Volume 42 Number 38

Volume 42 Number 38 Flip-through Edition

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Burned: Lisa Fernandes

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TV EYED "Yeah, girl power!" This from likely one of the most hated women on television, Lisa Fernandes, the seeming near-winner on the latest go-around of Bravo’s Top Chef. Yes, the fourth season was estrogen-centric: it anointed perpetually fretful nice-girl/good-chef Stephanie Izard with the Top Chef toque, a first for a show that reflects its traditionally male-dominated field. And intriguingly for this machismo-dappled reality contest, women fed the most charged subtexts of the series.

Izard’s womanly counterpart turned out to be Fernandes, whose newly resurgent feminism in the June 11 final competition episode wasn’t what turned viewers off: Fernandes was the arrogant aggressor to the self-doubting Izard. Petulant in response to criticism in contrast to Izard’s near-tears, Fernandes exuded an arms-folded, rageaholic-like ‘tude for the last seven weeks — as she blamed others for cooking mistakes and lashed out at her competitors in front of the judges. Perpetually lurking amid the middle of the bottom-feeding worst cooks seemingly each week, neither abysmal nor better than most, this chef who specializes in Asian food also managed to ruin her rice — and stay in the competition as more adept cooks like Antonia Lofaso and Dale Talde — who regularly won or placed high in quick-fire challenges — went on the chopping block for a single mistake or for being too ambitious.

The surprise was that Fernandes came on so strong at the end, while the likeable Izard seemed to squeak through in an apparently very subjective win, because Fernandes was the chef viewers — and fellow cooks — loved to hate. Witness the cool-headed, faux-hawked Richard Blais voicing his irritation, leading one to think that Fernandes’ cockiness got to him in more ways than one. Sure, she made so-called great television: Fernandes was cast by the producers as the clear villain of the piece — as she acknowledged to the New York Daily News. It was easy to scapegoat her in this, the straight-male-dominated yang to Project Runway<0x2009>‘s femme- and queer-centric yin. Her brand of simmering butch surliness didn’t quite mesh with the more customary displays of male rage.

But were the shows’ makers aware of how much Fernandes’ continued avoidance of Padma Lakshmi’s moist-eyed "Please pack your knives and go" damaged the credibility of the judges? One began to wonder, why shouldn’t past wins count? Has a point system been considered? Viewers’ intense dislike of Fernandes probably kept them tuning in, waiting to see her eat it, elimination-wise. But one couldn’t help but believe that the judges were in league with the producers to keep Fernandes in the show for dramatic effect. And one began secretly imagining different scenarios: wouldn’t it be a great subversive move on Fernandes’ part to throw a splashy hissy fit, quit, and dive-bomb the narrative arc?

But who is Fernandes to disappoint by serving up anything but her self-described "spicy" personality? Likely, during this week’s final reunion episode she’ll reliably call out kindred contestants for hating on her. Next course: just desserts?

Blood in, blood out

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, when Parma’s bright and talented Giovanni (Michael Hayden) confesses to Friar Bonaventura (Steven Anthony Jones) his passion for his equally exceptional sister, Annabella (René Augesen), the friar is quick to understand the stakes, declaring, "We have need to pray." He advises Giovanni to turn from so unnatural a desire to repentance and sorrow. "Acknowledge what thou art," he tells him, "a wretch, a worm, a nothing." But this strikes us as something of a denial of nature too, especially given our protagonist’s rare qualities. And it’s soon clear that religion will give him no solace or cure anyway. This is unsurprising, since the church — headed by a slimy cardinal (Jack Willis) — is a thoroughly dishonest institution deeply implicated in the pervasive corruption of the age. So where should Giovanni’s faith and ultimate allegiance lie in such a world? And where, in turn, should our sympathies lie?

Such questions go to the heart of what remains provocative and compelling in John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy four centuries on. It makes a kind of irrefutable sense within the context of the play that Giovanni and Annabella (clearly intended as a darker version of Romeo and Juliet) would pursue a mutual affinity and blood bond to the extremes of physical and emotional passion — with tragic consequences of course. But the surprise is that while tragic, the consequences are also, morally speaking, far from straightforward. Forging a bond that denies and defies a fallen world and its judgment, their relationship finally succumbs to the order of the day — which is to say, the disorder of violence — by self-destructing in an orgy of blood vengeance.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Ford’s best-known work — whose central incest plot comes wrapped in intervening subplots driven by jealousy, power, and revenge — plumbs moral confusion and the individual conscience in a hypocritical and vicious age. No wonder it feels thematically and dramatically vital in our own spiraling time. Ford depicts a world — the tumultuous mid–17th century — where the Elizabethan certainties of Shakespeare’s day have dissolved and authority has blurred. Meanwhile, material and carnal appetites have bloomed like overripe fruit in a dilapidated garden that looks more like a jungle. The cruelty and gore here barely merit a raised eyebrow by today’s brassy standards, whether in the realm of entertainment, art, or politics. But in Ford’s time and ours, taboos don’t so much disappear as they become tantalizingly flimsy, porous and seductive, Guantánamo being one byword for this.

The still-burning fire in Ford’s tragedy is inconsistently sustained, however, in American Conservatory Theater’s new production, requiring a wade through a fairly static and fitfully persuasive first act to get to the juicier scenes and forceful momentum of the second. Artistic director Carey Perloff puts wonderful care into the production values and her casting is generally shrewd (in addition to leads Augesen and Hayden, who really heat up by the end, Anthony Fusco, Susan Gibney, and Gregory Wallace turn in particularly noteworthy performances). The baroque world of Ford’s play and our time is architecturally bridged, meanwhile, in Walt Spangler’s multileveled scenic design — an abstracted cathedral in its jewel-like beaded curtains, scattered candles in soft-colored glass, steep metallic stairways, and a treelike cluster of massive dangling organ pipes enshrouding composer-musician Bonfire Madigan Shive and her cello on a recessed tier. The "avant-baroque" cello score and Shive’s occasional anguished vocal lines add a somewhat thinner aural texture to character and scene than seems intended. But the set is stunningly integrated with Robert Wierzel’s sensual lighting design, evoking baroque canvases while draping the action in a sense of carnal luxury and exquisite decadence.

It’s a bumpy ride, but the end is well played and gripping, casting a memorable image of Giovanni drenched in the blood of his sister and lover, having utterly retreated into himself — literally into the womb of his flesh and blood, where sibling, wife, and child have all become horribly blurred. In the play’s crowning and irresolvable tension, incest is both a fundamental violation of natural order as well as an assertion of blood as the only terra firma in a world of quicksand. *

‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE

Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m., $14–$82

American Conservatory Theater

415 Geary, SF

(415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

Bag drag

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER As a once-impressionable protein unit who wrapped my eyeballs around any and all TV comedy, I’m slightly abashed to say I haven’t caught Saturday Night Live regularly in many a year. So I was surprised to hear rumors a while back that the series was allegedly biting off one of the Bay Area underground music scene’s fave figures: Jibz Cameron — known and loved for her garage-rock spaz-outs with the Roofies and her pretension-leveling levity behind the counter at Lost Weekend Video. And then there’s her super-girl-group of sorts, Dynasty, with Numbers drummer Indra Dunis and Neung Phak vocalist Diana Hayes, and her solo spin-off project, Dynasty Handbag.

“I don’t watch it either,” Cameron says from Brooklyn, as pet Chihuahuas struggle over a chew toy in the background. “But I get a phone call every other Saturday, ‘Omigod, you won’t fucking believe it…’ and I say, ‘I already know.'” She’s talking about SNL‘s house DJ Dynasty Handbag, a character that first popped up on the show in 2005, hosting a faux-MTV talk show. The occasional Kenan Thompson character is a far cry from Cameron’s Dynasty Handbag, a crazed kitsch-waver — a kind of schizo Bride of Peaches and Krystle Carrington — that Cameron developed on petite SF music stages before moving east four years ago. The project started life as the portable version of Dynasty and turned into a multi-referent alter ego.

The SNL character hasn’t reappeared in the last year, but it still offends. “It’s still on their DVDs, and I do performance that’s comedy-related,” she says. “People research me on the Internet, and my site comes up first, but they’re there, though I’m the OG, the OD, the OGD.” She says she sent SNL a cease-and-desist letter and when “that didn’t go anywhere, I took it to Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. I’m not in a full-blown lawsuit with them, but we’re sort of in discussion with them.” At press time, SNL representatives have not responded to requests for comment.

Cameron says she does have a new “plan of attack.” Her friend Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio will be producing a podcast radio show called Radio Woo Woo, which she will cohost. “My plan is to just keep talking about it on the air,” she says, adding that the podcast will premiere TV on the Radio’s new album this fall.

The low-broiling brouhaha hasn’t stopped Cameron from developing her Dynasty Handbag performances into narratives. This week she’ll unveil three short pieces at CounterPULSE. One, Bags, revolves around Cameron’s relationships with five empty shopping bags: “Each one sucks my soul in a different way, like bad relationships in my 20s. One is really needy; one’s really demanding; and one just wants to get fisted.” A work in progress, O Death, sees Cameron attempting to bury her own dead body.

Cameron has been far from dead and buried in New York: within months of moving to the Big Snapple she was crowned Miss Lower East Side in Murray Hill’s annual pageant, and she has presented solo shows at PS 122 and Galapagos Art Space. “Everybody works so hard here — it’s really influenced me to go ahead with my stuff. And there’s just the intensity of seeing so many insane people every day,” says Cameron, who was raised by hippie parents in Mendocino County (“My childhood was peppered by characters with beards and long, droopy fun bags”). “That’s really helpful, too.” *

DYNASTY HANDBAG: TALES FROM THE PURSE

Thurs/19 and Sat/21, 8 p.m., Fri/20 and Sun/22, 10 p.m., $20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

www.directfromnyc.com

MAGIC NUMBERS, FLYING DRUMS: THESE NEW PURITANS

Southend-on-Sea, UK’s These New Puritans purvey an austere, twinkling breed of synthetic/organic art-pop — one that evokes both Wire and the Klaxons. Who suspected the murky mystical inclinations embedded in the band’s debut, Beat Pyramid (Domino)? “Pyramids are about secrets and chambers,” vocalist Jack Barnett, 20, offers from his band’s tour stop in Chicago. “Some of the songs have to do with magic.” He claims 16th-century occultist-mathematician John Dee plays into his searching New Puritans as much as the Wu-Tang Clan, which Barnett praises for the “eerie, tiny little sounds in the background” of their productions.

Now the combo is attempting to write music that marries “the round canons of Steve Reich” with the beats of dancehall — provided Barnett manages to dodge the projectiles heaved by his drummer twin, George. When making music with your twin, Jack says, “you’re honest to the point of getting completely out of hand. As in drums being thrown at me. On a regular basis.”

Thurs/19, 8 p.m., $12–$13. Popscene, 333 Ritch, SF. www.popscene-sf.com

THE HAPPENINGS?

 

100 YEARS AT THE HOTEL UTAH

The 1908 edifice where Robin Williams, Cake, Counting Crows, and countless others broke out brings back witnesses and whoops it up. With Penelope Houston, Paula Frazer, Jesse DeNatale, Colossal Yes, Greg Ashley, Blag Dahlia, and others. Thurs/19; reception 7 p.m., ceremony 7:30 p.m., music 9 p.m.; $8 show. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300

 

JAYMAY

The bookish Long Island chanteuse flirts with song stylings slouching betwixt Feist and Keren Ann. Thurs/19, 9 p.m., $12. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016

 

GEORGE MICHAEL

He’s never going to dance again through this sort of arena show, the UK pop star hinted recently. Thurs/19, 8 p.m., $56–<\d>$176. HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara, San Jose. (415) 421-TIXS

 

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE

Narrow Stairs finds the Seattle cabbies stretching into darker realms. With Rogue Wave. Sat/21, 8 p.m., $39.50. Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley, Berk. www.apeconcerts.com

 

Marc Bamuthi Joseph

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PREVIEW Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an artist who makes you want to bow down in admiration or curse the gods for bestowing him with so many talents. He’s a poet. He’s a singer. A dancer. An actor. An activist. And good-looking, to boot. It doesn’t seem fair that one human being should possess so many gifts, even when he uses them for the benefit of others by revealing truths about environmental destruction, human devastation, and the experience of fatherhood. Joseph draws connections between the global and the personal to express the idea that all politics is local. Although his reputation primarily is based on his solo choreo-poems — most prominently Word Becomes Flesh (2003) — with his 2005 hip-hop Scourge, he stepped outside his comfort zone into the arena of ensemble work. For that collage-meditation on being an American of Haitian descent, he brought in a combination of actors and dancers. Now with the break/s: a mixtape for stage, he returns to the solo form. Taking Jeff Chang’s tome Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation (Macmillan, 2005) as a starting point, Joseph puts his own perspective on the phenomenon. He has called the work "a travel diary recorded as dream. It’s Lewis and Clark at hip-hop’s Mason-Dixon line. It’s one last look at Africa."

MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH Thurs/19–Sat/21, 8 p.m. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, San Francisco. $23–$30. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

The Explorers Club

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REVIEW There have been a fair number of artists over the years who have tried to channel the classic Wall of Sound orchestral-pop of mid-1960s Beach Boys recordings, but the number of success stories is considerably shorter. Far too often, imitators have sacrificed songwriting in their fixation to replicate the Pet Sounds vibe. Enter the Charleston, S.C., septet the Explorers Club, which focuses without apology or irony on recapturing the essence of Brian Wilson’s so-called "teenage symphonies to God." Everything on their debut, Freedom Wind (Dead Oceans), has been faithfully rendered, from its lush, four-part harmonies to its evocative timpani-rolls to the CD booklet’s resemblance to a well-worn record sleeve with the vinyl edges showing through. The good news? No mere mimickers, these young romantics pen instantly hummable soda-fountain swooners that truly deserve the comparisons they seek.

Awash with sleighbells, cascading drum fills, and intricately arranged falsetto harmonies, Freedom Wind<0x2009>‘s odes to girls and summer fun throb with a sense of teenage elation. Witness the blood-rush chorus that sends "Do You Love Me?" into senior-prom melodrama, or the now-or-never urgency of "Last Kiss," tempered slightly by the rueful acknowledgment, "Summer dreams don’t last." "Forever," with its soaring Brian Wilson–esque confession, "Every time I think of her, I cry," should make more than a few girls weak in the knees, while the sublime "If You Go" — billowed by pillow-soft sighs puffing away against a keyboard-twinkling backdrop — points to the Explorers Club’s equally impressive absorption of ’70s AM-gold motifs.

THE EXPLORERS CLUB With Lightspeed Champion, Flowers Forever, and DJ Aaron Axelsen. Fri/20, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1422, www.independentsf.com

Benga

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REVIEW Twenty-two-year-old South London producer Beni Uthman, a.k.a. Benga, gave dubstep its first crossover hit with last year’s "Night," coproduced with the artist Coki. The track caught the attention of British radio tastemakers like the BBC’s Judge Jules, Gilles Peterson, and Mary Anne Hobbs, and was played relentlessly by Europe’s biggest club DJs. With its marching cadence and hypnotic lead bass synth, "Night" signaled that dubstep’s moment had arrived, and that 1990s dance music producers had serious competition from the PlayStation generation. So what could Uthman do to top this success? Make a new beat.

Since his 2002 debut 12-inch, "Skank" (Big Apple), Uthman’s artistic output has been prolific. According to an XLR8R article, he made 250 songs in 2007 alone. Uthman’s broader success is due in part to his music’s recognizable fusions: electro, techno, drum ‘n’ bass, and dubstep’s UK garage roots all mingle on hyperkinetic rhythms that reflect South London’s urban-tribal sonic milieu. These elements shine through on the mostly instrumental Diary of an Afro Warrior (Tempa), an album that is best absorbed through uninterrupted, start-to-finish listens.

Opener "Zero M2"’s delicate Rhodes notes recall Bristol jungle producer Roni Size’s jazz-inflected work, but Uthman’s growling digital bass pulses quickly dispense with any chin-stroking. Elsewhere, skittish tracks like "Emotions" and "E Trips" mimic club drugs’ racing heartbeats with start-stop kick drums and swirling acid-laced keyboards, while "The Cut" employs chainsaw bass notes and cut-up funk samples. Diary‘s otherworldly compositions and signature programming should establish Uthman alongside Underworld, Aphex Twin, Goldie, and Orbital as the UK’s next great dance music innovator. That might seem like a lot to put on a twentysomething’s shoulders, but based on Diary‘s strength, it’s not beyond this bass warrior’s capabilities.

BENGA With Skream. Wed/18, 9 p.m., $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 626-7001, www.mighty119.com

Hurting herders

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REVIEW Set in Inner Mongolia’s dry and inhospitable plains, Tuya’s Marriage comments on capitalism’s suffocating ability to suppress other ways of living. Tuya (Yu Nan — last seen in Speed Racer, of all places) is a Mongolian sheep herder struggling to make ends meet. China’s growing economy has made it almost impossible for herders to survive — not only has it forced them to leave their lands, it has created industries that exploit the natural resources herders traditionally have taken advantage of. So when Tuya’s husband Bater (played by a real Mongolian herder) is incapacitated while digging a well, things become even harder. Tuya is left in charge of their two toddlers, the flock, and securing their daily supply of water. When the strained woman suffers a physical breakdown that warns of graver consequences if she keeps exhausting herself, everyone advises her to divorce Bater and marry another man. Unable to deal with the hardships surrounding her, Tuya starts looking for a groom on the outrageous condition that whoever agrees to take her for his wife must also be willing to provide for Bater. Having glimpsed the potential outcome of marrying a Mongolian oil tycoon and living in the city, Tuya chooses to continue the life she knows — at a high price. Aesthetically beautiful and emotionally complex, the film records the customs and mores of a culture that’s slowly disappearing, and the sadness of a people who have become marginalized.

TUYA’S MARRIAGE opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.

“Punball: Only One Earth”

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"Punball: Only One Earth"

PREVIEW From large-scale printmaking to the small masking-tape sculpture Pillow Talk (2002), William T. Wiley’s anti-genre-fication catalog reaches a grinning pinnacle in the 65 works from the past eight years on display at the "Punball: Only One Earth" exhibit at Electric Works. Wiley’s piece, Punball: Only One Earth (2007) is a completely remade (and playable) version of Gottlieb’s 1964 "North Star" pinball game, which celebrated the nuclear-powered USS Nautilus‘ North Pole undersea crossing. With saturated colors, globes drunk on their own worldliness, and puns on our heated global situation, Wiley’s game is an ironic distillation of his acutely history-conscious world. It’s as if a marketing agent had bought the rights to his signature characters and symbols — Mr. Unnatural, wick-like ampersands, angelic hourglasses — and produced a Wiley-model game that the artist then carefully sabotaged late at night while sporting one of his own dunce-cap sculptures, just before its release.

The game is the product of more than a year’s collaboration: the original machine came from Electric Works supporter Joe Sweeney. "In my age bracket, pinball machines were everywhere," Wiley said by phone from his west Marin residence. "You were often eating hamburgers to the sound of ding, ding<0x2009>!" Working on this project, he found "a whole culture of pinball people…. It’s an actual folk art form: insider, outsider. It touches lots of different things."

When I ask about what the younger generation, with our poor grasp of history, might be missing in Wiley’s work, he laughs and brings the discussion back to the importance of using "humor and absurdity" to critique the present. For Wiley, humor has an element of chance. He found the school desk for the sculpture and print Deskerado/Child’s Play Print (2007) during a walk to the post office. A random crack in the wood became a red, white, and blue equatorial line on the white-on-black print. "No Child Left A-head," the print declares, mourning, above all else, our loss of imagination.

PUNBALL: ONLY ONE EARTH Through July 28. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Electric Works, 130 Eighth St., SF. Free. (415) 626-5496, www.sfelectricworks.com

The funk this time

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With gas prices topping four dollars in the United States this summer, Americans are educating themselves on where their fuel comes from. Often it’s from places like Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where multinational petroleum giants face armed resistance from local groups that see foreign oil developments as resource exploitation. So why are groups like Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) fighting the Nigerian government, Chevron, and Shell?

As John Ghazvinian points out in Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil (Harcourt, 2007), "In Nigeria, 80 percent of oil and gas revenue accrues to just 1 percent of the population…. Virtually everybody in the Delta scrambles to get by in shantytowns built of driftwood and corrugated zinc, watching children die of preventable diseases, while their corrupt leaders whiz past behind the tinted windows of air-conditioned BMWs."

Against this backdrop rises 25-year-old Seun Kuti, whose potent self-titled debut for Disorient Records directly addresses Nigeria’s issues. Seun is the youngest son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who before his death in 1997 popularized the funk-influenced West African Afrobeat sound worldwide throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Backed by his father’s 20-piece Egypt 80 orchestra, Seun invokes his dad’s fiery political rhetoric on protest songs like "Na Oil" and "African Problem" that lyrically excoriate foreign and domestic oppressors. In keeping with his father’s work, Seun’s backing music is as engaging as his commentary.

Seun Kuti is carrying Fela’s music to a new generation. But unlike his older half-brother Femi, whose recordings incorporate hip-hop and dance motifs, Seun revives Afrobeat’s original big-band blueprint and injects it with a fresh urgency. He’s helped by Fela’s longtime bandleader Baba Ani, along with Adedimeji Fagbemi (a.k.a. Showboy) on saxophone, Ajayi Adebiya on drums, and a dozen or so other Egypt 80 veterans who’ve been playing regularly for nearly three decades at the family’s Kalakuti compound.

The group stretches out on eight-minute songs like "Don’t Give That Shit to Me," where dueling guitars trade jabs, a full brass section swells mightily, and Seun Kuti adds vocal diatribes. Kuti’s sax flourishes lead the charge on that track, one of the album’s most spacious, jazz-improv-driven numbers. Similarly, blazing trumpets and speedy percussion-laden polyrhythms transform "Mosquito"<0x2009>‘s serious anti-malaria message into a rebel-dance anthem.

Kuti closes his first full-length with the punchy, mid-tempo "African Problem," which is replete with street traffic samples and the band leader’s passionate, rapid-fire lyrics. "Make you help me ask them sisters / Why no get houses to stay / Salute my brothers when they fight / Fight for the future of Africa," he sings in a militant call-and-response with the horn section. And like the campaign waged by one of Kuti’s American supporters (Barack Obama, who helped Egypt 80 get visas for a benefit show in Chicago), Kuti’s album resonates as an authentic political expression where expression and message are aligned.

SEUN KUTI AND EGYPT 80

With Sila and the Afrofunk Experience

Sun/22, 2 p.m., free

Stern Grove

Sloat and 19th Ave., SF

www.sterngrove.org

Earth, here and now

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"I’m a big fan of Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton and Merle Haggard’s guitarist, Roy Nichols. I also like a lot of western swing, like Hank Thompson and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Jerry Reed. Waylon Jennings is one of my favorite guitar players."

Listening to Dylan Carlson rattle off a list of his favorite country pickers might seem a little strange. After all, this is the guy who practically invented the drone-metal genre in the early 1990s as the leader of Sub Pop outcasts Earth. Their snail-paced, sludge-caked drone explorations might be termed "primordial," yet they were anything but traditional or rootsy. Some probably questioned whether they were music at all.

The band’s landmark Earth 2 (Sub Pop, 1993) is a legendary lease-breaker of an album thanks to its wall-rattling sonics. For years the recording — and the band in general — puzzled onlookers, who wondered what Nirvana’s old label was doing releasing something so unseemly. Earth once played a music-biz festival in New York during the early ’90s, and as Carlson recounts by phone from Seattle, "I had friends telling me, ‘Oh, yeah, there were all these industry people here, and they were totally confused.’ They thought we were assholes and stuff, like we were making fun of them."

The joke’s on them now, even it wasn’t back then. Thanks to Earth worshippers Sunn O))) and the scads of other low-end drone specialists who have cropped up in recent years, the band’s once-misunderstood sound has come to be seen as pioneering, opening the way for a range of experimentalists operating at the crossroads of metal, improv, and avant-garde rock. The thing is, Carlson doesn’t have much interest in that sound anymore.

"Obviously it’s flattering to be liked by people and to influence people," he says. "But for me, it’s not something I would do again, since I don’t like repeating myself and I’m trying to move somewhere else."

Earth’s more recent recordings, including 2005’s Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method and this year’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Den (both Southern Lord), move at the same slow hypnotic pace of the older material, but they do so with less volume, more space, and a surprising twang element. These discs have come with the help of a new cast of supporting musicians — including trombonist-keyboardist Steve Moore and Master Musicians of Bukkake members John Schuller and Don McGreavy on bass — and a new, more clearheaded approach for Carlson. They also come in the wake of a long hiatus that led many to assume Earth was finished as a band.

"I got dropped by Sub Pop [after 1996’s Pentastar] and wasn’t sure I wanted to play music anymore," he explains. "And I had a lot of [personal] wreckage to take care of, so that’s pretty much what I spent those years doing."

He started playing the guitar again in late 2000, but found himself less interested in feedback and doom-laden riffs and more interested in country music. As he explains, "For some reason, every so often I’ll go to my collection, and for whatever reason something will catch my fancy, and I’ll become obsessed with it for awhile. And that was the stuff."

He started playing with drummer Adrienne Davies in 2001, whose minimalist, mostly brushed sound has been a fixture on the newer Earth albums. He wasn’t planning on playing live again or even using the Earth name, he says, but things fell into place thanks to a reissue of some old recordings and a coinciding East Coast mini-tour. As a result, Earth was reborn — with a different lineup and a different sound.

"I mean, there are similarities between everything I do just because it’s me doing it," Carlson says. "But I’m just always trying to expand with each record and grow as a musician, hopefully, rather than repeating the same thing over and over again." Even so, he adds, "I kind of hear how musics are linked, rather than how they’re different."

Earth: Mach II’s brand of sparse, loping, desert minimalism is a far cry from the wall-of-sound drones of the many Earth-inspired bands currently operating. It’s not metal, but it’s certainly not country either. It’s more like some sort of bizarre-world Americana, with its mantra-like repetition, subtle guitar twang, and wide open sense of space. Jazz guitarist and fellow Seattleite Bill Frisell, who has developed his own skewed take on Americana over the years, makes a guest appearance on Bees, and a Ry Cooder cameo wouldn’t be out of place.

Carlson credits the open-minded, genre-crossing Seattle scene for helping the new Earth evolve and branch out. "It’s not like during the ’90s when everyone was trying to get signed and was worried about playing a specific genre. It’s just people who are into all kinds of music and just want to do the best stuff that they can."

EARTH

With Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter and Aerial Ruin

Fri/20, 9 p.m., $15

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

www.gamh.com

Tell it like it is

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ISBN REAL Samuel R. Delany is best known as a science fiction writer. And it’s a good bet that once people see the documentary The Polymath, or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman — screening this week at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival — Delany will be equally well known as a prolific tea-room queer (50,000 and counting), a lifestyle that has informed much of his fiction. By all rights, either of these enthusiasms should provide the best inroad to Delany’s work. But I’m not so sure that’s true.

What I’ve read of Delany’s science fiction is ambitious, path-clearing, and fearless in its treatment of sex and race. It also tends to let ideas outperform style. Some selections of his work tighten the gap more successfully than others. Triton (Bantam, 1976), sometimes published as Trouble on Triton, is simultaneously much more effective and much less ambitious a work of art than its megahit predecessor Dhalgren (1975), a book of commendable narrative and sociological experimentation that still feels, page by page, overdetermined and overly dependent on dialogue for orientation.

When Delany writes about sex beyond the speculative landscape, he has no less a tendency to dote on ideas, often leaving the reader bloated with enlightenment and blue-balled by the promise of a tight story. His "pornotopic" novel Mad Man (Voyant, 2002) is in many ways a beautiful rumination on the staggered evolution of social tolerance, the ways in which our complex alliances and prejudices can work at cross-purposes. While it’s also admirably brutal on the average reader’s gag reflex, it’s still probably best to select a few boutique items — like maybe the scat play and interspecies fellatio — and save the cavernous foreskin tubes of smegma for another novel. Similarly, while Dark Reflections (Running Press, 2007) is equal to Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 A Single Man at exposing the animal humility of an aging literary life, it relinquishes its eerie sad hush to a bulbous interlude of bathroom-sex protocol.

Really, Delany is too forgiving of his enthusiasms — be they technological, sexual, or literary — to exclude what thoughts they might inspire, to avoid treating fiction as specimen capture. Some of the most impressive bits of Mad Man are simple lists of autonomous thoughts discovered in the notebook of a deceased philosopher. But the beauty of the lists make them no less transparent an opportunity for Delany to do some housecleaning. And while he was able to parlay his mania for inclusion into the artistic success of Phallos (2004), a great little faux-academic novel about an erotic text of mysterious provenance, writing about writing seems an awfully limiting way of solving the problem.

Unless you do it up right, in nonfiction. Though they are not by and large what have earned him his notoriety, works of criticism, memoir, and pedagogy shine brightest on Delany’s mantle. His elegy to the egalitarian sex culture of pre-Giuliani Times Square, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (NYU Press, 1999), is deservedly well known. Though not as prominent, About Writing (Wesleyan, 2005) is a fantastic collection of essays, letters, and interviews on writing as a craft. Equally worthy is Silent Interviews (Wesleyan, 1994), a collection of souped-up interviews that deftly handle many of the concepts he has tried, with mixed results, to illuminate in his fiction. One particularly memorable piece in the collection is "Toto, We’re Back!", a 20-page crucifixion of some insidiously parochial questions posed by a couple of poor professors who thought they were being obsequious. Not only is it a brilliant demonstration of intellectual sadism, it’s also an intriguing examination of the nature of genre as well a solid beginner’s guide to the notables of science fiction. Though he is but one such notable, there are few better places to start.

THE POLYMATH, OR THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF SAMUEL R. DELANY, GENTLEMAN

Fri/20, 8 p.m., $9–$10

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 703-8655

www.frameline.org

What’s a “Mater”?

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1. Unholy howler monkey!

2. The first murder victim delivers hilarious faux-archaeologist lines. She resembles Christopher Guest stalwart Catherine O’ Hara.

3. The dark circles under Asia Argento’s eyes and the scour-rough warm wool of her voice. She’s a star.

4. This time, Dario Argento’s trademark homicidal attack on a character’s eyes is a steel version of the nyuk nyuk nyuk treatment that Moe used to give Curly.

5. Daria Nicolodi’s character looks like a video game avatar. Plus, her appearance and her role create an entire other story that surrounds the story onscreen: one in which Asia, her child by Dario, saves the world from occult apocalypse (but dutifully showers before her daddy’s camera and dives into a putrescent soup of corpses first).

6. Best baby-killing scene since Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977).

7. Asia has to fend off Eurotrashy new wave cackling witches, Japanese Goth cackling witches, and International Male–model cackling witches — all of which love public transit.

8. Instead of a Helena Marcos–like Suspiria crone, the lead villain is an underdressed nymphet. Someone I saw the movie with deemed her "Boob Lady."

9. It delivers more gruesome guts and gore than every mechanical Hollywood horror remake of the past 10 years put together. If you walk into the theater in a state of frustration, you will leave it in a state of blood-sated jubilation.

10. It’s the third part of the Three Mothers trilogy, fool!

MOTHER OF TEARS

Opens Fri/20 at Bay Area theaters

www.motheroftearsthemovie.com

Have another Soju

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Drinking with Hong Sang-soo is an intense experience. Supremely awkward conversations transpire over tables littered with empty soju bottles. The primary topic is sex — and the details quickly get personal. It’s exactly like a scene from one of his films. Or so it seemed during a group dinner honoring Hong at last year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Drinks vanished. Secrets were told. And all present tried to forget about it by the next day.

Scenes of clumsy inebriation are the essence of Hong’s cinema, and 2006’s Woman on the Beach is no exception. Over the course of seven movies (excluding the new Night and Day), Hong has repeatedly examined the complicated romantic entanglements of heterosexual Koreans. His scenes often take place in restaurants or domestic parlors, as people sit, drink, talk, and ultimately either seduce or reject each other during extremely long takes. Reportedly, Hong gets his actors drunk before shooting these scenes.

Invariably, Hong’s films focus on a male protagonist trying to bed a woman. These men are always artists; frequently they are film directors. In these respects, Woman on the Beach is quintessential Hong. It also revives his focus on troubled Seoul-dwellers who leave the city for peace of mind. But there’s an essential shift in emphasis: the woman in the story ends up as complex a creation as the men. A female musician pursued by a film director and his set designer, she’s no virgin stripped bare by her bachelors.

Woman on the Beach isn’t as formally rigorous as Hong’s previous films, and it spells out matters that might have been implicit in an earlier work. But this should only matter to hardcore Hong-heads. The biting observations remain, and they’ve never been funnier.

The woman at the center of Woman on the Beach says she "[doesn’t] respect Korean men too much." Hong’s male characters are indeed selfish, unreliable drunks. But they’re bastards with charm.

WOMAN ON THE BEACH

Opens Fri/20 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

www.sffs.org

Sour sixteen

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Tom Kalin’s 1992 Swoon was a signature feature from the New Queer Cinema movement. Its dramatization of the 1920s Leopold and Loeb case seemed arresting for both its crisp black-and-white photography and flagrant disregard for still-prevalent sentiments that gay screen imagery need always be case-pleadingly positive. Here was talented Kalin, making his first feature about two notorious Chicago thrill-killers — privileged young gay lovers who murdered a 14-year-old boy they vaguely knew simply to fulfill their self-identification as Nietzschean supermen. However, their perfect crime was detected quickly, to public revulsion that no doubt cast a long, dark shadow over gay-rights struggles for decades afterward.

Swoon was striking but superficial — a cool-looking, attitudinal performance piece riding on gallery aesthetics, fashionable moral ambiguity, and Kalin’s professed admiration for the real-life protagonists as anarchic revolutionist souls. (To which I say: bullshit.) It certainly got him enough attention to leg-up a career. Yet he’s only now finished a second feature.

Two feature films in 16 years provide thin grounds for trend-spotting. Still, it’s hard to ignore that Savage Grace is another true-crime dramatization involving murder and decadence within the social elite, one that replaces Swoon‘s amoral Jazz Age gay Chicagoan youths with postwar transatlantic jet-setters. Kalin has a Dominick Dunne–like nose for bloodlust among the powerful and privileged. It led him to the 1972 murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland by her son Antony, an act that subsequently exposed years of incest, adultery, substance abuse, questionable parenting, and rampant craziness — all within the glittering A-list milieux befitting beneficiaries of the Bakelite Plastics fortune

The 1985 book Savage Grace used interviews, letters, and diary entries to tell the gruesome story in first-person pastiche. Redirecting that saga toward conventional dramatic narrative, Kalin and scenarist Howard A. Rodman can’t replicate that tome’s multiplicity of voices, nor do they try — after all, the toxic mixture of lurid acts and privileged environs inevitably compels interest. But just as Swoon displayed a detached appreciation of — rather than deep insight into — its glamorously bent protagonists, Savage Grace exhibits an infatuation with the glitterati who turn out scandalous freakazoids minus any palpable sense of what went wrong.

"Everything that happened, happened because of love," says grown-up Antony (Eddie Redmayne) in voiceover. But love isn’t the precise term one would apply to life with his high-end transient family: codependency, manipulation, and massive narcissism are more apt. Raised poor but pathologically ambitious, ex-model Barbara (Julianne Moore) snagged old money — at least by US standards — when she snagged Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane).

Their union already had degenerated into relentless social climbing and mutual cheating — along with the occasional hatefuck — by the time little Antony arrives. Prone to smother-motherdom and jags of irresponsible neglect, Barbara raises him to become a filigreed rich-hippie Eurail dandy. He gains a male lover, then a girlfriend poached by Dad, then becomes involved in a three-way with Mom and her suave older beard (Hugh Dancy). Meanwhile, scenes shift from Manhattan to Catalonia to Paris to London. A boy could go crazy from so much disorienting change — though you might not realize from this film that the true-life Antony had exhibited signs of schizophrenia at an early age.

Also missing from Savage Grace are such telling real details as the Baekelands’ refusal to allow Antony therapy, or Antony’s prior knife-wielding threats toward Mom, or her failed attempts to make him heterosexual by hiring dates for him. These elements might have enriched a movie that comes off as entirely outside-in. Kalin’s visual attention to lifestyle particulars doesn’t deepen these characters. It merely accessorizes them.

Moore may be incapable of a bad performance, yet this seemingly ideal role elicits one of her thinnest characterizations. She’s duly alluring and grasping, and unpredictably profane when she’s raging. But Kalin and Rodman haven’t given this monster mother any substance. Considered by many to be the story’s true villain, Dillane’s neglectful Brooks makes a too-vague impression. However, the reliable Dancy is excellent as a dedicated follower of fashion, and Redmayne’s nervous eyes convey the ratcheting instability of a boy-man who instinctively knows his worldview is tragically wrong.

Sixteen years haven’t made much difference for Kalin. Even in color, his shallow vision of imploding personalities feels like tabloid artsploitation. Other New Queer Cinema mavericks have gone on to make films that challenge artistic, thematic, and commercial assumptions. In comparison, Savage Grace is oddly conservative. *

SAVAGE GRACE

Opens June 27 at Bay Area theaters

www.ifcfilms.com

Frameline 32: The Horror, the horror

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Will queers ever get the horror movie they deserve? Granted, with the recent coast-to-coast ratifications of same-sex marriage, LGBT folk have more pressing issues than debates over genre cinema on their mind. Besides, that intransitive verb — deserve — provides an extra soupçon of tastelessness to an already loaded question: wasn’t the golden age of the celluloid closet defined by giving onscreen queers "what they deserved," doling out silent suicides and grisly homicides as the price of representation? And aren’t we faced with enough real-life horrors? Homophobia and AIDS are still killers on the loose. So why appeal for terror?

To put it simply, there is pleasure in being scared. And to put it more complicatedly, there can be empowerment in that pleasure. Two of New Queer Cinema’s most lauded films — Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991), and its "Horror" section in particular, and Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992) — critically queered horror’s generic conventions and Hollywood’s coded positioning of gay men as monstrous. A few years later, queer critic Paul Burston and feminist critic Amy Taubin separately penned defenses of Cruising (1980) — arguably the first gay slasher film — and Basic Instinct (1992), based on then-contrarian grounds of personal enjoyment.

Since then we have entered a post-Scream world where everyone knows horror’s hanky codes. Rewiring them for LGBT audiences doesn’t always yield a film the caliber of Poison, just as enjoying "bad" images of gays and lesbians doesn’t necessitate a printed confession. While casual homophobia is still permitted in mainstream releases such as Hostel, the price of representation, at least for most of the handful of horror films that tour the LGBT festival circuit, seems to be mediocrity. I know I wasn’t the only one woefully disappointed with the West Hollywood bloodbath HellBent (2004). And let’s not even get into Scab (2005).

Luckily for all the rainbow-colored Fangoria fans still bloodthirsty after catching local director Flynn Witmeyer’s Imp of Satan earlier this year at Another Hole in the Head, late June is bearing an unexpected slasher crop of queer horror films. It includes Dead Channels’ one-off presentation of Sean Abley’s Socket (2007) and some scary fare at Frameline’s SF International LGBT Film Festival. (Full disclosure: I was on the staff of last year’s festival.)

A sexy sci-fi tinged thriller whose ideas are sometimes brighter than its execution, Socket puts a queer twist on Cronenberg-ian body horror. After surviving a freak electrocution, Dr. Bill Matthews (butch thing Derek Long) strikes up a relationship with his hunky caretaker, hospital intern Craig Murphy (Matthew Montgomery), and sparks literally begin to fly. Craig reveals that he is a fellow survivor and introduces Bill to a covert group of energy junkies who juice up together via a portable generator. Talk about a circuit party! Now insatiable, Bill surgically enhances his and Craig’s socket fetish — and adds an extra jolt to their sex life — but his increasingly manic behavior leads to the kind of shock he never could have anticipated.

It is perhaps too easy to read Bill’s degenerative energy dependency as an allegory for meth addiction, and the film certainly invites such comparisons. More interesting is Socket‘s rewiring of gay sex, with Bill and Craig’s retractable, fang-like wrist plugs and dorsal wrist sockets multiplying the permutations of top and bottom as orienting poles of identity and desire. It’s something I wish the film spent more time on.

Abley also produced and has a supporting role in Jaymes Thompson’s The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror, one of three horror features screening at this year’s Frameline fest. What Socket has in brains, the sophomoric and arch Bed makes up for in buckets of blood. A Showtime original series’ worth of gay and lesbian stereotypes roll up to the remote Sahara Salvation Inn, only to find out too late that the B ‘n’ B is a front for the Bible-thumping proprietresses to do "God’s work." There is a certain glee in watching the asshole Mr. Leather or naive lesbian folksinger characters get violently disposed of — if only because they’re so obnoxious — but Thompson’s film wheezes through its final 20 minutes with all the faux-hilarity and dull-edged political commentary of a Mad TV sketch.

Dan Gildark’s ambitious Cthulhu more successfully mobilizes horror’s ability to reflect the zeitgeist back at us as something uncanny and unsettling. Screen adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s writings usually don’t work out well (perhaps because of "the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents," as the author wrote at the opening of 1926’s Call of Cthulhu), but Gildark is smart enough to stop short of showing the full-tentacled monty. Instead, he cultivates an atmosphere of mounting dread and unstoppable evil that is extremely faithful to Lovecraft’s bitter misanthropy — and applicable to the last dark days of the Bush régime. Did I mention Tori Spelling appears as a Dagon-worshipping baby mama?

Another Frameline fest brings another hot mess of a Bruce LaBruce movie, Otto; or Up With Dead People! This one can be summed up in three words: gay zombie sex. Really, the gash-fucking scene is both the film’s highlight and LaBruce’s lasting contribution to porn and horror. There’s a loose story here about the titular incredibly strange gay twink who stopped living and became a heartbroken zombie (and the ridiculous goth auteur who makes him an underground film star), but as with all LaBruce films, that narrative thread mainly stitches together a series of amateurish sex scenes. Still, I would take LaBruce’s messiest effort over another Hellbent any day.

Coda: it’s worth pointing out that some of the most radical LGBT reinterpretations of horror in recent memory have occurred off screen. Kevin Killian’s Argento Series (2001) and Daphne Gottlieb’s Final Girl (2003) both energize horror cinema to create a queer poetics of loss. Killian finds a way of writing about the AIDS crisis through Dario Argento’s bloody and supernatural gialli, while Gottlieb ventriloquizes a dozen slasher film heroines who got away — along with a Greek chorus of academics — to reframe "what it feels like for a girl" as a matter of posttraumatic survival. Read them and be frightened, and inspired.

CTHULHU

Sat/21, 11:15 p.m., Castro

THE GAY BED & BREAKFAST OF TERROR

Fri/20 11:45 p.m., Castro

OTTO; OR UP WITH DEAD PEOPLE

June 27, 11 p.m., Castro

SOCKET

Wed/18, 7 and 9:15 p.m., $5

Hypnodrome Theatre

575 10th St., SF

www.deadchannels.com

Frameline 32: Sex changes

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TAKE ONE In Iranian director Tanaz Eshagian’s Be Like Others, fear hovers over a whole nation, leading to schizophrenic behavior. By concentrating on three different individuals before and after they went through sexual reassignment operations in Iran, Eshagian reveals an incredibly sad and asphyxiating society — one where homosexuality is banned and punishable by death but changing one’s sex is legal.

No matter how progressive the act of changing one’s sex might sound, Be Like Others proves that it has conservative and oppressive connotations in Iran. Most of the people considering surgery in Eshagian’s film do so because they feel that it’s their only alternative to a gay male or lesbian identity that involves disrespect, harassment, and the possibility of a horrible death. Yet instead of finding acceptance post-operation, many are even more alienated.

The reason for this insanity, as explained by one official: being gay or a cross-dresser allegedly disrupts the “social order.” In other words, gender-bending blurs the distinctions between the sexes, making Iranian social role-assignment — largely determined by sex — a confusing task.

Mind-boggling and utterly scary, Be Like Others is a great comment on people’s obsessive need to label and compartmentalize, and a statement about our disgusting fear of anything that lacks clear delineation. At first, Eshagian’s documentary might make you feel lucky to live in a country where measures against homosexuality are not as extreme. But as it sinks in, it will make you question how far removed the situation in Iran really is from that in the United States. (Maria Komodore)

TAKE TWO At first the Iranian laws that make Tanaz Eshagian’s movie necessary seem not just cruel, but absurdly and arbitrarily so. How could homosexuality be illegal and punishable by death, while the government not only sanctions sexual-reassignment surgery but acts as its facilitator?

In Be Like Others, the answer comes from Cleric Kariminiya, a so-called Theological Expert on Transexuality, during an information session for prospective patients and their families. While Islamic law explicitly forbids homosexuality, he explains, there is no such explicit restriction on changing one’s gender.

In other words, the binary sexual politics of Iranian authority are undermined by the existence of queer citizens, whose mannerisms or predilections suggest a continuum. Eshagian’s powerful film follows a few citizens who, too visibly close to the middle of that continuum, are forced to decide between the suffering and danger of their current lot and an abrupt surgical introduction into social legitimacy.

The decision-making process these individuals face is extremely difficult viewing. Those people who successfully transition often have no other option but sex work to survive. Suicide is rampant.

Eshagian’s project is exceptional because it leaves the viewer enlighteningly confused about Iranian attitudes toward gender and law. The most fascinating character in the film is a transgender woman dedicated to the care of patients in transition. She is supportive, devoted to her patients’ well-being, and fully entrenched in the traditional Iranian views of men and women. (Jason Shamai)

BE LIKE OTHERS

Mon/23, 7 p.m., Victoria

Frameline 32: Anti-pity party

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Films about people dealing with serious diseases are often hard to watch and frequently difficult to criticize. They make for rough viewing because of the empathy a viewer has for the suffering subject. Perhaps due to this same sense of compassion, admitting that such movies are cheesy — as they sometimes are — is sort of taboo.

Feminist and experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer bypasses such niceties and constraints with A Horse Is Not a Metaphor. The title of Hammer’s movie might have ties to Susan Sontag’s writings on illness, but it also connects to the dreamlike imagery of horses that she mixes with footage of her stay in a hospital. Structurally, A Horse Is Not a Metaphor‘s chapters correspond to the stages of ovarian cancer treatment. Hammer reinforces all these elements with the magnificently strange music of Meredith Monk to create a very personal retelling of her experience. Her movie is a highly relatable testimony of feelings that rage from sheer darkness to happiness and hope.

Horse‘s visceral quality makes it a different and almost cathartic response to the subject of disease. Each ingredient conveys a desire to connect with the physical and emotional world on a basic sensory level. In doing so, Hammer and her movie relinquish pity and fear.

A HORSE IS NOT A METAPHOR

June 27, 7 p.m.

Roxie

Frameline 32:That’s us

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› johnny@sfbg.com

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell is like an audiovisual kiss from Russell to those who loved him, and to a greater audience who has yet to discover him. That’s the highest praise I can think of for Matt Wolf’s movie about the composer and musician, who died of AIDS in 1992. Clearly enamored with Russell’s wonderful and unique world of echoing sound, Wolf breaks free from the all-too-familiar generic commercial tropes of music documentaries to try a little tenderness. The gesture of affection is more than fitting: though Russell wasn’t a pop sentimentalist, he was capable of writing entire songs (such as "A Little Lost" and "Lucky Cloud" from the 1994 album Another Thought) about equally entire days spent thinking about his lips pressing against those of his beloved. As he sang, "Kissing I go overboard."

That beloved is Russell’s boyfriend Tom Lee, whose generous intimacy while being interviewed is one of the qualities that makes Wild Combination special. Though the Talking Heads are mentioned more than once as Wolf’s movie follows Russell’s idiosyncratic paths through the creative spots of downtown ’80s New York, the film’s chorus of commentators never falls into the kind of talking-heads detachment one associates with documentaries. There is a rare, moving intimacy to the camera’s rapport with Lee and with Russell’s Iowan parents, Chuck and Emily. That rapport only builds in the emotionally powerful final moments, yielding a story about love and family that, through sheer openhearted understatement, is a revelation. Think of it as a nonfiction answer to Brokeback Mountain: more shattering, nuanced, and hopeful because it is based in a commitment to creative life rather than manufactured myth.

"I’m watching out of my ear," Russell’s voice declares, with characteristic quiet softness, as Wild Combination first flickers onto the screen. This synesthetic intuitiveness seems to guide the film as it simultaneously travels his life story and communes with his spirit. The cinematography of Jody Lee Lipes passes like wind through the corn fields of Russell’s youth and the New York piers of his adult life, both of which provided lyrical inspiration. By simply tapping into Russell’s relaxed and meditative creativity (at least when Russell was working solo), Wolf makes the film’s charm and depth seem so easy. But subtly potent structural corollaries emerge, as when Chuck Russell’s remembrance of a physical fight with his gentle yet maddening son is mirrored — same words, but a recollection of a different situation — by musician and friend Ernie Brooks.

Wild Combination is the first feature film by the 25-year-old Wolf, whose Web site (www.mattwolf.info) is a treasure trove of gay sensibility and whose early short films suggested an affinity for this kind of project. Wolf has already made a short fictive documentary about the late artist-writer David Wojnarowicz, a contemporary of Russell’s — in a Guardian article on Russell (see "Prince Arthur, 03/04/04), I compare the two — who followed similar paths. That 2003 film, Smalltown Boys, possesses the acutely critical parodic imagination of early Todd Haynes movies, a rare characteristic. But Wolf has since graduated from Haynes’ academic tendencies. He’s soulfully true to Russell, whose idiosyncratic gifts and personality led him to butt heads with avant-garde heartlessness and dance through underground discos. While alive, Arthur Russell never found a creative home outside of himself and those he loved. But in Wild Combination, Wolf proves those homes are more than enough. *

WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL

Sat/21, 9:45 p.m.

Roxie

FRAMELINE

The 32nd San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival runs June 19–29 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie Film Center, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., SF; and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk. Tickets (most shows $10) are available at www.frameline.org.

Pixel Vision blog: Johnny Ray Huston interviews Matt Wolf. Plus: an Arthur Russell discography and short Frameline reviews

Olema Inn

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› paulr@sfbg.com

If Marin County is a state of mind, would it be catty to describe that state of mind as schizophrenic? Despite a compact geography, Marin shows the world a surprising number of faces; there’s Mount Tam, Muir Woods, Black Sands Beach with its sporty naked people, the writhing population centers in the southeast (my least favorite quarter), and — my most favorite — the rolling, wooded, gently farmed county to the west.

West Marin is an enchanted realm, a genteel Arcadian dream. The city is just 20 miles distant, but one does not feel it. For those of us who’ve had occasion to live in one of the metropolises of the East, whose sprawl can take several hours to escape, this swift vanishing of urbis is an abiding miracle. Humanity’s self-absorbed throbbing subsides, and there is peace across a landscape luminously painted by Thaddeus Welch more than a century ago. The two-lane roads, uncluttered with traffic, wend through tidy little villages and country junctions often punctuated by sharp church steeples, past neatly kept fields, pastures, and orchards. And at the end of one of those roads lies the Olema Inn, an oasis of civilization and civility.

The Olema Inn has been a fine restaurant for nearly a decade, but its deeply atmospheric building is far older, with roots extending back well into the 19th century. When you step onto the Victorian veranda, you have a momentary vision of Mark Twain standing there, gazing out, maybe waiting for a stagecoach or looking for a spittoon — and then you see the "Marin Organic" sign and, for better or worse, you’re right back in the early 21st century.

Inside, the building has been buffed to a soft shine. The lobby, with its inviting bar, has the look of an Edwardian salon — plump, comfy chairs amid lots of rich wood — while the dining rooms beyond are a gracious blend of mullioned, multi-light windows, antique pine floors, fresh white walls, and garden views. While Twain lingers on the porch, twirling his moustache, you have been seated in an Edith Wharton novel, where the linens are always well-starched.

The "Marin Organic" sign tells us that the restaurant is a serious food destination: the kitchen participates in the west county’s responsible-agriculture culture while committing itself to do right by the high-quality ingredients thereby produced. The ethic seems almost indistinguishable to me from that of Chez Panisse, and the results are comparably impressive.

Since western Marin is a locus of oystering — Tomales Bay is the home of Hog Island oyster farm, as well as an unknown number of great white sharks — the Olema Inn’s menu offers this bivalve in a variety of guises. You can get eight sizable oysters on the half-shell for $18; they can be cooked or raw (or some of each), with a wide choice of toppings, including tomato and basil, bacon and fennel, and a classic mignonette made with sauvignon blanc. Excellent and memorable, every one — and I would not describe myself as an oyster-lover.

Soup probably doesn’t get enough credit as a vehicle for chefly expression, but at the Olema Inn, it isn’t for lack of effort or ingenuity. A bowl of wild nettle soup ($10) could easily have been mistaken for green paint ready to be splashed on a military rig, except for the large fried oyster, flecked with breading, in the middle. Only slightly less intense a green was a chilled soup of puréed asparagus ($10), poured around a set of large shelled prawns and dotted with slivers of kumquat.

Sand dabs, a local maritime treasure, are known to be bony, and it might be that their reputation suffers because of this, but they make a fabulous fish and chips ($14). We couldn’t find a single splinter of bone, and the tubular strips of flesh were juicy within their golden crust — a hint that the fish had not been frozen. The chips were limper than what one would consider ideal, but they had been fried in duck fat, which more than made up in flavor what had not been achieved in crispness.

The flavor of duck also pleasantly pervaded a steak hash ($18): cubes of potato and beef, dottings of fresh fava beans, and coarse flaps of onion and fennel root adrift in a ducky broth into which a poached duck egg slowly leaked its yolk. The steak had been billed as the star ingredient, but the dish would have been fine without any meat at all — or maybe just some duck confit? Hash is a well-known recycling center for leftovers, but leftover duck confit often finds its way into salads, not hashes. And sometimes there isn’t any leftover confit at all.

Although bread pudding is another locus for leftovers, Olema Inn’s vanilla version ($9) didn’t seem at all fatigued — more like a fresh morning bun, envelopingly soft and warm. Our server was particularly enthusiastic about the chamomile crème brûlée ($9). It did turn out to be almost obscenely creamy — a true custard — beneath its cap of caramelized sugar, though I strained to detect any hint of chamomile in the flavor. The sour love-bite of lemon, on the other hand, was plainly discernable in the profiteroles ($9); they were filled with lemon-cookie ice cream and were assembled from fresh, house-made pastry, to judge by their exquisite tenderness. Wharton no doubt would have approved. As for Twain: he had vanished into the unseasonable mist, and the veranda was clear when we left. *

OLEMA INN

Lunch: Sat.–Sun., noon–4 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5–9 p.m.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd. at Highway 1, Olema

(415) 663-9559

www.theolemainn.com

AE/DISC/MC/V

Beer and wine

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Sweet and spicy

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I dreamed I was pouring hot sauce on my ice cream, and the thought I was thinking along with the action, in the dream, was: So, it has come to this. Hot sauce on every single thing, even ice cream. Is this my nature, then? To go around setting sweetness on fire?

Don’t you love it when the dream interprets the dream for you? And then all you have to do in the morning is make your coffee and sit outside in the sunshine, watching your chickens scratch for gold. You are free to think about other things. Or to go about your business, which in my case is Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, with 10-minute breaks in between for going bafroom, talking on the phone, reading, writing, and plucking.

My most angelic friend kinda wants to be a stripper. We talked on the phone for a long time last night. While we were talking, my mom called on the other phone, 2 a.m. her time, and sang a scary old church song to my answering machine. Poor thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it stops working, on principle, and I have to buy a new one.

"Make me a channel of your peace," my mother sang, after the beep. "Where there is hatred, let me bring your love. Where there is something, something something something." Her phone went bad, but as I recall the last line didn’t rhyme anyway.

If only my mom had electricity, I would buy her an answering machine and retaliate. I would call it at 2 a.m. my time (which is 5 a.m. there), and sing to it, to her, my latest sensitive singer-songwriter hymn about how I like it up the ass.

"Make me a channel of your piece" …

Oh, hi, St. Francis. I didn’t see you there. You’re my favorite saint, you know, even though if you were alive today you would probably be a member of PETA. And your songs don’t rhyme. But I think a city I love might have named itself after you, and I know I did, only I spelled it with an e. You are my middle name, but I don’t consider myself exactly Catholic, you see.

So the other person I talked to for hours yesterday was Johnny "Jack" Poetry. I can call him that again (instead of Johnny "Jack" Journalism) because he quit the paper and put his poems on the Internet. His wife, Mrs. "Jack" Poetry, one of my dearest, oldest, belovedest friends in her own right (I call her Mrs. "Jack" Poetry out of respect, ’cause she’s sort of a recovering feminist), recently became a Catholic. Now, I have only ever known lapsed Catholics, and occasionally, as in the case of much of my family, unlapsed ones. People who were born Catholic and stayed that way. Mrs. "J." P. is the first person I know to become one, by choice! And for this I love her madly.

So she was away at mass, the Mrs., then she came home from mass, while Johnny "Jack" and me were still on the phone, discussing secular matters such as poetry and pork rinds, and — lo and behold — she had a couple of nuns in tow!

My point being that this is exactly why I have two phones now. Because I live for moments like this. It’s right up there with the time the feds knocked on my mom’s door while we were talking, to account for her whereabouts because Bill Clinton was coming to town, make me a channel of your peace. Or the time the cops came and she dropped the phone, left me dangling, and swore at them until they left. Or arrested her, I forget.

Johnny "Jack" tele-described to me the vision of his sweet wife with a couple of elderly nuns, one wearing a Winnie-the-Pooh baseball cap over her habit, sallying into the wilderness on the world side of his window, hot day, Indian Valley, Idaho, tromping blessed and holy through the weeds, where the ticks are.

My new favorite restaurant is Khana Khazana. Spicy, good, Indian food in Emeryville. The service is very friendly and welcoming. Indeed, it stayed open just for us, even though we showed up five minutes after closing. Points for that, and for hot that means HOT. Portions could have been bigger, for the price. Or I can try and find more work. Either way. *

KHANA KHAZANA

4336 San Pablo, Emeryville

(510) 547-0992

Daily, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

Beer & wine

MC/V

No free lunch

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

Have you ever read Geek Love (Random House, 1983) by Katherine Dunn? It’s a love it/hate it kind of thing that was very popular among a certain segment (now called "hipsters," I guess) and it begins, unforgettably, "When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets … " Don’t ask me why, but I’m having an apparently irresistible urge to call you, the readers, "my dreamlets" today. So:

My Dreamlets:

This is not good news, but neither is it as dismal as it might first appear. Have you heard the latest about human papillomavirus (warts) and throat cancer? Did it disappear with unseemly haste from such headlines as it made, or am I just overly sensitive to the way news that interests us (for some value of "us") never seems to get as much play as news that interests them?

It ought to come as no surprise that HPV can cause throat cancers if you use your throat receptively for sex, same as it does with cervixes and anuses (did you know that "What is the plural of anus?" is quite a popular topic of Webular discussion?). But it’s only been in the past few years that researchers have established a clear link. What’s even newer is the epidemiology: who is getting it and how. What we now know is that there has been an upsurge in throat cancers (6,000 cases a year and an annual increase of up to 10 percent in men younger than 60), and that most of the cases in these younger patients can be ascribed to HPV. Cancers caused by HPV can hang around for decades before making themselves known, and these recent cases are thought to have been incubating since as far back as the late 1960s and ’70s. What else were people doing in the late ’60s and ’70s? What year did Deep Throat come out, again?

I have been known to roll my eyes at the idea that the boomers invented sex as we know it. "There are only so many possible combinations of body parts," I’ll say. "Do you really think nobody thought to put that in their mouths until sometime after World War II?" It’s actually true, though — as far as we can tell from what research we have — that oral sex became madly more common some time, yes, after World War II. Before that it was obviously well-known (and popularly blamed on the French), but it really wasn’t ubiquitous, as it is now. And those who did indulge probably did so with far fewer partners. Especially during that one brief shining moment between the dawn of the sexual revolution and the appearance first of herpes and then of course, AIDS, people really did put that in their mouths a whole lot more than they had previously. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So OK, now what? Well, we have to admit that oral sex, especially on men, is not necessarily safe sex. And while this is not the first time that the blow job’s sacred status as the Safe Hot Thing has been challenged, it is probably the most serious. Not only does HIV really not pass readily through oral sex, it is itself quite rare. HPV is as common as dirt.

So — panic? I think not yet. These new cancers are nowhere near as common as you’d expect if HPV infections just automatically turned into cancers 30 years after your sluttiest year at college. It’s estimated that at least 50 percent of Americans have been infected at some point. The CDC itself uses that "at some point" to mean that many — indeed probably most — people infected at some point simply clear it from their systems at some other point. These people will not get cancer, and only a small percentage of the remaining, non-clearing cases will.

Meanwhile, you know that vaccine some people are agitating against giving to little girls — just in case the admission that one day they will be sexually active ends up making that day come sooner than they’d like? It doesn’t only work on little girls. That’s just the suggested target group right now, for a number of purely sociological reasons. It was extensively tested on young women and the maker, Merck, hopes to begin testing in males this year. If it works for men too, there’s no reason we can’t begin to eradicate the entire class: HPV-caused cancers of the throat, cervix, penis, anus, and other mucus-membraney places where people have been putting things.

Not that this is great news for people who have been infected, not cleared the infection, and could go on to develop cancer. We have no routine test yet. The pretty-good news seems to be that throat cancers caused by HPV are more curable than their non-HPV counterparts. And my advice, my dreamlets? Well, I really hate to say this, or even think it, but it may be time to start thinking about condoms, at least if we’re planning to become raging blow-job queens anytime in the near future. I know! I’m sorry!

Love,

Andrea


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.

Andrea is also teaching two classes: "You’ve Really Got Your Hands Full" — a realistic look at having twins — at Birthways in Berkeley, and "Is There Sex After Motherhood?" at Day One Center in San Francisco and other venues.

Three Internet myths that won’t die

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› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Since I started writing this column in 1999, I’ve seen a thousand Internet businesses rise and die. I’ve watched the Web go from a medium you access via dial-up to the medium you carry around with you on your mobile. Still, there are three myths about the Internet that refuse to kick the bucket. Let’s hope the micro-generation that comes after the Web 2.0 weenies finally puts these misleading ideas to rest.

Myth: The Internet is free.

This is my favorite Internet myth because it has literally never been true. In the very early days of the Net, the only people who went online were university students or military researchers — students got accounts via the price of tuition; the military personnel got them as part of their jobs. Once the Internet was opened to the public, people could only access it by paying fees to their Internet service providers. And let’s not even get into the facts that you have to buy a computer or pay for time on one.

I think this myth got started because pundits wanted to compare the price of publishing or mailing something on the Internet to the price of doing so using paper or the United States Postal Service. Putting a Web site on the Net is "free" only if you pretend you don’t have to pay your ISP and a Web hosting service to do it. No doubt it is cheaper than printing and distributing a magazine to thousands of people, but it’s not free. Same goes for e-mail. Sure it’s "free" to send an e-mail, but you’re still paying your ISP for Internet access to send that letter.

The poisonous part of this myth is that it sets up the false idea that the Internet removes all barriers to free expression. The Internet removes some barriers, but it erects others. You can get a few free minutes online in your local public library, maybe, and set up a Web site using a free service (if the library’s filtering software allows that). But will you be able to catch anyone’s attention if you publish under those constraints?

Myth: The Internet knows no boundaries.

Despite the Great Firewall of China, an elaborate system of Internet filters that prevent Chinese citizens from accessing Web sites not approved by the government, many people still believe the Internet is a glorious international space that can bring the whole world together. When the government of a country like Pakistan can choose to block YouTube — which it has and does — it’s impossible to say the Internet has no boundaries.

The Internet does have boundaries, and they are often drawn along national lines. Of course, closed cultures are not the only source of these boundaries. Many people living in African and South American nations have little access to the Internet, mostly due to poverty. As long as we continue to behave as if the Internet is completely international, we forget that putting something online does not make it available to the whole world. And we also forget that communications technology alone cannot undo centuries of mistrust between various regions of the world.

Myth: The Internet is full of danger.

Perhaps because the previous two myths are so powerful, many people have come to believe that the Internet is a dangerous place — sort of like the "bad" part of a city, where you’re likely to get mugged or hassled late at night. The so-called dangers of the Internet were highlighted in two recent media frenzies: the MySpace child-predator bust, in which Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen discovered that a registered sex offender was actively befriending and trolling MySpace for kids; and the harassment of Web pundit Kathy Sierra by a group of people who posted cruelly Photoshopped pictures of her, called for her death, and posted her home address.

Despite the genuine scariness represented by both these incidents, I would submit they are no less scary than what one could encounter offline in real life. In general, the Internet is a far safer place for kids and vulnerable people than almost anywhere else. As long as you don’t hand out your address to strangers, you’ve got a cushion of anonymity and protection online that you’ll never have in the real world. It’s no surprise that our myths of the Internet overestimate both its ability to bring the world together and to destroy us individually. 2

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who is biased in favor of facts.

Another shelter down

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› amanda@sfbg.com

Inside the front door of the Marian Residence for Women, a small handmade sign by a former resident advises newcomers, "Don’t compare this place to any others."

But I’ve stayed in the city-funded homeless shelters, and after a night at Marian, it’s hard not to rave about the differences. I’m given an actual bed to sleep on, with freshly laundered sheets, blankets, and a pillow. The bathrooms and showers are clean, and I’m offered every toiletry I could possibly need — as well as pajamas. Dinner is a wholesome meal of turkey, potatoes, and steamed greens — not the mystery meat on Wonder bread I received at the city’s MSC South shelter.

And unlike the tension I’ve witnessed at other shelters, the atmosphere inside Marian is close to pacific. After dinner, the 29 other women shower, read, rest on their beds, work on their laptops, or talk quietly while sitting at small tables in the common area. After my mandatory shower, I sit with an employee who explains the rules — be respectful of others, no drinking or drugs, and don’t forget to do my chore, which is assisting with dinner service. As long as I’m home by 7 p.m., I can have my bed as long as I need it.

That is, she clarifies, until the end of August — when they’re closing the shelter. For good.

Marian is a casualty of a plan by St. Anthony Foundation to cut $3 million from the foundation’s operating budget. In addition to closing the $1.2 million Marian facility, which houses 30 women in the emergency shelter and 27 in a transitional program, St. Anthony also will shutter its 315-acre organic dairy farm in Petaluma, currently used as a rehabilitation program for homeless addicts. Its Senior Outreach and Social Services [SOSS] is also losing staff and office space as it consolidates with the Social Work Center.

Five of the foundation’s 11 programs face cuts, the result of a two-year sustainability study that St. Anthony’s executive director, Father John Hardin, said will keep the charity out of a fiscal tailspin.

"We’re not in a financial crisis," he told the Guardian. "The reason we’re doing this is so we won’t be in a financial crisis."

He said the closures reflect the organization’s desire to get back to basics.

But, as one of the 40 soon-to-be-laid-off employees said, "They’ve said they want to refocus on basic services, but I see shelter as a basic service."

St. Anthony receives no city money for the work it does, but the closures are occurring in what’s already a war zone of budget cuts for social services in San Francisco. The loss of any of St. Anthony’s programs affects the city as a whole.

"Are we concerned? Yes," said Dave Knego of Curry Senior Services, which frequently refers seniors the group can’t help to St. Anthony’s SOSS program. "Unfortunately, we already have a waiting list, and the city’s cutting our funding back by 10 percent."

The closure of Marian is yet another sign of the slow erosion of shelter space in San Francisco. Since July 2004, 364 shelter spots have disappeared. By the end of August, Marian’s 57 beds and Ella Hill Hutch’s 100 mats will be gone as well. "You can’t afford to lose 57 beds, especially in a place where women are being treated like human beings," said Western Regional Advocacy Project’s Paul Boden, who’s worked with homeless services in the city since the 1980s. "What I thought was really ironic was there wasn’t any attempt to build a community effort to discuss how to save this facility. These beds are an incredibly important community resource."

Some of the women who live in the transitional program at Marian wanted to rally and save the shelter. "First and foremost was to try to save Marian Residence for Women," said Leticia Hernandez, a two-year resident of the transitional program who still hasn’t lined up a place to go when the shelter closes. "Even if we couldn’t save it, we thought it was still worth a try because any money that would come would go back to them." The women drafted a letter asking for help, which they’d hoped management would distribute to the press and public.

The foundation, Hernandez said, had a "thanks, but no thanks" response.

Hardin told us that St. Anthony’s wasn’t facing a financial crisis, so "we’re not going to get up and cry wolf. We want to go back to some of the basics. We’re turning people away from the clinic," he pointed out.

He agreed that shelter was a basic service, but said, "We can’t do it all."

The foundation wouldn’t detail its intentions for the building once it’s vacated Aug. 31, beyond affirming that it would be rented. "That’s going to be an income generator," said foundation spokesperson Francis Aviani. "We are hoping to get a social service agency to use the space in the way it’s designed for, helping folks."

Multiple St. Anthony employees said they were told the facility would be used for medical respite — beds set aside for people who aren’t in critical condition, but are too ill or fragile to mingle with the general population and have nowhere else to go — and a St. Anthony board member confirmed that was the only plan presented to the board.

Marc Trotz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Housing and Urban Health division, which oversees its $2.5 million, 60-bed medical respite program currently housed in two facilities, told us the city is looking for a new respite site. He confirmed that the Marian building is a facility the agency has seriously considered. "We’re not looking to push one program out in favor of another or anything like that." But, he said, "It’s a potential site that would work well."

While St. Anthony is cutting $3 million in programs, foundation staffers have been working for several years on a $22 million capital campaign for a new administrative building at 150 Golden Gate Ave. The building will replace a facility at 121 Golden Gate, where offices, the clinic, an employment center, and a dining room are currently housed. The popular dining room — which serves 2,600 meals a day — will ultimately move back to 121 Golden Gate after the building is razed and rebuilt to meet modern earthquake safety standards. The project is part of another $20 million campaign that includes a partnership with Mercy Housing to build affordable rentals on the upper floors.

St. Anthony staffers say the types of donors who will contribute to a new building are very different from those who will fund ongoing programs.

Meanwhile, food costs in the dining room have increased 18 percent in the last three months, and St. Anthony staffers expect another 25 percent increase during the coming quarter. At the same time, other free food programs in the city have closed, which means St. Anthony is seeing new faces in the dining room.

Aviani confirmed that donations have increased 8 percent to 10 percent, but the group receives very few "unrestricted" funds. Most of the money is earmarked for the dining room. In a way, she said, "that’s the community deciding what they want."

A third of the organization’s $19.7 million budget comes from bequests — a form of donation that has waxed and waned in recent years. According to Aviani, the foundation has yet to receive a single bequest this year.

The group has increased grants and deployed new fundraising methods, but she said that "The amount of grants out there for shelters and women’s programs are few and far between." She acknowledged that shelters are needed, and said St. Anthony has been "pretty outspoken about that."

The foundation has kept a tight lid on talk about the closures. None of the employees contacted by the Guardian would speak on the record — for fear, they said, of losing their severance packages.

Aviani said severance packages — which include pay and personal job coaching — are not on the line. "We asked them not to create a gossip chain, to stay focused on their work, and when people have questions, direct them to me. We didn’t say they couldn’t talk to anyone at all. That wasn’t the message at all."

Whether or not the gag order was intentional, it has had an effect and created suspicion about the foundation’s true intentions.

Even the city deferred to the organization when questioned about the potential plan to rent the Marian building and use it as a medical respite facility. "We’re not going to talk about that," said DPH spokesperson Eileen Shields. "We’re going to let St. Anthony talk about that at this point because it’s St. Anthony’s call."

On Feb. 14, Newsom — who has said shelters don’t solve homelessness — announced he would like to redesign the city’s shelters and called on the community to come up with suggestions. One of his specific suggestions was to create more medical respite centers.

In May, the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, which is chaired by Hardin, released a report outlining a number of detailed suggestions for improving city-funded shelters and services. It specifically stated that shelter beds shouldn’t be sacrificed to make room for respite.

The Mayor’s Office has yet to formally respond to the report, but at the June 2 LHCB meeting, Kayhan said there were a few things he felt confident the mayor would endorse.

"We heard loud and clear: more senior beds," Kayhan said. "And I’ll add to that women’s beds." He said that respite care would be "moving and co-locating with another location. We think that could free up space at one of the shelters." And, he added, that space could be allocated to women or seniors.

Which makes it sound like more beds for women and seniors are in the works — but considering the elimination of Marian and a shelter at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, the city is still looking at a net loss of places for the homeless to sleep at night.

Board member Laura Guzman, who runs the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, said she heard Hardin announce the Marian closure at a May 5 meeting. "He said it was a very difficult decision. I believe he said we’re going to try to open some medical respite beds," Guzman said. "All along we’ve said we don’t want to replace shelter with medical respite beds, but that’s exactly what’s happening."

Shuttering Marian is just one more loss in an environment of dwindling resources for women. Buster’s Place, the only 24-hour drop-in center for men and women, closed in March, and was replaced by a smaller facility that only allows men.

Five of the city’s other shelters have sections for women, but one of them is slated to close as well and none can offer a women-only safe space like Marian. A Woman’s Place is the only other all-female facility, and its 15 mats on the floor are always full. "With Marian closing, there’s going to be more of a demand on the total system," said Janet Goy, executive director of Community Awareness and Training Services, which runs A Woman’s Place. "It’s a loss, no question."

Emily Murase of the Commission on the Status of Women said it’s difficult to accurately count homeless women because women tend to take more measures than men to stay off the streets, though they may not necessarily be safely housed. Women are more prone to couch-surf, stay in abusive relationships, or settle for some other kind of compromised situation.

Murase’s group now funds a special women-only program at Glide Memorial Church, whose director, Willa Seldon, said, "We’re certainly seeing an increase in volume of women in the city to our programs. In October, we were seeing 11 in our support groups. That increased to 18 by March. It could definitely be related to Buster’s Place closing."

Hardin acknowledged the need for women’s shelters but said the city ought to take on the burden. "Maybe closing the Marian is a tipping point," he said. "As I said in front of the Board of Supervisors, it’s the government’s responsibility to provide the safety net. We’re the hands beneath the safety net."

Sandy Van Dusen has been living in the transitional program for a year and a half since her husband was murdered. She’s been told that she is about to get a studio apartment. She’s visibly excited about the move, and grateful to the foundation. But, she says, she’s still been crying every day since she heard Marian is closing. "They saved my life," she says, crying a little now. "They’re doing what they told me to never do — throw in the towel."

*