Volume 44 Number 08
In the current folds of neo-psychedelia, kids don’t require drugs to lose their shit. They need only close their eyes and wait for the neon to swirl, the monologues to multiply. Sex Worker, the solo effort of Daniel Martin-McCormick of Mi Ami, is one such manifestation of this hide-and-seek schizo entanglement, where fits of stretched, ethereal sound get densely layered with Martin-McCormick’s fractured vocal tantrums. Actually, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m basing this on two MySpace songs. The truth is, you’re still in town. And you didn’t go home to Utah (or some other whoopee cushion state) because you thought staying in SF during the holiday would be more entertaining than having that same conversation with that same uncle over the same plate of Jell-O and mashed potatoes. And you’re right. This is guaranteed to be more exciting. (Spencer Young)
With Psychic Reality, Jealousy
9:30 p.m., $6
1131 Polk, SF
Ara Peterson: "Turn Into Stone"
Not every artist who has representation has it from a gallery that’s a near-ideal showcase for her or his work. But such is the case for Ara Peterson, whose large-scale experiments with form and color are given the right amount of white space by Ratio 3. "Turn Into Stone" is composed of two bodies of work. The first is a series of backgammon tables designed and created by Peterson and his father, Jack. In terms of influence, these pieces extend patrilineal influence yet further, drawing from the youngest Peterson’s memories of his great-grandfather’s ceramic paintings. The 21-century Albers extended lines of color or, to use the artist’s phrase "long impervious vibes" in the other body of work make for a good wood-and-acrylic-paint contrast with Marcus Linnebrink’s current epoxy resin and pigment pieces at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. And that’s not even getting into the show’s giant intestinal orange tubes. (Johnny Ray Huston)
11 a.m.-6 p.m. (continues through Dec. 19), free
1447 Stevenson, SF
San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour
If you’re in the mood for a culinary adventure, you’ll likely love-love-lovey Gourmet Walks’ three-hour tour devoted to treats by local artisan chocolatiers. You might be looking for petit fours of bitter chocolate rust. Or perhaps you’re the type to appreciate crepe de chine encrusted with whole goji berries from your local farmers market, or you’re one of the growing number of dog owners looking for some white chocolate-covered canine biscuits. Maybe you just like chocolate. If any of the above apply, you’ll a chance to encounter a newsstand with 200-plus candy bars and a Swiss place beloved by the mighty Oprah on this jaunt. Oh, and you’ll definitely get a free cup of piping hot cocoa. (Jana Hsu)
10:30 a.m. (also Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.), $49
Union Square to waterfront, SF
Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
Who is the cousin of Cube, the secret Native Tongue, the psychedelic seer, the time-traveler who had been to 3030 and back before he even met Gorillaz? Dude, it’s Del tha Funkee Homosapien. In addition to a footwear project with Osiris Shoes, Del’s been putting out recordings at a furious pace of late: the latest after this year’s self-released Funkman and Automatic Statik might be Parallel Uni-verses (Gold Dust) a collabo with Tame One of Artifacts. The man who prices his music in response to the economy brings his stimulus package to the stage tonight. (Huston)
With Bukue One, Serendipity Project, Hopie Spitshard
9 p.m., $19$22
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
The Velveteen Rabbit
In a time when babies are practically born with electronic hamsters to pet and Transformers to hug, one wonders whether there still is place in a child’s life for a velveteen rabbit that loses its whiskers and a practically tail-less toy horse. The success of ODC/Dance’s now 23-year-old The Velveteen Rabbit proves that there are plenty of kids, parents, and grandparents who see the fun and heartache in this lovely story about love, loss, and growing up. Of course, it helps that ODC went for quality when they first scratched the money together for a production of this evergreen: KT Nelson for choreography, Benjamin Britten for music, Brian Wildsmith for costumes and sets, and our own Geoff Hoyle for narration. Margery Williams’ story may be a classic, but so is ODC’s translation to the stage. (Rita Felciano)
2 p.m.(through Dec. 13), $10$45
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
The first time I saw Peaches was by accident. She somehow snuck herself onto a tour with …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, a solid yet serious emo rock band. Peaches, too, was solid or ripe, rather but only semiserious, and she was neither emo nor rock (despite the suggestion of her most successful song to date, "Fuck the Pain Away"). She was more electroshock than electroclash, dancing provocatively to simple but catchy prerecorded tracks and flaunting giant rubber dildos while Germanic pubic hair spilled out her kid-sized leotard. Since then I’ve learned that it’s imperative to abandon your dull, serious self at a Peaches show. Otherwise she’ll find you in the crowd and call you out by slapping your face with God knows what. (Young)
With Amanda Blank, Wallpaper
9 p.m., $25
1290 Sutter, SF
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair aims to take attendees back to the era of the author’s novels, not to mention the holiday season of one of his more popular tales. But it also is a Bay Area tradition that carries its own history, dating back to 1970. The fair has more than its fair share of devoted attendees among them Father Christmas, Ebeneezer Scrooge, the Cratchit Family (including Tiny Tim), Oliver Twist, Mr. Pickwick, and perhaps even Charles Dickens. They know the truth: nothing’s better for the body than a hot toddy. (Hsu)
11 a.m.7 p.m. (through Dec. 20)
$10$22 ($25$55 for season passes)
Cow Palace Exhibition Halls
2600 Geneva, SF
"Otto Preminger: Anatomy of a Movie"
He came from Vienna, and he conquered Hollywood. Well, it took a hot minute occasional thespian Otto Preminger was also cast as a Nazi in multiple films. But directing was his true talent, and he proved a master in multiple genres: 1944 noir Laura; 1947 Joan Crawford melodrama Daisy Kenyon; 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder; 1962 political thriller Advise and Consent; 1957 historical biopic Saint Joan, starring a then-unknown Jean Seberg (who later played the enfant terrible in 1958’s Bonjour Tristesse); 1955 Frank Sinatra junkie drama The Man with the Golden Arm; and 1955’s Carmen Jones, with Dorothy Dandridge leading an all-African American cast. This Pacific Film Archive series, loaded with restored and rare prints of all of the above and more, also tosses in a couple of unclassifiable gems: 1965’s Bunny Lake is Missing (whodunnit?) and 1968’s Skidoo (LSD dunnit!) (Cheryl Eddy)
7 p.m. (Laura) and 8:50 p.m. (Fallen Angel), continues through Dec. 20; $5.50$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
Secrets of the Shadow World
Season’s greetings from George Kuchar! San Francisco’s busy underground laureate is featured in a recent documentary portrait, an upcoming SF Cinematheque program of vintage 8mm restorations, and Yerba Buena’s "Tropical Vultures" exhibit. Visit Yerba Buena this Saturday and your gallery admission is good for a special screening of Secrets of the Shadow World (1989-1999). A prime slab of the Kucharesque, this Rockefeller Foundation-funded (!) paranormal video dive incorporates reconnaissance with John Keel, the recently deceased author of 1975’s Mothman Prophecies, along with essayistic inquiries into the ontology of digital imagery and Sasquatch droppings. (Max Goldberg)
2 p.m., Free with Gallery Admission
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
"You Are Her: Riot Grrrl and Underground Female Zines of the 1990s"
Matt Wobensmith’s zine shop Goteblüd was the toast of the town at this October’s New York Art Book Fair, with Holland Cotter of The New York Times singling it out in a report on the event. Wobensmith has already shared a lion’s-size library of queer zines with curious local paper tigers via Goteblüd’s first local show now, it’s the paper tigresses’ turn for a treat, thanks to "You Are Her," a pretty much astonishingly expansive though not if you know Wobensmith’s dedication to the cause collection of riot grrrl and other female-centric 1990s zines available for viewing and reading. Behold copies of Bikini Kill, Double Bill, Girl Germs, Hey Soundguy (by Corin Tucker), I Heart Amy Carter and Jigsaw (by Donna Dresch), my first love Teenage Gang Debs, and Way Down Low. Behold Sassy in its glossy glory. Be glad you live in SF, where you can see this stuff for real for realz. (Huston)
Noon5 p.m. (show continues through Jan. 2010), free
766 Valencia, SF
"What About Me?!: New Faces in Contemporary Self Portraiture"
First off, kudos to the Peanut Gallery for its name. Second, the young space’s latest show has a strong sense of variety. At a glance, what I really like are the vast differences between Dean Dempsey’s colorful backlit image of himself times five post-racketball in a locker room; Richard Bluecloud Cataneda’s black-and-white vision of himself times nine in street, ceremonial, and clown guises; and Susan Wu’s 10 card-size drawings that render her face, disembodied, as masks of a sort. These contrasts demonstrate the breadth and potential of contemporary self-portraiture rather than its narcissistic pitfalls. (Huston)
Noon6 p.m., free
The Peanut Gallery
855 Folsom, #108, SF
Conspiracy of Beards
Few beards exist in the 30-man a capella choir Conspiracy of Beards. This is not surprising, considering they sing the songs of Leonard Cohen, who seems to prefer the scrape of a razor to any soft cushion. If you were rich (or desperate) enough to pay the $90 ticket fee to see Mr. Cohen back in April at the Paramount in Oakland, then you know it was for the words. A poet dressed in a musician’s clothing, Cohen is most potent when his lyrics do all the songs’ work, which they usually do. The a capella setup of Conspiracy of Beards proves to be genius when you hear 30 men singing "Giving me head on the unmade bed." Cohen’s signature synthpop sound is delivered courtesy of the bass vocals on songs like "First We Take Manhattan" and "Tower of Song." And "Famous Blue Raincoat" is more ominous than sad. Don’t be surprised if the Cafe Du Nord suddenly becomes a cathedral. (Lorian Long)
With StitchCraft, King City
8:30 p.m., $10
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market, SF
The Guardian listings deadline is two weeks prior to our Wednesday publication date. To submit an item for consideration, please include the title of the event, a brief description of the event, date and time, venue name, street address (listing cross streets only isn’t sufficient), city, telephone number readers can call for more information, telephone number for media, and admission costs. Send information to Listings, the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 487-2506; or e-mail (paste press release into e-mail body no text attachments, please) to email@example.com. We cannot guarantee the return of photos, but enclosing an SASE helps. Digital photos may be submitted in jpeg format; the image must be at least 240 dpi and four inches by six inches in size. We regret we cannot accept listings over the phone.
CULT HORROR Many babysitters had the bejesus scared out of them by the 1975 TV movie classic Trilogy of Terror, in which Karen Black is attacked by a "Zuni fetish doll" come to malevolent life. Yet among key 1970s horror films, this one inspired relatively little imitation, unless Chucky and myriad Gremlins knockoffs count. One exception, however, remains among those subterranean titles so improbable people don’t quite believe it exists until they see it then they can’t believe what they’re seeing. That would be Black Devil Doll From Hell, a no-budget camcorder wonder gone straight to video (and Hell?) in 1984.
It was produced, directed, written, scored, and edited all very badly by Philadelphia auteur Chester Novell Turner, whose whereabouts or even continued pulse no one seems sure about after he completed a second, even more obscure feature. (That 1987 horror omnibus, Tales from the Quadead Zone, is currently on YouTube. It’s hypnotically dreadful but no BDDFH.)
Shirley L. (for Latanya) Jones, definitely not to be confused with the Partridge Family lady, plays a Marian the Librarian type who buys a ventriloquist-dummy-looking doll from a junk shop. It begins inserting itself into her hitherto virginal, God-fearing thoughts … then into other places, barking some of the most ludicrously filthy dialogue in cinematic history.
Naturally, being pleasured by a jive-talking misogynist puppet can’t end well for our heroine. As if atoning for its own egregious sins, the film ends with an actual church ceremony whose sermonizing goes on even longer than its slug-slow opening credits. Stupefying, hilarious, endless (even at 70 minutes) and unforgettable, Black Devil Doll from Hell has inspired various tributes. My favorite written one is BlackHorrorMovies.com’s description: "The little train wreck that could."
Full-blown cinematic tribute in comparatively glorious HD just arrived on DVD after a couple years of inciting fanboy love and occasional outrage on the horror festival circuit. Black Devil Doll (2007) has puppet sex, wildly padded closing credits, an animated prelude in which G turns to X ("Rated X by an all-white jury!" tipping hat to 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song), and significant acknowledgement of "breast augmentation by Dr. Leonard Gray of San Francisco." (No joke he’s got a Web site.)
Yup, this Black Devil Doll is local, shot in the East Bay by brothers Shawn and Jonathan Lewis, with multitasking cinematographer John Osteen. Antioch has never looked more … Antioch. There, executed Black Power revolutionist and multiple rapist-murder of white chicks Mubia Abul-Jama is reincarnated as an evil doll fully kitted out in 1970s pimpwear and jiving potty mouth. (Before you get too offended, let us note here the wiseass creators are themselves African American.) He makes himself at home with chesty Heather, but turns homicidal once she invites over equally bimbolicious pals Natasha, Candi, Buffi, and Brandi for an evening of wine coolers and Twister.
Those roles are played by thespians with names like Precious Cox, whom you probably won’t be seeing at Berkeley Rep anytime soon. Nonetheless, this new Doll is enthusiastically finagled: even when the joke runs thin, all concerned bat it out of the park in terms of sheer energy, recalling Russ Meyer’s turbo-charged expressions of knowingly absurd sexploitation. Turner’s Hell was awesome for its ineptitude and unintentional humor. The Lewis’ Doll is sheer intentional (albeit heterosexual) camp, joyous enough in its deliberate cheese and craftily rude dynamism to be equally hilarious in an entirely different way.
THEATER It’s the fall of 2001. The Americans have arrived. The Taliban is, for the moment, displaced. A young Afghani woman named Alya (Sara Razavi) stands in a burka, holding a suitcase. She’s met by her older sister, Meena (Nora el Samahy), returned from England to fetch her. Meena wears a headscarf but leaves her face proudly, fearlessly uncovered. She speaks of the freedoms ahead of them, the chance to study, even to talk to men. Alya is scandalized and fascinated.
The two sisters go on to engage in petty quarrels, teasing. Meena calls the younger one a hedgehog, a familiar nickname apparently, while noting she’s gained a woman’s figure since Meena has been away. Alya complains of her aching back the result, she claims, of quills sprouting along her spine. Meena tells her about being carried one night by a gallant English stranger, leaving her sister beside herself with moral outrage and prurient interest.
All the while, nearby, the body of a young American soldier (Basel Al-Naffouri) lies sprawled on a large pillow. He’s soon on his feet or socks rather, his boots having disappeared ostensibly having slept off a night of revelry. Regarding the two young women in his room with some surprise, and self-congratulation, he confronts what he believes to be the previous night’s "conquests." He also seems to think he’s awoken in his mother’s house in Gary, Ind. He shouts for his mother and wonders aloud where his shoes have gone, but his cries are literally bootless.
We appear to have wandered into a dream but whose exactly? Naomi Wallace’s No Such Cold Thing unsettles the ground beneath our feet much as her characters have found it vanishing beneath their own. The characters now meet on some existential plateau pitched, dreamlike, somewhere between life and death as Wallace expertly pinpoints the reality of war in the magical-surreal of dramatic imagination.
In a moment characterized by a decided lack of public antiwar momentum around the continuing tragedy of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the world premiere of Wallace’s No Such Cold Thing could not be timelier. Nor, for that matter, could it be a more apt play to lead off Golden Thread Productions’ 10th anniversary edition of its ReOrient Festival, an annual cavalcade of short plays about the Middle East that has itself provided, in addition to a dependable variety of aesthetic pleasures, crucial space for public consideration and dialogue.
This year’s anniversary program makes the most of that function with an accompanying two-day forum (Dec. 5-6 at Theatre Artaud) to include discussion panels, a book launch, an art exhibit, music and dance performances, and Golden Thread’s first live internet-streamed play, The Review, written by GT stalwart Yussef El Guindi (Back of the Throat; Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes), featuring one actor in San Francisco and another in the Middle East.
In addition to Wallace’s quietly striking world premiere which finds a winning balance of playful insouciance and poignant understatement in the hands of director Bella Warda and her cast the dramatic program includes eight more plays spread over two rotating series. Emphasizing highlights of previous years, ReOrient 2009’s opening night program included a remounting of Betty Shamieh’s Taman, directed by GT artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian, a dual "monologue" from the perspective of a proud and embattled Palestinian woman, featuring el Samahy and Maryam Farnaz Rostami tastefully accompanied by percussionist Su Tang. It was followed by Yeghiazarian’s own irreverently funny charmer, Call Me Mehdi, neatly directed by Arlene Hood, in which an Iranian American woman (Ahou Tabibzadeh, reprising her 2005 performance with aplomb) and her Farsi-challenged American husband (solid newcomer George Psarras) give late-night vent to some cross-cultural baggage. Finally, Motti Lerner’s Coming Home (2003), well cast and sharply directed by Mark Routhier, provocatively unfolded the homecoming of a disturbed young Israeli soldier from the front lines of the occupation.
The second night’s program (seen too late for review) is also full of some small gems, including two from El Guindi his Cairo-centered adaptation of Chekhov’s A Marriage Proposal and his 2007 The Monologist Suffers Her Monologue) as well as the 1999 play from San Franciscobased filmmaker Kaveh Zahedi (I Am Not a Sex Addict) with the characteristically emphatic title, I’m Not a Serial Killer.
"REORIENT 2009: THE FIRST 10 YEARS"
Through Dec. 13
Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m. (no performance Thurs/26);
Sun, 5 p.m., $15$25
Thick House, 1695 18th St., SF
SONIC REDUCER What is a Japandroid? Sure, it sounds like a mashup of two monikers (Pleasuredroids and Japanese Scream) hatched by guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse when the Vancouver, B.C., twosome were dreaming up a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-style power trio back in ’06. But I imagine it looks way cooler than your average Transformer, less like a toaster and more like an Astro Boy-style skin job. Or maybe it’s a less humanoid rock ‘n’ roll machine picture a R2D2 jukebox generating a battering flurry of distortion and bashed-at beats that’s less noisy, more melodic than No Age, and five times more buzz-saw aggro and dense than White Stripes.
But perhaps calling Japandroids machine-like goes too far. "That kind of indicates a certain efficiency that we don’t have," Prowse demurs sweetly by phone from Somewheresville, Ohio. "There are a lot of kinks in the rock ‘n’ roll machine, though we’re trying to get things done."
And right now the thing for Japandroids is a major drive south across the U.S. to St. Louis, Mo. "We’re just driving for days it’s great, very scenic," Prowse observes. "We’re seeing every small town in America. It’s like a dream."
Apparently the two 27-year-olds are living the dream: they’ve made the break out of Vancouver, which Prowse describes as "not necessarily a musician-friendly city," despite the presence of, for instance, the New Pornographers. The ‘Droids got a major rocket-powered boost after some successful festival dates one show at Pop Montreal led to the band signing with its current Canadian label Unfamiliar and a rave review on Pitchfork.
"It’s a weird form of tourism. You kind of get to see places," Prowse far from jaded and still marveling at the reception the band received says of the twosome’s recent U.K. tour. "You get to see a bar in each city in the United Kingdom and then the spot where you get breakfast and few truck stops in between."
All this seems somewhat unexpected for the two friends, who met at the University of Victoria and formed the band post-college. At the risk of getting too reductionist, Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar/Polyvinyl) captures that moment of aimless fury, unbottled passion, and naked masculine innocence that comes after graduation, once you’ve fulfilled all your course requirements, done all that’s expected, had your heart broken, and wondered what’s next. It’s worth asking when everyone, postcollegiate or otherwise, appears to be wondering what the 2010s will bring what is "post-nothing" anyway?
"It’s kind of a long-running gag at the labels of musical genres," Prowse explains. "A long time ago Brian started referring to our band as post-nothing on our MySpace bios and other places." Just don’t lump them into the post-hardcore lot. "No, no," the drummer says almost apologetically. "We’re too wimpy to be associated with that moniker."
Japandroids, it turns out, aren’t easy to sum up these ‘Droids are too unpretentious and/or smart to peg themselves with any tag. Neither will Prowse acknowledge certain 1990s alt-rock affiliations you can hear bristling at the edges of the combo’s sound though both love the Sonics and Mclusky and went through a mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop phase. "Some songs sound like we’re ripping off one band and then another one," Prowse confesses good-naturedly. "There’s a bit of variety to our musical piracy."
Prowse, however, will cop to an anthemic quality in Japandroids’ songs. "I think part of that comes from the fact that neither of us are super-confident singers, so we kind of belt it out," he explains. "It comes back to being a two-piece band one of the things is to make as much noise as we can between the two of us." *
With Surfer Blood and Downer Party
Sun/29, 7 p.m., $10$12
155 Fell, SF.
BUILDING A BETTER MUSICAL MACHINE
SAVOY FAMILY CAJUN BAND
Ready to get on down to N’awlins with these cajun music vets? Fri/27, 9 p.m., $20 Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO
Ape must not kill ape yet must sometimes serve up a live set. With JDH and Dave P and Tenderlions. Fri/27, 9 p.m., $22.50. Mezzanine Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
GEORGE HURD ENSEMBLE AND BUILD
Classical and contemporary composition meets throbbing electronics. With Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble. Mon/30, 8 p.m., $10. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com
MUSIC No one has ever heard the real Sa-Ra, declares Shafiq Husayn during an evening phone interview. And I believe him.
Formed in 2001 between L.A. musicians Om’mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Husayn (a former rapper/producer in Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate crew), Sa-Ra Creative Partners is more powerful as a myth than an actual group. It emerged in 2004 as part of Kanye West’s ill-fated G.O.O.D. Music venture with Columbia, fomenting buzz for its never-released debut, Black Fuzz. After the group left the label, many fans falsely speculated that Sa-Ra had broken up, dissipating like a midnight dream.
Since then, Sa-Ra Creative Partners has issued two collections of songs, 2007’s The Hollywood Recordings (Babygrande) and this year’s Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love (Ubiquity) The latter, a magnificent and powerful foray into drug and sex addiction, redemptive spirituality and love as a circadian rhythm, incorporates dozens of musicians both famous (Erykah Badu) and memorably eccentric (Rozzi Daime). Nuclear Evolution, patched together from songs recorded over the past several years, triumphs in spite of its sporadic assembly.
But Husayn, who sometimes refers to himself and Sa-Ra as third-person entities, says he doesn’t consider Nuclear Evolution a cohesive body of work. "Sa-Ra as a group has not released a debut album yet," he explains, perhaps perpetuating that myth himself. After all, wouldn’t a "Sa-Ra" album be the same as "Sa-Ra Creative Partners"? "We’re waiting for the right [distribution] situation to put it out. People are still sluggish, and not understanding." He adds, "What else do we have to do to show people that Sa-Ra is for real?"
So consider Husayn’s recent Shafiq ‘En A-Free-Kah a statement from a man in exile. He’s grateful to work with Plug Research, an L.A. indie best known for developing new artists. He’s also realistic about the small label’s ability to promote his music. "A lot of fans don’t even know that we have albums out," he rues.
Unlike the Sa-Ra Creative Partners collections, Husayn considers his solo debut a full-fledged philosophical treatise.
"’Kah’ in the ancient Kemetic language means spirit. So to be in the spirit of the Most High is infinite, it can’t be circumscribed by anything dealing with time and space. Thoughts originate in the spirit realm. They don’t originate on Earth," he explains. "So ‘en a-free-kah’ is a demonstration of using your higher self as a natural law. Or, as it is on Earth, shall it be in heaven, or as above shall be law, the unification of soul and mind, body and soul, all becoming one in a format of music. This is an album for the free nationals, meaning all in the international community who are not slaves, and when I say slaves, I mean not slaves in the mind, the ones that are open for a difference, for change. It is dedicated to the spirit of freedom."
It’s to Husayn’s credit that Shafiq ‘En A-Free-Kah sounds more fun than a history lesson. It sparkles with allusions to Loft-era disco and French coos ("Le’Star") and bass-bottom blues modernized with clipped electronic edits ("Lil’ Girl"). Protests against nuclear war ("Major Heavy") and fearless activism ("Rebel Soldier") play out against a fusillade of deep soul homage.
Sa-Ra may be the soul equivalent of DFA. While the home of LCD Soundsystem and Hercules and Love Affair rips off old Bohannon disco and Inner City techno tracks, Sa-Ra shamelessly references Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On (1971, Epic). These reinventions soar through canny production tricks and fidelity toward the original’s bright futurism, editing out any postmodern commentary. Husayn’s "Changes," for example, revisits the same synthesized optimism elements as Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972, Tamla/Motown).
But while DFA rules the indie-dance world through a distribution deal with international entertainment conglomerate EMI, Sa-Ra languishes, forced to license projects with modest albeit sympathetic companies. Husayn explains that his group is waiting to partner with a powerful company (ostensibly a major label) before it presents the full Sa-Ra experience.
"Any time Sa-Ra puts some music out, it should be a big deal," he says. "But you can’t know if it’s a big deal if you don’t even know it’s available." Well, now you know.
MUSIC Hey Annie fans, relax. How many pop princesses are savvy enough to begin the intro verse of an album’s kickoff song with a couplet that casually and subtly incorporates the titles of Shannon’s "Let the Music Play" and Chaka Khan’s "I Feel for You"? Years in the making, Don’t Stop (Smalltown Supersound) has gone through more permutations than a combinatronics expert could comprehend, yet our girl brings the goods the first seven songs are quip-sharp, catwalk-strut perfection, especially the initial one-two-three punch. The opener brings its introductory marching band motif back around at the climax with a potency that Tusk–era Fleetwood Mac might envy. "My Love is Better" is so sassy it’s funny, and so catchy it’s near fatal. Resplendently melancholic, "Bad Times" matches the femme finesse of Saint Etienne’s best uptempo moments and the melodicism of Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl’s peak collabos.
The higher Annie’s feather-light voice soars, the deeper the undertow of sadness in her words, and in that regard, "Bad Times" is her second album’s "Heartbeat." It might not become everyone’s pop song of the year the way her "Heartbeat" so obviously ruled 2004, but that’s only because it’s a little too introverted. If anything, it’s more sublime.
There are some interesting subtexts or subplots at play in Don’t Stop. One is its meta-pop aspect: at least a few songs address fellow songwriters and pop stars. "I Don’t Like Your Band" delivers a series of conciliatory kiss-offs and pieces of advice. This gambit would be deadly if Annie wasn’t on point, but she serves up immaculate wit and melody. (Robyn has to admire this track.) "Songs Remind Me of You" flips the Casey Kasem-era Top 40 conceit of an old song conjuring memory of an old love in this case, Annie wonders if the pop prince or princess she’s singing to is haunted by his or her past creations when they materialize from a nearby radio.
That "his or her" is worth noting, because Annie has almost never added gender-specific touches to her songs. For sure, when she’s put together a put-down lyric, it’s easy to imagine a boyish man on the receiving end. But Don’t Stop‘s one plaintive ode to a particular person, "Marie Cherie," addresses an ill-fated girl "who never made her sweet 16." Some unimaginable yet just-right marriage between Claudine Longet and P.J. Harvey’s "Down by the Water," it’s as seductively Sapphic and remote as a daughters of darkness fantasy. Annie at her best: more than strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.
MUSIC In late October, I spent a particularly thrilling evening at Annie’s Social Club, watching North Carolina-by-way-of-Venus band Valient Thorr fling copious sweat beads into a beer-soaked crowd. Annie’s, one of my favorite spots in San Francisco, was the perfect setting for the show cozy (but not cramped), dark and low-ceiling’d enough to feel like the coolest basement ever, and packed full of friendly punk and metal fans. On that night, the décor had been ghoulishly enhanced in honor of Halloween, complementing the bar’s usual mise-en-scène red lighting, a black-velvet painting collection, and ever-present horror and sci-fi flicks on the bar’s TVs.
"I always tried to make it feel like an extension of my living room, where people could just come in and feel comfortable, no matter what scene they were in," says the joint’s namesake, Annie Whiteside. On Nov. 13, Whiteside and co-owner Sean Kennedy announced, via the SF Indie List (where it was soon widely re-reported in local blogs and media), that Annie’s Social Club would be closing New Year’s Eve. Though the posting didn’t offer a reason, Whiteside is forthright in her explanation.
"The recession just got the best of us. We tried really hard to keep the place going, but with the recession the last two years it’s just been really hard on us," she says. "The overhead in San Francisco is so high, and our mission was really to support small bands and small touring bands, and keep our cover low and keep our drink prices low. Try as we might, we still just couldn’t cover the bills."
Annie’s Social Club opened at Fifth and Folsom streets (site of the storied CW Saloon, which closed in 2002) in 2006. Prior to that, Whiteside had operated Annie’s Cocktail Lounge, a little further South of Market, for seven years. Annie’s Social Club built off Whitehead’s experience working at Slim’s and other local music venues; besides bands, Annie’s hosted rock n’ roll karaoke, stand-up comedy, and burlesque shows.
"It’s a community of people I really liked supporting and being part of," Whiteside says. She’s especially upset about saying goodbye to her employees, who’ll all be out of jobs come 2010.
"I feel so badly that they are all gonna be out of work at the beginning of the year, which is a horrible time to look for work," she says. "So anybody out there who wants a good staff, I got a great staff."
Add Shawn Phillips, who books metal shows at Annie’s and other venues under the moniker Whore for Satan, to the list of folks who’re sad to see the club close.
"It took a special person like Annie to bring back the old CW Saloon format when she reopened it as Annie’s Social Club," he says. "Those people are few and far between these days. Annie’s was a home away from home for a lot of people."
Whiteside, who says she hasn’t met the incoming occupants of Fifth and Folsom, didn’t want to comment on the future of the space. It doesn’t seem likely, though, that raucous noise will be part of its milieu. Phillips points to clubs like Thee Parkside, El Rio, the Knockout, and the Hemlock as being well-positioned to help fill the void after Annie’s shuts its doors.
"The live music scene in SF may miss its footing in the pit and land on its ass for a second, but we’ll pick it up, someone will give it its shoe back and it’ll keep going," he says.
Whiteside, too, will keep going she hopes to eventually regroup and open "bar No. 3" if and when the economy ever turns around. For now, she’s grateful that Annie’s had such a great four-year run.
"It’s been a lot of fun," she says. "I want to thank all the bands and other performers and staff and customers for supporting us for as long as they did. Believe me, I cried a lot of tears when we had to make this decision. I feel like I’m losing a member of my family. It’s been really hard. I’m sure some people don’t care, but the people who do care, care a lot and that has meant a lot to me."
LIT I have a stack of Try magazines on my lap as I write this. The pages are white, marked by the black of letters and photocopied pen marks and the gray shades of color photos or aged pages filtered through Xerox. Some of the pieces in issues are printouts of e-mails, or maps of sites in Oakland going into foreclosure. Others are copied from typewritten pages or bank receipts. There are numbered lists, unnumbered lists, exquisite corpses, poetic critiques of programs, hidden sonnets for the public, and mash notes from poet to poet. There are images of Peter Lorre, and images by Dean Smith. One of my favorite poems in Try is "Flipper Turns 25," by Alli Warren. Another, by Stan Apps, is partly about Big Star. One of my favorite issues has writing about Contempt (1963) and Overboard (1987). Cover stars include one of Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculptures, at least one member of Ralph Eugene Meatyeard’s Crater family, and an erect David Wojnarowicz wearing an Arthur Rimbaud mask. It was in Try that I learned that no book by Jack Spicer is under copyright. The names of the contributors to an issue of Try are usually found on or near the back cover.
SFBG Why Try?
Sara Larsen Working with what you have at hand. Just because we don’t have much money, that doesn’t mean we can’t put out a magazine every two weeks or so. Also, we looked around us one day and realized we are surrounded by brilliant writers and artists. And that all of them really should know what the others are currently working on, that this knowing is generative and produces more work.
David Brazil We’ve seen so many people assume that it’s impossible to get anything done in the arts without institutional support, grants, or other kinds of fundraising. We intentionally designed our project to be as inexpensive as possible to produce and also to be free. We’re trying to give the lie to a whole set of assumptions both about how something is made, and what it could be for.
SFBG How do you manage to print biweekly/bimonthly? How have Try‘s content and the submissions changed over time (if they have changed)?
DB We usually manage to print by the seat of our pants. There’s invariably some logistical or financial obstacle. We’ve tried to learn the lesson of incorporating setbacks as constraints governing the production of the product a sort of chance operation. And as it’s turned out, issues we’ve produced in this way have often been far better than what we imagined in the first place.
SFBG The particulars: when did you begin publishing Try, what are your frameworks or structures for it, and how many issues have you done to date? What do you like about the folded 8 1/2 by 14-inch (or 2 by 7-inch) format?
DB We began publishing Try in the spring of 2008 and developed our framework as we went along. We’re in the habit of breaking rules as soon as it becomes apparent that they are rules, but we’ve done every issue staplebound on legal size paper, so that’s become habitual. I’d guess we’ve done 28, but we date them rather than number them, so sometimes even we lose track.
SL The 8 1/2 x 14 paper we fold over to make Try gives a spacious page and it’s easy every copy store has it.
SFBG Do themes or similarities ever emerge within an issue due to happenstance?
DB As time has gone by and our slush pile has expanded, we’ve gotten into the habit of curating our issues around not themes exactly, but motifs, which can show up in subtle ways. The issues we’re the most proud of end up harmonizing the work of the individual contributors and themselves forming an aesthetic whole.
SL Sometimes we’ll know someone is coming to town to read and we’ll solicit work from them and a number of poets who we think resonate with their work. And we’ll throw in some surprises too someone unexpected, or someone whose work is totally different from everything else in the issue.
SFBG Have you found out about any writers through their sending work unsolicited?
DB We’ve found many writers this way and we encourage such submissions!
SFBG Who would you love to receive an unsolicited submission from?
DB and SL Lessee … Bernadette Mayer, Susan Howe, Raymond Pettibon, Dennis Cooper, Bhanu Kapil, Will Alexander, Rob Fitterman, Samuel Delany, whoever’s reading this …
SFBG What motivates you to write?
SFBG Do you like photocopiers? What tips do you have for people who want to use them?
DB and SL Man, we fucking love photocopiers. And materiality. What is done by hand. We are not about the Internet. We are about a physical object that contains many people’s work passing hand to hand.
DB My only real advice is, make sure to print a sample set before you run off 100 copies.
SL We are also not opposed at all to people borrowing their friends’ copies of Try, bringing it to the copyshop themselves and making more. Not many people have thought to do this, surprisingly, but we’d love it if they did.
SFBG What are you obsessed with at the moment?
DB Obsolete technologies. Prophecy and the logos. Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. The contents of our next issue.
SL Quiet reading and writing time. Cooking greens. Study groups.
SFBG Has the experience of putting together and distributing Try changed your view of writing in the Bay Area, and if so, how?
DB We’ve always thought of Try as an attempt to provide a mirror within which a very dynamic writing community may see itself and, hopefully, be seen by future readers. If anything, we’ve become convinced in the past year that the local scene is even more vibrant and populous than we’d previously imagined, which is very hard to believe.
SFBG What are some of the more enigmatic or strange contributions you’ve received?
DB We’ve received bar reviews, anonymous cartoons, scribbles on napkins, ATM receipts, rejection letters from MFA writing programs, texts in braille, faxes from different time zones … and lots and lots of amazing poetry.
SL We’ve also found on the ground or stuffed in library books drawings or pictures that have become our covers or part of an issue.
SFBG What would you like to see more of in Try?
DB We initially imagined Try as a testing ground for work still underway, or else brand new, provisional, still-to-be-revised and we’d still love to see more of that kind of writing.
Try magazine is on hiatus until January, 2010. Write to Try at 3107 Ellis, Berkeley, CA 94703 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FILM Oh My God? took the words right outta my mouth about 10 minutes in. It was then clear this "multicultural spiritual quest" about religion worldwide illustrated the three worst trends in contemporary nonfiction filmmaking: the gratuitously first person vanity project; the Koyaanisqatsi (1982) school of globetrotting coffee-table pictorialism; and the "These are important questions. Let’s ask a celebrity for answers!" tactic.
Shot in 23 countries, God?‘s luxury do-gooderism might not compensate for its carbon imprint in any judgmental afterlife. The opening montage of Stuff ‘Round the World is meant to dazzle with the breadth of human experience. Instead, such expensive flash raises a red flag: who funded this? De Beers? Exxon Mobil?
Perhaps writer-producer-director Peter Rodger did himself, being maestro of "numerous car, clothing, and cosmetics companies’ print and commercial campaigns in over 40 countries." That explains a lot. The world is so cluttered with striking images MTV, advertising, and computer graphics have rendered mere visual brilliance trivial. What’s rare now is the providing of context that makes a picture meaningful.
"Truth is being diluted by too many voices all keen to reference the name of God. But what exactly is God? I decided to go around the world and ask people what they think," Rodger says at the start. Albeit not before Hugh Jackman has brushed his chestnut mane back to announce "God is unexplainable!" Whoa. Why is he here? Rodger presumably lives in that fabulous A-list bubble where success is understood to impart wisdom. Because what can’t money buy?
Oh My God? also includes philosophic two cents from Baz Luhrmann, Seal, Ringo Starr, HRH Princess Michael of Kent, and Sir Bob Geldof. (What, no Bono?) These celebs have zero special to say, but are top-billed unlike the spiritual leaders, leading academics, and mere proles whose profoundities were likely left on the cutting-room floor.
The movie does have plenty of time for Peter Rodger, our intrepid host for no obvious reason. Surely it doesn’t require his onscreen presence to ask questions like "If God really does exist, why does he permit so much suffering in the world?" We certainly don’t need him to call lingering Katrina devastation "pretty sad," a sentiment as trite as the quick cutaway from some New Orleans kids’ very moving statements is offensive.
Shooting with a real eye for travelogue imagery (sometimes at actual tourist events), Rodgers reduces animal-sacrificing African Maasai tribalists ("very colorful people"), Arizona Native Americans (tribe unidentified), Balinese Hindu priests, and more to exotic dress extras in a 93-minute music video scored by Alexander van Bubenheim as one long world beat mixtape. Tonal slants are predictable: born-again Texans = funny/bad; Tibetan monks = serene/good. OMG indeed.
As in so much human history, the use and abuse of religious ideas now urgently affects us all. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein notes (in a rare moment of permitted garrulousness), "The problem with religion today is that there’s just enough of it for people to learn to hate each other, but not enough to learn to love each other."
Yet Oh My God?‘s Babel of glancingly sampled opinions is just more contradictory noise a pu pu platter of empty-calorie pictorialism and half-formed big questions at no risk of meaningful exploration. Like that modern lit classic Eat Pray Love, it wrassles eternal issues of being and meaning into the feel-good hollow address of rich people’s problems.
OH MY GOD? opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM A lot of people have been busting filmmaker Wes Anderson’s proverbial chops lately, lambasting him for recent cinematic self-indulgences hewing dangerously close to self-parody (and in the case of 2007’s Darjeeling Limited, I’m one of them). Maybe he’s been listening. Either way, his new animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, should keep the naysayer wolves at bay for a while it’s nothing short of a rollicking, deadpan-hilarious case study in artistic renewal.
While the movie’s gorgeous autumnal color palette of saffron, ginger, cinnamon, and pomegranate recalls the Indian location of Darjeeling, Fox explodes that film’s stagnant complacency. A kind of man-imal inversion of Anderson’s other heist movie, his debut feature Bottle Rocket (1996), his latest revels in ramshackle spontaneity and childlike charm without sacrificing his adult preoccupations.
Sporting a double-breasted corduroy suit and velour pullover, Mr. Fox (George Clooney in full suave mode) is the essence of the old duality of man-fox conundrum. The ultimate impish rogue, what he might lack in competence, he makes up for in self-assured, foxlike élan. But Mr. Fox’s true animal nature has been compromised by domesticity. Forced to give up his chicken-stealing and killing ways by his wife (a subtly sly Meryl Streep), he’s also stymied by his only son (Jason Schwartzman), an attention-starved, Max Fischer-esque oddball with a penchant for sporting a towel as a cape.
Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved 1970 book, Fantastic Mr. Fox captures the essence of the source material but is still full of Anderson trademarks: meticulously staged mise en scène, bisected dollhouse-like sets, eccentric dysfunctional families coming to grips with their talent and success (or lack thereof).
And then there’s that pesky, romantic death obsession. Sure the animals are cute, but at times the stop-motion animation lends them a singularly creepy subtext. Fur routinely flits around in scattershot directions, seemingly independent of body movement. The effect weirdly evokes those time-lapse shots of animals in rapid decay.
As Mr. Fox himself points out, these are "wild animals with true natures and pure talents" talents that often involve killing one another. After a fatal showdown with a malevolent rat (Willem Dafoe), Fox waxes philosophic. "In the end, he’s just another dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant," he intones. It’s possibly the most contextually stupefying, hilarious moment in a film teeming with them.
When Mr. Fox finally embraces his essential foxiness once again, ultimately succeeding in gaming the system (more or less), it feels like a victory for Anderson as well. After all, he’s concocted a family film as slyly subversive as its titular character, and done so on his own terms. Let’s hope it’s in his nature to make more movies like this one.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX opens Wed/25 in Bay Area theaters.
CHEAP EATS I like to live like I like to love: with my back to the wall, my skirt hiked up, and my hair a mess. Come to think of it, I like to play ping-pong and soccer that way too, but rarely wear skirts to games.
In case they never see me again, my soccerish pals Alice Shaw the Person and Elbie wanted to buy me brunch after our 3-3 tie last Sunday. It was the first game of the new season, but I’m going to miss the second and third, as well as the fourth through tenth, and quite possibly all of next season, come to think of it, and the next after that. And … hey, you never know.
When I went to Berlin last summer, there were isolated pockets of concern that I wouldn’t come back. This time it’s an all-out rumor. Everyone in the world, myself included, seems to think my return ticket might maybe be just for show. My friends who have actually met my Romeo, Romea, are convinced of it.
We make a damn good couple.
And I haven’t been helping matters by quitting my nanny gigs, subletting my shack, and giving away half my things. I’m even selling my car, Alice Shaw the Car, to Alice Shaw the Person’s little sister, which seems to make a certain sense, but certainly not financial sense. Funny, everything I have ever done that was by-the-books sound, advisable, or fiscally responsible has blown up in my face.
On the other hand, my soccer team won two championships in a row, and yes I am still thank you in love. But it’s a tricky proposition, living insanely without going insane. It’s like playing like I play: recklessly defensive. Sometimes you overcommit and slip and then your back-to-the-wall is skidding across the grass while the other team scores.
I wish I could take my soccer team to Germany with me, because they tend to pick me up, so to speak. But they’re all Brazilian and would struggle with the language. And the weather. And the style of play.
Anyway, I’m unaccustomed to winning, and a little disappointed because all we get for it is a T-shirt and a team photo. Otherwise, it’s almost the same as losing: you shake the other team’s hands and say the exact same thing they say, "Good game, good game," and then you go get beers or pancakes or something, or both. I don’t know, maybe there are other differences.
The real problem is that our league plays on Sundays, in the morning, so where are you going to get fed and watered afterward without having to wait in line?
Sports bars! It took me many years to figure this out, and then … I didn’t figure it out. Someone else did. I think it was Elbie’s guy who suggested the Fiddler’s Green after last game, and after this one I was hurrying down Haight Street to get in line at the Pork Store when I noticed Martin Mack’s, other side of the street, a block or so away. And it was empty, even though there was football and soccer and more football on TV. It was a sea of empty tables in there, and, yes, they serve brunch.
So I called Alice Shaw the Person’s cell phone and said, "Forget it. Forget the Pork Store."
And that was how I came to discover boiled bacon and cabbage. It was on the specials board, along with Guinness and beef stew, and I forget what else. Me and Elbie ordered those two things, and Alice got the Irish breakfast, and it was all a lot of too-much food for all of us, even though we’d just run around like we did.
Ten bucks apiece.
My dish came with unannounced but not unwelcome potatoes, mashed. The bacon scared me at first, not because it was Irish bacon, or boiled, but because it was smothered in this parsley-specked creamy white sauce that screamed mayonnaise. The waitressperson told me two or three times, no mayo, before I would taste it. And then I tasted it and it was awesome. If there was mayonnaise in it, I now love mayonnaise.
Stranger things have happened.
Mon.Sun., 10 a.m.2 a.m.
1568 Haight, SF
L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.
We’ve done "cougars." We’ve done "MILFs." But surely it’s been a while since we did "older women vs. gold-diggers?" We have to give each generation equal opportunity to blame and/or objectify every other generation or we’re not doing our jobs.
I’m a 38-year-old woman. I like older women and I hope to be one someday. I don’t want to ignore their complaints about men their age dating younger women, but I have noticed something conspicuously absent from the conversation a discussion of why younger women choose to date older men. For the most part we are not "gold-diggers." Mostly we are tired of dating postadolescent man-children our age.
When I was 26, I met and married a man who was 43. He opened doors for me, vs. a guy my age who actually shoved me into some bushes trying to get into the house before me in the rain. He paid for dinner vs. young men who haggled over every dime. He was an excellent lover who put my needs first vs. guys my age who were done in five minutes then told me I could go ahead and finish by myself. He makes me feel beautiful. He never goes commando because he doesn’t have any clean laundry, and I have never once seen him throwing-up drunk.
So, older women complaining about younger women dating all the men their age we wouldn’t have to if you had raised sons anyone would want to date. There, I said it. We now have multiple generations of boys who don’t actually become men until they’re around 40. We do not want to finish raising your sons for you. What happens when they’re 25 and think that they’re the best at everything they do, but they don’t know how to do laundry, cook for themselves, or pay rent on time? What happens when they don’t have any manners or respect for other people because you thought it was cute to see a little boy act like a king? Well, here’s what happens girls their age don’t want to date them. They find older men who will give them respect, affection, and great orgasms and then there are no older men left for you to date.
You can bitch and moan, call us gold-diggers and call the men we date cradle-robbers, but when you’re throwing around blame, just be sure to look around the corner into your 28-year-old son’s bedroom, and then look in the mirror. If you raise sons women want to date, you will ensure that there will be some men your age left when you’re 55 and single.
Not a Digger
Whoa! Whoa there! I was with you until suddenly the brute piggishness of the men you chose to date in your youth became the fault of the older women you would like to be one of eventually. There were better-behaved guys out there, you know. They were the guys who are always complaining that the hot girls think of them "just like a brother." Young women are often attracted to louts, for any number of reasons. Many things can be blamed on louts, but young women’s desire to sleep with them is not one of them.
There is, I admit, some blame to be laid on the parenting styles of the ’70s and ’80s (permissive to the maxi-max-max) for the childishness of (some!) of the young men you knew when you yourself were in your 20s. Some. But let us not lay that on the mothers alone. Indeed, let us watch it with the blaming, period. Yes, it was a permissive era and yes, it turns out in hindsight that children may need more responsibility and less indulgence than was popularly supposed when you and your idiot boyfriends were coming of age, but you know what they say about hindsight. And speaking of hindsight, surely its glow ought to be illuminating the fact that you were choosing the sort of boy-men who spent a lot of time drinking till they puked, and who would (I’m sorry, it’s awful of me but this is hilarious) shove you into the bushes to get out of the rain. Dumb-dumb boys! Don’t date ’em!
Yes, it is hard for young women, who do tend to mature faster than young men do, to find reasonably well-behaved guys their own age to date. I don’t think this is an artifact of any given era; young women have always complained of the immaturity of young men. Yes, older men are attractive to young women for far more reasons than their larger billfolds. Yes, it is unattractive of older women to sling epithets at the younger competition. But it’s also unseemly for you to blame them for the bad behavior of what were, after all, grownups at the time. What would you think of a 26-year-old man blaming his mother because he forgot to do the laundry? I thought so.
See Andrea’s other column at carnalnation.com.
SEX Future sexologists will pinpoint the 2000s as the decade in which the sex toy industry finally crawled from its toxic swamp toward the green light. Before now, mainstream sex toys were garish in appearance, sloppily constructed, and intended to be dumped in a landfill after a few months of use. Made in shady overseas factories by exploited workers, many contained chemicals, like phthalates, that have been linked to cancer and were powered by frequently disposed-of batteries. Virtually nothing about the assembly or life cycle of the average sex toy indicated any consideration of consumer safety, labor standards, or environmental sustainability.
Fast-forward to today. Toys are available in a range of medical-grade, recyclable, and body-safe materials that don’t threaten users with possible tumors. There are rechargeable, recyclable, hand-cranked, organic, or solar-powered erotic accoutrements for the picking. A growing number of businesses manufacture locally. Retailers are using their influence to spread the natural sex toy word. And the products are actually selling.
The Bay Area has been pivotal in catalyzing these changes. Many of the most influential and promising environmentally-minded sex entrepreneurs, retailers, and advocates are based here we house more green-compliant adult manufacturers than any other city. In a city where the word "sexual" is happily associated with innumerable prefixes homo-, bi-, poly-, pan-, a-, omni- we’ve earned a new variation: ecosexual.
If you’ve turned yourself on in the past 33 years, you probably know about Good Vibrations (www.goodvibes.com), the sex-toy juggernaut that evolved from a small women-owned cooperative into a worldwide phenomenon. I met with Carol Queen, PhD and staff sexologist, and Camilla Lombard, publicity manager, at Good Vibes’ Polk Street retail location, where large posters announced a new "Ecorotic" line: "Have Sustainable Sex! Kiss uninspired evenings goodbye!" The candy-colored Ecorotic toys, rechargeable and organic, occupied the most prominent display tables and cases.
Good Vibes has influenced some of the industry’s most important ecosexual developments. In 2001, the popular German magazine Stern ran the first feature on the harmful effects phthalates in sex toys, and Queen recalled, "The [journalists] stopped at Good Vibrations on their way back from Asia, after having gone to enormous toy factories in China and Hong Kong. They thought they were going to do a Life magazine-type spread on sex toy factories there. But their photographer was a medical doctor and when he smelled the air in the factories, he knew something was wrong. So they came to us the day after they got off the plane from Asia looking for alternatives. We started that conversation well over 10 years ago." (More than 70 percent of the world’s sex toys are still manufactured in China, where safety and environmental standards can be sketchy.)
Good Vibrations was among the first major retailers to phase phthalates out of their inventory, but they are, to this day, among the minority to do so. Included in this minority is Libida (www.libida.com), which like Good Vibrations is a local, women-centered adult e-boutique. Libida’s founder, Petra Zebroff, has a doctorate in human sexuality. (While most cities can’t boast of a single sex shop with PhD-certified sexologists on staff, San Francisco, perhaps unsurprisingly has several). I asked Petroff for advice on choosing a safe product. She warned, "If you smell a strong chemical smell or it’s unusually inexpensive phthalates are the cheap way to make a rubber pliable it probably contains materials that are not good for you or the environment."
As an alternative, the staff at Libida and Good Vibes suggests silicone, a recyclable, hypoallergenic, and nonporous substance also used in cookware and medical devices. Both retailers stock products by Vixen Creations (www.vixencreations.com), a local woman-owned dildo company celebrating 17 successful years. Vixen develops and manufactures popular silicone toys at its San Francisco factory, where each toy is crafted by hand and given a lifetime warranty something unprecedented in the field.
Like silicone, wood is used in body-safe and eco-conscious sex toys, but has the added benefit of being naturally beautiful. Founded in 2005, NobEssence (www.nobessence.com) sells handmade sculptural toys that resemble antique curios. CEO Jason Yoder has an environmentalist’s background, having worked as an auditor for SA8000, a global accountability standard of ethical working conditions. During a phone conversation, Yoder remarked, "We hold ourselves to that standard not because we want to seem greener but because it’s self-evident that it’s the right thing to do." NobEssence sources sustainably farmed and harvested hardwood, and suppliers sign a code of conduct designating penalties for labor or ecological violations.
Borosilicate glass is another aesthetically pleasing material option. Sexual locavores who enjoyed the recent Dale Chihuly retrospective at the de Young Museum must visit Glass Kandi (569 Geary, SF. www.glassdildome.com), where each uniquely hand-blown toy is a gleaming parcel of sexy sui generis. "I have more glass dildos in my kitchen than I do in this store," owner Samantha Liu told me mischievously. "I’d been using this stuff for years." When I heard her say "kitchen," my eyes instinctively fell upon her "Produce Collection": halcyon dildos of garden-variety cucumbers, jalapenos, and bananas plus a Chinese bitter melon and a cob of corn. "I’ve had people send me pictures with one of these in a fruit basket," Liu said. Liu designs most of the toys herself and works with local glassblowers to materialize them into objects of desire. Borosilicate glass may not be the recyclable kind, but these crystalline baubles would be criminal to discard.
Stationary toys like glass and wood dildos have their advantages, but sometimes it’s helpful when a toy moves on your behalf. With unique technical innovations, two local companies, JuicyLogic (www.juicylogic.com) and Jimmyjane (www.jimmyjane.com), have introduced impressive reinterpretations of the traditional vibrator, clearly illustrating that the demand for green solutions has never been higher than now.
JuicyLogic, started by Zebroff of Libida, is the company behind the only solar-powered vibrator on the market. "I started JuicyLogic in an ongoing effort to focus on finding and making green sex toys," she explained. "The idea of Sola Vibe came up when we found out that the only solar-powered vibrator on the market was being discontinued. We knew there was nothing else available, and we wanted to make sure solar power was an option for vibrator users." Like many green crusaders, Zebroff hopes to reduce battery waste. "The average person uses up eight batteries per year, leaving 2.4 billion batteries disposed of each year. I thought of how vibrators use batteries as their main source of power, and I felt an obligation to advocate for other sources of energy for vibrators." When the alternative source didn’t seem to exist, she created it herself: a silicone vibrator equipped with a solar panel containing 2.5 hours of vibrating bliss.
Jimmyjane, like JuicyLogic, is an inventive young company. Founded in 2004 by Ethan Imboden, an industrial designer and engineer, Jimmyjane is recognized as the industry’s current technological leader. With patented external docking devices that power a lithium ion battery, Jimmyjane’s vibrators are sleeved in silicone, hygienically sealed, and fully operable three meters underwater, displaying a thoughtfulness of design, a mechanical know-how, and a cavalier extravagance that distinguish them from others. Jimmyjane just released the Form 2, a smaller vibrator using similar technology. The nifty items in the Form series have more functions than most cell phones and rival Apple products in sleekness of design. Why the detail? Imboden answered, "We realized early on that if Jimmyjane is going to be a part of peoples’ sexuality because sexuality is such an intimate and a vulnerable aspect of our lives there are a whole set of responsibilities that go with that. We don’t market ourselves as an eco-company because for us, it’s an assumption that that’s our responsibility." They’ve certainly done their part: the Forms require not a single alkaline battery.
Thrillingly, the city’s DIY-oriented sexual community is also producing ecosex craft innovations that are as groundbreaking as they are thought-provoking. Madame Butterfly (www.butterflyrope.com) is a textile artist who handspins bondage rope out of raw silk, bamboo, and other natural materials. On the more steampunk side of things, SFSU student Martin Cooper recently unveiled an attention-grabbing, water-powered fucking machine in a nine-foot wood and metal frame. If it looks a little medieval, well, that’s part of the attraction.
Back at Good Vibrations, I asked Queen why San Francisco has become the crux of the ecosex movement. "It’s the sex-positivity," she said. "I think it’s because in the Bay Area I hate the word ‘normal’ when talking about sex but here this discussion is normalized in a different way than it is everywhere else." It’s true that savvy entrepreneurs are just a small part of our larger, sex-positive culture. Still, the ecosexual movement may be the proof that our culture as a whole is pushing forward toward a more sustainable future. After all, everything starts with sex.
SUPER EGO Child, there is no better place to digest your Thanksgiving giblets than a leather bar. (For all my non-homo homies and vegan amigos, meet me at the rather hopping Mission Hill Saloon 491 Potrero, SF for some cheap après-pie Chimay. I’ll bring the family-recovery Vicodin. Is Vicodin vegan? Anyway.) Hunky and slightly distressed-skin leather queens will actually cruise the holiday fat off those chunky drumsticks poking through your peek-a-boo chaps with their hungry, hungry, laser-beam eyes. And let’s not even get into all the "stuffing" double-entendres here because what do I look like, an anal-leather-metaphorologist? Gag, not hardly.
But say, what’s better than a leather bar? Saw VII: Lady Gaga? Nah, it’s several leather bars which is why I’m harnessing your attention to the upcoming Folsom Friday dead-cow spectacular, hosted by the chacondo folks of SoMa enclave Truck. Board the free shuttle there and get carted to such dark and lovely glories as Chaps, Lone Star Saloon, Powerhouse, Mr. S, Blow Buddies, and Off Ramp Leather to get you good and plucked. I’m not sure why the juicy Hole in the Wall and Eagle Tavern aren’t on the list, but the whole man-megillah’s a testament to our thriving leather scene, once thought strangled by the Web’s insidious tentacles. Flog that bird!
FOLSOM FRIDAY Fri/27, 9 p.m., free. Truck, 1900 Folsom, SF. www.folsomfriday.com
Goths always in fashion because they’re above it. They’re even immune to hiatuses, as the 10th anniversary fete for this once-regular, now-rare goth-glam jamboree attests. Return from the grave to rock’s frigid underside with DJs Miz Margo and Sage.
Wed/25, 10 p.m., $5. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.darksparkle.com
World AIDS Day is Dec. 1, and incredibly on-top charity NextAid (www.nextaid.org) is rolling out a ton of worldwide benefit parties, starting with an all-star bonanza here, with long-standing L.A. techno king D:Fuse, Sen-Sei, Rooz, and Fil Latorre
Wed/25, 9 p.m., $15. Supperclub, 657 Harrison, SF. www.supperclub.com
A gaggle of local woofer gobblers of all bass styles invades Paradise Lounge to sauce your canned cranberries. Ginsu-wielders include Smoove, Mozaic, Influence, Uncle Larry, Cruz, and Antibiotik.
Wed/25, 9 p.m.3 a.m., $5. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.paradisesf.com
Poor Joker. This year, the young Bristol, U.K., phenom tried to start a more melodic "purple" dubstep movement to get more women on the dance floor and was immediately accused of stereotyping. Truth is, he’s got killer bass instincts and soulful taste, a rare combination these days as rare as women on the dubstep dance floor, in fact. With Lazer Sword, an-ten-nae, and loads more.
Fri/27, 10 p.m.late, $10. 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com
Pop your cork early this year, love. All-star disco DJ dream team Sergio Fedasz, Stanley Chilidog, Nickie B., Flight, and door-slut Stephen You Guys! are celebrating one year of monthly high-hat spritz at Deco. Plus: Ken Vulsion of Honey Soundsystem and Disochorror.com’s Ash Williams, who’ll be offering a "Cosmic Beardo Lift-Off Set."
Sat/28, 9 p.m.late, $5. Deco, 510 Larkin, SF
Hall and Oates meet hyphy classics in the crunktastic mashup universe of DJ Roots Uno. He’s the house decks wrecker at the new weekly Sunday joint from the too-high LOW SF kids who, when they’re not peeing in someone’s swanky pool, are keeping the electro-disco dream alive.
Sundays, 9 p.m., free. Delirium, 3139 16th St., SF. www.lowsf.com
I finally have to put in a good word for my favorite shady lady Monistat’s Tuesday night drag cataclysm at EndUp. (EndUp just turned 36! Where have all the flowers gone?) Every week brings a more thrillingly horrifying theme, with outré performances, rotating DJs, and a bountiful bouquet of mayhem. Outwit, outplay, outlast.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m., $5. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.endup.com
The migratory patterns of restaurants might not be as riveting or significant as those of birds, but they do offer their little quirks and joys. When an Oakland restaurant opens a second front across the bay, in the city The City, our very own one sits up and takes notice. I am talking about Noodle Theory, which is the first Oakland, or indeed East Bay, restaurant to hop across our little mare nostrum that I can think of in quite a while, or maybe ever. Since the 1989 earthquake and the realignment of regional dining habits (the city was largely cut off for a month by the Bay Bridge closure), most of the traffic has gone the other way city restaurants opening in the suburbs, where increasing numbers of diners are. (Also Chronicle subscribers; do we detect a pattern here?) In this sense, Noodle Theory is a kind of reverse commuter.
With a name like Noodle Theory, you would expect … noodles, and lots of them, and Noodle Theory delivers. Executive chef (and owner) Louis Kao’s menu is a brief primer on the noodles of east Asia, including soba, udon, and ramen. (Noodles, as it happens, are an ancient presence in east Asian cuisine, although it’s apparently a myth that Marco Polo introduced them to Italy.) But the food extends beyond noodles, and many of the noodly dishes display a worldly sophistication that transcends memories of those packs of instant ramen so many of us subsisted on as undergraduates.
The look of the restaurant suggests the basic Asian, even Japanese, tendency of things. (The space’s previous occupant was, in a small irony, a Thai restaurant.) The long, deep dining room, which includes the bar, is screened from the street by a pair of slatted rosewood panels that look like upright futon frames. One wall is upholstered in squares of rust-red leather, while the other consists largely of a floated sheet of iridescent green fabric. The basic effect is one of uncluttered sleekness that also manages to be slightly warm. One glance tells you that you’re somewhere in the Marina, and you’d certainly be pardoned for supposing you had ended up in a sushi bar.
The tableware, too, exudes a minimalist high style: oversized plates and bowls of white porcelain, some hemispherical, others rectangular or square. Some of this must be purely for show, but there’s also a functionality angle, since many of the dishes are complex compilations of noodles, broth, and feature ingredients, like the Szechuan-style oxtails ($13), braised in red wine and served in a deep round bowl with ramen and bok choy. I associate Szechuan style with chili heat, but there was none here, just the deep, brown, Burgundian richness of the braising liquid and tender meat on its knuckles of bone. Despite an ostensible Chinese provenance, the dish was like a cross between osso buco, beef Burgundy, and pho. And that was fine.
Less soupy were a set of pan-seared duck-breast flaps ($16) nested in a tangle of chubby wheat noodles. The noodles glistened with a thick coating of the coconut red curry sauce that is a staple in Thai cooking. The most striking quality of the sauce was its heat; despite its shy, orange-pink, nursery-room tint, it packed a real chili charge that left us smacking our lips for relief.
Many of the smaller dishes, even if noodleless, bring their own pleasures. Each table gets a complimentary dish of soy-seasoned edamame to nibble on, and as much as I love bread and butter, there’s much to be said for healthful nibble food that’s also tasty. If the edamame isn’t enough, then perhaps a bowl of dry-sautéed green beans ($6), a wealth of plump torpedoes nicely blistered and generously seasoned with ginger, garlic, and scallions. And the dinner menu offers quite sophisticated starter courses, such as tabs of grilled Hawaiian butterfish ($10), set up like a lean-to over a salad of ramen noodles and wakame (the translucent green threads of seaweed familiar to sushi lovers), with a wading pool of wasabi cream to one side.
All noodles might be starch, but at Noodle Theory, not all starch is noodles. There’s a wonderful soft bun, for instance, that serves as the basis for the chicken katsu sandwich ($10), whose guts consist of a panko-crusted filet and a purplish smear of Asian slaw. The bun was fabulous and the filet juicy-crisp, while the slaw slightly disappointed despite its rich color. But the taro-root chips on the side gave some consolation.
As for sweet starch: how about the doughnut holes ($8), a stack of a half-dozen or so beignet-like disks, dusted with sugar and ready for dipping into either butterscotch or chocolate ganache sauce? In addition to being one of the few items on the menu without a discernible Asian influence, the doughnut holes are sublime and nicely proportioned. They’re just enough for two people to share without feeling that they will soon need CPR or being so bloated that they will have to lie down on a futon to sleep it off.
Lunch: Mon., Wed.Fri., 11:30 a.m.3 p.m.;
Sat.Sun., 11:30 a.m.5 p.m.
Dinner: Mon., Wed.-Sat., 510 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m.
3242 Scott, SF
Beer and wine
The Green Room of the San Francisco Veterans Building has been taken over for the night by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity organization that mashes Catholic imagery and drag, perhaps San Francisco’s most iconic gay group. But among the drag queens and leather daddies are military veterans in garrison caps and vests decorated with medals.
This is the Sister’s bingo night, an event to raise money for the various nonprofit organizations the order supports. Above the stage hangs the banner of the Sisters’ partner in the event: American Legion Post 448, also known as the Alexander Hamilton post.
It may seem like a strange partnership drag nuns joining forces with the American Legion, the country’s largest veterans’ organization with 14,000 posts worldwide. The goals of the Legion are traditionally conservative: uphold the constitution, make national security the top priority, demand loyalty to the union, and "foster and perpetuate a 100 percent Americanism," according to its preamble. It even maintains a pseudo-military rank structure among its members.
But the partnership isn’t so strange. The 448 is the only Legion post in the nation for gays and lesbians who once served in the military. Its relationship with the Sisters is a "good partnership," as Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms Morningstar Vancil puts it, and a "win-win situation." The post runs the outside bar since city bingo rules don’t allow liquor during the game and the Sisters get the room at the vets’ reduced rental rate.
The bingo proceeds go to the Sisters’ charities while the proceeds from the bar go to Post’s causes, particularly its ongoing push to repeal the military’s long-standing ban preventing homosexuals from serving openly. Today, that cause seems more hopeful than ever considering that the current presidential administration has promised to bring the ban to an end.
"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars," President Barack Obama said in his speech to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission on Oct. 10.
However, some of the post members are only cautiously optimistic about Obama’s promise after the long, tough climb just to establish a gay post in San Francisco.
Noted gay rights activist and veteran Dr. Paul D. Hardman formed the post in 1984, naming it after Alexander Hamilton, who wrote affectionate letters to Continental Army Capt. John Laurens. A quote from one letter appears on the post’s Web site: "I wish, my dear Laurens, that it might be in my power, by action, rather than words, to convince you that I love you." Hardman and some historians have speculated on a homosexual relationship between the two.
Hardman needed at least 15 gay veterans to form the post and he got 18, including the late Marcus Hernandez, former leather columnist for the LGBT newspaper Bay Area Reporter. But acceptance was hard to get in the early days.
According to Arch Wilson, World War II vet and the oldest living founding member at 85, the post had a difficult time getting approved. During the approval process, the Legion stalled, losing applications and paperwork, which Wilson attributes to old-guard homophobia.
"They absolutely had no tolerance for homosexuals in their midst," Wilson said
At first, the 448 wasn’t even allowed in the Veterans Building. But they had a powerful weapon: the city’s nondiscrimination ordinances. Since the building was city property, the American Legion had to abide by the ordinances. The threat of a lawsuit was leverage enough to allow the Alexander Hamilton Post an office and its charter, but not a seat on the War Memorial Commission that ran the building. The 448 got a seat on the commission after taking the Legion to court in 1987.
According to Commander John Forrett, one of his predecessors had once been asked at a national Legion convention, "Oh, you’re from San Francisco. You’ve got that queer post, don’t cha?" And when a gay slur was uttered at a delegate meeting, the post again took the Legion to court. "Following that they haven’t dared mouth off any kind of venom about queers," Wilson said.
And while acceptance is more readily found today, there is still some resentment. "It shows through sometimes," Wilson said. "If you were a black man, you’d know when you were getting a subtle brush-off by a white who didn’t like you and wouldn’t dare say so."
Forrett agrees. "The clash still exists but it’s the old guard the older veterans as well as older active duty members."
When called for comment, the national American Legion office said it didn’t even know a gay post existed. However, the American Legion’s Department of California the state headquarters, which is located in San Francisco told us that the 448’s sexual orientation just isn’t even an issue nowadays.
DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL
When Congress approved 10 United States Code, Section 654, commonly known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) the Alexander Hamilton Post had a new fight. Signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, DADT is the policy that allows homosexuals to serve as long as they stay in the closet. Since its inception, the 448 has fought aggressively to get it overturned.
The history of DADT is "kind of the history of the post," according to Forrett, who was a reserve Army officer living in the closet during the first Gulf War. Fortunately, his sexuality never came into question, but he eventually resigned his commission because of the unfortunate changes he saw in the military as a result of DADT.
"DADT, with the best of intentions, didn’t go far enough to protect and left a huge window of opportunity for predators and harassers," Forrett said.
Forrett has met two of the most prominent casualties of DADT: Lt. Dan Choi, who has since become a post member, and former sailor Joseph Rocha, who wrote an Oct. 11 Washington Post op-ed piece outlining the brutal harassment he received because of his sexuality. He wrote that his chief forced him to simulate oral sex with another sailor, and was once tied up in a dog kennel.
Since the mid-1990s, the 448 has sought to build support for repealing DADT. Hardman and others testified in Congress in 1996 on the damaging impact of the policy. He also pushed for the belated release of what he called the "long-suppressed" 1993 Rand Corporation study on gays in the military. The study’s conclusion was that sexual orientation wasn’t germane when deciding who can and cannot effectively serve in the military
The report spearheaded the post’s partnership with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit organization helping those harassed under DADT. "The Alexander Hamilton Legion has been a longtime committed partner," Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian.
Post members attend SLDN’s Lobby Day, where supporters gather on Capitol Hill asking politicians to take action. And they continue to work with SLDN on getting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act a bill that would repeal DADT pushed through Congress.
But other post members are getting impatient. "Get on with it," Service Officer Robert C. Potter told us. "As my mother would say, ‘Either shit or get off the pot.’"
"Before Obama gets out of office, I want this changed," Sergeant-at-Arms Jimmy McConnell said. "And it’s not just for me. I want it for every person who feels that they are gay, bi, transgender, whatever."
However, Forrett is confident the president will make good on his promise. He feels that the president is going about it the right way by waiting for the next Congress. "Come on, man, 2010 isn’t that far," he said. "We’ve been suffering this long."
A NEW MISSION
When DADT is repealed, the post will work toward building a LGBT veterans’ memorial honoring those brave gay soldiers who gave their lives protecting their country. "For those who were before us, for those who are with us, and those who will come," Forrett said. "That’s kind of the concept. We want it to be an ongoing tribute."
In the meantime, the post continues to fight for veterans’ rights as well as LGBT rights, even bringing care packages to the wounded soldiers at the Fort Miley V.A. Hospital. "When we go to the V.A. hospital we don’t focus on LGBT, we focus on veterans," Forrett said.
And they’ll continue working with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and marching in the Pride Parade because Forrett believes that everything the post does comes back to DADT. "It keeps us out in front of everybody and that’s what’s important."
San Francisco Police Department officers have added a controversial tactic to their aggressive raids on house parties (see "Fun under siege," 4/22/09): they’re seizing laptop computers from DJs at the events.
While SFPD officials deny the laptop seizures is a new policy, they admit it has been condoned by Police Chief George Gascón, who took over in August and last month told the Guardian‘s editorial board he wants to make the SFPD more transparent and accountable to the public (see "New coach, new approach," 10/14/09).
"The police chief is aware that officers are being proactive in gathering evidence," Sgt. Lyn Tomioka told the Guardian when asked about a string of laptop seizures by undercover cops over the last 10 months, most of them in cases in which the DJs weren’t even charged with a crime.
Many of the raids have occurred in SoMa, and were spearheaded by undercover officers who penetrated the parties and were followed by uniformed officers. San Francisco Entertainment Commission member Terrance Alan called the crackdown a "disappointing and dangerous trend."
Tomioka said it’s a judgment call for officers to seize laptops as evidence of an illegal party, but Alan said the tactic is a punitive measure that proves nothing: "Taking laptops [is] not necessary to prove the underlying crime, and in many cases damages people’s ability to earn a living."
One of the most recent raids happened on Halloween. It was about 2:30 a.m. and music was pumping out of a warehouse party on Sixth Street. The people throwing the party had hired a doorman, and attendee Eric Dunn was standing in line waiting to get in.
"We were right at the front of the line," Dunn told the Guardian, when, he said, two plainclothes officers drove up on the sidewalk, jumped out of an unmarked car, and rushed up to the doorman. "[The officers] pretty much started demanding entry right away. The doorman was really polite. He basically told them that you have to know somebody to get into the party."
Dunn said the officers waited until an exiting guest opened the door from the inside and then made their move. "One guy barged in, and the other guy followed. They never asked permission or received permission to enter the building," Dunn said.
Inside, the two undercover officers immediately shut down the event. Justin Miller, a DJ at the event, said she remembers it very clearly. "The cops at that point were telling everybody to leave the party, telling me to turn the music off. I turned the music off. Everyone was quietly leaving."
But Miller said it didn’t stop there. One of the undercover officers approached her and asked if she had a laptop. She said she did. "I was a little confused at this point because I didn’t know what my laptop had to do with anything. I was playing CDs." She said she pulled her computer out from underneath a table and unzipped it from a case. The officer then "grabbed it from me."
The undercover police officer later identified by witnesses and the evidence receipt as Larry Bertrand instructed Miller to follow him down to the street to get a property receipt for her laptop.
At this point there were uniformed officers on the scene as well. Miller started to cry. "I begged him. I said, ‘This is my livelihood. You’re talking my laptop. This is my livelihood. I hope you realize that.’ He said, ‘This is how you’re going to learn then, I guess.’"
Miller said Bertrand (who did not return Guardian calls for comment) then told her he was "going to take it upon himself to shut down every illegal party in San Francisco."
She said he then opened the trunk of his car, revealing several other laptops. A person at the party pointed out that one of the laptops belonged to a friend of his, and asked if he could get the property receipt for the laptop. Miller said Bertrand turned to the inquiring person and said, "You will never see this laptop again."
She continued: "He then looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to make sure your paperwork gets so tied up that maybe you won’t see this laptop until December, January, February, who knows when.’ I felt so violated."
Miller has been working as a DJ in the Bay Area, under the name DJ Justincredible, for more than 10 years. She says she’s never had any of her equipment confiscated by the police before. But at that party, three DJs had their laptops confiscated, even though none were charged with a crime.
Shortly after the Halloween incident, Miller and the two other DJs who were at the party contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group specializing in technology and privacy issues. Jennifer Granick, a civil liberties lawyer with EFF, said most people haven’t heard about this because few of these DJs, if any, ever get convicted of a crime.
"DJs and the police department know that sound equipment and laptops are being unlawfully seized. But the public and the courts haven’t heard much about it because every time a DJ asks for a hearing, the cops just give them their property back rather than show up and defend the practice in open court before a judge," she said.
Sean Evans has been working as a DJ in San Francisco, under the name DJ 7, for more than 10 years. He said that over the summer he had his laptop seized by police during an after-hours party in SoMa. He was given no property receipt, and his case was dismissed. But it took him three months to get his computer back.
"To lose our sole means of income, it’s a huge setback. It puts us out of work. In this recession, we’re struggling, and we need our laptops to get by," he said. Evans grew up in the Bay Area and he said has never had anything like this happen to him before.
Granick argued it is illegal for police to seize property without issuing citations or arrests. She also said there are serious privacy issues at stake. "If we were to find out that the police were doing something else with the laptops, like searching through them or copying the data, we would definitely go to court," she said.
SFPD Sgt. Wilfred Williams said he could not say what was currently being done with the laptops. In general, he said, private events that emit "extraordinary amounts of sound" need permits. And if they don’t have the proper permits, he said, property can be seized as evidence, "be it the speakers, be it the laptops, be it a mixer."
Both Tomioka and Williams say the seizures aren’t a new policy. "If you look back in time, laptops haven’t been used for music," Williams said. "There used to be old types of equipment that was taken in the past. But now laptops are being used. So yes, today, laptops [are] being seized."
Entertainment advocates have called on Mayor Gavin Newsom and Gascón to come forward with an explicit policy concerning these raids and seizures. The Mayor’s Office did not respond to Guardian inquiries. Critics of the policy say it’s having a chilling effect on nightlife in San Francisco.
GREEN CITY Should the state of California hand over a multimillion dollar tax break to a company that is poised to build the largest desalination facility on the continent, just north of San Diego? That question will be decided early next year when Poseidon Resources, a water-infrastructure developer, formally submits its request for more than $500 million in tax-exempt bonds to the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee (CDLAC).
The decision will demonstrate whether California is willing to roll out the red carpet for desalination, an energy-intensive technology that has many questioning whether it’s a wise path to take. Proposals for desalination projects are cropping up across the state, including one for a smaller facility in Marin County, and water bonds recently approved by the Legislature as part of the state’s historic water package include $1 billion earmarked for water recycling and desalination.
With the state well into a three-year drought that has left some agricultural operations high and dry, calls for new reliable water sources such as desalination plants are only growing louder. But critics worry that the private operations will suck in tax dollars the way their intake pipes suck in saltwater, and they’re urging decision-makers to focus on more cost-effective strategies like low-flow showerheads, waterless urinals, drought-proof landscaping, or other comparatively thrifty ways to address water shortages. Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination plant is projected to be the largest project of its kind in California, but it’s also just the beginning of an emerging trend.
A coalition of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Service Employees International Union, and Food & Water Watch, has been sounding the alarm that San Diego’s Carlsbad Desalination Project is a bad deal that shouldn’t be encouraged with public subsidies in the form of tax-exempt bonds. "Our group, along with most of our partners and allies, are not anti-desalination," says Renee Maas, who works for Food & Water Watch in Los Angeles. "But we think it should be a last resort," after opportunities for conservation have been exhausted.
"Aside from doing nothing about conservation and continuing to require huge amounts of energy for transmission, these plants also have no real community benefit, minimal job creation, and, most importantly, a questionable success and effectiveness," members of Service Employees International Union Local 721 wrote in a letter to the Metropolitan Water District, Southern California’s water wholesaler. "We believe we can conserve more water by installing waterless urinals across L.A. County than we would obtain from the proposed desalination plant."
Yet the facility boasts a long list of powerful endorsements, including that of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a member of CDLAC. The governor was listed as a supporter on a preliminary application submitted to the three-member committee. The two other committee members are State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and State Controller John Chiang.
The facility already has its ducks in a row, with permits approved and a contract with MWD to provide as much as 10 percent of San Diego’s water supply (MWD also agreed to $350 million in subsidies for the plant over 25 years). Poseidon expects the plant to be up and running by 2012. According to company spokesperson Scott Maloni, the project will proceed even if the state rejects its request for tax-exemption.
The plant will use ocean water as a raw ingredient to produce fresh drinking water by pushing the saltwater through reverse-osmosis membranes. With a capacity for producing an estimated 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, the hulking facility will share a site with a 52-year-old beachfront power plant equipped with an antiquated system that draws in ocean water to cool its machinery. Heated seawater issuing out the tail end of the power plant will be pumped into the desalination system and converted to tap water.
Although the plant will provide a localized freshwater source in a dry region without impacting ecologically sensitive rivers or wetlands, it comes with a steep price tag and requires a tremendous amount of electricity. Proponents estimate that the energy consumption in a single day would be the equivalent to the energy used by 16,790 homes. But Maas says even this estimate is low, because if the power plant’s water-cooling system is phased out by 2017, as state law mandates, then the desalination facility would have to start with cold water instead, requiring a substantial power boost. Poseidon spokesperson Scott Malone disputed this claim, telling the Guardian, "The plant will require 28-30 MW to operate during warm water or cold water operations."
Cost and energy consumption aren’t the only concerns advocacy groups have raised. Mark Schlosberg, a program director at Food & Water Watch in San Francisco, considers Poseidon’s last foray into desalination, in Tampa Bay, Fla., to be a cautionary tale. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, the plant opened five years late, cost $40 million more than expected, and hasn’t ever hit its target of supplying an average of 25 million gallons a day as originally promised. After Poseidon’s business partner for that affair went bankrupt, a public utility had to take control of the facility.
"They have a bad track record on desalination," Schlosberg said. "It never performed close to its advertised capacity."
Asked about the challenges in Tampa Bay, Maloni said, "Before Poseidon was bought out, the project was 30 percent constructed, on time and on budget. After Tampa Bay Water took over, the plant wasn’t constructed as designed and later failed to pass performance testing."
Critics have also decried the high cost projections for water. San Diego County now uses water imported from northern territories via the State Water Project, at a cost of around $750 per acre-foot (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons), according to San Diego County Water Authority figures. Poseidon estimates that the water from its plant will cost about $1,300 per acre-foot, but has promised not to charge customers more than the price of imported water. Two years ago, Poseidon told the California Coastal Commission that it intends to absorb its losses "for an unknown number of years" until the price of imported water rises enough to equal the cost of desalinated water.
"Poseidon has entered into 30-year contracts with nine different San Diego County public water agencies that guarantee the cost of the desalinated water will never cost more than the agencies would otherwise pay for imported water," Maloni told the Guardian. "This pricing structure is possible because imported water rates are projected to increase significantly in the years to come, while the cost of desalinating water will stay relatively flat."
Shlosberg’s organization requested public records from the Tampa Bay facility so they could calculate a price estimate that they say is more realistic. Food & Water Watch hired James Fryer, an environmental scientist, to crunch the numbers. Fryer concluded that if the Carlsbad project experienced the same pitfalls as Tampa Bay, the water would cost $3,507 per acre-foot a sky-high projection. If it ran without those bugs, it would still cost $2,175 per acre-foot, he determined.
The overarching question, in Maas’ view, is whether the state is willing to take conservation seriously enough to put water-saving measures into practice before subsidizing costly, energy-guzzling technology. "By sitting a desalination plant, it really distracts people from solutions that are more environmentally sustainable," she said. "The average water use per person per day is 200 gallons, and 60 percent of it goes to landscaping. With this desalination plant, people think, ‘we don’t have to change our habits.’"
When officers of the San Francisco Police Department’s Gang Task Force put prominent private investigator Steve Vender in handcuffs the evening of Nov. 19, it marked the crescendo of a years-old rivalry between Vender and the authorities.
But Vender’s indictment for trying to dissuade attempted murder victim Ladarius Greer from coming to court has raised the hackles of some in San Francisco’s community of defense attorneys, including Eric Safire, a frequent employer of Vender who came close to being indicted for witness intimidation himself, and Stuart Hanlon, a prominent local attorney who is representing Safire.
They and others believe Vender’s prosecution is meant to intimidate defense lawyers. Hanlon called the case against Vender "a political move," and said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that District Attorney Kamala Harris, who’s running for state attorney general, got an endorsement from new SFPD Chief George Gascón the day after the Nov. 17 indictment.
"You don’t sell lawyers and investigators to get political support," Hanlon told the Guardian. "I have a lot of respect for Kamala Harris … but I don’t support what she’s doing here."
SFPD spokesperson Lyn Tomioka told us there is "absolutely no truth" to the suggestion that Gascón’s endorsement had to do with the Vender case, calling the chief and prosecutor "partners in crime fighting." DA spokesperson Brian Buckelew called the allegation a "false and malicious insinuation" meant to distract from Vender’s transgression: telling Greer in a voicemail that there was a warrant issued for him in Solano County and that it was a good time to visit the "Fresno Riviera."
Vender didn’t tell Greer that he would be arrested if he came to court; nor did he tell him not to testify against Phil Pitney, the man accused of shooting Greer in the head in the Western Addition in April, according to a transcript of the voicemail. But he did seem to insinuate that the case would crumble if Greer didn’t show.
"The last day they have to bring Pitney to trial is Oct. 13," Vender said. "They can dismiss and refile again, and start the whole process all over. But they can only do that one time."
Greer skipped the trial, but Pitney, represented by Safire, still got convicted for attempted murder and other charges and faces a lengthy prison term. Then, on Nov. 10, DA gang unit chief Wade Chow began presenting evidence of Vender’s alleged witness tampering to a grand jury, which indicted him a week later.
Vender declined to comment publicly, but both Hanlon and Safire say he didn’t do anything wrong. Hanlon said Vender was just being friendly to a key witness, like any investigator. "It was banter …," he said. "These kids have no place to go. They don’t leave."
But it might’ve been Vender’s and Safire’s history of zealous criminal defense that precipitated the indictment. Vender’s sparring with SFPD dates back to 2006, when reputed Oakdale Mobster Daniel Dennard walked away from a murder prosecution after the star witness was killed. Vender told SF Weekly that the authorities, lacking evidence, "talked shit, talked shit, talked, and in the end they couldn’t prove anything."
Then there was Jaime Gutierrez, acquitted of murder in back-to-back 2008 trials on self-defense grounds after allegedly blowing away Abraham Guerra, a man Vender discovered was a police informant. Recently prosecutors had to dismiss an attempted murder case against another man, Steven Campbell, in part because Vender dug up dirt on the victim and his girlfriend, a key witness.
Cops also question Safire’s tactics and his close relationships with the reputed Western Addition gang-bangers he sometimes represents. (When police arrested rapper Ronnie "Ron Ruger" Louvier shortly after the 2008 murder of Marquise Washington, for which Louvier was recently convicted, they found him wiping down his tricked-out car with a "Safire for Judge" T-shirt).
More recently, Safire orchestrated the theatrical courtroom appearance of seven men wearing gold grills on their teeth who were meant to resemble his client, murder defendant Charles "Cheese" Heard. When a key witness was asked to identify Heard, all the men stood up, ostensibly to test the witness’s memory, throwing the courtroom into disorder.
Vender, who posted a $75,000 bail the night of his arrest, was arraigned Nov. 23 and will return to court Dec. 7. Hanlon said he thinks Vender will be acquitted: "This is gonna go to trial, I’m sure of that."
Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, Matt Sussman, and Laura Swanbeck. The film intern is Fernando F. Croce. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
Christmas with Walt Disney Specially made for the Presidio’s recently opened Walt Disney Family Museum, this nearly hour-long compilation of vintage Yuletide-themed moments from throughout the studio’s history (up to Walt’s 1966 death) is more interesting than you might expect. The engine is eldest daughter Diane Disney Miller’s narrating reminiscences, often accompanied by excerpts from an apparently voluminous library of high-quality home movies. Otherwise, the clips are drawn from a mix of short and full-length animations, live-action features (like 1960’s Swiss Family Robinson), TV shows Wonderful World of Disney and Mickey Mouse Club, plus public events like Disneyland’s annual Christmas Parade and Disney’s orchestration of the 1960 Winter Olympics’ pageantry. If anything, this documentary is a little too rushed - it certainly could have idled a little longer with some of the less familiar cartoon material. But especially for those who who grew up with Disney product only in its post-founder era, it will be striking to realize what a large figure Walt himself once cut in American culture, not just as a brand but as an on-screen personality. The film screens Nov 27-Jan 2; for additional information, visit http://disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum/index.html. (:59) Walt Disney Family Museum. (Harvey)
*Fantastic Mr. Fox "See 21st Century Fox." (1:27) Four Star, Marina.
Ninja Assassin Let’s face it: it’d be nigh impossible to live up to a title as awesome as Ninja Assassin - and this second flick from V for Vendetta (2005) director James McTeigue doesn’t quite do it. Anyone who’s seen a martial arts movie will find the tale of hero Raizo overly familiar: a student (played by the single-named Rain) breaks violently with his teacher; revenge on both sides ensues. That the art form in question is contemporary ninja-ing adds a certain amount of interest, though after a killer ninja vs. yakuza opening scene (by far the film’s best), and a flashback or two of ninja vs. political targets, the rest of the flick is concerned mostly with either ninja vs. ninja or ninja vs. military guys. (As ninjas come "from the shadows," most of these battles are presented in action-masking darkness.) There’s also an American forensic researcher (Noemie Harris) who starts poking around the ninja underground, a subplot that further saps the fun out of a movie that already takes itself way too seriously. (1:33) (Eddy)
Oh My God? See "Pray Tell." (1:38) Lumiere.
Old Dogs John Travolta and Robin Williams play lifelong friends, business partners, and happily child-free bachelors whose lives change when the latter is forced to care for the 7-year-old twins (Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta) he didn’t know he’d sired. You know what this will be like going in, and that’s what you get: a predictable mix of the broadly comedic and maudlin, with a screenplay that feels half-baked by committee, and direction (by Walt Becker, who’s also responsible for 2007’s Wild Hogs) that tries to compensate via frantic over-editing of setpieces that end before they’ve gotten started. The coasting stars seem to be enjoying themselves, but the momentary cheering effect made by each subsidiary familiar face - including Seth Green, Bernie Mac, Matt Dillon, Ann-Margret, Amy Sedaris, Dax Shepard, Justin Long, and Luis Guzman, some in unbilled cameos - sours as you realize almost none of them will get anything worthwhile to do. (1:28) Oaks. (Harvey)
Red Cliff All Chinese directors must try their hands at a historical epic of the swords and (arrow) shafts variety, and who can blame them: the spectacle, the combat, the sheer scale of carnage. With Red Cliff, John Woo appears to top the more operatic Chen Kaige and a more camp Zhang Yimou in the especially latter department. The body count in this lavishly CGI-appointed (by the Bay Area’s Orphanage), good-looking war film is on the high end of the Commando/Rambo scale. The endless, intricately choreographed battle scenes are the primary allure of this slash-’em-up, whittled-down version of the Chinese blockbuster, which was released in Asia as a four-hour two-parter. Yet despite some notably handsome cinematography that rivals that of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in its painterliness, seething performances by players like Tony Leung and Fengyi Zhang, and recognizable Woo leitmotifs (a male bonding-attraction that’s particularly pronounced during Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s zither shred-fests, fluttering doves, a climactic Mexican standoff, the added jeopardy of a baby amid the battle), the labyrinthian complexity of the story and its multitude of characters threaten to lose the Western viewer - or anyone less than familiar with Chinese history - before strenuous pleasures of Woo’s action machine kick in. The completely OTT finale will either have you rolling your eyes its absurdity or laughing aloud at its contrived showmanship. Despite Woo’s lip service to the virtues of peace and harmony, is there really any other way, apart from the warrior’s, in his world? (2:28) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Road After an apocalypse of unspecified origin, the U.S. - and presumably the world - is depleted of wildlife and agriculture. Social structures have collapsed. All that’s left is a grim survivalism in which father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (whimpery Kodi Smit-McPhee) try to find food sources and avoid fellow humans, since most of the latter are now cannibals. Flashbacks reveal their past with the wife and mother (Charlize Theron) who couldn’t bear soldiering on in this ruined future. Scenarist Joe Penhall (a playwright) and director John Hillcoat (2005’s The Proposition) have adapted Cormac McCarthy’s novel with painstaking fidelity. Their Road is slow, bleak, grungy and occasionally brutal. All qualities in synch with the source material - but something is lacking. One can appreciate Hillcoat and company’s efforts without feeling the deep empathy, let alone terror, that should charge this story of extreme faith and sacrifice. The film just sits there - chastening yet flat, impact unamplified by familiar faces (Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker) road-grimed past recognition. (1:53) Embarcadero, California, Piedmont. (Harvey)
Sophie’s Revenge Zhang Ziyi stars as the titular woman who seeks you-know-what after her boyfriend dumps her. (1:47) Four Star.
Art and Copy Doc maker Doug Pray (1996’s Hype!, 2001’s Scratch, 2007’s Surfwise) uses the mid-twentieth century’s revolution in advertising to background an absorbing portrait of the industry’s leading edge, with historical commentary, philosophical observations, and pop-psych self-scrutiny by some of the rebel forces and their descendants (including locals Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein). We see the ads that made a permanent dent in our consciousness over the past five decades. We hear conference-room tales of famous campaigns, like "Got Milk?" and "I Want My MTV." And during quieter interludes, stats on advertising’s global cultural presence drift on-screen to astonish and unnerve. Lofty self-comparisons to cave painters and midwives may raise eyebrows, but Pray has gathered some of the industry’s brighter, more engaging lights, and his subjects discuss their métier thoughtfully, wittily, and quite earnestly. There are elisions in the moral line some of them draw in the process, and it would have been interesting to hear, amid the exalted talk of advertising that rises to the level of art, some philosophizing on where all this packaging and selling gets us, in a branding-congested age when it’s hard to deny that breakneck consumption is having a deleterious effect on the planet. Instead the film occasionally veers in the direction of becoming an advertisement for advertising. Still, Art and Copy complicates our impressions of a vilified profession, and what it reveals about these creatives’ perceptions of their vocation (one asserts that "you can manufacture any feeling that you want to manufacture") makes it worth watching, even if you usually fast-forward through the ads. (1:30) Roxie. (Rapoport)
*Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Consider that ridiculous title. Though its poster and imdb entry eliminate the initial article, it appears onscreen as The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. That’s the bad lieutenant, not to be confused with Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Bad Lieutenant. The bad lieutenant has a name: Terence McDonagh, and he’s a police officer of similarly wobbly moral fiber. McDonagh’s tale inspired by Ferrara and scripted by William Finkelstein, but perhaps more important, filmed by Werner Herzog and interpreted by Nicolas Cage opens with a snake slithering through a post-Hurricane Katrina flood. A prisoner has been forgotten in a basement jail. McDonagh and fellow cop Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) taunt the man, taking bets on how long it’ll take him to drown in the rising waters. An act of cruelty seems all but certain until McDonagh, who’s quickly been established as a righteous asshole, suddenly dives in for the rescue. Unpredictability, and quite a bit of instability, reigns thereafter. Every scene holds the possibility of careening to heights both campy and terrifying, and Cage proves an inspired casting choice. At this point in his career, he has nothing to lose, and his take on Lt. McDonagh is as haywire as it gets. McDonagh snorts coke before reporting to a crime scene; he threatens the elderly; he hauls his star teenage witness along when he confronts a john who’s mistreated his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes); he cackles like a maniac; he lurches around like a hunchback on crack. Not knowing what McDonagh will do next is as entertaining as knowing it’ll likely be completely insane. (2:01) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Blind Side When the New York Times Magazine published Michael Lewis’ article "The Ballad of Big Mike" which he expanded into the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game nobody could have predicated the cultural windfall it would spawn. Lewis told the incredible story of Michael Oher a 6’4, 350-pound 16-year-old, who grew up functionally parentless, splitting time between friends’ couches and the streets of one of Memphis’ poorest neighborhoods. As a Sophomore with a 0.4 GPA, Oher serendipitously hitched a ride with a friend’s father to a ritzy private school across town and embarked on an unbelievable journey that led him into a upper-class, white family; the Dean’s List at Ole Miss; and, finally, the NFL. The film itself effectively focuses on Oher’s indomitable spirit and big heart, and the fearless devotion of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family who adopted him (masterfully played by Sandra Bullock). While the movie will delight and touch moviegoers, its greatest success is that it will likely spur its viewers on to read Lewis’ brilliant book. (2:06) Cerrito, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Daniel Alvarez)
*Capitalism: A Love Story Gun control. The Bush administration. Healthcare. Over the past decade, Michael Moore has tackled some of the most contentious issues with his trademark blend of humor and liberal rage. In Capitalism: A Love Story, he sets his sights on an even grander subject. Where to begin when you’re talking about an economic system that has defined this nation? Predictably, Moore’s focus is on all those times capitalism has failed. By this point, his tactics are familiar, but he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. As with Sicko (2007), Moore proves he can restrain himself he gets plenty of screen time, but he spends more time than ever behind the camera. This isn’t about Moore; it’s about the United States. When he steps out of the limelight, he’s ultimately more effective, crafting a film that’s bipartisan in nature, not just in name. No, he’s not likely to please all, but for every Glenn Beck, there’s a sane moderate wondering where all the money has gone. (2:07) Red Vic, Roxie. (Peitzman)
Coco Before Chanel Like her designs, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was elegant, très chic, and utterly original. Director Anne Fontaine’s French biopic traces Coco (Audrey Tautou) from her childhood as a struggling orphan to one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. You’ll be disappointed if you expect a fashionista’s up close and personal look at the House of Chanel, as Fontaine keeps her story firmly rooted in Coco’s past, including her destructive relationship with French playboy Etienne Balsar (Benoît Poelvoorde) and her ill-fated love affair with dashing Englishman Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola). The film functions best in scenes that display Coco’s imagination and aesthetic magnetism, like when she dances with Capel in her now famous "little black dress" amidst a sea of stiff, white meringues. Tautou imparts a quiet courage and quick wit as the trailblazing designer, and Nivola is unmistakably charming and compassionate as Boy. Nevertheless, Fontaine rushes the ending and never truly seizes the opportunity to explore how Coco’s personal life seeped into her timeless designs that were, in the end, an extension of herself. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Swanbeck)
Defamation When you begin to perceive all criticism as persecutorial, you might forget it’s possible to be wrong. That’s the worry driving Yoav Shamir’s Defamation, opening theatrically following a stormy reception at July’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The documentarian (2003’s Checkpoint) says that as an Israeli Jew he’s never actually experienced anti-Semitism. So he sets out to explore that prejudice’s status quo or so he claims, somewhat disingenuously. Because Defamation‘s real agenda is positing anti-Semitism as a distorted, exploited, propagandic bludgeon used to taint any critique of Israeli government policies or the foreign lobbies supporting them. This is a theory bound to inflame angry emotions, not least the "self-hating Jew" accusation. It must be said that Shamir lays himself at risk à la Michael Moore of selectively gathering only evidence that supports his agenda. Anti-Semitism certainly does exist today, in many different forms, around the world. And if Defamation‘s deliberate omissions and occasional snarky tone hamper its case, Shamir nonetheless makes legitimately troubling points. His most controversial interviewee is Norman Finklestein, whose book The Holocaust Industry got him pilloried as a Holocaust denier (untrue) and quite likely cost him his teaching position. The son of Shoah survivors, he thinks "the Nazi Holocaust is now the main ideological weapon for launching wars of aggression" and that "pathological narcissism" desensitizes many American Jews to other people’s sufferings. The author can be persuasively reasonable. To Defamation‘s credit, however, it doesn’t yell "Cut!" when Finklestein whips himself into a crank-case frenzy that masochistically self-destructs his credibility. Absolute righteousness ain’t pretty, anywhere on the political spectrum. (1:33) Roxie. (Harvey)
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (1:36) 1000 Van Ness.
*An Education The pursuit of knowledge both carnal and cultural are at the tender core of this end-of-innocence valentine by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (who first made her well-tempered voice heard with her 2000 Dogme entry, Italian for Beginners), based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir. Screenwriter Nick Hornby breaks further with his Peter Pan protagonists with this adaptation: no man-boy mopers or misfits here. Rather, 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a good girl and ace student. It’s 1961, and England is only starting to stir from its somber, all-too-sober post-war slumber. The carefully cloistered Jenny is on track for Oxford, though swinging London and its high-style freedoms beckon just around the corner. Ushering in those freedoms a new, more class-free world disorder is the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard), stopping to give Jenny and her cello a ride in the rain and soon proffering concerts and late-night suppers in the city. He’s a sweet-faced, feline outsider: cultured, Jewish, and given to playing fast and loose in the margins of society. David can see Jenny for the gem she is and appreciate her innocence with the knowing pleasure of a decadent playing all the angles. The stakes are believably high, thanks to An Education‘s careful attention to time and place and its gently glamored performances. Scherfig revels in the smart, easy-on-eye curb appeal of David and his friends while giving a nod to the college-educated empowerment Jenny risks by skipping class to jet to Paris. And Mulligan lends it all credence by letting all those seduced, abandoned, conflicted, rebellious feelings flicker unbridled across her face. (1:35) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Chun)
*Good Hair Spurred by his little daughter’s plaintive query ("Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?"), Chris Rock gets his Michael Moore freak on and sets out to uncover the racial and cultural implications of African-American hairstyling. Visiting beauty salons, talking to specialists, and interviewing celebrities ranging from Maya Angelou to Ice-T, the comic wisecracks his way into some pretty trenchant insights about how black women’s coiffures can often reflect Caucasian-set definitions of beauty. (Leave it to Rev. Al Sharpton to voice it ingeniously: "You comb your oppression every morning!") Rock makes an affable guide in Jeff Stilson’s breezy documentary, which posits the hair industry as a global affair where relaxers work as "nap-antidotes" and locks sacrificially shorn in India end up as pricey weaves in Beverly Hills. Maybe startled by his more disquieting discoveries, Rock shifts the focus to flamboyant, crowd-pleasing shenanigans at the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show. Despite such softball detours, it’s a genial and revealing tour. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Croce)
*The House of the Devil Ti West’s The House of the Devil is a retro thrillfest quite happy to sacrifice the babysitter to the Dark Lord. "Based on true unexplained events" (uh-huh), the buzzed-about indie horror has fanboy casting both old school (Dee Wallace, Mary Woronov, Tom Noonan all performing seriously rather than campily) and new (AJ Bowen of 2007’s The Signal and mumblecore regular Greta Gerwig). Its heroine (Jocelin Donahue), a 1980 East Coast collegiate sophomore desperate for rent cash so she can escape her dorm roomie’s loud nightly promiscuity, signs on for a baby- (actually, grandma-) sitting gig advertised on telephone poles. For tonight. During a lunar eclipse. Bad move. Devil takes its time, springing nothing lethal until nearly halfway through. Its period setting allows for ultratight jeans, feathered hair, rotary dialing, a synth-New Wavey score, and other potentially campy elements the film manages to render respectfully appreciative rather than silly. Ultimately, it isn’t significantly better than various fine indie horrors of recent vintage and various nationality that went direct to DVD. (Quality, let alone originality, aren’t necessarily a commercial pluses in this genre.) But it is dang good, and that cuts it above most current theatrical horror releases. (1:33) Lumiere. (Harvey)
The Maid In an upper-middle class subdivision of Santiago, 40-year-old maid Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), perpetually stony and indignant, operates a rigorous dawn-to-dusk routine for the Valdez family. Although Raquel rarely behaves as an intimate of her longtime hosts, she remains convinced that love, not labor, bonds them. (Whether the family shares Raquel’s feelings of devotion is highly dubious.) When a rotating cast of interlopers is hired to assist her, she stoops to machinations most vile to scare them away until the arrival of Lucy (Mariana Loyola), whose unpredictable influence over Raquel sets the narrative of The Maid on a very different psychological trajectory, from moody chamber piece to eccentric slice-of-life. If writer-director Sebastián Silva’s film taunts the viewer with the possibility of a horrific climax, either as a result of its titular counterpart Jean Genet’s 1946 stage drama The Maids, about two servants’ homicidal revenge or from the unnerving "mugshot" of Saavedra on the movie poster, it is neither self-destructive nor Grand Guignol. Rather, it it is much more prosaic in execution. Sergio Armstrong’s fidgety hand-held camera captures Raquel’s claustrophobic routine as it accentuates her Sisyphean conundrum: although she completely rules the inner workings of the house, she remains forever a guest. But her character’s motivations often evoke as much confusion as wonder. In the absence of some much needed exposition, The Maid’s heavy-handed silences, plaintive gazes, and inexplicable eruptions of laughter feel oddly sterile, and a contrived preciousness begins to creep over the film like an effluvial whitewash. Its abundance makes you aware there is a shabbiness hiding beneath the dramatic facade the various stains and holes of an unrealized third act. (1:35) Clay, Shattuck. (Erik Morse)
The Men Who Stare at Goats No! The Men Who Stare at Goats was such an awesome book (by British journalist Jon Ronson) and the movie boasts such a terrific cast (George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor). How in the hell did it turn out to be such a lame, unfunny movie? Clooney gives it his all as Lyn Cassady, a retired "supersolider" who peers through his third eye and realizes the naïve reporter (McGregor) he meets in Kuwait is destined to accompany him on a cross-Iraq journey of self-discovery; said journey is filled with flashbacks to the reporter’s failed marriage (irrelevant) and Cassady’s training with a hippie military leader (Bridges) hellbent on integrating New Age thinking into combat situations. Had I the psychic powers of a supersoldier, I’d use some kind of mind-control technique to convince everyone within my brain-wave radius to skip this movie at all costs. Since I’m merely human, I’ll just say this: seriously, read the book instead. (1:28) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*The Messenger Ben Foster cut his teeth playing unhinged villains in Alpha Dog (2006) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007), but he cements his reputation as a promising young actor with a moving, sympathetic performance in director Oren Moverman’s The Messenger. Moverman (who also co-authored the script) is a four-year veteran of the Israeli army, and he draws on his military experience to create an intermittently harrowing portrayal of two soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army’s Casualty Notification Service. Will Montgomery (Foster) is still recovering from the physical and psychological trauma of combat when he is paired with Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a by-the-book Captain whose gruff demeanor and good-old-boy gallows humor belie the complicated soul inside. Gut-wrenching encounters with the families of dead soldiers combine with stark, honest scenes that capture two men trying to come to grips with the mundane horrors of their world, and Samantha Morton completes a trio of fine acting turns as a serene Army widow. (1:45) Albany, Smith Rafael. (Richardson)
*Michael Jackson’s This Is It Time - and a tragic early death - has a way of coloring perception, so little surprise that these thought pops into one’s head throughout This Is It: when did Michael Jackson transform himself into such an elegant, haute-pop sylph? Such a pixie-nosed, lacy-haired petit four of music-making delicacy? And where can I get his to-die-for, pointy-shouldered, rhinestone-lapeled Alexander McQueen-ish jacket? Something a bit bewitching this way comes as Michael Jackson - now that he’s gone, seemingly less freakish than an outright phenomenon - gracefully flits across the screen in this final (really?) document of his last hurrah, the rehearsals for his sold-out shows at O2 Arena in London. This Is It is far from perfect: this grainy video scratchpad of a film obviously wasn’t designed by the perfectionist MJ to be his final testament to pop. Director Kenny Ortega does his best to cobble together what looks like several rehearsal performances with teary testimonials from dancers (instilled with the intriguing idea that they are extensions of the surgery-friendly Jackson’s body onstage), interviews with musicians, minimal archival footage, and glimpses of Jacko protesting about being encouraged to "sing through" certain songs when he’s trying to preserve his voice, urging the band to play it "like the record," and still moving, dancing, and gesticuutf8g with such grace that you’re left with more than a tinge of regret that "This Is It," the tour, never came to pass. It’s a pure, albeit adulterated, pleasure to watch the man do the do, even with the gaps in the flow, even with the footage filtered by a family intent on propping up the franchise. Amid the artistry and kitsch, critics, pop academics, and superfans will find plenty to chew over - from Jackson’s curiously timed physical complaints as the Jackson 5 segment kicks in, to the surreally CGI-ed, golden-age-of-Hollywood mash-up sequence. (1:52) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck. (Chun)
New York, I Love You A dreamy mash note to the city that never sleeps, New York, I Love You is the latest installment in a series of omnibus odes to world metropolises and the denizens that live and love within the city limits. Less successful than the Paris, je t’aime (2006) anthology which roped in such disparate international directors as Gus Van Sant and Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron and Olivier Assayas New York welcomes a more minor-key host of directors to the project with enjoyable if light-weight results. Surely any bite of the Big Apple would be considerably sexier. Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo tease out a one-night stand with legs, and Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q generate a wee bit of verbal fire over street-side cigs, yet there’s surprisingly little heat in this take on a few of the 8 million stories in the archetypal naked city. Most memorable are the strangest couplings, such as that of Natalie Portman, a Hasidic bride who flirtatiously haggles with Irrfan Khan, a Jain diamond merchant, in a tale directed by Mira Nair. Despite the pleasure of witnessing Julie Christie, Eli Wallach, and Cloris Leachman in action, many of these pieces written by the late Anthony Minghella, Israel Horovitz, and Portman, among others feel a mite too slight to nail down the attention of all but the most desperate romantics. (1:43) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Chun)
*Paranormal Activity In this ostensible found-footage exercise, Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a young San Diego couple whose first home together has a problem: someone, or something, is making things go bump in the night. In fact, Katie has sporadically suffered these disturbances since childhood, when an amorphous, not-at-reassuring entity would appear at the foot of her bed. Skeptical technophile Micah’s solution is to record everything on his primo new video camera, including a setup to shoot their bedroom while they sleep surveillance footage sequences that grow steadily more terrifying as incidents grow more and more invasive. Like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Oren Peli’s no-budget first feature may underwhelm mainstream genre fans who only like their horror slick and slasher-gory. But everybody else should appreciate how convincingly the film’s very ordinary, at times annoying protagonists (you’ll eventually want to throttle Micah, whose efforts are clearly making things worse) fall prey to a hostile presence that manifests itself in increments no less alarming for being (at first) very small. When this hits DVD, you’ll get to see the original, more low-key ending (the film has also been tightened up since its festival debut two years ago). But don’t wait Paranormal‘s subtler effects will be lost on the small screen. Not to mention that it’s a great collective screaming-audience experience. (1:39) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*Paris Cédric Klapisch’s latest offers a series of interconnected stories with Paris as the backdrop, designed if you’ll pardon the cliché as a love letter to the city. On the surface, the plot of Paris sounds an awful lot like Paris, je t’aime (2006). But while the latter was composed entirely of vignettes, Paris has an actual, overarching plot. Perhaps that’s why it’s so much more effective. Juliette Binoche stars as Élise, whose brother Pierre (Romain Duris) is in dire need of a heart transplant. A dancer by trade, Pierre is also a world-class people watcher, and it’s his fascination with those around him that serves as Paris‘ wraparound device. He sees snippets of these people’s lives, but we get the full picture or at least, something close to it. The strength of Paris is in the depth of its characters: every one we meet is more complex than you’d guess at first glance. The more they play off one another, the more we understand. Of course, the siblings remain at the film’s heart: sympathetic but not pitiable, moving but not maudlin. Both Binoche and Duris turn in strong performances, aided by a supporting cast of French actors who impress in even the smallest of roles. (2:04) Opera Plaza. (Peitzman)
Pirate Radio I wanted to like Pirate Radio, a.k.a., The Boat That Rocked - really, I did. The raging, stormy sounds of the British Invasion - sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and all that rot. Pirate radio outlaw sexiness, writ large, influential, and mind-blowingly popular. This shaggy-dog of a comedy about the boat-bound, rollicking Radio Rock is based loosely on the history of Radio Caroline, which blasted transgressive rock ‘n’ roll (back when it was still subversive) and got around stuffy BBC dominance by broadcasting from a ship off British waters. Alas, despite the music and the attempts by filmmaker Richard Curtis to inject life, laughs, and girls into the mix (by way of increasingly absurd scenes of imagined listeners creaming themselves over Radio Rock’s programming), Pirate Radio will be a major disappointment for smart music fans in search of period accuracy (are we in the mid- or late ’60s or early or mid-’70s - tough to tell judging from the time-traveling getups on the DJs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Darby, among others?) and lame writing that fails to rise above the paint-by-the-numbers narrative buttressing, irksome literalness (yes, a betrayal by a lass named Marianne is followed by "So Long, Marianne"), and easy sexist jabs at all those slutty birds. Still, there’s a reason why so many artists - from Leonard Cohen to the Stones - have lent their songs to this shaky project, and though it never quite gets its sea legs, Pirate Radio has its heart in the right place - it just lost its brains somewhere along the way down to its crotch. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Planet 51 (1:31) Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
*Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire This gut-wrenching, little-engine-that-could of a film shows the struggles of Precious, an overweight, illiterate 16-year-old girl from Harlem. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is so believably vigilant (she was only 15 at the time of filming) that her performance alone could bring together the art-house viewers as well as take the Oscars by storm. But people need to actually go and experience this film. While Precious did win Sundance’s Grand Jury and Audience Award awards this year, there is a sad possibility that filmgoers will follow the current trend of "discussing" films that they’ve actually never seen. The daring casting choices of comedian Mo’Nique (as Precious’ all-too-realistically abusive mother) and Mariah Carey (brilliantly understated as an undaunted and dedicated social counselor) are attempts to attract a wider audience, but cynics can hurdle just about anything these days. What’s most significant about this Dancer in the Dark-esque chronicle is how Damien Paul’s screenplay and director Lee Daniels have taken their time to confront the most difficult moments in Precious’ story - and if that sounds heavy-handed, so be it. Stop blahging for a moment and let this movie move you. (1:49) SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)
*The September Issue The Lioness D’Wintour, the Devil Who Wears Prada, or the High Priestess of Condé Nasty it doesn’t matter what you choose to call Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. If you’re in the fashion industry, you will call her or at least be amused by the power she wields as the overseer of style’s luxury bible, then 700-plus pages strong for its legendary September fall fashion issue back in the heady days of ’07, pre-Great Recession. But you don’t have to be a publishing insider to be fascinated by director R.J. Cutler’s frisky, sharp-eyed look at the making of fashion’s fave editorial doorstop. Wintour’s laser-gazed facade is humanized, as Cutler opens with footage of a sparkling-eyed editor breaking down fashion’s fluffy reputation. He then follows her as she assumes the warrior pose in, say, the studio of Yves St. Laurent, where she has designer Stefano Pilati fluttering over his morose color choices, and in the offices of the magazine, where she slices, dices, and kills photo shoots like a sartorial samurai. Many of the other characters at Vogue (like OTT columnist André Leon Talley) are given mere cameos, but Wintour finds a worthy adversary-compatriot in creative director Grace Coddington, another Englishwoman and ex-model the red-tressed, pale-as-a-wraith Pre-Raphaelite dreamer to Wintour’s well-armored knight. The two keep each other honest and craftily ingenious, and both the magazine and this doc benefit. (1:28) Presidio. (Chun)
*A Serious Man You don’t have to be Jewish to like A Serious Man or to identify with beleaguered physics professor Larry Gopnik (the grandly aggrieved Michael Stuhlbarg), the well-meaning nebbishly center unable to hold onto a world quickly falling apart and looking for spiritual answers. It’s a coming of age for father and son, spurred by the small loss of a radio and a 20-dollar bill. Larry’s about-to-be-bar-mitzvahed son is listening to Jefferson Airplane instead of his Hebrew school teachers and beginning to chafe against authority. His daughter has commandeered the family bathroom for epic hair-washing sessions. His wife is leaving him for a silkily presumptuous family friend and has exiled Larry to the Jolly Roger Motel. His failure-to-launch brother is a closeted mathematical genius and has set up housekeeping on his couch. Larry’s chances of tenure could be spoiled by either an anonymous poison-pen writer or a disgruntled student intent on bribing him into a passing grade. One gun-toting neighbor vaguely menaces the borders of his property; the other sultry nude sunbather tempts with "new freedoms" and high times. What’s a mild-mannered prof to do, except envy Schrodinger’s Cat and approach three rungs of rabbis in his quest for answers to life’s most befuddling proofs? Reaching for a heightened, touched-by-advertising style that recalls Mad Men in look and Barton Fink (1991) in narrative and stooping for the subtle jokes as well as the ones branded "wide load" the Coen Brothers seem to be turning over, examining, and flirting with personally meaningful, serious narrative, though their Looney Tunes sense of humor can’t help but throw a surrealistic wrench into the works. (1:45) California, Embarcadero, Empire, Piedmont. (Chun)
2012 I don’t need to give you reasons to see this movie. You don’t care about the clumsy, hastily dished-out pseudo scientific hoo-ha that explains this whole mess. You don’t care about John Cusack or Woody Harrelson or whoever else signed on for this embarrassing notch in their IMDB entry. You don’t care about Mayan mysteries, how hard it is for single dads, and that Danny Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor jointly stand in for Obama (always so on the zeitgeist, that Roland Emmerich). You already know what you’re in store for: the most jaw-dropping depictions of humankind’s near-complete destruction that director Emmerich - who has a flair for such things - has ever come up with. All the time, creative energy, and money James Cameron has spent perfecting the CGI pores of his characters in Avatar is so much hokum compared to what Emmerich and his Spartan army of computer animators dish out: the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy emerging through a cloud of toxic dust like some Mary Celeste of the military-industrial complex, born aloft on a massive tidal wave that pulverizes the White House; the dome of St. Paul’s flattening the opium-doped masses like a steamroller; Hawaii returned to its original volcanic state; and oodles more scenes in which we are allowed to register terror, but not horror, at the gorgeous destruction that is unfurled before us as the world ends (again) but no one really dies. Get this man a bigger budget. (2:40) California, Empire, Marina, 1000 Van Ness. (Sussman)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon Oh my God, you guys, it’s that time of the year: another Twilight chapter hits theaters. New Moon reunites useless cipher Bella (Kristen Steward) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), everyone’s favorite sparkly creature of darkness. Because this is a teen wangstfest, the course of true love is kind of bumpy. This time around, there’s a heavy Romeo and Juliet subplot and some interference from perpetually shirtless werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Chances are you know this already, as you’ve either devoured Stephenie Meyer’s book series or you were one of the record-breaking numbers in attendance for the film’s opening weekend. And for those non-Twilight fanatics is there any reason to see New Moon? Yes and no. Like the 2008’s Twilight, New Moon is reasonably entertaining, with plenty of underage sexual tension, supernatural slugfests, and laughable line readings. But there’s something off this time around: New Moon is fun but flat. For diehard fans, it’s another excuse to shriek at the screen. For anyone else, it’s a soulless diversion. (2:10) Cerrito, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Peitzman)
(Untitled) The sometimes absurd pretensions of the modern art world have - for many decades - been so easily, condescendingly ridiculed that its intelligently knowing satire is hard to come by. (How much harder still would it be for a fictive film to convey the genius of, say Anselm Kiefer? Even Ed Harris’ 2000 Pollock less vividly captured the art or its creation - better done by Francis Ford Coppola and Nick Nolte in their 1989 New York Stories segment - than the usual tortured-artist histrionics.) Bay Arean Jonathan Parker attempts to correct that with this perhaps overly low-key witticism. Erstwhile Hebrew Hammer Adam Goldberg plays a composer of painfully retro, plink-plunk 1950s avant-gardism. (His favorite instrument is the tin bucket.) His lack of success is inevitable yet chafes nonetheless, because he’s a) humorlessly self-important, and b) sibling to a painter (Eion Bailey) whose pleasant, unchallenging abstracts are hot properties amongst corporate-art buyers. But not hot enough for his gorgeous agent (Marley Shelton), who puts off showing him at her Chelsea gallery in favor of cartoonishly "edgy" artists - like soccer hooligan Vinnie Jones as a proponent of lurid taxidermy sculpture - and takes a contrary (if unlikely) fancy to Goldberg. (How could her educated like not know his music is even less cutting-edge than the brother’s canvases?) (Untitled) holds interest, but it’s at once too glib and modest - exaggerative sans panache. This is equivalently if differently problematic from Parker’s 2005 Henry James-goes-Marin County The Californians. It can’t compare to his 2001 feature debut, the excellent Crispin Glover-starring translation of Melville’s Bartleby to Rhinoceros-like modern office culture. (1:30) Bridge, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Where the Wild Things Are From the richly delineated illustrations and sparse text of Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s book, director Spike Jonze and cowriter (with Jones) Dave Eggers have constructed a full-length film about the passions, travails, and interior/exterior wanderings of Sendak’s energetic young antihero, Max. Equally prone to feats of world-building and fits of overpowering, destructive rage, Max (Max Records) stampedes off into the night during one of the latter and journeys to the island where the Wild Things (voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, and Michael Berry Jr.) live and bicker and tantrum and give in to existential despair and no longer all sleep together in a big pile. The place has possibilities, though, and Max, once crowned king, tries his best to realize them. What its inhabitants need, however, is not so much a visionary king as a good family therapist these are some gripey, defensive, passive-aggressive Wild Things, and Max, aged somewhere around 10, can’t fix their interpersonal problems. Jonze and Eggers do well at depicting Max’s temporary kingdom, its forests and deserts, its creatures and their half-finished creations from a past golden era, as well as subtly reminding us now and again that all of this the island, the arguments, the sadness is streaming from the mind of a fierce, wildly imaginative young child with familial troubles of his own, equally beyond his power to resolve. They’ve also invested the film with a slow, grim depressive mood that can make for unsettling viewing, particularly when pondering the Maxes in the audience, digesting an oft-disheartening tale about family conflict and relationship repair. (1:48) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe A middle-class suburban lawyer radicalized by the Civil Rights era, Kunstler became a hero of the left for his fiery defenses of the draft-card-burning Catonsville Nine, the Black Panthers, the Chicago Twelve, and the Attica prisoners rioting for improved conditions, and Native American protestors at Wounded Knee in 1973. But after these "glory days," Kunstler’s judgment seemed to cloud while his thirst for "judicial theatre" and the media spotlight. Later clients included terrorists, organized-crime figures, a cop-killing drug dealer, and a suspect in the notorious Central Park "wilding" gang rape of a female jogger - unpopular causes, to say the least. "Dad’s clients gave us nightmares. He told us that everyone deserves a lawyer, but sometimes we didn’t understand why that lawyer had to be our father" says Emily Kunstler, who along with sister Sarah directed this engrossing documentary about their late father. Growing up under the shadow of this larger-than-life "self-hating Jew" and "hypocrite" - as he was called by those frequently picketing their house - wasn’t easy. Confronting this sometimes bewildering behemoth in the family, Disturbing the Universe considers his legacy to be a brave crusader’s one overall - even if the superhero in question occasionally made all Gotham City and beyond cringe at his latest antics. (1:30) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Stage listings are compiled by Molly Freedenberg. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Nicole Gluckstern. Submit items for the listings at email@example.com.
Jubilee Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson; 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org. $34-$44. Opens Wed/25, 7pm. Runs Wed, 7pm; Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 6pm; Sun, 3pm. 42nd Street Moon presents this tune-filled 1935 musical spoof of royalty, revolution, and ribald rivalries.
The Life of Brian Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission; 401-7987, darkroomsf.com. $20. Opens Fri/27, 8pm. Runs Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through Dec 19. The Dark Room Theater presents a movie parody turned into a theatrical parody.
Ovo Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park; (800) 450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com. $45.50-$135. Opens Fri/27, 4 and 8pm. Runs Tues-Thurs, 8pm; Fri-Sat, 4 and 8pm; Sun, 1 and 5pm. Through Jan 24. Cirque du Soleil presents its latest big top touring production.
Bare Nuckle Brava Theater, 2781 24th St; 647-2822, www.brava.org. $15. Nov 29, 3pm; Dec 1, 7pm; and Dec 3, 8pm. Brava Theater presents a solo theater performance written and performed by Anthem Salgado and directed by Evren Odcikin.
Beautiful Thing New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972. $22-40. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center performs Jonathan Harvey’s story of romance between two London teens.
Cotton Patch Gospel Next Stage, 1620 Gough; (800) 838-3006, www.custommade.org. $10-$28. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 19. Custom Made presents Harry Chapin’s progressive and musically joyous look at the Jesus story through a modern lens.
*East 14th Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 1-800-838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $20-35. Fri, 9pm; Sat, 8:30pm. Through Dec 19. Don Reed’s solo play, making its local premiere at the Marsh after an acclaimed New York run, is truly a welcome homecoming twice over. It returns the Bay Area native to the place of his vibrant, physically dynamic, consistently hilarious coming-of-age story, set in 1970s Oakland between two poles of East 14th Street’s African American neighborhood: one defined by his mother’s strict ass-whooping home, dominated by his uptight Jehovah’s Witness stepfather; the other by his biological father’s madcap but utterly non-judgmental party house. The lattershared by two stepbrothers, one a player and the other flamboyantly gay, under a pimped-out, bighearted patriarch whose only rule is "be yourself"becomes the teenage Reed’s refuge from a boyhood bereft of Christmas and filled with weekend door-to-door proselytizing. Still, much about the facts of life in the ghetto initially eludes the hormonal and naïve young Reed, including his own flamboyant, ever-flush father’s occupation: "I just thought he was really into hats." But dadalong with each of the characters Reed deftly incarnates in this very engaging, loving but never hokey tributehas something to teach the talented kid whose excellence in speech and writing at school marked him out, correctly, as a future "somebody." (Avila)
Eccentrics of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast: A Magical Escapade San Francisco Magic Parlor, Chancellor Hotel Union Square, 433 Powell; 1-800-838-3006. $30. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Ongoing. This show celebrates real-life characters from San Francisco’s colorful and notorious past.
*First Day of School SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; sfplayhouse.org. Check Website for dates and prices. Through November. Good sex comedy should surprise you with how long it can keep its premise up and satisfying. By that measure, Billy Aronson’s new farce, First Day of School, is a humdinger. But it gets A’s in other departments too, like playing well with others, and having something interesting to say when the panting stops. SF Playhouse’s world premiere packs a very solid, comically lithesome bunch of actors on its intimate middle-class, middle age, middle school sofa, where unexpectedly open-minded married couple Susan (Zehra Berkman) and David (Bill English) have forthrightly invited some fellow parents home for some "other people" action on the first day of schoolthe only calendar day not completely scheduled, managed, harried and over-determined in anyone’s modern suburban calendar. Susan has asked Peter (Jackson Davis), instantly reducing him to a quivering bowl of horny and guilt-laden jello, while good-natured hubby David has coaxed an equally neurotic lawyer-mom, Alice (Stacy Ross), over to his son’s room down the hall. David is temporarily flummoxed, however, by the social challenge of having his first choice, the vivaciously self-righteous Kim (Marcia Pizzo), change her mind and show up after all. Parents today&ldots; It’s all winningly helmed by Chris Smith, whose last effort with SF Playhouse, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, was another world premiere with inspiration extending well beyond the title. (Avila)
I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You Off Market Theaters, 965 Mission; www.ihearthamas.com. $20. Thurs and Sat, 8pm. Through Dec 12. An American woman of Palestinian descent, San Francisco actor Jennifer Jajeh grew up with a kind of double consciousness familiar to many minorities. But hersconflated and charged with the history and politics of the Middle Eastarguably carried a particular burden. Addressing her largely nonMiddle Eastern audience in a good-natured tone of knowing tolerance, the first half of her autobiographical comedy-drama, set in the U.S., evokes an American teen badgered by unwelcome difference but canny about coping with it. The second, set in her ancestral home of Ramallah, is a journey of self-discovery and a political awakening at once. The fairly familiar dramatic arc comes peppered with some unexpected asidesand director W. Kamau Bell nicely exploits the show’s potential for enlightening irreverence (one of the cleverer conceits involves a "telepathic Q&A" with the audience, premised on the predictable questions lobbed at anyone identifying with "the other"). The play is decidedly not a history lesson on the colonial project known as "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" or, for that matter, Hamas. But as the laudably mischievous title suggests, Jajeh is out to upset some staid opinions, stereotypes and confusions that carry increasingly significant moral and political consequences for us all. (Avila)
Let It Snow! SF Playhouse Stage 2, 533 Sutter; 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org. $8-$20. Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3 and 8pm. Through Dec 19. The Un-scripted Theater Company lovingly presents an entirely new musical every night based on audience participation.
*Loveland The Marsh, 1074 Valencia; 826-5750, www.themarsh.org. $15-$50. Thurs, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through Dec 12. Los Angelesbased writer-performer Ann Randolph returns to the Marsh with a new solo play partly developed during last year’s Marsh run of her memorable Squeeze Box. Randolph plays loner Frannie Potts, a rambunctious, cranky and libidinous individual of decidedly odd mien, who is flying back home to Ohio after the death of her beloved mother. The flight is occasion for Frannie’s own flights of memory, exotic behavior in the aisle, and unabashed advances toward the flight deck brought on by the seductively confident strains of the captain’s commentary. The singular personality and mother-daughter relationship that unfurls along the way is riotously demented and brilliantly humane. Not to be missed, Randolph is a rare caliber of solo performer whose gifts are brought generously front and center under Matt Roth’s reliable direction, while her writing is also something specialfully capable of combining the twisted and macabre, the hilariously absurd, and the genuinely heartbreaking in the exact same moment. Frannie Potts’s hysteria at 30,000 feet, as intimate as a middle seat in coach (and with all the interpersonal terror that implies), is a first-class ride. (Avila)
"The Me, Myself and I Series" Brava Theater, 2781 24th St; 647-2822, www.brava.org. Days, times, and ticket prices vary. Runs through Dec. 3. Four different tales from theatre/performance artists like D’Lo, Jeanne Haynes, Rachel Parker, and Anthem Salgado will surprise and awaken your imagination.
Pearls Over Shanghai Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth St.; 1-800-838-3006, www.thrillpeddlers.com. $30-69. Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Jan. 23. Thrillpeddlers presents this revival of the legendary Cockettes’ 1970 musical extravaganza.
Pulp Scripture Off Market Theater, 965 Mission; www.pulpscripture.com. $20. Sat, 10:30pm; Sun, 4pm. Through Dec 13. Original Sin Productions and PianoFight bring the bad side of the Good Book back to live in William Bivins’ comedy.
Rabbi Sam The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $25-$50. Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 12. Charlie Varons’ runaway hit show returns to the Marsh.
"ReOrient 2009" Thick House, 1695 18th St; 626-4061, www.goldenthread.org. $12-$25. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Dec 13. Golden Thread Productions celebrates the tenth anniversary of its festival of short plays exploring the Middle East.
Shanghai San Francisco One Telegraph Hill; 1-877-384-7843, www.shanghaisanfrancisco.com. $40. Sat, 1pm. Ongoing. To be Shanghaied: "to be kidnapped for compulsory service aboard a ship&ldots;to be induced or compelled to do something, especially by fraud or force". Once the scene of many an "involuntary" job interview, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast is now the staging ground for Shanghai San Francisco, a performance piece slash improv slash scavenger hunt through the still-beating hearts of North Beach and Chinatown, to the edge of the Tendernob. Beginning at the base of Coit Tower, participants meet the first of several characters who set up the action and dispense clues, before sending the audience off on a self-paced jaunt through the aforementioned neighborhoods, induced and compelled (though not by force) to search for a kidnapped member of the revived San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. It’s a fine notion and a fun stroll on a sunny afternoon, but ultimately succeeds far better as a walking tour than as theatre. Because the actors are spread rather thinly on the ground, they’re unable to take better advantage of their superior vantage by stalking groups a little more closely, staging distractions along the way, and generally engaging the audience as such a little more frequently. But since Shanghai San Francisco is a constantly evolving project, maybe next time they’ll do just that. (Gluckstern)
She Stoops to Comedy SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org. $30-$40. Tues, 7pm; Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3 and 8pm. Through Jan 9. SF Playhouse continues their seventh season with the Bay Area premiere of David Greenspan’s gender-bending romp.
Tings Dey Happen Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter; 771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. $35-45. Check website for schedule. Through Sun/29. Dan Hoyle’s solo show about his year studying the West African oil frontier returns for a limited run.
Under the Gypsy Moon Teatro ZinZanni, Pier 29; 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. $117-$145. Wed-Sat, 6pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Jan 1. Teatro ZinZanni presents a bewitching evening of European cabaret, cirque, theatrical spectacle, and original live music, blended with a five-course gourmet dinner.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Actors Theatre of SF, 855 Bush; 345-1287, www.actorstheatresf.org. $26-$40. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Dec 6, 2pm. Through Dec 19. Actors Theatre of SF presents Edward Albee’s classic.
Wicked Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market; 512-7770, www.shnsf.com. $30-$99. Tues, 8pm; Wed, 2pm; Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Ongoing. Assuming you don’t mind the music, which is too TV-themesounding in general for me, or the rather gaudy décor, spectacle rules the stage as ever, supported by sharp performances from a winning cast. (Avila)
*Boom Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley; 388-5208, www.marinthetre.org. $31-$51. Tues, Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 6. Marin Theatre Company presents the Bay Area premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s explosive comedy about the end of the world.
*FAT PIG Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org. $15-$55. Tues, 7pm; Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Dec 13. Playwright Neil LaBute has a reputation for crueltyor rather the unflinching study thereofbut as much as everyday sociopathy is central to Fat Pig, this fine, deceptively straightforward play’s real subject is human frailty: the terrible difficulty of being good when it means going decidedly against the values and opinions of your peers. Aurora Theatre’s current production makes the point with satirical flair and insight, animated by a faultless ensemble directed with snap and fire by Barbara Damashek. A conventionally handsome businessman named Tom (a brilliantly canny, vulnerable and sympathetic Jud Williford) falls for a bright, beautiful woman of more than average size named Helen (Liliane Klein, radiantly reprising the role after a production for Boston’s Speakeasy Stage). It’s the most important relationship either has had. Alone together they’re very happy. At work, however, Tom contends with relentless pressure from his coworkers, Carter (a penetrating Peter Ruocco, savoring the sadism of the locker room) and onetime dating partner Jeannie (Alexandra Creighton, devastatingly sharp at being semi-hinged). As ambivalent as Tom is about both, he feebly attempts to hide his new love from them. The separation of public and private selves leads to conflict, and the plot will turn on how Tom resolves it. Needless to say, the title’s inherent viciousness points not at Helenby far the most advanced personality on stagebut at those who would intone the phrase as well as those, like Tom, who tacitly let it work its dark magic. (Avila)
*Large Animal Games La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid, Berk; www.impacttheatre.com. $10-20. Thurs-Sat, 8pm (no show Nov 26). Through Dec 12. Impact Theatre co-presents (with Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage) the world premiere of a new play by Atlanta-based Steve Yockey. The 75-minute comedy mingles three separate subplots among a group of friends, all refracted through a mysterious lingerie shop run by an affable, somewhat impish tailor (Jai Sahai) offering new skins for exploring inner selves. There’s the spoiled rich-girl (Marissa Keltie) horrified to discover her perfect fiancé’s (Timothy Redmond) secret penchant for donning feminine undergarments; a pair of best friends (Cindy Im and Elissa Dunn) who fall out over the sexy no-English matador-type (Roy Landaverde) one brings home from a Spanish holiday; and there’s an African American woman (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) who goes on an African safari as the logical extension of her obsession with guns. Briskly but shrewdly directed by Melissa Hillman, the agreeable cast knows what to do with Yockey’s well-honed, true-to-life repartee. The play has a touch of the magical dimension familiar to audiences who saw Skin or Octopus (both produced by Encore Theatre) but it operates here in a less self-conscious, more lighthearted way, while still nicely augmenting the subtly related themes of animal-lust, competition, self-image and possession cleverly at work under the frilly, scanty surface. (Avila)
"Shakes ‘Super’ Intensive + Bronte Series" Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship, 1924 Cedar, Berk; (510) 275-3871. $8. Mon, 7:30pm, through Dec. 14. Subterranean Shakespeare presents weekly staged readings of classic Shakespeare plays, followed by a staged reading of Jon O’Keefe’s complete play about the Bronte sisters.
Tiny Kushner Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, berkeleyrep.org. $27-$71. Fri/27, 8pm; Wed/25, 7pm; Thurs/26 and Sat/28, 2 and 8pm; Sun/29, 2 and 7pm. Berkeley Rep presents the West Coast premiere of Tony Kushner’s series of short scripts.
The Wizard of Oz Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave, Berk; (510) 845-8542, www.berkeleyplayhouse.org. $19-$28. Berkeley Playhouse presents this adaptation of the classic musical theater piece.
"Heart of the Mission Dance" Abada Capoeira Center, 3221 22nd St; www.missiondance.net. Sun, 9:30am. Ongoing. $13. Join a new 5-rhythm ecstatic dance company for a revitalizing world-music-inspired Sunday morning dance journey every week.
"The Velveteen Rabbit" Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard; 978-2787, www.ybca.org. Through Dec 13. $10-$45. This year’s installment of a favorite Bay Area holiday tradition features dancing by ODC/Dance, recorded narration by Geoff Hoyle, design by Brian Wildsmith, and a musical score by Benjamin Britten.
BATS Improv Theatre Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason Center; 474-6776, www.improv.org. Fri-Sat, 8pm. $17-$28. This three-round improv competition pits two teams squaring off each night and performing improvised games, songs, or scenes.
"Bijou" Martuni’s, Four Valencia; 241-0205, www.dragatmartunis.com. Sun, 7pm. $5. An eclectic weekly cabaret.
"Body Music Festival" Various SF and East Bay venues. www.crosspulse.com. Dec 1-6, various times and prices. Keith Terry and Crosspulse present the second annual six-day global event featuring concerts, workshops, teacher trainings, and open mics.
On Broadway Dinner Theater 435 Broadway; 291-0333, www.broadwaystudios.com. Thurs-Sat, 7pm. Ongoing. SF’s most talented singers, artists, and performers combine interactive shows with dining and dessert.
"Concerto Italiano" Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness; 864-3330, www.sfopera.com. Sat, 7pm. $30-$55. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra will perform a concert in honor of the 30th anniversary of Museo ItaloAmericano.
Full Spectrum Improvisation The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 564-4115, www.themarsh.org. Tues, 7:30pm. $10-$15. Lucky Dog Theatre performs in its ongoing series of spontaneous theatre shows.
Golden Gate Boys Choir and Bellringers Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org. Mon, 7:30pm, free. Aurora Theatre Company presents the second meeting of the season with a reading of Tennesse Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and a discussion of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig.
"The Greatest Bubble Show on Earth" The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $7-$10. Nov 27-29 and Dec 6, 1pm. The Marsh Presents Louis Pearl, the Amazing Bubble Man, in this fun show suitable for all ages.
"Kickin’ Off the Holidays Dance Party" Zeum, 221 Fourth St; www.zeum.org. Sun, 1 and 3pm, $18. Candy and the Sweet Tooths celebrate their CD release with two concerts of their popular repertoire plus two new holiday songs.
"Otello" San Francisco Opera War Memorial House, 301 Van Ness; 864-3330, sfopera.com. Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Dec 2. SF Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi’s classic, directed by Nicola Luisotti.
"Aurora Script Club" Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org. Mon, 7:30pm, free. Aurora Theatre Company presents the second meeting of the season with a reading of Tennesse Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and a discussion of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig.
"Hubba Hubba Revue" Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl; www.hubbahubbarevue.com. Mon, 10pm. Ongoing. $5. Scantily clad ladies shake their stuff at this weekly burlesque showcase.
Annie’s Social Club 917 Folsom, SF; www.sfstandup.com. Tues, 6:30pm, ongoing. Free. Comedy Speakeasy is a weekly stand-up comedy show with Jeff Cleary and Chad Lehrman.
"Big City Improv" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; (510) 595-5597, www.bigcityimprov.com. Fri, 10pm, ongoing. $15-$20. Big City Improv performs comedy in the style of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
Brainwash 1122 Folsom; 861-3663. Thurs, 7pm, ongoing. Free. Tony Sparks hosts San Francisco’s longest running comedy open mike.
Club Deluxe 1511 Haight; 552-6949, www.clubdeluxesf.com. Mon, 9pm, ongoing. Free. Various local favorites perform at this weekly show.
Clubhouse 414 Mason; www.clubhousecomedy.com. Prices vary. Scantily Clad Comedy Fri, 9pm. Stand-up Project’s Pro Workout Sat, 7pm. Naked Comedy Sat, 9pm. Frisco Improv Show and Jam Sun, 7pm. Ongoing. Note: Clubhouse will host no classes or shows Nov. 24-26.
Cobbs 915 Columbus; 928-4320. Featuring Henry Cho Fri-Sat, 8pm and 10:15pm.
"Comedy Master Series" Blue Macaw, 2565 Mission; www.comedymasterseries.com. Mon, 6pm. Ongoing. $20. The new improv comedy workshop includes training by Debi Durst, Michael Bossier, and John Elk.
"Comedy on the Square" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sun, 8:30pm, through Dec. Tony Sparks and Frisco Fred host this weekly stand-up comedy showcase.
Danny Dechi & Friends Rockit Room, 406 Clement; 387-6343. Tues, 8pm. Ongoing. Free.
"Improv Society" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; www.improvsociety.com. Sat, 10pm, ongoing, $15. Improv Society presents comic and musical theater.
"The Howard Stone Comedy Variety Talk Show" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sun, 8:30pm. $10. Comedy on the Square presents this twisted talk show featuring Kurt Weitzmann and unique one-man band the Danny Dechi Orchestra.
Punch Line San Francisco 444 Battery; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com. Check Website for times and prices. Featuring W. Kamau Bell Fri-Sat.
Purple Onion 140 Columbus; 1-800-838-3006, www.purpleonionlive.com. Call for days and times.
"Raw Stand-up Project" SFCC, 414 Mason, Fifth Flr; www.sfcomedycollege.com. Sat, 7pm, ongoing. $12-15. SFCC presents its premier stand-up comedy troupe in a series of weekly showcases.
"Comedy Off Broadway Oakland" Washington Inn, 495 10th St, Oakl; (510) 452-1776, www.comedyoffbroadwayoakland.com. Fri, 9pm. Ongoing. $8-$10. Comedians featured on Comedy Central, HBO, BET, and more perform every week.
"Heretic’s Potentially Offensive Comedy" Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; www.hereticnow.com. Sat, 8pm. $15. The work of Benjamin Garcia, Erin Phillips, and Clay Rosenthal is featured in this night of bizarre and hilarious comedy.
"Japanese Fairy Tales: Powerful Unattainable Women" Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street, Berk; (510) 644-2967, www.hillsideclub.org/blog. Mon, 7:30pm. $5. Marie Mutsuki Mockett presents her new novel Picking Bones From Ash, inspired by a Japanese fairy tale.
Events listings are compiled by Paula Connelly. Submit items for the listings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accessories in Action 111 Minna, 111 Minna, SF; (415) 974-1719. Noon; $8, $5 with donation of shoes. Enjoy this fashion fundraiser and holiday shopping event that supports local designers while donating to a good cause. Proceeds from the door to benefit Soles4Souls, a charity that provides people in need with shoes.
Holiday Tree Lighting Union Square, Powell at Geary, SF; (415) 393-3459. 6pm, free. If you find yourself downtown on Black Friday stop the annual Macy’s Tree Lighting Ceremony. Festivities preceding the tree lighting begin at Noon in Union Square.
Celebration of Craftswomen Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, SF; (650) 615-6838. 10am-5pm, $8.50. Join the Women’s Building in celebrating their 31st Anniversary at this holiday crafts fair featuring functional and decorative pieces of handcrafted items and fine art for both the home and body. All items are made by female artists and are environmentally conscious and economically sustainable alternatives to mainstream consumption.
Crystal Fair Fort Mason Conference Center, Fort Mason, SF; (415) 383-7837. Get an aura reading, a massage, an amethyst geode, or look around for the most gift worthy crystals, beads, jewelry and more to ward off the ghosts of holidays past.
Everything Must Go! Climate Theater, 285 9th St., SF; (415) 704-3260. 8pm, $5-500 sliding scale. Be wowed as a diverse group of Bay Area artists respond to the web of consumerism in the world around us with multi media commentary including performance, intallation, video, photography, and more.
Berkeley Artisans Open Studios Various locations in Berkeley; (510) 845-2612, www.berkeleyartisans.com. Sat.-Sun. 11am-6pm, continuing every weekend through 12/20. Buy original creative gifts while supporting local artisans this holiday season. Featuring blown glass, decorative ceramics, ornaments, Menorahs, lamps, original prints, and more.
Classic Black San Francisco Library, 100 Larkin, SF; (415) 557-4400. 3pm, free. Hear former San Francisco Poet Laureate Devorah Major perform spoken word poetry accompanied by Bay Area jazz musicians Richard Howell, on saxophone, and Mark Izu, on bass at this reading titled, Classic Black: African-American Voices from 19th Century San Francisco.
AIDS Around the World Commonwealth Club, 2nd floor, 595 Market, SF; (415) 597-6700. Hear Jose M. Zuniga, President and CEO of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC), discuss the work of IAPAC In Africa, South America, North America, and Europe. December 1st is World AIDS day.
The Assassination of Fred Hampton City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, SF; (415) 362-8193. 7pm, free. Hear autor Jeffrey Haas discuss his new book that gives a personal account of how he and People’s Law Office partner Flint Taylor pursued Black Panther member Fred Hampton’s assassins.
Get Through the Holidays SF LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market, SF; www.ourfamily.org. 6pm, free. Attend this workshop for gay couples distressed over holiday issues with in-laws and parenting. The workshop will offer discussion, strategies, and tips for navigating the holidays as a couple.
Sex, Love, and Attachment Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, SF; 1-800-994-0041. 7pm, $20. Join anthropologist Helen Fisher as she shares her insights from years of research with tens of thousands of individuals on the biological drive that pulls us towards sex, love, and attachment.