Volume 43 Number 35

Appetite: Beer-battered rings, French on the fly, and a chef bacchanal


Every week, Virginia Miller of personalized itinerary service and monthly food, drink, and travel newsletter, www.theperfectspotsf.com, shares foodie news, events, and deals. View the last installment here.

Oh yes, there shall be chef: SF Chef. Food. Wine. period.



August 6-9: SF Chefs.Food.Wine (calling food, wine and spirits lovers)
Start saving pennies, mark your calendar and buy your tickets now for an unparalleled event coming up in August I’m quite excited about, the first of its kind in our fair city. SF Chefs.Food.Wine is going to be a Pebble Beach/Aspen Food and Wine Classic- reminiscent event but right in an urban city center at a fraction of the price (though you’ll still shell out $150 for a one-day pass). Union Square will be turned into a sea of tents housing not only Bay Area food, wine, beer, and spirits vendors offering day-long tastings (beer garden, cocktail samplings, wine tasting, food), but each day offers over 20 sessions/panels/classes appealing to food, wine and spirits cognoscenti and uninitiated appreciators alike.

An example of just a few sessions over three days:
FOOD – "Haute vs. Bistro" cooking demo from Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys) and Roland Passot (La Folie); "Heirloom Tomatoes" with Gary Danko and Joanne Weir; interviews with cooking luminaries and authors like Martin Yan, Joyce Goldstein, Georgeanne Brennan; a cooking competition between Jamie Lauren (Top Chef/Absinthe) and Chris Cosentino (Incanto/Iron Chef America).
SPIRITS/COCKTAILS – "Green Cocktails" with Scott Beattie (author of Artisanal Cocktails), H. Joseph Ehrmann (Elixir) and Thad Vogler (Bar Agricole); "Agave Academy" with Rebecca Chapa (Tannin Management) and Julio Bermejo (Tommy’s).
WINE – "Raid the Cellar" with Rajat Parr (Michael Mina restaurants) and Larry Stone MS (Rubicon Estate); "Sparkling Personality" with sparkling wine masters from Schramsberg Vineyards, Domaine Carneros and Roederer Estate.

These are just a few examples… there are sessions on chocolate, sushi, oysters, cheese, eggs, making the perfect coffee, beer brewing, trends in wine and spirits, marketing, design and service, food reviewing and everything of interest to those who love food and drink.

Evenings are equally enticing: the Opening Reception highlights Rising Star Chefs and Bar Stars from the SF Chronicle’s last five years of winners, as well as an advance screening of Julie and Julia, the highly anticipated Meryl Streep film. Galas run nightly, like a Pacific Rim feast from Charles Phan, Martin Yan and Arnold Eric Wong; an LBGT culinary gala at Orson with Elizabeth Falkner, Emily Wines, Harry Denton; American Culinary Pioneers Awards given to Joyce Goldstein, Judy Rodgers, Patricia Unterman, Emily Luchetti, Patrick O’Connell; a dinner honoring Master Sommelier, Larry Stone; a bluesy rock party from chefs with musical ties.

Convinced yet? The hard part now is choosing which events, days and sessions to splurge on. This surely creates a problem when your choices are this good and plentiful. Go online and take a look at the line-up and whether you’re a cocktail hound, wine imbiber, beer brewer or food fanatic, you’ll want to be a part of this momentous event.

$40-250 (discounts for Visa Signature card holders)
August 6-9




Spencer on the Go!
Maybe the food cart mania is getting to you, or, like the rest of us, you’re ever thrilled to find gourmet food on-the-cheap popping up around town. Well, here’s one we haven’t seen before. Laurent Katgely, Chez Spencer’s talented chef, launched Spencer on the Go! last Thursday night outside of Terroir wine bar, offering fine French fare from a shiny, converted taco truck with Spencer’s chic logo on the side. It was a long wait for food debut night, and Frog Legs and Curry were sadly sold out by the time I got there, but I hear waits have already improved, the crowd was friendly and festive, and I dig the Grilled Sweetbreads and amazingly addictive Escargot Puffs (escargot, breaded and on a stick)! With a menu all under $9, pair French snacks with Perrier and cookies or take it across the street to Terroir and order a glass of wine. Watch for the truck to soon be at Tuesday and (upcoming food cart-centric) Thursday farmers markets at the Ferry Building. It’s the bon vivant’s ideal "fast food".



Urban Burger
It’s time for a new burger joint on Valencia near 16th, Urban Burger opened last week in the tiny, former Yum Yum House space, now brightly painted sporting white leather stools, orange walls, and playful signs with phrases like "Nice Buns". Besides build-your-own burger options, there’s a list of ten hefty special burgers like a Breakfast Burger loaded with cheese, bacon, fried egg and fries (yep, all together), Mission Heat, with chilies, pepper jack and chipotle, or a Cubano with grilled ham and swiss. Opening day, I enjoyed the Buffalo version with blue cheese and hot sauce. Want it a bit lighter? Choose turkey, gardenburger, or Portabella mushroom instead of beef. But if you’re downing a hearty burger, why not pair it with a Mitchell’s milkshake and beer-battered onion rings?
581 Valencia Street

Now you see him


It takes a lot to get your head around William Kentridge. His nebulous existence in the world of modern art makes him a slippery figure, able to exist between things we can name. Though he is an internationally known South African artist who works in etches, collages, sculptures, and performance (SFMOMA recently presented his rendition of Monteverdi’s opera The Return of Ulysses), he is best known for his "cartoons."

As on view in the current exhibition "William Kentridge: Five Themes," Kentridge’s animated drawings are sublime, provocative, and mesmerizing. He films a charcoal drawing, and by making slight changes using erasures for light and depth and then repeating the process, he tells profound stories about oppression, deterioration, and social justice — in less than 10 minutes. He later shows the drawings with the films as finished pieces. His mastery of drawing is magical. It can cloud judgment. We see William Kentridge; we do to not see William Kentridge.

William Kentridge: Five Themes (Yale University Press, 264 pages, $50), the monograph accompanying the current SFMOMA exhibit, suggests the breadth of Kentridge’s contributions — from opera set design to printmaking — and the depth of his explorations. Versed in opera, Kentridge centers much of his work on the form’s classic themes but updates, twists, and transforms them to speak of his native South Africa and current social conditions. Editor Mark Rosenthal mixes Kentridge’s commentary, plates, sketches, and photos with writers’ explorations of his process and purpose. Not quite a microscope, the result is more like a pair of tweezers, bringing the reader-viewer closer to someone who loves the word erasure.

Through Sun/31, $7–$12.50

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third, SF

(415) 357-4000


Accidental, with purpose



What began as a frugal effort to make use of leftover paint, something all painters grapple with on occasion, has spawned a late career style that realigns everything previously thought about the artistic practice of Theophilus Brown, now 90 years old. Best known for his figurative paintings as a seminal member of a group of painters gathered around David Park and Richard Diebenkorn, Brown has also been associated with painters as diverse as Rothko and Picasso, both of whom he knew.

These new pieces, embarked on during the last decade, originated as abstract works composed on a peel-away palette. Brown then cuts and pastes his way to a new composition, adding acrylic paint when necessary. Part collage, part painting, the finished products have all the gravitas of the large canvases of the New York School. Although relatively small (they range from 8 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches to 17 by 21 inches), these works conceive a larger, formal enterprise reminiscent of the monumental experience projected by Conrad Marca-Relli’s smaller works.

On exhibit through mid-June at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery, "Theophilus Brown at 90: Recent Abstract Collages" reveals little evidence of Brown’s earlier figurative style other than a general nod to formal elements of spatial configurations; the collages on view are rather more akin to the Abstract Expressionist gestural emphasis, and to the movement’s early work when the Surrealist influence was greatest (of note here is Brown’s 1950s friendship with Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta).

Some undoubtedly will see this as an interesting turn in the well-known official account of Bay Area Figuration, which is commonly said to have diverged from the East Coast fixation with abstraction, in favor of emphasizing the figure, with the exhibition of Park’s canvases Rehearsal (1949-50) and Kids on Bikes (1951). Brown’s collages might evoke that narrative, with a new twist, or return, to abstraction.

But the official story belies a well-known truth among the painters themselves: many of these artists never fully abandoned abstraction. And many of the New York painters whom the Bay Area painters were said to oppose still rendered the figure at the height of Abstract Expressionism (for example, de Kooning’s "Woman" series began in 1950-52).

Theophilus Brown first came to prominence in 1956, when Life magazine published photographs of a series of his football paintings — cubist-influenced modernist compositions that somehow allowed figuration to coexist with the abstract. What may not be known is that these works were preceded by fully abstract experiments he started while living in post-World War II Paris on the GI Bill (Brown fought in the Battle of the Bulge when he was assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps), and in New York City among the burgeoning artist scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

These recent collages, then, are a re-engagement with the formal elements of abstraction that Brown experimented with when he was in the circle of Elaine and Willem de Kooning in the early 1950s. Less concerned with the hard edge and lines of those earlier years, Brown fully embraces greater ambiguity and freedom here, suggesting a surrender to the subconscious, which the Surrealists likewise sought to achieve.

These collages are non-objective color experiments and shape studies. Brown succeeds in presenting a finished canvas that evokes something accidental, yet with purpose — the natural expression of a skilled painter who has the courage to embark on a new path regardless of what those comfortable with his thought-to-be "settled style" might say. Ultimately, Brown’s figurative era will be seen as preparatory for this mature work. *


Through June 15, free

Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery

49 Geary, suite 520, SF

(415) 981-1080


And justice for all


TRUMPETING TRUMBO I read Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 masterpiece of antiwar literature Johnny Got His Gun in high school. I went for anything which said that patriotic duty to die for one’s country is bullshit — hence I loved it. Rereading it last year the book hit me harder. The writing is amazing, shot through with brilliance from start to finish — scathing, bitter, funny, righteous. Now lucky Trumbo fans can watch the former blacklistee’s 1971 film adaptation of his novel, just released on DVD.

Actor Timothy Bottoms was 18 when he played (via voiceover and flashbacks) Joe Bonham, who lies in an Army hospital bed pondering his fate. Hit by a mortar shell on the last day of World War I, Bonham is left a blind, deaf, and mute quadruple amputee, with only memories, fantasies, and, for a time, a sympathetic nurse. On a commentary track, Bottoms points to the film’s contemporary relevance given the staggering number of soldiers maimed in the Iraq war but kept alive by sophisticated medical technology.

Trumbo worked with Luis Buñuel on an adaptation of Johnny. Ultimately that project fell through, but by the time Trumbo directed his own script in 1971, the Spanish surrealist’s influence was palpable. At the time, Buñuel responded, "For me, the film has the same power as the novel. It has the same disturbing quality and moments of extremely powerful emotion. The film left an impression on me that is among the strongest I ever experienced."

Marsha Hunt, whose successful film career was cut short by the blacklist, played Bonham’s mother. In a phone interview, the now-91-year-old said, "I liked [Trumbo] enormously. I was so delighted that he wanted me in his film." Hunt emphasized Trumbo’s incredible discipline, which led him, during lean times of underpaid black market work, to write 12 screenplays in 16 months (a helpful doctor who prescribed amphetamines contributed to that productivity).

"It’s hard to believe that the same talent who gave us Spartacus also gave us Roman Holiday," she said. "Just as far from each other as possible in terms of style and period and everything else. He was an impressively versatile man, as well as brilliant."

The 2007 film Trumbo, featuring documentary footage and actors reading from the great man’s letters, should also be released on DVD. And some astute publisher should bring Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962 back into print. Among my favorite passages from that volume is in a 1951 letter to novelist Nelson Algren, who was prepared act as a "front" for Trumbo. Trumbo advised, "If you have any moral compunctions about such a procedure in relation to motion pictures, please forget them. Hollywood is a vast whorehouse, and any scheme by which tolerably honest men can abstract money from it for their own purposes is more than praiseworthy."

It takes two



Whether one thinks of them as a dreamy drone duo who happen to be married or a married couple who happens to make dreamy drone music, Windy & Carl endure. Their first release, the Instrumentals EP (Burnt Hair), dates back to 1994; while most American guitars were tuned down for grunge’s payday, Windy & Carl waxed celestial.

Spacey drones are now in fashion, but Windy & Carl’s influence remains relatively unsung, in spite of their being one of the Kranky label’s flagship acts. Perhaps it’s the duo’s Michigan roots, since ambient music fans are often swayed by Eurocentric cravings. Whatever the case, their prodigious oeuvre now swells with several earthily-titled monolithic albums (1995’s Portal on Ba Da Bing; 1997’s Antarctica on Darla; 1998’s Depths and 2001’s Consciousness on Kranky) and enough compilation appearances and singles to supply a triple-CD set (2002’s Introspection on Blue Flea).

I first plunged in with Depths, though it took me the better part of a year to make it through its viscous 70 minutes in one sitting. Windy & Carl’s music is like a mood ring: its timbre is responsive to emotional currents, some of them hidden. More often than not, dark thoughts surface after 30 or 40 minutes. This makes me suspect that many of those critics who fling adjectives like "blissful" and "glittering" at their records have only dipped their toes in the maelstrom. At the very least, these seem overly simplistic adjectives for music that tilts towards tumult as it limns stillness.

There is a common misconception that ambient music is intrinsically passive or inert: this, in fact, is only true of bad ambient music, of which there is plenty (unsurprisingly, it often accompanies tactless interior design). Windy & Carl, like the kosmische innovators before them, realign one’s sense of space rather than simply flattering it. This process occurs at the periphery of consciousness — trying to put it to words tests the limits of music writing. It’s clear, however, that much of the Michigan duo’s mastery comes down to a well-honed understanding of texture and scale. In a typical jam, the gigantic crest of a thousand distortion pedals curls around the intimate pluck of a lonely guitar in an arresting, Rothko-like frieze. Time is adjourned; foreground and background drift by one another in the fog.

The durational aspect of Windy & Carl’s music has two aspects: lost in the length of any one given piece, we also feel ourselves afloat on the broader body of work, a 16-year drone. This superimposed condition, with every conversation dissolving into all other conversations, should be familiar to anyone who has been inside a long-term relationship. Ambient music implies a porous self, and thus has interesting applications for a couple. Watching A Woman Under the Influence (1974) a few weeks ago, I was struck by the way John Cassavetes draws us into Nick (Peter Falk) and Mabel Longhetti’s (Gena Rowlands) nonverbal communication: the nonsense utterances, whispers, and cries. Something similar happens in Windy & Carl’s echo chamber of tone, feedback and voice.

For all the songs about love, how many actually document its dormant time and space? John and Yoko, Nelson Angelo and Joyce, and Mimi and Richard Fariña’s works spring to mind. Windy & Carl’s latest, Songs for the Broken Hearted (Kranky, 2008), belongs in any such pantheon. Their albums have always been "home recordings," but Dedications to Flea (Brainwashed Recordings, 2005), the duo’s disc-long contemplation of their dog’s death, marked a new degree of intimacy. Field recordings of Flea on a walk and Windy’s explanatory linear notes thickened the mise-en-scène of private loss, making for an album occupying the unknown zone between home movie and séance.

The last few years seem to have been a dark time for the couple (under her full name Windy Weber, Windy released a solo album for Blue Flea last year called, no joke, I Hate People). But one doesn’t require the details of estrangement to immerse into its recesses of fear and forgiveness. There’s more of Windy’s Nico-ish purr than before, and the lyrics are newly decipherable ("You already know so much of what I keep /From the rest of the world /But you did not shy away from me"). The album’s sequencing is distinct too, fluttering between vast passages of oblivion and brief statements of bare, shorn beauty. Whether the broken-hearted of the album’s title refers to Windy & Carl themselves or an imagined listener, Songs for finds fierce beauty in the hide-and-seek of cohabitation.


With Jonas Reinhardt and Nudge

Wed/27, 8 p.m., $10

The Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

Glittering prize



One shorthand description of Ramona Gonzalez’s recording project Nite Jewel is that it’s disco on quaaludes. I don’t know if I like Nite Jewel quite as much as Glass Candy’s underrated B/E/A/T/B/O/X (Italians Do It Better, 2007) — c’mon, they’re funnier than they are given credit for, and they made "Computer Love" melancholic, what’s not to love? — or if I love it more.

Throughout Good Evening (Gloriette, 2008) and Nite Jewel (Human Ear, 2008) Gonzalez’s singing is both high-pitched and kinda dazed. On "Weak 4 Me," she reminds me of Mr. Bill, which can never be a bad thing. "What Did He Say" is the best Nite Jewel song so far. It sounds like a radio playing "I Can’t Wait" by Nu Shooz slowly sinking to the bottom of a pool. I recently caught up with Gonzalez on the phone.

SFBG I hadn’t realized you’re from the Bay Area. How was Berkeley High? What did you like about the Bay Area and not like about it?

Ramona Gonzalez Berkeley High when I went there was transitioning between being out of hand and horrible and pretty much a normal school. Now it’s nice. Back when I went, it was not like that. There were 23 arson attempts when I was a sophomore.

Certain teachers I had there were some of the best ones I’ve ever had. As for the school itself — fuck, it’s hard for a kid to get along in a 2300 person student body. Lots of aggro annoying kids, popularity contests and danger, everyday. But overall it was rewarding.

SFBG How were your experiences in the Oakland Interfaith Youth Choir and the Berkeley Jazz School Music Ensemble?

RG Oakland Interfaith Youth Choir was pretty awesome. My friend Emily introduced me to it, because her dad was singing in the adult choir. The songs are incredible and really difficult — the girls in that choir were unbelievably talented. I wasn’t as good as them. Singing soprano in a chest voice — that’s crazy.

I did that for 2 years and then joined the Berkeley Jazz school, just taking piano. I ran into one of the girls from the Youth Choir there.

SFBG You’ve said Kevin Shields would be a dream artists to work with.

RG I got into my shoegaze period in college and started listening to Lilys whenever possible. Me and my friend Shane tried to start a fan club.

One of my favorite bands is Woo. Their It’s Cozy Inside (Independent Record Publishing, 1989) and Whichever Way You’re Going, You’re Going Wrong (no info available) might be the two albums I’ve listened to the most in my entire life. They’re these two brothers who are Hare Krishna who live in the UK. I recently found out where they are, and they wrote me back and we’re totally going to hang out when I go to England.

SFBG We have to talk Bruce Haack. What do you love about him?

RG Bruce Haack to me is psychedelic electronic music. It also has a playfulness, because he’s making music for kids. His music has this relaxing quality and aggressive quality at the same time. There’s a simplicity I like. I like his fervor and bitterness towards the music industry, especially on Haackula (Omni Recording, 2008). But the one I listen to most is Electric Luficer (Omni Recording, 2007). His music doesn’t have a direct correlation with Nite Jewel in terms of textures and sounds, but more in terms of what it means to be a punk electronic musician.


With Telepathe, Hawnay Troof

June 12, 10 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

133 17th St, SF

(415) 621-4455


Dystopian enterprise


Best-selling author Richard North Patterson stays out of the local limelight, but he’s a San Francisco resident — and we caught up with him May 21st to talk about his new book, Eclipse, and the role that U.S. oil companies play in Nigeria.

Before Nigerian environmental activist (and Goldman Environmental Prize winner) Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995, PEN, the international writers’ group, wrote letters and organized protests against the execution. "I was very impressed by Saro-Wiwa," says Patterson, who was on the board of PEN at the time. He notes that Saro-Wiwa was a nonviolence advocate who succeeded in building a grassroots movement among the Ogoni in the Nigerian delta — all in the face of a ruthless dictator, and at great risk to his wife.

As Patterson recalls, despite the protests, several Western governments voicing their concerns, and then-President Bill Clinton’s hour-long conversation with Nigeria’s military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, "They unceremoniously hung Saro-Wiwa. It was a lesson in a number of things, beginning with the degree to which oil makes autocrats feel impervious."

Post- 9/11, oil "security" became a bigger concern. Patterson began to realize that amid the U.S. failures in the Middle East, the disaster in Iraq, and the growing fear of al Qaeda, everyone was looking at Nigeria as an even more important source of oil.

"Meanwhile Nigeria’s environment was that much more ruined, its political leadership hopelessly corrupt, a semi-official militia that claimed to be acting in Saro-Wiwa’s name was killing each other and stealing oil, and everyone had a fee," says Patterson. "It was a classic example of how a natural resource makes its extractors and the rulers rich, but only serves as a source of misery for people standing on the ground. I already felt that Saro-Wiwa was a remarkable man who should be remembered. But now he was becoming even more relevant."

Patterson began researching Saro-Wiwa’s life, a quest that involved one trip to Nigeria and many conversations with lots of related experts. "Nigeria is not a place to go back and forth to — you’d think I was trying to break into Las Vegas," he says, noting that he hired security during his trip. "I’m not unknown, so there was a concern I’d be a high-value target. But I loved the Nigerians I met. They were a bright enterprising bunch in a dystopian setting, and to the extent I couldn’t go places, I did all I could by talking to people, reading articles, and watching films."

The name of Eclipse‘s protagonist is Bobby Okari. Was Patterson making reference to President Barack Obama? "If I was, it was subliminal," he says.

So what can Americans do to improve the plight of everyday Nigerians? "Increasing our independence from oil and increasing our foreign aid to Nigeria would be helpful," Patterson says. "The real problem is the extent to which human rights are trumped by self-interest. When we fill up our tanks, half of us don’t know that there’s oil in Nigeria. So first we need to become aware of the impact of the commodities we need. But I’m not sanguine about how easy this is. Saro-Wiwa was hung and 14 years later, where are we? The same place, and that’s a disgrace."

While Patterson does not excuse what he calls "the callousness of the U.S. oil companies," he believes that first we must address the Nigerian government.

"The history of the oil industry in Nigeria is pretty ignoble, but [without the industry] they can’t maintain the schools, roads, hospitals, and clinics," he says. "If the government doesn’t give a damn, it’s hard to make a quasi-government out of an oil company. When we get angry at the oil companies, it begs the question, What is the government doing? If it isn’t encouraging economic development and environmental protection, how can the oil companies? Shell and Chevron didn’t invent corruption. This is in no way to defend them. [But] there is a disconnect between Nigeria’s miserable government and its citizens. One of my central aspirations is to tell an entertaining story — and also to convey an awareness of a real problem."

Total ‘Eclipse’



REVIEW Mass market novels of the mystery and thriller kind are not known for their progressive politics. The most popular authors of the political adventure set are the likes of Tom Clancy, who thinks we’re still at war with Japan and ought to be at war with China. The detective novelists tend to glorify law enforcement and disparage those weak-willed sorts who would rein in the mighty and righteous gun-wielding police. My favorite new character, Jack Reacher, who has made Lee Child a massive international best-selling writer, is a former military cop with a taste for violent vengeance.

But of course I read this stuff. It’s my guilty pleasure, what I do to relax over with my whiskey before bed, while my beloved partner is watching Super Nanny. As Pete Townshend used to say, each to his own sewage.

I’ve read almost everything San Francisco resident Richard North Patterson has written, and he’s a rarity. His stuff tends to go in a more liberal direction. (It also tends to have a subplot involving teenage sex.) He’s written about the death penalty and the criminal justice system and American politics, and his characters have more depth than John Grisham’s. I like him, but I’ve never raved.

But I do want to recommend Patterson’s latest book, Eclipse (Henry Holt and Co., 384 pages, $26). Not because it’s the most brilliant writing he’s ever written, but because it’s a real-life political novel that reveals, in graphic detail, the impact oil companies like Chevron Corp. have on the Niger River delta. Eclipse is a fictionalized account of the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an eloquent and charismatic environmentalist who tried desperately to tell the world how oil money had corrupted Nigeria and how the Western oil companies were conspiring with the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha to stifle dissent. He was hanged 15 years ago by Abacha; his legacy drives the protest movement that is still trying to force the petrolords to take responsibility for what they have done to the delta environment, its tribal residents, and the Nigerian people. Eclipse didn’t put me to sleep — it made me mad. It reminded me of what American companies are allowed to do to the rest of the world, with impunity. It’s a story, with Patterson’s typical devices (for example, I don’t have any reason to believe Saro-Wiwa’s wife had an affair with his lawyer). But there’s enough truth in it to make you think. And that makes Patterson’s novel, in a unique and surprising way, an important political book.

Senses and sensibility


"Constant self-negation and transformation are necessary if one is to avoid debilitation and continue to confront circumstances as a filmmaker," filmmaker Nagisa Oshima wrote in a 1961 essay. Oshima’s declaration of restlessness presages what would become a four decades-long career defined by that continual struggle to "confront circumstances" — to challenge postwar Japan’s stagnant social order by pushing filmmaking into new areas of form and content. "In the Realm of Oshima," the first major U.S. retrospective of the director’s work in more than 20 years, is a staggering reaffirmation of the now 77-year old director’s persistence of vision. Frequently hailed as Japan’s answer to Jean-Luc Godard, Oshima’s reputation and stature among a certain generation of cinephiles has often dwarfed the unavailability of all but a handful of his films (Oshima would later counter, saucily, that Mr. Godard should be known as the Oshima of France).

Like his French counterpart, Oshima’s output grazed on familiar genres, such as youth-gone-wild and domestic dramas, while freely incorporating elements from avant-garde and documentary practices. As much as he sought to break from what he saw as the sentimentalism of the previous generation of Japanese filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, Oshima also spent a great deal of time dissecting the struggles and failures of the radical left, as vertiginously condensed in the debates between disillusioned former comrades of Night and Fog in Japan (1960). But Oshima’s larger interest has been with, to borrow the title of Jim Jarmusch’s latest, the limits of control — and those who infract upon the social order. Fittingly, the series comes to a close with Oshima’s most extreme film, In the Realm of the Senses (1976), whose Sadean lovers, Sada and Kichi, are perhaps the most terrifyingly literal embodiment of Oshima’s quest for "constant self-negation."


May 29–July 18

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Love story


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I have never needed a hammock more. Heat wave, it had been a long time since I’d haunted my woodsy shack … accidentally work 40-hour work weeks all of a sudden (not counting this), and have no idea how y’all have been doing it. As it happens, I love my work. Some don’t, I am led to believe. And I just want to buy these ‘uns a bagel and pat them on the back. I can’t imagine. But I kinda can.

So, for the first time in my life, I get weekends. I understand the need for them, crave them, and don’t exactly have them. Six days I work. On the seventh day, I flip Yahweh the bird, lazy fuck, and go play soccer. Sometimes as many as three games in one day.

But this day was hot hot hot, so I only played two, and then needed me a hammock like never before. A little lunch with my teamies, an over-an-hour drive up into the woods, open the windows, peel myself out of the salty shorts and sweat-sticky sports bra, finally, a soak in the tub on the porch … and I was ready.

I put on some clean short shorts and a husband beater T-shirt. I gathered up the book that I am re-rereading, Love In The Time Of Cholera, a bottle of very cold well water, a bowl of cherries, and I went to it.

My hammock is strung between redwoods. Between uses, it becomes nested with dried needles and twigs. You have to shake and shimmy it off into the bed of same underneath. This I did.

Then I nestled in with my book, bottle, and bowl (of cherries) and within less than a second we were all scattered on the forest floor. Well, I wasn’t technically scattered so much as shoulder planted. Damn thing gave, winter-worn ropes ripping, and left me a little bit hog-tied, blinking up at my bare feet, which did look pretty against the green-screened blue sky, but now there were redwood needles sticking out of my upper back and neck, spider webs and twigs in my hair.

As testimony to my insecurelessness, or, rather, the precise flavor of my insecurity, it never even crossed my mind that I had gained weight. Just that I was an idiot for not taking better care of my hammock, and therefore needed another bath.

I washed my car with the still slightly warm water from my last one, then took a shower, which I can do now because I reconverted the shower from a storage closet back into a shower. But it had been years since I used it, and the shower that I took was orange. Pipes rust.

I wiped off and went to the beach.

What a beach the beach is, where I used to live and now visit. The drive there is enough to break your heart. Then, if you know where to go, you don’t get sand but tiny stones which store the sun in them and kind of adjust to your exact shape, given wiggle. You can be held and hugged by the sun itself!

And you can eat cherries, and drink cold well water, and not re-reread Marquez, the greatest love story ever told, because you are making one instead, in stones. Sifting through them, picking out the ones-in-a-gazillion that sing to you with unexpected streaks of color or peculiar shapes or a special resemblance to beans, for example. It’s like choosing your words very carefully.

Christ, I love a language barrier! Lying on my stomach in the sun, almost literally, I made a song of stones and held it in the palm of my hand. Then, when the cherries were gone, I poured my heart into the Ziploc bag, a handful of California, me. Stones.

Yahweh laughs last: Post Office ain’t open on Sunday, ha ha, the working girl, on her one day off, looking forward to Monday — good one, you card you, king of kings of comedy.

Hopeless romantic, I stayed for sunset, climbed the cliff, and drove home very carefully, very recklessly in love, and dedicated to survival. Nothing more than — nothing short of — the very next breath. For dinner: two small chunks of warmed-over roast duck and something slightly somewhat potstickerish, left from lunch at my new favorite restaurant: King Sing.


Daily 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m.

501 Balboa, SF

(415) 387-6038

Beer & wine


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

Higgamus hoggamus



Dear Andrea:

I wonder if you’ve been living in San Francisco too long? Most prostitutes are not happy grad students! Most have been abused, are addicts, or both, and it’s not a "career choice." I think the woman in your last column is a sex addict and needs therapy, not someone to be cheered on by people like you who think promiscuity is cool. I would worry that kind of behavior says something pretty bad about the emotional state of anyone who’s doing it. I usually like your column, but I do think you can get warped by living too long where being weird is cool.


I Used To Live There Too

Dear Used:

I worry about her, too! What do you think I am? The question for last week, though, was not "Is promiscuity healthy for women?" (a very complicated question indeed, and one we will get back to), but the far simpler and more specific, "Is meeting men online for sex likely to get you killed?" No matter how you feel about female promiscuity, the answer to the latter is going to have to be no. It is simply not likely, although we have seen, tragically, that it is possible.

Expensive, boutique-y prostitution practiced by sane, smart women who can afford to screen clients carefully is surprisingly unlikely to lead to ax-murder. Neither does either activity put its female practitioners at any great risk for STDs or accidental pregnancy, since these are women who own condoms and know how to use them. It’s young (and not so young) people in the fuzzy-headed throes of romantic love or lust (sure, there’s such a thing as "romantic lust") who fall prey to the "spontaneity" fallacy or simply cannot force themselves to hold back until someone has gone out and procured the necessary protective gear. Call girls don’t go "oops," and last week’s "friend" probably doesn’t either. Certainly my own friends who use the sexier personals sites (say, Nerve rather than Chemistry.com) don’t make amateur’s mistakes. They can’t afford to.

Now, "Female promiscuity — hobby or symptom?" Contemporary understanding points to neither, or both, or to questioning the entire category, since the word itself implies deviation from an assumed non-promiscuous norm. For the last 60 years or so, the basic sociobiological story has gone something like this: Men are naturally promiscuous (and interested in nubile young women) because sperm is cheap and the best route to reproductive success is to shoot (and shoot, and shoot) and run. Women, meanwhile, are naturally (if serially) monogamous because pregnancy and infancy are expensive and they will need the help of a well-to-do, physically strong male to help them achieve reproductive success. More recent research has served to completely bollux-up our tidy story, though.

"Chimpanzee males trade meat for sex!" announced pretty much every media outlet in April. No surprise there, really, but it also turned out that … female chimpanzees trade sex for meat. Lots of sex, although not on the first date, since they are not always in estrus at time of trade. Are they making bets on future help (and sperm donations) from males they are merely flirting with now? And are the males keeping a database of females who will later say yes? If they can carry on such complex sociosexual calculations, what else are they up to?

Meanwhile, our premier expert on the sociobiology of motherhood, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, posits a revolutionary difference between ape societies and early (and modern) human ones, so big that it renders ape models even more useless than they already were as revisitable reservoirs of human history. Looking at modern hunter-gatherer societies, she sees cooperative parenting, a human invention, still in operation. It takes a village, in other words, men and women both, to raise a helpless human baby. And, looking back, the more we helped each other, the better our social and communication skills grew. Group responsibility for the children, she says, made us human.

More immediately apropos, perhaps, is the research (www.scientificblogging.com/news_articles/human_sex_roles_male_promiscuity_debunked_and_women_arent_all_picky_either) by Gillian Brown and associates, widely reported this spring, which examined mating behavior and reproductive success in 18 human societies and found that what people do depends on what else is going on: population density, differing life expectancies between the sexes, sex ratios, and a bunch of other variables made a huge difference in who was doing more or less of what with whom. Why this demonstration that humans are complex and adaptable should have come as much of a surprise to anyone, I couldn’t tell you. I admit, though, that I likewise couldn’t tell you that sociobiological research supports the innate wholesomeness of picking up men on Craigslist, and I doubt it ever will. I tend to be a worrier too, and I have certainly seen people, especially women, do a fair amount of psychic damage to themselves with ill-considered sex. But it would be pretty presumptuous to assume that last weeks "friend" is broken on the basis of, well, not knowing anything.



P.S. Readers, what about you? Care to share your adventures in promiscuity, soul-deadening, life-affirming, or just plain OK? They would make a great column.

Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.

O.G. sleaze



A full range of involuntary facial-muscle responses have already been triggered by the trailer to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which premieres at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. First 2008’s Valkyrie, now this: Brad Pitt’s Tennessee-hills-bred Lt. Aldo Raine twangily informing his Jewish-American Secret Service unit, "Each man under my command owes me ONE HUNNERD NAAATSEE SCALPS!" while Hostel auteur-turned-actor Eli Roth smirks in approval.

Will the whole turn out righteous, raucous, controversial, or just juvenile? We proles will have to wait until the film’s August theatrical release to decide for ourselves. Meanwhile, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is letting inquiring minds do their advance homework by reviving Enzo G. Castellari’s less orthographically challenged Inglorious Bastards, the 1978 Italian action movie Tarantino’s latest pays tribute to — though his isn’t a remake but a separate, newly crassed-up riff on The Dirty Dozen (1967).

That latter all-star World War II caper spawned umpteen "Europudding" imitations, including the QT-beloved Bastards, showing this week in a new 35mm print. A sort of Filthy Five to the original Dozen — budget reduced accordingly, with sharp eyes ID’ing the same extras experiencing different death throes in scene after scene — it centers on a quintet of U.S. Army grunts in 1944 France.

There’s Bo Svenson (who’d become a sorta-star by replacing the suspiciously car-crash-slain Buford Pusser in 1975’s Walking Tall Part II) as swaggering Lt. Yeager; Fred Williamson’s Pvt. Canfield, an incongruous 1940s fount of ’70s Black Power ‘tude; smirking wiseass, murderer, and racist Tony (Peter Hooten), who calls Canfield "Bongo;" Nick (Michael Pergolani), a long-haired hipster aping Donald Sutherland’s similar character in 1970’s hit Dirty rip Hell’s Heroes; and Jackie Basehart as fraidycat youth Berle.

After being sent to the brig for various misdeeds, they escape their captors, intending to flee to neutral Switzerland. En route they pick up a nice Nazi (Raimund Harmstorf, horny hero of 1971’s The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried) and bare collective musculature to some bathing Rhine maidens. But mostly they machine-gun everyone in sight, unfortunately including Yankee spies disguised in Third Reich uniforms.

Penitent, our protagonists vow to take over their late comrades’ dangerous mission. This culminates in an exploded train, and an SS commander foaming "All Americans are mongrels! Negro, Jew, Polish, Italian, Irish — every possible race! And your vimmen are whores! Coca-Cola! Hollyvood! Chewing gum! Stupid cowardly bastards!" just before his ass is whupped by Canfield. Musta been that soda remark.

Inglorious begins with psychedelic-silhouette images underlining two key things about Castellari: 1) he honed his energetic macho action style in spaghetti westerns; and 2) he isn’t considered "the poor man’s Peckinpah" for nothing, being absolutely addicted to balletic slow-mo violence. About a bazillion Germans here do the spastic dance of death, riddled by bullets or leaping from yet another explosion.

Yet the film’s tone is larky, at times even goofy. Hardly a neglected masterpiece, or a campy delight like some of Tarantino’s other retro faves, it’s a good example of another era’s disposable entertainment. Unlike the grim check-cashing air emitted by many similar Europudding exercises, here you can sense the fun that went into making it.

His big-screen career of Westerns, policiers, Mad Max and Escape from New York clones eventually tapped out, Castellari moved on to TV work. But at age 70, Castellari is still capable of rising to the exploitable moment. Currently being hawked at Cannes — alongside the considerably more hyped you-know-what — is his Caribbean Basterds, which appears to cobble together nods to Tarantino, contemporary sea piracy, Point Break (1991), and A Clockwork Orange (1971).


Fri/29, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/31, 2 p.m., $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org




For a small restaurant, Contigo is physically complex. As you enter, you glide along a six-seat food bar at the edge of a display kitchen, while beyond the host’s checkpoint opens a two-level dining room enclosed by white oak banquettes, like the remains of a Viking ship. (The wood was actually recovered from a Connecticut barn.) One sidewall consists of a bank of stainless-steel refrigerators, standing at attention like troops awaiting review; opposite is another bar — smaller, emphasizing wine, and partly recessed in the manner of a church nave. Beyond a wall of glass doors at the rear of the space is an enclosed garden, set with tables and space heaters and covered with a big sheet of clear plastic, since sunny Noe Valley can be surprisingly cold and windy.

Some years ago the city’s Board of Supervisors imposed a kind of restaurant cap on Noe Valley: new establishments could open only in spaces being vacated by departing restaurants. As far as I know, Contigo (the name means "with you") is the first endeavor to breach this line. It occupies what had been a computer store. The restaurant’s build-out has emphatically erased that past while honoring a green ethic, from the reuse of old siding as interior paneling to the deployment of glassware made from recycled wine bottles. To drive the point home, the paint scheme consists of green in several shades. I like green, but I like other colors too.

Apart from that small irritant, Contigo is as good-looking a new restaurant as I’ve visited in a long time. It manages to be modern, slick, and warm without growing sweaty from the effort, and it would probably look quite at home on a little street near the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona’s Eixample. Chef/owner Bret Emerson’s Spanish-Catalán food would probably be a hit there, too, since the cooking honors both its traditional Iberian roots and our local ecological imperative; Cataluña, birthplace of Miró, Picasso, and Casals, has long been Spain’s most sophisticated and forward-thinking region.

The menu tilts toward smaller plates ("pica-pica") but also offers larger dishes and includes separate sections for hams and cheeses. (Spain’s air-cured hams, the most famous of which are serrano and ibérico, are worthy rivals to their more famous Italian cousin, prosciutto.) The smaller plates ($8 each, or $7 each for three or more) are divided among jardi (garden), mar (sea), and granja (farm) — or, roughly, vegetables, seafood, and meat. They could also be divided among the familiar, familiar with a twist, and unexpected.

Patatas bravas, for instance, could be the classic tapa, and Contigo’s version, finished with a peppery salsa brava and a big puff of aioli, is classic. But the potato quarters are wonderfully crusty, making them competitive with french fries and allaying the unease of persons (some of them known to me) who dislike soft, mushy, or mealy potatoes.

We did find the tacopi butter beans — big white beans, like cannellini — to be overcooked and a little floury. But the shallow bath they swam in, of erbette chard and sofrito (tomato-less here), was full of assuaging flavor.

Among the familiar we would also put albóndigas, the little meatballs — I have rarely seen a tapas menu without some version — but here they’re served in a shallow pool of ajo blanco, a white gazpacho made slightly grainy by the presence of pulverized almonds. And while croquetas (basically fritters) are a common dish and a clever way of using up leftover mashed potatoes, it’s not every day you find them filled with oxtail meat or plated with razor-like leaves of mizuna.

Among the most California-influenced small plates are a pulpo salad — braised squid tossed with shredded fennel, chopped black olives, and citrus segments that were supposed to be grapefruit but looked and tasted more like mandarin orange — and a pair of crostini-like toasts, each bread spear topped with a smear of avocado and a plump, juicy grilled sardine.

These little dishes are so good and so varied that the larger courses (called platillos, an odd use of the diminutive) seem almost beside the point. The most interesting ones are the cocas, Catalán-style flatbreads that resemble white (i.e. tomato-less) pizzas. And you probably won’t miss that tomato sauce when firepower consisting of artichoke hearts, green garlic, and arbequinas olives is mustered atop your pie ($13). Flavorful? Yes, and then some, with a subtle crust hinting of pastry. But also slightly salty even for my taste. Maybe a little acid, from tomatoes or some other source, wouldn’t be superfluous, or overcomplex, after all.


Dinner: nightly, 5:30–10 p.m.

1320 Castro, SF

(415) 285-0250


Beer and wine


Noisy but bearable

Wheelchair accessible

Crack “Relapse”



SONIC REDUCER Symptoms: until last year there were few signs of life from Eminem, the hip-hop artist. Last sighted taking a bow on the cover of his last, toned-down, more PC, and ultimately underwhelming studio 2004 album, Encore, the rapper disappeared from the scene, as rumors festered about retirement and later, after he dropped out of the 2005 Anger Management Tour, substance abuse. Out of rehab and back to music-making — with hip-hop once again his favorite high, as he put it in a recent interview, Shady’s Relapse (Aftermath/Goliath/Interscope/Shady/Web) is now in our hands.

Diagnosis: listening to Em lead with his anger a decade after the release of The Slim Shady LP (Aftermath/Interscope), we’re back to the kind of music and lyrics the man was born to make and sling — impossible to ignore when blasting, and incapable of being reduced to wallpaper. Relapse isn’t perfect. The weakest track is the first single, "We Made You," with its easy, adolescent, cartoonish video and relatively violence-free lyrics. One too many numbers obsessively retreads similar women-hating, gore-mongering themes on this 22-tracker, which includes the hidden Dre collabos "Old Time’s Sake" and "Crack a Bottle" with 50 Cent. But even at its most repetitive (i.e., the skits devoted to nay-saying music biz types), Relapse writhes with life and smarts, conceptually of one piece from its narrative-like programming to its pill-mosaic cover portrait and medicine bottle top-like "Push, Down & Turn" packaging.

Em’s faux Jamaican/Scottish toaster patois may irk, much like his habit of subbing rap’s omnipresent "bitch" for "lesbian," but it’s tough to deny the vitality — and vitriol — rushing off Relapse‘s first three songs, as the rapper frontloads the disc with his strongest material. Tracks like the opener "3 a.m." and its serial-killer imagery (check the steal of Silence of the Lamb‘s imminently swipe-able "It puts the lotion in the basket" monologue and then the YouTube remixes) make it clear from the start that nasty alter ego Slim Shady has lapsed back into view. As he faces a 3 a.m. darkest hour of the soul stocked with a Fangoria-style rogue’s crew of references to Jason, Freddy, Dahmer, et al., rage continues to feed his rap.

Such gruesome reveries make Marshall Mathers’ acknowledged sleeping pill addiction totally understandable — whatever quiets the mind, dude. And though I usually suggest meditation and yoga as alternatives to self-medication, I’m loath to wreck such chaotic, thrill-kill fantasies as "Hello" and "Medicine Ball." "Bagpipes from Baghdad" and the more insinuating, handclap-riddled "Same Song and Dance" call out the perceived sins of rumored exes Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, and Mariah Carey — a trash-culture harem that makes one suspect that Shady’s rehab stays involved a lot of tabloid browsing for dates. Attraction is always linked to repulsion, hinted at in the openly weary title of the latter.

Blame the mother — Eminem does, while fully aware that the world is familiar with that corrosive, at times litigious relationship, judging from the beginning of second track, "My Mom": "My mom, my mom, I know you’re probably tired about hearing ’bout my mom." His still-heated fury at her legacy of bad parenting and Valium addiction streams through his flow, this time specifically linked to his own pill predilection. "Wait a minute this isn’t dinner this is paint thinner /’You ate it yesterday I ain’t hear no complaints did I? Now here’s a plate full of pain killers,’" he spits, before ending with, "Alright ma you win, I don’t feel like arguin’ /I’ll do it, pop it gobble it and start wobblin’ /stumble hobble tumble slip trip till I fall in bed with a bottle of meds and a Heath Ledger bobblehead." Ledger’s damaged Joker would appreciate those last, tongue-tying, onomatopoetic lines, pointing to Em’s revived brilliance even amid the Shadiest, sketched-out turmoil.

Or blame the stepfather. Was Eminem raped by his stepfather as a child? And if so, have pop listeners ever been informed of sexual abuse this graphically via song? "Insane" might be the most horrifically explicit, yet — a credit to Eminem’s powers as a bold entertainer — bleakly humorous and compulsively listenable tune about child molestation to date. Here, as with so many of his lyrics, the victim becomes conflated with the victimizer, as the rapper hints at the generational transfer of abuse: "I want you to feel me like my stepfather felt me /Fuck a little puppy kick the puppy while he’s yelping /Shady what the fuck you saying I don’t know help me," he rages, flipping between characters before settling on a primal scene too painful to be relegated to fiction, speaking as a boy to a step-Pater Monstrous. "I only get naked when the babysitter tells me /She showed me a movie like Nightmare on Elm Street / but it was X and they called it ‘Pubic Hair on Chelsea’/’Well this one’s called ‘Ass Rape’ and we’re shooting the jail scene.’" Don’t go there? Impossible. If rehab released fresh, brave streams of anger and pain in Eminem, no wonder Relapse 2 is hot on this horror flick of an album’s heels.




When Chevron Corp. holds its annual shareholders meeting at its San Ramon headquarters May 27, its top executives are expected to give investors a glowing report on how this global enterprise came to rake in a profit of $23.9 billion last year — a staggering 28.1 percent increase over the past year.

As Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly put it in the company’s annual report, 2008 was "a momentous year." Apparently O’Reilly will also claim that his company’s activities are improving people’s lot worldwide. "Energy," he writes, "is not a luxury — it’s the foundation for economic growth. By investing in the future, we’re creating value not only for our stakeholders, but we’re also building economic prosperity around the globe."

But O’Reilly’s high opinion of his company is not shared by a growing coalition of groups who believe that Chevron’s fifth consecutive year of record profits was earned, once again, at the cost of degrading the environment and its poorest communities, both here in Richmond and further afield, from the Amazon and Nigeria to Iraq and Kazakhastan.

Critics, who include what they describe as "a coalition of those directly affected by Chevron’s operations, political control, consumer abuse, and false promises," planned to hold a May 26 press conference to release The True Cost of Chevron, an alternative annual report that seeks to provide Chevron shareholders "with the most comprehensive exposé of Chevron’s operations — and the communities in struggle against them — ever compiled," according to the report’s authors.

The study includes reports from Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, the Gulf Coast, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington, D.C, and Wyoming as well as Angola, Burma, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

The next day, people carrying shareholder proxies intend to enter Chevron’s annual meeting to discuss the report with shareholders while a protest is held at Chevron’s front gates.

"Chevron’s 2008 annual report is a glossy celebration of the company’s most profitable year in its history, and one in which CEO David O’Reilly became the 15th highest paid U.S. chief executive, with nearly $50 million in total 2008 compensation," the authors state. "What Chevron’s annual report does not tell its shareholders is the true cost paid for those financial returns or the global movement gaining voice and strength against Chevron’s abuses."

The 44-page report details numerous lawsuits against the company, nationally and around the world — cases, the report’s authors claim, that have "potential liabilities in excess of Chevron’s total revenue from 2008, posing a material threat to shareholder value and the company’s bottom line."

As they wrote: "When a company operates in blatant disregard for the health, security, livelihood, safety, and environment of communities within which it operates, there can be real financial repercussions."

The report concludes with six specific obligations demanded of Chevron and leaves shareholders with the following message: "Chevron is right. The world will continue to use oil as it transitions to a sustainable green renewable energy economy. Whether Chevron will be in business as we make the transition depends upon what sort of company it chooses to be and whether the public is willing to support it."

The report also includes a series of large "ChevWrong Inhumane Energy ads" that spoof Chevron’s Human Energy ad campaign — images that popped up all across San Francisco last week after a group of renegade Chevron critics gathered at an secret location, mixed batches of wheat paste, and grabbed armfuls of the freely downloadable posters and set off into the night to bomb the city streets with the series of subvertisements.

Claiming that Chevron’s Human Energy campaign, which depicts smiling people alongside phrases like "I will try to leave the car at home more" is an attempt to greenwash the petro-giant’s activities, this group of mostly youthful critics pointed to the ongoing pollution, human rights abuses, and wars in regions where the oil company is stationed as they set off on bicycles, skateboards, and foot, armed with glue rollers and stacks of "ChevWrong" images. Some stashed their tools in Banana Republic shopping bags, which gave them an almost comical air of being disoriented tourists as they lurked and lingered on city street corners searching for suitable spots to paste their alternative ad campaign.

Soon newspaper racks on Market Street, pillars outside the Ferry Building, buildings in the Richmond District, and walls in North Beach bore the fruits of their work — along with the glass office door of public relations consultant Sam Singer, who represented Chevron in criticizing two renowned Ecuadorian environmental activists who were in town to receive the Goldman Prize.

"I will not complain about my asthma," states one such subversive ad, which depicts a beautiful but non-smiling young black man beside the claim that "Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif. poisons the community." The ad is accompanied by a retooled logo that says "ChevWrong."

"I will try not to get cancer," states another that hot glue artists had affixed to Sandra Bullocks’ buttocks — or at least a life-sized depiction of the actress featured on a Market Street billboard promoting The Proposal.

"I will suffer in silence" states another, alongside the claim that Chevron props up Burma’s military dictatorship.

An ad reading "I will give my baby contaminated water" portrayed a smiling Nigerian woman alongside the claim that Chevron refuses to clean up its mess in Nigeria.

One activist told the Guardian she got involved "because Chevron is poisoning communities and cutting corners across the world, and is even shameless enough to do that here in Richmond."

Another said he was inspired to take this action because of a billion-dollar lawsuit Chevron is fighting in Ecuador, and because of its activities in Nigeria.

Others said they decided to drop the subvertisements all over the city after they heard that CBS Outdoor refused May 14 to sell the group space for the images on billboards citywide.

As they noted, the images are all freely downloadable from truecostofchevron.com, a site supported by Amazon Watch, Crude Accountability, Global Exchange, Justice in Nigeria Now, Rainforest Action Network, CorpWatch, Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Trustees for Alaska, Communities for a Better Environment, Mpalabanda, Richmond Progressive Alliance, and EarthRights International.

Mitch Anderson, corporate accountability campaigner with Amazon Watch, confirmed that members of the truecostofchevron coalition approached CBS Outdoor but were told that CBS has a policy not to run negative or attack ads — a claim Anderson found laughable. "What about all the attack ads we see posted during election season?"

A CBS Outdoor spokesperson confirmed that CBS had refused to accept the proposed ad campaign, and that it is the company’s policy not to run negative or attack ads.

Calls to Rachel Sutton, Chevron PR person at its corporate headquarters in San Ramon, seeking comments about truecostofchevron’s charges remained unanswered as of press time.

But at Amazon Watch, Anderson said he thought it was "great that the Bay Area community took to the streets this week to tell Chevron that our hearts and minds are not for sale.

"Chevron is trying to paper-over its widespread human rights and environmental problems across the world by spending millions to propagate insulting lies," he continued. "From its disaster in Ecuador to its hiring of global warming deniers as lobbyists, this company has shown complete disregard for the environment, human rights, and yes, wisdom. Chevron is on the wrong side of history. Just as there can be no social justice on a dead planet, Chevron should know that you can’t profit off a dead planet either."

In a final swipe at Chevron’s Human Energy campaign, critics are distributing posters that ask "Will you join us?" and show a woman smiling alongside the promise "I will protest Chevron."

Revenge of the nerds



"Fukú Americanus" does not actually translate as "fucked-up American," but it might as well. Fukú refers to a curse, a bad piece of destiny that clings to your behind like a genetically transmitted boot up the ass, passing on through generations until it runs its course, which is who-knows-how-long. And if you want to get really specific about it, as does the narrator in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, fukú is an imprecation brought to the Americas in the mouths of kidnapped Africans, amounting to nothing less than "the Curse and Doom of the New World." Which means we all get a turn.

So maybe it’s appropriate that Díaz’s titular hero is a chubby nonentity, an hombre of no importance, and a fully fledged geek whom his mom (Maria Candelaria) can barely stand and no girl seems destined to come within a quarter mile of. Despite a passion for women unusual even among his fellow Dominicans — according to confessed player and reluctant sidekick Yunior (Carlos Aguirre) — Oscar (Brian Rivera) stands to be the first Dominican man to die a virgin. Ultimately, however, he’s more than a subtraction sign. As incarnated with zest and goofy likeability by Rivera, he’s an indefatigable survivor, maybe even the fifth member of the Fantastic Four, if only in his own mind. He’s also a mad scribbler, ever composing his magnum opus in an endless series of marbled notebooks. (The "Wao" comes from someone’s misapprehension of an Oscar Wilde reference that sticks to our Oscar ever after. A fervent sci-fi, anime, Dungeons-and-Dragons dweeb, he’s actually trying to look like Doctor Who at the time, so the confusion turning a "who" from the D.R. to a "wao" in the U.S. becomes all the more poetical, and culturally laden.)

Oscar’s terrible virginity is only one of several burdens propelling the action in the world premiere of Fukú Americanus, Campo Santo’s boisterous post–hip-hop stage adaptation of Díaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, now up and pulsing — with lots of high-end but not enough in the bass — at Intersection for the Arts. The play cuts its largest swath through the New Jersey–based chapters of Diaz’s immigrant tale (which loosely aligns with the author’s own childhood passage from the D.R. to the U.S.), and features the travails of Oscar’s razor-sharp but wounded sister, Lola (Vanessa Cota), a goth-clad teen rebel against their cancer-ridden but nevertheless indomitably feisty mother. Meanwhile, Lola’s macho onetime-boyfriend Yunior gets cast in the role of Rutgers roomie and caretaker to Oscar.

Back of these plot points, and the transnational culture they limn, stands the inscrutable but ever-present designs of Fukú, in the lanky human form of our narrator (Biko Eisen-Martin), shirtless and shoeless in a black suit and silver bling. When not listening in on the action, he jumps in, usually literally, with a choice bit of information or opinion culled from the novel’s hefty footnotes and digressions. Intertwined with fukú is the burden of histories familial and colonial.

Given its subaltern subject matter, its slang-fueled homeboy/homegirl wisdom, curbside humor, and restive energy, Diaz’s novel would seem a natural fit for the kind of hip hop–inspired theatre Intersection for the Arts has championed with the Living Word Project as well as recent successes like Angry Black White Boy. On stage, however, it amounts to a high-energy but shallow distillation of the ample novel’s several decades of private history that are set meaningfully against a diasporic backdrop of colonial peonage, imperial intervention ("Santo Domingo was Iraq before Iraq was Iraq!"), hopeful and desperate migrations, New World ennui, oppression under a series of local and globetrotting top dogs — especially dictator Trujillo, here introduced only in the second act and a bit too inconsequentially — and disillusionment with that American Dream.

Codirectors Marc Bamuthi Joseph (of LWP) and Sean San José (who directed Angry) find their way into the material through a fluid physicality and driving beat (although actual beatboxing from Aguirre and singing by the cast are kept to a minimum). The effortless bounce and verve never gets close to the bone, though, since the relentlessly playful tone and broad if charming characterizations can’t sustain the full weight of the narrative. Straddling comedic melodrama and turned-out hip-hop performance, Fukú satisfies the requirements of neither too well, leaving its deeper themes marooned in the shallows of a fleetingly infectious celebration of outsider status.


Through June 21

Thurs-Sat, 8 p.m., $15–$25

Intersection for the Arts

446 Valencia, SF

(415) 626-3311, www.theintersection.org

Sila and the Afrofunk Experience


PREVIEW First come the horns, then the bass, an emphatic high hat and a sparkle of percussion, a trill of electric guitar, more brass, and it’s on. Thanks to "Shelter," Sila and the Afrofunk Experience’s second album Black President (Visila Records, 2009) has a funky kickoff. With inspired grooves that recall the jazzy Afrobeat of standard-bearers both old (Fela Kuti) and new (Lagbaja) and layered with a tireless P-funk aesthetic, the group goes on to represent the best of all possible worlds in World Music terms: uptempo, polyrhythmic, socially conscious (but not pedantic), strikingly melodic, and eminently danceable.

While Sila and the Afrofunk Experience’s first album The Funkiest Man in Africa (Visila Records, 2006) explored the musical and social legacies of Fela Kuti, Black President brings it all back home — literally to our door step (or our turntable) — with a track cautiously celebrating the election of America’s first black president ("Mr. President … the people are hungry for change"). Africa never strays far from the rotation, though. "Shelter" is an examination of the ongoing AIDS epidemic, "I’m So Tired" speaks to the diaspora experience, and "Africa" is sheer Afrobeat magic. The official release party for Black President — which is already available online — kicks off a busy summer of touring for SF’s favorite adopted son Victor Sila and his tightly-knit ensemble. It’ll be a challenge to get enough of a Sila fix in a single night to last until the group returns from its travels, but I’m game to try.

SILA AND THE AFROFUNK EXPERIENCE With Fool’s Gold, Diego’s Umbrella. Sat/30, 9 p.m., $15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF.(415) 625-8880. www.mezzaninesf.com

Big Business


PREVIEW Here’s a page right out of any rabid metalhead’s book of wildest, mind-blowingest dreams: What if the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Tyr descended from the stormy heavens and formed a power trio? What would it sound like? What earthly buildings would crumble to the ground? What souls would be raised from their shadowy graves? What chaos would ensue?

To answer that first question: what if? What’s more metal than thunder, lightning, magic, and Valhalla? Those dudes invented it. They started their band approximately 1,300 years ago, before you or guitars existed. Second, they would sound like Los Angeles bone-crushers Big Business, whose giant leaden riffs, primordial Cro-Magnon rhythms, and thunderous hollow vocals pretty much sound like a band Thor might have dreamt up after an all-nighter spent smiting Viking tribes with lightning bolts and joyriding in his goat-drawn chariot with a ravishing blonde goddess.

The guys in Big Business, cut from the same pitch-black cloth as any fearsome Nordic god, are fast approaching their own place in the pantheon of mortal metal royalty. Their sludgy, doom-soaked sound is forged by ex-Murder City Devils drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren, formerly of Karp. And if their musical resumes weren’t already steeped in metal street cred, Willis and Warren joined the Melvins to record (A) Senile Animal (Ipecac, 2006) and Nude with Boots (Ipecac, 2008). The Biz added guitarist Toshi Kasai to its lineup in 2007, just after its sophomore album Here Come the Waterworks (Hydra Head) won it a hailstorm of critical success and a spot touring with Tool.

Now Big Business’s third album has arrived. While retaining the group’s visceral low-end attack, Mind the Drift (Hydra Head) adds more of Kasai’s quick-fire guitar work to the murk — it gives the album an atmospheric discord that swings like a wrecking ball. The Biz gets almost prog-metal when it adds vocal harmonies (wait, now they sing, too?!) and an organ solo to the dirge of "Ayes Have It." Bottom of the Hill, look out. Will King Buzzo join them on stage? Whatever happens, Big Business won’t be taking prisoners.

BIG BUSINESS With Tweak Bird. Wed/27, 10 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St, SF (415) 621-4455

CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival


PREVIEW Moving in its fourth year from autumn to an early summer slot, San Francisco’s CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival now provides an apt alternative-entertainment prelude to Memorial Day — because what, after all, is more patriotic these days than asking the question, "What are we fighting for?" Fittingly, the opener is about Big Oil. Sandy Cioffi (who’ll be present) at one point spent five days in the custody of Nigerian security forces while making Sweet Crude, an investigation of Shell Oil Corp. and other companies’ violence and environmental ruination in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Likewise, Robert Cornellier’s Black Wave documents the seemingly neverending efforts to exact justice from ExxonMobil over the catastrophic Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 20 years ago. Other highlights in this year’s all-documentary edition of CounterCorp include Sam Bozzo’s Blue Gold: World Water Wars, about the escalation of conflict and privatization around that most precious (and vanishing) natural resource; Steven Greenstreet’s Killer at Large, which analyzes the industrial agribiz/food processing causes behind an obesity epidemic that has begun reversing Americans’ previously steady trend toward longer life expectancies; and Brett Gaylor’s RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a "mash-up movie" about the wars between copyright law and free expression. No doubting where Gaylor stands on that issue: his entire movie is already available to download and remix yourself at www.opensourcecinema.org.

COUNTERCORP ANTI-CORPORATE FILM FESTIVAL Thurs/28–Sat/30, $5–$10. Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St., SF. www.countercorp.org

Mark Morris Dance Group


PREVIEW The year was 1988. Mark Morris and his intrepid dancers lived in Belgium. Not too happily. Morris and the good citizens of Brussels were not exactly a match made in heaven. Yet there they were: the Monnaie, the city’s gilded opera house; professionally-designed costumes and sets; a full orchestra and a chorus of 43-plus soloists. And, please let us not forget, there was also Milton, Handel, and Blake. No wonder Mark Morris and his 24 dancers threw themselves into a project that was bigger and more challenging than anything they had yet undertaken. Resources like that — including six rehearsals with the orchestra — Morris was never to have again after his return to the U.S. three years later. Yet the premiere of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato was not a success. Critics and audiences couldn’t warm to Morris’ version of modern dance. It didn’t look like dance. In the intervening years, this exquisitely danced oratorio has traveled around the world (not too often, because it is expensive to produce) and remains one of Morris’ supreme achievements. Morris, who is a stickler for respecting a composer’s intentions, did take a few liberties with the original. The Milton-Handel work considers whether happiness or melancholy is the better state to strive for. Milton and Handel voted for melancholy, Morris for happiness. Blake provided visual inspiration. L’Allegro returns to Berkeley for the fourth time. It is perhaps as a thank-you to Robert Cole, departing director of Cal Performances, who started bringing Morris to the Bay Area in 1987, when most of us still wondered, "Who is Mark Morris?"

MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP Fri/29-Sat/30, 8 p.m.; Sun/31, 3 p.m., $36–$82. Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft at Telegraph, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642-9988. www.calperfs.berkeley.edu

Racial justice: A to G spells victory


OPINION On Tuesday, May 19, poor and working-class families of color packed the San Francisco School Board with a powerful message of hope, opportunity, and justice: we want the right to a secure future in our own city. To get a good job here, we know we need a high quality education that prepares us for college, career, or union trade — not poverty or prison.

After a year of research, organizing, and talking to thousands of families, collecting 3,000 postcards, and mobilizing hundreds of parents and youth, our proposal — that every San Francisco student have access to the so-called A–G classes — was approved, setting the stage for a systemic change in our public schools that could dramatically improve the lives of tens of thousands of students of color over the next few years.

A–G describes the high school coursework that state colleges require for admission. Setting A-G as part of the graduation requirement will finally give low-income black and Latino students access to high expectations and our state college system.

We will have to stay on top of the district and monitoring will be intense and long-term, but we have parent and student leaders ready for the task, because their own lives are at stake.

Our experience is that thousands of parents and students get the issues, but that so many San Franciscans, even progressive ones, just don’t. In San Francisco, 75 percent of children are black, Latino, Asian, or Pacific Islander, and more than 80 percent of those families are low income. A full 90 percent of the students in public schools are students of color. This means kids’ issues in San Francisco are issues of racial and economic justice.

Our issues are often not the ones that make front page news. Education outcomes for black children — right here in San Francisco — are the worst of the state’s urban districts. But this gets lost in the inside baseball reporting about City Hall politics, the flinging about of political self-righteousness, and frankly, issues like JROTC.

We believe that organizing families for racial equity in our public school system is core to a progressive agenda in the 21st century. Consider the following.

•<\!s> Young people’s future in the 21st century San Francisco economy now requires a college education. More than 50,000 blue-collar jobs that paid a living wage without requiring a degree have disappeared from SF over the last generation.

•<\!s> Only one in three students from SF schools graduated from high school prepared for a four-year university in 2008. Without access to college and career-ready A-G classes, most graduating students weren’t even eligible for either the U.C. or California state universities or prepared for a union apprenticeship exam.

•<\!s> Most black, Latino and Pacific Islander students do not have access the A-G college, career, and union trade path in San Francisco. In fact, five out of six Latino students and 9 out of 10 African American students graduated without the A-G classes required to even be eligible for a U.C. or state university.

This new school board policy might be one of the most important steps toward racial equity in a generation. Join our work to make San Francisco public schools a vehicle of economic opportunity, racial justice and democracy. *

N’Tanya Lee is executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.

Editor’s Notes



What the voters turned down was a political deal, cut by five people in Sacramento — the governor and the Democratic and Republican leadership of the Assembly and Senate. The Republicans leaders weren’t even that involved at the end — it was two Democrats, Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro tem Darrel Steinberg, and Gov. Schwarzenegger, trying to make a budget pact work and then dragging a reluctant GOP legislator or two along.

The tax increases that were designed to help this year’s budget are in effect, approved by the Legislature. The Prop.1A–1B deal would have extended them an extra two years. The $6 billion that Props. 1C, 1D, and 1E would have "raised" (as the Chronicle described it) actually came from two things — cuts to children’s programs and mental health services and borrowing against future lottery proceeds.

What the voters rejected, among other things, was a provision that would have come awfully close to being a spending cap. It would have been this generation’s version of Prop. 13, a fiscal straightjacket demanded by antitax Republicans that the state would regret for years to come.

And the left opposed the deal as strongly as the right.

The real lesson: the voters don’t trust either Schwarzenegger or the Legislature. The state government is a godawful mess, and everybody knows it.

So this week, we talk about fixing things.

Let me start by quoting a man I have always held in utter disdain, the late right-wing economist Milton Freidman. Because he makes a valid point:

"It is worth discussing radical changes, not in the expectation that they will happen but for two other reasons. One is to construct an ideal goal so than incremental changes can be judged by whether they move the institutional structure toward or away from that ideal. The other reason is very different. It is so that if a crisis requiring or facilitating radical change does arise, alternatives will be available that have been carefully developed and fully explored."

I’m not sure that California, a state that now has 36 million residents and by current projection will have 60 million in the next 20 years, can possibly be governed by our current institutions and systems. It’s too big; it costs way too much money to run for office, run an initiative campaign, or communicate effectively to the voters. You can’t compete for statewide office without tens of millions of dollars. State senators represent almost 1 million people. Try running a low-budget, grassroots campaign in that universe. Initiative battles are so much more about money than they are about facts that the wrong side often wins. The major news media don’t cover Sacramento much anyway, so state politics come down almost entirely to cash and hype (witness the current occupant of the Governor’s Office).

We need more than just a Democratic governor and more Democrats in the Legislature. We need to rethink the way we run California. *

Newsom’s tax proposals


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom and a negotiating team from the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have hammered out yet another deal, this one slightly better for the workers than the proposal that the 11,000 union members voted down last week. As part of the deal, SEIU members will take 10 legal holidays without pay over the next 14 months, and gain five floating paid holidays. It’s way better, for both the city and the union, than the prospect of 1,000 more layoffs — and the deep service cuts that so many job cuts would entail.

As a part of the negotiation, Newsom agreed to suspend any further layoffs — and, more important, promised to work with labor and the business community on possible revenue measures for November. That’s an encouraging sign, but Newsom needs to do much more. He needs to be out front, now, meeting openly with the various interest groups and constituencies and working with the supervisors to craft progressive new tax proposals that will work as more than a one-year stopgap.

Rahm Emmanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, is famous for saying that no politician should let a crisis go to waste, and San Francisco’s current fiscal crisis ought to be a chance to fix the unfair and broken business tax system that both hampers job creation and allows the biggest players to get off far too easy.

And to make the point that he’s serious about raising new revenue, Newsom should include in the budget that he presents to the board a projection that the city will have another $100 million or so to spend in the next fiscal year because of revenue plans that he expects will pass, with his help and strong support, in November.

That would do two things: it would demonstrate to the supervisors that the mayor is serious about looking for ways to bring in more money, and it would stave off the most debilitating, immediate cuts for the beginning of Fiscal 2010.

Newsom is still a popular mayor and has a sophisticated political operation behind him. Right now he’s using his good will, fundraising ability, and seasoned political advisors to help him get elected governor. If he is willing to bring that level of effort back home — and use it to pass some significant tax reforms in his own city — it would do a lot more to show his leadership ability than all the campaign trips in the world. *