Volume 42 Number 24

March 12 – March 18, 2008

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The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (03/17/08)


At least 39 Iraqi civilians were killed today in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Karbala, according to the Associated Press.

For a breakdown of the positions that relevant politicians are taking on the war in Iraq, visit the slate.com link below. 36 U.S. soldiers were killed this month, which means at least one U.S. soldier was killed for every day that passed. Click here to view.

Casualties in Iraq

Iraqi civilians:

82,199 – 89,710: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

For a list of recent events that have resulted in Iraqi casualties, visit :

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

U.S. military:

4,266: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

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

145: Died of self-inflicted wounds, according to http://www.icasualties.org/

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

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

To view a breakdown of U.S. military casualties by state of residence, click here.

Iraq Military:

30,000?: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


127: journalists have been killed since the start of the war in March, according to www.cpj.org.


2.2 million: Iraqis displaced internally

2 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

Incessant violence across much of Iraq’s central and southern regions has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.

U.S. Military Wounded:

132,199: Wounded from 3/19/03 to 3/01/08

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

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (03/17/07): So far, $503 billion for the U.S., $63 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

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

To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $63 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have been used to provide 3,144,442 homes with renewable electricity, 726,370 people with health care, or 31,528 public safety. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”

For more information on what the war is costing the United States visit the American Service Friends Committee website here.

Desperately seeking cinema


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

Jennifer Reeves’s movies are personal wishing wells, each a repository of dreams and worries. As we see ourselves reflected in the water’s surface after tossing in a coin, so too is Reeves’s presence apparent in the handmade, fussed-over quality of her moving pictures. I use that broad designation pointedly, as her films are as varied in material and form as they are prosaic in mood and temperament. Over 15 years of independent filmmaking, the New York–based artist has created hand-painted films in the style of her mentor Stan Brakhage, freewheeling shorts, fiction fantasias, 16mm double-projections, feature narratives, and experiments in high definition. San Francisco Cinematheque hosts the formally restless filmmaker for a three-program tour.

Reeves’s early shorts channel riot-grrrl spark with scratched-up film stock. Elations in Negative (1990) is a good sample of the celluloid-mad sexual politics of these 16mm beaters, though Taste It Nine Times (1992), with its vivid pickle-biting innuendos, will be missed from the Cinematheque run. In painted films like The Girl’s Nervy (1995) and Fear of Blushing (2001), Reeves’s appropriation of Brakhage’s technique conveys playful femininity in color, pattern, and music.

Though Reeves toyed with narrative early on, most notably in 1996’s psychodrama Chronic, 2004’s The Time We Killed represented a kind of breakthrough. An unhurried 94 minutes passes through the dark mirror of an agoraphobic poet keeping to her New York apartment during the buildup to the Iraq War. "Terrorism brought me out of the house, but the war on terror drove me back in," Robyn (Lisa Jarnot) says in her peripatetic voice-over, adding later, "I’m afraid of catching the amnesia of the American people." Reeves’s magnetically immersive filmmaking is such that the political situation neatly folds into an extended experiment in subjectivity — besides being an unstinting portrait of madness (it’s everywhere in this film: in a record’s spin and neighbors’ voices echoing through the walls, in dogs’ faces, bathwater, and masturbation), The Time We Killed also serves as an understated chronicle of the collateral psychic and moral damage of our country’s manufactured warmongering.

The Time We Killed is heavier than Reeves’s other work, though it’s not without humor; she finds the ridiculous, unwieldy side of depression in Robyn’s litany of death fantasies and a painfully misguided interaction with a curious neighbor. Robyn’s locked in, but Reeves is formally unfettered, mixing conventional 16mm footage with lyrical, associative streams of inner life shot in high-contrast black-and-white. The filmmaker raids her home-movie archive for the film, in addition to using her own apartment and acting as Jarnot’s body double during the extended shooting. This air of transference makes The Time We Killed weirdly transparent, so we feel as intimately connected to Reeves’s isolated work in the editing room as we do to Robyn’s experience in the apartment.

Since The Time We Killed, Reeves has returned to more typically experimental filmmaking. Her 2006–07 Light Work variations strike an ideal balance of abstract and representational visions, in the process cataloging the changing textures of cinema. In the affecting He Walked Away (2007), Reeves dissects, refracts, and abstracts footage from her older movies to create a tri-tipped memorial piece in which the intrinsically elegiac nature of cinema is connected to the dissolution of film technology, which is then tied to the disappearing loves and friendships that shadow personal lives.

As with Guy Maddin — another filmmaker who favors overheated evocations — one has the sense that Reeves could make a hundred interesting movies from the same scraps of footage. "I want to counter the turncoats who say film’s dead," Reeves announces on her excellent new blog. "Try telling a painter that she can only use digital paint on a Mac for the rest of her life. She’d be pissed." But if she were Jennifer Reeves, she certainly wouldn’t slow down.


Artists’ Television Access, Sat/15, 8:30 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sun/16, 7:30 p.m.;
Tues/18, 7:30 p.m.; $6–$8

See Rep Clock for venue information

Martial bliss


TAKE ACTION Hey, Donnie Yen fans! Director Wilson Yip’s Flash Point — in which the charismatic martial arts star (2002’s Hero, 1993’s Iron Monkey) plays an aggro cop on gangster-beatdown detail — is actually getting a local theatrical release. Currently, Yen is in Shanghai shooting Yip Man, which he describes as "the story of Bruce Lee’s teacher, a master of the Wing Chun kung fu style." He’s a busy guy, and he could probably flatten any fool with a flick of his pinky finger. Fortunately, he typed up some answers to my e-mailed questions instead.

SFBG On Flash Point — among other films — you’re credited as the "action director." How does that role differ from "fight choreographer," which you’ve served as on films like 2002’s Blade II and 2005’s SPL (a.k.a. Kill Zone)? Is it difficult to direct yourself when you’re also acting in the scene?

DONNIE YEN I think it’s a difference between the way action is treated in Hong Kong and in Hollywood. [In Hong Kong,] my job is to "direct" the action, and when I’m shooting the fight sequences, I take over the set. I choose the camera angles and see how the drama intercuts with the action. In Hollywood, you "choreograph" working with the main director. In the old days of Hong Kong action cinema, when the action director worked, the "drama" director went home!

SFBG Which fight scene are you most proud of?

DY Of my own stuff? I’d have to say the final fight in Flash Point, between Collin Chou and myself. That was definitely the toughest action scene of my career, and I think it shows! I really like the way we managed to apply MMA [mixed martial arts] techniques on-screen, especially some of the dynamic takedowns, which we haven’t really seen before.

SFBG You’ve worked on both Chinese and American films. What’s the biggest difference between the two industries? Are you interested in having a Hollywood breakthrough like Jackie Chan or Jet Li?

DY As I mentioned earlier, I have much more control over the final product in Hong Kong. I mean, on Flash Point, I’m the producer, the star, the action director…. Of course, I have to give credit to [director] Wilson Yip, who I have a great relationship with. This is our third film together. However, I would still like to work in Hollywood, providing it’s the right role in the right project.

SFBG Flash Point is a "modern" film, but you’re best known for period films like Hero. Which do you prefer?

DY Honestly, I just like to keep challenging myself. For example, Flash Point has a really raw action style, very MMA influenced, but now I’m starting Yip Man, which is about Bruce Lee’s teacher, and so it’s all classical kung fu movements but presented, hopefully, in a new and dynamic way. I would say that, technically, period films are more challenging, because, like with Hero, you’re performing in traditional Chinese clothing, and the movements tend to be more complicated. The modern films, like Kill Zone and Flash Point, are tough because of the degree of real contact when you get slammed about during a fight scene. They’re both challenging in different ways.

SFBG What are your thoughts on CGI-enhanced fight scenes versus the old-fashioned kind?

DY We used a lot of CGI in [2006’s] Dragon Tiger Gate, because the story and the style of action demanded it. I think it’s probably been overused in some films to compensate for the fact that the stars of the films can’t actually do their own action! In my own films, I tend towards keeping it as real as possible, and we only use CGI for shots that would really be impossible to do live on the set. There’s definitely very little CGI in Flash Point!

Flash Point opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters

Youth gone wild


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It’s hard for a contemporary reader to fathom why — indeed, it was probably hard for many non-Eire readers to fathom even then — but when Edna O’Brien’s debut novel, The Country Girls, came out in 1960, she was considered a disgrace to all of Ireland. Priests burned it in churchyards and denounced it from the pulpit. Her books — soon to include two Country Girls sequels, as the original was a hit everywhere else — were banned from the Emerald Isle as late as 1977.

Just what could have been so offending about a book now described in reference books as "comic and charming," in contrast to her more "somber and sophisticated" later works? Not a whole hell of a lot, by current standards. In The Country Girls, O’Brien’s two young female protagonists drink, disrespect the clergy, use bad language, and flirt with men. Actually, only the naughty one commits most of these "sins." But even the "nice" one becomes dangerously attached to a married man. Painted as boozy, abusive, and unreliable, Irish manhood in general doesn’t come off too well in the boisterous yet coolly told chronicle of these Girls. Which might be the real reason that it incited such public condemnation, notwithstanding all expressions of moral outrage.

In addition to her literary fiction (which got a whole lot more sexually frank in subsequent years), O’Brien has written screenplays and teleplays since the early 1960s, and stage scripts for many years as well. Lately she’s developed a rather simpatico relationship with the Magic Theatre. Tir na nóg, a nearly-half-century-later theatrical adaptation of The Country Girls, is her third Magic premiere. It follows the rather dreadful hair-pulling lady fight over one husband in Triptych (recurrent focus on such male-companion neediness is why O’Brien is a major female author seldom embraced by feminist academics or critics) and the structurally conventional, enjoyably juicy imploding-family melodrama Family Butchers.

Tir na nóg is something else, "a play with song" (its initial title) that tries mixing music, dance, a source narrative boiled down to rapid-fire outline, and yea more elements into a meta-theatre experience. It doesn’t entirely work, due more to the text than any failings in departing Magic artistic director Chris Smith’s resourceful production. But it’s still an arresting evening, with fine work from the largely multicast nine-member ensemble.

The "country girls" here are two authorial alter-ego halves. Kate (Allison Jean White) is the only child of a long-suffering mother (Cat Thompson) and drunken, abusive pa (Matt Foyer). Baba (Summer Serafin) is only child to the western village’s wealthiest couple, a flame-haired bratty terror.

Once the two girls are later sent off to convent school, the bad girl predictably gets them both expelled. After intermission, they make a first stab at adult life in big-city Dublin: serious-minded Kate as a working student carrying on a fitful affair with ardent-yet-married-to-a-mental-case "Mr. Gentleman" (toweringly suave Robert Parsons); Baba as an aspiring vamp stealing thrills from her own less-discriminatingly-chosen cheating beaus.

The book isn’t exactly a blur of incident. But in its first half O’Brien’s adaptation too often feels like a careless cinematic downsizing of highlights into too-short scenes, glue-gunned together by variably vocalized song snippets.

After the break, however, Tir na nóg (which translates as "land of youth") slows down for several poignantly deep scenes, notably between Kate and her stern Austrian landlady (Darragh), as well as a couple of unsuitable suitors. Beautifully handled by Smith and his design collaborators, the play goes off-rails a bit when O’Brien imposes as ending a flashback-memory montage, with principal characters (including dead ones) drifting back onstage to speak prior best lines in echo! echo! echo! recollection. Yet there’s a certain charm to ex-Riverdance choreographer Jean Butler’s ensuing ensemble step-dance finale.

If the novel’s Kate came off as a guileless blank slate — passively dragged down again and again by Baba’s misdeeds — White fills out that character with impressive gravitas. Serafin is a marvel as the antsy-panted best friend who simply can’t repress her disrespect for authority, or precocious aspirations as a va-voom mantrap.


Through March 23

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2:30 and 7 p.m., $40-$75

Magic Theatre

Fort Mason Center, Marina and Buchanan, Bldg. D, third floor, SF

(415) 441-8822


White made right


Although "white" carries generally favorable connotations in our race-haunted society, the spell breaks at the gates of the wine kingdom. When Californians mention wines they like, the wines are almost always red ones — and more often than not, cabernets sauvignons. White wines? What are those?

To an extent, this bias can be explained by the great and unexpected success of (red) California wines at the famous Paris blind tasting of 1976, in which French judges ended up preferring the New World wines. But the vestigial glow of this triumph doesn’t explain why so many young people I know, many of them recently converted from beer to wine, already equate "wine" with red wine. Are red wines inherently superior?

Part of the issue could have to do with the fact that white wines are by nature more naked and skeletal than their red cousins. Their flaws tend to show, and they don’t have rich color or fruit-bomb radiance to distract us from noticing them. Another and more pertinent factor is the lackluster quality of so much California white wine. Many of the best whites still come from difficult little swatches of Europe (rainy Galicia, stony Sardinia, chilly Burgundy, the chalky Loire Valley), while our homegrown grapes, having lived the high life in rich soil and warm sunshine, too often produce wines that are flabby and flubbery (in the case of chardonnay) or aggressively grassy (in the case of sauvignon blanc).

Of course, I overgeneralize — but with intent. There are good white wines of California provenance to be found, and it’s fun to try to find them. You might have met despair while locked in the bathroom at a party, spitting up yet another overcooked chardonnay, but you will be all the more grateful when you take your first silvery sip of Navarro’s dry riesling, or Dry Creek’s utterly Loire-like chenin blanc — or if you are bound and determined to find a good California chardonnay, the unoaked chardonnay from Clos LaChance. The winery is slightly off the beaten path, in the foothills south of San Jose, and the wine is nearly Burgundian in its well-managed acidity (like a sharp knife with a sumptuous handle), crisp apple-y character, and wondrous lack of buttery bloat. If you’ve gagged on your last slug ever of party chardonnay, a gentle tipple of this stuff should settle you down nicely.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Hope Mohr Dance


PREVIEW After training in ballet, San Francisco native Hope Mohr moved to New York City, where she danced with Lucinda Childs and Douglas Dunn before spending four seasons with the Trisha Brown Dance Company. After eight years, she decided that she could continue her career back in her hometown. Significantly, upon returning in 2005, she joined the company of Margaret Jenkins, who had also left the Big Apple to resettle in her Bay Area stomping grounds more than 30 years ago. Even then, however, Mohr knew that she would eventually want her own group. This upcoming concert is the debut of her newly formed Hope Mohr Dance troupe, in which she’ll present four pieces with 13 dancers. Of key interest is her 2007 collaboration with video artist Douglas Rosenberg, Under the Skin, a commissioned work from Stanford University that grew out of a series of workshops Mohr conducted with breast cancer survivors. Five trained dancers and three survivors perform together in the piece. When Bill T. Jones created his 1994 Still Here, conceived on a similar premise, it raised a firestorm of criticism about so-called "victim art." Mohr is confident that the fertile tension between the subject matter and the dance’s formal demands has allowed her to create a work that stands on its artistic merits. The other three pieces, Moments of Being (a premiere), Elision, and more awake than dreaming, are non-narrative investigations of what gave Mohr’s debut program its title, "Let the Body Speak."

HOPE MOHR DANCE Fri/14-Sun/16, 8 p.m. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF. $18. (415) 273-4633

San Francisco Contemporary Music Players


PREVIEW While electronics have transformed the very core of contemporary dance music, rap, and pop, so-called art music of the concert hall persuasion still centers on acoustic instruments reverberating in real time. But some of the earliest feats of sound manipulation, predating the Beatles’ trippy tape loops and even the ’60s soul tracks destined for an afterlife in eternal sampledom, were achieved by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who was decidedly not a populist. In current terms, "electronic" music tends to denote the limitless reorganization of beats and breaks, but Stockhausen dispensed with regular rhythms altogether, turning his attention to the most basic components of sound itself, using now-primitive equipment to generate sine waves and splice magnetic tape. The most famous result of his experiments, aside from a nod from the Fab Four on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, may be the 40-minute tape-based work Kontakte, for piano, percussion, and electronics, premiered in 1960. Pianist Julie Steinberg, who also moonlights as a percussionist for this performance by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, emphasizes the prohibitive complexity of performing Kontakte live. "We have to know the electronics perfectly," she says of playing along with Stockhausen’s original four-channel futuristic noise collage, now a digital version realized by a sound projectionist as the performers play. Conceived in recognition of the late composer’s 80th birthday by percussionist Willie Winant, whose cutting-edge creds include work with Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, Sonic Youth, Wilco, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, this is a rare realization of what Winant calls "a masterwork" and a "seminal piece."

SAN FRANCISCO CONTEMPORARY MUSIC PLAYERS Mon/17, preconcert talk 7:15 p.m., concert 8 p.m.; $10–$27; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF; 978-ARTS, www.sfcmp.org

Lagerfeld Confidential


REVIEW As far as I know, Karl Lagerfeld is the only fashion designer to have had his likeness made into a collectible figurine. With his instantly identifiable uniform that foppishly mixes old (the white ponytail and high starched collars) and new (his omnipresent sunglasses, a small mine’s worth of silver jewelry, exquisitely cut clothes in every shade of black), he has become as iconic as the Chanel bouclé suits he has designed for the house for 20-plus years. Rodolphe Marconi’s documentary Lagerfeld Confidential performs a nice trick in letting us think we’re getting a candid portrait of the man behind the sunglasses. Depth, though, is a tall order when his subject declares, "I don’t want to be real in other people’s minds; I want to be an apparition." What we do learn across this extended interview, goaded on by Marconi’s softball needling, is that Lagerfeld’s mother was a formative influence (she "exuded frivolity" and "made slaves of everyone") and that he was a sexually precocious youth. But as Wilde and Warhol have shown, the dandy’s mode of address is aphoristic, not confessional. Given the frequency with which he dispenses such obfuscatory pronouncements as "Every friendship needs a sword of Damocles hanging over it" and "Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous, and unfair," perhaps Lagerfeld’s next project should be a little book of quotations à la Chairman Mao. Of course, Lagerfeld’s would be bound in black leather.

LAGERFELD CONFIDENTIAL opens Fri/14 at the Roxie Film Center.

Falling flat


It was clear early on that the Slow Beer Festival, presented March 1 by Slow Food San Francisco and the San Francisco Brewers Guild, was more of an excuse to get drunk in a convention hall on a Saturday afternoon than to explore how beer could be sustainable. Twelve NorCal microbreweries lined the green-hued cement walls of the County Fair Building — Marin Brewing, Speakeasy, Anderson Valley, Red Seal, and so on. An administrator at the front desk, though, couldn’t tell me what the difference was between a Slow Beer and your everyday microbrew (though she did say it was "a good question"). The man at the nationally distributed Gordon Biersch stand said bluntly, "Yeah, we’re a corporation."

Normally I’d say, "Fill up my glass and pass me another Gambone-mushroom-and-cheese skewer [drizzled in salsa verde]!" Here, though, I began to actually wonder how beer could be incorporated in the Slow Food ideology. As the manifesto says, "May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency."

The Slow Foodists seek not just to change the food we consume but to change how we consume it as well. So isn’t a sterile room for beer tasting just stripping beer down to its flavor, and not about the way we experience it? At the festival, on one side of the gate there was a crowded room with a slender outdoor food garden and (by my estimate) 200 gallons of beer; on the other side, a park blanketed in sunshine. The latter setting might be better for bringing out the true sensual pleasures of beer. Next year, why not save money on the room deposit and hold the event in Michael Pollan’s backyard?



REVIEW Throughout Lee Friedlander’s 50-year oeuvre, much of which is now on display at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the photographer has been lauded for his liveliness, optimism, and mobility. Yet his paean to modern Americana often resembles monochrome memento mori. Taken as a whole, Friedlander’s work has always seemed driven to two poles: the ephemeral and the haunting.

Heavily impressed by the avant-naturalism of European photographers Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as the post–World War II experimentalism of Robert Frank, Friedlander staked his claim at a moment in the 1950s when the photograph transcended the moribund category of journalistic tool and became its own art form. Modeling much of his working method around Cartier-Bresson’s so-called decisive moment, Friedlander’s timeless images still have a striking past tense about them. Now ossified on film, these thousand microcosmic moments, captured throughout the 1960s and ’70s, seem like lively obituaries.

While Friedlander first made a name for himself as a contractor for Atlantic Records — where he shot such musicians as Ornette Coleman — he was never a celebrity photographer. In fact, his most intriguing work resulted from a personal obsession with traveling and shooting the country, crisscrossing between New York and his home state of Washington. And so the images of nocturnal motel rooms, cycloptic TV sets, and storefront tessellations conjure the American dynamism and dread of Vladimir Nabokov or David Lynch. The plethora of windows and mirrors in his street photography admit countless apertures through which to see his subjects. But Friedlander’s playful sense of humor always appears just within the clutches of something inexplicably sinister — like the cartoonish shadows that often hover into his frame. Though his more recent work — in portraiture, nudes, and particularly in nature — may suffer slightly from the inevitable cooling of youth’s ambition, Friedlander’s baroque attention to detail and depth of field are unmatched. This is a definitive exhibition on one of America’s most ingenious, albeit conflicted, photographers. The photographer’s son Erik Friedlander will perform pieces from his album Block Ice and Propane (SkipStone, 2007) on April 24, 8 p.m., $12–$15, at Phyllis Wattis Theater.

"FRIEDLANDER" Through May 18. Mon.–Tues., Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

$7–$12.50, free for members and 12 and under. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

Reveille in reverb


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The first thing fans will notice about Beach House’s second album, Devotion (Carpark), is that it hews to the same gauzy sonic architecture of their 2006 eponymous debut. An elegant combination of keyboard beats, organ drones, apparitional electric slide guitar, and Victoria Legrand’s molasses vocals gave Beach House a golden glow that sent music scribes running to their thesaurus for "autumnal" synonyms. These elements sound thicker on Devotion, though a few spins down the line it becomes apparent that the difference lies more in the compositions themselves than in any studio trickery.

This isn’t a small distinction, given our tendency to fetishize certain sounds. Phil Spector productions, Dusty Springfield laments, and Lee Hazelwood bonanzas all have brilliant surfaces, but they also have the depth of classical songwriting, complete with bridges, vamps, and theatrical flourishes. Legrand, the niece of French film composer Michel Legrand, grew up in a musical atmosphere. The two of us have a phone date, but work and a sick dog interfere, leaving her to e-mail me from her Baltimore home about her glam-rocking father ("My papa wore tight purple satin pants, with hair down to ‘there’<0x2009>") and her studies at Paris’s International Theatre School Jacques Lecoq ("I was trained classically, and I know Alex [Scally, her Beach House bandmate] also has an affinity towards the classical, old-fashioned world, so I think it’s a given we’d be into the Zombies and . . . watered-down show-tune buildups").

And so we get a folded gem like Devotion‘s "Heart of Chambers," in which Legrand breathily asks, "Would you be my longtime baby?" On "Holy Dances," a drowsy, shaker-spurred verse flowers into the sunburst of Scally’s arpeggios. The centerpiece chorus of "All the Years" echoes with the same kind of distant regret running through the best of old girl-group records. Still, the purest pleasure on Devotion might be its sole cover, a version of Daniel Johnston’s "Some Things Last a Long Time": Beach House distills the song to a plucked melody, lolling drum beat — it’s like listening to a "Be My Baby" single at 33 rpm — and Legrand’s barely there inflection. "We felt compelled by the fragile essence of the song and merely wanted to capture it, if only for a brief moment," she writes.

Across Devotion, Legrand’s phrasing emerges as a major shaping force. She knows how to pause — inserting the breath before the chorus in "Turtle Island" and a delicious lingering note over at the end of "You Came to Me." And her sometimes slumberous drawl gives the 1960s pop orchestrations a European edge — Nico comes to mind — and from that same era Legrand also seems to have picked up the special knowledge that spelling a word out, as with "D.A.R.L.I.N.G.," always makes it sexier.

"We don’t have full rock band power, but that can also be detrimental to songwriting," Legrand writes. "Being a duo enables us to start simply and build from there." It also allows the twosome to maintain a key measure of intimacy. Though their preproduced effects emulate yesteryear’s studio magic, listeners never lose sight of the modest means of this music. Devotion‘s cover image strikes a similar balance, signaling formality — Legrand and Scally sit at a candlelit table — while admitting a homegrown touch: the album’s title is spelled out in a cake’s icing, and Legrand’s casual bare foot peeks out at the bottom of the frame.

If Beach House established the group’s palette, Devotion sees the duo working more confidently with the brush. When I describe some of the new disc’s brightest passages as "Technicolor moments" to Legrand, she replies: "I personally heard Technicolor in ‘Turtle Island’ during the bridge because all of a sudden the voices burst out, and it feels literally like paint and light are bursting through . . . a soft burst like a bubble in slow motion." That beats "autumnal" any day.


With Anaura and Best Wishes

Sat/15, 10 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF


Freedom is a ’69 Dodge


When searching for recent signs of life in and recognition of country music’s biracial heritage beneath the rhinestone crust of NashVegas culture, I became an unwitting fan of Tupelo, Miss., singer-songwriter Paul Thorn via his "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand," as covered by Sawyer Brown with black sacred-steel whiz kid Robert Randolph. Then there were the good words passed on from Thorn’s participation last year at a Birmingham, Ala., medicine show for my friend Scott Boyer of Cowboy. Nor does it hurt that my all-time hero, Kris Kristofferson, has claimed, "Paul Thorn may be the best-kept secret in the music business. He and writing partner Billy Maddox turn out songs like a Mississippi Leiber and Stoller that put me in mind of Harry Crews’s creations — absolutely Southern, absolutely original." And when I finally caught up with this paragon last month at Manhattan’s Living Room, it was clear from the intimate set that Thorn lived up to the promise.

The goodwill extends to Thorn’s eighth album, A Long Way from Tupelo (on his Perpetual Obscurity imprint), although it gets off to an underwhelming start. Openers "Lucky 7 Ranch" and "Everybody Wishes" sound like subpar Bruce Springsteen — sans polemical stridency. Yet the slow-building, smoldering third cut gets to the heart of Thorn’s voice. "A Woman to Love" is an instant soul classic, and a great retro-nuevo standard for the postmodern South. His muse proceeds to get happy on the funky gospel of "I’m Still Here" and the passionate, torchy "Burnin’ Blue." Grammy darling and rockist hard-liver Amy Winehouse could make hay from "Crutches" — and should be encouraged to heed its message closely. And even soul twangmaster Travis Tritt’s recent The Storm (Category 5, 2007) could have been improved by including a cover of Thorn’s title track with its brimstone-full blues-rock power and tale of illicit romance. Thorn, raised by a preacher father in the Church of God, gets back to sanctified roots on "What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up." Yass, y’all, the song comes quick with the holiness as it spreads a simple message of human kindness. Tupelo is an interesting case of an album getting stronger as it goes on, instead of kicking off with the expected fury. The later songs are suffused with soul and spirituality, as well as Thorn’s lyrical mix of home folks’ vernacular and trademark offbeat tragicomedy previously seen on beloved Thorn compositions like "Burn Down the Trailer Park." And the references to other artists demonstrate his creative possibilities and reach across roots-regarding genres. In this tricky transatlantic cultural moment, Thorn seems poised to emerge strong from his decade of steady toil at the margins of assorted scenes, including the Americana ghetto. Whereas in the past he has benefited from rich mentoring — friend and collaborator Delbert McClinton, Police manager Miles Copeland, late outsider artist the Rev. Howard Finster — Thorn may finally make it big purely on the strength of what’s unique to him. He charmingly makes his down-home allegiances plain by donning a Piggly Wiggly muscle T on Tupelo‘s back cover.

Thorn is prescient and fortunate enough to be releasing this effort amid what’s starting to look like another boom of magnificent Southern expression and genius — as demonstrated by a range of recent releases from Donnie, überATL-ien Janelle Monáe, Thorn’s homeboys the North Mississippi All-Stars, current toast Bettye LaVette, her producers the Drive-by Truckers, and Gnarls Barkley. Yes, such industry moves as appearances at South by Southwest and a Late Night with Conan O’Brien debut await Thorn this month, but what ultimately seems likely to put him across is the flexibility to open for and vibe with Toby Keith while reifying the wisdom of a black roadside Pentecostal preacher.

Right now, in their desperation, the music business and the scenes that orbit it seem more open to sounds beyond the overprocessed mainstream — even if the art boasts elements that tend to induce coastal prejudice like Thorn’s thick-as-molasses accent and his statement to Lone Star Music that "my music’s kind of like going to church with a six-pack." As for me, I’ll be down at the Piggly Wiggly preparing to tote a bouquet of pig’s feet and some RC Cola to this Renaissance man’s South by Southwest show.


March 25, 8 p.m., $15–$17

Little Fox Theatre

2215 Broadway, Redwood City

(650) 369-4119


Big “Footprints”


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Since its inception in 2004, the SFJAZZ Collective has changed out six of its eight original members. But now in the midst of its fifth season, the band sounds and, more importantly, interacts more cohesively than ever.

"All the people we’ve had, have been very beneficial to the band," says pianist and original member Renee Rosnes, during a recent rehearsal at the Masonic Auditorium. "They just bring another color to the music." Veteran saxophonist Joe Lovano, who joined last summer and replaced Joshua Redman, now nominally serves as resident sage, the position formerly held by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Also last summer, youthful Stephon Harris took Hutcherson’s slot, and this spring trombonist Robin Eubanks was added for the San Francisco residency and both the national and European tours. Despite the shifts, the ensemble’s firepower hasn’t diminished and the members are especially eager to tackle Wayne Shorter’s quixotic music, which they’ll be playing along with their own.

Saxophonist Shorter’s career has evolved from writing and playing on the front line of hard-bop standard-bearing Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to a similar position with Miles Davis’s great shape-shifting quintet of the early ’60s. While playing with Davis, Shorter compiled one of the most distinguished solo careers ever with an incomparable series of albums on Blue Note (1964’s JuJu and Night Dreamer and 1965’s The All Seeing Eye) that forever cemented his stature as a major composer. Subsequent turns as the cofounder of Weather Report and now the leader of an exquisite quartet have simply embellished Shorter’s reputation.

Rosnes considers her time playing with Shorter a revelation. "It was such an impactful experience," Rosnes explains. "The intensity and passion that he played with literally took my breath away."

On the brief 1988 tour that took the all-star band through the United States and Europe, Rosnes played a nightly duet with Shorter on his Brazilian ballad "Diana." "There was complete spontaneity from night to night. He cherishes a lot of freedom within the music, and that really opened up my mind," she says.

Since each Collective member arranges a tune from the season’s composer, Rosnes has written the chart for "Diana" as well as Shorter’s classic "Footprints." Other arrangements include "Armageddon" by saxophonist Miguel Zenón, "Aung San Suu Kyi" by trumpeter Dave Douglas, "El Gaucho" by bassist Matt Penman, "Yes or No" by drummer Eric Harland, and "Infant Eyes" by saxophonist Lovano. Rosnes says the arrangements give the band a more personal voice, which is appropriate when considering Shorter’s considerable body of work. "He plays life," Rosnes says, "through his horn."


Sat/15, 8 p.m., $34–<\d>$52

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, near Bancroft at Telegraph, Berk.


Dress sharp


REVIEW Don’t tell anyone, but I have a secret fetish. Nothing turns me on like a new pair of shoes, and few bring me to shoegasm like sexy stilettos. So I put on my favorite pair of Gucci patent-leather tuxedo shoes and headed down to Stiletto, clubutante Parker Day’s arty party at Asia SF, in search of the perfect footwear.

Day named the night after the seductive heels, but it also alludes to the discreetly slim knife — both of which are deadly in the hands of the Pam Anderson B-movie character Barb Wire. "It’s sharp and it’s sexy," Day said. "It gets to the point." But it was The Warriors, a 1979 cult classic about New York City street gangs at war, that set the theme for that night’s party. As footage from the film was projected onto a side wall, the music morphed genres, from hip-hop and hit pop to electronic and indie-rock remixes for an audience as diverse as The Warriors‘s cast — and equally reminiscent of the early-’80s Big Apple. Fab Five Freddy, Blondie, and Madonna occupy the same turf without incident.

The crowd’s footwear was just as varied, but cowboy boots and Converse All-Stars were the most heavily represented in The Warriors–inspired fashion show. Taking cues from the movie, models worked leather vests and gunmetal belts into fierce ensembles, which they paraded down the runway like gangsters. A bit later, audience members were able to participate in a Warriors–themed costume contest. Not to ruffle anyone’s fab feathers, but I think my own shoes were the ultimate winners.


Third Friday of the month, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $8

Asia SF

201 Ninth St, SF


Big book, tiny topic


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW This week, I’m reviewing a book about toothpicks, a book about citrus, and a book about pigeons. When I first mentioned this plan to a fellow editor, she said it prompted visions of a surrealist game of Clue: the orange stabbed the pigeon in the study with a toothpick.

In truth, my motivation is pragmatic. I want to draw attention to the publishing industry’s love of big books devoted to tiny topics. It seems that one surefire way of selling a nonfiction tome is by focusing on a very specific subject. For evidence, one need only look at recent efforts such as Pierre Laszlo’s Citrus: A History (University of Chicago Press, 252 pages, $25), Henry Petroski’s The Toothpick: Technology and Culture (Knopf, 443 pages, $27.95), and Andrew D. Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (Grove Press, 239 pages, $24).

Without snappy cover art and a colon followed by a subtitle, these books would be ready for inclusion in the next edition of Russell Ash and Brian Lake’s Bizarre Books: A Compendium of Classic Oddities (Harper Perennial, 224 pages, $14.95), a collection devoted to ridiculous and arcane tomes. Today, the colon (note that Ash and Lake’s book also sports one) is a way for author and publisher to assert an awareness of the potential absurdity that might arise from inscribing a world history on the head of a pin — or the tip of a toothpick.

Which brings us to The Toothpick. It’s the latest endeavor by a writer who specializes in large books on tiny topics. Petroski’s previous lengthy portrait in words was devoted to the toothpick’s cousin of sorts, the pencil. He brings an ease born from familiarity to his latest project. He also brings an anti-Wikipedia agenda, beginning his toothpick odyssey with a collection of false "stuff rustled up from the wild, wild Web." In the United States, the toothpick does have ties to Charles Forster — as claimed by answers.com and other Web sites — but Forster did not "invent" it, as one online source of misinformation states. If you read The Toothpick, you’ll learn about Forster and about Benjamin Sturtevant, a contemporary who has been erased from the toothpick’s United States–origin myth. Neither Forster nor Sturtevant are the most fascinating men ever to have probed their gums.

The point of Petroski’s toothpick testament is sharpest when he uses his small subject to touch upon ideas from different eras and cultures. Thus, before Forster and his Charles Foster Kane–like name (though not, alas, story) take over, The Toothpick cites a long passage from James Joyce’s 1916 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that cries out for a toothpick, provides illustrations of Chinese toothpicks that look like chandeliers, and notes that the Renaissance was "the golden age of toothpicks." Perhaps literally — there are golden toothpicks, as well as ones made from walrus whiskers.

As its title might suggest, Laszlo’s Citrus: A History presents a fruit-centric — though by no means fruitopian — history of the world. Via the erudite Laszlo, the travels of an orange can blossom into a discussion of religious persecution. Laszlo is a retired professor of chemistry, and his prose presents a mix of stuffiness and frolic, whether imagining a correspondence with the first person ever to write a book about citrus (an 11th-century Chinese governor named Han Yen-Chih), randomly leaping from a descriptive passage into a recipe, or redundantly telling the reader that he is about to tell a story. Ultimately, Citrus does have the passion — if not always the juice — of a labor of love, even when its author favors the kind of obvious symbolism found in this sentence.

In comparison, Pigeons author Blechman is a storyteller who has a way with a hilarious turn of phrase. He writes of "backyard geneticists" who create birds "more akin to a Dresden figurine than a child of nature," notes that the pigeon "has been prized as a source of companionship (and protein)," and confesses his fondness for the Frillback, a breed with feathers that look like they "were dipped in Jheri Curl." Over the course of one winter, he meets as many breeds of pigeon obsessives as he does pigeons. The wildest marriage might be between Parlor Rollers and their owners. Parlor Rollers somersault backward up to 600 feet in a single effort, a display that Blechman deems "the avian equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder." When Blechman asks one owner why the birds do what they do, the man replies, "Because they’re retarded, that’s why."

Actually, Pigeons makes a strong case for recognizing and respecting the oft-abused pigeon, a case drawn from no less a source than Charles Darwin’s 1859 On the Origin of Species. Blechman’s book contains some disturbing passages (especially a foray into a Pennsylvania town that made bird slaughter into an annual holiday replete with teen boys delivering body slams) and no shortage of funny adventures. By the end, it transformed the way I view pigeons. Though I’m a vampire for blood oranges and I abuse toothpicks like an addict smokes cigarettes, I’m afraid the other two books didn’t have quite the same impact.

Beautiful losers


Great movies stay with you in the oddest ways. In the days after I first saw Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, I was preternaturally attuned to the sound of skateboards dragging the street outside my bedroom window—the slow tug of concrete, the bumping waves of wheels. This ambient strain surrounds Paranoid Park‘s cherubic point of focus: Alex (Gabe Nevins), a sleepy-eyed skater waiting out his parents’ divorce in a Portland, Ore., suburb. He occupies most of the film’s exquisitely composed frames, though he’s more a figure etched in light than a proper protagonist.

Figure-eight narrations and slow-moving Steadicam tracks have underpinned Van Sant’s last couple of films (2003’s Elephant, 2005’s Last Days), though they’re more artfully embedded in Paranoid Park‘s fragrant sprawl, not least because of the visual equivalencies provided by the film’s skateboarding footage. Blake Nelson’s airless young-adult novel presents Alex’s story as an extended confessional letter. Van Sant dissembles chronology and inflects the narration with associative freedom.

Most immediately, Van Sant folds Nelson’s plot to delay the central trauma, which first enters our vision peripherally through a detective’s investigation and a local news report. With that said, narrowing the effect of this organizing principle is a little like trying to get a fix on Phil Spector’s reverb or Gerhard Richter’s gray — Van Sant’s placid puzzling is a textural aesthetic before it’s a device. Where Nelson’s moral tale is a streamlined account, Van Sant’s adaptation aims for something more transparent and sublime. His Alex is at once layered and laid bare.

This channeling begins with a slow-creeping tracking shot as Alex is interviewed by a detective. What begins as a conversation eventually lands as a full-frame portrait of the adolescent, the detective’s words ("What’s your parental situation?") left hanging in the air, irrelevant. As Nevins garbles his lines, the boundary between the nonprofessional actor and his character becomes palpably blurred. Does Van Sant’s MySpace casting call automatically qualify as tawdriness? Not when Paranoid Park maintains its enigmatic distance. Indeed, Van Sant renders the film’s MacBook surfaces — the subdued luminescence, boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, and soundtrack shuffle from Elliot Smith to the Juliet of the Spirits score all evoke a MacBook — as something unique and refined.

Like so many high school boys, Alex is essentially passive (see the film’s hilarious sex scene, with talky girlfriend Jennifer’s blond wisps dissolving Alex’s face like something from Maya Deren’s 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon). Van Sant captures this state via formal permeability, rigorously designing Paranoid Park‘s memory machine as a head trip. Strips of slow motion, a narrow-depth-of-field, ping-ponging sound, a mumbled voice-over — all these elements serve to cover the largely amateur cast but also to project Alex’s environmental interiority. This tendency reaches a swollen apex during a posttraumatic shower. The camera again draws in, and Christopher Doyle’s typically luscious lensing isolates every droplet; the lighting darkens, and the blistering sheets of water-noise are overlaid with thick forest sounds as Alex drops his head, revealing the bathroom wallpaper’s bird motif.

There’s no buried logic to Paranoid Park, and even though it’s shaped as much like a jigsaw as Donnie Darko (2001) and Rian Johnson’s underappreciated Brick (2005), it doesn’t invite solutions. Whether or not Alex’s withholding aura is read as a symbolic closeting, Van Sant’s direction is some kind of sorcery, especially in those B-roll streams of easy riders through which the film’s story expands to encompass all breathless teenage riots. Paranoid Park ends with these images after cutting from Alex asleep in biology class, dreaming of flying. He never touches the ground, always hovering between idyll and responsibility, the dream and his place in it. (Max Goldberg)


Opens March 21 at Bay Area theaters

Diamonds are harder than gym bodies


Black Lizard made me gay. Or, at the very least, Kenji Fukasaku’s 1968 jewel-toned mod noir opened my quasicloseted 16-year-old eyes to a certain queer aesthetic — one which foregrounds its own artifice by using Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome as wallpaper; one which dresses deviance in a gown with a 25-foot-long feathered train; and one which knows that the flipside of fabulousness is utter ridiculousness. It certainly wasn’t something I was seeing in the twink-filled issues of XY foisted upon me by my Pride ring–wearing, secret community college beau, but something closer to what I later found in John Waters’s films with Divine, James Bidgood’s diaphanous beefcake photography, and Ronald Firbank’s deeply purple prose.

However, unlike the above artists, Fukasaku was heterosexual, and Black Lizard represents an anomaly within a career that included much macho studio boilerplate. Even at his finest, Fukasaku had a flair for rough stuff: he directed some of the best yakuza films ever made (Battles Without Honor and Humanity [1973–74]) and ended his career with 2000’s controversial adolescent bloodbath and political fable Battle Royale. Yet, as with Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s practically flaming 1959 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly, Last Summer, there was just the right combination of elements (and most importantly, the right combination of peacocks involved) to make Black Lizard one of queer cinema’s unsung gems. Which is precisely why freelance curator T. Crandall chose the film to kick off his rep series, "The Revival House: Classic Queer Cinema," at Artists’ Television Access.

As clichéd as such a phrase may be, Black Lizard is awash in precious stones and glittering surfaces — but none shine with as much brilliance as the transvestite Akihiro Miwa (credited as Maruyama), who plays the titular jewel connoisseur and criminal mastermind that kidnaps specimens of human beauty to freeze them in eternal tableaux vivant on her island lair. The film is completely Akihiro’s: her entrances stop time, her song is a siren call which causes men to become her slaves, her lavish outfits become more so with each new scene. "The face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn, an Event," quipped Roland Barthes (referring to Audrey, not Kate). Miwa’s face, whose mouth morphs rubber band–like from a sour moue into the devouring O of a deep cackle unleashed, is a gloss on Barthesian idealness.

Prior to Fukasaku’s film, Miwa had appeared in the same role in Yukio Mishima’s long-running stage adaptation of pre-World War II mystery and suspense novelist Edogawa Rampo’s 1934 short story "Black Lizard." Rampo’s tale was one of many starring his Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant detective Gogoro Akechi, who in Mishima and Fukaaku’s retelling falls heart-first into a dangerous pas de deux with his androgynous quarry. Miwa was a successful nightclub entertainer active in avant-garde theater (and she still is: last year, she starred in a Tokyo production of Jean Genet’s The Eagle Has Two Heads) when she met Mishima — our second of the aforementioned peacocks — who was haunting Tokyo gay bars to "research" his 1953 novel Forbidden Colors.

It’s not hard to see why Rampo’s story of a moribund ice queen obsessed with changeless beauty appealed to Mishima. By 1968, Mishima was that queen, fully immersed in his own homoerotic brand of aestheticized Emperor worship, which would reach its grisly apogee in his ritual suicide four years later. Prior to Black Lizard, his muscular body had already been given the coffee table book treatment in Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses (Aperture, 1971), where Hosoe Eiko’s photographs present the author posed as a martyred St. Sebastian or as a snowbound samurai. Appropriately, he makes his cameo in Fukasaku’s film as one of Black Lizard’s frozen exemplars of aesthetic perfection— a brawny sailor, no less.

In the end, though, diamonds are harder than gym-wrought muscle, and it was Miwa’s flash, not Mishima’s flesh, that held my attention — at least consciously — upon my first adolescent exposure to Black Lizard. Many viewings later, Mishima seems pathetically unaware of the self-parody he’s partaking in. But Miwa’s exquisite luminescence remains untarnished.


March 19, 8 p.m.; $6

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890


There won’t be blood


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Michael Haneke would likely be offended if you said you enjoyed his movies — though no doubt he would enjoy hearing you were offended by them. The chill surface neutrality of a Haneke feature such as Caché (2005) is designed to intrigue and then frustrate — by depriving extreme situations of their usual sensationalism and neat narrative resolution so that we end up implicated by our own thwarted expectations. Even as a scold, Haneke is too disciplined to let us join him on his soapbox. The whole point lies in being discomfited.

The "normal" boy who kills a girl in Benny’s Video (1992); the bourgeoisie unraveling due to exposure of their own race and class prejudices in Code: Unknown (2000) and Caché; and an entire society reverting to primitive behaviors after unspecified catastrophe in Time of the Wolf (2003) are all so disturbing because they’re so banal. Even when portrayed by movie stars, these figures are willfully ordinary, observed at length performing dull tasks or making poor decisions for petty reasons. The one time he approached a conventional melodramatic arc and larger-than-life protagonist (if an antiheroine) was in the Elfride Jelinek adaptation of The Piano Teacher (2001) where Isabelle Huppert’s character embodies the masochistic role usually played by his viewers themselves.

None of these films are exactly date movies, but they still orbit an audience’s comfort zone more closely than Haneke’s most notorious film, the original 1997 Funny Games. Now, Haneke has made the seemingly perverse choice of creating a shot-for-shot remake as his first English-language feature. Actually, it’s a decision as coolly logical as any he’s made, since he has said more than once that the original is more a comment on US society and media than their Austrian equivalents.

Beyond its sheer unpleasantness, both language and subtitling prevented the original from reaching his target audience. Still, it’s unlikely people will be turning out en masse for Funny Games U.S., as the movie is being called everywhere but here. Those who do take the plunge are likely going to hate, hate, HATE it — which will be one way of gauging that Haneke’s subversion of standard genre rules is working as planned.

We meet the Farber family via eye-of-God aerial shots following their car to the exquisitely leafy countryside where their expansive lakeside summer home resides. With little Georgie (Devon Gearhart) in the backseat, Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) play guess-the-classical-composer. It’s too perfect and we know it, because Haneke incongruously interrupts their banter with a jarring blast of cacophonous death metal (actually a John Zorn piece) — the only music heard in the film that’s not ostensibly played from CD by an onscreen character. Horror, it suggests, might just be a dial flip away from intruding on this cozy trio.

Stopping short of their own electronic gate, the Farbers greet strangely uncommunicative neighbors standing on their lawn with two unknown men. Later, while father and son prep the sailboat, Ann gets a visit from Paul (Michael Pitt), who says he’s staying with the aforementioned neighbors and has been sent to borrow some eggs. Apologizing profusely, he nonetheless quickly manages to turn her hospitality into sputtering rage. Meanwhile, the dog disappears. Soon Paul is joined by Peter (Brady Corbet), his doppelgänger in tennis whites and floppy bangs. They look like consummate squeaky-clean preppies — or Hitler Youth. They have a not-long-hidden agenda. Things degenerate very quickly.

For all their sadism, Peter and Paul aren’t so much conventional villains as they are abstracts — tools to indict the viewer for participating in these games, or expecting anything like the usual fictive payoffs. The casting of the instantly recognizable Watts and Roth distracts at first, but Haneke’s approach (which employs agonizingly long takes, including one extreme instance that approaches 10 minutes in duration) and the actors’ grueling expressions of physical and emotional distress hit the right note of violated ordinariness.

It’s worth noting that perhaps Haneke’s most ingenious (and frequently overlooked) gambit is that there is almost no onscreen violence. As much as Funny Games feels like particularly merciless, graphic torture porn, the actual moments of assault are almost always cut away from or just out of frame. The one exception turns out to be Haneke’s single cruelest joke — and naturally, it’s on you. Without coming right out and saying it, Funny Games is now very much an answer to Hollywood norms and a larger cultural denial: here, violence is all suffering and no spectacle. *


Opens Fri/14 at Bay Area theaters


Pacific Catch


› paulr@sfbg.com

When a service station is torn down to make way for an art gallery, we cheer. When the art gallery folds and is succeeded by a restaurant, we shuffle our feet uneasily. At least they won’t be tearing the building down to bring back the service station — but art galleries are harder to find than restaurants.

Pacific Catch is a pretty good seafood restaurant in a neighborhood already chockablock with restaurants. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient, the food is good, and the look is handsome in a not-overbearing way. But those who remember that the space was home for several years to the Canvas Gallery — a blend of art forum, café, restaurant, and meetinghouse, with a general university-town flavor — won’t recognize much when they step inside. The interior floor plan has been heavily reworked: the central coffee and pastry bar, once surrounded by naves hung with paintings and photographs, has been replaced by tables, chairs, and booths. There is also now (at the far side of the restaurant as you enter) a shiny and bustling exhibition kitchen, along with a bold color scheme of red and blue, and light fixtures that look like clusters of bottomless Bombay Sapphire gin bottles. All that remains of the original layout is a smaller dining room along the building’s north face, looking across the busy street at Golden Gate Park.

Still, there is a nice irony in the transformation of a filling station — or indeed any other urban eyesore — into a haven of civilization, whether it’s a locus for art or food, and to have a seafood restaurant on a site that once reeked of gasoline fumes must be accounted an improvement by any standard. I only wish Pacific Catch weren’t a nascent chain; there’s a tiny sibling outlet on Chestnut in the Marina, another (of unknown scale) in Corte Madera, and a general sense, as a friend of mine put it, that still more Pacific Catches can’t be far off.

The food is accordingly mainstream, with tweaks and tunings that reflect sensibilities on either side of the Pacific, trending sometimes in an Asian direction and at others in a Latin American one. Among the great Mexican seafood dishes must be the fish taco, and Pacific Catch offers several versions ($4.25), all creditable on their beds of shredded cabbage: Baja, with chunks of batter-fried halibut or cod; grilled mahimahi, slathered in the restaurant’s ubiquitous avocado-tomatillo salsa; and barbecue shrimp, enlivened by little flares of fresh ginger (a nod across the Pacific there). Side dishes enhance the south-of-the-border aura; black beans ($2.95 for a sizable crock) are well seasoned and sprinkled with crumblings of queso fresco, while grilled corn ($2.95) — still on disks of cob — is suitable for dipping into accompanying pats of chipotle butter.

If Pacific Catch can seem like a cantina in Cabo San Lucas, it can also present itself as a sushi bar on Maui. A variety of sashimi is offered (as is its New World cousin, seviche), along with a selection of sushi rolls and — for that Hawaiian touch — poke ($8.50), cubes of lightly seared ahi drizzled with soy sauce and served atop a Fritos-like mélange of rice chips. The poke is temperamentally well suited to share table space with wakame (seaweed) salad ($3.95), a staple of sushi bars and notable here for its considerable size. The salad is plenty for two and could even satisfy four if other treats were on the way.

The grilled salmon ($19.95) — a deftly grilled filet — had been organically farmed in British Columbia, which relieved some of my unease at having it, since farmed salmon is usually a big no-no. The so-called California presentation itself was pleasant if unremarkable and consisted of a huge scoop of brown rice, several stalks of steamed asparagus (with basil aioli for dipping), and under the fish, a confit of tomatoes and lemon.

Even if Pacific Catch is mostly a seafood restaurant, you don’t have to have seafood. You could have grilled skirt steak ($18.95), glazed with miso, cut into tender slices, and plated with a huge scoop of white rice, a salad of picked cucumber threads, and a pile of deceptively pale kimchi that packed a real and thrilling wallop of garlic and chili pepper. My only complaint about these large plates is that they did look like subcompacts coming off an assembly line: this one got an extra cup holder from the parts bin, that one a CD deck in the dashboard — but otherwise they heavily resembled one another in a bolted-together way.

Dessert tends to soothe complainants of most stripes, luckily, and Pacific Catch has at least one quite good dessert: a sundae ($6.50) built on a macadamia-nut brownie. The brownie isn’t a doodle or add-on here, an extra calorie payment stuffed into a sundae glass with gobs of ice cream, as is so often the case with brownie sundaes; instead, it’s like Huck’s raft, sprawling and commodious, and the blob of macadamia-nut ice cream on top is almost a condiment. Other condiments include twin oozings of hot-fudge and caramel sauces.

There’s one element of the mix that hasn’t changed much in the metamorphosis, and that’s the crowd. It remains young and collegiate- or postcollegiate-looking, although the noise level has risen noticeably. In the old art-café days, people tended to keep even their more intense conversations at murmur level; now, without the elevating presence of art beyond some paintings of fish on the walls, there is a tendency to hoot and bray, if you catch my drift.


Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;
Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

1200 Ninth Ave., SF

(415) 504-6905


Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

Craft fare


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS There was this crafts fair at one of our bars, and Sockywonk said she knew a guy who was giving away waffles. "Crafts fair?" I said, picturing clothes, jewelry, and purses, but not waffles.

Yeah, she said. He’d figured out a way to get waffle batter into an aerosol can, like Reddy-Wip, and he was promoting his brilliant invention by feeding all the craft fairies for free.

I loved Sockywonk for knowing such a thing. But after a sporty morning, I had me a good sticky, stinky sweat on and was mostly interested in her bathtub. We were going to a potluck at another bar later in the afternoon. I still had my soccer socks on.

"Well … " I said.

"Waffles!" she said, and what could I say? I had to agree with her 100 percent, once she put it like that. Waffles! Free ones, at that, and I was hungry and only had exactly $1.15.

"Waffles!" I said. And I changed my socks, borrowed a shirt, and found all sorts of things in Sockywonk’s bathroom to rub and spray on myself in lieu of a waterier bath.

At the end of the block we joined forces with Natty King Coal, the oatmeal pusher, and his charming bag lady–enforcer (and my personal hero) Little Orphan-Maker Annie, who was on crutches due to a grisly roller derby smash-up. She hadn’t been out of the house in months. I’m not kidding.

Annie had a crazed and wonderful look in her eye, like Give Me Blood, or syrup, or bargains. She also had a handicapped-parking thingy, so we drove to the bar even though it was within walking distance — or would have been, without pins and rods and crushed bones and so forth.

"What’s that smell?" Natty King said once all the car doors were closed.

"Do you mean ‘What are those smells?’" I said. "They represent a delicate yet complicated blending of the usual — sweat, smoke, and chicken shit — with the unusual: whatever the hell Socky keeps on the shelf in her bathroom."

Sockywonk works at a girly, soapy bath, spray, and general smell shop called Common Scents, and that was pretty much what I smelled like, like the entire store, Common Scents, on 24th Street. Plus sweat and smoke and of course chicken shit.

"I like it," the Orphan-Maker said, turning in her seat and smiling. Christ, she’s so sweet. And that was the end of that discussion.

At the crapshoot, or crafts fair, Sockywonk left less $40, the Orphan-Maker dropped two great T-shirts’ worth, plus the $20 she spotted the Wonk for even more cool stuff. Natty King, who knows how to treat his girls, bless him, went down whatever-the-worth of three bags of hot-sauced mango from a sidewalk vendor. Yum! And I, your chicken farmer truly, walked away with exactly $1.15, plus Aunt Jemima stains all over my borrowed shirt. Syrup. Sorry, Socky.

The verdict on aerosol-can waffle and pancake batter?

Yeah. Whatever. No, I mean, it was free, and it was delicious. But being a person who loves to cook, and who loves to spend as much time as possible doing the things that I love to do, like cooking, why in the world would I ever in the world squeeze waffle batter out of a can? And then blow time looking out the window that I could have more wisely spent separating egg whites and hand-whisking until they hold soft peaks?

No kidding, I make three meals a day. I want to have my hands in the food, and my arms, teeth, and tongue when appropriate. Like sex, I actually want it to take as long as possible. And dirty all the dishes. (I’ll do ’em in the morning.) You’re in a hurry, I know. You have a job. Check it out: batterblaster.com. Me, I’ll keep doing what I do … stirring constantly.


My new favorite restaurant is Pretty Lady, a divine dive in West Oakland. Me and Deevee both ordered fried egg sandwiches, because we only had $10 between us, and all of it was hers. She laughed at me for ordering my sandwich eggs over easy, and I laughed last when my first bite squirted egg yolk all over my shirt and pants and the place. Which I really and truly love, did I mention? Nothing but counter, U-shaped for easier people-watching/eavesdropping. Saw a good-looking salad and stir-fry down the counter, so … stay for lunch.


1733 Peralta, Oakl.

(510) 832-1213

Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted

Love and hate and the black cripple


OPINION Editors note: I don’t usually run poetry here, but we cosponsored the Valentine’s Day "Battle of (All) the Sexes" poetry fundraiser for POOR Magazine, one of my favorite institutions — and tiny, who runs POOR, convinced me to publish the winning poems. You can get more info at www.poormagazine.org. (Tim Redmond)

First place:


By Queennandi

I’m about to commentate

Hate is comin’ to tha ring, weighing in at an unknown amount of pounds

Ready to bring on destruction and pain

Puttin’ the little kids out of their homes

Creating victims out of the elderly, addicted to bein’ insane

Oooh, and hate starts frivolous wars

Our childrens’ blood is shedded

While hate’s kids become pampered and spoiled

The hate record looks undefeated, but lovez comin’ to tha ring

Look, now hate done ran and retreated

Love got hate on tha ropes- Bam! Bow! Bam! Bing!

Love IS comin’ wit body blows, and hate can’t block a thing

Now love comes wit an uppercut- Bam!

Put the families back in their homes

Boom! Enough criticizing and criminalizing the poor

Bow! Return tha souljahs and end the war

Now! It’s justice for all- Bam! Boom! Pow!

Cuz hate just got knocked out!

Second place


By Leroy F. Moore


Look at me, look at me

Hear this, hear this

I’ve learned from Heyward’s Porgy

Play on your pity

Just to get that money


You’ll do me like you did bang, bang Margarett L. Mitchell

I’m an open swore in the BLACK community

Cup in hand

Leaning against the wall

Passersby don’t want to understand


Gave my body to the US Army

Got shot by the LAPD

But you can’t get red of me

Mainstream think I’m too angry

My own people don’t even notice me


My spoken word, you can’t handle

You think I’m too radical

Black sisters don’t know what they are missing

My BLACK CRIPPLE body is always erect

Mind masturbation but she can’t deal with the situation

Educated and motivated

Now people are intimidated

I’m the incarcerated BLACK CRIPPLE

Lock down

Lock out

Walking on death row

The State has lost my file


In my pocket is Uncle Sam’s dirty hands


Rocking your cradle

Yeah, I know what I want but you’re too goddam fickle

Hell yeah, I’m the BLACK CRIPPLE

No, no, no


No, no, no


No, no, no


No, no, no


Yeah! Yeah! Hell Yeah!

Queennandi is the author of Life, Struggle and Reflection (POOR Press, 2006). Leroy Moore (www.leroymoore.com) is the producer of Krip-Hop Mixtape Vols. 1 and 2 — collections of hip-hop artists with disabilities — and a member of the Po Poets Project of POOR Magazine.

The users are revolting


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION One of the social traditions that’s carried over quite nicely from communities in the real world to communities online is revolution. You’ve got many kinds of revolt taking place online in places where people gather, from tiny forums devoted to sewing, to massive Web sites like Digg.com devoted to sharing news stories.

And while they may be virtual, the protests that break out in these digital communities have much in common with the ones that raise a ruckus in front of government buildings: they range from the deadly serious to the theatrically symbolic.

How can a bunch of people doing something on a Web site really be as disruptive or revolutionary as those carrying signs, yelling, and storming the gates of power in the real world? By way of an answer, let’s consider three kinds of social protest that have taken place in the vast Digg community.

According to Internet analysis firm ComScore, Digg has 6 million visitors per month who come to read news stories rounded up from all over the Web. About half of those visitors log in as users to vote on which stories are the most important: the one with the most votes are deemed "popular," and make it to Digg’s front page to be seen by millions. A smaller number of people on Digg — about 10 percent — choose to become submitters of stories, searching the Web for interesting things and posting them to be voted on — in categories that range from politics to health. Digg’s developers use a secret-sauce algorithm to determine at what point a story has received enough votes to make it popular and worthy of front-page placement.

You can imagine that a community like this one, devoted to the idea of democratically generated news and controlled by a secret algorithm, might be prone to controversy. And it is.

Two years ago, I was involved in what I would consider one type of user revolt on Digg. It was a prank that I pulled off with the help of an anonymous group called User/Submitter. The group’s goal was to reveal how easy Digg makes it for corrupt people to buy votes and get free publicity on Digg’s front page. My goal was to see if U/S really could get something on the front page by bribing Digg users with my cash. So I created a really dumb blog, paid a couple hundred dollars to U/S, and discovered that you could indeed buy your way to the front page. Think of it as an anarchist prank designed to show flaws in the so-called democracy of the system.

But there have also been massive grassroots protests on Digg, one of which I wrote about in a column more than a year ago. Thousands of Digg users posted a secret code, called the Advanced Access Content System key, that could be used as part of a scheme to unlock the encryption on high definition DVDs. The goal was to protest the fact that HD DVDs could only be played in "authorized" players chosen by Hollywood studios. So it forced people interested in HD to replace their DVD players with new devices. It was a consumer protest, essentially, and a very popular one. Hollywood companies sent Digg cease-and-desists requesting that they take down the AACS key whenever it was posted, but too many users had posted it. There was no way to stop the grassroots protest. Digg’s founders gave up, told the community to post the AACS key to their hearts’ content, and swore they would fight the studios to the end if they got sued (no suit ever materialized).

Another kind of protest that’s occurred on Digg came just last month, and it was a small-scale rebellion among the people who submit stories and are therefore Digg’s de facto editors. After Digg developers changed the site’s algorithm so that it was harder to make stories popular, a group of Digg submitters sent a letter to Digg’s founders saying they would stop using the site if the algorithm wasn’t fixed. You could compare this protest to publishing an editorial in a newspaper — it reflected grassroots sentiment but was written by a small minority of high-profile individuals. Though the company didn’t change its algorithm, this protest did result in the creation of town hall meetings where users could ask questions of Digg developers and air their grievances.

Each of these kinds of protests has its correlates in the real world: the symbolic prank, the grassroots protest, and the angry editorial. So forgive me if I laugh at people who say the Internet doesn’t foster community. Not only is there a community there, but it’s full of revolutionaries who fight for freedom of expression.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who wants a revolution.