. I believe that their primary motivation for settling this case was their fear of exposing questionable competitive practices to public scrutiny.

“This is the second time Reilly has done this,” his attorney, Joe Alioto, told the reporters, referring to a 2000 suit Reilly filed to stop Hearst from shutting down the San Francisco Examiner. “And he does it because the government won’t do it. He does it all at his own cost and risk.”


Reilly’s first antitrust assault on Hearst produced some sensational revelations – including the fact that the Examiner publisher sought to trade favorable editorial coverage of then-Mayor Willie Brown in exchange for Brown’s support of Hearst’s business deals.

With the settlement in place, Reilly’s second suit won’t produce that sort of high drama. But he has forced the release of records showing that Hearst and MediaNews wanted to develop close business ties – and there are more potentially explosive documents that may become public.

After the Guardian and Media Alliance intervened to have records previously sealed by the newspaper companies opened to public access, we learned for the first time that Hearst had considered selling the San Francisco Chronicle to Singleton in 2005. But the latter’s offer was chump change, coming just a few short years after Hearst had plowed through three quarters-of-a-billion dollars in its bid to take over the Chronicle and dump the San Francisco Examiner, which it had owned for more than a century. The terms were “totally unacceptable,” Hearst executive James Asher would tell the justice department in a September deposition that turned out to be among the most interesting and candid documents to surface from the intervention.

We learned that Hearst had spent more than 10 years gnashing at the bit for an opportunity to invest in the MediaNews business model, best described as a series of “clusters,” in which Singleton consolidates the operations of several regional newspapers, hacks madly at the payroll with a broadsword, and sends ill-fated staffers packing, from veteran editors with Pulitzers on their résumés to longtime press operators.

We learned that Hearst’s inspiration for its major stock investment in MediaNews began after the two became fast friends in Texas, Singleton’s home state. MediaNews in 1995 sold the assets of the Houston Post for $120 million to Hearst, which owned the Houston Chronicle, enabling Hearst to rid itself of a major-market competitor.

We learned that from day one, Hearst wanted its $300 million investment to directly hinge on Bay Area MediaNews properties as well, presumably meaning they believed it would make the investment more valuable, and also meaning Hearst would then have less of an incentive to compete directly with MediaNews. Would you if your competitor was holding $300 million of your money?

We also learned that an anticompetitive agreement to join advertising and distribution networks with MediaNews was required by Hearst “in order to proceed with the transaction,” according to a memo Hearst exec Asher sent to MediaNews president Joseph J. Lodovic IV in early 2006. In other words, a quid pro quo by its very definition.

We learned that contradictory legal strategies are far from off limits. The Hearst Corp. argued first in Reilly’s 2000 suit that the Bay Area is brimming with aggressive newspaper competition, and for that reason, he had no grounds to denounce the closure of the Examiner planned at the time. The papers argued in 2006, however, that newspaper competition in the Bay Area is actually all but non-existent because the markets are subdivided, so Clint Reilly doesn’t have anything to complain about.

Some of the most interesting material is still under court seal, including the depositions of senior publishing executives. But the settlement specifically allows Reilly to go back into court seeking an order to open those records, and he and Alioto vowed to do that very shortly.


Overall, it’s been a monumental year for newspapers, replete with massive waves of unfortunate irony. Banner headlines at dailies across the country have prophesied the death of newspapers, a trend story that Hearst and MediaNews tried to use in court to convince judge Illston that the industry was wilting under a consolidate-or-die atmosphere. A better analysis, of course, might conclude simply that shareholders aren’t getting the enormous returns they once did, with the exception of the Chronicle, which, we learned from Reilly’s suit, has been losing $1 million a week for Hearst — if not more.

A shareholder revolt broke to pieces one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, Knight-Ridder, respected by many in the industry for its commitment to investigations, bold enterprise reporting and funding for national and international bureaus. The company was forced to sell after investors grew restless, and Singleton swept in to takeover the chain’s gem, the Merc, as well as the Times in Contra Costa County.

Layoffs ensued and MediaNews immediately began consolidating business-side functions in a single San Ramon office where operations for several papers could be managed at once. And MediaNews recently spiced up the company’s Web site, an emblem of its new dominant position. But like the old site, there’s very little information about the company’s journalism awards, and no bios of its editors, profiles of its reporters or portraits of anyone driving the company’s papers from the bottom up. Like the old site, there’s information for investors and photos of the company’s top executives, including one of Singleton smiling alongside company president Lodovic, who earned a $1 million bonus just as MediaNews consummated its marriage with Hearst last year.

At MediaNews papers in the Bay Area, single stories began appearing in several papers under one byline during Reilly’s suit meaning fewer perspectives for major Bay Area issues. Again with a touch of irony, one of the regular bylines on stories covering Reilly’s suit has been from veteran Merc reporter Pete Carey, who under the paper’s old owners helped win two Pulitzers, first for its joint 1985 coverage of the downfall of Filipino despot Ferdinand Marcos and second for stories explaining how red tape blocked needed retrofits at some California highways leading to greater infrastructure damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

In Minnesota, a Ridder family heir hung on as publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press after Singleton took it over last year with Hearst’s help before he left just recently for a job at the competing Minneapolis Star Tribune. The move has devolved into a bitter court dispute with Singleton, according to the Twin Cities alt weekly, City Pages. The Ridder family’s involvement with the Pi Press lasted more than 70 years.

Even Singleton’s beloved flagship paper, the Denver Post, couldn’t escape “industry changes” – that is, layoffs. The paper reported buyout offers to more than a third of its staff April 24.

But we have received a recent ominous sign of what’s to come just as Reilly inked his settlement with Hearst and MediaNews.

In an election for board directors at the April 24 annual meeting of the New York Times Co., 42 percent of the shareholders withheld their votes to protest the company’s stock structure, which keeps a controlling ownership stake in the hands of the Sulzberger family, the members of which have owned the Times for generations.

The Times – like the Washington Post – has staved off shareholder raids like the one that tanked Knight-Ridder by maintaining their own separate class of stock. The Sulzbergers have reiterated that the strategy enabled them to keep quality reporting at the paper’s forefront and short-term obsessions with profit at bay.

“Mr. Sulzberger dismissed the calls to separate his two titles,” a Times story on the meeting noted, “saying that holding both roles [of publisher and chairman] allows him to ‘balance the financial and journalistic needs of this institution.'”

But Wall Street’s war on newspapers, in the meantime, is likely not over.

“At the beginning of my case, I said that 25 years involvement in politics and government had taught me how important newspapers are to our democratic society,” Reilly said at the press conference. “I hope this lawsuit in 2007 will guarantee competition among newspapers for another generation in our city and the Bay Area.”

Several of the documents stemming from Clint Reilly’s antitrust claim against Hearst, MediaNews and other business collaborators in the California Newspapers Partnership

Major Guardian stories and editorials published since last spring following the recent major Bay Area newspaper transactions and Clint Reilly’s resulting lawsuit

Posts to the Politics Blog about the Clint Reilly suit

Keeping tabs on the Galloping Conglomerati via blog reports and impertinent questions

Ponder or ignore? Enjoy


> johnny@sfbg.com

The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. That’s half a century of bringing movies from all over the world to one area of America that doesn’t assume America is the world.

At this moment a solo videomaker has to kill at least a few dozen people to storm the multinational media palace. Yeah, this thought crashes the SFIFF’s party. But it adds context to the fest’s contents. One Guardian contributor recently forwarded me a news story that drew specious links between the Virginia Tech tragedy and Park Chan-wook’s 2003 movie Old Boy. The presence of The Bridge (a documentary that uses images of death in a problematic manner) at last year’s SFIFF proves that film festivals also face ethical dilemmas about what they present. Does increasingly pervasive digital imagery correspond with a decrease, rather than an increase, in imagination? Does it prompt a lazy way of seeing and corrupt the meaning of an image?

The SFIFF offers a chance to enjoy – not just ponder or ignore – such questions. As a major progenitor of the festival model that has come to dominate cinema outside of Hollywood, this event often celebrates and represents the establishment, as Sam Green and Christian Bruno’s 2000 short film Pie Fight ’69 makes clear. But unlike many younger festivals, the SFIFF’s programming favors substance over sensation.

George Lucas, Robin Williams, and Spike Lee will be feted this year, but the Guardian‘s SFIFF 50 coverage has an eye for diamonds in the rough: great, quiet films such as Heddy Honigmann’s Forever; a definitely maddening but possibly classic work of art, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth; and digital animator Kelly Sears’s hilarious short works – in step with hallucinatory digital mind-blowers and eye-blinders such as Paper Rad – which feature in the type of one-time-only SFIFF collaborative event that can yield a memorable night.

I’d like to draw attention to the SFIFF’s two entries from the New Crowned Hope series recently curated by Peter Sellars (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Daratt and Garin Nugroho’s dazzling Opera Jawa) and to close by freestyling the praises of Veronica Chen’s gorgeous Agua. In its regard of two generations of men, of male physicality and psychology, it is a pleasurable, less-austere improvement on Claire Denis’s highly acclaimed Beau Travail and part of a possible new wave of cinema – led by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s Zidane – that trailblazes the cinematic potential of contemporary sports performance and its portraiture. Dive into it and SFIFF 50. *

Cinema brut


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

Early on in A Parting Shot, Isild Le Besco’s character curls up at a bar, crowded by two leering men ordering her the hard liquor with which she courts abnegation. A couple cuts later, she’s teasing one of her throwaway lovers for asking her to be tender, warning the next in line that she’s "pas douce," or "not soft." Pas Douce is the original title of Jeanne Waltz’s finely calibrated debut, though it could pass for several French offerings with similarly bruising and bruised heroines at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

French art cinema has been rife with sex of the pas douce sort for years now: a diverse group of filmmakers (Gaspar Noe, Catherine Breillat, Francois Ozon, and more recently, Jean-Claude Brisseau, of Exterminating Angels infamy) has coalesced, marked by the provocative blend of hyperrealism and hardcore. The French have never shied away from showing a little skin – it would be silly to think the original new wave didn’t owe some of its cachet to it – but these latter-day sexual misadventures represent something pointedly unpleasant in form and content. Critic James Quandt dubbed it new French extremism, though cinema brut works just as well.

In SFIFF films such as On Fire, 7 Years, and Flanders, this tendency is toned down but still embedded in narrative and character. Being French, all three feature some manner of love triangle: in Claire Simon’s On Fire, teenage Livia (Camille Varenne) plays like Lolita, teasing a boy her age while imagining herself the object of a swarthy fireman’s desire (hello metaphor!); in 7 Years, Jean (Valerie Donzelli) has sex with her prisoner husband’s warden on tape, nominally for hubby’s benefit; and in Flanders, sad-eyed Barbe (Adelaide Leroux) opens her legs to two neighbors going off to fight an unnamed war in the Middle East.

They are all Mouchette’s daughters, these women. Mouchette, the title character of Robert Bresson’s stark 1967 film, is perhaps French cinema’s gold standard of female suffering (with all due respect to Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc). She’s there in the shots of Barbe on her back, staring skyward in full surrender to a man’s grunting weight; in the way Livia sighs while putting a cup of coffee on for her father; and certainly when Le Besco’s Frederique rides her bike into a lake in a fit of ecstatic despair (Mouchette ends her own life rolling into a bog).

Bresson’s content was indivisible from his unadorned film style, and here too these new directors toe the line, shooting in long takes, often on location, with a handheld camera and a resourceful approach to sound. As far as formulas go, this one’s a pretty safe bet in film festival circles (see: the Dardenne brothers and Abbas Kiarostami). Flanders director Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus, Humanite) is already well established in this regard, and while On Fire, 7 Years, and A Parting Shot all have their good points, his latest film is the clear standout among the SFIFF’s cinema brut. It strikes me as Dumont’s version of (and perhaps, improvement on) Michael Cimino’s 1978 The Deer Hunter in the way it mediates battleground and home front as two complementary parts of one continuous, damaged landscape. The Flanders segments work better than the ones in the desert, both for Leroux’s unnerving performance and for Dumont’s painterly compositions (the director grew up in this part of northern France). Flanders occasionally breaks down in its long silences, but it’s a beautifully wrought film, full of carefully plotted mirroring and harrowing disruptions. It’s also unremittingly physical – the sound design of boots squashing and sucking the Flanders mud is all the exposition we could ever need.

Flanders possesses a formidable style indeed, but the closing lines of Quandt’s essay still demand satisfaction: "The authentic, liberating outrage – political, social, sexual – that fueled such apocalyptic visions as Salo and Weekend now seems impossible, replaced by aggressiveness that is really a grandiose form of passivity." Or maybe there are simply too many of these films and scenes piling up, diluting the resonance of any one effort. An uncomfortable question: how would we respond to Mouchette if it were released in this deluge?

It’s impossible to say, but I have little doubt that burnout had something to do with the pleasure I took in Christophe Honore’s new wave-meets-J.D. Salinger yarn, Dans Paris. Honore’s film is steeped in Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer, and while individual bits feel too cutesy (e.g., Louis Garrel skipping down a Paris street in fast-motion), most of this nervy technique has retained its bite, thanks to the staid but lurid minimalism of new French extremism. Honore’s characterizations are tenderly muted rather than brutishly absent; he’s more concerned, in proper new wave fashion, with the talk before and after sex than the act itself. Rather than aiming for extremism (and let it be said that 2001’s Amelie represents, in its own way, as extreme a vision as that year’s Fat Girl), Honore charges Dans Paris with eclecticism: of tone and thought and most likely meaning too. *

DANS PARIS (Christophe Honore, France, 2006). May 4, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 7, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

FLANDERS (Bruno Dumont, France, 2006). May 6, 5:15 p.m., PFA. Also May 8, 9 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

ON FIRE (Claire Simon, France/Switzerland, 2006). May 5, 1:45 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 7 p.m., PFA

A PARTING SHOT (Jeanne Waltz, France, 2006). May 5, 7 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 10, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki

7 YEARS (Jean-Pascal Hattu, France, 2006). May 5, 9:30 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 7 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 1 p.m., Kabuki

Otar, Otar, how does your “Garden” grow?


The San Francisco International Film Festival is offering a rare treat this year with its presentation of Otar Iosseliani’s latest film, Gardens in Autumn, and Julie Bertuccelli’s documentary about Iosseliani, Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird. The director of 2003’s Since Otar Left, Bertuccelli has worked as Iosseliani’s assistant director, so her portrait goes well beyond a primer on his body of work, which began in Soviet Georgia in the late ’50s and continued through his relocation to France in 1982.

After a shaky beginning that has Iosseliani quoting Aleksandr Pushkin at length without translation, the doc moves quickly into the meat and potatoes of Gardens in Autumn‘s construction, such as a poetic demonstration of the transition from storyboarding to shooting. The sisterly abuse Iosseliani endures from his producer, though, is probably the best stuff in the film ("You took that idea from another screenplay"; "You’re not Rivette! Cut it down!"; "This ending is stupid"). Bertuccelli’s document of the bumpy road to a final product is a fascinating counterpoint to the sensuous languor of Iosseliani’s film.

Gardens in Autumn starts as unpromisingly as the doc, as a broadly Bunuelian satire of the bourgeoisie (a comic wife buys expensive junk, a bureaucrat quietly smokes a cigarette as a labor demonstration swells), but the story almost immediately makes a welcome 180-degree turn. As if our hero Vincent (Severin Blanchet) can sense the satire in progress, he abruptly resigns his post as a government minister and returns to the town of his youth, where his mother (Michel Piccoli, a fixture in Luis Bunuel’s French work, in convincing drag) holds court in an extravagant mansion and drunken clergymen with frat boy temperaments roam the streets. The film fans out into a thinly plotted waltz through the good life, where even the occasional bursts of violence look like they might be fun. It’s the type of film in which a man can shrug off the squatter inundation of his apartment and move into the secret back room behind the bookcase.

The critic J. Hoberman described one of Iosseliani’s recent ensemble films somewhat dismissively as a "genteel circus," but the tag can also serve as an affectionate characterization of his best work. His latest exercise in modulated hedonism may not have much to say on the politics of happiness, but sometimes that can be a blessing. (Jason Shamai)

GARDENS IN AUTUMN (Otar Iosseliani, France/Russia/Italy, 2006). Sun/29, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 8 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

OTAR IOSSELIANI, THE WHISTLING BLACKBIRD (Julie Bertuccelli, France, 2006). Fri/27, 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 3, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki

The four men in “The Iron Mask”


When The Iron Mask screens at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, four disparate cinematic personalities will merge – three in spirit and one in the flesh.

Now 68, Kevin Brownlow made his first feature film, 1966’s It Happened Here, while in his 20s and subsequently published two books, one (How It Happened Here) on the making of that movie and another (The Parade’s Gone By) featuring interviews with silent-era filmmakers and stars. At that time, the silent era was almost like a technical glitch to be overcome and forgotten. But Brownlow would soon help immortalize great early works through his interviews and his pioneering skills as a restorer.

At the Castro Theatre, Brownlow (the recipient of the SF Film Society’s Mel Novikoff Award, whose latest movie, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic, also screens at this year’s festival) will present 1929’s The Iron Mask. That movie’s star, Douglas Fairbanks, had an effortlessly cheery, energetic onscreen persona, performing his own, Jackie Chan-like stunts. He also ran a tight ship offscreen, controlling nearly every aspect of his business empire. When Fairbanks began planning his extravagant 1922 film Robin Hood, with its record million-dollar budget, director Allan Dwan landed in the driver’s seat. A crackerjack action man, Dwan could keep up with Fairbanks and move things at a brisk pace; Dwan would go on to direct about 400 films, most of them considerably cheaper.

Fairbanks hired Dwan once again for The Iron Mask, a follow-up to 1921’s The Three Musketeers in which Fairbanks would reprise his role as D’Artagnan. The film is not without its breezy, exciting moments, but by this time Fairbanks was 46 and beginning to slow down. He seemed to understand that his antics no longer coincided with the times; his D’Artagnan is a bit long in the tooth and meets a less heroic ending than does the typical Fairbanks hero. Concurrently, talkies had begun to draw the curtain on silent pictures. Fairbanks recorded two talking interludes for the film, which only add to its heartbreaking, elegiac nature. When The Iron Mask was restored, the great modern composer Carl Davis, whose work currently graces a number of silent movies on DVD, recorded a 42-piece orchestral score worthy of the film’s energy and its melancholy. Fortunately, as Brownlow will no doubt demonstrate, it’s possible to see the film with new eyes. In that, there’s no reason to be sad. (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

CECIL B. DEMILLE: AMERICAN EPIC Sat/28, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki



Do you remember your first time?


Of the hundreds of thousands of feature movies made in the past century, how many were spectacular debuts? Maybe 30? Reason decrees that we can’t expect the 11 first features that make up this year’s SKYY Prize nominees to be brilliant; frankly, they’re not. Yet it was little more than a handful of years ago that the San Francisco International Film Festival’s SKYY jury awarded its prize to Jia Zhang-ke’s Xiao Wu, a debut that marked the beginning of one of the most masterful filmmaking careers in the world today.

Two of this year’s nominees, Kim Rossi Stuart’s Along the Ridge, from Italy, and Pavel Giroud’s The Silly Age, from Cuba, owe a debt to one of the great debut films, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Truffaut’s look at boyhood gone awry has secured the template for a half century of coming-of-age films, but like the biopics that overtake screens and vie for awards at the end of each year, such efforts have become too familiar. Aren’t personal stories supposed to be one of a kind, like snowflakes? Perhaps if you’ve seen one snowflake, you’ve seen ’em all.

Nominating Horace Ahmad Shansab’s Zolykha’s Secret, from Afghanistan, was probably some big-hearted gesture of goodwill, but by Western standards, it’s a painfully clumsy affair. Similarly, Xiaolu Guo’s How Is Your Fish Today?, from China, and John Barker’s Bunny Chow, from South Africa, go nowhere fast.

Bay Area native and Golden Horse Award winner Daniel Wu has turned from acting to a comedic directing debut, The Heavenly Kings. Though he treads on sacred Spinal Tap territory with his phony rockumentary idea, he and his friends Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Andrew Lin, and Terence Yin actually went through with the indignity of being in a boy band called Alive, recording and performing to conjure up material for this film. Only one of them can sing, and none of them can dance, but that doesn’t matter in today’s music industry, which relies on stylists, choreographers, and hired fans – not to mention Internet scandals – for success. The Heavenly Kings is certainly scathing, even if it’s only sporadically funny. (The best line involves African rainforests.)

I suspect that Marwan Hamed’s The Yacoubian Building, from Egypt, is also trying to be funny, but it tries to be too many other things as well. Based on a beloved novel by Alaa’ al-Aswany and sprawling to almost three hours, it’s stuck between pleasing the novel’s fans and appealing to new audiences, an impasse that results in heavy exposition and a kind of middling pace that makes time crawl. But it’s also full of sweeping crane and dolly shots, and as with films such as The English Patient, its gargantuan scale will impress some viewers. Jean-Pascal Hattu’s 7 Years, from France, is a bit more daring in its depiction of a woman who falls in love with her incarcerated husband’s prison warden. But it dabbles in Bressonian artificiality without achieving a Bressonian sense of grace.

In surveying this year’s SKYY Prize nominees, perhaps it’s best to search for glimpses of genius or inspiration that could possibly lead to more interesting follow-ups. Joachim Trier’s Reprise, from Norway, has many such glimpses, thanks to frenetic flashbacks that recall everything from Run Lola Run to Snatch and Human Traffic and also due to its discriminating taste in vintage punk music. But when the film’s narrative returns to the present, it begins to wallow in a kind of maudlin, navel-gazing dopiness that kills the initial buzz. Tariq Teguia’s Rome Rather Than You, shot in Algeria, couples startling cinematic brilliance with highly irritating patches of indulgence. Its tale of an Algerian pizza chef who applies for a visa to move to Italy is like a tantalizing mystery house with long, winding passages that lead nowhere. Unfortunately, even Teguia appears to get confused from time to time.

Finally, on the very crest of the much-discussed Mexican new wave, Francisco Vargas outplays all first-time peers with his magnificent The Violin, set in the 1970s. Violinist Don Plutarco (Don Angel Tavira) can only play by strapping his bow to his handless stump. As his guerrilla son fights a secret battle against the ruling military regime, Plutarco winds up serenading a sensitive (but still sinister) captain. Vargas shoots in luscious black-and-white, switching between handheld camera for tense moments and static shots during rest periods that still manage to be breathtaking. In one amazing sequence, Plutarco sits by a campfire and explains the origin of war to his grandson while Vargas slowly, slowly tracks over smoldering coals. But it’s Tavira’s gaping, withered face that gives the movie its mileage. He’s 81, and it’s his first acting job. How’s that for a debut? (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

ALONG THE RIDGE (Kim Rossi Stuart, Italy, 2006). May 5, 4:15 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 9 p.m., Kabuki

BUNNY CHOW (John Barker, South Africa, 2006). Sat/28, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/29, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

THE HEAVENLY KINGS (Daniel Wu, Hong Kong, 2006). Fri/27, 9:45 p.m., Castro. Also Sun/29, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 5 p.m., Kabuki

HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? (Xiaolu Guo, China/UK, 2007). Sun/29, 8:15 p.m., PFA. Also May 5, 12:30 p.m., SFMOMA; May 7, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki

REPRISE (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006). Fri/27, 5 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 9 p.m., Clay; May 8, 9:30 p.m., Aquarius

ROME RATHER THAN YOU (Tariq Teguia, Algeria/France/Germany, 2006). Fri/27, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 5, 2 p.m., Kabuki; May 6, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 6:30 p.m., Aquarius

7 YEARS (Jean-Pascal Hattu, France, 2006). May 5, 9:30 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 7 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 1 p.m., Kabuki

THE SILLY AGE (Pavel Giroud, Cuba/Spain/Venezuela, 2006). Sun/29, 8:15 p.m., SFMOMA. Also May 2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 1 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki

THE VIOLIN (Francisco Vargas, Mexico, 2006). May 4, 3:15 p.m., Clay. Also May 6, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING (Marwan Hamed, Egypt, 2006). May 6, 2 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 9, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 10, 7 p.m., Kabuki

ZOLYKHA’S SECRET (Horace Ahmad Shansab, Afghanistan, 2006). May 5, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 8, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 6, 5 p.m., SFMOMA

On tone’s tail


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

With that inimitable San Franciscan condescension toward anything too popular, various eyes rolled skyward when the SF Film Society announced the tributees at the 50th SF International Film Festival would include the two most famous Hollywood-type people who live hereabouts, George Lucas and Robin Williams. Like a canyon-echoed foghorn, bass exhalations of "borrrrrr-ing" filled select pockets of local airspace. But really, wouldn’t those same naysayers be wondering aloud whether the fest lacked sufficient clout if it hadn’t pulled such big guns for its 50th anniversary?

Intellectual purists might think fondly of the SFIFF’s 1987 tribute to Hungarian Gyorgy Szomjas or of 2004’s ahead-of-the-cusp Malaysian cinema showcase, but the festival has always courted and attracted celebrities. If inventors could perfect a time machine, there’d be a huge queue to revisit some of its earliest stellar events.

World cinema giants passed through the SFIFF’s gates from its beginning in 1957, when it was local theater owner Bud Levin’s all-volunteer baby and veteran Hollywood star Franchot Tone played the role of MC. But the press was naturally always more intrigued by visiting stars, nubile starlets, and what designer couture socialites wore to gala events. Indeed, as the ’60s evolved, fashion and the bountiful femininity it decreasingly cloaked often overshadowed public discussion of Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, and John Cassavetes. A near-topless North Beach dancer known as Exotica riveted attention in 1964, the same year several Playmates of the Month attended. Actress Carroll Baker’s see-through ensemble did the trick in 1966, while the suicidally plunging neckline of uninvited guest Jayne Mansfield meant she was asked to leave. The same year, festival chairperson Shirley Temple Black quit to protest the inclusion of the Swedish feature Night Games, which she considered pornographic.

In 1965 the late SFIFF program director Albert Johnson commenced an extraordinary series of epic afternoon tributes to Hollywood legends. No one else was doing such events, so he got the cream of the back-harvested crop: Gene Kelly, Lillian Gish, Howard Hawks, Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, John Huston, Frank Capra, and more. Soon everyone began imitating Johnson’s clips-and-chat template.

But the SFIFF was hardly done with lassoing big names both nostalgic and current. The 1975 festival featured the strange-bedfellow roll call of Shelley Winters, Dyan Cannon, Natalie Wood, Jack Nicholson, Robert Evans, Burt Lancaster, Roger Vadim, Gale Sondergaard, and Merv Griffin. In 1979, Sir Alec Guinness, still basking in Lucas-bestowed glory, was honored in the festival’s first (and last, to date) opening-night tribute. Among the glittering attendees were O.J. Simpson and then-girlfriend Nicole Brown. How sweet.

Due in part to an increasingly cutthroat festival landscape, in recent years the SFIFF has tilted toward sober rather than silly celebrity visitors. Tabloid types now need it even less than it needs them. Still, there have been felicitous highlights among latter-day tributes: Fillmore resident Winona Ryder’s refreshing public dis of one local print gossip hound as "a parasite"; Clint Eastwood’s lovely penchant for crediting collaborators whenever he was faced with a direct compliment; Annette Bening shouting anecdote prompts to onstage spouse Warren Beatty; Geena Davis admitting that unlike most self-conscious actors, she loves to watch herself onscreen.

Less ingratiating moments are often memorable for what they reveal about a beloved (or not) figure. Dustin Hoffman’s bizarre ramblings in 2003 reminded me of the tribute to a ditzy Elizabeth Taylor that I’d witnessed at a festival in Taos, NM, a couple years earlier. I’ve never felt such pained sympathy for an interviewer as during Harvey Keitel’s curt cutoff of every respectful Q&A path during a 1996 event. Then there was the time Sean Penn’s ever-so-rebellious cussin’ before a full house at the Kabuki Cinema sent Robin Wright storming out with kids in tow just minutes into his 1999 tribute.

The SFIFF is never going to be the kind of festival Paris Hilton feels she need attend. But even the talented are capable of charmingly awkward – and just awkward – moments. The SFIFF’s awards often cast unexpected light on professionals we’d hitherto identified by their roles; this can make for lurid fun. Still, I prefer it when talents I admire keep their personality flaws off my windshield. Once those bugs get embedded, it’s hard to enjoy a clear view again. *

FILM SOCIETY AWARDS NIGHT May 3, 7:30 p.m., $500-$25,000. Westin St. Francis Hotel. 335 Powell, SF. (415) 551-5190



FOG CITY MAVERICKS With George Lucas and others. Sun/29, 7:30 p.m., $20-$25. Castro


Magic stoned


> kimberly@sfbg.com

Dream catchers and rainbows. Stately dragons that soar the starry skies as majestically as a space station and more Marshall stacks than you can shake a pewter warlock wand at. Lone wolves and lynx meeting under snowy boughs in untamed, magical communion. Daggers with serpentine handles morphing gently into stalactites and snowflakes. Wizards solemnly lifting crystal balls aloft in triumph, taking a Festival Viking cruise past jagged pink quartz reefs. Look out for a metal band with feathered hair and quasi-KISS face paint rising over the mountain of gold coins.

No, it’s not an old Heart music video but the cheese-coated language of so-called crystal power – and the kitsch iconography that video artist Kelly Sears works with in her 2004 animated short, Crucial Crystal, one of three she will show as part of "Notes to a Toon Underground." Xiu Xiu, Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, William Winant, Tommy Guerrero, Marc Capelle, and Guardian contributor Devin Hoff are among those providing the live musical accompaniment and original scores to 15 animated works by Sears, Jim Trainor, Wladyslaw Starewicz, David Russo, and Emily and Georgia Hubley.

The pieces originate from anywhere between 1912 and 2005, though some such as Crucial Crystal mine a high-low quarry that’s both timeless (power chords are forever) and already dated in rapid-cycling retro-hipster circles (truck stop lone-wolf imagery naturally begat those interminable wolf band names). It’s done to comic effect, propping up and sending up its subject simultaneously. "When you take a sampling of crystals, black metal, Marshall stacks in the snow, dream catchers, and New Age and nu metal imagery like that and collect them into one big fantasyscape in some impossible universe, it reads as superdated," Sears says over the phone from Pitzer College in Claremont, where she works as the director of production in intercollegiate media studies. "If it was made now, it would have a whole new crop of contemporary pop images that would go in it: a lot of ’70s recycled stuff and a lot of hair."

Hard-rocked and rainbow-hued, Crucial Crystal broke off from a band project, Sexy MIDI, that found Sears making videos to accompany her orchestra pit-style re-creations of MIDI covers gathered online. She culled her crystal fantasia from similar free-source locales: "It was about getting really democratic, finding those images," the 29-year-old animator says, laughing brightly. "The philosophy was, if Google image search doesn’t have it, I don’t want it!"

That hunting-gathering impulse also informs the other Sears works in "Notes": Devil’s Canyon (2005), a wryly surreal and unexpectedly poetic ode to America’s cowboy romance with expansionism and industry, which Sears describes as a "completely fantastical, dystopic manifest-destiny story of the West," and The Joy of Sex (2003), a hilariously solemn animation of the sex manual’s 1991 update.

She found the tossed tome while she was working on her MFA at UC San Diego and liked the idea of animating the book’s images of a conservatively coiffed post-Reagan-era couple in the throes of damped-down passion, using restrained, minute motions accompanied by a flattened MIDI cover of "I Want to Know What Love Is" (it will be given a new score at "Notes"). "I’m really about saving things that got thrown away," she says. "That’s why I look for imagery in thrift stores and garage sales. I really like the idea that the story told by this imagery isn’t functioning anymore and has been cast aside. It’s ready to be picked up and transformed into some sort of new story that could possibly be more relevant now."

Sears’s aesthetic may radically shape-shift from video to video, but her skill at juggling pop wit with postmodern smarts remains the same. "Kelly comes out of nowhere, but you are reminded of a specific ‘somewhere’ because her signifiers seem universal: appropriated pop and illustrations, a cult following-in-the-making," e-mails Darin Klein, who recently curated a show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles that included a collaboration between Sears and choreographer Ryan Heffington. "Her sincerity, her technicality, and the thoroughness of her execution hint at a woman who tunes in and never turns off or drops out."

Sears’s fascination with found images emerged from her distaste for the look of digital video and her sensory appreciation of the texture and beauty of old books, National Geographics, and encyclopedias from the ’60s and ’70s. Currently, working on narratives about orgone boxes and men who modify their bodies into machines, she describes her process as "completely time-consuming": it involves scanning hundreds of images, digitally cutting each out, breaking each still into planes that will eventually move, and then working on the images in After Effects and Final Cut. Still, the time and toil appear to be worth it. "It just seems like a really great way to open up some form of culture or history that’s been produced," she says, "and get your two cents in by rearranging the signifiers in a different way." *

NOTES TO A TOON UNDERGROUND May 5, 8:30 p.m., Castro

Bubblegum bandits


> cheryl@sfbg.com

I’m only a little bit ashamed to admit that I loved Making the Band. No, not the acceptably addictive, Diddy-produced Danity Kane version. I’m talking about the one that birthed O-Town, baby – the quintet of preppy dudes united by boy-band Svengali Lou Pearlmen for three seasons of semi-emotive crooning, thrusting choreography, manufactured drama, and all the *NSYNC coattail riding instant fame could buy. But in the long run, O-Town wasn’t meant to be – how can anyone walk away from a song called "Liquid Dreams" with dignity intact?

The boy-band phenomenon of the early millennium has thankfully faded, but there’s still parody meat enough for Hong Kong heartthrob (and San Francisco native) Daniel Wu, who makes his writing and directing debut with Heavenly Kings. A mock doc that takes itself a bit more seriously than Christopher Guest’s oeuvre (which is to say, there are fewer laughs), Heavenly Kings follows Wu and fellow HK actors Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Andrew Lin, and Terence Yin as they spontaneously form Alive, a Backstreet Boys-ish singing group. There’s plenty of comedy in the film’s first half, including encounters with a knob-twiddling studio whiz charged with correcting off-key vocals ("I realized they were fucking shit," he says) and Alive’s sneaky strategy of putting their first (and apparently only) single online – then drumming up media attention by pretending to be mystified and outraged by the leak.

How much of Heavenly Kings is real, and how much is fake? Like the 2004 doc Czech Dream, which followed a pair of prankster filmmakers who launched a huge ad campaign for the opening of a supermarket that didn’t actually exist, the members of Alive are pulling the wool over certain eyes (the actors’ fans who attend Alive concerts) but not others (there’s a scene with a tacky, maybe-too-fey clothing designer that’s clearly a scripted affair). Reality is further blurred by interviews with real HK recording stars, who voice concerns about their industry’s lack of integrity. There is, they explain, a discouraging emphasis on superficiality over legitimate art and talent. (Sounds just like America’s idols, don’t it?)

So while there’s a dose of O-Town-style schadenfreude at work in Heavenly Kings – especially when the friendships between the guys break down amid power struggles, malaise, and boozing – the film is also trying to make a salient point about the music biz. Whether or not there’s room for serious commentary in a film top-loaded with goofy montages, animated sequences, and the band’s oft-repeated frothy ditty ("Adam’s Choice" – coming to a karaoke bar near you!) is never really resolved. But Wu and his cohorts get props for sending up their dreamy images in a film that’ll prove most entertaining to folks who’re in on the joke.

THE HEAVENLY KINGS (Daniel Wu, Hong Kong, 2006). Fri/27, 9:45 p.m., Castro. Also Sun/29, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 5 p.m., Kabuki

There’s no place like home


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

In his recent book Poor People, William T. Vollmann writes, "For me, poverty is not mere deprivation; for people may possess fewer things than I and be richer; poverty is wretchedness. It must then be an experience more than an economic state. It therefore remains somewhat immeasurable." Despite the enormity of such a disclaimer, Vollmann attempts to calibrate a calculus of misery. Portuguese director Pedro Costa seems motivated by a similarly conflicted impetus. Over the past decade, Costa has made a trilogy of films with the working poor of Fontainhas, a sprawling slum outside Lisbon. Trading Vollmann’s pained self-consciousness for a meticulous formalism that favors rehearsal over reportage, Costa’s remove sets into relief the humanity of his subjects, rather than objectifying or patronizing them.

Many of Fontainhas’s residents are of Cape Verdean descent. That country’s wretched history – as an exploited colony and the center of the Portuguese slave trade – looms large in the collective memory of Fontainhas, as if stained into the walls of its dilapidated tenements and etched across the beaten visages of its inhabitants. It is a legacy of continual disenfranchisement, displacement, and enforced invisibility, which tentatively approaches a terminus with the trilogy’s final installment, Colossal Youth.

Whittled down from roughly 300 hours of footage to just over two, Colossal Youth is a desultory, snail-paced compilation of everyday interactions and fragmentary conversations that skirts the edges of documentary. Costa’s long, static shots mirror the rhythms of the characters’ daily lives – getting high (or taking drugs to get off drugs), scavenging, day laboring, and speaking in perpetuum of possibilities that will forever remain unfulfilled. It is an existence made all the more precarious by the fact that Fontainhas is being razed and its inhabitants relocated to a new, antiseptic public housing complex that’s even farther removed from Lisbon, a process that was happening as Costa filmed.

At the center of this dispossessed community is Ventura, a retired laborer who, like many of Costa’s leads, is presumably playing a variation of himself. Recently abandoned by his wife – an event that forms Colossal Youth‘s haunting, elliptical two-shot prologue – Ventura spends the rest of the film alternately airing his grief and acting as a father figure to a succession of interlopers: old neighborhood friends, former colleagues, acquaintances, and extended family members both biological and adopted.

These include Vanda, a recovering drug addict (the titular character of Costa’s 2000 film, In Vanda’s Room) who ambivalently calls Ventura "Papa" and awkwardly approaches her new role as mother with a fidgety uncertainty; an estranged daughter still living amid the rubble of Fontainhas; a government housing agent equally amused and annoyed by Ventura’s vague requirements for his new home (when asked how many children will be accompanying him, Ventura replies, "I don’t know yet"); and an illiterate migrant worker who enlists Ventura to write a letter to his beloved, which he continually recites as though it were scripture.

With his shock of gray hair, threadbare suit, and stoic gaze that seems perpetually transfixed by something beyond our vantage point, Ventura shuffles between the crepuscular ruins of Fontainhas and the blindingly white interiors of his future residence like an ineffectual ghost, reluctant to admit that he has to some extent become a spectral remainder of the very past that haunts him.

Costa’s architectonic framing of Ventura – which favors low angles and makes startling use of the play of natural light across the film’s many mottled surfaces – no less contributes to this impression. Costa fully exploits digital video’s ability to capture extremes of contrast, flattening exterior landscapes and the people within them into intersecting planes of light and shadow and discovering new inky variegations of black within the darkest of interiors. Some of the film’s most stunning moments come when Costa lets more vivid hues intrude on the mostly washed-out palette of sickly greens and dirtied off-whites, as in a scene in which Ventura seeks a moment of respite amid the cloistered cool of a gallery hung with the paintings of Spanish old master Diego Velazquez.

Colossal Youth is at times as interminable (Vanda’s extensive improvised monologue about giving birth) as it is bleak and oblique. Above all, though, it is brave. Although the word might seem odd, I put it out there not simply because Costa’s film so flagrantly tests the patience of its audience (since its divisive premiere at Cannes last year, walkouts have become a routine part of its screenings) but because it never solicits our pity or invites our disapproval of the people whose lives it so doggedly follows.

For Costa, the aesthetic’s promise of succor – whether found in the rough-hewn lines of a love poem that will never reach its intended addressee, the supposedly democratized space of a museum, or that other dimly lit image reservoir, the movie theater, in which we yearn to be relieved of ourselves – is an illusion, which, however sustaining, can never be made good on.

There is simply no rest for the weary or for the filmmaker who trails alongside them. On the razed grounds of a home that was never really one to begin with, Costa clears a place for the impoverished to testify about their lives. It is a space that, as Vollmann’s problematic volume attests, can perhaps only be realized on film – an expanded freeze-frame on the pause between the two halves of Samuel Beckett’s famous couplet: "I can’t go on, I’ll go on." *

COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland) Sat/28, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/1, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 8:15 p.m., PFA

The departed


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

The idea that death is the great equalizer only seems true in the narrowest sense. As with life, it takes all kinds: romantic deaths and pointless ones, iconic casualties and anonymous mortalities. One might fairly expect a documentary about Paris’s Pere-Lachaise Cemetery to be a macabre portrait of death cults, given its status as a tourist trap. But Forever, the latest film by Heddy Honigmann, finds solace in more introspective rituals. It’s no surprise, then, that Honigmann forgoes Jim Morrison’s grave, though a Doors fan does wander by during an interview with three widows – one clucks that her husband will never be lonely with Morrison around and returns to her reverie.

For all the guru talk about the benefits of being in the moment, there is a different kind of heightened consciousness that comes with the temps perdu territory where memory and sensory detail intersect. Pere-Lachaise is of course famous for its artists, and so Forever is specifically concerned with the way art prompts this transubstantiation, though Honigmann casts a wide net in her interviews. Equivalences emerge between the way we internalize great art and how we carry forward memories of parents, lovers, and homelands. All the film’s conversations are about communion, and as such, subjects frequently blur: a concert pianist’s devotion to Frederic Chopin turns on her memories of her father; a woman explaining her husband’s death ends up reflecting on being forced out of Francisco Franco-era Spain; a former art student’s passion for Amedeo Modigliani’s transformative portraiture inspires his work as an embalmer.

For a documentary about a cemetery, Forever is remarkably attuned to the living; more surprising still, it avoids oppressive gloominess. This is partly a matter of the way Honigmann punctuates her interviews: with the pianist’s performance of Chopin, close-ups of carvings and notes left graveside, and carefully observed shots of women tending to the stones and watering the flowers. The cemetery footage is awash in daylight and spring; ambient sounds of birds and wind mean the frame might be sometimes lonely but never lifeless. Such poetic naturalism certainly softens the film’s light touch, though it’s only support for what is fundamentally a matter of disposition. The film spends a lot of time at Marcel Proust’s grave, and one admirer (dedicated to rendering In Search of Lost Time as a graphic novel) evocatively rhapsodizes about the author’s concept of involuntary memory: when a sensory detail takes us back in a way that supercedes ordinary recollection, we are in two places at once, overwhelmingly and truly.

This is the mood – ebullient, reflective – that Honigmann is after, and while it arrives naturally enough in these interviews, she’s not afraid to push her subjects to connect the dots of art, memory, and self. She also asks the questions that matter to her personally, which, as a Peruvian-born, Netherlands-based itinerant daughter of Holocaust survivors, have a lot to do with homeland and exile. She’s trod this ground before – especially in 1998’s The Underground Orchestra – and here she finds immigrants both buried and alive. When a reticent Iranian Frenchman describes author Sadegh Hedayat’s accomplishments in exile, Honigmann wonders aloud, "Why did you leave your country?" The taxi driver’s answer – that he was tired of the people around him – is wrenching in the context of the quiet cemetery, but Honigmann’s larger point is clear: one’s homeland can take on the same qualities as the dead, of being at once not there and so very there.

It’s a tricky thing Honigmann is doing, engaging people about a profoundly internal process with a documentary technique that’s necessarily obtrusive and spoken aloud. Her gift as a filmmaker lies in the moment-by-moment flow of interview and observation. Patience and curiosity: these are the stuff of Honigmann’s persistence of vision. An interview with a South Korean Proust admirer is exemplary in this regard. The young man struggles to answer Honigmann’s questions in English, and the filmmaker, sensing that language is acting as an unnecessary impediment of expression, asks her subject to tell her what he admires about the author in his own language. She doesn’t understand a word, and neither will most of the audience, but we get something greater in his effusive speech and gesture. Where there are ghosts so too is there spirit, over and over again in Forever. *

FOREVER May 2, 7 p.m., PFA


The silver screen turns gold


The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. Click below for our picks and previews.

Choice words about image culture as the SF International Film Festival hits 50

Take 50: Our picks for the fest

A brief history of star wars and star awards at the SFIFF

This year’s debut fiction features

Better than sex, worse than violence: new French extremism

Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth digs up life amid the ruins

HK hottie Daniel Wu spoofs boy bands (and himself) in The Heavenly Kings

Kelly Sears’s animated shorts crystallize pop-cult preoccupations

The four men in The Iron Mask

Otar, Otar, how does your Garden grow?

50 great movies that have yet to hit the Bay

The 50th annual San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 26-May 10 at Sundance Cinemas Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF; Landmark’s Aquarius Theatre, 430 Emerson, Palo Alto; Landmark’s Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF; SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF; McBean Theater, Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, SF; and El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. For tickets (most regular programs $8-$12) and additional information, go to www.sffs.org.

Future prefects


> kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Try this out for size: "ELO, the other band that matters." Electric Light Orchestra bulb changer Jeff Lynne would probably prefer that handle to "ELO, the other white meat" – the former sentiment is probably about as good as it gets, emanating from a member of Klaxons, the Brit buzz bomb and neu-rave crossover pop phenom of the moment.

Isn’t ELO, like, your parents’ guilty pleasure, the LP they tuck away when the hep seniors wheel over for low-carb hash brownies? "I actually think they’re quite cool right now," counters Klaxons vocalist-keyboardist-bassist James Righton, on the phone shortly after touching down in Los Angeles for Klaxons’ first US tour. "The Pussycat Dolls used a sample of ‘Evil Woman.’ I think people are looking again at Jeff Lynne’s work and the great, inventive pop music that ELO made. We haven’t experimented with strings sounds like Jeff Lynne has.

"I dunno, Jamie is getting to be a big Roy Orbison fan. I might become a huge Traveling Wilburys fan."

High praise – and heady irreverence – coming from one of the freshest-sounding UK bands accompanied by much blog hum and Euro chart action. Dusting off and sexily propagating rave siren honk, disco flash, and propulsive beats, Klaxons come off less like nostalgia hounds stuck in the acid house’s broken-down Hacienda – Simian Mobile Disco and Soulwax remixes aside – than like a spastic-elastic, at times noisy, at times infectious, synth-driven rock unit ready to embrace the harsh urgency of dance punk (changing it up like restless, simulacra-sick toddlers picking up, suckling, and tossing off one reference after another) and sci-fi postmodernism (bidding semper fi to J.G. Ballard with the title of their debut, Myths of the Near Future, on Geffen/Polydor, and Thomas Pynchon with their first single, "Gravity’s Rainbow").

Add magic, psychedelia, and a Web community devoted to guitarist Simon Taylor’s hair to Klaxons’ recipe, and one wonders, could this be the future – once again with that dehydrated feeling (time to unearth those glowsticks) – if not the present? Flying right like a good, recycling-conscious meta-zen from Planet Baudrillard, Righton owns up honestly that the band would never dare to consider themselves – um, gag! – truly unique. "I think it’s hard to create something truly original, especially if you’re in the traditional guitar-bass-drum format. We just stole a lot from other people. We just weren’t picking from the usual Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin," he drawls. "We picked a lot of Brian Eno, Bowie, Gang Gang Dance, a lot of noise, Faust, ELO…." As above so below, as Aleister Crowley and Klaxons go.

THE GOOD, THE GOOD, AND THE GOOD Former Clash bassist Paul Simonon is all too familiar with the anxiety of influence – and the dilemma of surpassing personal bests. The onetime low-end linchpin of the first group marketed as the only band that mattered, Simonon graciously took time from a camping trip with his son to chat in the English woods ("not really Sherwood but quite close") about his latest project with Blur boy Damon Albarn, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, and the Verve guitarist Simon Tong: the hypnotic, elegiac Danger Mouse-produced full-length The Good, the Bad and the Queen (Virgin).

"I’m sort of finding I’m sympathetic to the problems that a musician has when they’ve been very successful, to come up with another album or possibility," he told the trees and me, describing his empathy with Notting Hill neighbor Albarn (after Albarn rang up, Simonon says, "we got chatting and discovered we were neighbors by two streets") and the way their collaboration materialized. "It’s very easy to fall into the trap of sort of doing what we did the last time. It’s sort of different, but with the Clash we moved around: the first album is no comparison to the second, the second was no comparison to the third, and I find that’s Damon’s approach too. Otherwise, it’s really boring, and you might as well get a job and move into another field, rather than just clodding on."

True to his word, Simonon made his own career switch a while back, making and showing grimly realistic paintings of the Thames over the past few years. "The great thing about painting is that you don’t have to discuss it with anybody," he explains. "It’s difficult because if it doesn’t seem to pass the test, you have to destroy it. I don’t find it easy. It’s trial by error."

Simonon had stopped playing until this album – "’Retired’ sounds like I’m in a wheelchair or something!" – but he won’t make the error of trying to blow air into the Clash’s still elegant cadaver. It’s one punk reunion you shouldn’t hold your breath for. "I never entertained the idea, really, seemed like a backward step, really," he says matter-of-factly. "We went on solidly for seven years nonstop. I think it would do no good to re-form – no matter how much money is offered. My calculations are pretty bad, really – a million here or there is all just toy money from my own personal perspective. It meant the Clash – it didn’t mean the cash!" *


With Amy Winehouse

Thurs/26, 9 p.m. doors, sold out


330 Ritch, SF



Sun/29, 8 p.m., $32.50

Grand at the Regency Center

1290 Sutter, SF


Scott Howard


> paulr@sfbg.com

As an aficionado of the men’s-club look, I was swept into Scott Howard as if into some beautiful dream. Beyond the set of fluttering drapes that shield the host’s station from errant breezes blowing near the front door lies a world of coffee- and tea-colored wood (floor, table and chairs, wall trim), gently dim lighting, a slightly sunken floor like that of some kind of arena, and a brilliantly backlit bar standing against one wall like a sentinel.

But … we weren’t really under any delusion of having stepped into White’s or the Athenaeum in London; although Scott Howard’s interior design relies heavily on traditional materials, it gives them a spare, modern look. Lines are clean and frivolities few, and you feel that the restaurant is meant to appeal to tasteful people who know how to make much of time. There is no wasted motion or idle effect. The Cypress Club (which long occupied the space) is indeed gone for good.

The masculine cast of things isn’t surprising, if only because the restaurant’s chef-owner and eponym bear a name of double-barreled maleness. Yet Scott Howard (the restaurant, and maybe the man too) is all about elegance, not ESPN, and elegance here is understood as flowing from understatement. In this sense the place makes an interesting contrast to nearby Bix (just around the corner, on brick-lined, lanelike Gold Street), whose aura, while also male, has a distinctly more fanciful, Great Gatsby retro element. You could easily stand at Bix’s bar and indulge a brief fantasy of waiting for Nick Carraway; Scott Howard, by contrast, is very much of the here and now, spotlighted by halogen sconce lamps in the ceiling.

The tables are set comfortably far apart – a subtle touch that helps the restaurant breathe more easily and allows the restaurant’s patrons to converse in ordinary tones. And what would they be conversing about? Why, the prix fixe, of course, an innovation Howard returned to the one-and-a-half-year-old restaurant a few months ago. The deal is $32 for a three-course dinner – starter, main dish, and dessert, with a couple of choices available in each category – or $47 for the same dinner with wine pairings. (No choices as to the wines, and none needed, so far as I was concerned. The pairings were superior.)

A la carte devotees and other iconoclasts need not fret, for an entire side of the menu card is given over to the regular menu, whose entries, from a pork chop to Maine lobster to hamachi, reveal Howard’s distinctive blending of European, Asian, and all-American cooking. His style is a bit like Bradley Ogden’s, but with a less overt Middle Western bent.

It is sometimes said by cognoscenti that when visiting London and Paris, you should always go to London first so as not to be disappointed. If you start in Paris, you might find London, for all its splendors, a little tatty. A similar advisory ought to apply to Scott Howard’s tuna tartare ($12), a disk of chopped fish atop a bed of cubed avocado, with a well-modulated chorus of piperade and crisped chorizo bits on the side and, throughout, a subtle perfume of vanilla oil. This dish is so sublime that you will struggle not to order a second one (we struggled unsuccessfully), and if you start with it, you might find that it casts a shadow over everything that follows. One solution would be to have it for dessert, but this would seem odd, despite the vanilla; another would be not to have it at all, but this would be a heavy loss.

Only marginally less rapturous but considerably earthier is the orzo "mac and cheese" with tomato jam ($7 for a sizable crock), which could pass as an especially creamy risotto. ("That stuff is evil!" our server said to us with barely restrained glee. He meant "evil," of course, in the best possible, the Dame Edna, sense.) If Howard’s sensibility glides gracefully between the earthy and the sublime, then the prix fixe cooking finds a balance somewhere near the middle, in happy-medium country. The cooking here is sophisticated rather than dazzling – the kind of food your table considers for a moment in quiet admiration but does not hesitate to eat, while talking about other matters.

A tomato soup, for instance, was rich and thick, with a few flicks of fennel pollen (which looked like black pepper) cast over the molten surface and a faint hint of smokiness that suggested roasting. A plate of smoked salmon draped over a potato pancake – really more of a fritter – and garnished with a dollop of sour cream was a classic presentation, the kind of thing you might be served at your club, if you belonged to one. (Wine pairing for both: a crispy-rich albarino.)

The recurrence of salmon – Scottish, as a main course, with hedgehog mushrooms and coins of fingerling potatoes in a tarragon broth – didn’t quite make it up the mountain for me. The poached fish was fishy, the broth watery. Much better was roasted lamb loin, ruby rose in the middle, laid in two pieces atop a bed of braised spinach and scallions and finished with dribbles of truffled jus. Your club would definitely serve this with pride. (Wine pairing for both: an intense but controlled California primitivo.)

Prix fixe desserts seldom set the world on fire, and Scott Howard’s are no exception, though the sparkling moscato sounded a festive holiday note. Warm chocolate cake with blackberry coulis and whipped cream? Nice, but a rerun deep in syndication. There was nothing showy about butterscotch pudding either, except that it was dense and good, sweet but not too. Can a dessert be manly? *


Dinner: Tue.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.

500 Jackson, SF

(415) 956-7040


Full bar


Well-managed noise

Wheelchair accessible

Sympathy for the (she) devil


> le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS They don’t have kickoffs. They just start the game. It was the Lexington Club Bruisers vs. the Diablas, and we were the only two people in the stands. Again. Me and Twinkle Wonderkid.

Crocker Amazon. The weather: football weather, foggy and freezing … I had every intention in the world of rooting for the Bruisers. I don’t know, the Lexington Club just kind of feels like the home team to me. Plus I like the pink shirts.

However, there was a lot more pink on the field than there was blue. First I thought all the Diablas were lost in the fog. Then the Kid helped me count, and it was eight to five. And the mismatch was not only on the field; the Lexington Club had a separate offense and defense, a few extra subs, and two cheerleaders.

So the five Diablas on the field were going to have to play both sides of the ball, every play, whole game, and cheer for themselves too. They didn’t look very cheerful. They looked defeated, shoulders slumped and faces blank as blankets. They seemed sleepy and soft, as if the fog were on the inside too.

"Oh no," I said.

Twinkle stated the obvious. "We can’t exactly not root for the underdog," she said. Then: "Can we?" She’s not as experienced a football fan as I am.

"Oh no," I said. "Oh no no no no no." I wasn’t thinking about rooting for anyone anymore. My cleats were in my pickup truck. My truck was in the parking lot. The parking lot was just on the other side of the playing field…. I come from Ohio. Rooting be damned, I wanted to play for the Diablas.

I stood up, sat back down, stood up, and then, like a good Sunday morning Catholic, knelt. The thing was that, technically speaking, I was on a date. Twinkle Wonderkid and me are positively hooked on girl football. It’s our thing. Sunday mornings, Crocker Amazon. We pick up some chicken adobo or a mess o’ meat meat meat at Turo-Turo or the South Pacific Island Restaurant, and we tailgate in the Crocker Amazon parking lot, or picnic on a blanket in the grass, and then cross the field to watch the games from the bleachers. If I got to play, Twinkle’d be sitting in the stands all alonesome, and what kind of a date is that?

"Go ahead," she said, being pretty saintly for an ex-sailor and a cowboy girl. "Are you kidding me? I’d love to watch you play football."

I decided not to say, "Really?" – not even once – for fear she would change her mind. I also decided to wait a while, until the Diablas were getting crushed. Outnumbered eight-to-five on the field, and at least eight-to-none on the sidelines … it didn’t take long. They play 20-minute halves, and our girls were down to the Bruisers 19-0 by halftime.

"Wish me luck," I said, kissing Twinkle on the cheek, and I crossed the field in my shit-kicker buckle shoes and swirly skirt to ask, for the first time since I was seven, if I could play.

I asked the Diablas, the Bruisers, the refs, and the league commissioner. They all said the same thing: I couldn’t play. I could play. I mean, I couldn’t not play because I was trans, but because it was too late to get on the roster, halftime of Game Four being on the wrong side of the sign-up deadline, apparently. Well! …

I wished the Diablas the best of luck, told them we were on their side, hang in there, they were my new favorite football team, could I play for them next season, here’s my phone number, gimme a call, next season we can be outnumbered eight-to-six, etc., and I clomped back across the middle of the field, trying not to feel like a halftime show.

Lucky me! If they would have let me play, I wouldn’t have gotten to watch the greatest, most inspired, most inspiring comeback in the history of sports. Remember: I watched Joe Montana work. And Steve Young. Hell, I remember John Brodie to Gene Washington, a playoff game against the Redskins. And I’ve never seen anything like this.

By the closing whistle, me and the Kid were all screamed out and piss-pantsed, the score was tied 19-19, and I was madly in love with five of the badassest ballplayers I’d ever seen play ball.

Turo-Turo’s a fine, fine restaurant, but I like South Pacific Island even better, so … *


Tues.-Sat., 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

2803 Geneva, Daly City

(415) 467-1870

Takeout available

No alcohol


Wheelchair accessible

The Blender


(1) White mango truffle, Fifth Floor

(2) Falanghina, Feudi di San Gregorio, 2004, Last Supper Club

(3) Homemade crab miso soup

(4) Soy burger, Sparky’s

(5) Cupcakes, Ritual (and postinjury Vicodin)

Locals only?


BOOK REVIEW Not for Tourists Guidebooks has just released the fourth edition of its Not for Tourists Guide to San Francisco. Besides having a mad grip of inaccuracies, the title is problematic: this tome is definitely not not for tourists.

The first thing I found wrong with the book was its only foldout map. It’s a highway map, which is weird, since most city dwellers tend to stay clear of the damn things. They’re for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd and, uh, the tourists. And the map isn’t even detailed enough for you to see where on- and off-ramps are or tell which is which. And with San Francisco’s grand total of four highways, it’s hard to imagine why the NFT folks didn’t devote their largest page to a Muni map – just one of many things this book doesn’t have.

In all fairness, Muni routes are included in the 120 minimaps that comprise most of the book. But the layout is incredibly daunting! To follow one bus route, you might have to flip back and forth 20 times to see where the line will take you – shit most locals just don’t have friggin’ time for. I became further discouraged by the decision to devote pages to Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39. (If not for tourists, for whom?) But despite this and despite noticing an ad for Segway Tours of the Marina Green (insert sound of me retching here), I still gave the rest of the guide a whirl, determined to get some practical use out of it.

I attempted to find a liquor store when I was trapped in SoMa without rolling papers – only to discover the intersection I was at, Fourth Street and Mission, was on the corner of three maps. The bar I was in (my favorite) was nowhere to be found. I was in minimap limbo. Next I tried to wax nostalgic with the maps of neighborhoods where I used to live – only to discover that some bars listed on the neighborhood directories weren’t dotted on the maps.

So I tried using the guide to call my neighborhood grocery store, Eight-Twenty-Eight Irving Market, to see if it carried printer paper. Apparently, it falls somewhere between liquor store and supermarket, because it’s not in the book. (BTW: it carries college rule but not printer paper.) Finally, I called the Hotel Utah – only to lose an eardrum when that killer "bee-doo-eet!" sound alerted me to the fact that the number listed in the guide was disconnected.

Maybe, maybe buy the Not for Tourists Guide for first-year college students or other new SF transplants. But if you’ve been here for longer than six months, just hang on to your Muni map and your BART schedule and save the $14.95 (suggested retail) for 411 charges.


How to control my body


> annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION The biological functioning of my body is all over the news right now. Lawmakers and federal regulatory agencies are asking themselves whether I should be allowed to have abortions, and whether I should be allowed to take a drug that prevents me from menstruating. You probably know about the brouhaha over abortion, spurred by the recent Supreme Court decision, but you may not have realized that decision came as the Food and Drug Administration decides the fate of Lybrel, a birth control pill that could liberate millions of women from paying Tampax for "wings" every month. But these two issues are not unrelated. They are both symptoms of how much the government loves to regulate the basic functioning of my body. Still, there are some key differences.

Most arguments over abortion boil down to whether you think a woman’s right to control her future is more or less important than the much-debated rights of a potential human. Because the legal status of a fetus has become part of the abortion debate, it’s hard to cast abortion purely as a female reproductive rights issue (as much as I’d like to do that). These days the abortion debate is also about how we define human life and whether a fetus constitutes a being that deserves legal protection.

However, the issue of controlling menstrual cycles is unequivocally about the female reproductive cycle, untainted by questions of embryo civil rights. Why should there be any controversy over pharmaceutical company Wyeth marketing Lybrel, which is exactly like a birth control pill without the seven-day placebo cycle that creates a fake period? (In case you aren’t a Pill geek, the period women have while taking contraceptive pills is caused only by hormone fluctuation and not a biological need to flush out unused eggs – the Pill works by preventing the ripening of said eggs. So it’s purely a cosmetic menstrual cycle.)

There are good reasons to test Lybrel, since nobody is completely sure what might happen in the long term to women who stop menstruating. But now that Wyeth has demonstrated the safety of this pill, what’s the big deal? The New York Times recently published a much-discussed article about negative reactions to Lybrel and other drugs like it. Canadian psychologist Christine Hitchcock told the paper she didn’t like "the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap." Giovanna Chesler, who just made a documentary about "the end of menstruation," objects to the idea that taking a daily pill makes women appear defective. "Women are not sick," she said. "They don’t need to control their periods for 30 or 40 years."

It’s interesting that Chesler uses the word "control" in her comment. Why are women eager to relinquish control over their periods, arguably one of the most annoying parts of being a biological female? After all, we take calcium pills to control bone density; we take showers to control odor; and take ibuprofen to control pain. None of these things are necessary. We don’t do them because we are sick, and not doing them won’t kill us. So why shouldn’t we take control of our bodies and stop having periods if we want to? There are no fetuses being harmed here. Why should we reject Lybrel, if not for the dogma that it’s unnatural for women to control their reproductive functions?

Yes, Wyeth stands to make money on Lybrel, and I’m no fan of pharmaceutical companies, but women already pay to deal with their periods. We pump billions of collars into feminine hygiene products so Kotex can sell us more wings and soft applicators and superabsorbent crap. I say if we can take pills that free us from having to deal with the monthly goo and bother, then let’s do it. Nobody is saying periods are sick or wrong here. It’s just that they’re annoying and uncomfortable – and if women don’t want to deal with them, they shouldn’t have to.

The social rejection of drugs such as Lybrel – which the FDA has already turned down for approval once – is based on the idea that there is something about women’s bodies that women themselves should not be allowed to control. Even in the absence of the fetus debates, we’re still seeing women who are afraid to control their reproductive systems. As long as we are in thrall to this fear, we will never triumph in the struggle for abortion rights and effective birth control. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who gets horrible migraines from birth control pills, so she (alas) will remain trapped in a prehistoric female body.

Bury the Geary


OPINION Geary Boulevard transit riders deserve a real solution to the problems plaguing the busiest travel corridor west of the Mississippi River – not a short-term fix, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), that will waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and create even more problems and congestion for the troubled street.

Transit experts have hailed BRT as cutting-edge technology and a cheaper alternative to light-rail and subways. They point to successes in countries such as Japan, France, and Brazil – and even some US cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Successful they may be.

But the streets these BRT programs operate on look nothing like Geary Boulevard.

More often than not, these streets have no parking – and eliminating parking is something we can’t do to the residents and merchants along the corridor.

These model corridors are extremely wide and remain so throughout the course of the BRT route. On Geary we face much more challenging lane widths throughout the Richmond and east of Van Ness Avenue, not to mention the daunting challenges of how to handle the Masonic and Fillmore interchanges.

The current study of BRT on Geary is in its final stages. After three years the transit authority staff has offered the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee "choices" to recommend to the full board.

These choices include different arrays of BRT and one non-BRT option that encompasses much cheaper repairs such as proof-of-payment boarding through all doors, transit signal priority, and other improvements.

None of these choices, however, contemplates the issues Geary and O’Farrell Street face east of Van Ness, and they all assume police and traffic control will step up their enforcement of the diamond lane.

But there’s one solution we have not considered. Yes, it is the most ambitious and the most expensive, but it also could be the most transformative and could spur more people to leave their cars behind and embrace public transit: bury the Geary and create a subway.

We owe Geary corridor residents and riders this solution. Why can someone in Berkeley or Hayward get to downtown San Francisco faster than some of our residents?

Big problems require big thinking, big solutions, and, most important, leadership. So far we’ve had none of that on Geary. It’s time for our city leaders to champion a solution that can grow along with the city and help solve the congestion issues that will only continue to get worse.

San Francisco holds itself out as one of the world’s finest cities. If that’s the case, we all should remember the world’s great cities move people underground – not in buses. *

David Schaefer

David Schaefer is vice chair of the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee.

The importance of being imported


If you think of Mateus or Lancer’s when you think of Portuguese wine, then you may soon be thinking anew. Portugal’s food and wines have been overshadowed by those of Spain, its larger Iberian neighbor, over the last generation or so, but the Portuguese viticultural tradition has its roots in Roman times and produces wines that compare favorably with any in the world. The issue at the moment is distributing them to that world – in particular, to us – and that means finding importers.

To judge by the offerings of a recent trade show, Portuguese winemakers aren’t going to have much trouble convincing the public about the quality of their wines nor about their value. I found myself, after rapturous sips of this and that, asking what a particular bottling might sell for at retail in Europe and repeatedly hearing, "2 euros 50" or "3 euros" – in other words, $3 or $4. I would have bought several cases on the spot if I’d been able to, the whites being especially appealing.

At least one wrinkle for Portuguese winemakers who want to sell their stuff here is that there is no restaurant infrastructure to serve as a wedge into public consciousness. Our Iberian restaurants are almost all Spanish, and there aren’t even that many of them; I am aware of only the Grubstake, a Polk Gulch hamburger salon, as an offerer of a full-scale Portuguese menu in the city, and even there you have to know what you’re looking for, lest you end up with a BLT from the regular menu. Some years ago, Stars, in one of its post-Jeremiah Tower configurations, made a point of featuring Portuguese wines, but that program went down with the restaurant.

Perhaps there will be a breakthrough wine, a Portuguese answer to gruner veltliner and albarino. (The Portuguese grow the latter, incidentally, as alvarinho.) I might place a small bet on white wines produced from antao vez, a grape indigenous to Portugal and grown in the Alentejo region southeast of Lisbon. The name looks a bit forbidding to the Anglophone eye – an unhelpful detail in a brand-name culture like ours – but the wines are bright and fresh, with a green fruitiness gently crisped by acid. Wines like these at $3 to $4 a bottle would be too good to be true – but maybe $5 or $6 is feasible?

Paul Reidinger

> paulr@sfbg.com

Byorn’s legacy


When the mayor’s former press secretary, Peter Ragone, got busted posting vindictive comments on local blogs under an assumed name (Byorn was one of them), Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin had a pretty reasonable take on the matter: spokespeople paid with city money and charged with informing the public about the mayor’s activities should probably not be launching political barbs at perceived detractors of Gavin Newsom (see "The Ethics of Flacks, 3/7/07).

So Peskin drafted a code of conduct for the city’s public information officers to follow. His resolution passed the Rules Committee on April 19 and is now on its way to the full board. Among other things, it asks flacks to "strive to disclose accurate information, not hide it from the public" and to "respond in a timely and professional manner to all inquiries by the press and public." It also directs them to adhere to the code of ethics maintained by the National Association of Government Communicators.

"Public Information Officers are the primary liaisons between the City, its citizens and the media," the resolution states.

Newsom ally Sup. Sean Elsbernd added even stronger language instructing flacks to "make every immediate effort to retract false and misleading statements made by other members of the Public Information Officer’s department," so there’s no confusion about how Byorn and anyone else with a duty to give the public reliable information is supposed to behave.

While addressing the item, Sup. Tom Ammiano couldn’t resist a jab at Byorn, who has since been removed from City Hall and works on the mayor’s reelection team.

"Is there any public comment on this matter? Mr. Ragone? Oh, I guess he’s not here." (Schulz)