Volume 42 Number 23

March 5 – March 11, 2008

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Bombs — and bongs — away!


Our coverage of the 26th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival kicks off with Marke B writing about Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, a sequel which offers a refreshing change from the stodgy fare that usually receives special presentations from less imaginative festivals. Marke asks star John Cho and screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg to pass though the bullshit detector, and they irreverently oblige. Elsewhere, Kimberly Chun surveys the influence of the late Edward Yang, one of the fathers of modern Taiwanese cinema, not that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – which recently left him out of their annual “In Memoriam” montage – would know. I take a look at Brillante Mendoza, whose brief directorial career to date is adding energy and variety to many-faceted CineManila activity. Keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with Mendoza in Pixel Vision, and check our short reviews of other SFIAAFF — now, that’s an acronym — features. (Johnny Ray Huston)

>> Multiculti cock-meat sandwich
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and invade the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
By Marke B.

>> Are you lonesome tonight?
Edward Yang searches for the personal amid the street gangs of Silicon Island
By Kimberly Chun

>> Manila: the drama
Brillante Mendoza looks at the costs of human lives
By Johnny Ray Huston

>> Take one
A quick guide to some Asian American Fest features

THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL runs March 13-23 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF; Clay Theater, 2261 Fillmore, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2757 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second St., San Jose. For tickets (most shows $10) and more information, go to www.asianamericanmedia.org.

Saint Peter


› a&e@sfbg.com

Arguably no modern film director made a better sustained entrance than Peter Bogdanovich, whose first four features were all triumphs. Targets (1968) was a chilling conceit that brought Hollywood pretend terror (Boris Karloff basically playing himself) against a modern real-world horror, the randomly mass-murdering sniper. That critical success led to a major studio deal to adapt (with then wife and collaborator Polly Platt) Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show (1971), a melancholy black-and-white flashback to 1950s rural Texas. It won two Oscars, was nominated for five more, and served as a launching pad for actors including Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, and Cybill Shepherd. Next came What’s Up, Doc? (1972), a delightful, San Francisco–set nod to 1930s screwball comedies with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Its huge success was equaled by 1976’s Paper Moon, with O’Neal and daughter Tatum as a Depression-era confidence duo.

That’s a heady four hits in five years — and they’ll all be shown at the Castro Theatre in a tribute to the director presented by Midnites for Maniacs’ Jesse Hawthorne Ficks. Another four films will be seen in director’s cuts different from original theatrical versions. Further, Bogdanovich himself will be on hand at all but the earliest matinees. He’s a great raconteur who’s insightfully frank about the ups and downs of an eventually checkered career.

"Ups and downs" puts it mildly. While Bogdanovich started out on top, Hollywood relished kicking him with each downward step. But he’s still here — and especially visible recently, thanks to his role on The Sopranos as Lorraine Bracco’s shrink. Behind the camera too, he’s gotten love lately from the four-hour DVD documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream (2007). Bogdanovich, who hasn’t directed a big-screen movie since 2001’s lamentably underseen The Cat’s Meow with Kirsten Dunst, hopes to soon start shooting an adaptation of Tracey Letts’s jet-black stage comedy Killer Joe — and he’s got other irons in the fire.

If it’s thus a fine moment to be Bogdanovich, there have been many not-so-great ones. Phoning recently from Los Angeles, he recalls that before the debut of Daisy Miller (1974), his first commercial failure, critic Judith Crist asked him, "Is it good? It better be … because they’re waiting for you." Catching major flack for that film was Shepherd, the model-turned-actress he left Platt for.

"Peter and Cybill" were inseparable, possibly obnoxious. They cohosted The Tonight Show for a week and were reportedly arch as hell. They occupied the inaugural cover of People, with the headline "Living Together Is Sexy." The director quotes Cary Grant (doing a perfect vocal imitation) advising, "Petah, please stop telling people you’re happy and in love!" Asked why, Grant said, "Because they aren’t happy and in love."

Even those who liked Daisy Miller went Attila on 1975’s At Long Last Love, a lavish tribute to ’30s musicals with Cole Porter songs recorded live by some actors who were trained singers (Madeleine Kahn) and others who weren’t (Shepherd, Burt Reynolds). It was meant to be charming. It got the most vitriolic reviews this side of Battlefield Earth. Bogdanovich now says, "We rushed and fucked it up. The first preview in San Jose was an unmitigated disaster. Then we recut and remixed, and it played quite well. But I made some calamitous changes after that, and didn’t preview it again before release. We were just killed. Later we made a different edit. When Jesse called me to say he was showing it, I said, ‘Why?’ ‘I like it.’ ‘Oh, you’re the one.’<0x2009>"

The Castro will screen that improved edit — which is charming. Although the title is still a pseudonym for "turkey," At Long Last Love has never been released on video or DVD. In a town where success usually excuses all egotism, Bogdanovich had still somehow crossed a line. His failures were blamed on sheer arrogance. "I got a lot of that," he says — though back then a purportedly imperious on-set demeanor and statements like "I’m not modest, I’m not humble, and the more success I have, the more critics will resent me" surely didn’t help. He’d had the temerity to befriend Hollywood legends including Grant, John Ford, and Orson Welles — who was practically a permanent houseguest. Who the hell did he think he was?

Cynics had already interpreted Bogdanovich’s hit homages to Hollywood’s past as evidence he didn’t have an original thought in his head. Then they gloated over his nonhits. Despite the star power of Reynolds and both O’Neals, Nickelodeon was a 1976 Christmas flop. (Forced to shoot in color, Bogdanovich says, "It’s another movie in black and white" — which is how he’ll show it at the Castro.)

Despite excellent reviews, 1979’s Paul Theroux adaptation Saint Jack didn’t find an audience. Ditto 1981’s They All Laughed, an enchanting, ensemble romantic comedy. It was (among other things) a valentine to his new love and protégée, erstwhile Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten — who shortly after filming ended was killed by the thuggish promoter-husband she’d tried to leave amicably. That murder-suicide was followed by more ugliness: a war of words between Bogdanovich and Hugh Hefner; "dramatization" of the tragedy in 1983’s Star 80 ("I begged Bob Fosse not to do it") and a TV movie; and distribution problems for They All Laughed that cost him millions. Sympathy soured when Bogdanovich became involved with Dorothy’s younger sister, Louise — who was all of six months older than his own daughter. (Nonetheless, their eventual marriage lasted 13 years.)

Bogdanovich had a left-field comeback in 1985’s Mask, with Eric Stoltz as Elephant Kid and Cher as biker-chick mom. But even that was marred by public sparring with both Cher and studio execs. The latter substituted Bob Seger tunes for Bruce Springsteen ones key to the story’s real-life inspiration. (The Castro’s "theatrical world premiere" cut restores all the Bruuuuce.) Whether good, bad, or indifferent, his subsequent ventures flopped. In an eerie echo of past events, 1993’s The Thing Called Love came out (barely) after star River Phoenix OD’d. Bogdanovich turned to directing TV episodes (including for The Sopranos) and cable movies. It wasn’t a comedown, he says. "The scripts were good … and I got to work with actors like Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, and George Segal."

Bogdanovich also relit an acting career abandoned decades earlier. Having written essays about film history (notably for Esquire) before moving to Hollywood, he thinks his industry hater trail is partly due to perception of him as critic turned filmmaker. He considers the roughly 45 stage productions he acted in (and the 6 he directed) from age 15 to 24 as his real prior job.

Given all past tempests, Bogdanovich seems on good terms with his exes — Shepherd (in town with the play Curvy Widow) has promised to show up at the Castro late Friday for The Last Picture Show and At Long Last Love; Louise is flying in to talk about her late sister when They All Laughed shows on Sunday.

Is it painful for them to see Dorothy Stratten onscreen? "Yeah, especially now that [costar] John Ritter has died," he says. "But you know, when you see it with an audience, it’s OK — it takes the pain somewhat away. One of the peripheral tragedies [to Stratten’s death] was that the movie was never properly seen in its day. You couldn’t really look at it in the way it was meant to be enjoyed."


Fri/7–Sun/9, $10 per day ($25 weekend pass)

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.castrotheatre.com, www.ticketweb.com

Keeping it raw


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Who took the sex outta my rock ‘n’ roll? You gotta wonder, watching the Virgins — looking all of 12, collectively, and working the style and charisma of boys whose mothers still dress them — who played a Noise Pop show March 1 at Mezzanine. Sure, the New York City combo can write a good song — far better than those by the old-enough-to-know-better Gutter Twins, who were messing with almost two-decades-old, decayed grunge tropes across town at Bimbo’s 365 Club that same night. But they weren’t kidding when it came to picking a name: far be it from the Virgins to be mentally undressed. They looked like they were safely tucked into fresh, clean underwear — no holes bitten through by groupies — much like those other hotties in prep clothing, Vampire Weekend.

Where to find lusty, lascivious pop? Even Mariah Carey is giving brain cells top billing with her upcoming album, E=MC2 (Island). When it comes to the once-squeaky-clean Jacksons, "Don’t go there" Michael tops "Yeah, that’s sexy, sexy, sexy" Janet with his 25-year-old classic Thriller (Sony) — despite the former’s hopes in picking up where Control (A&M, 1986) left off by focusing on the dance floor with her likable, pillow-talking Discipline (Island). Sex? There are no bejeweled nipples in sight — and as for Jacko, the gloves are off and Neverland Ranch has been foreclosed. And the Vampires and Virgins definitely aren’t providing any.

Perhaps it’s time to turn to more wholesome pleasures like, say, jogging. Yoni Wolf of Why? — a self-proclaimed member of the Bronson Pinchot Fan Club, Anticon stalwart, and stealth heart-rate-raiser — will turn you around. "I can tell you right now, if you don’t know the power of endorphins, it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing," raves Wolf, 28, on the line from his Oakland abode. "I’ve never been a jock because I’m not coordinated. But to jog, you just have to move your legs around. You don’t need to catch a ball or hold a ball and get knocked down. I don’t even remember why I started doing this — probably ’cause I got a little gut and I gotta knock this off. Yeah, eat a midnight snack … "

Yep, it’s funny how passion plays out. Why?’s new disc, Alopecia (Anticon), returns to the lost love pined over on Why?’s last album, the breaking-through-after-breaking-up Elephant Eyelash (Anticon, 2005), and settles happily into its own sense of resignation — or as Wolf puts it, "hopeful frustration" — about that girlfriend and about life. Honestly, Wolf bedazzles with bared-belly, gutsy rhymes about jerking off in museums, "blowing kisses to disinterested bitches," a childhood fear of that ShowBiz Pizza bear, "eating pussy for new fans," "sucking dick for drink tickets at my cousin’s bar mitzvah," and "using Purell till my hands bleed and swell" — and that’s just in one track ("Good Friday").

Working with Why? cohorts — brother Josiah and Doug McDiarmid — as well as Fog’s Andrew Broder, Mark Erickson, Thee More Shallows’ D. Kessler, and ex-Beulah-ite Eli Crews, Wolf has stripped off the stray mustaches he’s been hiding behind to fully expose his pungent, punchy, stream-of-consciousness rhymes. Highly specific, yes; weirdly sexy, uh-huh — right down to the CD title, named for the mysterious disorder in which hair follicles halt production.

"You don’t suffer from alopecia?" I venture.

"What are you trying to say, I’m hairy?" jokes Wolf. "I’m a monkey? I actually suffered from it for a minute — on my penis."

Nah, nah, nah, the vocalist actually had a coin-size patch of affected skin for two years: "I have a theory why mine started happening — the hand of god came down and touched me on this one spot — no, I stepped on a bottle in a river and I got some sort of infection." It lingered throughout the period that Why? wrote, recorded, and mixed the new full-length, like an uninvited sweetheart. "It was looming and ominous and weird. At first I thought it was a fucking STD," Wolf says.

Slug of Atmosphere ended up setting him straight at a show in Baton Rouge, La., Wolf continues, and in the end, the bald patch "symbolized that period of my life for me, the creation of this record. For me, it was this little patch of honest skin: honest flesh with no covering or pretenses of an attempt to cover itself up, a little patch of baby skin that was really soft. That’s what I was thinking, a return to the raw." Oh, and it’s a tad sexy: "It’s a pretty word," Wolf adds. "It sounds like a flower." *


With Dose One, Cryptacize, and DJ Odd Nosdam and DJ Jel

Thurs/6, 9 p.m., $13

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF




The Portland indie-psych outfit love them some land of the dead — and some Robotech. Thurs/6, 9 p.m., $6. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. www.thehotelutahsaloon.com


SF’s Crucial Blast ambassadors resurrect classic rock, post-punk, and sludge for giggles. With Old Time Relijun and Tea Elles. Thurs/6, 9:30 p.m., $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Libya rocks — thanks to the Bay’s Heavenly States, who invest a whole lotta soul into their forthcoming Delayer (Rebel Group). With Citay. Fri/7, 9 p.m., $12. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


The atonal Aussie Siltbreezers eschew bone meat, instead cutting to the ‘core with militant vegan deconstructo-noise. Opening as Tomes, Loren Chasse and Glenn Donaldson delve into the dark, dank folk flip of Thuja. With Curse of the Birthmark. Sat/8, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.

New soup for you!


Day is done, gone the sun, and let’s have soup. The sun is lingering a little longer these days, but winter still abides in the garden, it remains damp and chilly inside, and if nothing else, we can warm our hands in the steam that rises from our bowls of soup.

Like all repertoires, the soup repertoire is in need of constant tending. You prune the ones that don’t quite work or show signs of reduced drawing power while being alert to new prospects. Much as I love butternut squash soup, for instance (and its near relation, kabocha squash soup), I’ve stricken it from the list, in part because of domestic unrest and in part because a great many restaurant kitchens turn out some version of it between November and March, and this creates an overkill issue.

Meanwhile, there is the matter of additions. The good soupist craves ideas, and when, for instance, a neighbor told of an excellent broccoli-leek soup she brought home one day from the Bi-Rite deli, the soupist’s ears pricked right up. Broccoli-leek? Could this be just a version of potato-leek with broccoli added? The soupist can’t speak for the Bi-Rite kitchen, but potato-leek with broccoli added does make a lovely, cream-of-broccoli-like soup, except with no cream.

Procedure: Clean a large leek by trimming the root end, removing the green leaves, thinly slicing the white bulb, and separating and cleaning the rings in a large bowl of water. Heat some sweet butter or vegetable oil in a soup pan, add the leek rings (with a pinch of salt), and soften, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the leek turn brown. Add a head of broccoli, rinsed and coarsely chopped, along with a large russet potato, peeled and cubed. Add about four or five cups water or stock — chicken stock is excellent but not vegan — bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Puree with an immersion wand or in a blender, add some ground or cracked black pepper, and salt to taste.

A nice springtime variation is to substitute green, or fresh, garlic (now showing up at farmers markets) for the leek. You will need three or four green garlic stalks, since they’re much slenderer than leeks. These soups cool very appealingly, even down to room temperature, but if your hands are blue, serve them hot.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Shen Wei Dance Art


PREVIEW It might be just as well that Chinese choreographer Shen Wei didn’t start dancing until quite late — at the ripe old age of 20. But what he may have missed in early dance training, he more than made up for in other artistic endeavors. The son of Chinese opera performers in Hunan, at age 9, Wei followed the parental path and began studying opera, and by 16 he was performing with the Hunan State Opera. He also studied, and became recognized in, the demanding art of Chinese watercolor. So when Wei became a founding member of Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China’s first contemporary dance group, he brought an exceptionally well-honed visual sensibility to dance. To this day, his choreography shows a rare ability to unite the visual and the kinetic, not to mention the East and the West. He eventually moved to New York and created Shen Wei Dance Art company in 2003. Last year he won a MacArthur Fellowship, and this summer his company will perform at the opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He’s having that kind of explosive career. But then why wouldn’t mysteriously staged, musically intriguing, visually stunning dance theater lure in audiences? For its Yerba Buena appearance, the company performs Map (2005) to Steve Reich’s 1985 sprawling orchestral suite The Desert Music, and on a more intimate scale, Re-(Part 1) (2006) to Tibetan chant. (Rita Felciano)

SHEN WEI DANCE ART Thurs/6–Sat/8, 8 p.m, $26–$45. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Spundae 15-Year Anniversary


PREVIEW When they founded Spundae in 1993, Peter Beckers and Guiv Naimi pioneered America’s electronic superclub a full two years before New York’s legendary (and sadly departed) Twilo. The duo managed to mix distinguished San Francisco talent — Jerry Bonham, Jondi and Spesh, Alain Octavo, Scott Carelli — with international superstars such as Pete Tong, Felix da Housecat, DJ Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, and Christopher Lawrence. After all the downs (a partnership-turned-rivalry with UK superclub Godskitchen, a stalled record label) and ups (an offshoot in Los Angeles, a partnership with luxurious Ruby Skye, international acclaim), Spundae stands firm as a distinctly American dance music bastion. Sasha and Digweed’s upcoming stop in late April demonstrates Spundae’s undiminished drawing power.

To celebrate 15 years of success, Spundae attracts (what else?) local and international talent for a two-day celebration. Qoöl masterminds Jondi and Spesh prepare the opening course of progressive house on Thursday, setting the table for two young coheadliners: Canadian Deadmau5, who creates a signature sound by pouring energy into coolly-synthed numbers and epic electro productions; and Brit James Zabiela, who combines glitchy effects and acid bass lines with nuanced drum patterns that betray a leaning toward intricate, sound-warping gear.

San Francisco takes the stage Friday, as longtime Spundae resident Alain Octavo and promoter extraordinaire Dr. Syd Gris fill the floors early with house and progressive trance. Reigning "Best American DJs" Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden blend popular rock remixes, euphoric vocal tracks, and grittier, techno-based projections into a four-hour headlining set sure to showcase why they’ve become international favorites.

SPUNDAE 15-YEAR ANNIVERSARY Thurs/6, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., with James Zabiela, DeadMau5, and Jondi

and Spesh, $15; Fri/7, 9 p.m.–4 a.m., with Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden, Syd Gris, and Alain Octavio,

$20 ($30 for both days). Ruby Skye, 420 Mason, SF. (415) 693-0777, www.spundae.com

Local Live: Pinhead Gunpowder


LOCAL LIVE On the wall behind the stage at the 924 Gilman Street Project, someone has scrawled in green paint among the other graffiti, "Punk: Do It Yourself" — words that most of the volunteers, bands, and show-goers at 924 Gilman seem to live by. One longtime habitué, Billie Joe Armstrong, appeared to have abandoned the idea and the venue the day his band Green Day signed a record deal with Warner Bros. more than a dozen years ago. However, on Feb. 10, Armstrong was back on the Gilman stage for the first time in aeons in a rare appearance with his side project of 17 years, Pinhead Gunpowder.

The band sounds something like Insomniac-era Green Day, but they play at an even faster pace. And while Pinhead Gunpowder’s music reflected the sounds of so many other pop-punk bands that frequent the Gilman stage — La Plebe, Carnal Knowledge, and Zomo also performed that night — Armstrong stood out from the rest of the punk vocalists. His famously raucous showmanship transferred flawlessly from the arena to this smaller space. Here, without spotlights and pyrotechnics, his flair and drive to entertain became even more apparent.

At one point, someone in the crowd tossed a black fedora to Armstrong, who put it on his head, tilted it down over his face, and yelled, "Do I look like Michael Jackson?" Yet for the first time in years, he didn’t look like a star: the eyeliner and black suit–red tie combo of late were conspicuously missing. Dressed down in a striped shirt and sporting matted bleach-blond hair, he looked much like he did in 1994 when he stumbled on fame as a teenager. He was in his element, playing loud, fast punk.

Behind him sat Pinhead Gunpowder lyricist and drummer Aaron Cometbus, also well known for his longtime zine Cometbus. Cometbus’s lyrics and prose include tales of squatting in abandoned houses and dumpster diving, and since his stories continue to jibe with his lifestyle, he continues to be welcomed with open arms by the East Bay punk community. Nonetheless, Pinhead Gunpowder’s lyrics might as well be fiction when tumbling out of a millionaire rock star’s mouth. But this seemed to worry no one as the audience yelled along and cheered between songs.

“My Name is Albert Ayler”


REVIEW My Name Is Albert Ayler offers a close reading of the titular musician, a saxophone colossus who pushed the emotional limits of free jazz, but it also tells a broader story about the strange currents of American avant-garde music. Interviews with Ayler’s churchgoing Ohio family, New York City compatriots, and Scandinavian admirers trace a particular, though by no means atypical, passage. The tenor saxophonist first achieved renown in Stockholm, Sweden, where he began to experiment with the wailing, explosive runs that would some years later turn even John Coltrane’s head. ‘Trane specifically asked for Ayler to play at his funeral, and the photographs and live sound from the memorial service included in the film are searing enough to make even the staunchest defender of melody reconsider. Rather than employing warts-and-all tactics, first-time Swedish director Kasper Collin keeps a respectful distance from Ayler’s mysteries, nowhere more hauntingly than in a few late sequences regarding the musician’s purported tendency to stare into the sun. There is so much we will never know about Ayler, Collin seems to tell us, but watching former collaborators listen to his music through cracked expressions of pain and amazement is revealing enough.

MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER runs Sun/9–Tues/11 at the Red Vic Movie House. See Rep Clock for showtimes.

“Speaking Fierce”


PREVIEW The first time I discovered feminism wasn’t just for white women who ate organic produce, I was eavesdropping on one of my mom’s phone calls. She was going off about some ex-boyfriend and a few "lazy-ass mothafuckas" before declaring that neither her mother, nor her mother’s mother, nor her mother’s mother’s mother had taken any bullshit and she didn’t plan to break the chain now. Put in those terms, my 10-year-old brain started to think that the word feminism might just apply to every woman I knew who had the nerve to survive in my Fillmore neighborhood. Years later, I picked up Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (Seal Press, 2002), coedited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, and read about how other women my age were piecing together their own narratives of empowerment. Nowadays, Brooklyn-born Rehman is probably best known for writing on-the-road adventure stories about runaway Desi girls. She’s featured in this evening of art, spoken word, humor, and music in celebration of International Women’s Day. The night also includes performances by Bay Area soul diva Jennifer Johns and poetry collective Climbing PoeTree. Aside from celebrating stories of creative resistance, the event supports the Women of Color Resource Center, which works with war vets and teaches media production to low-income women of color in Oakland.

"SPEAKING FIERCE" Thurs/6, 7–9 p.m., $10–$25 (no one turned away for lack of funds). First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison, Oakl.; (510) 444-2700, ext. 305, www.coloredgirls.org

Seafood soup for the soul


IT TAKES A VILLAGE Chuck chicken noodle soup. Forget pho. When I’m sick, I need the warmth and sinus-clearing spice of hot and sour soup, or in a pinch, Top Ramen with lots of Tapatio. But the last time I was sick, in an effort to explore my new Outer Sunset hood, I decided to take my chances on the offerings at the almost-year-old Tofu Village.

Now, I’m all about immediate gratification. So I was happy when, 30 seconds after I sat down, steaming tea arrived. Then, 30 seconds after I ordered, came little plates of banchan: seaweed salad, vinegar-soaked bean sprouts, stewed potatoes, kimchi, and fish cakes. And 30 seconds after that? A whole fried fish. (I know it’s a delicacy, but I usually hate when my meat looks like what it used to be — except for cow-shaped steaks, which are fun. In this case, though, the crispy skin and tender flaky fish made my hesitant bite worthwhile.)

Then came the seafood tofu soup, in a basketball-size, steaming ceramic bowl. I ordered mine spicy (out of four options, this was the third hottest), and it was almost too much even for my heat-inured taste buds. The concoction was full of silky tofu, clams, and oysters — leading to my next triumph over a squeamish moment with unshelled prawns (carapaces, antennae, and pleopods — oh my!). The rice was kept warm in a similar ceramic bowl — a traditional touch — although the server didn’t offer to mix it with green tea, as is custom. The bulgogi, served on a sizzling ceramic plate, was flavorfully marinated and tender against the fresh pop of green onion.

Like a mother — a brisk, efficient, multitasking, slightly hovering mother — Tofu Village left me happy, stuffed, and still sniffling but feeling better. The best part? Getting all that food for just under $20.

TOFU VILLAGE Mon.–Thu., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. 1920 Irving, SF. (415) 661-8322

“Drama and Desire: Japanese Painting from the Floating World 1690-1850”


REVIEW Drawn almost entirely drawn from the near-mint-condition holdings of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, "Drama and Desire: Japanese Painting from the Floating World 1690–1850" is an exhilarating survey of early modern Japan and the sumptuous — and often costly — pleasures that were available to the upper echelon of its newly solidified class system.

One can follow the contextual trail laid down by the show and take in the long view of history inscribed with brush and natural pigments: the relocation of Japan’s capital to Edo (now Tokyo); the establishment of Yoshiwara, the city’s licensed pleasure quarters; the development of Kabuki and sumo; and most important, the rise of an urban, largely male merchant class who kept this floating world afloat. It is a panorama laid out in the pair of large folding screens of Hishikawa Moronobu (1681–84), both studies in hierarchical contrast between the more lowly teahouses and higher-class brothels and their characters: a starring courtesan, enfolded in thickly brocaded kimonos as battle-ready as any armored samurai, surrounded by her retinue of clients, servants, and geisha, and male customers shamefully covering their faces with their fans so they’re not recognized by rivals. The real drama of these ukiyo-e is in their details, such as in the way Katsushika Hokusai dapples the collar of young woman’s inner kimono with mica to evoke a luminescent cherry-blossom pattern in Woman Looking at Herself in a Mirror (1805). Seen from behind, her face framed by a small oval mirror, this gazing beauty is only partially regarding herself. She also seems to be taking stock of the viewer while taking pleasure in being looked at. But surely the pleasure is all ours. (Matt Sussman)

DRAMA AND DESIRE: JAPANESE PAINTINGS FROM THE FLOATING WORLD 1690–1850 Through May 4. Tues.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (Thurs. until 9 p.m.). $10 ($5 Thurs. after 5 p.m.), $7 students, $6 for 12 to 17, free for 11 and under. Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin, SF. (415) 581-3500

Free birds


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

George Sheehan, in his best-selling 1975 book of jogging-inspired philosophy, Running and Being: The Total Experience (Second Wind II), describes the endurance runner as being "twice born." The second life is the runner’s internal struggle — a gauntlet of pain, failure, and disappointment that ultimately becomes the necessary condition for hope. While not exactly an advertisement for sneakers, Sheehan’s maxim illustrates something important about the Black Swans: they aren’t the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down; they’re the medicine itself, a soulful salve pursuing internal aberrations because there’s something redemptive in their delivery, something undeniably good for you.

For his own part, songwriter Jerry DiCicca isn’t a runner. "I’m a relentless pacer," he confesses in an e-mail interview, "and a bad chess player," proving that the author of such doleful laments as "Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You" is not without humor after all. In fact, he’s far from a self-absorbed, journal-burning auteur. "I really care about the words, but I’m pretty sure if I moaned the menu of White Castle in a minor key backed by Noel [Sayre]’s violin, the effect wouldn’t be much different for most people."

It has been a bearish couple of years for the Black Swans. In late 2006 they released Sex Brain (Bwatue), an EP’s worth of variations on themes of a venal nature. After touring and getting "weirded out by some small labels that acted gross," they were able to remix a record originally made in 2005, and Change! (La Société Expéditionnaire) found its way into the light last November.

As we have learned, sustained struggle can be illuminating, so to call Change! a dark record is to deny its resolve, its reconciliation with psychic disfigurement. Melancholy airs are staked by arrangements that patiently wait on DiCicca’s mossy cant — "I sound like a narcoleptic caveman," he writes. On "Hope Island" he seems at peace with isolation so pure that it could have been the one true condition of his life. "Shake," a laconic waltz whose delicate piano figure trades with ocean-size guitar surges and Sayre’s tawny violin, exemplifies one of the band’s most enduring strengths: space — a slowly passing landscape that allows for breathing room and time to think. The Desire-era Dylan vibe comes courtesy of Sayre, who channels Scarlet Rivera better than anyone in or outside of Columbus, Ohio.

DiCicca is no Dylan dilettante. Last fall he lectured a 500-level class at Ohio State University on the bard’s career between Infidels (Columbia, 1983) and Time out of Mind (Columbia, 1997). He passed out pretzel rods to the class because, he writes, "I like to eat pretzels when I listen to Bob." Does he have further aspirations in the ivory tower? "I’m hardly a scholar," he observes, "just a semi-autistic windbag that convinced a professor otherwise."

Three records into their discography — Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You came out in 2004 on the Delmore Recording Society imprint — the Black Swans have proved their craftsmanship, one that does not feel overparented or overdetermined. Enter the artwork on the vinyl versions of Change!, each of which sports a custom sleeve painted by artists at ARC North, a Creativity Explored–like art studio for people with disabilities in Columbus. "I’ve purchased paintings by ARC artists because they seem freer, with less mimicry," writes DiCicca. "That’s what I aspire to — well, who wouldn’t?" On a recent visit to Aquarius Records, the bins offered a copy whose palate of serene colors — cornflower, aquamarine, a touch of navy — are swirled violently onto the paper, leaving gauzy, haphazard brushstrokes. A storm has come to a tranquil sea — or has just gone.


With Oxbow and Pillars of Silence

Tues/11, 9 p.m., $8

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF

(415) 970-9777


Say hello to my little Ferrari


Every time I hear a Giorgio Moroder track, I am transported back to an exclusive Miami disco in the early ’80s. I’m Cuban drug lord Tony Montana, in my white polyester suit, disco dancing with the robotic, all-bangs, ultrablond Elvira Hancock. Her heavily stylized and mechanical moves are only bolstered by her last three nose-powdering bathroom trips.

Fast-forward to a recent Saturday night at sleek Italo-disco night Ferrari, a monthly fundraiser for volunteer-based, DIY station 93.7 FM West Add Radio at Deco Lounge. While drug cartel members, big-name celebrities, and models were noticeably absent, the club — still in its infancy and more baby powder than coca powder — is still very insider-y, attracting a notable crew of local DJs, promoters, and scene makers.

Hitting the dance floor, I was surrounded by a who’s who of San Francisco party throwers like Parker Day (Stiletto), Rchrd Oh?! (Hold Yr Horses, Lights down Low), and Juanita More (Trannyshack, Booty Call) among a mixed crowd of Mission kids, gay Tenderloin hipsters, and drag queens, all bumping on the dance floor to every conceivable disco subgenre — whether it was Italo, Euro, or Hi-NRG from assorted decades.

DJs Christopher Vick (Gemini, Paradise), Jordan (House Parties), Nicky B (Electric Boogie), and Connor and Primo (Night Beat), who mix more obscure ’80s dance artists Klein and MBO with innovator Donna Summer, describe their records simply as "robot rock."

As I passed a couple of girls dancing like automatons — with blond, heavy-on-the-bangs hair — I prepared to mourn the day this club is discovered by Bridgette and Tunnel. Maybe promoters can hire a machine gun–wielding security team to keep out the riffraff. But disco’s inherent inclusivity, bringing everyone together for an orgy of music and revelry, means biting the bullet and passing on the ammunition.


Second Saturdays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., $5

Deco Lounge

510 Larkin, SF

(415) 346-2025, www.decosf.com

A band apart


There’s never been any doubt pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba could play. The 44-year-old Cuban émigré has been a highly favored sideman to top-shelf jazz leaders since landing in the United States some 15 years ago. He’s also had a steady recording contract with Blue Note and leads his own trios, which he dominates with an imposing virtuosity, an exacting sense of Cuban musical history, and a tense, brooding personality.

Now Rubalcaba has an exciting new quintet with a striking potential for challenging even his outsize talent. Culled from New York City’s best young players, his combo could be one of those very special groups whose exceptional parts create an even greater whole. Together almost a year, they’ve just released their first record, Avatar (Blue Note) and are embarking on their first West Coast tour, playing at both Yoshi’s locations over the course of a week. Avatar includes three compositions by saxophonist Yosvany Terry, whom Rubalcaba knew from their youth in Havana, Cuba, and who brings a modern, angular urbanity to the jazz traditions they are both well acquainted with. Trumpeter Mike Rodriquez played with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and has become one of the most sought-after young players in jazz. Bassist Matt Brewer had been with saxophonist Greg Osby’s group and suggested the stunning drummer Marcus Gilmore. Brewer and Gilmore are still in their 20s and bring a vibrant, youthful energy to the group that complements Rubalcaba’s old-world, old-soul vibe. Avatar nods to Rubalcaba’s Latin-classical side, closing with his arrangement of Preludio Corto no. 2 for Piano by the Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla, but the disc also showcases Terry’s funky "Hip Side," Brewer’s meditative "Aspiring to Normalcy," and Horace Silver’s enduring ballad "Peace."

It’s a riveting recording — and the combo’s live performances promise to be equally compelling. Of late, few major jazz ensembles stay together long enough to create really unique sounds and sensibilities. This particular quintet could have that kind of staying power.


Mon/10–March 12, 8 and 10 p.m., $20–$24

Yoshi’s San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, SF

Also March 13–15, 8 and 10 p.m.; March 16, 7 and 9 p.m., $12–$22


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.

(510) 238-9200, www.yoshis.com

World of echo


It’s been 20 years since My Bloody Valentine released their breakthrough album, Isn’t Anything (Creation) — long enough for it to be wound up in a younger generation’s musical DNA. For how frequently the band is referenced by both musicians and critics, the rich double-sidedness of MBV’s peculiar attack often gets simplified as "swooning" and "ethereal." Erstwhile Deerhunter vocalist Bradford Cox is one of the few shoegaze suitors who seems clued in to the searing — and often distressing — tensions that distinguish My Bloody Valentine from followers like Slowdive and Ride. In Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky), his first official release as Atlas Sound, Cox has worked out an exquisite combination of shoegaze and laptop pop, a fucked-up beauty waiting to be adored.

A self-described "queer art punk," the young Atlantan first turned heads for his Internet indiscretions and outré performances with Deerhunter. The words Cox used to describe author Dennis Cooper in ANP Quarterly may as well be his own propulsive mantra: "The only thing he does to infuriate so many people is to write honestly, expressing things that most people would prefer to stay far under the surface."

While Cox’s transgressions have previously edged up to mawkishness, Let the Blind channels his confessional tendencies into a newly retrospective shape. Atlas Sound’s source material, aesthetic means, and subject are inextricable from one another in the same manner as Jonathan Caouette’s first-person film, Tarnation (2003). Much glitchier than Deerhunter’s Cryptograms (Kranky, 2007), the Atlas Sound home recordings are almost exclusively about the soul-baring, delicious isolation of being alone in your adolescence. Cox has described "Quarantined" as being about children with AIDS, though the main refrain, "I am waiting to be changed," resonates with Morrissey-like wistfulness.

The music on Let the Blind drifts uneasily between bliss and terror, the heavily doctored mélange of glockenspiels and guitars conjuring a narcoleptic glow. Drone pieces like "Small Horror" and "On Guard" concentrate on specific intense emotions, while fuller arrangements like "River Card" and "Bite Marks" entangle youthful romantic obsession in soft-hewn bass melodies and howling vocals. The shoegaze textures may be Cox’s equivalent of Proust’s madeleine, but it’s in the treated, divested vocal tracking that Let the Blind achieves its deepest immersions.

On "Winter Vacation," the chords seem to be pulling each other apart, reaching for different resolutions — so too with the rest of the album’s balancing act of sensuousness and numbness — though never so far apart as we think. Cox has written extensively about aiming for catharsis on his heavily trafficked blog, but Let the Blind comes off more as a prismatic refracting of past intensity and indolence. It’s teenage confusion done in Technicolor, and that ought to be enough to change more than a few kids’ lives.


With White Rainbow and Valet

Sat/8, 10 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

www.bottomofthehill.com, deerhuntertheband.blogspot.com

One ear to the ground



REVIEW Ah, the morality police — you’ve gotta love ’em. At least artists who get free publicity from the overzealous watchdogs should. With freedom of speech still miraculously in decent shape in this country, one might be forgiven for forgetting the unique dilemma of the banned book: once branded immoral, it automatically becomes sought after.

Such is the case with Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s Wolves of the Crescent Moon (Penguin, 192 pages, $14), which was banned in Saudi Arabia by theocratic thought-cops for casting too many spotlights on societal problems that the authorities insist don’t exist. Upon being labeled dangerous and sinful, the book gained a large audience throughout the Arabic-speaking world. It has since been translated into French, and now, into English by Anthony Calderbank. While hardly as inflammatory as Saudi authorities might lead one to believe, the novel paints a troubling portrait of a traditional society embracing and fighting modernity. Government claims notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia is not free from abuse, prejudice, racism, and religious hypocrisy, and the author minces no words in giving voice to the marginalized, the abandoned, and the otherwise ignored. While the titular animal does figure prominently in the story, the main wolves appear to be of the human variety.

Wolves of the Crescent Moon reveals itself in fevered rushes of storytelling that concern three characters: a one-eared bedouin, a eunuch, and a one-eyed orphan. Turad, the one-eared tribesman who has tolerated an endless run of degrading jobs since leaving the desert for the city, arrives at a Riyadh bus station without a plan. Paralyzed by indecision, he finds himself trapped in nightmarish reminiscence and speculation; thus, we are introduced to Tawfiq, Turad’s elderly eunuch coworker, whose life of misery is retold by the bedouin. While trying to decide which bus ticket to buy, Turad discovers a discarded government file involving an abandoned one-eyed baby; from there, the experimental narrative expands to include anecdotes about the orphan’s distressing childhood, as well as reveries imagined by Turad in an effort to fill in the gaps left by the impersonal official documents. His inability to inject even the briefest respite into the child’s conjectured history speaks volumes. For Turad, life is an endless chain of pain and suffering.

Told over the course of an evening, and engulfed by mental fatigue, Al-Mohaimeed’s novel presents a variant of the existential dread found in works by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, albeit with more violence. The spellbinding narrative rarely feels anchored to its chief time and place, but instead hangs suspended within a hellish realm governed by fear, agony, and resentment.

In volleying between carefully recalled memories of his own suffering, detailed anecdotes about Tawfiq’s forced slavery and eventual castration, and embellishments about the abused orphan he never knew, Turad takes the role of a downtrodden Scheherazade. He’s capable of spinning 1,001 tales without the faintest hope of saving a single life. But his creator — at least until he was censored — speaks directly to those huddled in the margins of a secretive society. Wolves of the Crescent Moon might remain banned in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future; for now, Al-Mohaimeed will receive his well-deserved audience elsewhere in the world.

The young untold


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

To say that Pedro Costa is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers might sound like a provocation. But I have said it and will repeat it: Pedro Costa is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, and there’s nothing willfully perverse in my statement. What follows are initial notes toward understanding why Costa matters. Final judgment is left up to the audience — to whom this director yields so much — and should only follow from seeing his films. Watching Costa’s work gives me the chills; it’s a most mysterious, unusual, and unclassifiable oeuvre, one littered with ghosts of the past and the present.

From the first frame of each Costa film, it’s apparent we’re in the company of that rare filmmaker who simply cares about people: about who his subjects are, about what they’re feeling and thinking, and just as crucially, what his viewers are thinking about them. Each work is riddled with enticing close-ups, and Costa’s pictorial attention (coming out of a sensibility equally at home with European fine art as, say, the dust bowl photography of Walker Evans) is a constant wonder. The subjects are for the most part the downtrodden inhabitants of a Lisbon, Portugal, slum called Fontaínhas, people literally overlooked by dominant cultures. He’s not trying to rub their misery in his viewers’ faces — calling him a "Straubian neorealist," to quote J. Hoberman, is misleading; if anything, his films, with their rejection of rational structures, are more neosurrealist. Rather, the progression in Costa’s cinema has been to give voice to his subjects and to treat them as worthy of existing as fictional characters (Bones, 1997); then, to delve further into their world, their personalities, and their ways of living (In Vanda’s Room, 2000); and most recently, with great success, to combine the two approaches (Colossal Youth, 2006).

Costa finds richness in small variations, and his evolution has led to a narrowing of both subject matter and spatial exploration. Costa has retreated from the wide-open, Monument Valley–esque volcanic surface of Cape Verde to interiors; the benefit of seeing 1994’s Down to Earth is in realizing how Costa’s characters must now feel, cramped in their disheveled surroundings. Combined with his movement toward a long-take style, this signals a shift from a cinema of space to a cinema of time. A parallel trend is an attempt to redefine beauty in cinematic terms — from the exquisite monochrome 35mm of The Blood (1989) to the grubby, purposeful digital video of In Vanda’s Room — and its staggeringly unique use (aided by Costa’s remarkable compositional eye) in Colossal Youth. Likewise, few contemporary filmmakers are as concerned with the juxtaposition of image and soundtrack, and each of Costa’s films reveals new ways of seeing and hearing: in Colossal Youth, the sound is a better narrative guide than the visuals — making long takes a necessity.

Yet the more these movies seem to be within one’s grasp, the more they slip away from comprehension. Costa seems to be saying the same thing about life today: he portrays the outside world as a labyrinth and the domestic arena as a much-needed shelter. He’s surely something of a Brechtian modernist (with Jean-Luc Godard as perhaps an even greater influence than Jean-Marie Straub), yet it’s tempting to assign the modifier post in order to understand Costa’s work. His persistent interrogation of the ways in which people live is certainly post–Yasujiro Ozu. And as Jeff Wall has noted, Costa can also be considered post-Bressonian in that he improves on what some find problematic about the master’s later works — namely, Robert Bresson’s tendency to turn his models into intense abstractions. Costa corrects this by allowing disorder, the uncleanliness of the real world. (Bones is that rare transitional film able to stand on its own as a masterpiece, though at the same time, it doesn’t go far enough — as Vanda and Colossal Youth show). The category that Costa might most willingly fit is that of a postpunk director; that the English moniker Colossal Youth — distinct from the film’s Portuguese title Juventude em marcha, literally "Youth on the March" is also the only album from the stripped-down Welsh band Young Marble Giants (Rough Trade, 1980) is a surrealist coincidence.

Costa’s films are complex objects in which the present and the past intermingle, both literally (in the posthuman Portuguese slums where Costa’s last three features unfold) and within the history of film. The lipstick traces of Howard Hawks, John Ford, Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, and many other auteurs reappear in Costa’s films. Just as Down to Earth takes off from I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Bones remakes The Searchers (1956). (It might be perverse to say Colossal Youth is Rio Lobo [1970] to Vanda‘s Rio Bravo [1959], but … there, I just said it.) Les inrockuptibles‘s Serge Kaganski has said that Fontaínhas’s poor are like Indians in classical westerns, and that seems about right. In the same way that he recognizes Bresson’s genius, Costa nods to Hollywood even as he tries, in his unorthodox mode of production — he’s created a studio system in which the crew is minimal, and in the case of Colossal Youth, technical support is provided by the actors off camera — to rip it up and start again.

One final, crucial note: As Costa describes, the themes in the films are highly personal. A search for family and for home threads through them, articuutf8g desire for a community that merges the personal and the political (his community is about as far from the European Commission as one can get). And in his subjects, he’s found that missing family, which is but one of many reasons why Colossal Youth is so touching. He’s also developed an alternative, collaborative model of filmmaking that is radical yet replicable, and one that will generate disciples — provided a director is willing to devote the time needed to nurture similar relationships with actors. Even if Costa "only" continues to make films about downtrodden Portuguese — exploring what one festival guide has called a "desperate utopian dream of a human existence" — it’s a new form of cinema that will continue to reverberate, echo, and grow richer with each variation. The avenues of inquiry are innumerable. After all, John Ford only made westerns.


Through April 12

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-5249


SFIAAFF: Multiculti cock-meat sandwich


› superego@sfbg.com

When we last left crazy-ass Kumar (Kal Penn) and his more straitlaced college pal Harold (John Cho), at the end of the 2005 stoner epic Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, they’d just victoriously satiated their munchies with enough sliders to block a rhino’s colon. That movie was a classic bong-wielding buddy road-trip flick — Question: How long does it take two potheads to get to a drive-through? Answer: Neil Patrick Harris on ecstasy — that was improbably hailed by serious critics as a multicultural breakthrough. Kumar is Indian American and Harold Asian American, a combination of lead ethnicities that was new to the American mainstream. And even though lineage figures little in the characters’ daily realities, Harold’s and Kumar’s difference from the cartoonish honky inbreds and skinheads (and candid others of color) that exist beyond their postmillennial collegiate bubble — and who often mistake them for Arabs — fuels the plot. Dude, where’s my kufi?

White Castle screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg giddily foreground the first movie’s subtext in their follow-up (which they also directed), Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay, a special presentation at this year’s San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Mistaken for terrorists when they’re caught with a "smokeless bong" on a flight to Amsterdam, weed capital of the world, our hapless heroes ("North Korea and al-Qaeda working together," gloats their bumbling FBI nemesis) are imprisoned in Gitmo. After being presented with a jailer’s massive "cock-meat sandwich" — "I’ve never sucked dick before," quips Kumar. "I bet it sucks dick!" — and submitted to various tortures, they eventually escape, crashing a "bottomless" hot tub party, impersonating Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice, and lighting up with George W. Bush himself. No shit.

I caught up with Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and actor Cho — a surprisingly intellectual type who studied English at UC Berkeley — as they prepared to promote the new movie at wacky comics convention WonderCon.

SFBG For Arab Americans like me, this movie is like a nightmare come true. People gasp whenever I stand up on an airplane, and 9 times out of 10 I’m the one who’s pulled over for "random" searches. I know that Indian Americans often experience similar treatment. But Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay seems revolutionary in that it expands that situation to include the feelings of Asian Americans, and it’s playing at the [SF International] Asian American Film Fest. Do you think Asian Americans relate?

JOHN CHO I would assume that every immigrant group has their own bag of individual problems. I don’t know if Asian Americans get hassled at the airport — maybe they do. Traveling with Kal on the publicity tour for the first film, I got to see firsthand how he was treated — and that’s real; he was patted down all the time. We were traveling together, and he’s the one that got pulled aside. I’m really happy that the film’s playing at the festival. I feared that Asian Americans wouldn’t accept this movie — the subject matter isn’t discussed much in the community — but it seems that the programmers feel they will.

SFBG Not to state the obvious here, but Jon and Hayden, you’re a couple of white guys. I’m wondering if these scripts come from your own experiences, or if you do a lot of research?

JON HURWITZ We’re white guys, but we’re Jews. So we’re already a minority subset, but I don’t really know if that plays into it. We’ve always had a large group of multicultural friends and been able to observe and have conversations with people with different points of view. As a writer and director you’re just hoping to put something out there that’s new. Something with Asian American and Indian American leads was something that hadn’t been done in the way that we were doing it. We felt that we had enough perspective as huge fans of comedy to pull it off.

HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG We didn’t set out to make this big statement, although I have to say when we looked at the first one when it was done, we said, "Wow, this is so much better than we thought." It went way beyond the fart jokes, weed humor, and nudity that we love to put up on-screen. But it’s really just a classic comedy trope. Two guys, a baggie, a voyage. . . . It was the right time to have someone finally throw ethnicity into the mix. The script took off from there. The only question now is, where else can we take this? Harold and Kumar Fly the Space Shuttle?

JC And the focus is always on being funny first. The characters’ races are almost secondary. I find that so refreshing because a lot of Asian American cinema is just about being Asian American, how hard it is. Not to denigrate anyone’s work, but those movies get really repetitive, and fewer people want to see them.

SFBG Speaking of space — John, you’re about to be mobbed at WonderCon because you’ve accepted the role of Mr. Sulu in the upcoming Star Trek film. Following in actor George Takei’s footsteps must feel huge.

JC I’m delighted. As a kid it meant so much to me to see an Asian American on television and say, "Whoa! He’s not wearing a cone-shaped hat or teaching kung fu!" It was very important, a legacy that I desperately wanted to be a part of, and something I feel my work on the Harold and Kumar movies pays tribute to. Now Asian Americans can be stoners too.


Sat/15, 9:15 p.m.

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120

>> Complete Asian American Film Fest coverage

SFIAAFF: Are you lonesome tonight?


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Brad Renfro wasn’t the only cinematic figure neglected in the recent Academy Awards’ "In Memoriam" montage: the academy fumbled even harder in its omission of Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang, who died last June of colon cancer in Los Angeles at 59. The self-taught father of Taiwan’s cinematic new wave and a runaway Seattle software engineer who abandoned the tech field that made his classmates wealthy for his true love of filmmaking, Yang only created only eight films during his short, multi-career life, but during that brief span the Shanghai-born, Taipei-raised auteur managed to lend an influential, helping hand in the difficult birth of serious Taiwanese movie making.

Yang’s so-called old drinking buddies, screenwriter Wu Nien-chen and fellow director Hou Hsiao-hsien, were more than just sodden shoulders to cry on; they grappled with manifold frustrations of working independently in the Taiwanese film industry (described by Yang as "fragmented and run-down," with only a limited pool of experienced actors). This gang of three supported each other financially and artistically: according to Jeff Yang’s account in Once upon a Time in China (Atria, 2003), Wu spearheaded the anthology In Our Time (1982), which showcased Yang’s first theatrical film, and Hou mortgaged his house to underwrite Yang’s second feature, Taipei Story (1985), which Hou also starred in — and ended up losing his shirt for after it lasted all of four days in theaters.

Twin brothers by different mothers and both born in 1947, Hou and Yang created their breakthrough films in 1986: the former’s Dust in the Wind was also — surprise! — written by Wu, while the latter’s The Terrorizers is a handsome, cerebral urban psychological drama that flaunts new wave roots like a glittering pop offspring of Jean-Luc Godard. Inspiring critic Fredric Jameson to praise its "archaically modern" textures, The Terrorizers broke down, as writer David Leiwei Li writes in Chinese Films in Focus (BFI, 2003), the hidebound binaries of East and West as "tradition versus modernity, enabling readings that recognize both the border-transcending flow of global commerce and the reflexive capacity of residual local cultures."

It’s easy to read Hou’s and Yang’s early works as responses to one another, a relic of their barroom-pal give-and-take back in the day, and some might view Yang’s masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day (1991), as simply a rejoinder to Hou’s critically acclaimed, box office record-breaker City of Sadness (1989), though it was made amid far more hazardous conditions — 1989 was the year the bottom fell out of the Taiwanese market for locally produced films, and audiences turned to Hong Kong–made entertainments. A few critics might even tag Yi Yi: A One and a Two as Yang’s greatest feature — for its warm, humanist blend of The Terrorizer‘s postmodern urban landscape, Yang’s evocative roundelay of reflective surfaces, and the gentle gaze he levels on its quietly deteriorating family, headed by a software company manager pater familias, played by Yang’s old friend Wu, and a mother in the throes of spiritual crisis (Day‘s Elaine Jin).

For its unseen but subtly telegraphed depths, referential richness, and the sheer breadth and long-shot scope of its four-hour running time, Day nonetheless deserves the praise lavished on it. Much like City, writes Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh and Darrell William Davis in Taiwanese Film Directors: A Treasure Island (Columbia University Press, 2005), Day‘s "local history turns the lock on long-suppressed ideas," convincingly plunging the personal into an epic sphere. Rarely screened and unavailable on DVD (much like The Terrorizer), Day has been described as a Taiwanese Rebel Without a Cause (1955) — a true descriptor if one discounts the very specific mise-en-scène of early ’60s Taipei and the film’s dense connective web of cultural, political, and familial allusions, obligations, and affiliations, one that’s as many-tendrilled and enmeshing as that of your average multigenerational Chinese family.

Ensnared by filial duty as well as street gang politics and placed in the sweepingly de-centered core of Day is its proto–James Dean, Xiao Si’r, portrayed by the baby-faced Chang Chen (the nomadic hottie in Yang’s Taiwanese cohort Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2000]). The director opens Day with Si’r’s Shanghainese intellectual father arguing with teachers about his son’s grades, and then widens his aperture imperceptibly, ingeniously onto the arboreal byways, flat-lit classrooms, vertigo-inducing corridors, and shadowy hideouts of Si’r’s world. It’s a realm in which the children of the Kuomintang live an uneasy existence much like their elders: residing in Japanese houses less than 20 years after their parents fought the Imperial army on the mainland, these Taiwanese teens listen to American doo-wop and early rock and form street gangs that parallel the battling political factions of the People’s Republic. Tanks rumble by as brownouts underline the sense of rupture.

Resembling in its panorama and chapterlike parts such historical epics as Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976), Day unfurls like a scroll, peppered by the shouts and orders of parents, peddlers, and teachers, and peopled with pungent characters like the Tolstoy-reading, romantically heroic hood Honey and his guilelessly calcuutf8g survivor of a sweetheart Ming — as well as Si’r’s bookish father, who’s torn from his self-absorption when taken into custody by the secret police. All bear the marks of severance from one’s past, papers, homeland, and other familiar signposts of identity. The quiet, troubled, and piercing irony that Yang applies to the scene of Si’r’s father’s arrest, one in which his children repeatedly play Presley’s "Are You Lonesome Tonight" in order to translate the lyric "Does your memory stray to a brighter summer day" to sing at some future sock hop haunted by the specter of Honey’s death — shades of the Jesus and Mary Chain — makes this teeming opus worth turning over again and again in your own memory. It’s like a battle hymn to a faltering family, or a love song to the death of innocence.


The Terrorizer

March 14, 9 p.m.

Yi Yi: A One and a Two

March 20, 7 p.m.

Pacific Film Archive

A Brighter Summer Day

March 19, 7 p.m.

Clay Theater

>> Complete Asian American Film Fest coverage

SFIAAFF: Take one


>Buddha Collapsed out of Shame (Hana Makhmalbaf, Iran, 2007) Buddha marks the feature debut of Hana Makhmalbaf, one of acclaimed Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s daughters (she made her first short, The Day My Aunt Was Ill (1997), when she was only 9 years old). It has already won eight awards at different international film festivals, a fact that becomes more impressive when one considers the filmmaker’s age: she’s 19. Reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema, her first feature is shot in a neorealist style in Bamian, Afghanistan, and features a 5-year-old girl named Baktay (the extraordinary Nikbakht Noruz) as its main character. In following the youngster during her struggles to attend school, the film becomes a stunning exploration of how Afghanistan’s violent political history affects its youth. (Maria Komodore) March 15, 12:45 p.m., Castro; Tues/18, 8:45 p.m., Pacific Film Archive.

>Happiness (Hur Jin-ho, South Korea, 2007) One of the most adept melodramatists working in South Korea, Hur casts an affectionate, gently comic glance on the see-sawing declines and resurrections of the hard-partying, handsomely weather-beaten Young-su (the talented Hwang Jung-min), an aging club kid with a raging case of cirrhosis. Luckily, the man is able to rub a few brain cells together and get himself to a rural health retreat that specializes in detoxifying worst-case-scenarios with clean living, herb gathering, fresh air, and outrageously light exercise. Young-su is also lucky enough to win over the clinic’s sweet, fragile princess, Eun-hee (Lim Soo-jung), who suffers from lung disease and just might keel over if forced to break into anything more strenuous than a stroll. But can you keep the playboy down on the farm once his liver is back in business? (Kimberly Chun) March 15, 6 p.m., Castro; March 16, 5 p.m., PFA; March 22, 7 p.m., Camera.

Never Forever (Gina Kim, South Korea/USA, 2007) At first, it’s purely business: as a last-resort response to her Korean American husband’s infertility, Sophie (The Departed‘s Vera Farmiga, sporting an ice-blond ‘do) lurks after a Korean immigrant (Jung-woo Ha) she spots at a fertility clinic. She pays him big bucks to have sex with her and possibly make a baby — therefore saving her husband (David L. McInnis) from depression and getting his intensely Christian family off their backs. Of course, things get complicated mighty fast. Farmiga is riveting in this deliberately quiet (save its melodramatic violin-heavy score) drama, a delicate exploration of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons — and grappling with the sudden realization that wrong and right are often not so easy to define. (Cheryl Eddy) March 15, 9:15 p.m., Clay; March 16, 7:50 p.m., PFA.

>Ping Pong Playa (Jessica Yu, USA, 2007) Energetic direction by Jessica Yu — best-known for docs like the Henry Darger portrait In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) and the Oscar-winning short Breathing Lessons (1996) — perfectly complements a star-making turn by Jimmy Tsai as Christopher "C-Dub" Wang, a slacker who discovers he’s got talent as a ping-pong teacher and, eventually, competitor. Yu and Tsai cowrote the hip-hop flavored script, filled with rapid-fire dialogue and culturally targeted zingers (as when C-Dub assures an opponent, "I hope you’re hungry, because I’m about to serve you some Chinese take-out!"). Winning from start to finish, Ping Pong Playa achieves the near-impossible: it makes infectious hilarity seem entirely effortless. (Cheryl Eddy) March 14, 6:45 p.m., Clay; March 17, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; March 22, 2:15 p.m., Camera.

Santa Mesa (Ron Morales, USA/Philippines, 2008) Ron Morales’s first feature focuses on 12-year-old Hector (Jacob Kiron Shalov) and his efforts to fit in when he’s forced to leave the United States (where he was born and raised) to be with his grandmother Lita (celebrated Filipino actor Angie Ferro) in Manila, Philippines, after his mother’s death. Despite Shalov’s awkward performance and some uneasy sentimental scenes, Mesa‘s yellow-hued cinematography attractively portrays the colorful, throbbing city, and the young boy’s eagerness to internalize his surroundings without knowing how to speak Tagalog is brave and touching. (Komodore) March 15, 7 p.m., Clay; March 22, 4:30 p.m., Camera.

>3 Days to Forever (Riri Raza, Indonesia, 2007) After a night of partying makes Ambar (Adinia Wirasti) miss a flight to her sister’s wedding, she hitches along with cousin Yusuf (Nicholas Saputra), who’s in charge of driving a set of delicate dishes to the event. Drugs, detours planned and accidental, and frank talk about what it’s like to be a rebellious teen in Indonesia (Ambar’s sister is getting married because her parents caught her having sex) — and an uncertain teen, period — color this road movie. 3 Days to Forever echoes 2001’s Y tu mamá también‘s racy tone and the-journey-is-the-life-lesson message, and boasts similarly photogenic young leads. Bonus for armchair travelers: it also makes Indonesia look like the most magical place on earth. (Cheryl Eddy) March 14, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; March 18, 9:30 p.m., Clay; March 23, 2:15 p.m., Castro.

Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara (Koji Sakebe, Japan, 2007) Punk’s not dead! And neither are the wide-eyed little girls, drowsy dogs, and the other indelibly etched creatures that populate Yoshitomo Nara’s oeuvre: they’re alive and evolving in Nara’s studio. Koji Sakabe and his crew tail the artist as he travels to public appearances at museums and radio stations where he’s treated like a rock star; as he creates a massive village installation in his hometown of Hirosaki, Japan; and then follow Nara back to his studio, where he conjures his avatars of cuteness all by his lonesome. That’s where things get interesting: watching the bashful yet driven enigma study his own paintings, one hand on his camouflage-encased hip, and then home in with a brush on a fillip in a wide-eyed tot’s ‘do. (Kimberly Chun) March 16, 12:30 p.m., Clay; March 23, 2 p.m., Camera.

The Unseeable (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, 2006) For those whose eyes are still adjusting from the ultraviolet palette of Wisit Sasanatieng’s stunning debut, the genre-bending 1999 western Tears of the Black Tiger, the clammy greens and dusky grays that hang over The Unseeable feel like so much dust on the lens that can’t be wiped off. Unfortunately, you can still see everything coming from a mile away in this ghost tale of a country mouse trapped in (where else?) a decaying mansion. At least the magical touches of 2005’s Citizen Dog seem like genuine quirks in the fabric of reality. Here, the supernatural is an excuse to trot out tired new Asian horror staples like the crazy old lady or spooky child, and the multiple twists of the Shining-aping finale only work to make an already shaky premise all the more hamstrung. (Matt Sussman) March 16, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki; March 21, 9:15 p.m., PFA; March 23, 4:45 p.m., Camera.

>> Complete Asian American Film Fest coverage

SFIAAFF: Manila: the drama


› johnny@sfbg.com

Over roughly the past year, Brillante Mendoza has brought a pair of films to festivals that pack a particular one-two punch when they are programmed to play at the same event. Foster Child first bears witness to the final day that caretaker Thelma Maglangqui (superb veteran actress Cherry Pie Picache) mothers three-or-four-year-old mestizo John-John (Kier Segundo), and as sunlight gives way to night, it follows her from a Manila slum into the ostentatious hotel where she passes him over to wealthy white foster parents from San Francisco. Slingshot also uses a real-time conceit, but in an entirely different manner — locked within the mazelike alleys and shanties of Manila’s Mandaluyong City, it foregoes long takes and methodical passages to careen as if the camera were a baton passed from one preoccupied, panicky person to another. Or perhaps more aptly, as if the point of view was a valuable that one character fleeces from another’s pocket.

As a melodrama, Foster Child fits into the dominant genre of Filipino feature films that screen at international festivals — a genre that certain North American critics might enjoy more than writers such as Richard Bolisay and Alexis Tioseco, whose critical conversations are as vital to thriving "CineManila" activity as any current filmmaker. In a piece on one of Tioseco’s excellent Web sites, Criticine, Noel Vera recalls a Rotterdam screening where fellow film scholar and Chicago-based critic Jonathan Rosenbaum compared Mike De Leon’s Kisapmata (1981) to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha (1974). Perhaps in that spirit, Rosenbaum’s contemporary, the critic and influential programmer Tony Rayns, has likened Foster Child to Fassbinder as well.

I’d add another comparison that, however Eurocentric, is meant as a great compliment: Foster Child shares a number of similarities with Douglas Sirk’s mother of all melodramas, Imitation of Life (1959), such as a harshly ironic perspective on maternal bonds in a racist, capitalist world. When Mendoza’s film reaches its final wrenching moments — and Thelma seems stripped, at least temporarily, of life (even the future repetition of her foster maternal duties is harrowing) — a lesser director would have simply milked the pathos. Instead, Mendoza allows no mercy to invade his sympathy, presenting a sequence that calls to mind a scenario depicting Lana Turner’s selfish protests by the bedside of her dying maid Annie (Juanita Moore) in 1959’s Imitation of Life, a sight that is extra bitter because Annie’s lost daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) can be seen smiling in a nearby framed picture within the shot. Foster Child‘s climactic heartbreak is set against a backdrop of vulgar department store displays that privilege white glamour and which celebrate a false vision of familiar perfection. "The house that love built," proclaims one callow ad, depicting a mother and child. The cruel gods of capitalist marketing provide perfectly horrible set design.

Those last glances, leading to a weary climb up a concrete public transit stairwell, also ricochet off Foster Child‘s sustained (and indeed Fassbinder-like) first shot: a silent, postcard-perfect view of Manila’s high-rise cityscape that gives way to a noisier look at the ramshackle slums at the feet of those skyscrapers. A more subtle echo occurs between two scenes that take place nearer to the narrative’s center: an idyllic, sunlit view of Thelma bathing John-John outside her home, and a later moment when she has to wash him in a hotel’s many-mirrored, intimidating bathroom.

Engaged Web sites such as Bolisay’s Lilok Pelikula (Sculpting Cinema) have greeted this neorealist symbolism, and Foster Child‘s standing ovation at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, with some wariness. Indeed, it is frustrating if international audiences take Mendoza’s movies for the whole of Filipino independent film today, when thanks to the punk-fueled Khavn de la Cruz, the monumental Lav Diaz, the prodigiously visionary Raya Martin, and the autobiographical John Torres, CineManila is frankly more inspired than almost all of the indie film — and much of the experimental work — currently coming from the United States. Mendoza’s talent equals or bests anyone who has passed through the Sundance factory in the past decade, but he and his more formally radical contemporaries have to vie for the same too-few spaces allocated to feature films from the Philippines at most festivals.

By working within relatively linear narrative structures and feature-length frameworks, Mendoza veers toward the mainstream currents of vital Filipino independent cinema. But he’s demonstrating great versatility. Slingshot‘s burnt-brown palette, verging on black-and-white in nighttime scenes, contrasts greatly with the more colorful, sun-dappled view of slum life in Foster Child, which is so pleasant that soap bubbles blown by children float through one shot. But it would be a mistake to see Foster Child‘s view of cramped city blocks as purely idealized, simply because a fresh array of mothers with newborn babies can be found on every corner — a scene in which foster system overseer Bianca (comedienne Eugene Domingo) greets these women and knowingly checks in on their offspring has a sinister underpinning.

Its title translated from a term (tirador) denoting a street hustler, Slingshot is harder and faster — money or valuables are frequently handed from one character to another on the sly as people move in an out of a shot that is itself moving forward. A viewer had best be on the top of his or her game while watching, because everyone in the film is on the make. But the gay Mendoza brings a subversive eye to the masculine genre of action: he knows that harder and faster might seem tougher, but it doesn’t necessarily mean one is savvier. Interestingly, while Slingshot‘s critical reception in CineManila realms seems warmer than that given to Foster Child, the film has had its share of semiblind assessments in English-language publications. More than one critic has complained that the film wears a viewer out with its frantic pace before it abruptly ends. The reviews fail to note that Mendoza frames his many-stranded story line and slum-stranded characters amid a broader view of societal and political corruption. He kicks the story off with cops raiding blocks of Mandaluyong City to round up and arrest people who are then bailed out by politicians in exchange for votes. He fades out with a glimpse of a pickpocket at work during a quasireligious campaign rally dominated by empty, clichéd speeches.

Between those crowd scenes, Slingshot joins a wide variety of characters for intimate treks through semi-anonymous acts, only to abandon them — just as fate might and a politician’s promises are certain to. Tess (Angela Ruiz) steals video equipment to pay for a pair of dentures. Her illicit lover Rex (Kristofer King) neglects fatherhood in favor of druggy reverie. In an example of tail-biting irony, the impulsive Caloy (Coco Martin, whose open-faced melancholy carries over from Mendoza’s debut feature The Masseur [2005]) needs to scrape together cash to keep the pedicab that he’s using to earn money. Meanwhile, Leo (Nathan Ruiz, the gamine title character of Aureaus Solito’s 2005 The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, now adolescent and pimply) begins what will eventually become one of the worst days of his life by accidentally getting his dick caught in his pants zipper. The two-dimensional faces of political candidates — including actor Richard Gomez, then running in real life for a Senate position — look on from the campaign billboards and posters that dominate public spaces.

In the eyes of the official system, Lopez’s Leo is the thief character of Slingshot‘s Tagalog title, but in the real world he’s just one of many everyday bandits, who are doing whatever they can to survive while a faceless upper class profits from their votes. There’s a potent undercurrent to Lopez’s performance perhaps being the titular one, though, since it’s much harsher than the similar turn he delivered as Maximo in Solito’s comparatively romantic film festival favorite. The differences in pace and look between Foster Child and Slingshot demonstrate that Mendoza is capable of sculpting widely contrasting true visions of Manila’s streets, which in turn shows that the exact same setting can take on widely varying characteristics based on one’s perspective at any given moment.

Part of Mendoza’s versatility might be grounded in his background as a production designer under the name Dante Mendoza. It also might reflect a developing, nuanced queer sensibility, one that has forsaken forebear Mel Chiongo’s eye for international markets to also produce a feature, 2007’s Pantasya, that possibly plays off of Slingshot‘s view of corrupt police forces and probably adds a critical dimension to the age-old "I love a man in an uniform" motif of gay porn. After half a dozen features as a director, Mendoza has ranged from melodrama to action, from a pentet of gay sex fantasies to a story about education amid the Aeta tribe (2006’s Manoro). His next step will probably be hard to predict, and it’ll definitely be worth watching.


March 14, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki

March 16, noon, Kabuki


March 15, 7 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

March 18, 7 p.m., Kabuki

>> Complete Asian American Film Fest coverage



› paulr@sfbg.com

First impressions are often false impressions, but some first impressions are so overwhelming as to transcend such mundane terms as false and favorable. When I first crossed the threshold of Conduit, I had the impression of having stepped inside a pipe organ. The restaurant (which opened late last year on a once-desolate stretch of Valencia near 14th Street) is a labyrinth of copper and steel tubing, so dense in its gleaming geometry as to become a kind of metallic fabric. The tightly arranged pipes make up part of the ceiling and help divide the dining room into sections, and if you think all that metal must feel cold, you’re not factoring in the burnished glow of the copper — so reminiscent, for foodheads, of the copper pans that once hung in Julia Child’s Cambridge, Mass., kitchen — or the gas fireplace that sits just inside the front door, as if in a warming hut at a high-end skating rink.

Also, you haven’t seen the bathrooms: a set of private cells behind a wall of translucent blue doors, as if in a giant honeycomb. A guided tour of this part of the restaurant would not be completely absurd but probably won’t be necessary, since paying crowds have already descended on Conduit for other, and excellent, reasons. The restaurant, even in its fledgling days, already must be considered one of the premier spots on Valencia’s still-burgeoning restaurant row; its peer group consists of Range, Limón, and perhaps Bar Tartine, and if only because of the extraordinary atmospherics of the interior design (the architect was Stanley Saitowitz), its sheen is brighter than theirs.

But let’s not forget the appeal of chef Justin Deering’s food either. The man and his staff work in an exhibition kitchen that stretches like a stage across the back of the restaurant, and the menu they’re turning out is a seasonal California one, yes, like so many others, but with an emphasis on butter and cream that reminded me of Traci Des Jardins’s early menus at Jardinière and of Nancy Oakes’s at Boulevard. Butter and cream discreetly bespeak luxury, not only because they’re expensive but also because they bring a velvety weight to foods that probably don’t, in most cases, need it. But part of the appeal of luxury is its very superfluousness. In other words: Conduit is a downtown restaurant that happens not to be downtown and charges (down!) accordingly. It isn’t cheap, but it costs about a third less than its city-center siblings and occupies a neighborhood setting that presents fewer logistical challenges.

Deering’s gnocchi ($12) are finished in bubbling butter — also topped with crab meat and chopped arugula — and as we might expect, they’re très rich, but the butter finish is standard procedure for gnocchi. A more improbable jolt of creaminess can be found in, or on, a salad of little gems ($9), the heads of baby romaine lettuce that so often get used in some variation on Caesar salad. The creamy dressing here is buttermilk based (like ranch) and is slathered on the halved heads with abandon. Even so, it doesn’t entirely mask the pleasant bite of spicy macadamia nuts and radish shavings, fine and delicate as tiny facial tissues, which are scattered over the lettuces and across the oblong plate.

Duck confit ($11) gets the deconstruction treatment instead of the usual meat-on-bone presentation. The deconstruction is visually striking, with a salad of frisée and pear slices at one end, and at the other a smear of duck-liver mousse (creamy!) and the actual confit, a pat of shredded confit meat that might more accurately be described as rillettes. Still, there’s nothing wrong with rillettes, and what’s been deconstructed can be reconstructed, often entertainingly.

Deering isn’t a complete butterfat crackhead. His bigger plates, in particular, rely less on dairy richness than their small-fry relations; a steak of grilled walu ($19), for example, was plated atop a mound of cannellini beans enhanced by crisped flaps of guanciale (a baconlike form of cured pork) and halved green olives fried tempura-style. (Walu is one of those wonderful fish with meaty white flesh taken from the waters of the Hawaiian Islands.)

Kitchen voyeurs (of whom I am one) will appreciate the dinner bar — a half dozen or so seats at the very cusp of the kitchen, with an unobstructed and intimate view of chefly goings-on. (This bar is not to be confused with the bar bar, an impressive affair nearer the front of the dining room, stacked with a full complement of booze.) The dinner bar, interestingly, is another echo of Boulevard, which offers similar seating. A further advantage of the dinner bar at Conduit: it’s near the restrooms, so you can make a brief visit and perusal while the pastry chefs (who are working right in front of you) put together your dessert.

A sundae ($8) sounds like an 80 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate — in other words, banal and sluggable — but a major wrinkle at Conduit is that the pastry chefs make their own ice creams, such as one with cherries and chocolate chunks, a kind of boutique Cherry Garcia, creamy and rich as gelato or frozen custard. Hot chocolate sauce spooned over? A nice touch, as is the pair of triangular chocolate wafers stuck into the ice cream. The clear plastic cup in which the sundae is served, meanwhile, seems like a good joke whose punch line is "Downmarket." But really, you could serve ice cream this good practically any way and send people into transports. Bi-Rite Creamery? What’s that?

A final huzzah for noise management. It is expert. Conduit isn’t quiet — and how could it be, with throngs of 1999-vintage tech androids swarming the place? — but the floors are laid with some sort of charcoal rugs of hemp or sisal, and they soak up sound like sponges. Impressive!


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

280 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-5200

Full bar


Noisy but bearable

Wheelchair accessible



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I see flowers very differently. Not because I’m a woman now, or a softy, or insane, or even a chicken farmer. It’s a kid thing. I learned it from little Clara de la Cooter, who bonked into the world a year ago and very quickly became my new favorite person in it.

Probably not a lot of people get to babysit their ex’s kids. So I’m lucky in that sense, and so is Clara. She’s a passionate eater — I daresay a budding foodie. Her favorite food so far is eggs. I’m just saying …

It’s not hard to imagine who her favorite auntie will be, I’m saying.

Today I saw an ad on the side of a truck that said, "Just the freshest eggs you will ever eat." I forget the brand, but if its slogan is true, then I highly recommend it. Its eggs will be sold not by the carton but by the chicken. Yo, I’ve held warm ones in my hands on cold days between the nest and the skillet. I’ve had to postpone lunch until almost dinnertime because somebody was all stopped up.

And the boys who I’ve dated have not tended to bring flowers. But that’s OK, because most of them never knew they were dating me. I like to think of Clara de la Cooter’s first date. Some awkward, googly kid hands her a flower and she laughs.

"What?" they say, offended.

But if they knew her now, they would know better. The girl just cracks up at the sight of flowers. That’s all. For some reason they are the funniest thing in the world to her. They’re hilarious. She points and giggles, and she laughs her head off. And I think that’s beautiful. More beautiful than I used to think flowers were.

I’m inspired. I want to laugh at flowers too, and I think there’s a chance I might learn to. Yesterday we took two walks together. It’s spring. It’s Berkeley. I held her in bushes and she kicked her legs and squealed with pleasure, rattling the leaves and branches. I pushed her stroller right up into pink ones, purple ones, white ones, yellow ones, and she pointed and laughed and touched and tugged. That she also tried to eat them goes without saying, don’t you think?

Under a lemon tree I wheelied the stroller back so she could look straight up into it. The tree was loaded, and she lost it. She busted a gut. All that yellow, it was early Woody Allen to her. If she hadn’t been so strapped in, she’d have been rolling on the sidewalk.

I want this. I want one. And that alternative-weekly groan you’re hearing is all my old friends, because they know how I used to be. And people tend to expect you to stay the same. Especially those who love you most.

Which reminds me that one day Clara will not be so tickled by flowers, or not in the same way. Maybe she’ll have allergies. I had a fantasy, under the lemon tree with her, that I would live to be 84, and that she would ask me, hopefully over dinner, what she was like when she was one.

Like I started asking my own parents, and at least one of my aunts, a couple years ago. They didn’t seem to know much, maybe because I was 1 of 11. Or they forgot. Which … I don’t have the world’s best memory myself. Already. What I will have is an excessively creased and yellow newspaper clipping in my apron pocket, where I’ve been keeping it for 40 years, just in case. "You found flowers very funny," it will say. And: "We laughed till we cried."

Making limeade out of lemons is my motto in life. This was someone else’s tree, of course, but I picked a small, hard one and put it in Clara’s little hand, unwashed, let her gum and suck it. And a couple of sidewalk squares later I saw, and picked, one tiny wild strawberry, the size of a pea. This I put in her other hand, knowing she’d eat it. And that it might have been sprayed, or peed on by a dog.

My new favorite restaurant is one of my old favorite restaurants, but I never told you. It’s the 55-year-old Cinderella Russian Bakery in the Richmond, where I refueled with my soccer buds recently and dripped sweat and blood (from my nose) onto stuffed cabbages, garlicky potatoes, homemade bread, and dill in general. Wow! I think my mates were looking for more like, you know, breakfast, but for my money this is just the thing.


435 Balboa, SF

(415) 751-9690

Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Beer and wine


And also, herpes


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

You guessed right — those letters about women who can’t have orgasms were both mine. Maybe I was so frustrated that I lied about my age so you wouldn’t think they were from the same person. Anyway, I’m in a stupidly worse situation now: I contracted herpes, despite having had sex with only one other human being. My boyfriend engaged in some ill-advised polyamorous experimentation about two years ago: I agreed to it even though I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. And he proposed it even though he was pretty sure it wasn’t a good idea, either.

It’s just HSV-1, but I can’t get over how unfair it is. I don’t even like oral sex! I have this irrational feeling of being punished. I hear that HSV-1 isn’t nearly as bad as HSV-2, and that I might never even have another outbreak (though it doesn’t feel that way). Plus, my boyfriend keeps saying that around 20 percent of Americans have genital herpes, which sucks because that means 80 fucking percent don’t.

While I love my partner, I never thought he’d be the only person I’d ever sleep with. However, I’m shy: having to have the pre-sex "I have an STD" talk means that I’ll just avoid sex. Since I wasn’t enjoying it anyway, this shouldn’t bother me. But now, I feel disgusting too. My boyfriend admitted that he had to leave school on STD Day because he was so completely grossed out that he felt faint. At least he’s unlikely to get it, since HSV-1 doesn’t like to jump from genitals to genitals.

Add to all this the fact that I don’t really want to be touched sexually, and you get the result that my boyfriend is unhappy too. Of course, now that I regret having just one relationship so far, I’m screwing that one up. It’s like some kind of terrible paradox.

I know that I’m overreacting, but I’m just so mad and unhappy. I know that outbreaks can be treated, blah, blah, blah, but then I’m just a less-ulcerated, less-contagious plague carrier. I know that I have to talk to some kind of therapist before I become even more messed up, but I thought that someone whose area of expertise is sex would be a good first person to ask.


Angry and Contagious

PS: Thank you for your previous advice, but I don’t think Betty Dodson will be advising me until everything involved doesn’t hurt.

Dear Contagious:

Sorry, nope. You totally have to talk to a therapist as well as a gynecologist, but mostly to a therapist — and possibly a psychiatrist too. Don’t you think you’re depressed and anxious enough to benefit from at least contemputf8g medication? I do!. And maybe you should speak to a yoga master about learning deep-breathing techniques. Or get a paper bag and breathe into it until you pass out or don’t pass out — however that trick is supposed to work.

First off, do we know how you got the genitally located oral herpes? We do not. Do we know that the introduction of the GLOH to your ménage was due to one of the women your boyfriend kissed during that brief foray into ill-advised polyamory? We don’t know that, either. Unless there’s something you haven’t told me, it’s possible that the boyfriend either picked it up somewhere far less ooky (it’s only oral herpes, after all) or already had it but it hadn’t made an appearance yet. Furthermore, do we believe that you had to agree to doing something that even your guy thought was a bad idea? Nuh-uh. I know you were young and silly, but so was he. I’d chalk that one up to "our bad" and move on.

You’re going to have to disentangle your anger with your boyfriend from your beef with fate and, for that matter, yourself. What happened happened, and hey, it could be worse. By the way, about 20 percent of Americans have genital herpes but somewhere between 50 and 80 percent have the oral version, so you’ve a ton of company — and some of it is quite nice.

If you drag your angry self to a clinic or to your regular gyno you can get on an antiviral, which will not only suppress your symptoms but make it far less likely that you could spread this thing to a putative future boyfriend that you don’t even want, especially since you still like the one you have. Then you won’t hurt as much and can get back to where you were before: frustrated, angry, and bitter because sex isn’t any fun for you. And then you can go see a therapist. And then, after that, maybe Betty Dodson and I can help you.

And before you think me unsympathetic, I’m really and truly not. I just think you need a swat on the behind to stop dithering in fury and start fixing stuff. I swat because I love.



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.