Volume 42 Number 17

January 23 – January 30, 2007

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Video Mutants


Welcome to our video issue. Video is exploding, and the mutants have taken over the means of production. YouTube ululations, Day-Glo animation, and crazed acts of appropriation are stretching like Shmoo from black boxes to boob tubes to white cubes and from laptop screens to live performances. Each video-active blast favors impulse and expression over obedience to old conventions — and further blurs forms and styles. Check out the below for our takes and double-takes on video artists who have us pressing play. (Johnny Ray Huston)

>>The man with the video camera
Douglas Gordon hits San Francisco with an image blitz
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Booby call
Lost in bizarre pop idolatry with Mike Kelley
By Kimberly Chun

>>Chopping, screwing and Superman
An interview with Mike Kelley
By Kimberly Chun

>>Prince of theme parkness
Damon Packard strikes back
By Cheryl Eddy

>>Rave damage
Ryan Trecartin cubes the internet death code
By Marke B.

>>Total nowhere emotion expansion
An interview with Ryan Trecartin
By Marke B.

>>Guiding light
Kalup Linzy will set you free
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Ride to da club
An interview with Kalup Linzy
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Shirtless on YouTube
The Passionistas take on Chris Crocker
By Myles Cooper

>>Trash talking
An interview with Jacob Ciocci of Paper Rad
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Thrower’s flames
The video nasties of Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Eight for 2008
Video activity to watch out for, from SF to beyond
By Johnny Ray Huston

***Paper Rad’s umbrella zombie datamosh mistake
***More vids by Paper Rad
***Vids by Damon Packard
***Vids by Ryan Trecartin

***Vids by Kalup Linzy

Video Mutants: Shirtless on YouTube


The Passionistas, “Wild West”

GAZE ON THE INTERNET I guess I’m a true romantic. I like my porn softcore. When I get in that certain mood, I visit YouTube to watch videos because I know they’ll never go too far. I’ll get off watching a mustached Austrian take a shower while fully clothed or a drunken dad mooning the camera. It’s repulsive enough to be sexy but harmless enough to be cute.

I must have watched thousands of videos like these without ever considering making one of my own. It wasn’t until I stumbled across an early viral video, "This and That" by Chris Crocker (of "Leave Britney alone!" fame), that I seriously considered making one for the Internet. What I saw was a young gay white boy with a Jennifer Aniston bob, screaming out "to the bitches that wanna fight me" in an accent halfway between Mo’nique’s and a Tennessee grandma’s. It wasn’t necessarily erotic, but there was something completely invading about Crocker’s gaze into the webcam — it was as though he activated that little gray box perfectly. He had the excitement of a Pinocchio with his strings recently cut and the entertaining intent of a sociopath like Chucky. I knew this was a car crash waiting to happen, and I immediately became addicted to Crocker’s videos.

I became Crocker’s friend on MySpace in December 2006 and followed the flood of video monologues posted almost daily. In topics that ranged from sarcastic beauty secrets and arguments with his grandmother to sexy dance videos and relationship advice, there was something very lonely about him. He wanted to be famous but was stuck living with his grandparents in a rural part of the South. With only the Internet and a camcorder, Crocker was able to independently create, in a little more than a year, an infrastructure of hundreds of thousands (and now millions) of viewers. A mixed audience of fans and haters, they all waited on his every move because he would do anything for the camera. As an artist, I was jealous of his popularity and brilliant consistency. I wanted in on his game.

My bandmate Aaron Sunshine and I decided we would start making Internet videos for our band, the Passionistas, as this would be a simple way to sate our incessant needs for humiliation and self-promotion. After our first attempt, an underviewed series of videos titled Haterz Beware targeted at a fictional group of people who spend their lives hating our band, we decided to make a short that would encapsulate everything that makes Internet video popular. Or so we thought.

Our goal was Internet popularity, so we wanted to make sure something sexy happened, and something violent too. We decided that the concept of Aaron burning me with a cigarette while we were both shirtless sounded too perfect not to do.

We sat in front of my iMac, a gift from my parents for my graduation from San Francisco State University two anticlimactic years ago, and took off our shirts. We opened QuickTime and clicked Record. Aaron seemed transfixed by the moment. He stared at the camera, then at the tender white of my forearm. He showed the glowing cigarette to the camera. Then, leering, he sadistically burned my wrist. It hurt like an Alien baby popping out of my arm. Fifteen minutes later it was on YouTube. Stupidity being a mainstay of the format, I was expecting grand popularity. We made sure to include lascivious and lurid tags in the video description, like twinks, shirtless, naked, burned, owchie, and sexy, so anyone searching with these words, or a combination thereof, would stumble upon our video. It reached about a thousand views in a little more than a week.

My rational mother somehow found out about the video and got very upset. She is a grade school teacher who lives in a pine tree–infested coastal art community. She made some really popular shabby-chic birdhouses in the 1990s. She’s recently returned to watercolors and has always loved making smiling figures with clay. My mother had no idea why somebody would make something so awful and hurtful. She was not at all thrilled when I explained that this video was an experiment done in the name of art. I told her that one day she’d understand, and I reluctantly removed it from YouTube.

So, to get back at her, I asked Santa for a camcorder and staged a Passionistas video for our song "Wild West" in her hot tub. Following one of the rules of Internet video popularity, I was, of course, shirtless and in my underwear. To contrast with my forest-filled hot tub scenes, I filmed Aaron brushing his hair and teeth and smoking in San Francisco — shirtless, of course. My second attempt at a viral video is doing all right in terms of views at the moment, but its popularity is not comparable to that of Crocker’s videos.

Crocker is more pathetic than me. Aaron and I had a chance to catch him in one of his first public appearances, in October 2007 at the Crib in San Francisco. It was that night that he proclaimed, "I don’t have talent — I only have fans." There is a certain sexy courage we possess only when we are alone. Crocker is in the vanguard, the best of many new artists broadcasting from the bedroom.


>>Back to Video Mutants: The Guardian video art issue

Oops! They did it again


› kimberly@sfbg.com

The best comedians always shear close to the bone with their truths, but believe it or not, few are necessarily a gut bust in conversation. Why is this a surprise? After all, the comic is on the interviewer’s mic, not on the clock and on script. Yet W. Kamau Bell plays against type and comes with not only the insights you wish you had spewed first but also the wit, centered on the issues of race that he’s been grappling with since childhood.

The rising incidence of racist cracks that reveal the persistent fissures in a country seemingly disinterested in identity politics — and those emerging from the 34-year-old San Franciscan’s own milieu, the alternative comedy scene — has led Bell to sharpen his attack with The W. Kamau Bell Curve, which focuses on the ugly slurs spilling from Sarah Silverman, Michael Richards, and Rosie O’Donnell, as well as other, unexpected quarters. And the nastiness keeps coming — cue Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman’s recent remark that young players who want to defeat Tiger Woods would need to "lynch him in a back alley" — and spurring Bell to continue updating the show he first performed in October 2007.

According to Bell, racism is on the comeback trail with a crucial difference: "This time it’s coming from liberals and creeping in through pop culture in some weird way. I call it political correctness acid reflux. People are just burping out racism." The comic rose to the occasion to make Bell Curve after reading a story about Southern blackface comic Shirley Q. Liquor in Rolling Stone. He was outraged by the fact that the article even questioned whether the Liquor act was racist, much as he was troubled by the things coming from his own field. "It’s, like, wait a minute — this is my industry, and again, it’s not coming from redneck comics or blue-collar comics. It’s coming from alternative comics who are supposed to be liberal comics.

"It’s, like, ‘Look, you know I like black people, so it’s allegedly OK for me to use a joke with the word nigger in it’ — even though there’s no black people in the audience and you don’t have any black friends!" he continues. "Like I say in the show, the most racist things that have ever happened to me have come from people who were friends of mine. I had a friend who once said to me, ‘Kamau, I like you. You’re black, but you’re not black black.’ What does that mean? I’m black but you still have your wallet?"

The only child of author Janet Cheatham Bell, Bell is all too familiar with that kind of chum, having moved from private to public to private school throughout his life. "A lot of times I would be the only black person in school," recalls Bell, who now teaches solo performance at the Shelton Theater and frequently opens for Dave Chappelle. "And when you’re that person, either they forget you’re black, so things happen and you’re, like, [in a meek squeak] ‘Wait a minute — don’t forget I’m black, everybody,’ or because you’re black they unburden their, you know, ‘Kamau, lemme tell you something about black people I’ve never been able to tell any other black person.’ Oooh, please don’t!"

Be glad, however, that Bell is telling us about it all.


Thurs/24, 8 p.m., $20 (bring a friend of a different race, who gets in free)

Shelton Theater

533 Sutter, SF

(415) 433-1227


75 alive


With its 75th season, which starts Jan. 29, the San Francisco Ballet — the oldest ballet company in the country — intends to show that the dance form is a thoroughly contemporary, international art.

With the exception of the lovely Giselle (created by Adolphe Adam in 1841), the entire season has been choreographed within the company’s lifetime. When it was created in 1938, Lew Christensen’s Filling Station was considered the first American ballet. Other season highlights will no doubt include the New Works Festival (April 22–May 6), with premieres by 10 choreographers in three different programs. On this anniversary, it’s worth recalling that there may be a historic reason why San Francisco ballet audiences have often embraced the new.

Carlos Carvajal, now co–artistic director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, danced with the SFB from 1950 to ’55 and, after a stint in Europe, worked from 1964 to ’70 as its ballet master and associate choreographer. He remembers the period as one of crowded quarters on 18th Avenue in the Richmond District — there was a hunt for theaters in which to perform because the Opera House shared space with the San Francisco Symphony at the time, and the SFB often lost out. But it was also a period of dazzling vitality.

"It was a crazy, wonderful time, with such creative energy. Not just for the dancers, but musicians and designers as well," Carvajal recently recalled. Dancers regularly choreographed for the main season. His Totentanz, for instance, premiered at the SFB in 1967 and stayed in the rep until 1972. When Carvajal left the SFB, he brought the piece to his San Francisco Dance Spectrum, where it proved to be one of the company’s most popular works. The SFB functioned almost like a modern dance company whose members were simply expected to take up choreography sooner or later.

While the company was unemployed after its annual spring season, its summer workshops, called the "Ballet ’60s" series, offered creative outlets and some touring opportunities. "We used to take the wall down between two studios and converted one of them into a place for the audience. The other was the theater," Carvajal remembered. "Somebody suggested choreographing the Kama Sutra, so I took a look and figured I could do [it]." The same year, he choreographed Voyage Interdit: A Noh Play, for which he created a tape collage. The work’s second incarnation had a live rock band and a light show. "Remember," he said, chuckling, "those were the crazy ’60s, when anything went. We didn’t care about money; we only cared about dancing." And audiences, particularly younger ones, both in towns and on the road, flocked to see what was new — and what was this thing called ballet.


Video Mutants: Booby call


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Who can bring together cast-off crocheted critters and KISS? Early ’70s Ann Arbor, Mich., art noise and the Whitney Biennial? Vampires toiling in cubicles and Sonic Youth’s 1992 album Dirty (DGC)? Mike Kelley, man, can.

Ouch — the allusions get bumpy after almost three hours of mind-altering video candy. The medium may be the favored art material of the moment, but it’s only one weapon at the disposal of the cofounder of Destroy All Monsters — the Stooges’ weirder kissing cousins — and the Dirty cover artist. Kelley’s work can be found in major museum collections around the world, and he’s collaborated on video pieces with artists like Paul McCarthy in the past, but Day Is Done, which screens Jan. 31 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is his first feature, revamped as a narrative-ish stream from the installation version shown in 2005 at Gagosian Gallery in New York City.

Religious icons, ’80s modern dancers, lousy Nazi rappers, bad comedians, and spacey witches and vampires dance, sing, and hold forth throughout the video musical’s 32 chapters, augmented by a Kelley-written soundtrack that encompasses gospel and techno, light pop and monkish drone. Say I’m lost in pop idolatry, but the most wonderfully bizarre moment in this lengthy bizarre wonder arrives during a painful singles mixer furnished with irksome chair-desks as the differences among the assembled women — two African Americans, a white lost Hee Haw extra, a rocker in full KISS makeup, and a gloomy witch — are highlighted by portraits of their respective all-American idols: Kobe Bryant, R. Kelly, Garth Brooks, Gene Simmons, and Brandon Lee, all painted with clunky, thrift store–style passion. After getting an, erm, tongue lashing from the KISS girl for nattering about the largeness of some big stuffed bananas, the hick chick is forced to defend her painting of Brooks staring at a bare breast (in reality painted by Kelley). "But it ain’t even my tit — it’s my momma’s," the backwoods boob protests as the KISS fan sneers with all of Detroit Rock City’s blood-spitting wrath. "Gosh, I hope Garth don’t go for my momma and not for me!"

The rejoinder "That bitch is nuts!" might be a punch line to a half-cocked sitcom, but it’s also the perfect response to the old biddy dressing down a would-be school pageant Madonna for her posture or the blood-drenched hawker of a putf8um MasterCard that supports the "educational complex" — or any other denizen of Kelley’s jet-black-humored, bleakly antic fun house.

Looking back at the video now, however, Kelley can still picture changes to Day Is Done — each chapter a live-action re-creation of an extracurricular activity photo culled from a high school yearbook. For instance, the many students and office workers dressed as depressed vampires and gleeful witches seem a bit too trendy today, even for a man with a taste for monsters. "If I thought about it more, I would have done something less … au courant, I guess," Kelley drawls over the phone from his Los Angeles home. Does he still glimpse kids in full goth regalia? A heavy sigh, then, "Yeah. Also, it’s kind of gone into the art world. A lot of gothy art is being made."

A self-described "maximalist" who has made noise for years as part of Destroy All Monsters — a forerunner of experimentalists here and abroad — and later on his own, the man once pegged as a major proponent of installation-oriented "clusterfuck aesthetics" is clearly driven to strike out in fresh directions all the time. Day Is Done, for example, emerged from his work with repressed memories and his Educational Complex sculpture, a model of every school the Detroit native ever attended, with, he says, "all the parts I couldn’t remember left blank." The original idea for the video — shot over a few weeks in 2005 at an LA park, Kelley’s studio, and his alma mater, California Institute of the Arts — was to "fill in the blanks with screen memory."

"Also because this show was in New York, I thought doing something with a Broadway overtone would be funny because that’s something cultured New Yorkers are embarrassed about!" Kelley says, laughing.

Kelley is obviously still eager to venture into unexamined office parks of discomfort, provoking his viewers by pushing them into the dead spaces that fill the back lots of corporate break rooms and school yards. The artist’s well-known stuffed-animal works similarly evolved from an unspoken exchange with his audience. "When I first starting using that stuff, I was only working with things that were handmade, and it didn’t matter to me what they were — I was more interested in the idea of love and labor," Kelley explains. "But people were really, really fixated on the dolls, and I realized there’s a great kind of empathy for them, and also I realized that much of that empathy had to do with this kind of rise and fixation on child abuse and that whole victim culture that was coming up in the ’80s."

Shortly after one of those discarded dolls popped up on the cover of Dirty, Kelley, bandmate Cary Loren, SY’s Thurston Moore, and critic Byron Coley put together the 1994 three-CD retrospective Destroy All Monsters: 1974–1976 for Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label to document the original lineup’s work before the arrival of the Stooges’ Ron Asheton and the MC5’s Michael Davis in the band. The founding group re-formed, while Kelley has continued to work sound components into his artwork and make and release music on his Compound Annex imprint.

Has music video ever been part of Kelley’s Wagnerian compendium of interests? "I’ve never been asked!" he says. "I don’t think I would do one for myself — who would show it? It’ll just be another thing that sits in a box in storage, like all my records." Still, his freshly edited feature might work. "It generated a tremendous amount of music," the artist muses. "In a sense, Day Is Done is one giant music video." *


Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m., $6–<\d>$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Nursing the ratchet effect


If good cooking is about improvisation and flexibility, it’s also about certain rigid rules. One of these is the culinary version of the ratchet effect: once you add certain ingredients, you can’t unadd them. The only path open to you is forward. There can be no retreat. Cayenne pepper is the classic example. Once it goes in, it’s in, and if you put in too much, you’re stuck. Either you issue the necessary warning to the people who will be served your 10-alarm chili, or you empty the pot into the compost bin and start anew, taking special care with any high-heat elements.

Salt is similarly impossible to extract once it’s gone in, and oversalted food is commonplace in the wondrous realm of prepared and packaged items. Saltiness, in fact, is often the preeminent characteristic of ready-to-eat foods plucked from the grocery shelves, just as overweening sugariness is so often the only flavor you can detect in commercially prepared desserts. Recently I gave a friend recovering from minor surgery an attractive jar of tomato-basil soup from Lucini, a purveyor of various Italian delicacies. One of the soup’s virtues was that all you had to do was heat it up in a pot and eat it — a simple enough procedure even for someone not feeling well. A few days later the call came: the soup was good, but too salty. I apologized on behalf of Lucini, noted what a common shortcoming this is, and then proposed an easy remedy. For saltiness, unlike chili heat, can be masked. You can’t get rid of it, but you can cover it up, the same way you might paint over hideous wallpaper.

The tools are simple: sugar and acid, whether from lemon or lime juice or, in a pinch, white vinegar. Sugar and acid are most effective as a duo, since each helps balance oversaltiness from a distinct angle. But you can use just one and still succeed. Sugar is a little gentler, while acid adds a zing that distracts from saltiness at least as much as balancing it. I just add little pinches of sugar to a too-salty dish, stirring them in, until harmony is restored. Then, maybe, for good measure, a discreet dribble of lemon juice. Follow-up question: could judicious salting rescue a too-sweet dessert?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Escape from planet Indie Rock


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

With so many indie rock bands riding the wave of all things post-punk or psych–this and that at present, it’s rare that fans of subversive music are able to listen to subterranean songs as a means of escape. I mean, Band of Horses permeate Ford commercials during the NFL playoffs, and little brothers and sisters everywhere are air-guitaring to everyone from Mastodon to the Rapture.

So it makes perfect sense that Brooklyn, NY, band Yeasayer has managed to engage even the most cynical of indie veterans with its escapist realm filled with an uncompromisingly authentic helping of psychedelic — and extremely technically proficient — guitar noodling, hypnotic pop vocals, and worldly percussion that’s as reminiscent of Carlos Santana as it is of Animal Collective or the Cure. How can you not escape when listening to something that trots along so many unexpected musical paths?

It’s no surprise that this extension of the avant-indie wing is composed of two ex–barbershop quartet members and a rhythm section that employs a bounty of instrumentation including but not limited to accordions, bongo drums, sitars, and sequencers. Driven by guitarist Anand Wilder, the group is a four-piece, genre-eradicating machine, with each member trading off vocal and instrumental duties by track. Eleven months in the making, Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, was snatched up by Jason Foster of Monitor Records (Battles, Early Man) and eventually became the initial — and cornerstone — release of his newest imprint, We Are Free.

After a gazillion positive reviews, rumors of the band’s outstanding performances at Austin, Texas’s 2007 South by Southwest Festival, and yes, acclaim from MTV as part of the burgeoning Brooklyn scene, the band has become one of the few tripper acts that render a true sense of escapism as indie rock’s merge with mainstream culture becomes a reality. I strongly recommend listening to the goth-pop–meets–Middle Eastern music psych-epic "Germs," followed by a serious bong rip. Then turn to the haunting, shoegazing barbershop bhangra of "Waves" and attempt to question what mental plane and planet you inhabit.

But what makes the mysticism of Yeasayer more mind engulfing than that of the mountain of other Dave Sitek– and Paw Tracks–approved artists (e.g., um, Celebration, Panda Bear, Ariel Pink)? One should first look at the group’s penchant for gospel. While it may be hard to associate any of the long-haired and art school–ish members with that genre’s religious core, just about every track on All Hour Cymbals radiates some sort of spiritual a cappella à la TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe — if he were ever a member of a South American Baptist choir. Even more interesting, the band’s lyrics take the proverbial 180 degree turn from gospel’s posi-vibes. Take, for instance, Yeasayer’s single "2080": the members switch off melodically chanting, "I can’t sleep when I think about the times we’re living in / I can’t sleep when I think about the future I was born into," only to follow with "I’ll surely be dead / So don’t look ahead / Never look ahead." Now we have an apocalyptic, uplifting, shredding whirlwind of pop innovation. Whoa.

With a European tour under their belt and an extensive United States tour in progress with their fellow Brooklyn troupe of indie revolutionaries MGMT, Yeasayer are spreading the bounty of escapism worldwide. Experiencing this fearless entity, which is staring indie rock’s mainstream monster directly in the face, should be an entertaining, if not enlightening, glimpse into the future of progressive songwriting as we might know it. *


With MGMT and the Morning Benders

Mon/28, 9 p.m., sold out

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Thrower’s flames


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW You can judge a book by its cover when the cover is as scarily impressive as the one for Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (Fab Press, 528 pages, $79.95). It’s a map of the United States, with each state composed of a fragment from a low-budget horror film. Blood drips from the edges of the South. The entire top of the Midwest is blocked by a large image of someone in an asbestos suit. He’s aiming a lively flamethrower directly at you and me.

Also sporting a pair of amazing inset spreads that showcase the title credits of 300 films, Thrower’s tome deserves a spot next to Carlos Clarens’s An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (Capricorn, 1967), Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws (Princeton University Press, 1992), Michael Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine, 1983), and Bill and Michelle Landis’s Sleazoid Express (Simon and Schuster, 2002) on a healthily horrific bookshelf. Its closest relative in terms of loose format and interview content might be Incredibly Strange Films (RE/Search, 1986), but Thrower casts aside V. Vale’s coolness for the passion found in Danny Peary’s series of Cult Movies books.

More pointedly, Thrower’s study of American exploitation film from the 1970s through the mid-’80s applies terribly to the current moment. For one thing, recent Hollywood torture porn owes a multimillion-dollar influential debt to the small-time labors of twisted love celebrated by Nightmare USA. For another, Thrower is flashing a spotlight — or beaming a flashlight — on the American death drive at a time when this country seems increasingly or wholly out of touch with, and idiotically clueless about, its violent id. It helps that this catalogue of what United Kingdom censors called video nasties proves as visually and verbally lively as the toothy title grubs in The Deadly Spawn (1982).

And for a book bathed in blood and drawn to depressing and despairing expressions of murder such as the infamous Maniac (1980), Nightmare USA is surprisingly and endearingly warmhearted. "Watching the materialistic beach babes and sexist volleyball hunks of Slumber Party Massacre 3 (Sally Mattison, 1990) driving down a coastal road in an open-topped car listening to awful AM pop-rock, I hug myself with excitement, treasuring my affection for these bubbleheads and jackasses," Thrower writes. "They are my friends and I can’t wait to see them die." Themes of friendship also emerge from the book’s profiles — along with some equally unexpected juxtapositions. Deadly Spawn director Douglas McKeown now runs a storytelling group at New York’s Gay and Lesbian Center. Frederick Freidel, the director of Axe (1974), says his assistant consulted with esteemed critic Manny Farber. Joseph Ellison, director of Don’t Go in the House (1979), discusses jazz and watching Federico Fellini films and shares a photo of his film’s producer with a beaming Frank Capra.

That photo couldn’t be stranger, considering that Ellison’s truly scarifying film provides Nightmare USA with the fire on its front cover. That man in the asbestos suit is grafted from an infamous scene, set in a steel room, that — after decades of deciding it was beyond my threshold of experience — I recently discovered (thanks in part to my brave cohort Cheryl Eddy) is both superior to and an obvious source for Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). "Horror has always been sad to me," Ellison remarks with casual profundity to Thrower, who rightly states that Don’t Go in the House‘s scorching early centerpiece "takes the viewer through shock into a kind of stunned admiration." It’s up to you whether you go in the house, but I’ll be breaking the bank and getting ready for some heavy lifting when Thrower flames readers with volume two of Nightmare USA.


Video Mutants: Prince of theme parkness


>>Click here to view some Damon Packard vids

› cheryl@sfbg.com

Try explaining a Damon Packard film to someone who hasn’t seen one and you will fail. The best you can achieve is a description: "It’s a sequel to Logan’s Run, kind of, but with a lot of 1984, clips from Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator, and roller skaters jamming to ‘Never Knew Love like This Before.’<0x2009>"

Seriously, can you even imagine what that’s like? Step inside 2007’s SpaceDisco One and enter the world of a filmmaker who makes movies unlike anything you’ve seen before — except for the parts you have seen before. Every time he uses nonoriginal footage, it’s worth paying extraclose attention; though Packard would rather use only his own material, his choices of appropriated footage are never random. Why else would he include a clip of Dirk Benedict (Starbuck on the original Battlestar Galactica) padding dejectedly around the British Celebrity Big Brother house in a film that pays homage to — and mourns the lost aesthetic of — 1970s sci-fi movies?

"I’m not really into mashup-type stuff," the Los Angeles–based Packard explained to me. It was New Year’s Eve eve, and we were sitting in the basement at Artists’ Television Access — a dark, chilly space crammed with TV monitors and other electronic odds and ends. "In SpaceDisco, I didn’t plan on using any [nonoriginal] footage. It’s just a case of not having the money. It takes money to go out and shoot original footage. You need actors, props, costumes, and locations. That’s the short answer to it. [The nonoriginal footage] was just replacing things that I needed — I needed some shots of spaceships and things like that. For the most part the film is all original."

SpaceDisco One, in which Hollywood’s Universal City Walk stands in for the Ministry of Truth during the film’s 1984-inspired scenes, works real news footage into its narrative. At one point, a giant screen beaming the face of radio host Alex Jones attracts the attention of SpaceDisco‘s Winston Smith character — himself a result of Packard’s interest in recontextualizing familiar or favorite characters.

"I love the idea of taking characters from other films and utilizing them in some way — taking Arthur Frayn from Zardoz [and using him in] SpaceDisco," he said. In keeping with SpaceDisco‘s positioning as a Logan’s Run sequel, several of Packard’s leads are written as the daughters of characters from that film. "And of course Smith and O’Brien from 1984 — all sort of meeting up in the same universe. I like that idea, taking characters and settings from other films and coming up with a new adventure."

Anticipating my next question, he added, "I don’t know how that will ever translate into something in the [mainstream film] world professionally, because of copyright issues."

So far Packard hasn’t run into any cinema-related problems with the law, aside from being booted from a theme park while grabbing shots for 2002’s Reflections of Evil, an epically surreal study of LA paranoia. "[My films have all been] independent films made for no money and no distribution, or very minor distribution," he said. "Once it gets to a point where I have a budget and there’s real distribution, [using copyrighted material] would be a whole different situation."

He’s also never heard a peep from his celebrity targets, specifically Steven Spielberg (his childhood idol, who might frown on Reflections‘ depiction of Schindler’s List: The Ride) or George Lucas, who’s showered with ire in 2003’s The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary. That film manipulates DVD featurettes from the newer Star Wars films, with wraparound footage (reaction shots, responses to conversations, the occasional porn snippet) adding a whole new level to the average Jedi’s beef with Lucas. It’s payback for Greedo shooting first and Jar Jar Binks, but to Packard, Lucas’s addiction to technology is symptomatic of a bigger issue — how Hollywood films have changed dramatically in the past 30 years.

"I don’t dislike Lucas," Packard noted, though a viewing of the hilarious Mockumentary might suggest otherwise. ("Angry black people became a strong inspiration for George," a faux Industrial Light and Magic animator notes while working on the schematics for a character described as Mace Windu’s streetwise brother, pointedly referencing the observation that some of Lucas’s Phantom Menace creatures seem ever so slightly racist.) "I would actually hope that he would have a good laugh at it if he ever saw it. [With Mockumentary] I was just expressing my disappointment in the new generation of Star Wars films and how Lucas has become part of that whole system of becoming obsessed with CGI and digital effects."

But Lucas is hardly alone, according to Packard. "It seems like all of the film industry is operating in this vacuum where they aren’t aware of what they’re doing. They’re out of touch with what audiences are interested in seeing — [although] maybe it’s just the reality that I’m experiencing. I don’t understand how most [mainstream] films get green-lighted; it’s just more of the same thing over and over, just variations on playing-it-safe themes, following the same formulas. Like Transformers. It was a film that I just — why? I was baffled by that film. It was kind of entertaining — I saw it in IMAX — but who would think that was a great idea? There’s nothing new or special about doing a Transformers movie."

That’s not to say Packard hates every new movie; you may have noticed he submitted a top 10 list to the Guardian‘s 2007 year in film issue, with favorites like No Country for Old Men and Paris, Je T’Aime. One of his friends in LA gave him a hard time for not including Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

"He was really upset," Packard said of the Dead fan. "He thinks it’s Sidney Lumet’s best film. I disagreed. I thought it was OK, but it doesn’t compare to his early works at all. It would have been much better if it was made in the 1970s with a sleazier cast, sleazier characters, and not [set in] a modern strip mall. The characters didn’t feel credible — they just weren’t very interesting. Things aren’t that interesting these days."

Watch a Packard film — and if you haven’t, you must; Other Cinema is working on a release of SpaceDisco One for later in 2008, and at least one version of Reflections of Evil is available at Amazon.com — and it’s clear he’s inspired by the 1970s and more than a little nostalgic for them. At 40, he’s too young to have been part of what he views as Hollywood’s last golden age.

"The late ’70s and early ’80s were the beginning of the downfall of cinema — the beginning of the blockbuster film and special effects. Suddenly the quality levels, the character-driven films, were diminishing [in favor of] special-effects extravaganzas," he said. "If I went back in time, it would probably be even more difficult to get into the film business [than it is now]. Still, I think it was a better time in a lot of ways. My films are always making a statement about the way things have changed for the worse."

Though he’s a YouTube user and sees the finer points of shooting on video (though he prefers film), Packard’s view of his future as a filmmaker is surprisingly old-school. Specifically, he would like to make more narratives. His dream projects are an "analog fantasy film without the overuse of CGI" and a longer version of SpaceDisco One, which now clocks in at less than an hour.

"I’ve always wanted to make big films, not small independent art movies. But my creative sensibilities seem to be so off the wavelength of the average person. The way people react to my films — they can’t understand them. They need to have something palatable," he said. He blames Hollywood — at one time a creative haven where up-and-coming directors like Robert Altman could make offbeat films like 3 Women — for creating the apathetic-audience monster. "I don’t know if there’s any hope [for the future of movies]. That should be a theme of [your] article: is there any hope? God only knows." Insert your own A New Hope wraparound — the exploding Death Star, perhaps? — here.


Video Mutants: Rave damage


>>Click here to read Marke B.’s interview with Ryan Trecartin

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "Hey Skippy, PattyMay is here. In. This. Room."

"Oh god, it’s true! PattyMay is in this room."

"Yes! Tell him I am here. I am PattyMay, and I am in. This. Room."

"Did you say PattyMay is in the room?"

This is the Guardian‘s video art issue, and anyone who’s recently hung out with a certain brand of cued-in, mid-20s clubber knows that the neon-splattered, inverted Internet psycho-vids of Ryan Trecartin are the new now. Those who’ve not hung out with such can plug directly into any enervated crackles and eyeball quivers lingering from their tab-heavy rave days — a tweekend back in K-land, courtesy of capital A — with a quick scan of the Philadelphia-based 26-year-old’s YouTube channel, WianTreetin.

There — and in several big-time art exhibitions throughout the world — you’ll find one of the most mind-bending glosses on getting ready for a night out, and actually going out, that’s ever been burnt to digi, A Family Finds Entertainment (2004). This half-hourish doozy begins with a gothic drag specter clutching a bottle of generic hair spritz and trying to pull a little girl into a bathroom closet. It ends with a boy who’s been run over by a ghost car rising from the dead, kind of, as a gender-clown version of himself gets reborn in a kiddie pool after a house is destroyed by an underground indie rock dance orgy. (Cue fireworks.)

In between is what one character calls "nonlinear trash, with color!" and the wickedest toss-off line in the universe, "To the dark side — I party alone." Also: a chipmunk remix of Sophie Ellis Baxter’s awful "Murder on the Dance Floor," a spastic impersonation of infernal fiber-optic networks, liberal quantities of ingested toner, confused plans shouted through butcher-paper walls, and the partially imaginary dream girl PattyMay, made somehow realer by several incantations of her name. All this and more, plus an overload of kitten star wipes.

What? That’s not your typical night out? Honey, call me.

Mapping the plots of Trecartin’s hyperactive, live-action phantasmagorias is so beside the point it’s next to it. Part of the posted synopsis of his 2006 short Tommy Chat Just E-Mailed Me: "Takes place inside and outside of an Internet e-mail…. Tammy prints stuff and confronts Beth. Beth does a Google search for ‘fun’ and finds ‘ugly,’ so she phone calls her dark dream girlfriend Pam who has communication problems, a dead computer painting, Apple OSX, and their lesbian communal baby prop."

And although the look and feel of his episodes — Microsoft-blue papier-mâché interiors, vine-sprouting ceilings, fluorescent-dipped skin tones, looped asexual voices, ominous snippets of warped bubblegum pop — are definitely wiggy, drug analogies come up obvious and short. Trecartin’s created a hilarious and horrifying — hilarifying — open-source code for the nightmare side of contemporary life, with its inflatable technological chaos, zombified discount shopping, and endless idiotic yakking. Wild club nights and the ancient rituals of rebirth they tap into yield a central theme — actual physical activity among streaming virtual selves.

In 2007’s I-BE AREA — basically what the invisible thing that sneaks up behind you when you’ve been online too long looks like — the main gist is the soul’s fate in a world of obnoxious social networking, one that reduces individuals to quasi-emotional ADD outbursts and illogical catchphrases. It’s life aboard the MySpace Death Star, and everyone had better fill up their blogs, crop their pics, broadcast in a perfect urban patois, and be their own friends. "Look, I think I just saw a highly advanced, 3-D text message of my future self giving me the middle finger," main character I-BE, a.k.a. Trecartin, says snootily.

I-BE AREA zings off on a million paths in its quest for authenticity — names become other names, twins melt into clones, characters switch places with their avatars and turn clairvoyant. There’s a jaw-dropping tap dance sequence featuring orphaned kids recorded on Adoption Audition Tapes. At one point a woman who looks like she wandered off the set of Dynasty identifies herself as the Head-PArent and drops a hypothetical blow-dryer into a hot tub full of hippie ghouls. Later a noodle-eyed tranny ectomorph called Pasta kidnaps a baby.

Near the center of it all is the Wood Shop — a real wood shop, with band saws revving and lumber strewn precariously. It’s also the perfect joke on a mainstream gay dance club (or online hookup site). "Exotic" black go-go boys writhe frantically on tables, fractured machinery noises sub in for lame-ass techno, and an obnoxious, pig-tailed faggy avatar screams "What?" into her brick cell phone. Then everyone prances around lewdly and breaks windows. Just like real life!





› paulr@sfbg.com

In the Big Book of Troubled Restaurant Spaces, there will have to be a long chapter (with footnotes!) devoted to 2101 Sutter. Since the mid-1990s this unassuming but hardly forbidding site has been home to Nightshade, Laghi, Julia, Winterland, and now Cassis, and I might be forgetting a few. The comings and goings have been many and hasty. Why the address’s occupants should have such a nomadic bent, one after the other, isn’t obvious when considering the physical particulars. 2101 is a perfectly nice setting, a sort of fat reverse L with the entryway, bar, and small dining area on one axis and, on the other (beyond a psychedelic screen that resembles strips of vinyl studded with disks of glass, like a hippie’s belt collection), a larger dining area with an exhibition kitchen. The kitchen had been covered over during the brief Winterland era, the picture-window opening plugged with drywall, but now the view is back, and we notice a pizza oven among the other handsome implements.

Yes, pizza, though Cassis (as the name suggests) is a French restaurant. But the cooking isn’t generic French; the street signage advises us that the restaurant serves "cuisine niçoise," and Nice is a French Riviera town quite near Italy. The city’s most famous contribution to culinary annals is probably the salade niçoise, that likable jumble of tuna, red peppers, quarters of hard-boiled egg, and black olives, but the city is nearly as pizza crazy as Rome, and that’s saying something. To sit at an outdoor table at one of the many cafés along Nice’s pedestrian promenade, drinking chilled rosé and eating thin-crust pizza, could be the ultimate experience niçoise.

Cassis can’t match these plein air atmospherics, of course. For one thing, it’s in San Francisco, which is not an alfresco town, and for another, it sits in a remarkably nondescript building in a neighborhood filled with nondescript buildings. Even if you could sit at a sidewalk table, you almost surely wouldn’t want to, since Sutter and Steiner are not, to say the least, charming pedestrian promenades, while nearby Geary Boulevard is a roaring sluice of automobile traffic. So, inside! The big horseshoe bar is welcoming, the outer dining area relaxed — but you like to see your chefs in action, and that means a table in the main dining area, beyond the hippie-belt screen.

The screen is a Winterland holdover, but subtle changes to the sleek chill of that restaurant’s design have brought some cheering warmth to Cassis. The return of the open kitchen is one; another is the faux brickwork on the support pillars. The rise in ambient temperature has, like global warming, caused a palpable shift in the mammalian population; gone are Winterland’s droves of 30-year-old, gelled-hair, tech billionaires in black mock turtlenecks, and in is an older contingent, rather Pacific Heights–looking. These are people who might not have responded too enthusiastically to Winterland’s sea urchin foams but are perfectly happy with Cassis’s simple but intense lobster bisque (a steal at $6.25), enriched with cognac, or the pissaladière ($7.50), the classic tart of caramelized onion that’s like a solid version of French onion soup.

The master of the kitchen is Stephane Meloni, who opened the restaurant last year with his brother, Jerome. Jerome runs the front of the house. The brothers grew up in Nice, which among its other winning attributes is not far along the coast from Cassis, a picturesque, cliff-hanging village. Hence the restaurant’s name. Those with total recall might remember that there was another Cassis in the city in the mid-1990s, a bistro in Cow Hollow. But there is no other connection between the two places.

I would have dispensed with the coil of fried onion atop the pissaladière. It had been fried to toughness rather than crunchiness, could not be cut, and was generally an inconvenience. Otherwise, the kitchen didn’t miss a step; the cooking is a series of gentle euphonies, polished versions of bistro favorites. (There is a real difference in France between a bistro and a restaurant, and les frères Meloni calling their place a restaurant isn’t a casual choice.)

Duck confit ($22.50) is a rustic staple on many a bistro menu, but here the leg (good crispy skin!) was accompanied by a boneless half breast grilled to a gratifyingly steaklike medium rare. Lending the plate architectural interest and style: a cylinder of gratin potatoes, looking like a pillbox.

Potatoes — fingerlings — got a more natural treatment with the roasted monkfish ($23). They were simply steamed, halved, and thrown into a peppercorn sauce, velvety but with sharp edges. Lying at the edge of the sauce pool was a bundle of pencil-thin asparagus (too early to be local, I’m afraid), baby pattypan squash in green and yellow, and a fine dice of tomato. I would give this combination no better than a C for seasonality but an A for color and texture.

Even the small dishes are memorable. You hardly ever see panisses ($4.25) — the chickpea fries of Provence — anywhere, but Cassis’s are excellent: crisp outside, creamy within, and presented in a geometric stack. And spinach ($5), seared with garlic and shallots, unfurls on a long platter like a length of knotty, kelp-swaddled rope recovered from a long-sunken ship.

Cassis doesn’t seem to have generated the buzz of its most recent predecessors, and maybe this offers us a clue to its prospects. Although it’s a nice destination, it’s not a destination restaurant but a neighborhood one, and the neighbors, having reclaimed the space after a long struggle, seem to be pleased. Everybody likes a new chapter.


Tues.–Thurs. and Sun., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

2101 Sutter, SF

(415) 440-4500


Full bar


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My little brother needs a big sister, and my big sister needs a little one. Chickens need a farmer. Bread needs butter. Earl Butter needs bread. Crawdad de la Cooter needs me to paint a bookshelf. She’s pregnant and can’t breathe the fumes. I’m not, and can. But don’t want to, so she bribes me with K.C. Barbecue or Zachary’s Pizza, then both.

"What time should I be there?"

"How soon can you be here?"

I don’t know. Weirdo the Cat needs warmth and affection. Dishes … My lover needs loving. Need is a strong word, according to Phenomenon. According to Buddhists we’re not supposed to need. But what the fuck? Everybody does, and I do. I need money, grace, hope, and lettuce.

A new stove … I need a new stove with 10 back burners and no front ones because I can’t seem to finish anything anymore. I can clean my plate, and I can clean my ass. Other than that, I’m a mess.

I’m an underachiever. My goal in life is to get my hair cut. I mean, I’ll miss it when I’m doing the dishes, not needing no scrubbies or nothing. But other times, like cooking and eating, it just gets in the way.

Earl Butter calls this the Year of Becoming Better Cooks. And I’m down with that too. Every year is that year for me. So he cleaned his kitchen. I came over after a soccer game, let myself in, and wondered whether I even needed a shower, it smelled so good in there. He had a pot of greens simmering on the stove, a pan of spicy wedged potatoes roasting in it, and a loaf of corn bread cooling on the counter.

Mod the Pod and the Kat Attack were on their way over for dinner, Earl Butter said. Could I do the pork chops?

I could.

"However you want to cook them," he said. Then he proceeded to tell me how to cook them. He said to sprinkle some salt and pepper into a dry, hot frying pan, then put the pork chops in there too.

I ran my fingers through my hair. I stood in front of the stove and held my arms out, basking in the warm, wet aroma of comfort food. Then, considering myself bathed, I put clean clothes on, draped my sweaty soccer stuff over the radiator, washed my hands, cracked my knuckles, and Became Better Cooks with Earl Butter.

And with you, Dear Reader. I’m not that smart, I know, but I think I think about things as much as the next chicken farmer. I have conviction. Something to stand on, a platform. If I were running for president, my platform would be: Hey, America, use your fucking broilers! What the fuck do you think they’re there for?

Sure, I’ve cooked steaks and chops in hot, salted frying pans, and it does work. But so does the broiler. Better. You know that. Everyone knows. The thing is that no one wants to have to wash it afterwards, and that, in a nutshell, is why I can never run for public office. Or private office either. I am unelectable because no one wants to have to clean the broiler pan.

Most of them haven’t been washed in decades. This is a problem, if you know me. If you don’t know me — personally, I mean — then most likely your broiler hasn’t been used in decades. So why clean it? If you do know me, then you know that I love to cook in other people’s kitchens and won’t hesitate to use your broiler. I will promise to wash it. I will eschew your salted frying pans and make a big mess.

I thought about this in Earl Butter’s kitchen while broiling our pork chops, having promised to clean up after. I thought: I can be a forgetful, sleepy chicken farmer, especially after a big, good meal. Hmm …

Sockywonk, Mountain Sam’l, Bikkets, Phenomenon, Choo-Choo, Crawdad, Johnny "Jack" Poetry … um, Earl Butter, and anyone else whose kitchen I have commandeered in the past 10 years … check your broiler. If it looks like a landscape from Star Trek, call me. I’ll bring the Brillo.

My new favorite restaurant is the Citrus Club, just for being there on a cold, rainy night in the Haight. I was this close to freezing to death, then: hot and sour shrimp noodle soup! Huge bowl, and spicy! It’s pan-Asian, noodle-centric fare, mostly rice noodles, but some egg, and buckwheat. Warm, dry atmosphere.


Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.

1790 Haight, SF

(415) 387-6366

Takeout available

Beer, wine, sake, and specialties


A glossary


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’m a little confused. Could you please explain all the different genders? It seems there is so much more out there than just male and female: transsexuals, he-shes, shemales … And are hermaphrodites real? I’m most intrigued by them. Do they live as male or as female? Are they born that way? Who’s who?


Gender Confused

Dear GC:

OK, but you should know going in that you’re setting me up for abuse from a certain segment of the genderfolk, that overearnest subset that thrives on righteous indignation. I don’t know what it is about the Gender Weirdness Club that renders so many of its members both unnecessarily hostile and so shockingly humorless — you’d think living as a guy in a dress, for instance, would pretty much force you to develop a sense of humor — but if I talk about this, I will infuriate people, and this time I blame you. That’s OK, right?

Transgender is an umbrella term. It used to be pretty much interchangeable with transsexual, but the latter is on its way out (too identified with men who went to Sweden in the early ’60s and came back looking like very-large-footed stewardesses, I guess). Many people in the gender community now use the term transgender to describe anyone who does not fit readily into the "a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl, and that’s that" paradigm. When I say umbrella term, mind you, I mean a really big umbrella. There’s a crowd under there, from the girl in combat boots who would have been described as a tomboy in a previous generation (I was one, and it never would have occurred to me to call myself anything other than female, but fashions and perceptions change) to the aforementioned guy in a dress, with a large and oddly dressed crowd doing the Time Warp in between, including some who blur the line for kicks and others who are just trying to mess with you.

Transsexual used to be the common term, as I said, for someone described as trapped in the wrong body. Now you’re more likely to hear transman (a man assigned a female gender at birth, later corrected by some combination of introspection and self-acceptance, gender presentation, hormones, and/or surgery) or transwoman (the same but vice versa). Some transfolk make a distinction between the idea of transsexuality (literally "crossing sexes") and being a (trans)man or (trans)woman: they feel they never changed genders, just other people’s perception of their gender, so they don’t feel a term like transsexual accurately describes them. Many would probably prefer to be known as men and women, for obvious reasons, but accept or proudly bear the trans label.

He-she is a term from the carnival sideshow. You’d probably best just file that one away with the rest of the historical oddities if you want anyone to talk to you about this.

As for shemale … I recently pissed off an earnest transperson — let’s call her Ernestine — merely by answering a question about shemale porn; the writer’s boyfriend was nuts about the stuff, and she wanted to know how worried she should be. Not very, I said. "Lots of people enjoy blah blah blah shemale blah …" Blam! "No transsexual woman," Ernestine wrote, "would expose her genitals like that on the Internet." She meant to convey the fact that transwomen are not freaks and need not find work at the aforementioned sideshow, a noble sentiment and all, but the fact that they are not freaks does not preclude some of them from becoming whores. There is a huge market for transporn, and much of it does use the admittedly objectionable, if undeniably retro amusant, term shemale. Sorry, Ernestine.

And finally, you asked about hermaphrodites. Nobody uses this term anymore unless they’re describing worms. There are lots of people born with a condition referred to as pseudohermaphroditism, but really, these ought not to concern you. The important thing to know is that there are kids born with ambiguous genitalia and others born with outward and inward sex parts that don’t match. The default medical response was and mostly still is surgery, but the foundation on which that treatment was built — basically, that you can raise anybody as any gender by strictly enforcing "appropriate" pronouns, toys, outfits, and love objects — has crumbled in recent years. We hardly know anything, but we do know that most people are born with sense of their own gender; and while you can beat almost anyone into admitting anything, telling a little boy he’s a little girl, no matter how insistently, will not make him a girl — it will just make him angry and possibly crazy. We are learning, finally, to take people’s word for it: I’m a girl, even in combat boots, and you are whatever it is you say you are.

Hope this helps.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Video Mutants: Eight for 2008


› johnny@sfbg.com


Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds (2002) uncovers the beauty of Nintendo clouds. Go to our Pixel Vision blog this week (www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision) for an interview with Jacob Ciocci of Arcangel’s sometime collaborators Paper Rad and an interview with Arcangel that discusses his recent video and performance projects, such as The Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum.


Dünya dunlemiyor, the Istanbul, Turkey–set entry in Collins’s World Won’t Listen trilogy of Smiths karaoke videos, wowed those who saw it at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2006. The entire trilogy is now on display and garnering raves (including an Artforum essay that pinpoints the lustiness that breaks through even the most programmatic of Collins’s endeavors) at the Dallas Museum of Art. Here’s hoping we get to see it soon.


Based in San Francisco but often out in the world, Enid has a roving eye. She’s made comic horror short works (in 2005’s Lovelorn Domestic she’s a mute woman with a giant bird that pecks out her husband’s eyes) and more recently ventured into the realm of new age relaxation videos — 3-D ones, to boot. The results are as amazing as they are soothing.


One of San Francisco’s best underground talents, Enos has used videotape to craft a number of hand-drawn and hand-spliced animated shorts. Music biography is one recurrent subject: Enos’s trademark deadpan charm adds magic to illustrated and condensed life stories of Jim Morrison (complete with writhing snakes), Dennis Wilson (with a cameo by Charlie Manson), and Leonard Cohen. Look for a Guardian profile of Enos — as well as one of his frequent collaborator Enid — later this year.


Ryan Trecartin (see Super Ego) would never have star-wiped himself into art world stardom if not for the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink video aesthetic of Kuchar, who has made hundreds of videos since he and his brother Mike helped create underground film. Based in San Francisco and a teacher at the SF Art Institute, Kuchar has taught or influenced every local video person on this list, and his movies continue to be as funny as anyone’s in this issue, and only slightly less energetic than Trecartin’s (maybe a good thing).


She’s channeled Judy Garland — in 1997’s tears-and-laughs cabaret spree I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong — and survived. She stalker-serenaded Joe DiMaggio when the slugger was still alive and walking through the Marina (in 1991’s Joe Dimaggio, 1, 2, 3). In addition to these potent short performance works, she’s also unleashed some gargantuan formal projects, such as a pair of features — 1992’s Strain Andromeda and 2007’s Adventure Poseidon The — that rearrange Hollywood films from back to front, treating each shot like a card in a deck.


You haven’t lived until you’ve been berated about CD-ROMs, DVD menus, and coolness by the cranky-voiced animated character at the beginning of Paper Rad’s 2006 DVD Trash Talking (Load). Turns out that rant is just the preamble to a gloriously anarchic explosion of primary colors and pop-cult iconography that has prompted a thousand commercialized graphic design rip-offs, none of them one-millionth as inspired. Paper Rad recently made mashup lively again with the Umbrella Zombie Datamosh Mistake (now on YouTube). Go to their Web site — www.paperrad.org — for visual pleasure seizures and to get a taste of their new 20-minute video, Problem Solvers.

>>Watch Paper Rad’s “umbrella zombie datamosh mistake”


Wolf crosses into the realm of full-length features with Wild Combination, his subtly poignant documentary portrait of late musician Arthur Russell, which has been accepted at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. But his 2003 short video Smalltown Boys was a standout at a recent Internet-vid group show at SF Camerawork, and his Web site (www.mattwolf.info) is a treasure trove of such clips, both found (he uncovers Ryan Phillippe’s time as the first gay teen on American soaps) and made by him (his 2004 Imitation of Imitation mimics the costume-jewelry waterfall from the credits of Douglas Sirk’s 1959 Imitation of Life).

>>Back to Video Mutants: The Guardian video art issue

Video Mutants: Guiding light


>Click here to view some Kalup Linzy vids

A phone interview is a routine aspect of writing an article, but there’s a uniquely rich comedic irony to conducting a phone interview with Kalup Linzy. Since 2001, Linzy has been making soap operatic short videos in which a host of characters, most played by himself, converse by phone. In Conversations Wit De Children IV: Play Wit De Churen (2005), for example, one of Linzy’s personae, or churen, budding art star Katonya, is fired via phone by her boss — then dumped via phone by her boyfriend when he finds out she lost her job.

"I grew up watching soap operas," Linzy says when asked about the soapy underpinnings of pieces such as Da Young and Da Mess (2005), As Da Art World Might Turn (2006), and the installments of his All My Churen series. "I was raised by my grandmother, but it goes back to my great-grandmother — she used to listen to Guiding Light on the radio. When it switched over to TV she was going deaf, but somehow she would sit and watch soap operas all day long. We couldn’t turn the channel, and if we were playing and went to one of our aunt’s houses down the street, the same soap opera would be on. [The soaps] sort of inspired me to act and write. They struck that chord in me."

Whether set in the South or the Manhattan art world, Linzy’s videos dig deep, past the generic surfaces found in Springfield, Pine Valley, Genoa City, or any other fictional TV town. Cumulatively, his recurrent video presentations of phone conversations satirize social power plays — and unexpectedly create and illustrate familial and romantic bonds. Like the filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, though in a less languid manner, Linzy is capable of lacing his affection for the soaps’ dramatic pleasures with sharp referential observation: Da Young and Da Mess features a shot of Linzy’s woebegone character Taiwan that updates Édouard Manet’s Olympia, for example.

Linzy has stolen the show at a number of New York group exhibitions, and he’s represented by a gallery in Manhattan, Taxter and Spengemann. But his work and creative identity extend beyond traditional art spaces via YouTube, an official Web site, and two different MySpace accounts. Collectively, they present video excerpts, performance clips, and songs. One highlight on Linzy’s Web site is a clip of him (as Taiwan) at New York’s PS1 Contemporary Art Center performing the gospel-inflected dirge "Asshole," accompanied only by keyboard. "Asshole, asshole, asshole, why’d you do this to me?" Taiwan bellows in the chorus, his blunt question arriving with gut-busting comic impact after a melancholy and poetic intro. As the song goes on, Taiwan shifts the focus to his body, wondering, "Why did my asshole fuck it up for my soul?"

Returning to the subject of rich ironies — or in this case paradoxes — none other than Modern Painting magazine published perhaps the most incisive recent piece about new waves of video art activity. Author Michael Wang uses work by Linzy and this week’s Super Ego star Ryan Trecartin to assert that queerness is perhaps the preeminent form of postmodernism; his opening salvo suggests that the old dialectical relationship between experimental video and commercial television has effectively exploded in the Internet era. Considering this, it’s hard not to note similarities or connections between the outrageously popular — or perhaps antipopular — gay YouTube phenom Chris Crocker (see Trash, page 24) and figures such as Jonathan Caouette, Trecartin, and Linzy. Crocker’s housebound, familial acting out forms dozens of tiny sequels to Caouette’s performative diary feature Tarnation (2004). When Crocker asks "What’s your tea?" he might as well be wishing he were on a party line with a character from one of Linzy’s videos.

More evocatively, the helium-high and macho-low voices of the characters in Linzy’s videos are similar, though not of a piece, with the manic munchkin voices of the Day-Glo "streaming creatures" (to use the Jack Smith–inspired title of Wang’s article) who cavort through videos by Trecartin; and like Trecartin’s art, though again in a more casual manner, Linzy’s has strong connections to club culture. In fact, Linzy’s currently working on a project that, framed by original and dance versions of "Asshole," translates Taiwan’s misadventures, as well as a scathingly funny cameo by Labisha, another Linzy alter ego, into songs.

"Basically, [the album] tells the story of someone sad at home who goes out to the bar and ends up getting laid by trade and wakes up the next day with a hangover," Linzy explains with a laugh. He drops hints about a couch-potato parody of Otis Redding’s "(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay," adding that whenever he tells people he’s making a video anthology for the album, they mistakenly "ask if it’s going to be like R. Kelly."

Based on tracks such as "Melody Set Me Free," with its drag-ball life-as-an-awards-show lyric, and "SweetBerry Shuffle," with its baton passes between feisty female Labisha and depressive gay boy Taiwan, Linzy’s debut album might be an American cousin of the amazing, unjustly obscure Dislocated Genius (Get Physical, 2006) by Chelonis R. Jones. There and on singles such as the fierce "Black Sabrina" (sample lyric: "Black Sabrina never pushes or shoves / She’s a foot up your ass / She then questions why you walk so funny / And utters ‘Punk bitch’ under her rum-tinted breath"), Jones embraces and expresses a multitude of voices, transcending prejudicial diagnoses of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. (You could also draw a line from a cover version of Klymaxx’s "Cherries in the Snow" by veteran artist Vaginal Davis — like Jones, an American expat living in Germany — to "Asshole." Or, in return, from Linzy’s videos to "Gossips," a scandalously hilarious YouTube excerpt from Davis’s most recent show, Cheap Blacky.)

Betty Davis, Dorothy Moore, and Dionne Warwick are just three of the ladies of song who’ve provided Linzy with inspiration recently. Though some of his recent video projects — especially the offhandedly brilliant black-and-white linguistic mystery The Pursuit of Gay (Happiness) — have lampooned old Hollywood, lately he’s been looking at ’80s music videos when he isn’t visualizing his music. "Back then the medium was new to [bands and video makers]," he says. "They were excited and it came across, even though some of the videos are cheesy." Today Linzy represents a new wave of audio and video excitement — hold the cheese. (Johnny Ray Huston)





>>Back to Video Mutants: The Guardian video art issue

Video Mutants: The man with the video camera


› johnny@sfbg.com

The unmistakable riff from AC/DC’s "Back in Black" blares from the dark room in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that houses Douglas Gordon’s exhibition Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from About 1992 until Now. It’s coming from Gordon’s cell phone, in the pocket of his trench coat, which he’s wearing over a leather jacket.

Gordon is a man of many layers, though as its title plainly states, Pretty Much collects his visions to date, a number of them appropriated, into a single room. There one can spend a minute or a day pondering light and dark manifestations of selfhood, taking the long view, in which the TVs buzz like sinister leftovers at an abandoned appliance store (or lights in the eye sockets of a huge skull), or opting for an extreme close-up on a piece such as 1999’s through a looking glass, in which Travis Bickle’s famous dialogue with his mirror image in Taxi Driver is endlessly fractured and reunited.

After we’ve stepped outside the exhibition, Gordon chooses to focus on the relationship between 1998’s Blue (which brings new meaning to the phrase finger-fucking) and the stretch of his famous 24 Hour Psycho in which Norman Bates notices a fly on his hand. He’d just noticed it while leaving Pretty Much‘s "moving encyclopedia" of his works and decides it’s time to "fabricate a relationship" between the two images. I show my recently scarred left hand to Gordon to trigger some image association, since disembodied hands star in a number of his video works, as well as in Feature Film, his 1999 portrait of James Conlon conducting Bernard Hermann’s score for Vertigo. Ordering Red Hook at noon, he shares a story about a bone-splintering skateboard wipeout.

Other visual triggers shed a few more sparks. I pull out an old hardcover copy of Otto Preminger’s autobiography Preminger (Doubleday, 1977) because Gordon’s 1999 piece Left is right and right is wrong and left is wrong and right is right is built from Whirlpool, Preminger’s 1949 echo of 1944’s classic Laura. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), the book and its superb Saul Bass cover design trigger Gordon to talk, in a roundabout way, about directors other than Preminger.

"When I got off the plane, I got a message that Gus Van Sant has been trying to reach me," he says. "I met [Van Sant] once before. He’d just released [his 1998 remake of] Psycho and I had just finished editing Left is right, so I’d been stuck in a strobe environment for two weeks. The last day I’d finished editing it, I took my girlfriend to see Psycho. Because I’d just been bombarded by thousands of strobed images, I couldn’t handle it. I fainted at least three times. When I met him, he asked what I thought, and I said, ‘I really enjoyed it.’ I was lying through my teeth! So I have a confession to make to him."

I pull out one last visual trigger, an old snapshot a friend took of My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda J. Butcher. "That’s the same guitar as mine — I just bought a Fender Mustang!" Gordon enthuses, noting that the group is re-forming. My Bloody Valentine’s re-formation arrives a few years after the group’s Kevin Shields worked as the noise consultant for Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s masterful portrait of the soccer legend. Zidane‘s upcoming one-week run at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will allow people to see just how crucial Shields’s contribution — which makes crowd noise into something truly hallucinatory — is to a masterpiece of modern cinema.

"Our generation experienced film in bed, mediated through TV," Gordon says. "That’s a huge difference from deconstructing it mechanically in a film academy or art school. For us the deconstruction was social.

"The first time I came to San Francisco, in 1994 or 1995, I was searching for stag movies that had been transferred onto tape," Gordon continues. "Now it’s all online. I don’t want to be too nostalgic about it, but there was something special about making a physical pilgrimage to get [images]. The dissemination of ideas today is not necessarily media based. For my generation and for younger people it’s a tsunami — you cannot beat it back."


Through Feb, 24, 2008, $7–$12.50

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Feb. 1–7, $8–$10

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

(415) 978-2787


Guardian vs. SF Weekly


It’s extraordinary how the SF Weekly can take a clear legal defeat and try to turn it into a victory.

On Jan. 17 the judge in the Guardian‘s lawsuit against the SF Weekly and its parent corporation refused to bar the Guardian‘s key expert witness from testifying. The ruling was a clear victory for the Guardian — the Weekly had tried desperately to keep accountant and economic expert Clifford Kupperberg from taking the stand to present evidence of how much the Weekly‘s predatory pricing has damaged the Guardian.

And yet the Weekly‘s Snitch blog trumpets the ruling as "The SF Bay Guardian‘s Shakedown Hits a Snag," arguing that Kupperberg had somehow repudiated his own testimony.

The Guardian is suing the SF Weekly and Village Voice Media, formerly known as New Times, for predatory pricing in violation of California business law. The suit charges that the Weekly, with cash support from the 16-paper chain, sold ads below cost for many years in an effort to harm the locally owned competitor.

The trial got under way last week with early motions on the evidence. Here’s what actually happened in Superior Court Judge Marla Miller’s courtroom Jan. 16 and 17:

Kupperberg, following well-established standards, had developed two scenarios to explain how much the Guardian has lost due to the Weekly‘s practice of selling ads below cost. One of the scenarios uses data from members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, information that the papers share with one another once a year to establish industry financial benchmarks.

The SF Weekly‘s lawyers argued that part of the data — the material from the AAN — wasn’t reliable, so Kupperberg agreed to use his other standard (including New Times’ own figures in 17 different markets) instead. He also added data from two other Bay Area alternative papers and from local retail sales statistics to buttress his conclusions. His data suggest damages of $5 million to $10 million.

After the SF Weekly lawyers argued for hours that Kupperberg be disqualified, Judge Miller ruled clearly and unequivocally against them. Kupperberg will be able to testify, and his damage estimates will be admissible.

That’s a big victory for the Guardian.

And while the Weekly lawyers demanded extra time and sought to delay once again a case that’s been in the works for more than three years, Miller moved forward and started the jury selection process Jan. 17.

If this is how the SF Weekly and the VVM folks from Phoenix are going to cover the trial, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time correcting the record, although we’d prefer to simply let the case speak for itself.

Let’s eat clone


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION I’m looking forward to eating my first clone hamburger. I mean, why not? I eat cloned plants all the time, and I admire cloned flowers. Clone meat seems like the next logical step. And yet I can’t tell you how many bizarre conversations I’ve had with people over the past few days about the apparently controversial move by the Food and Drug Administration this month to approve meat from cloned cows as a foodstuff.

People are really freaked out by eating the meat from a clone. They want it labeled so they can choose to buy "naturally reproduced" meat, by which I suppose they mean cows that are the result of forced breeding, that have been raised in stinky, crowded pens where they eat grain mixed with poop and bubblegum. I mean, I can understand not wanting to eat meat at all — that makes sense. Most farms abuse the hell out of their meat and poultry, and the situation is ugly enough to make you lose your appetite for steak forever.

But cloning? Not so much. It’s just a duplicate cow, people. Nobody has added anything weird to it, like snake genes that will make it spit acid. And if the cloned cow is treated well, allowed to roam free and eat decent food, I don’t see what the big deal is. Cloning has been used to reproduce tasty breeds of vegetables and fruit for centuries (using cuttings), and it’s not likely that animal cloning is going to be any more dangerous.

At least, it won’t be more dangerous for people eating the resulting meat. The clones may have crappy lives — in fact, they probably will, since clones tend to be unhealthier than nonclones anyway. And life in a factory farm isn’t exactly healthy either.

Meanwhile, as people chow down on clone steaks or steaks made from the offspring of clones (what do you call them? Paraclones? Miniclones?), a fertility researcher and a biotech company investor are busy cloning themselves. This month’s hottest clone news wasn’t anything to do with steak. It was the quiet announcement, in the journal Stem Cell, that a company called Stemagen had created viable human embryos from adult skin cells. One of the clones was of Samuel Wood, a guy who runs a fertility clinic next door to Stemagen. Another was of an anonymous investor in Stemagen.

Stemagen claims it won’t be turning these embryos into humans anytime soon, even though the clone embryos they wound up with were as viable as any embryo they might implant in a woman undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments. Of course, the company could just be covering its ass: human reproduction through cloning is illegal in the United States. Still, people desperate for children might be willing to try cloning at, say, a fertility clinic next door to a biotech company that does cloning. They would certainly keep their mouths shut about their illegal baby, at least if they wanted to keep it.

Just as I am perplexed by the uproar over eating the meat of animal clones, I’m perplexed by people’s discomfort about breeding human clones. Certainly there are ethical issues with creating a human being as part of an experimental procedure. But that doesn’t seem like the main objection people are raising. Mostly they’re saying that there’s something sacrilegious about clones, or something creepy about making babies that don’t require any sperm. (Stemagen’s method involves taking DNA from a skin cell and popping it into an egg to make an embryo — no men are required for this procedure.)

Clones are so scary that one of the best sci-fi comic book series of the past few years — Y: The Last Man (Vertigo), by Brian K. Vaughan — takes as its premise the idea that a woman cloning herself sets off a chain of events that kills every man on Earth.

I think the best way to end this hysteria is to start labeling everything that’s cloned, from the tomatoes you ate last week to the roses you bought your sweetie on Saturday. Once everyone realizes they have clones in their homes and bellies already, it might make them a lot less fearful when they finally meet a human clone. "Oh yes," they can say. "I’ve eaten something like that." *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who would rather eat a cloned cow than a factory-farmed anything. Also, she isn’t interested in eating cloned human babies, no matter how cute they are.

Car trouble


› news@sfbg.com

A lawsuit alleging that seven major rental car companies have been illegally colluding to fix prices has become a campaign issue in the State Senate race between incumbent Carole Migden and Assemblymember Mark Leno.

The suit was filed by the University of San Diego School of Law’s Center for Public Interest Law and alleges that Hertz, Avis, Dollar, National, Thrifty, Alamo, and Enterprise took advantage of Assembly Bill 2592, sponsored by Leno, to charge consumers more and essentially blame the increase on the state.

The bill was created in the final days of the 2006 legislative session at the request of the rental car companies and the California Travel and Tourism Commission. It allowed the companies to list for consumers the 9 percent concession fee paid to airports (which they had been required to bundle into their listed rates) in exchange for paying $24 million annually, or about 2.5 percent of revenues, to the commission, replacing the state’s $6.7 million contribution to the organization that promotes tourism to the state.

But the lawsuit alleges the companies simply increased their rates by that 11.5 percent, pocketing the profits while indicating to customers that the money was going to the commission and to the airports. And the fact that they all did so is, the lawsuit charges, evidence of illegal collusion.

So this month Migden offered her own legislation to undo the change, highlighting the lawsuit and Leno’s legislation in the process. Senate Bill 1057 would also require rental car companies to provide a certified audit specifying how much extra money consumers were charged since AB 2592 went into effect.

"This law needs to be fixed before more consumers lose their hard-earned money to overcharging by unethical car rental firms," Migden said in a press release.

For his part, Leno notes that Migden and most legislators supported his bill, which he vetted through the Consumers Union, a group that was ultimately neutral on it. He said the bill provides greater transparency to consumers, so much so that it makes the apparent collusion obvious. "If [rental car companies] want to collude, they should do it without the 2592 on them," Leno said, adding, "If there’s any funny business going on, let’s crack the whip."

As for Midgen’s role in cleaning up the situation, Leno said, "If I weren’t running for the senate, this would be of no interest to her whatsoever. This is pure politics."

Leno concedes that it was representatives of some of the rental car companies, along with someone from the commission, who brought him the legislation, which he inserted into another bill at the end of the legislative session. According to Cal-Access, an online resource that documents campaign finances, Hertz Corp. contributed $3,000 each to Leno’s 2004 and 2006 campaigns. The Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group also made a contribution of $3,300 to Leno’s 2006 campaign.

But Leno said of his legislation, "It enhances the information that consumers receive when they rent a car…. I thought this was a win-win situation that would not have consumer opposition, that would generate $50 million [a figure that includes the ripple effect of tourism] to promote California and create hundreds of thousands of jobs."

In addition to helping boost tourism in the state, the Leno legislation requires rental car companies to disclose their total out-the-door prices on the phone or the Internet and requires all components of the total charge to be clearly itemized for consumers.

Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law, told us the alleged price fixing wasn’t surprising, given that the seven companies dominate the market and share a lobbyist and a trade association. But he said, "The more serious charge is that they went to a legislator and agreed to horizontal price colluding."

None of the companies returned Guardian calls or offered comments.

Megan Ma contributed to this report.

How to save the Housing Authority


OPINION After repeated media attention to the myriad problems at the San Francisco Housing Authority, Mayor Gavin Newsom asked the agency’s director, Gregg Fortner, to resign. An interim director, Mirian Saez, was appointed to fill his shoes until a national search is conducted to find a permanent replacement. The mayor has announced replacements for two of the seven commissioners; one of the new appointees, Dwayne Jones, is a senior Newsom staffer.

As an affordable-housing advocate who works with residents of public housing, I am overjoyed at the prospect of change at the agency. No matter who is chosen to be the new director, a few key changes should be seriously considered for the city’s largest low-income-housing provider. Here are some suggestions:

1. Appoint commissioners who get it and care. The mayor could have made sweeping changes after he asked the SFHA commissioners to submit letters of resignation. Instead, he used the opportunity to appoint someone who is on his payroll. As long as political connections continue to trump experience, understanding, and compassion, tenants will suffer. What about having a public process in which residents and the community can nominate candidates? How about sharing the power to appoint housing commissioners with the Board of Supervisors, as is done with some other city commissions?

2. Listen to the residents, damn it! While it is refreshing to see the mayor look for solutions to the rampant problems at the SFHA, a panel of national experts is hardly necessary. The best experts are right here. They are residents, and they are clamoring to have their voices heard. Conduct a local survey, have regular open meetings, encourage the formation of resident councils, work with service providers and community groups that reach out to residents, and allow for resident participation as much as possible.

3. Talk among yourselves. The same lessons we learned after Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina apply to this disaster as well. City agencies that serve public housing residents are often unaware of the major issues at public housing developments. The Departments of Building Inspections and Public Health, for instance, should be monitoring conditions and reporting to the mayor and the supervisors. The Mayor’s Office of Housing should be working closely with the Redevelopment Agency, the Office of Community Development, and the Human Service Agency as they plan for the demolition and rebuilding of distressed projects. City officials and agencies shouldn’t have to pull teeth to get basic information from the SFHA.

4. Tell Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to fight like hell. Whoever leads the Housing Authority in the future will always have a defense against charges of not addressing poor conditions because Congress keeps hacking away at the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget. We have powerful congressional representation in San Francisco; let’s push harder.

5. Step up to the plate to provide local resources to improve public housing. As hard as we fight to leverage more federal funds, it is nearly certain that the SFHA will still be severely underfunded. We can no longer rely solely on federal funds to house our lowest-income residents. A commitment to creative and innovative local funding solutions must continue or we will see an increase in the exodus of African American families, which the mayor claims to be committed to curbing.

Sara Shortt

Sara Shortt is executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

From fryers to fuel


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY At Ar Roi Thai in Nob Hill, about 75 gallons of oil are left over every month from the creation of the restaurant’s deep-fried cuisine, according to manager Theresa Shotiveyaratana. But instead of dumping it, the business donates its gunk to the newly established SFGreasecycle, which converts it into biodiesel that is now used to power San Francisco city vehicles such as Muni buses and fire engines.

As of Dec. 31, 2007, the city completed a yearlong project proposed in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Biodiesel Initiative, which called for all 1,600 municipal vehicles to run exclusively on B20, a mixture of 20 percent pure biodiesel and 80 percent traditional petroleum diesel. The blend is compatible with most modern-day diesel engines and reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 12 percent and the particulate matter found in smog by 20 percent.

But most of that biodiesel hasn’t been generated locally: the city is halfway through its three-year master fuel contract with San Francisco Petroleum, which gets the stuff from soybean oil produced in the Midwest.

"It’s really not enough that a city looks at using biofuels to offset fossil fuels," said Karri Ving, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s biofuels coordinator and one of SFGreasecycle’s three staff members. "We don’t want to go from one environmentally disastrous fuel to another. We want less shipping miles from the middle of the country."

That’s where SFGreasecycle, a $1.3 million program put into action by the SFPUC last month, comes in. It picks up used fats, oils, and grease (known in the program as FOG) at no charge from wherever people are willing to spare them. The list currently comprises mostly eateries, from chains like Baja Fresh and locals like Ar Roi, but also households, high schools, a synagogue, and museums such as the de Young.

About 170 restaurants have signed up so far, allowing the organization to collect an average of 5,000 gallons of so-called yellow grease — or what comes straight from the frying pan — per month. Furthermore, its efforts are a way of keeping congealed grease out of sewer pipes, which costs the city roughly $3.5 million in cleanup efforts per year, according to the SFPUC.

Ving said the organization has even loftier goals in mind. By the beginning of 2010 it aims to collect 100,000 gallons of grease per month. That’s about 20 percent of the five to six million gallons of diesel that the Department of the Environment estimates the municipal fleet burns per year.

Mark Westlund, the spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, said using the grease as a replacement for the imported fuel is a real possibility as they have "an almost one-to-one conversion rate."

SFGreasecycle uses four biodiesel treatment plants in the Bay Area to convert the grease to usable fuel. And sticking with its zero-waste goals, it donates the small amount of unusable, low-quality grease to the plants, which convert it into methane, which in turn powers these facilities.

Eric Bowen, chair of the city’s Biodiesel Access Task Force, shares Ving’s sentiment that "not all biodiesel is created equal," he told us. The task force is working with the Board of Supervisors to expand the local sources of biodiesel when the fuel contract expires in 18 months and to look into building a production facility in the city, where none currently exist.

The United States Department of Energy estimates that biodiesel contains roughly 8 percent less energy per gallon than petroleum diesel, although that translates into only about a 1 percent difference in mileage and performance.

Bowen said using biodiesel is a win-win situation since it acts as a natural solvent to clean fuel filters. And "the improved lubricity extends the vehicle life," he said. But before they use biodiesel for the first time, diesel tanks must be cleaned out, which the Fire Department found costs $2,000 to $3,000 per tank.

SFGreasecycle also complements the city’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. "The goal is not just to make San Francisco sustainable," Ving told us, "but to develop a program that can be implemented by other municipalities."

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Endorsements — Alameda County


Measures A and B (Children’s Hospital bond)


The history of this pair of ballot measures speaks to the reasons to oppose them: Children’s Hospital, a private outfit, hired signature gatherers and put Measure B — a special tax to fund a $300 million bond to help rebuild the hospital, which needs a seismic upgrade — on the ballot without even consulting the county supervisors. The supervisors then came back with a compromise plan, Measure A, which Children’s is now supporting — but none of the supervisors have endorsed.

We’re not big on using public bonds and tax money to rebuild a private hospital (especially when the county’s public health system has so many needs of its own). And none of this was very well thought out. Vote no; if there’s a good reason to rebuild Children’s Hospital, there needs to be a much better public process to fund it.

Measure E (Albany pool bonds)


Measure E would authorize $10 million in bonds to rebuild the public pool at Albany High School. It also includes money for new classrooms. The Alameda Green Party thinks the pool should have solar heat and use alternatives to chlorine, and we agree — but that’s not reason enough to block a modest measure to improve a widely used facility. Vote yes.

Measure G (Oakland school tax)


This is a parcel tax that would charge property owners in Oakland $195 per year, with the money going to the public schools. Yes, the Oakland schools are still controlled by a state administrator, who can ultimately decide where the money will go, and yes, parcel taxes aren’t perfect, but with school funding in the state as dire as it is, we support almost any sort of tax that helps education. And while parcel taxes allow big commercial landlords to pay the same rate as small homeowners, there is a low-income-resident exemption. Vote yes. 2

For national, state, and San Francisco endorsements, click here.

Fixing the cab problem


EDITORIAL Sups. Michela Alioto-Pier and Gerardo Sandoval are both proposing changes that would allow taxi companies to raise the fees they charge drivers to lease cabs. Alioto-Pier’s plan seems entirely wrongheaded, and Sandoval’s could use some work. But both proposals fail to address the much bigger issues facing the industry.

Most San Francisco cabdrivers are independent contractors: they pay the taxi companies a "gate," or lease fee, every shift, buy their own gas, and keep whatever’s left from the fares customers pay. The city regulates both the meters and the gates.

But over the past few years the meter rate — the amount the drivers actually collect — has been mostly flat, while gates have risen and the cost of gas has soared. So the drivers are being squeezed. And, of course, as contractors they have no health insurance.

That’s obviously bad for the drivers, but it’s bad for the city too: if driving a cab doesn’t pay a decent wage, the quality of the drivers is going to decline. The long-termers, who know the city and have plenty of experience behind the wheel, are going to leave, and more of the remaining drivers will be scrambling (often at the risk of accidents) to get from one stop to the next as fast as possible so they can squeeze in more fares per shift.

Alioto-Pier’s legislation as originally introduced would have allowed the big companies in town to raise gates by $18.50 per shift, from $91.50 to $110. That would have cost the average full-time driver almost $5,000 per year. Since most drivers aren’t making big money these days anyway, that sort of a pay cut would be brutal.

Alioto-Pier is now amending the bill, and it’s not clear how extensively she’ll change it, but even a small gate increase is unacceptable. Even if the cab companies need more money, they shouldn’t take it from the drivers; while tourists and some residents would complain about a fare increase, the Board of Supervisors should accept no plan that doesn’t at least ensure that the drivers come out even.

Sandoval wants to allow very modest gate hikes for companies that switch to clean-energy cabs, which is a fine idea but needs to go further. Many of the companies rely on big, gas-guzzling cars; even if those vehicles ran on natural gas, they’d still be wasting fossil fuels. If the city wants to fight taxi pollution, the board should require all new cab purchases to meet tough mileage standards and should provide incentives to get the aging clunkers out of the fleet. (Cars that use less gas would help the drivers save on costs too.)

But the real issue here is that drivers continue to get screwed by the big cab outfits, and the supervisors need to take that on directly. There should be no gate increase until there’s a driver health care plan in place — and in the future, all gate increases should be linked to fare hikes. If the companies get more money, the drivers should too; that’s only fair.

Reject Sklar and Brooks


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to bring new ideas into his second administration apparently doesn’t include public power. Not only has he ousted Susan Leal, the (modestly) pro–public power director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; he’s also reappointed to the panel two commissioners who have been Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s best friends. Ryan Brooks and Dick Sklar can only be rejected if eight members of the Board of Supervisors vote against them, and that’s what needs to happen.

For years the PUC has been a less-than-stellar panel dominated by political allies of the mayor, which is crazy: The agency is overseeing a $4 billion plan to reconstruct the city’s entire water system (which requires a certain degree of management). And it’s in the middle of a growing move to build a sustainable, environmentally sound power system for the city. The PUC is overseeing San Francisco’s move to community choice aggregation. It’s managing the installation of city-owned power plants. And it could be involved in a long list of renewable-power projects, from wave generation to solar.

That last thing the city needs is PUC commissioners who are opposed to (or weak on) moving into the energy business.

Unfortunately, Sklar (who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton) and Brooks (a vice president of Viacom Outdoor) have shown such reluctance to promote public power that they might as well be on PG&E’s payroll. Their reappointments, announced Jan. 15, are a sign that Newsom will not tolerate any move by his commission to get San Francisco into the retail electricity business (although a federal law — the Raker Act — requires the city to run a public power system).

It may be that public power advocates will ultimately have to go around the PUC; as long at the mayor controls that panel, it’s unlikely that anyone who wants to promote real energy alternatives will be appointed. And it’s essential that the supervisors move forward on a City Charter amendment that would give the board the right to appoint three of the five commissioners.

But in the meantime, it’s crucial to send Newsom a message: his ouster of Leal and his attempt to ensure a PG&E-safe PUC are not acceptable.

The appointments don’t require board approval — but the supervisors have the right to veto them with an eight-vote majority. Sups. Aaron Peskin, Sophie Maxwell, and Bevan Dufty have vowed to introduce a resolution to reject Sklar and Brooks, and their colleagues should join in. We don’t expect Newsom to suddenly turn around and name active public power supporters in the place of Sklar and Brooks, but if the board sends the message that PG&E allies aren’t OK, the next two appointments might be a little better.

The supervisors should reject Dick Sklar and Ryan Brooks as quickly as possible.