Volume 43 Number 27

Onward and upward

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With a statewide unemployment rate of 10.5 percent and industries crumbling, it almost seems absurd to think about making upward career moves. But an awful economy doesn’t need to equal personal unhappiness in your work life. Dena Sneider, a career counselor of 15 years and cofounder of the Bay Area Career Center (www.bayareacareercenter.com), gave us some advice on what to do to for your career in the current economic climate.

Don’t stay stuck. If you’re not content with your current job, start the process of figuring out what type of work is best for you. Can’t get yourself out of bed on a Monday morning? No excitement, energy, or engagement in your work? Sounds like it’s time to start searching for a position that will use your skills and make you happier. The economy is in turmoil, which can mean that opportunities are opening up for those keeping an eye out.

Keep perspective. If you’ve recently been laid off and need to find a job just to pay the bills, keep in mind that it’s only temporary. "Take jobs knowing exactly why you are there," says Sneider. "Be prepared for your move back into your career when the time comes."

Explore other options. "The best time to figure out what you want to do is when you are employed — you can network, take classes, or volunteer," says Sneider. Start planning for a career change several months or a few years from now. If you’re unemployed, take advantage of any opportunities you can to gain experience. Sneider often meets people who know what they don’t want, but not what they do want, and they spend time sorting through hundreds of ideas.

Think outside the box. "People who were passionate about what they did are losing careers right now and not knowing what they’ll do," says Sneider. "What people did to make a living may not be possible now, but they can find something close." Think about how your talents can be used in a different industry. Perhaps your passions can be channeled though a new outlet. Or you may find that you can revitalize rusty skills or lean new ones.

Be optimistic. "Just because finding the right job is harder now, does not mean it is not possible," Sneider reminds us. "Be optimistic — once you figure out what you want, go forward!"

Working the curves

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› culture@sfbg.com

Pole dancing classes have become increasingly popular in recent years, and strippers aren’t the ones getting schooled. Lawyers, doctors, social workers, stay-at-home moms, even postmenopausal women with gray hair are turning to a turn around the pole to learn more about their bodies and their sexuality. From group classes at gyms to private lessons in home studios, pole dancing can be now learned at any comfort level.

Once a week, eight to 10 women gather in the small, dimly lit, mirrorless classrooms at San Francisco’s S-Factor (2159 Filbert, SF. 415-440-6420, www.sfactor.com/SF) to learn pole tricks, stripping techniques, and lap dances. "We like to say that you’re teaching your body a new language," says Deb Arana, an instructor at S-Factor. "You need to slow down, think into your curves, play in your girly skin." The classes start with warm-ups based on core strengthening, and moves incorporate yoga, ballet and Pilates.

Each class builds on the one before, and by week three women get to wear their six-inch stripper heels. "Some women are confident enough that they will just carry their heels while walking down the sidewalk or riding the bus, while others tuck them away in their bags," says Arana. "Its amazing to see the changes in the women by the end of the class. I’d say 99 percent are not dancers, but they can flow and move in such a graceful way because the routines are so intuitive."

But perhaps the more significant learning experience comes from the personal and spiritual growth that occurs in the sessions. The small S-Factor classes, which usually have less than a dozen students each, become tight-knit communities. Positive reinforcement from classmates helps women to try new moves, and they encourage one another to take their dancing to a higher level.

Women take the lessons in order to identify with their sexuality as much as they do to get physical exercise. "I thought that the main complaint I would hear would be about being overweight," Arana reveals, "But it’s actually women coming in saying ‘I don’t feel sexy, I’ve never felt sexy.’<0x2009>"

That attitude changes over the course of the class. "Women become conscious of their feminine and sexual selves," says Arana. "It’s not just because we’re giving them new moves, but because they’re comfortable in their own skins."

"Pole dancing becomes an addiction and a way of life," she explains, a surprising note of conviction entering her soothing, honey-tinted voice. "It’s such a journey of self discovery."

S-Factor, whose classes are offered nationwide and bills itself as "the original striptease and pole-dancing-inspired workout," was started by actress Sheila Kelley, who found an intense sense of empowerment in the dancers she watched while researching a role in the movie Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000). She claims to have started the S-Factor workout to share her newfound physical and emotional state with other women.

Carrying six-inch heels on the bus and learning how to wrap your legs around a pole properly in front of several people is not for all potential pole dancers, though. One-on-one lessons in personal studios can be arranged in San Francisco as well. A former exotic dancer who calls herself Cheri (and who now maintains a career as an economist) runs private lessons out of a classy, modern studio in a quiet residential neighborhood. There is no indication that pole dancing takes place in the unassuming light blue building. Two poles that look like structural supports stand in the center of the second-floor room, and when the lesson starts, Cheri draws the shades, blocking her view of the Bay Bridge to turn her attention to demonstrating pole tricks.

"The important part of pole dancing is making it look good; the workout is secondary," says Cheri. "It’s sort of a hidden workout. I don’t realize it until I wake up sore the next day and wonder what I did to myself. Then I say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was dancing yesterday.’<0x2009>" Light lifting and yoga are helpful supplemental activities to pole dancing, since strength is needed to support your body weight on the pole, and flexibility and mindfulness are essential to proper moves and flow.

Hard-pressed for cash during college, Cheri responded to an ad in the school’s paper for exotic dancers at a local club. "At that time, there was no such thing as pole dancing classes, or any sort of instruction," says Cheri. "You just had to watch yourself in the mirror, and watch other dancers and just sort of learn as you go." She used dancing to support travels through Australia and Europe, but dropped it once she settled down in San Francisco and started her career.

One day, Cheri mentioned to her boyfriend that she would dance for him if he bought her a pole. One was obtained quite quickly, of course. The pole began to be used at parties and Cheri’s friends stared asking her to teach them moves. She realized she had caught on to something, so she started her own studio, called Heels on the Ceiling (www.heelsontheceiling.com). Once she found another pole, a few floor mats, and stilettos in every size for her students, Cheri was in business.

Bachelorette groups flocked to her studio for Cheri’s energetic instruction on floor moves and simple spins. And private students, including mother-daughter pairs, started signing up as well. "I’m a much better educator than a dancer, I think," confesses Cheri. "But at the same time it’s harder to dance in front of women than in front of men. Men are simple creatures with simple minds, but women are constantly judging you and sizing you up."

Although she worries about being judged herself, helping women shift their mindsets about their bodies and sexual selves is the primary reason she continues her lessons. "Pole dancing is teaching women how to harness their sexuality through certain tricks and moves," says Cheri. "It helps women shed their sexual and image insecurities."

Advanced dancing seems like quite the workout: Cheri can suspend herself upside-down on the pole, balancing at a graceful diagonal, like a spoon resting inside of a bowl. Then, before you can blink, she’ll turn around the pole faster than a record spins, and climb to the top with agility of a cat on a fence.

The physical fitness aspect has made lessons at Heels on the Ceiling more legitimate for women. "Pole-dancing has become less politically incorrect recently, because of the workout angle," says Cheri. "I’m glad that society has finally accepted and embraced it."

Deathly youth

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johnny@sfbg.com

A slow descent into a blasted-out void as intimate as it is alienated, the introductory track of the Antlers’ self-released Hospice drops the listener into a sonic space somewhere near This Mortal Coil’s 1984 It’ll End in Tears (4AD). The reference point is a rich one. Jeff Buckley was given to covering It’ll End in Tears‘ opening track, the Alex Chilton composition "Kangaroo," and when Antlers’ singer-songwriter Peter Silberman’s voice enters the scene on Hospice‘s next song, "Kettering," his fallen choir-boy high tenor is a polite echo of the drowned romantic Buckley, whose equally fatalistic father Tim wrote another one of It’ll End in Tears‘ signature tracks. More blatantly, Hospice is an album all about this mortal coil, a recording that — as the title makes clear — lives near or within a threshold into death, alternately charting out or clawing at broken bonds.

Not exactly a light listening experience, whicb might be why Hospice is being greeted as everything from a work of genius (an NPR critic not only deemed it the best album so far this year, but better than anything from 2008) to an overrated angst fest (in the ever-reactive blogosphere, crankier reviewers have envisioned it as backdrop music for Scrubs and deemed it the musical form of Cymbalta). Another aspect of Hospice that triggers strong reactions is its back story, a tale of the now 23-year-old Silberman’s extended creative isolation that’s an urban version of the rural tortured artistry yarn attached to Bon Iver’s acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjauwar, 2008).

To escape the growing chatter, it helps to engage directly with the music, itself far from devoid of cultural signposts. In crafting a 10-song cycle about life and love and death, Silberman draws heavily from the real-life stories and legends of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes; one gets the impression that he uses them as a loose-fitting cover for the skeletal remains of his own recent brush with mortality. At this point, Plath is a clichéd symbol of suicidal poeticism and youthful valorizing of depression. (I have memories of a fellow Guardian editor singing "You don’t not do, you do not do" from "Lady Lazarus" in a mockery of her proper bell-like intonation during our Detroit days of being young.)

While Silberman’s invocation of Plath’s inconsolable rage and death-drive lacks humor, it isn’t stiff or overly worshipful. He makes her spirit breathe only to quarrel with it. On the anti-lullaby "Bear," animal imagery gets a bleakly comic twist missing from the heavy-handed Hughes’ favored bestial themes. The bottom line is that Silberman is a talented young singer-songwriter. Hospice is not only prodigious in its ambition, it is well-executed. The title of "Thirteen" reinvokes Chilton while the music’s glacial-yet-golden shimmer could be a missing early Slowdive track or an outtake from Gregg Araki’s 2004 film adaptation of Mysterious Skin. Like another "newgazer," Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Silberman places the widescreen blurring soundscapes of late-1980s shoegaze bands in the service of American Gothic narrative impulses. In a perverse way, his odes to fatal anorexics and séances for long-dead writers offer the promise of great things to come.

PLAYLIST

Afrobutt, Wonderbutt (Electric Minds) Humor is at play in these neo-disco tracks and their titles, which include "Urgent Workout Required," "Torro de Butt," "Morning Bump," "Cracks All Gone," and "Wunderbutt."

Johan Agebjörn featuring Lisa Barra, Mossebo (Lotuspike) Paging Vangelis: the songwriter and studio whiz behind Sally Shapiro goes new age.

Blackbelt Andersen, Blackbelt Andersen (Full Pupp) Prins Thomas preps us for his vanilla-sented Lindstrøm reunion with this one-man act from his fledgling label.

Lô Borges, Lô Borges and Nuvem Cigana (EMI Brasil) It took me too long to realize all my favorite tracks on 1972’s classic Clube de Esquina are written by Lô. The cover of Lô’s debut album is perfection, and I am completely in love with Nuvem Cigana’s "A força do vento," "Uma canção," "Viver viver," and O vento não me levou."

Serge Gainsbourg, histoire de melody nelson (Light in the Attic) An appreciation of the recent reissue rainfall of Gainsbourg soundtracks and concept song cyles is overdue. For now, this is one of the best.

The New Dawn, There’s a New Dawn (Jackpot) Jackpot indeed — a lost ultra-collectible classic of ’60s Northwest garage rock is revived, much like Jesus.

Ofege, Try and Love (Academy) "It’s Not Easy" is kid soul at its finest, thanks especially to the singing of bandleader Melvin "Noks" Ukachi.

Arthur Russell, …The Sleeping Bag Sessions (Sleeping Bag/Traffic) Koala power! Russell used the narcoleptic furry clasper as the logo for his dance music label. This comp presents some rare treats. His collaborations with Nicky Siano as Felix are two of the best.

Stereo, Somewhere in the Night (Minimal Wave) This 1980s duo’s criss-cross sunglasses put Kanye’s venetian shades to shame. Minimal Wave delivers once again. (Huston)

Appetite: She-Crab Soup, hot Pican, a Dogpatch Kitchenette, Cosmpolitan special, and more

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cosmopolitansf0309.jpg
The Cosmopolitan on Spear Street. See “Deals” below.

As long-time San Francisco resident and writer, I’m passionate about this city and obsessed with exploring its best food-and-drink spots, deals, events and news, in every neighborhood and cuisine type. I have my own personalized itinerary service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot, and am thrilled to share up-to-the minute news with you from the endless goings-on in our fair city each week on SFBG. View the last Appetite installment here.

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NEW RESTAURANT and BAR OPENINGS

Awesome sandwiches out of a Dogpatch garage at Kitchenette
Debuting less than two weeks ago out of warehouse in Dogpatch is Kitchenette, a project from chefs who’ve worked at places of such high caliber as Incanto, Chez Panisse and Foreign Cinema, creating daily offerings that are, you guessed it: fresh and seasonal. Check the website for the changing menu which usually consists of a meat and vegetarian sandwiches (occasionally pizza), a salad, fresh juice and cookie. Last week I was converted by the fabulous Bahn Mi-like sandwich of beer & tangerine roasted Berkshire pork ($8) with cilantro, jalapeno, cabbage plus a side of macaroni salad. Washed down with a tart Meyer lemon, tangerine, blood orange juice ($2), I was already planning my next visit. Bring your cash (no other option) and come early because once their daily creations of lunchtime goodness are gone, well… they’re gone.
Monday-Friday, 11:30am-1:30pm or until food runs out
958 Illinois Street (in the American Industrial Center)
www.kitchenettesf.com

Fine dining made more affordable at La Folie’s Lounge
San Fran’s 21-year old French fine dining mecca, La Folie, may not be cheap even in lounge form, but if I don’t have to pay $70 to $105 for the only option of tasting menus in the dining room, I can still make a night of it ordering a la carte in the next door lounge, opening March 31 during their 21st birthday party. You can now eat as little or as much as you wish of the Michelin-starred food given a lounge-twist (think Lobster Croque Monsieurs), cocktail in hand (note: the bar is helmed by Casper Rice of Michael Mina and Rubicon).
2316 Polk Street
415-776-5577
www.lafolie.com

Cafe Altano, a casual, new restaurant in Hayes Valley
Hayes (Valley, that is) is home to a regular foodie row with primo sushi, German food, coffee and chocolate within a couple blocks. Cafe Altano is a humble entry into to the ‘hood, a corner Med-Italian eatery taking over the Modern Tea space (R.I.P.) With pizzas, pastas, mussels, paninis and beers, it sounds like a relaxing late afternoon spot to chill, sitting at the copper bar, communal or sidewalk tables.
602 Hayes Street
415-252-1200

EAST BAY OPENING

The Old South modernized with upscale Southern food and Bourbon Room at Pican
Nothing makes me want to book a reservation more than the words “bourbon” and “Southern food” together. In a chic, Rhett Butler gentleman’s space with burlap-draped chandeliers, crushed shell & limestone bar and a private Bourbon Room, is Oakland’s Pican, conveniently near the Paramount Theatre. New Orleans’ native, Michael LeBlanc (co-founder of Brothers Brewing Co) debuted Pican, his first restaurant, last week for dinner (5-10pm nightly; Friday and Saturday till 11pm), with lunch (and sidewalk seating) forthcoming, on the ground floor of the new Broadway Grand building.

They had me at “She-Crab Soup”, one of my favorite lush delicacies when traveling in Charleston (creamy crab soup with crab roe for deeper texture and flavor), “Southern foie gras” (pan-fried chicken livers with Benton’s incomparable bacon in a sweet onion-Marsala gravy – um… yeah!), Low Country shrimp and grits, Bourbon and molasses-lacquered duck, and peanut jalapeno coleslaw. Small plates run $6-16, entrees $17-29, so it’s a date night or friends night on the town, especially when you can sip from a 96-deep bourbon list (definitely a number of rarities on board), beers, wines or cocktails. They’re going for the goal of biggest Bay Area Bourbon selection with a calendar of events including Bourbon tastings, Cigar dinners, live music, art showings and Winemaker dinners. It it’s all as fabulous as it sounds, I’m prepared to make good use of FasTrak across the bridge.
2295 Broadway, Oakland
510-834-1000
www.picanrestaurant.com

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EVENTS

April 20 – One-night-only dinner prepared by Eric Ripert at Aqua
The name Eric Ripert means something to you if a) you’ve seen Top Chef, where he’s often guested, b) you’ve eaten at Manhattan’s Haute French temple, Le Bernardin, or c) you love and follow great chefs nationwide. Well, Eric is here and cooking for you in a rare one night appearance at our own Aqua, so reserve now, while there’s still time.
$130 not including wine pairings
252 California Street
415-956-9662
www.aqua-sf.com

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DEALS

The Cosmopolitan brings back the Martini Lunch
SoMa’s classic long-timer, The Cosmopolitan, has an old school, New York vibe for power lunches and cocktails post-work (the 4-8pm Wednesday and Friday Happy Hour is now $4 for everything from Belgian beers to sliders, mini-sandwiches and champagne). They prove they mean business with a new Two Martini Lunch deal: yep, two Russian standard vodka martinis for $5. Your boss never has to know.
Wednesday-Friday, 11:30am-3pm
121 Spear Street, Suite B8
415-543-4001
www.cosmopolitansf.com

Morty’s Deli for a fab Reuben and a PBR for $7
I get a touch of my East Coast NJ/NY roots when I eat a fabulous Reuben sandwich at the Tenderloin’s funky fresh deli with NY attitude, Morty’s. On Tuesdays you can now buy a Reuben and PBR for $7. The deals continue with Fish Fry Fridays, Spaghetti and Meatballs Thursdays, and wine specials to pair with.
Deli open Mon-Thu 8am-8pm; Fri 8am-6pm
280 Golden Gate Avenue
415-567-3354
www.mortysdeli.com

Hayes Valley’s Samovar Tea Lounge $10 weekday Tea Lunch
Samovar in Hayes Valley (on their Web site, they’re calling it Zen Valley?) recently started a daily lunch special: soup, salad, 1/2 sandwich (either tofu or turkey) and tea (green, black or herbal) for a mere $10 – including tax!
Monday-Fridays, 10am-1pm
297 Page Street
415-861-0303
www.samovarlife.com

Stormy weather

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› johnny@sfbg.com

It’s a pleasure to see Sean McFarland receive the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers. Last August, McFarland was one of the eight artists or groups showcased in the Bay Guardian‘s second annual photo issue. The Baum Award is a national honor designated for photographers at a pivotal point in their development, and in McFarland’s case, that development is the opposite of predictable. While many photographers work toward "dazzle ’em" displays of technical virtuosity, McFarland has moved away from earlier saturated digital color images toward simple Polaroid photos that possess ominous allure.

Did I say simple? McFarland’s dreamlike images of weather and landscapes are only simple in appearance — they require subtle combinations of photography and the increasingly popular practice of found-image collage. In terms of subject matter, they personalize and miniaturize the vast and unsettling images of the semi-settled West present in the camera art of Michael Light, David Maisel, and Trevor Paglen. The title of Lindsay White’s current show at Ping Pong Gallery, "A Field Guide to the Atmosphere," might just as well apply to McFarland’s work. The atmosphere is stormy, and as troubling as it is beguiling.

SFBG In the last year or two, your work has shifted away from urban views to elemental images: sky, sea, vast land. What has set you off in that direction?

Sean McFarland I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which the earth changes. In an urban environment, we build buildings, roads, and parks, changing the landscape. These are immediate and obvious alterations of our environment. Our actions also change the landscape as we alter the climate — more frequent and powerful storms, rising seas. By focusing on making images of the natural world, of the landscape, I’m interested in making pictures of us. How we change the earth and how the earth effects us.

SFBG Your work from the earlier 2005 era reminds me a bit of a short film, site specific_Las Vegas 05, by an artist named Olivo Barbieri. It has amazing colorful aerial views of Las Vegas in which the city really looks like it is comprised of toy buildings and cars. Were you looking for that kind of "making strange" effect when presenting views some might take for granted?

SM The work I was making from 1999 until around 2002 tried to take things that were fake and make them look real. When I first started re-photographing the collages I was making (in 2003), the miniaturization effect was an unexpected but welcome result. I was working in the other direction, making the real look fake. The collages are made by hand, so the edges are rough and messy. The selective blurring of images was there at first to hide where the images were put together, but it was that transformative quality of the focus that made the process intriguing to me. With the collaged images, I was taking pictures from all over, real images of real things, and by bringing those disparate elements together, the pictures raise questions about what was actually in the photograph.

The image of the park (in the Guardian‘s August 2008 Photo Issue), for example, has the playground from Dolores Park, but with the downtown skyline and bridge removed and replaced with a sky from another city. It may be the absence of the urban center normally in the background that makes the picture seem odd, or it could be that the light from the sky is not the same reflecting off the foreground. The relationship between fact and fiction is one of the strongest reasons I work with photography as opposed to other visual art forms.

SFBG You mention collage as a part of your process. That might not be so apparent to someone who casually glances at your photography. Can you tell me a bit about your approach to collage, and also if there are any collage artists whom you especially like?

SM Lately I’ve been working to make the collage process less apparent. In the past, the images took the final form of a C-Print, made in a darkroom. Now I’m using Polaroid film. Polaroids are mementos and souvenirs of moments, places, and things that actually happened; they imply that whatever is in the picture was witnessed, was real. Since I can’t really take the images I’m making, I’m using collage to do so. A good example is my image of the airplane flying over the black ocean and white land. The picture of the plane is taken from a satellite image of Earth, the land is a photograph I made in the Exploratorium (it’s a picture of an exhibit that shows how land is changed by wind currents).

SFBG Books are a big visual inspiration to me, so I liked seeing you cite the Field Guide to North American Weather and Gerhard Richter’s Atlas as two recent sources of fascination and perhaps material. What drew you to those books and what do you like about them?

SM I enjoy those books because they are both wonderful collections. I work from an archive of several thousand images. This is probably why Atlas is so fascinating to me. It’s the source material (mostly photographs) that Richter uses in his work and it made me even more interested in his work. I like the Field Guide because all the pictures in it are of weather-based natural phenomena. Some of the photographs in it are pretty hard to believe, but actually happened.

SEAN MCFARLAND: THE 2009 BAUM AWARD FOR EMERGING AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHERS

Thurs/2 through May 23 ( reception Thurs/2, 5–8 p.m.), free or donation

SF Camerawork

657 Mission, second floor, SF

(415) 512-2020

www.sfcamerawork.org

Go into the light

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In an online interview, experimental filmmaker and violin drone pioneer Tony Conrad relates a story: one night, underground drag superstar Mario Montez wandered into the apartment Conrad shared with filmmaker Jack Smith, and at Smith’s behest began an impromptu performance. When Smith flicked on a beaten up 16mm projector to serve as a makeshift spotlight, he and Conrad became transfixed by the play of light that reflected off Montez’s sequined outfit. While it would be glib — and certainly fun — to declare that 1960s structural film was born from the glittering gyrations of a drag queen, Conrad’s anecdote is but one development in his longstanding fascination with the excessive sensory effects of shooting light out into the void. Conrad’s 1965 16mm film The Flicker is perhaps his purest and best-known manifestation of this — 30 minutes of black and white stroboscopic bliss (or hell) that cast its long shadows over Brian Gysin’s dream machines, and more contemporarily, Anthony McCall’s striking digital light and fog projections. You’ll have the chance to see how much flashing light your eyes can take when San Francisco Cinematheque presents screenings of Conrad’s films in conjunction with the New York-based polymath’s weekend-long residency at the concurrent Activating the Medium Festival. While Sunday night’s program features The Flicker, it also puts it into context as a jumping off point for Conrad’s subsequent process-based films and public access video works, in which activities such as electrocution and cooking take on a rhythm as mesmerizing as staring into the pulsating light of a film projector.

TONY CONRAD: FLICKERING JEWEL

Fri/3, 5 p.m. (Program One: "Window, Perspective Shadow")

Sat/4, 8 p.m. (Program Two, with Conrad in performance)

Sun/5, 7:30 p.m. (Program Three: "Flicker and Process Films/Works on Video"), $15

San Francisco Art Institute, 300 Chestnut, SF

www.sfcinematheque.org

Visceral reality

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Already a veteran Irish Republican Army volunteer serving his second penitentiary term at age 27, Bobby Sands was leader of Republican prisoners at HM Prison Maze, a.k.a. Long Kesh, outside Belfast in 1981. Early that year he commenced a hunger strike joined by numerous other inmates, an action intended to define IRA incarcerates as political rather than criminal prisoners while boosting international attention for the independence cause.

After 66 days, he was the first of 10 participants to die. The strike’s cessation five months later (participants joined in at staggered intervals) was claimed as a victory by Conservative P.M. Margaret Thatcher and the mainstream British press. Yet the inmates won most of their demands, IRA membership surged, and the "Iron Lady" was thereafter target No. 1 for patriotic loathing among Irish free-staters.

Hunger is the first feature by Steve McQueen, the London photographer, sculptor, and maker of often black and white shorts created primarily for the more rarefied atmosphere of museums and galleries. Their minimalist rigor is very much present here in the exactitude of composition as well as their emphasis on physical detail and visceral experience. It took Julian Schnabel until The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) to find a full-length subject that suited his tactile sense while excusing a lack of narrative instinct or interest; McQueen’s got there on the first try. Hunger is completely realized, without compromise. It’s convincingly ugly in an aesthetically beautiful way, cool to the touch, admirably near-perfect, and off-putting.

We’re introduced to Sands only after several lesser figures take brief center stage: Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), a guard whose work weighs heavily on him; new prisoner Davey (Brian Milligan), who refuses to wear "the uniform of a criminal," thus joining the already in-progress "blanket protest"; and older cellmate Gerry (Liam McMahon), who introduces him to the "dirty protest." That protest consisted of caking walls with smeared feces, directing urine into the corridor, and letting uneaten food rot. We finally glimpse Sands (Michael Fassbender) during visiting hours; he puts up a fierce fight as he and others are violently dragged to a forced shave-and-wash.

Hunger is clinical, politically neutral, almost purely observational — interested in simply displaying rather than commenting on the sacrifices made. It’s not unlike McQueen’s series of postage stamps commemorating British soldiers killed in Iraq — created as part of his role as "official war artist" — that were opposed by the Royal Mail and Ministry of Defense.

Ethical debate is limited to one, 17-and-a-half minute shot in which Bobby and Father Moran (Liam Cunningham) lay out personal, political, and religious arguments for and against a potentially lethal strike. It’s only in the subsequent, equally stock-still sequence — a guard sweeping an entire hall-length of piss — that the director’s severity risks feeling schematic.

Needless to say, the final act is unrelenting, with its hallucinations, open sores, and actors starved under medical supervision to scarifying effect. But McQueen finds unsentimental poetry in surprising places throughout, from the snowflakes falling on Lohan’s beating-scarred knuckles to Sands’ lifeless face as a winding sheet is drawn over it. The institutional palette, bare-bones use of sound, even the fully exposed sinewy-to-sticklike male bodies turn docudrama into a kind of exquisite art project, at once devastating and hermetically sealed. *

HUNGER opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

MORE ON SFBG.COM

Pixel Vision blog: Johnny Ray Huston’s interview with Hunger director Steve McQueen.

Yelped

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› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Hardly anyone names their cat Dave. In fact, no one. That I know of. And yet, every 11 years, like clockwork or a comet, I find myself in the position of having to explain Lou Reed to someone. Why this task falls to me, I will never know. I am not in particular a fan, although I do like and sometimes love and generally "get" and occasionally even listen to Lou Reed.

On the other hand I have never enjoyed hearing Bob Dylan sing a Bob Dylan song. Somebody else — pretty much anybody else singing a Bob Dylan song … sure! On the radio the other day they were talking about whether or not white guys could be "hip," and the name that kept coming up was Bob Dylan. Someone mentioned Tom Waits, and Tom Waits mentioned Chuck E. Wise, and somebody said Quentin Tarantino and the whole time I was screaming at my radio and shaking it, because that’s the way I am.

I am exactly the kind of person who would name their cat Dave. As it happens, my cat came with a name already: Weirdo the Cat. But if I ever get the chance to name another one … Dave! Dave the Cat.

Now, if I ever get to name a person, humanity’s going to be in serious trouble. As is that person, Bing. Boy or girl. After the coolest white man that ever lived. I’m not old enough to even know, really, but then, most people who think Jesus was cool never actually jammed with Him, or heard or saw anything He said or did first hand, or even watched His television special — except on South Park. And that’s animated.

My point being that I’m done with dating (again!), or at least writing about it, and so now you get to read about food, lucky you.

Eats. Cheap, yes, but gourmet? Not that making sense is my specialty, but why would you name your restaurant Eats and then describe it as a "gourmet breakfast and lunch restaurant"?

It’s not gourmet. It’s Eats. Clement and Second Avenue. Just look for the line of people waiting on the sidewalk. You’ll never guess what they’re waiting for: eggs. Toast. You know, potatoes … Eats has the standardest menu on Clement. Nothing’s special, not even the specials. Huevos rancheros? Yeah, special maybe in Iowa. But I ask you, Eats, is this Iowa?

No.

Wait, I made a mistake. This is Iowa. Naw, there is one thing special on the menu. It’s the ricotta cheese pancakes! I found out not by sampling them, but by going to Yelp.com. Which is how I plan to review restaurants from now on. Who knew? There are 134 reviews of Eats on Yelp, and almost all of them mention the specialness of the ricotta cheese pancakes.

Hmm … 134 people versus me. I don’t know about you, but I would trust 134 voices over the evidence of my own senses. Especially since, out of any random 134 people, somewhere between 130 and 133 of them are likely to know more about food than I do.

I am a fan of cornmeal pancakes, and pancake pancakes. Word on the Web is that ricotta cheese is the way to go. They’re so good, apparently, you don’t need butter or syrup. (Many, many, many people said this.) I say: why in the wide, wonky world would I order pancakes except as a vehicle for butter and syrup?

In fact, I ordered the cornmeal pancakes, short stack, with a side of sausage. They gave me three cakes, and only two packets of butter. What the — ? I had to go find four more for myself, ’cause the service was kind of slow. The grillfriends I was with, they ordered cornmeal and regular pancakes. And we all agreed: ho-diddly-hum.

The sausage was dry.

And seriously: it may be that the ricotta cheese pancakes are as amazing as 134 people say, but my guess is they’re not. If they were, the cornmeal and regular ones would at least be good, one would think. *

EATS

Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

50 Clement, SF

(415) 752-2938

No alcohol

MC/V

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

City Grill

0

› paulr@sfbg.com

At this moment — at the cusp of spring — the most happening restaurant in Noe Valley is Contigo, which opened early in March in what had been a computer store. The crowd promptly swooped, with a thickness and intensity not seen in the neighborhood since the launch of Fresca nearly four years ago and without, it seems, much in the way of worries about the economic meltdown. You step into Contigo, find yourself against a wall of chattering people, and step out. You step around the corner to City Grill and breathe more easily.

City Grill is the good new restaurant in Noe Valley no one has heard of. It opened in January in what had been the Kookez space (before that, Miss Millie’s, and before that, Meat Market café) just a few steps away from Lupa. The owner of Lupa, Stefano Coppola, also has a hand in City Grill — but there the similarities between the two places end. Lupa serves Roman-influenced food, while City Grill is a kind of nouvelle American diner whose nearest culinary relation is probably Firefly, just a few blocks up the street.

The word "grill" makes me think of a place that serves grilled-cheese sandwiches and bitter coffee, while "city grill" makes me think of some shiny, clattery spot downtown where politicians meet at lunchtime to eat steak and hatch plots. City Grill is neither; it is, instead, a wonderfully woody neighborhood restaurant that manages to preserve much of the past while offering excellent, modern food. I’d like to add "at modest prices," but perhaps price perception carries an element of relativity. City Grill is about equidistant from cheap and fancy. You can pay quite a bit more and not do much better, and you can also pay quite a bit less and not do much worse.

At least one welcome change from the Kookez regime is that the kid-proofed menus, laminated in plastic as at innumerable chain restaurants along the limitless interstates, are gone. City Grill is kid-friendly but doesn’t go overboard about it. The space’s most unusual feature, from a visual or aesthetic point of view, is the exhibition kitchen, which is in the front third of the restaurant — where you might expect to find the bar — rather than (as is more usual) in or at the rear. Since the kitchen bulges out into the dining space and is a beehive of constant activity, the diner’s sense is of being in the audience at some sort of theater in the round, or near-round. Most of the tables and booths have some view of the animated troupe working the kitchen.

As to what emerges from the kitchen: it’s good stuff, and this isn’t surprising, given the quality of Coppola’s nearby Lupa. Coppola has somehow managed to bring an Italian ethic of simplicity and straightforwardness to City Grill’s Cal-American menu. Each dish tends to emphasize a single, principal ingredient, with additions and amendments deployed sparingly and quietly.

A broccoli soup ($6.50), for example, struck us as just broccoli in another form, puréed with some chicken stock, thickened with a bit of potato, and given a bit of tangy crunch by scatterings of croutons and Parmesan cheese. A bowl of mussels and frites ($9.50), meanwhile, was about as disciplined as it gets, with fat Prince Edward Island shellfish topped with a stack of golden fries and a sauce of white wine, garlic, butter, and streamers of tarragon for a bouillabaisse-like hint of licorice. Since we ran out of fries long before the liquid had been sopped up, we asked for a basket of bread. Odd that such a basket hadn’t been brought when we were seated — is this a new way for restaurants to cut back discreetly? — but the bread itself (French, not sourdough) was wonderfully soft and warm, and when we ran through the first basket, we were brought another.

Lamb chops ($24.50) — really a rack of lamb, with each rib bone carefully frenched) — were rubbed with herbs and roasted to the rare side of medium-rare, then plated with a whirl of well-seasoned, creamy mashed potatoes, a thicket of wilted broccoli rabe, and several mysterious, leathery hemispheres we guessed might be dried, pitted cherries.

A more fanciful preparation was a plate of pork medallions ($16) — a trio of what I took to be slices of roasted loin, each arrayed in a haybed of sauerkraut on a platform of russet potato. These layerings were set on the plate pointing outward, like the petals of a flower, while around the edges a country-mustard sauce had been napped. It all seemed naggingly familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I was halfway through: it was a rethinking of choucroute, the warming — and highly sustaining — dish of Alsace.

Then on to Vienna for some strudel ($6) — apple, of course, studded with raisins and topped with a scoop or two of ice cream (for a buck extra per scoop). Strudel is the ultimate pastry experience of Mitteleuropa, but it was brought (along with coffee) by the Turks and is a version of phyllo, like its Middle Eastern cousin baklava. City Grill’s strudel is golden and puffy and could stand on its own without any fruit or ice cream, just a bit of butter and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Maybe a splash of coffee, or espresso, to wash it down. No matter how American we are, the world is always with us. *

CITY GRILL

Dinner: Tue.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.; Sun. 5 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.

4123 24th St., SF

(415) 285-2400

www.citygrillsf.com

Beer and wine

MC/V

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Out with the old

0

› rebeccab@sfbg.com

It may seem odd that the loss of a two-story vacant building would ruffle so many feathers, spur multiple phone calls to the police, and inspire a push from Board of Supervisors president David Chiu to make changes to San Francisco’s building code. But the March 16 demolition of the Little House, a 148-year-old Russian Hill cottage on Lombard Street, struck a nerve and raised a slew of questions — many of which continue to go unanswered.

Controversy may have started swirling because a property that has stood since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was razed with scarcely a week’s notice on a swiftly issued emergency-demolition permit. It might also have been because the co-owners of the property, Michael Cassidy and James Nunemacher, represent the high-profile Residential Builders Association and the real estate firm Vanguard Properties, respectively — both politically well-connected entities that have been behind projects in the past that drew criticism from various citizens groups.

The Little House, which previously stood at 1268 Lombard St., was by some accounts one of the 10 oldest homes in San Francisco. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, a building of that age would normally require an environmental impact report before the Planning Department can issue a demolition permit. According to Department of Building Inspections spokesman William Strawn, the emergency demolition permit was issued after a structural engineer who had inspected the property on behalf of the owners sent a letter expressing concern that it was in danger of collapse. DBI staffers, including department manager Ed Sweeney, inspected it, and Strawn said the permit process started once they concluded that it presented a safety hazard.

Word that the cottage would be razed sparked an outcry from a group of concerned neighbors and historic preservationists, including architect F. Joseph Butler, who says he discovered it 15 years ago when he learned that it was one of the few structures on Russian Hill to escape the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fires. Butler says he doubts the building was in danger of collapse, and says he tried in vain to convince DBI to allow him to bring in a third party who could offer a second opinion. When asked about that possibility, Strawn said, "The building department would not rely on a third-party source."

The building was torn down March 16, with tensions simmering in the days leading up to it. When a demolition crew showed up March 9 ready to go to work, several days before the emergency permit had actually been issued, a neighbor who was trying to save the cottage phoned the police to halt the demolition. Police reports show that a few days later when the crew arrived on the property and were greeted by a small group of protesters, the cops were called twice more — by both sides. Joe Cassidy, Michael Cassidy’s brother and a prominent member of the Residential Builders Association, is the president of the demolition company.

Protesters charged that the building was neglected on purpose to hasten its demise, so the owners could skirt the regulatory EIR process. "It appears the property owner has exceeded the scope of their permit to replace dry rot by structurally damaging the building and claiming it is in imminent danger of falling down," Cynthia Servetnick, an architect with the SF Preservation Consortium, wrote in an e-mail to the City Attorney’s Office not long before the demolition. Building Commissioner Debra Walker, who also inspected it, noted that "the windows were out, and the doors were out in the back. It looked to me like people had just left it open."

Megan Allison Wade, who blogged about the demolition of the Lombard Street house, wrote in an e-mail to zoning administrator Larry Badiner that she perceived "a very clear case of willful neglect in an attempt to degrade the property into demolish-able condition."

Badiner responded: "This emergency demolition permit supersedes historic preservation and housing preservation procedures. … Without commenting on whether this is willful neglect, public safety would trump any concerns regarding how the building became unsafe."

An article published by the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Nunemacher denied that he and Cassidy had neglected the property. When we called Nunemacher to ask him directly, the conversation didn’t go so well. He said he was busy, and told us to read the other news reports. When asked if this meant he didn’t want to comment, he said, "You are putting words into my mouth. I don’t like what you are doing." Then he threatened to call the police.

Whether or not the property was in fact neglected on purpose is a question that may never be answered conclusively. City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told us he was not at liberty to say whether an investigation is underway, but it’s clear that any investigation would have to go forward without a crucial element — the house.

Attorney Arthur Levy made a last-ditch effort to try to save the Little House just before it came down, sending a letter transcribed on his office’s letterhead to a list of city department heads. "What makes San Francisco different is our built environment," Levy says. "It seems to me that when a property owner willfully neglects a building, and that results in demolition … there ought to be some consequences."

For some of those engaged in the fight over the cottage, the incident brings to mind past controversies involving the same players and others close to them. When an historic Victorian shipwrights’ cottage at 900 Innes Ave. — which the city designated as a historic landmark last year — was under the ownership of developer Joe Cassidy, he had plans to demolish it and build condos, retail space, and a kayak center. In that 2005 battle between the RBA developer and preservationists, the preservationists won.

Another project that involved both Joe Cassidy and Nunemacher was a residential development at Fourth and Freelon streets. At the time that project was being permitted, one of the top-selling agents at Vanguard Properties, Jean-Paul Samaha, worked as a liaison between the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Department. In 2005, architect Kepa Ashkenasy lodged an Ethics Commission complaint against Samaha alleging he had failed to disclose a $100,000 loan from Nunemacher, who had been his romantic partner at the time, even when he was in a position of testifying before the Planning Commission in his professional capacity about the Fourth and Freelon development, Ethics records show.

The complaint was dismissed after Samaha lodged a counter-complaint against Ashkenasy with the Human Rights Commission, noting that loans from spouses and domestic partners are exempt from financial disclosure rules, and charging that her allegation was motivated by a kind of homophobia, a HRC document shows. Ashkenasy told the Guardian that she only sought to illuminate a conflict of interest — and added that she is a lesbian.

Servetnick said the case of the Little House highlights a broader issue of vacant historic properties throughout the city that are allowed to go to waste because it’s more profitable to knock them down and build new. Draft legislation introduced by Board President David Chiu seeks to address this concern by requiring owners of vacant properties to register their empty buildings with the city so that inspectors can play a more proactive role in detecting problems before it’s too late.

At a March 26 Planning Commission meeting, Charles Marsteller, former head of government watchdog group Common Cause, told commissioners he had attended the demolition of the Lombard Street cottage. When it came down, he says, he realized how unique it was and earnestly told planning commissioners that he thinks the Little House should be reconstructed, and the lot turned into a park.

As for the demolition, "It was just a put-on by some insiders in City Hall working the network that they normally work," Marsteller says. "And it shouldn’t have happened."

Agit-aggregator

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Due to April 1 budget cuts, the original content in this space has been replaced by a selection of music news items from the wire.

MADONNA ADOPTING COUNTRY OF MALAWI


LILONGWE (Rutters) — Madonna announced her plans to adopt the entire southern African nation today after local friends told her that her adopted Malawian children, David and Mercy James, were lonely and needed companionship. In 2006 some Malawian activists attempted to block David’s adoption, but this time many are endorsing the idea of a high-flying life attached to a parent with a global pop brand. "We had no idea she would take her name so literally," opined a High Court clerk. "Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to meeting my nanny and hanging with the backstage crew at mom’s next arena show."

MICHAEL JACKSON STARRING IN LATEST TWILIGHT INSTALLMENT


LOS ANGELES (APE) — In a surprise move, Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson has been dropped from the lead role of vampire hottie Edward Cullen. His replacement: the King of Pop. Producers believe that despite his age and HIStory, Michael Jackson has the tween idol beat in the unnatural skin pallor department. "He’s much more believable as a vampire," said one source.

CHRIS BROWN PICKED LAST FOR DANCING WITH THE STARS


LOS ANGELES (FuxNews) — Just weeks after Chris Brown was charged with felony assault, commercial endorsements were suspended, and his music withdrawn from radio stations, the Putf8um recording artist took another backhand blow to his ego: he was snubbed by the entire cast of the popular TV show and picked last in a very special dancer’s-choice episode. "Sure, the guy can cut a rug," said an unnamed contestant. "But everyone saw those unauthorized TMZ pics of his last cut-up partner. Performers always say, ‘Break a leg.’ I don’t want to take that chance."

KANYE WEST: ‘YEAH, I HAVE AN AUTO-TUNE IMPLANT — SO WHAT?’


NEW YORK CITY (Eek! Online) — "It’s just another tool in the studio," hip-hop artist Kanye West said. "Now I don’t even need to touch a computer to get my sound." Emboldened by the success of the operation, West’s surgeons plan to remove a part of the G.O.O.D. Music founder’s brain and install an entire suite of Pro Tools plug-ins.

JONAS BROTHERS BUSTED IN HUMAN ANTI-GROWTH HORMONE STING


WYCKOFF, N.J. — (EmptyV.com) In an effort not to become Hanson or New Kids on the Block, Kevin, Nick, and Joe Jonas have been taking massive amounts of HAH in an effort to retain their tween demographic, allege Wyckoff police after a 4 a.m. raid on the Jonas family McMansion. "Our management told us we were taking flaxseed oil," Kevin said. "They claimed it was pixie dust," added Joe.

ALL-GIRL INDIE ROCK GROUP TAKE HAIR BAND EFFORT TO NEW LEVEL: WITH BEARDS


PORTLAND, Ore. (Ditchfork) — As one of the most pervasive trends in indie rock, beards have stood the test of time and triple-blade, pivoting shavers. One all-girl combo, however, is proving that they can play that game too: this week the Portland-based Her Suit obtained beard transplants at the O’Hare Baldness Clinic outside Chicago. The number of friends on the band’s MySpace page has risen tenfold, particularly among the follically challenged.

MP3S FOUND TO CAUSE CANCER, NEW VINYL FORMAT CONSIDERED ‘ANTI-CARCINOGEN’


SAGINAW, Mich. (AFPEE) — Scientists have determined a link between heavy use of iPods and other MP3 players and increased risk of cochlear cancer. The same team of scientists also determined a simple preventive measure: a protective vinyl coating applied to the actual MP3 players. "Vinyl is not only better," said one researcher. "It makes everything better."

NO JOKE

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND


How prescient is Working on a Dream (Columbia), when employment seems like a figment of the imagination for so many? Wed/1, 7:30 p.m., $38–$95. HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara, San Jose. www.livenation.com

GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS AND KATE MAKI


Still, sweet waters run deep: GLS drifts softly and drowsily, with nods to country music’s storytelling tradition, whereas ex-neuroscience student Maki teamed with Howe Gelb for On High (OW OM, 2008) and gently noggin-rattling arrangements that go beyond the solo acoustic guitar. Fri/3, 9 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

LILA DOWNS


The Oaxaca native sifts together Fleetwood Mac and Lucinda Williams covers with an original, "Shake Away" — and a bared bellybutton — that seem like a Mesoamerican bid for Shakira’s Latin-crossover crown. Sat/4, 9 p.m., $30. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com

LILY ALLEN


It’s her, it’s us: one of the first pint-sized, powerhouse MySpace stars chips away at detractors with the "darker, faster" It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol). Sat/4, 9 p.m., $30–$32. Warfield, 982 Market, SF. www.goldenvoice.com

AHMAD JAMAL


"Darn that Dream" seems so far away, yet the 78-year-old mastermind with the keys keeps working for the ineffable, last with It’s Magic (Dreyfus, 2008). Sat/4, 8 p.m., $20–$75. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. www.sfjazz.com

BURMESE


According to member Weasel Walter, Mike, Mark, Mike, and Tissue have come out of hiding, not to play blistering noise from their new 10-inch, but to cover the Circle Jerks’ Group Sex (Frontier, 1980), fore to aft, instead. With the Human Quena Orchestra and Geronimo. Sun/5, 9 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

Sam I am?

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

He has come, he says, to take American Jewry into the 21st century. Some members of the suburban synagogue that just hired Sam Isaac, charismatic tax attorney and single father turned rabble-rousing rabbi and spiritual visionary, are thrilled. Others, not so much. Between those two poles, and across 12 fully fledged characters, solo performer extraordinaire Charlie Varon takes us on a steadily dramatic, extremely witty, and thought-provoking ride through what he pictures as a transformative moment in Jewish identity. And transformation is what Rabbi Sam — who calls the United States the most Jewish of countries and likes to draw on Lincoln as much as that other Abraham — represents.

No doubt a little shaking up was needed at the synagogue where, as Sam reminds his audience, the young have been drifting away from the religion of their parents, and where for too long the others have gotten by on hollow nostalgia ("museum Judaism" he calls it, "with just a pinch of that shtetl kitsch"). But Rabbi Sam is as determined as he is brilliantly inspired, and with the board of directors split passionately down the middle about him, a showdown looks all but inevitable.

The crux of the matter becomes Sam’s vaguely suspicious management of an anonymous donor’s gift of $2 million, intended specifically to take Jews, and even willing gentiles in the community, on a trip to Jerusalem for a "jolt" of Judaism straight from the Holy Land that will supposedly, under Sam’s tutelage, help take American Judaism out of the past and reinvent it for the future. Slowly, as this project meets resistance from certain crotchety but not unsympathetic quarters, Sam becomes a more ambiguous figure, his embrace of certain influential members of the community beginning to smack of manipulation, his supreme confidence giving off a whiff of megalomania.

Varon’s multicharacter solo show — the first in years from the famed creator of such theatrical gems as Rush Limbaugh in Night School, in ongoing partnership with collaborator and director David Ford — is a performance tour de force, propelling a story both compellingly nuanced and suspenseful. At the same time, and despite its dozen diverse characters and muscular wrestling with the scope of Jewish identity at the beginning of a new century, there is something of a conspicuous absence at the heart of the play, especially given the centrality of Sam’s Jerusalem venture, which is Judaism and America’s inevitable entanglement in the ongoing and escautf8g catastrophe unfolding, disproportionately, for Palestinians and Jews in Israel-Palestine.

Even if it goes unstated in the play — which may simply and understandably be trying to avoid opening a can of worms, thematically speaking — it will probably strike at least some members of the audience that Jerusalem is technically an occupied city, not, therefore, open to all, but rather a principal site of contestation.

Again, it is not hard to imagine Varon and Ford wanting to skip the issue for wholly practical reasons, as an almost uncontainable distraction from the play’s wider concerns. But can it really be avoided? The modern history of Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict surely has, at the very least, implications for the play’s theme: the nature of Jewish identity in the United States today, a conundrum that American Jewish individuals and groups consciously underscore, for example, by their vocal presence at the forefront of recent nationwide protests against the U.S.-backed Israeli military incursions into Gaza. Silence on this pressing context does not banish it from the consciousness of the audience. Rather, it risks becoming, however inadvertently, a misleading gesture of its own.

RABBI SAM

Through May 10

Thurs–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m. (except April 19, show at 2 p.m.), $18

Marsh, 1062 Valencia, SF

800-838-3006, www.themarsh.org

Undead again

0

Resident Evil 5

(Capcom; Xbox 360, PS3)

GAMER With sales hovering around the 35 million mark, Capcom’s Resident Evil series has become less of a cash cow and more of a cash elephant. If I explained to you that Resident Evil 5 is in fact the seventh game in the main series, you might care, but suffice to say that between a bookshelf’s worth of games, novelizations, comic books, and feature films, expectations for the most recent installment are running high.

The new title takes place in Africa, where franchise stalwart Chris Redfield has arrived to be gruff and kill things in the name of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. The world is beset on all sides by misanthropes with syringes full of tentacle-rich zombifying megavirus, and only the BSAA can keep us from being turned into creatures that look like a walking combination of ground beef and motor oil.

Redfield is joined by his hard-bodied counterpart, Sheva Alomar, a local operative who accompanies the player throughout. Cooperation is the name of the game this time around, and you’ll have to pool resources and abilities to survive. Sidekick A.I. is one of gaming’s greatest deficiencies, and though Sheva’s is certainly passable (read: not a constant frustration), simple online and same-room co-op features make two-person play the optimal approach.

The game retains Resident Evil’s infuriating "stop-and-pop" controls, rooting you to the spot every time you aim your weapon. This is ostensibly to preserve the series’ survival-horror roots, although you would be hard-pressed to find anything scary during the game’s paltry 12 hours of gameplay. RE5 plays like an action title, with streamlined item-management and save utilities and a lot of relentless gunplay.

Visually, the game is stunning, creating an atmospheric and detailed world for the player to riddle with bullets. If only the other aspects of the game’s presentation had received even half as much attention — the writing is horrifically stilted, and the story is incomprehensible. Sometimes it seems like the designers are purposefully insulting the players’ intelligence — "The power is off. Maybe there’s some way to turn it back on" — and every single point is made with a sledgehammer. Early trailers for the game brought accusations of racism (white cop mows down herds of bug-eyed Africans), and while this charge loses potency in context, the appearance of grass-skirted "tribal" zombies who literally throw spears at you is extremely problematic. Thankfully, when your back’s to the wall and you’re running out of ammo, it doesn’t really matter if the zombies are black, blue, or green.

Green-collar heat

0

› sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Local residents, workers, and businesses are anxious to learn who and what will be stimulated by the billions of dollars that President Barack Obama authorized for release when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Since January 2008, unemployment in the Bay Area has risen from 4.9 percent to 8.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, and house prices and consumer spending are down.

Despite all the anxiety, representatives from local low-income community groups hope to turn Obama’s stimulus package into an opportunity to make local government accountable for creating decent green-collar jobs. And Sups. Eric Mar, John Avalos, Sophie Maxwell, and Board President David Chiu seem happy to help further the community in this environmentally friendly cause.

Mar scheduled a March 23 hearing of the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee "to obtain community input on the creation of jobs, particularly green-collar jobs, in San Francisco as the city positions itself for federal investment dollars."

"The hearing was the first step toward building a grassroots coalition to hold government accountable," continued Mar, who worries that the Mayor’s Office is not sharing enough information related to the stimulus package. "Labor and community groups, not just department heads and City Hall, should be at the table."

At the hearing, representatives from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that a substantial part of the first wave of stimulus package dollars has already been allocated, mostly to shovel-ready projects such as the Doyle Drive rebuild and massive development projects at Treasure Island and the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

OEWD representatives also indicated that more waves of formula funding are expected, for which San Francisco must compete with other cities, and that the city’s Department of Technology is constructing a Web site to track all local money from Obama’s $787 billion package.

OEWD deputy director Jennifer Entine Matz says community-based organizations, unions, and community colleges need to work together to ensure that people are successfully brought through any work program. "In many cases, green collar jobs are existing jobs," Matz said. "If we are successful in training people with green power technology, they will be more marketable here and beyond. We can also train and modify people in existing programs."

But representatives from the Chinese Progressive Association, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), and POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights) expressed their belief that stimulus package funds should go to help low-income communities, not rich corporations.

"Let’s make sure we stimulate quality to make sure we stimulate the economy," said PODER’s Oscar Grande, who warned against using the funds on low-paid jobs with few advancement opportunities. He and others suggested tracking what communities receive funding. "We want to go past the green hype, the green-washing, and the green lifestyle marketing," Grande said.

Raquel Pinderhughes, an urban studies professor at San Francisco State University who helped Berkeley’s Green Business Council and Oakland’s Green Jobs Corp program, defined green-collar jobs as "blue collar jobs in green businesses.

"Green collar jobs can function to get more people out of poverty," Pinderhughes said. "They can provide living wages. They have low barriers to entry. They provide an opportunity for occupational mobility. They are inherently dignified, and they have a shortage of entry-level workers, so there is room for people."

But Pinderhughes warned that cities must link improving environmental quality to social justice to avoid creating temporary jobs and preserve industrially zoned lands for green-collar jobs. She also said that cities must fund case management services "so folks don’t quickly drop out."

The Land Use Committee has scheduled an April 6 continuation to address a plethora of outstanding issues like how much money is going to specific corporations and departments, the division of funds between public transportation and freeway projects, and how much Lennar Corp. is getting for its Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point redevelopment project.

April fool, sucka

0

@@http://www.sfbg.com/blogs/politics@@

Volume 43 Number 27 Flip-through Edition

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The BART Board is clueless

0

› tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORIAL The senseless and horrifying murder of four Oakland police officers March 21 has cast a pall over law enforcement agencies all over the Bay Area. It’s renewed calls for a federal ban on assault weapons, which is long overdue. (It’s also reminded us why a daily newspaper can be so valuable — Chronicle coverage of the incident, with numerous reporters quickly responding, is the kind of journalism that won’t happen if the city’s only major daily dies.)

Unfortunately, it’s also taken the focus away from other police issues, and while we mourn the four deaths of veteran officers who were killed trying to do their jobs, we can’t stop trying to solve the problems of cops who lack training, supervision, and oversight.

In that context, there is no other way to say this: the BART Board of Directors is as clueless as any governmental organization we’ve seen since the administration of George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq.

In the past 17 years, BART police officers have improperly shot and killed three people. There have been hundreds of complaints of unnecessary use of force. Most recently, a BART cop shot a young man point blank, and video recordings of the incident have created widespread anger and unrest.

Yet there is still nothing resembling a civilian oversight agency for that 200-member force — and the BART Board members are once again asking the public to trust them to take care of the situation.

Assembly Member Tom Ammiano and state Sen. Leland Yee are sponsoring state legislation that would force the BART Board to establish a San Francisco-style office of citizen complaints to handle all civilian complaints about BART police officer conduct. There are ways Assembly Bill 312 can be improved, and Ammiano, who is guiding the measure through its first legislative hearings, is open to productive suggestions. But when the BART Board sent a delegation to meet with Ammiano, the transit directors had only one basic message: they said AB 312 was "too prescriptive" — that is, it sought to set clear, strong rules for what BART has to do. BART would rather that the Legislature make some broad suggestions but let the folks who run the district shape the final outcome.

That’s simply unacceptable. BART has had plenty of time to address this problem, and plenty of notice that something is terribly wrong. In 1992 a BART cop shot and killed 20-year-old Jerold Hall near the Hayward Station, firing a shotgun into the back of Hall’s head as the unarmed young man was walking away. The shooting violated BART’s own police procedures and the rules that govern the use of deadly force at nearly every modern law enforcement agency in America — but the officer received no disciplinary action, not even a reprimand. In 2001 another BART cop shot and killed a mentally ill man who was lying naked on the ground. Again, BART declared the shooting perfectly okay. With that kind of lack of oversight, it’s not surprising that Oscar Grant was shot and killed early New Year’s Day — the BART police have never been held accountable for improper killings.

And the BART Board has never done a damn thing about it.

Now there is a special board committee that’s supposed to study police oversight. It has never held a single public meeting. Board member Tom Radulovich, who represents San Francisco and sits on the committee, told us there will be public meetings soon. But so far, all that the four-member panel has done is hold private discussions with local interest groups, with no public notice. We would argue that those meetings were a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, which mandates that government agencies hold open meetings. But more than that, the closed meetings suggest that the BART Board has no understanding of the public anger and impatience with its 17-year record of failing to keep its police force in line.

Ammiano and Yee should refuse to compromise the basic premise of their bill. The state of California, which gave BART the right to create a police force, must now mandate exactly how that force will be managed. The BART Board had its chance and failed. We simply can’t trust that ineffective agency to get it right this time. * *

The JROTC horror show

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OPINION I wish that the adults who want to keep the JROTC program in San Francisco public schools would stop throwing the JROTC students under the bus and blaming the bus driver.

In particular, I’m referring to the March 24 Board of Education meeting, where a resolution about JROTC by commissioners Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton was presented as a first-reading agenda item, which, under our rules, denotes that it should be referred to committee for further discussion. There usually isn’t any public commentary on first-reading items because that can occur at the committee meeting, then at the full board meeting when the item is returned for its second reading.

This is the first time that any discussion of JROTC has been on the agenda this year. But adults and kids in support of the program have been turning out to board meetings regularly. And while I’ve been president, the board has offered deference to the JROTC students, moving public comment earlier in the meeting nearly every time the students have shown up.

Before the March 24 meeting, supporters and opponents of the program were warned that it was only a first reading, that public comment would not be taken out of order, and that each side would have five minutes to make its case. Every elected official who planned on attending was informed of those rules. The ridiculousness that ensued as the board’s business and meeting carried on late into the evening came from, and was promoted by, selfish adults interested only in media attention and not concerned about whether this program can be sustained, in its current format, in San Francisco’s public schools.

The yelling and grandstanding by the adults for nearly three of the students’ allotted five minutes was an embarrassment to everyone. And those adults who stepped in front of the children — uninvited — then had the nerve to blame the Board of Education for not bending to their will.

The issues with this program are real — the teacher credentialing, the cost of the program to the district, the accessibility for all students desiring to become potential first responders for their neighborhoods and school sites in case of a municipal emergency, and, of course, the military aspect. The Board of Education, I believe, has to look beyond the glitz of a program that have been with us for eons and beyond the TV sound bites that grossly distort the facts. I’ve been moved to the middle on this issue because of the inflammatory behavior from people associated with both ends — the extreme ends.

I am hopeful that many of you will join me in looking carefully at the alternatives at hand, alternatives that would allow all students to participate. Come to the committee meetings, be informed, ask your questions, and be open to hearing something new.

But put aside the angry accusations and condemnations toward those who want to do the right thing for our children just because they don’t jump when you say they should. *


Kim-Shree Maufas is president of the San Francisco Board of Education.

Made in U.S.A.

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REVIEW Rialto Pictures founder Bruce Goldstein will scoop up the Mel Novikoff award at this year’s San Francisco Film Festival, but local audiences have a chance to sample his good work before then during the Castro Theatre’s run of Rialto’s freshly struck 35–mm print of Jean-Luc Godard’s widescreen, red-white-and-blue firecracker Made in U.S.A. (1967). If the picture seems a helter-skelter jumble of contingencies, it’s important to remember it was but one of four Godard movies to wash up on these shores during the otherwise turbulent 12-month period slicing through 1967 and 1968 (the other three were 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, La Chinoise, and Week End). Of these, Made in U.S.A. gives the fullest demonstration of Godard’s aim to create a cinema that could take part in the jagged incongruities of modern life. Listing the film’s tangled referents — its confluence of aesthetics, politics, and violence crucially hinges on American hardboiled pulp and the real-life murder of Moroccan leftist Ben Barka — doesn’t begin to describe Made in U.S.A.‘s unexpected pathos. For all its agitprop overtures and modernist complications, the film is also a reflective, conflicted goodbye to the writer-director’s formative romances with American culture and Anna Karina. The porcelain actress, already divorced from Godard by the time the picture was made, gives a fragmented, emotional performance almost entirely in close-up. As the long day closes on Made in U.S.A., an old confidante tells Karina’s Bogart-like investigator that obsolete categories of Right and Left cannot adequately address political problems, to which she responds, "Then how?" That broken question, the neutron star of Godard’s career, shows no sign of letting up.

MADE IN U.S.A. opens Wed/1 at the Castro. See Rep Clock.

John Jasperse Company

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PREVIEW When New York choreographer John Jasperse presented his company in its local debut in 2004, the severe and pared-down choreography of his multimedia piece California looked more New England Puritanism than California hedonism. Good for him, I remember thinking, for not having bought into popular stereotypes. Still the omnipresent leaf blower and the dancers’ self-involvement needled me. No such hint of a cultural disconnect is likely to trouble his Misuse liable to prosecution, which takes its name from the milk crates we use to store and move our belongings. The work includes a live score by Mills College composer Zeena Parkins and a found-objects design for which YBCA has sent out a call for plastic coat hangers. One wonders: when Jasperse, who has been choreographing for more than 20 years, created Misuse in 2007 and set a zero budget for design, did he have an inkling for the rough waters the country was about to enter? In retrospect, the decision has proven visionary. Misuse‘s original impetus came from a desire to hold up a mirror to a society in which Judge Judy makes more money than all nine of the Supreme Court justices combined, or in which the war in Iraq costs more than four times per day than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. No doubt, if Jasperse made Misuse today, he could come with other horror figures picked straight from the headlines. But ultimately more important than the topical resonance of this work is the integrity and refinement of Jasperse’s choreography — which is his own, yet made for us.

JOHN JASPERSE COMPANY. Thurs/2–Sat/4, 8 p.m., $25–$30. Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 978-2787. www.ybca.org

Kayhan Kalhor

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PREVIEW Kayhan Kalhor’s splendid vehicle is the kamanche, a bowed string instrument often rendered in English as a "spike fiddle." Don’t be fooled by that bit of orientalism. Neither folksy nor punk, in Kalhor’s hands, the kamanche sings an eloquent and breathless tune, as assured and unfaltering as an operatic coloratura. Partnered with the rich and flawlessly clear string-tugging of the charismatic Brooklyn Rider string quartet, Kalhor’s vocabulary of Persian classical music and Kurdish folk melody soars, now with the rush of a high speed chase, now with wrenching pathos that would move a heart of stone. Presenter SFJazz has dubbed the genre "world chill," and I would urge you to ignore it. What is world? What is chill? Both the youthful Brooklyn Rider and the seasoned Kalhoun perform in fiery earnest, with scarcely a glance at any East-meets-West gimmickry. Still, without burdening these fine players with the shlockiness of a term like "world chill" or "crossover classical," it’s fair to say this pairing builds shrewdly on the success of projects like Yo-Yo Ma’s intercultural Silk Road Ensemble and Kronos Quartet’s record Caravan, (Nonesuch, 2000) which featured Kalhor’s grandly titled composition Gallop of a Thousand Horses. As that name suggests, when alumni of the European symphonic tradition and virtuosos like Kalhor jam out, there’s no fear of the epic. Watching this group feels like surrendering to the pleasures of a sweeping cinematic journey. And I watched it on YouTube — the Palace of Fine Arts will be the silver screen.

KAYHAN KALHOR With Brooklyn Rider. Sun/5, 7 p.m., $20–$55. Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon, SF. 1-866-920-JAZZ, www.sfjazz.org