Volume 44 Number 35

Appetite: Celebrating Sailor Jerry, tattooist and rum

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What do tatooing and rum have to with each other? Well, there’s a rum named after one of the most legendary tattoo artists of all time, Sailor Jerry. It’s his own personal recipe, distilled in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and is truly a beaut. Bracingly strong at 92 proof, it’s got a spiced, caramel burn that goes down smooth on its own as it does in a cocktail (Dark & Stormy, anyone?) It lingers pleasantly while also delivering a punch. Kind of like the colorful Jerry himself?

This Saturday, June 12, marks the anniversary of Sailor Jerry’s death, a Northern California native (Ukiah, to be exact), born in 1911, making his name as a tattoo artist in Honolulu post-WWII, influenced by and fascinated with all things Asian. (He also harbored some extreme right-wing, libertarian leanings.) American flags mix with dragons and naked women in what a colleague describes as his “balls-forward, old school” tattoo style.

Celebrations for Sailor Jerry’s life are going on this week in four cities: Portland, Austin, LA and our own. RSVP for free screenings of the award-winning documentary, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, at the Roxie on June 9th or 10th, written and directed by Erich Weiss. Watching the 73 minute film is certainly entertaining, intriguing, and often hilarious. With rare interviews of many legendary tattoo artists, protégés and contemporaries, you witness not only the history of tattooing, but a different kind of elderly crowd: foul-mouthed, rough-and-tumble, covered in tats, full of lively stories of early days in tattooing’s U.S. popularity. Particularly engaging is the uber-crusty Eddie Funk, who’s scratchy voice and incessant swearing represent the kind of crowd that knew the paradoxical Sailor Jerry (aka Norman K. Collins) best.

Collins was ahead of his time, wandering the country pre-Beatnik, pre-Keroauc, finding his bliss in Hawaii by creating innovative tattoo art, closely mirroring Japanese tattoo masters (called Horis), earning him the moniker ‘Hori Smoku’. No surprise such a unique character created his own rum, the bottle embellished with his artwork (a hula girl strumming on a ukulele)… and it’s a fine rum at that.

Free but must RSVP at:
http://horismokumovie.com/sanfran_screening
Wed, 6/9; 6:45pm and 10pm
Thu, 6/10; 6:45pm and 10pm
ROXIE THEATER, 3117 16th Street
www.sailorjerry.com

Appetite: 3 delectable events for June

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6/5-6/6 – SUNSET CELEBRATION Cruise down to Menlo Park this weekend for Sunset Magazine’s annual celebration weekend, a key South Bay event for foodies and wine lovers. Plenty of the Bay Area’s best will make an appearance, with a street food spirit pervading this year’s line-up. Our own Ryan Farr grills up special dogs for the event: Crispy Crunch FrankaRoni (deep fried mac n’ cheese squares with franks) and cheddar brats (pork/bacon/cheddar sausage). Food trucks are parked on-site, like Liba’s Falafel Truck, Sam’s Chowder House, and two of my tops: Seoul on Wheels and Gelateria CiCi. Chefs and Food Network stars host cooking demos, such as Roy Choi of the insanely popular Kogi Korean BBQ in LA. There’s wine seminars (for an additional $10; sign up ahead of time), live bands, Sunset’s special glam camping exhibit of tricked-out, funky campers, and an Artisan Food Pavilion housing cheeses, breadmakers, cured meats, sweets (like 479 Popcorn and NeoCocoa truffles) for sampling or purchase.
$16
Saturday (6/5) and Sunday (6/6), 10am-5pm
80 Willow Road, Menlo Park
More info here

6/12 – SLOW FOOD’S GOLDEN GLASS WINE EVENT Seven years running, The Golden Glass Wine Event (www.thegoldenglass.com) is Slow Food’s (www.slowfood.com) annual fundraiser with over 100 sustainable international wine producers. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties all represent, but so do South Africa, France, South America, Italy, Spain, Greece, Australia, and so on. Golden Glasses are awarded to the best “slow” wines in the world, those that follow Slow Food principles of “good, clean and fair” production practices. Sample-size plates of local charcuterie, cheeses and other bites will flow, as will food from restaurants like Delfina, Il Cane Rosso, One Market, Thirsty Bear, A16, Perbacco, and the much-anticipated Plum Restaurant. And, yes, proceeds benefit the “Slow Food in School” programs, so you’re imbibing for a good cause.
$60 pre-purchase; $70 at door ($55 for Slow Food members) – includes unlimited wine and five food tickets (additional at $20 for 5 tickets)
Saturday, 6/12, 1-5pm

Fort Mason Center, the Festival Pavilion
www.thegoldenglass.com

6/16 – BAY AREA RISING STARS AWARDS CEREMONY StarChefs.com (www.starchefs.com/tickets) hosts their Rising Stars Revue and Awards Ceremony for this year’s Bay Area Rising Star winners at Ghirardelli Square. Hosted by Gary Danko’s (http://www.garydanko.com) chef de cuisine, Martin Brock, the night is a walk-around tasting gala featuring signature dishes and cocktails from Rising Star chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs and mixologists. Celebrate (and sample the best from) the winners, many of our local favorites, who were chosen from more than 90 candidates:

Chefs
Matthew Accarrino, SPQR
John Paul Carmona, Manresa
Maximilian DiMare, Wood Tavern
Louis Maldonado, Aziza
Thomas McNaughton, Flour + Water
Scott Nishiyama, Chez TJ

Pastry Chefs
Melissa Chou, Aziza
Catherine Schimenti, MICHAEL MINA

Mixologists
Erick Castro, Rickhouse
Brian MacGregor, Jardinière

Sommelier
Sarah Valor, Commis

Concept
Joshua Skenes, Saison

Restaurateur
Shelley Lindgren, A16 and SPQR

Hotel Chef
Josh Thomsen, The Claremont Hotel Club & Spa

$95; $150 VIP tickets, including pre-event reception with champagne and Petrossian Caviar
Wednesday, June 16; 7:30-10pm
Ghirardelli Square, 900 N. Point Street
www.starchefs.com/tickets

From freeway to favas

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Perhaps you’ve noticed a fresh mountain of fava beans arising along Octavia Boulevard as you travel toward Market Street, in the spot where a freeway used to touch down. Don Wiepert certainly has. He’s a senior citizen who lives across the street from the rows of green sprouts, and even helped to raise the crop in his own living room.

Wiepert is one of 1,500 neighborhood volunteers who have taken part in the birth of Hayes Valley Farm, an exciting experiment in participatory urban agriculture. Started in January by three young permaculture activists, the project has converted into farmland a city block whose previous harvests were auto exhaust from the freeway on-ramp, and most recently, crime and vagrancy.

Farm organizer Jay Rosenberg explains the process as we tour the fields he helped to envision. Back in 1964, neighborhood activists from Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association and other groups organized to stop the progress of the Central Freeway that would connect Highway 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. The show of community force was impressive, but it stranded the planned highway on- and off-ramps on a block of land between Octavia and Laguna streets. “They left them here standing like ruins,” Rosenberg said. “This was a 2.2-acre forgotten space.”

“It was a place for homeless living,” Wiepert said on a recent trip to the farm’s biweekly work party, while volunteers and a handful of paid staff buzzed about replanting seedlings and erecting a homemade greenhouse. “It was fenced off, ugly, inaccessible.” He looks around. Not to resort to a cliché, but there’s a discernible twinkle in his eyes as he says, “Now it’s wonderful.”

Although the block was in a desirable central location, its soil had been damaged from years of exposure to car emissions, which can leave behind lead and other heavy metals. But the team behind Hayes Valley Farm has a plan. The ivy that threatened to strangle the farm’s trees has been stripped, piled into heaps that are covered with cardboard and horse manure to begin a turbo-fertilization process that mimics what happens on forest floors. Once this new soil has been created, it is spread and implanted with fava seedlings, which were selected for their nitrogen-producing capabilities.

Rosenberg halts his tour of the process to pluck a bean plant from the ground and finger the white nitrogen nodule its roots have produced. “Look how well they’re doing,” he says over the nascent crop, proud as a papa. Once these plants are mature, half will be harvested as food, and half chopped at the root to speed the release of their nitrogen into the rest of the soil. Already young lettuces peek beneath the rows of beans, signs that the farm is ready to experiment with other foods.

San Francisco is a weather system unto itself, rendering the city’s ideal crops the subject of much conjecture. “This is a cool, Mediterranean-like, foggy desert,” Rosenberg says. “We’re doing lots of research on species that do well here, which will be knowledge the public can use.” The farm, like the Alameda County Master Gardeners (www.mastergardeners.org) who run a similar program, is serving as a test arena to see what urban gardeners can reasonably expect to thrive here.

The farm is now home to 1,500 plants, including 150 fruit trees, most sitting in pots on the old freeway on-ramp in what Rosenberg calls “the biggest patio garden in San Francisco.” So far, all the crops have gone into the bellies of the volunteers who raised them, putting in more than 4,000 person-hours during the four months the farm has been open.

But it’s not just the free groceries that keep neighbors returning to Hayes Valley Farm. In addition to the work parties, the site has been home to popular screenings of environmentally-themed films and a locus of outdoor learning. One group of students from the Crissy Field Center painted a mural for the farm that will soon occupy one wall of its planned on-site classroom. A weekly yoga class is planned, as are daily tours for farm newbies interested in learning more about the planting going on down the street.

In a time of uncertainty about what we’re supposed to eat, people are finding something to be sure about here. “I appreciate the opportunity to hang out with the younger people and their energy,” Wiepert says, moments before flinging a stick for one of the farm’s part-time dogs to chase after. “I think this place facilitates a feeling for a lot of people that they’re doing something meaningful.” *

HAYES VALLEY FARM

450 Laguna, SF

(415) 763-7645

www.hayesvalleyfarm.com

Spill it over

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I may be at wit’s end over the crude-stained feathers of everything else, but I’m more than OK with music so far in 2010. Sounds are stretching out, sonic categories are superimposing translucent wings, folks are taking chances for granted. For the past five years, the best DJs have been slowing down their sets, some to the point of blissful stasis — lightly back-pedaling in the midst of history’s traffic. This year that’s help lead to a swelling of the unexpected: indie rock fusing with ghostly rave (Delorean’s sublime Subiza, Caribou’s tricky Swim, Toro Y Moi’s soul-phasic Causers of This) and the return rush of breezy Balearic vibes, with analog synths and subtle digital dubbiness lending a just-left-of-human touch.

Casual experiment is the norm, and even cracked electro-pop stunners like Sleigh Bells’ melted-cheerleader Treats or the skitter-goth Atarics of Crystal Castles’ eponymous new disc make it seem like ultranoise just ain’t no thang. And hey, if I could marry the cinematic hypnodrome-hop of Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces to the sly live techno canter of Zurich’s Galoppierende Zuversicht — both coming to town this weekend — I would be in aural heaven. (I think that’s legal in Portugal now?)

In short, we may be entering a genre-free experiential zone. So why not step it up by immersing yourself in the two-month wonder of our very own experiential music festival, Soundwave? Trust, it’ll be amaze. There will be illuminated forests. There will be “extreme natural resonance” drones in abandoned bunkers. There will be live string duets inside famous sculptures.

This is the fourth installment of the fest, whose theme this time is “green sound.” Artists from around the world will be generating sonic experiments that play off the green ideal. Bike-powered stages, solar- and wind-powered music, real and imagined environments, fantasy creatures — all on the menu and then some.

“The green thing is so big in culture, especially in light of recent events,” Alan So, executive director of Project Soundwave (and total babe, btw) told me. “We want to showcase a full creative, innovative range of responses to the ideas of sustainability and reuse. It’s far from literal, though. There’s a spectrum of ideas. We have a sonic fabric artist from Texas, Alyce Santoro, who makes her clothes out of old cassette tape and then plays herself. She’ll be performing during our month-long Illuminated Forest residency at the Lab.

“Another great thing will be Inflorescence at the Civic Center on June 17. Brett Ian Balogh will install tiny solar-powered devices he calls ‘florets’ in the trees that will collect sound all day, and then at sunset they’ll ‘bloom’ as little lights emitting a sonic tapestry. And our opener on June 6, Resonance, gathers artists to the awesome Battery Townsely concrete military bunker in the Marin Headlands to really play with the possibilities of leftover architecture. Different perspectives, sonic ecology, that type of thing.”

So brings an installation art and design background to bear on the proceedings, insuring a 360-degree experience. The Bay, of course, has a huge experimental music history and a still-thriving scene. But Project Soundwave’s youthful programming, consciously or not, parallels a lot of local nightlife developments, from the gonzo digital culture offerings at the Tenderloin’s Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (www.gaffta.org) to the sonic vanguardism of live analog party OK Hole (third Saturdays at Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. www.amnesiathebar.com).

And Soundwave’s green attempts could provide a tingly synthesis of experiment and action. “It’s easy to assume a passive role as an artist or musician,” So told me. “Political art can be so off-putting in its bluntness or perceived negativity that, for an artist, pure abstraction is the only attractive way. We’d like to take a stab at changing that. Developing and utilizing alternative technologies to create ideal states can be both a statement and a contribution.”

SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL ((4)) GREEN SOUND June 6–Aug. 13, various times and prices, www.projectsoundwave.com

RED BULL BIG TUNE PRODUCER BATTLE with Shabazz Palaces, Rick Rock, and DJ Toomp. Fri/4, 8 p.m., $5. DNA Lounge, 375 11th Street, SF. www.redbullbigtune.com

[KONTROL] FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY with Galoppierende Zuversicht and Craig Richards. Sat/5, 10 p.m.–6 a.m., $20. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.kontrolsf.com

Appetite: Giant legs and Willy Wonka — adventures at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

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I was one of the lucky ones, spending eight days in NY, my old stomping grounds, for the first annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which highlights and celebrates the art of the cocktail and its greatest talents. Or so I thought… I won’t gripe too much, though I will say that despite the stunning transformation of the already gorgeous New York Public Library for the opening gala, a scene rife with cocktail luminaries like Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders and Dave Wondrich, along with some of the country’s best bartenders, the crowds were not quite the cocktailians I expected, while some events were far from what was advertised. For example: at the May 17 “contest” at Keen‘s, the competition and notable judges had completely wrapped up and left by the listed START time of the event, leaving only a few cocktails to sample and the incomparably cool, old school Keen’s space to stand around in. I could have spent the same money with more exciting results at any of NY’s great bars.

Let’s recap a few of the best and worst moments of the racous week that was the 1st annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic:

WORST

1. Starvation : At the opening gala, despite spotting Mario Batali, the guy who had supposedly cooked up something special for the night, I never once saw his food. Every other whiff of food was devoured by the time I got near it, mainly in the one air-conditioned room in all of the NYPL, where beloved Fatty ‘Cue served up giant legs of meat, an odd “cocktail party” choice, but hilarious to watch others gnaw on a leg with drink delicately in hand. Once I finally got to the last table with any food, the line was so long it wasn’t worth the wait, despite food-less hours endured with sips of multiple drinks (many of the fruity, vodka, soda, flavorless kind)… a bite never came until I hit a diner at 2am.

A wasteland of unfinished drink & chewed-up meat at Opening Gala. Photo by Virginia Miller.

2. Non-Cocktailian Crowds at the opening gala: I expected a slew of the country’s and NY’s most hardcore drink fans, the kind that mix Jerry Thomas recipes at home, await Mud Puddle book releases, and value craft and taste above a “scene”. Um, try drunken carousers breaking glasses and leaving trash lying around in the historical NYPL? What about having your photo taken with vodka models? Seriously: you, a bottle of vodka, and sexy models in a brightly lit, LA-style photo shoot. Or maybe I’m still just creeped out by the Oompa Loompas or the giant Queen Victoria towering over us in the Hendricks’ Gin area (at least there was Charlotte Voisey mixing cocktails below the Queen).

3. Events not as advertised: I’ve already mentioned the misleading representation of the cocktail competition at Keen’s and the drunken, packed-to-the-gills mayhem of the opening gala where check-in, getting a drink or even entering a room, meant yet another 15 minute wait. And where were the fine cocktails? Several came from our San Francisco crew who manned a number of tables (negronis!), or the playful Willy Wonka-themed candy counter, but there were few even tolerable out of four floors of cocktails.

BEST

1. Astor Center bar and bartenders from around the country: The Astor Center was ground zero for many of MCC’s daily events, panels and classes. The best part was having bartenders from all over New York and the country cover varying shifts. I met mixologists from St. Louis, LA, San Fran, and NY bars like Employees Only, Clover Club and Rye House. Not only did these guys whip up some of the better drinks of the entire event, but they were friendly, chatty, engaging, making the Astor Center feel like your favorite watering hole.

The respite of the Virgin Room. Photo by Virginia Miller.

2. The Virgin Room at the opening gala: What is normally NYPL’s staid, lovely Periodicals Room became the Virgin Room, a detox refuge in the midst of the body-to-body storm of revelers, ego-tripping bodyguards and completely frazzled staff. Coolers were stocked with energy drinks while the latest copies of Interview magazine lined the tables. Never mind that one couldn’t find a bit of water anywhere. At least I could read about Madonna staying sexy in her ’50’s via lamplight.

3. Gin Masters: Let’s call this third one a tie between the gracious English class and knowledge of master distillers, Desmond Payne (of Beefeater Gin) and Sean Harrison (of Plymouth Gin), at the English Gin Seminar on May 16.

4. The Stork Club: At the opening gala, one could catch a welcome respite from the oppressive heat of the rest of the building in the rarely seen NYPL basement, dubbed the Stork Club for the night. Thanks, Diageo, for turning the room into a relaxed but funky party with brassy Budos Band and proper cocktails, including a Bulleit Bourbon Mint Julep and a Mary Pickford made with Zacapa 23 year rum.

Viva La Peña

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Here’s to you, Salvador Allende. Our governmental baddies-that-were may have helped assassinate you over the copper-nationalizing ways of your democratically elected Chilean presidential administration. But in your passing, you inspired the birth of an East Bay community center focused on the use of art for social awakening. Which we’re happy to tell you continues to be an integral part of our area’s radical cultural milieu to this day. I’m talkin’ about La Peña Cultural Center, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary Sat., June 5 — a day that will henceforth known as La Peña Day in Berkeley.

You should check it out, Mr. A. Oh wait — you’ve long since shuffled off this mortal coil. My bad. Pero no importa, mi amigo, I’ll tell you about it.

Back in 1975, things were much as they are today, with bullheaded “leaders” encroaching on the sovereignty of other countries. Rankled over the turmoil in Chile, Panama, and Nicaragua, a cadre of political activists took over the rent of a defunct French restaurant in Berkeley.

And just what were these hippies and reds up to? The budding La Peña’s aim was to disseminate information about the conflicts in a way that was not just educational but entertaining. “The core was to use art and music, because you can reach more people that way. It’s much more accessible than political speeches,” executive director Paul Chin tells me. Their model was the Chilean peñas where Allende began his political campaign — salons where art, politics, and community flowed comfortably.

I’m having this conversation with Chin in the center’s lobby. On the walls around us is the center’s 35th anniversary mural, painted by local artists collective Trust Your Struggle. It’s a contemporary take on La Peña’s frontal façade on Shattuck Avenue, an eye-popping 3-D work the center is known for. We’re light-years and several generations from the center’s first years, back before the Internet, before Bushes I and II (and Reagan!), before Shakira, even before Ricky Martin.

Back then, Chin tells me, art and music from the developing world was considered less sophisticated than their Western counterparts. So La Peña began bringing in acts from around the world, artists who could communicate the struggle in their own countries. For some, the fact that they were gracing an American stage was a political statement in and of itself. Over the years, a few got famous: Eddie Palmieri, Los Lobos, Julieta Venegas, and Isabel Allende have performed there — even folk legend Pete Seeger played a La Peña-sponsored show at Berkeley Community Theater.

The center has grown, offering art courses for youth and adults, gallery shows that include international and local artists, weekly jam sessions for immigrant communities. It has hosted cultural series in conjunction with numerous community groups, on Arab culture, on the black lesbian experience, on hip-hop. The center has multiple stages and one of the region’s few Chilean restaurants attached to the lobby so “we can provide food for the body as well as the spirit,” Chin said.

It’s a successful exercise in cross-cultural understanding through art. “I’m proud to say that our stage has been reflective of most of the oppressed communities in the U.S.,” Chin said. But it’s an ongoing process. He recounts an incident with a male-dominated weekly drum session that was reported to be excluding women from hitting the skins. The artists were told to let the ladies play or leave. (Happily, they decided the space for their music was more important than their machismo).

The kaleidoscopic lineup planned for La Peña’s 35th anniversary party, which also serves as the celebration for the newly designated La Peña Day, is a fitting tribute to the center’s accomplishments. A Friday night concert of infectious cumbia beats by Chilean musician-activists Chico Trujillo. A free Saturday street festival featuring dancers, classes, and singing. And, later that evening, a performance by Las Bomberas de la Bahia, local percussionists who play classic Puerto Rican bomba music. Las Bomberas, by the way, is an all female group.

¿Te gusta, Señor Allende?

LA PEÑA 35TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Chico Trujillo: Fri/4, 8–10 p.m., $15–$18

La Peña Day Street Carnival and Fair: Sat/5, 12–6 p.m., free

Las Bomberas de la Bahia and Rebel Diaz: Sat/5, 9 p.m., $10–$12

La Peña Cultural Center

3105 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 849-2568

www.lapena.org

 

Volume 44 Number 35 Flip-through Edition

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The facts of Cloris

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arts@sfbg.com

STAGE With nearly 250 credits in film, television, and stage roles to her name, Cloris Leachman is a true entertainment icon. It’s hard to believe the ever-vivacious and lively actress got her start in show business competing in the Miss America pageant back in 1946, but the now 84-year-old star has generously filled a career spanning more than 60 years.

But age is irrelevant when talking to Leachman, who continues to work with a full schedule in film and television projects as her solo stage show comes to San Francisco this week at the Rrazz Room. Speaking by phone from Palm Springs, where her former husband, George Englund lives — or as she says, her “Once upon a time” husband — “I don’t like to say my ‘ex.’ I don’t think that’s appropriate. It doesn’t mean what happened,” she said.

“A couple of years ago my family got all concerned about me. I don’t really know what it was, but they felt I wasn’t my old self. My daughter talked to her father, and they decided I should write a book, have a one woman show, do talks — and we did it all,” Leachman said, laughing in a deeply infectious and endearing way.

Incorporating spoken passages along with a little piano, singing, and a healthy dose of humor, the show promises to touch on a broad spectrum of Leachman’s career, which includes notable performances as the bombshell beauty in the noir classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955); her Oscar-winning role as neglected wife Ruth Popper in The Last Picture Show (1971); a long string of successful television appearances (which have garnered her nine Emmys) on programs including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis, and, of course, her portrayal of Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein (1974).

The normally forthcoming Leachman demurred when asked about particulars of the show, preferring that people see it for themselves. She did stress that one of her favorite parts of this show — which has been performed in several warm-up gigs leading up to her arrival here — has been interacting and meeting with her fans.

“That’s the fun part, that’s the other half of your show,” she said. “We laugh and hug and cry — having a live audience is thrilling.”

Reminiscing about some of her favorite memories of San Francisco, Leachman espoused her love of the city’s cuisine before commenting — with somewhat embarrassed but gleeful candor — on her fling in a local hotel with Gene Hackman in the 1970s, an assignation she revealed in her autobiography, Cloris, released last year.

“We met in the lobby and he asked if I wanted to have dinner, so we had dinner. I don’t know what happened, we just got on fire, we couldn’t run fast enough to the room,” she laughed heartily. “I remember the first 10 seconds after we got in the room, but I don’t remember anything after that — isn’t that terrible?”

After this week’s shows, Leachman has an array of projects on the horizon, including a new show on Fox from the creators of My Name Is Earl and a role in the film The Fields, a psychological thriller due out in the fall. She will also appear in a movie called You Again with her friend and former Mary Tyler Moore costar Betty White.

Asked about any possible secrets to her success, her openness and self-deprecating humor showed themselves. “I always went on the Johnny Carson show after I’d done a character so people would know I wasn’t that character,” she said seriously, before cracking herself up, and laughing hysterically. “I was even worse!” 

CLORIS! A ONE-WOMAN SHOW

Through June 11

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m., $40–$45

Rrazz Room

222 Mason, SF

www.therrazzroom.com

 

Sexy, seedy, comical

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Downwind from a sprawling industrial pig farm stands a shabby little motel under new management. It’s maybe not what Business Week would call an auspicious location, but then proprietor Asuncion Boyle (Chad Deverman) is not your average entrepreneur. His enterprise — registered in marketing decisions like a bar that serves only one drink: “The Pissed-off Son of a Bitch” — is the overthrow of capitalism, one loathsome pig farmer at a time. Moreover, his first target, swaggering Texas dealmaker Charles Masterson (an extremely impressive Keith Burkland), is far from arbitrary. Asuncion — or “Assy” as his kinky lover and Charles’ trophy wife Lola (a compelling Madeline H.D. Brown) likes to call him — stalks the man he blames for his mother’s suicide many years before.

“This is about social justice, not revenge,” insists our somewhat addled if cocksure protagonist. It’s pretty clear no one else believes him, but Lola still proves a willing accomplice, even after she learns of the origin of their affair in his plot to buy her husband’s pig farm in foreclosure and turn it into a desert park for the community. This unexpectedly straightforward and hopelessly naïve stratagem comes backed by a frame-up ploy that recapitulates the violent act Asuncion saw through a motel window as a child, as well as by an inscrutable neo-Marxist treatise he penned called The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry. The document is the fruit of 10 years of dedicated study in the Albuquerque public library. (History repeats itself indeed, but the second time is definitely as farce, a detail Assy seems to have forgotten.)

The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry, the latest effort by industrious and popular local playwright William Bivins (Pulp Scripture; The Position), is less a play of ideas than a winking bit of Texan Panhandle neo-noir, a sardonic psychodrama cum thriller, something in the vein of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe or Dennis Lehane’s Coronado (which SF Playhouse, the producing company, mounted a couple of seasons back). If Assy’s schooling of his materialistic, sadomasochistic, platinum blonde disciple and his verbal sparring with the vigorous and canny Charles come comically peppered with Marxist clichés, it’s the surprisingly tender, tortured relationships between all three on which history will actually turn.

But in also going for something beyond just another seedy, sexy, comical thrill ride, Apotheosis, part of SF Playhouse’s intriguing Sandbox Series of new works, winds up less than completely satisfying, despite a sporadic verve and emotional complexity as well as very engaging performances by a fine cast under direction from Bill English. Circling around the subject of political and personal commitment and the real engines of social change (or lack thereof), Apotheosis can strain after meaning to the detriment of its more forceful aspects — including its merits as a seedy, sexy, comical thrill ride. You’ll have to make allowances for some awkward, even confusing plot points in this table-turner, and forgive a main character who amusingly urges his partner-in-crime to “stay in the abstract” but who is in fact a little too abstract himself to be believed.

Deverman makes it possible to forgive a lot, actually, since he applies a good deal of charm to the part. But Asuncion is simply more concept than character, especially compared with Lola and Charles, who both breath more fully onstage (the dependably astute Burkland is doing some of his finest work in the latter role). Asuncion, by contrast, seems both out of place and off the page. This is doubtless part of the point. But in the end, it’s maybe both too arch and too telling that Assy writes everything, inexplicably and improbably enough, on a manual typewriter. If you can buy that detail, there’s a pig farm next door you should consider. 

THE APOTHEOSIS OF PIG HUSBANDRY

Through June 12

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m., $20–$30

SF Playhouse

533 Sutter, SF

www.sfplayhouse.org

 

Composite material

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MUSIC This Thursday, Yoshi’s SF hosts an experiment fusing of the border-crossing sound of songstress Rupa (best known for leading SF’s rousing global agitpop band The April Fishes) with the grand indie rock orchestrations of bassist Todd Sickafoose (who has lived in Brooklyn for the past several years while leading his band Tiny Resistors and working with Ani Difranco). What initially seemed to be a cross-country collaboration is actually taking place closer to home now that the prodigal Sickafoose has returned to the Bay Area to live part-time. Mark Orton of Tin Hat Trio lends his arrangements to this sonic amalgam.

SFBG How did you two meet?

RUPA MARYA I met Todd through Ara [Anderson] and I think I’ve heard Todd’s band play more than any other band in the last year. I love his compositions. Then I heard that he was possibly moving back to the Bay Area. So when Yoshi’s wanted to book me, I wanted to do something different. This is a chance to show the more intimate side of my music, which I don’t get to do when I’m playing with a big, raucous band. To share that with Todd is really exciting.

SFBG: Todd, you lived here in the Bay Area, then moved to New York about five years ago. Why?

TODD SICKAFOOSE: All my musical friends had migrated there. In some sense it was an obvious move. But that’s also when I started playing with Ani, and she was in Buffalo. So everything became very New York-centric.

SFBG: But you recently moved back?

TS: I’m still playing music with everyone in New York, so I’m excited to be truly bicoastal. My family still lives here. This is home. But I’m part of the scene in Brooklyn, and it’s an exciting time there. So that’s home too. Coming back here it’s great to check in, see what’s going on, and to find people to play my music with. There’s a collective of people playing my music at this point. I never meant for it to be that way, but it seems right because it requires a large band.

SFBG: How many people are playing at Yoshi’s?

RM: There will be a string quartet with Todd on bass, so a string quintet, percussion, saxophone, marimba …

TS: Then clarinet, trombone, duduk …

RM: The duduk is an Armenian flute. It makes such a beautiful sound.

SFBG: What’s the night going to be like?

RM: Instead of just playing a set of my music and then a set of Todd’s, we’re trying to figure out a way to weave the different elements together. I have no idea how it’s going to sound. In The April Fishes I’ve been playing with some of the same people for five years. So to step away and play with a completely fresh group of people is thrilling. It started out of an impetus to welcome Todd back to San Francisco. And Yoshi’s is a quiet listening room where you can have a different kind of musical exploration. I hope to always play with lots of amazing, inspiring people, like Todd.

TS: I like the idea of this collaboration because Rupa’s music sounds very inclusive to me. I think that’s her mode of operation. In New York there’s such an overload of everything — musicians, ideas, and projects — that a lot of people figure out what they are by shutting out other possibilities. What’s left becomes what they are. San Francisco has a tradition that’s the other way around. I like the idea of being a magnet for many different things. To the point where you don’t know what it’ll be in the end, but it’s a recipe for a good night of music.

RM: Basically it’s just to have fun.

TS: And sushi.

RM: Really good sushi.

RUPA WITH TODD SICKAFOOSE

Thurs/3, 8 and 10 p.m., $10-$15

Yoshi’s SF

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 665-5600, www.yoshis.com

Spirit of LCD

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By Peter Galvin

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC It’s getting more and more difficult to talk about new music without comparing it with the work of some other band, or to whichever Stones song the guitar reminds you of. It’s useful to be able to pick a reference point and say “It sounds like that,” but you’re walking a slippery slope when you imply that all music is directly derivative. James Murphy is probably incredibly aware of this tendency to make comparisons. As LCD Soundsystem, Murphy crafts intricate, dense dance music, but a quick peek into his record bin likely indicates where his true passion lies. It is a bin well-stocked with records from Bowie, Eno, Talking Heads, and other 1970s rock icons. It is not so strange that Murphy, 40 years young, would be a fan of ’70s rock. But he does seem an unlikely figure to emerge as a 21st-century musician who not-so-subtly melds the music of his formative years into contemporary dance hits.

Murphy’s transformation into indie icon happened almost overnight. First single “Losing My Edge” on Murphy’s own DFA records was one of the most buzzed-about songs of 2002. But in the years leading up to its self-titled album in 2005, LCD Soundsystem soon found itself caught between two futures: solid, if silly, dance music and intricate explorations of genre. In those days, Murphy tended to ad lib goofy lyrics over his tracks well after the musical parts were recorded, inadvertently threatening to sabotage dancefloor-fillers like “Yeah” and “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” with self-conscious sarcasms. It wasn’t until LCD’s second album, Sound of Silver, that Murphy proved how seriously he takes his craft, displaying a happy medium between his urges for humor and reference, and allowing his songs to create their own happy personalities.

This is Happening is LCD Soundsystem’s third album and it’s all happy personality, marking it as the best representation of Murphy’s signature mix of dance and ’70s rock. The album cover showcases Murphy in a suit and tie that recalls Robert Longo’s “Men in the Cities” work, or perhaps riffs on the poster for Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads performance film Stop Making Sense. Though the cover is an urgent reference to those other works, it announces Happening as the album where Murphy fully directs his self-awareness toward creating music that recalls and riffs on, but never replicates. For every track on Happening, there is a clear ’70s counterpart (the official tally heavily favors the production of Brian Eno and the vocal affectations of David Byrne), but they all surge with freshness and originality.

Opening track “Dance Yrself Clean” exhibits mumble-mouthed vocals and a drum/bass combo that wouldn’t be out of place with the low-key meditations from Murphy’s recent Greenberg soundtrack, at least until the three-minute mark, when the song explodes with sound. If it were possible to live within a song, I’d live here, in the reverberation of drums and synths that keep the song rolling another five minutes. “All I Want” is a direct homage to Bowie’s Berlin era; Eno guitar fuzz swirls around the refrain “All I want/Is your pity” before laser show synths create the impression that the vinyl is literally melting as it spins. “One Touch” and “Pow Pow” have Murphy doing his best Talking Heads and “You Wanted a Hit” is the album’s one concession to Murphy’s meta-humor, as he snottily expounds on the band’s unwillingness to conform to expectations, but the result is a song so layered and catchy that it hardly takes away from the album’s consistent pacing.

Pacing is a big factor in This is Happening‘s success, and many of Happening‘s nine songs would not fare as well apart from the album experience. On its release in March, “Drunk Girls” struck me as a particularly hackneyed stand-alone single, one that threatened to turn off as many listeners as “North American Scum” did from 2007’s Sound of Silver. So it comes as a surprise to hear how fitting the song is within the context of the album itself. The chanty back and forth of “drunk girls” and “drunk boys,” interrupted by the silver-tongued chorus “I believe in waking up together/So that means making eyes across the room,” is likely to score the trailer for whatever terrible dating show MTV comes up with this summer. But the song doesn’t deserve that grim fate. It’s part of a tangible tone and feel that makes Happening that rare dance record that’s best enjoyed as an album rather than as a collection of singles.

It may be all the rage to reference ’70s and ’80s music these days, but Murphy isn’t that ironic hipster mashing up dance beats with dad-rock, or that London band mimicking the Clash. Playing “spot the influences” in This is Happening is easy, but I don’t believe Murphy intentionally sets out to replicate the records he grew up with — they’re an integral a part of who he is. In a 2005 Pitchfork interview, Murphy admitted, “I’m not wandering under a banner of originality or a myth of no influences. There’s no purity in what I’m doing.” But Happening emerges as an undeniably pure-sounding album anyway. Drawing from the familiar sounds of an era, Murphy has gone beyond recapturing a spark that was already there. He’s created a whole new reference point.

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM

Thurs/3, 9 p.m., $35

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.livenation.com

100 photos in search of an exhibit

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arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL "Furthermore" implies that one is not quite finished. There is more elaboration to come, or another point entirely will be addressed. It signals that what the speaker may have fully thought through has not yet been fully stated.

"Furthermore" is also the title of Fraenkel Gallery’s 30th anniversary show, a wonderful assortment of odd ducks and singular sensations, canonized masters and anonymous geniuses. Or as gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel puts it in the intro to the exhibit’s catalog, these are, "scrappy, tenacious, unrelated photographs that want to become an exhibition."

Fraenkel’s anthropomorphic phrasing (they "want to become an exhibition") is appropriate since these pictures have new stories to tell. Many names and images are familiar (Arbus, Lange, Warhol, Levitt), while others, like the heartbreaking anonymous photograph of 1930s starlet Starr Faithful’s suicide note, aren’t. But none of these photographs are quite finished with what they have to tell us, especially when in proximity to each other.

The pictures are hung in clusters that bring out their thematic or formal affinities while simultaneously enhancing the singular qualities of each individual piece. In one of the first groupings, the scatological mechanics of Morton Schamberg’s 1917 Dada readymade God (this study is reputedly the only known photographic print of the piece in existence) are echoed in the tubular forms of Christian Marclay’s collage Double Tuba and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson’s 1867 albumen print of a pneumatic motor.

Nearby hangs a constellation of feminine self-presentation as masquerade, with Katy Grannan’s anonymous, windswept crone (2009); Ethyl Eichelberger in Peter Hujar’s elegiac 1983 portrait of the performer in Southern belle drag; and the Deco seductress in Andre Kertesz’s Satiric Dancer (1926) emerging as Norn-like sisters from across time and space.

The more abstract groupings are no less evocative, linking up formal experimentations (Mel Bochner’s cartographic Surface Dis/tension) to the serendipitous beauty of scientific documentation (the anonymous 1930 cyanotype of a radio transmission sent from the Eiffel Tower). Wonderful stuff.

FURTHERMORE …


Candy-coating sexual innuendo is an old trick in pop music (see 50 Cent, Madonna, etc.), but the sweets served up by John DeFazio and Leigha Mason at Meridian Gallery seduce precisely because they don’t want your loving. DeFazio’s baroque reliquaries for cultural figures and Mason’s fingernail and hair-laden resin candies are memento mori for youthful fantasies and heroes; roadside tchotchkes picked up from America’s death drive.

Keira Kotler’s monochromatic paintings, with their soothing shifts in luminosity and tone, are the visual equivalent of a drone: seemingly static planes that slowly reveal their depth and subtlety through prolonged exposure. The color fields in "Stillness," her new show at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, skew more Richter (specifically his 1991 painting Blood Red Mirror, currently hanging at SFMOMA) than Rothko, but their slickness diminishes none of their auratic pull.

Well tickle me proud: it’s June. Electric Works is showing its pride with "More Glitter — Less Bitter," a career retrospective of local legend Daniel Nicoletta. If queer life in this city is a cabaret, then Nicoletta has been its unofficial in-house photographer, snapping SF’s finest LGBT freaks since he was a 19-year-old employee at Harvey Milk’s Castro Street camera store. Sparkle, Danny, sparkle! *

FURTHERMORE

Through June 25, free

Fraenkel Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 981-2661

www.fraenkelgallery.com

THE CANDY STORE

June 3– July 24, free

Meridian Gallery

535 Powell, SF

(415) 398-6176

www.meridiangallery.org

KEIRA KOTLER: STILLNESS

June 4–July 24, free

Chandra Cerrito Contemporary

480 23rd St, Oakl.

(510) 260-7494

www.chandracerrito.com/ccc

DANIEL NICOLETTA: MORE GLITTER — LESS BITTER

June 4–July 10, free

Electric Works

130 Eighth St, SF

(415) 626-5496

www.sfelectricworks.com

In the cut

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM "If we don’t use human DNA now, someone else will," declares Elsa (Sarah Polley), the brash young genetic scientist bent on defying the orders of her benign corporate benefactors in Vincenzo Natali’s pseudo-cautionary hybrid love child, Splice. From that moment on, it’s pretty clear that any ethical conundrums the movie raises aren’t really worthy of debate: what Elsa wants to do in the name of scientific progress — splice human DNA into gooey muscle masses to provide said corporation with proteins for gene therapy — is, you know, deranged.

A hipster Dr. Frankenstein with mommy issues, Elsa bucks both corporate policy and sound moral judgment and does it anyway, much to the horror of her husband and fellow hotshot research scientist, Clive (Adrien Brody). (His name is a sideways reference to Mary Shelley’s titular mad scientist, played by Colin Clive in 1931’s Frankenstein; hers recalls 1935’s notoriously electro-coiffed Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester.) But the potential scientific discoveries prove too seductive even for Clive, who reluctantly plays Elsa’s sad-eyed Igor. After all, these are the type of science weirdos who can gaze upon genetically engineered mounds of unarticulated, writhing flesh and coo, "She’s perfectly formed!" Um, yeaahh.

Elsa’s genetic tinkering soon results in the dramatic birth of something akin to a homicidal fetal chick crossed with a skinned bunny. Clive is horrified by this affront to nature and suggests killing it, but Elsa wants to study its life cycle for posterity. It grows at an alarming rate, and when human characteristics become apparent, Elsa clings to it with the instinctual vigor of a tigress protecting her cub. She gives her female laboratory spawn the name "Dren" ("Nerd" backward, after the acronym for their research facility) and outfits her in oddly anachronistic Holly Hobbie-style dresses. Clive remains largely unconvinced. "None of her animal components have predatory characteristics," Elsa assures him. "Well, there is the human element," he quips.

In a matter of days, Dren develops from a shy child into a precocious teen (French newcomer Delphine Chanéac) with a typically adolescent itch to rebel. The mute, atavistic Dren is like a gorgeous autistic Minotaur, bounding around on incredibly powerful gazelle-like legs while clinging to her stuffed teddy bears and batting her doe eyes in wonder, existential confusion, and (soon enough) quizzical animal lust.

When Elsa and Clive are forced to hide Dren at Elsa’s abandoned family farmhouse to escape detection from prying corporate eyes, Splice evolves into another kind of hybrid: a genetically engineered Scenes from a Marriage (1973) crossed with the DNA of The Omen (1976) and grafted onto the most very special My So-Called Life episode ever. Eventually the movie gets downright lascivious — a particularly cringe-inducing plot twist comes to mind — but a few small moments toy with the transcendent, like Dren’s discovery of her wings on a snow-laden rooftop. Both Brody and Polley seem to be gamely slumming, and their casting does add an aura of respectability to the proceedings. But make no mistake. Splice‘s genetic imprint is pure genre-pulp sleaze and cheese.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Splice may be a ludicrous, cut-rate exercise in Brood-era David Cronenberg — Natali has clearly orchestrated an homage to his fellow Canadian’s enduring obsession with body horror — but it’s a damned entertaining one. It’s also a curious entry considering Natali’s earlier efforts, notably 1997’s relatively austere exercise in Kubrickian Big Think sci-fi nuance, Cube. The only Kubrick evidenced in Splice comes in the form of Clive’s large collection of vinyl hipster toys.

Perhaps this about-face fits somewhere comfortably between Cube and Natali’s rumored next project: a remake of Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (1982). Splice in some Craven and pretty soon Natali’s DNA will be such a bouillabaisse of sci-fi horror tropes he’ll give his Frankenstein-aping heroine Elsa a run for her money.

SPLICE opens Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters.

Cute is what he aims for

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FILM Cutie pie. Kissy face. Snuggle bunny. Aren’t you just the sweetest thing ever?

The above pull quote will likely not be showing up in Sony Classics’
ads for Micmacs. Nonetheless, an urge to baby-talk at the screen underlines what is wrong with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film: it is like a precocious child all too aware how to work a room, reprising adorable past behaviors with pushy determination and no remaining spontaneity whatsoever. There will be cooing. There will be clucking. But there will also a few viewers rolling their eyes, thinking "This kid rides my last nerve."

It’s easy to understand why Jeunet’s movies are so beloved, doubtless by many previously allergic to subtitles. (Of course, few filmmakers need dialogue less.) They are eye-candy, and brain-candy too: fantastical, hyper, exotic, appealing to the child within but with dark streaks, byzantine of plot yet requiring no close narrative attention at all. The artistry and craftsmanship are unmissable, no ingenious design or whimsical detail left unemphasized. You can detect influences — Chaplin, Jacques Tati, Jan Svankmajer — but the unified vision is distinctively his.

Actually it was his and codirector Marc Caro’s, through 1995’s The City of Lost Children. That uneven but impressive fantasy greatly expanded on the template introduced by their early shorts and by 1991’s Delicatessen, a perfectly self-contained first feature contraption, a live-action cartoon of the genially macabre and puckishly romantic.

These were cult films, albeit big cult films. The point at which Jeunet supersized — in both popularity and in turning a few stomachs — was his first movie entirely without Caro, plucky-as-fuck Amélie (2001). It was the world’s most ornate cuckoo clock, an entire football field of dominoes falling toward an inevitable je t’aime. Whether it is also a testament to the perils of excessive storyboarding can be argued — but say that and it’s as if you had just kicked a dog. Or "an elf with big eyes," as Jeunet described his "perfect actress" Audrey Tautou. A Very Long Engagement (2004) suggested the limits of what they could do for each other, but at least it was a step away from circusy cuteness and contrivance.

Into which puddle of cuddle Micmacs leaps back with a vengeance. It took Jeunet five years to painstakingly construct a vehicle he could repeat himself this completely? Our hero Bazil (Dany Boon) is a lovable misfit who lost his father to an Algerian landmine, then loses his own job and home when he’s brain-injured by a stray bullet. He falls in with a crazy coterie of lovable misfits who live underground, make wacky contraptions from junk, and each have their own special, not-quite-super "power." (His love interest is dubbed Elastic Girl — though it’s Julie Ferrier’s facial contortions that really alarm.) It’s like Santa’s Gallic Toyshop, populated by chimney-sweeps and organ grinders and mimes. They help him wreak elaborate, fanciful revenge on the greedy arms manufacturers (André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié) behind his
misfortunes, as well as various human rights-y global ones.

So there’s a message here, couched in fun. But the effect is rather like a birthday clown begging funds for Darfur — or Robert Benigni’s dreaded Life is Beautiful (1997), good intentions coming off a bit hubristic, even distasteful. (It doesn’t help that the sole black characters here feel like racial caricatures dropped into Cirque du Soleil.) Of course the film’s all-important design aspects are impeccably wrought. And using old Max Steiner orchestral excerpts was a terrific idea — one of Micmacs‘ few simple, genuinely charming ones.

The actors make funny faces, some (like Boon, Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon, and the villains) amusingly, others laboriously. They’re just props in a series of Rube Goldbergian set-pieces that are showy, intricate yet somehow stale. If Amelie‘s pursuit of charm could feel incongruously elephantine — like a space shuttle chasing a feather — Micmacs likewise exerts way too much effort just trying to be cute and funny. It’s so overpoweringly delighted with itself that you don’t need to be.

MICMACS opens Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters.

Green is good

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FILM How do you make a cult movie? The short answer is, you can’t. Cult movies become what they are not by the efforts of their filmmakers; they must be elevated to second-coming status by fans, superfans who dress in costume and host semi-regular viewing parties, and mega-superfans who get tattoos tributes.

Blessed with the magical combination of terrible acting, zero-budget production values, a laughable script, and directing choices so bizarre they had to be intentional, 1989’s Troll 2 was destined from the start to either wind up in total bargain-bin obscurity or be one of the most backhandedly-praised cult movies of a generation. The documentary Best Worst Movie, helmed by Michael Paul Stephenson (also known as Troll 2‘s freckle-faced kid star), traces the would-be horror flick’s path, from filming in small-town Utah with an amateur cast and a non-English-speaking Italian crew, to straight-to-vid anonymity, to becoming a late-night TV perennial who eventually found a rabidly enthusiastic audience.

Best Worst Movie does a fine job establishing Troll 2‘s cult cred, but it’s also interested in examining what happens to people who are famous only because of their association with one singularly memorable show-biz moment. For Dr. George Hardy — an excitable dentist whose stiff, eminently quotable performance as Troll 2‘s patriarch was his only film gig — his fame, two decades after the larky experience of making a movie he thought nobody would see, is a pleasant surprise (for the most part). For director Claudio Fragasso, who has two dozen non-Troll 2-related credits on his resume, the attention is welcome but also off-putting: he doesn’t seem to grasp that the reason his movie is great is because it’s so bad. Nor is he amused by the fact that his “important film” is considered by many to be a guffaw-inducing joke.

The doc’s worth your time, but Troll 2 is essential viewing no matter what. Screenwriter Rosella Drudi (Fragasso’s wife) penned the script — about a regl’ar family on vacation who realizes they’re under siege by the local goblin population — because she was pissed off at vegetarians. The rest is hard to explain, but gloriously easy to enjoy.

TROLL 2

Fri/4-Sat/5, midnight, $8–$10.50

Lumiere

1572 California, SF

www.landmarktheatres.com

BEST WORST MOVIE opens Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters; Stephenson and Hardy in person at selected opening-weekend shows.

Vow and later

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FILM A friend recently opined that movies about hitched couples stumbling through matrimony were far less fun to watch than movies about unmarried couples fumbling toward commitment. There is a kernel of truth here. The question "Will they get together?" is certainly more tension-filled than "when will they finally concede defeat?"

Agnès Varda, one of cinema’s smartest and slyest observers of gender relations, disproves my friend’s hypothesis and gives matrimonial ennui a gentle ribbing in two early films: La Pointe Courte (1955), her debut, and Le bonheur (1965). Screening as part of the Pacific Film Archive’s showcase of recent acquisitions, "Brought to Light," both films nominally revolve around married couples negotiating crises. Varda, however, is far more interested in observing marriage as a social contract, one that not only frequently skews in favor of men, but that also isolates both participants from the rest of the world as much as from each other.

Arguably the stylistic precursor to what would become the French New Wave, La Pointe Courte cuts between the everyday tragedies that befall the inhabitants of a small Mediterranean fishing village and the urban married couple visiting their community. The couple complains of looking for something new and fresh (hence the vacation), even as they remain oblivious to the villagers’ dramas happening around them. When the two narrative threads join at the film’s end, at the town’s ritual jousting match, the couple’s resolution to continue on is secondary to their finally coming together with the social whole.

In contrast to the black and white pensiveness of La Pointe Courte, Varda’s third feature, La bonheur, is a cheerful affair about, well, an affair. Infidelity has never looked so painfully pleasant. Filmed in a sunny palette with a soundtrack of Mozart chestnuts, Le bonheur revolves around François and Therese (real-life couple Jean-Claude and Claire Drouot), whose picture-perfect marriage includes two adorable kids and Sunday picnics in the country. Enter Émile, a young woman who catches François’ eye. The two start an affair, and François discovers that he has doubled his happiness. Eventually he comes clean to Therese, who, in the film’s most shocking moment, steps down as his "wife," offering Émile her place.

François tries to be an honest husband and have it both ways, but has to make a choice. He chooses his happiness over Therese and the family he has made with her. Varda doesn’t judge him for it, but she doesn’t really have to: he’s effectively tied the rope to hang himself with. After all, as Varda later remarked about her film, "Happiness is a fruit that tastes of cruelty." Perhaps the problem with marriage, then, is the "happily ever after" part.

LA POINTE COURTE

Sun/6, 5 p.m., $5.50–$9.50

Le bonheur

June 10, 7 p.m., $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk

(510) 642-5249

Golden Era

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paulr@sfbg.com

DINE When you step into Golden Era, you pass through a narrow door and descend a few steps, as if into a subterranean world of disrepute. But you land on a landing, instead of at a bar crowded with sooty Mafia dons, as you might have expected, and from the landing you descend another brief staircase to the dining room, which opens out expansively around you. The experience is a little like the one long offered at Postrio, Wolfgang Puck’s (now closed) restaurant near Union Square.

One difference is that while Postrio was very much about au courant glamour, Golden Era shimmers with a sense of lost glamour. The large dining room, with its high ceilings and wooden arches, is a little dowdy, but its bones are impressive. It’s like a beaten-up pair of good shoes. Local lore teaches that the building was once a residence hotel run by Swedes and the spacious dining room a space for the serving of a Swedish menu. And I can’t imagine a Swedish menu without meatballs.

You won’t find meatballs on the menu at Golden Era — in fact, you won’t find any meat at all, or dairy, since the restaurant is vegan. (Another huge difference from Postrio.) And you won’t find anything Swedish. But you will find wonderful Southeast Asian cuisine, including many dishes that traditionally include meat, with vegan artifice substituting for flesh. As a rule I don’t quite like this kind of vegetarian cooking — a "steak" concocted from a portobello mushroom or some such, often fails to convince. Menu cards that make liberal use of quote marks, as Golden Era’s does, also raise a flag or two.

Despite the quote marks, the food is splendid. It compares favorably to that of Millennium, the fancier and pricier (and worthy) spot in the Hotel California. While a vegetarian or vegan kitchen might seem limited at first blush, with so many fundamental ingredients off-limits, the best such kitchens respond with verve and innovation. Because they can’t rely on the innate impressiveness of a beautifully cooked steak or a fish roasted whole, they must redouble their attention to other details, like composition, color, and texture. This the Golden Era kitchen consistently does.

It would be hard to put together a dish that better demonstrates these attentions than crispy chow mein ($7.95), a bird’s nest of crunchy noodles filled like a savory pie with a wealth of vegetables, including broccoli, carrot, bok choy, and mushrooms, all steamed to a slight tenderness while retaining their resiliency. The miracle flavoring was (we thought) mushroom soy sauce, slightly thickened and glossy, almost as if butter had been added — but butter is a vegan no-no, so how was the transformation accomplished? If by corn starch, then the hands in the kitchen are skilled indeed.

The Vietnamese crepe ($7.50), a huge yellow mezzaluna, arrived with a bouquet of fresh herbs, cilantro, mint, and basil. We were given instructions on how to combine the two, but either we didn’t understand or just forgot, and we ended up just slicing the mezzaluna into strips (like a quesadilla) and scattering bits of the herb bouquet over the top. The crepe’s filling seemed to consist largely of underseasoned rice noodles, so the flavor boost from the herbs was important.

No flavor boost was needed for the potstickers ($5.50), which were filled with a ground substance very like pork (tofu?) along with plenty of ginger. Just to make sure, and for that last kiss of verisimilitude, the potstickers were served with a shallow dish of nuoc nam laced with carrot threads. We also found no flavor shortage in the seaweed salad ($7), a tangle of green filaments, like spinach vermicelli after a bad night of tossing and turning, dressed with crushed sesame seeds and plenty of sesame oil.

For sheer wallop — and proof that lively spicing goes a long way toward compensating for lack of flesh or dairy — there’s the spicy noodle soup ($7). The fat noodles and chunks of tofu offer attractive ballast, but the charge lies in the complex, incendiary vegetable broth. To alert the unwary, red sheets of chili oil shimmer on the surface, like rays of a summer sunset glinting from a pond.

"Vegan dessert" sounds like what the late Herb Caen used to call a "self-canceling phrase." But Golden Era’s desserts could pass at just about any restaurant in town. Both the blueberry cheesecake ($4.75), creamy and lemony with a liberal dribbling of blueberry coulis, and the mocha chocolate cake ($3.50), as velvety and rich as a cashmere greatcoat, were accomplishments any Swedish pastry chef would have been proud of.

GOLDEN ERA

Wed.–Mon., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

572 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 673-3136

www.goldeneravegetarian.com

No alcohol

MC/V

Muted noise

Difficult wheelchair access

Political juggernaut

3

sarah@sfbg.com

City officials are scrambling to secure final approvals to allow Lennar Corp. to move forward with its 770-acre Candlestick/Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment of San Francisco’s impoverished and polluted southeast sector. But the community remains divided on the project, raising concerns that wary residents will end up being steamrolled by this politically powerful juggernaut.

Some groups say the project needs major amendments, but fear it will be rushed to the finish for political reasons. Others say they are hungry to work and desperate to move into better housing units, so they don’t want all the myriad project details to slow that progress. And Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration is arguing that approving the project’s final environmental impact report by June 3 is crucial if San Francisco wants to keep the San Francisco 49ers in town.

But many observers fear Lennar wants its entitlements now before its project can be subjected to greater scrutiny that could come with the November elections. Newsom, who made Lennar’s project the centerpiece of his housing policy, will be replaced as mayor if he wins the lieutenant governor’s race. And a crowded field of candidates, many of them progressives concerned about the project’s impacts on the poor and the environment, are vying to replace termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, whose district includes Lennar’s massive territory.

“It’s 180 percent about the 49ers,” land use attorney Sue Hestor told the Guardian, referring to the city’s proposed rush job, as evidenced by a rapid entitlement schedule that the Newsom’s administration wants city commissions and the board to follow.

Under that schedule, which Hestor procured from the Mayor’s Office, Planning and Redevelopment commissioners are expected to certify the project’s final 6,000-page EIR, adopt California Environmental Quality Act findings, approve amendments to the project’s original disposition and development agreement, and authorize land trust and open space reconfigurations — all during a June 3 meeting where public comment will likely last for many hours.

Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology, a community-based nonprofit that tracks the development, says this schedule stretches the credulity that this is a deliberative process. “There’s no way anyone could make a functional reasoned assessment,” Bloom told us. “How do you have any meaningful public conversation under those circumstances?”

Michael Cohen, Newsom’s chief economic advisor, asserted in an April 29 article in The New York Times that Lennar’s plan is a “really, really good project,” echoing the glowing praise he’s heaped on the project since its conception.

“But there’s nothing new in their proposal,” Bloom told us. “That’s because they haven’t been listening to the public’s concerns. [Cohen] says, ‘Haven’t we talked enough? The community’s been waiting all these years!’ But waiting to get what done?”

Lennar’s project — which had early backing from Newsom, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and other political power brokers — was sold as creating “jobs, housing, and parks” and “revitalizing the abandoned shipyard” when voters approved the Lennar-financed Proposition G in 2008.

“Proposition G is from the community and for the community,” Lennar’s campaign promised. “You can turn the abandoned Hunters Point Shipyard into a clean, healthy, sustainable, livable neighborhood — a place where people can raise their children.”

The shipyard once employed thousands of workers, including African Americans who were recruited from the South in the 1940s and ’50s. But the district’s economic engine fell into disrepair when the military left in 1974. Today the neighboring Hunters Point and Bayview neighborhoods have the highest unemployment and crime rates and the largest concentration of African American families in the city.

But the city’s final EIR for the project, which the Planning Department released mid-May, shows that 68 percent of the developer’s proposed 10,500 new housing units will be sold at market rates unaffordable to area residents, and that many of these units will be built on state park land at Candlestick Point.

Lennar is also proposing to build a bridge across the environmentally sensitive Yosemite Slough, significantly changing the southeast waterfront. Lennar says it plans to develop the project’s remaining 3,000 units at below market prices, including one-for-one replacement of rundown Alice Griffith public housing units. Its proposal includes a dozen high-rise towers, 2.7 million square feet of commercial space, 1 million square feet of retail space, a performing arts theater, and an artists colony.

Lennar claims its proposal will create 1,500 construction jobs annually during the project’s 20-year build-out, along with 10,000 permanent jobs, thanks to a United Nations Global Compact Sustainability Center and a vaguely defined green technology office park.

The project and its impacts are already an issue in this year’s District 10 supervisor’s race (see “The battle for the forgotten district,” Feb. 23). Candidate Chris Jackson says Lennar’s proposal is weak when it comes to creating well-paying, low-skilled green collar jobs. He supports Arc’s proposal to including green maritime industrial use at the shipyard.

Arc recommends that the city’s final EIR allow recycling and repairing of ships, including the Suisun Bay Ghost fleet — decommissioned U.S. Navy, cruise, and ferry ships — arguing that “ship recycling and repair are resurgent strategic industrial activities yielding employment opportunities for our existing pool of skilled and unskilled workers.”

Jackson, who was elected to the Community College Board in 2008 and recently jumped into the District 10 race, wants the city to assert that the project is not a regional housing plan.

“It’s a local housing plan for local residents,” Jackson asserts. “It’s not here to provide housing for Silicon Valley. It’s for Bayview-Hunters Point and District 10 residents.”

Jackson understands why some local residents want no delays on final EIR approval: “I can never blame folks in Alice Griffith public housing for coming out and saying ‘no delays.’ They really want something real, housing that is not rat and cockroach infested.”

As a policy analyst (a position he’s quitting to focus on the District 10 race) for the San Francisco Labor Council — which gave key backing to the project in the 2008 election — Jackson knows labor is frustrated by all the project meetings. “I try to tell them it’s better to get this project right than rush it through and find out later that it goes against the interests of labor,” Jackson said.

In May 2008, the Labor Council signed a community benefits agreement (CBA) with Lennar. Since then labor leaders have urged no delays on the project’s draft EIR review. But Jackson believes the city must demand that financial consequences, such as liquidated damages, be a project approval condition if the developer reneges on the CBA.

“Right now the only push-back the city has is to threaten to kill the whole project if Lennar doesn’t meet its timeline,” Jackson said. “But people are really invested in this project, and I don’t believe anyone would pull the trigger and end the entire development. We don’t need to throw everything out; we just need to change them.”

Jackson wants to see the inclusion of a special-use district that would create a cooperative land trust to ensure affordability and home ownership opportunities for local residents. “I love open space and sustainability, but I also want affordable housing and real light-industrial opportunities that can employ people living in the district now.”

Special-use districts, Jackson argues, give city commissioners a way to amend this project to make it more acceptable.

Jackson wants to see strong tenant protections for public housing residents. “The vast majority of those residents are African American. At the end of the day, I want to see economic and environmental justice, so we can say we brought the right change to our community.”

Jackson also would like to see a more independent Mayor’s Office. “Don’t you feel like its 2002/2003, and that if you speak out against the project, it’s like you are speaking out against the Iraq war, and all of a sudden you are not patriotic?”

Fellow District 10 candidate Eric Smith concurred. “The powers that be are definitely moving this thing forward,” he said. “And this is a monster train, a juggernaut that is gathering steam. But how it shakes out down the road remains to be seen. My whole mantra is that there needs to be greater transparency down the line. If I become the sheriff, I’ll be shining a light on all this stuff.”

Smith warned that the community needs to work together or it won’t win a better deal. “It’s clear that folks in the city are hoping against all odds that Lennar can pull this stuff off so they can prove all the naysayers wrong and these community benefits can be realized, and that scrutiny of the projects can go on while all this happens,” he said.

But Arthur Feinstein, the Sierra Club’s political chair, worries that the city’s rush job is resulting in seriously flawed documents and decision-making. “It’s difficult for folks to digest 6,000 pages of comments and responses on the draft EIR in the three weeks since planning posted them online,” Feinstein said. “And nothing has changed despite all the comments, which is why it continues to be a nonsense process.”

Feinstein says the Sierra Club’s top concerns are the Parcel E-2 cleanup on the shipyard, a deal to transfer 23 acres at Candlestick Park for development, and the bridge over Yosemite Slough.

“You can cover most of the site,” he said. “But when it comes to Parcel E-2, where the dump burned for six months in 2002, that’s only 20 acres, it could and should be removed. This is the environmental justice issue that has the community up in arms.”

Feinstein worries about the precedent that selling a state park for condos sets. “This is our park, and they are shrinking it.” He is also concerned that the developer wants to bridge Yosemite Slough for cars.

How many of these concerns will be addressed at the June 3 hearing, which is just days before Santa Clara County voters decide whether to try to lure away the 49ers with a new publicly financed stadium? We’ll see.

Triumph of tenacity

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Nearly four years after City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against Frank and Walter Lembi and their dizzying array of companies affiliated with CitiApartments for “an outrageous pattern of corporate lawlessness,” the powerful and notorious San Francisco landlords have watched their empire crumble.

The Lembi empire consisted of more 300 apartment buildings in San Francisco at its peak. Four Lembi subsidiaries that owned 16 buildings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. Twenty Lembi properties were taken over by Lennar spin-off LNR in late May; another 24 buildings are slated to be foreclosed in early June; 51 were deeded back to UBS bank in lieu of foreclosure early last year; and still others are now held by court-appointed receivers and managed by Laramar, an unaffiliated property-management company.

CitiApartments still owns and manages a large portion of the buildings it controlled in its heyday, but it’s had to either restructure loans or get payment extensions to hold onto many of them, according to general counsel Ed Singer. The Lembi Group staff has dwindled, and a team of 18 dedicated solely to relocating tenants is now long gone.

For many renters in foreclosed units who managed to ride out what San Francisco Tenants Union director Ted Guillicksen has labeled CitiApartments’ “war of terror” against its occupants, the dust has finally settled. Gullicksen says that living in limbo is better than living under Lembi.

There are no more harassing phone calls pressuring them to move. No more sudden utility shutoffs. No armed agents showing up at the doorstep unannounced. No illegal construction projects clamoring away on the other side of paper-thin walls, destroying any hope of tranquility at home.

These are tactics CitiApartments used to drive people out, according Herrera’s 2006 complaint and an award-winning Guardian series (“The Scumlords,” March 25), in order to vacate units so they could be renovated and removed from rent control protections. A San Francisco Rent Board roster of 174 current and former Lembi properties as of May 25 lists no fewer than 1,890 cases associated with those buildings, the majority of them now settled.

While the sordid history of CitiApartments’ strong-arm tactics has been well-documented, tenant-rights advocates say the untold story of the Lembis’ rise and demise is that its entire business model hinged on evicting and relocating existing tenants — but that strategy failed, in large part because of a grassroots organizing effort that emboldened renters to stand their ground.

“The economic downturn played a role in it because the money stopped flowing,” says Gullicksen, who helped form the CitiStop Campaign in 2004 in response to reports of outrageous tactics. “But if the money kept flowing, I think they would have failed anyway. The end result was inevitable, given the tenant resistance.”

Darin Dawson moved into his apartment at 2 Guerrero St. in 1994 on a lease secured through the federal Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program. Dawson, who was diagnosed in 1987, said things turned sour in 1998 when Trophy Properties I DE LLC — one of the Lembis’ dozens of subsidiaries — snapped it up.

Their first contact was to inform him that he would have to move “because we don’t allow those kinds of leases in our buildings,” he recalled. He fought it with the help of the Housing Authority and managed to stay put. It was the first in a series of standoffs that ultimately stopped last September when the property was repossessed.

“Basically, I just dug my heels in and knew that I couldn’t get evicted,” Dawson said. Nonetheless, he spent years embroiled in conflict with the Lembi subsidiary while also battling AIDS-related illnesses.

There was the time he was ordered to vacate his apartment for two weeks during a seismic retrofit only to find it trashed when he returned. “The floors were ripped up,” he said. “The ceiling was hanging in some places. There was black grease smeared all over the walls.” He repaired it himself. Then came the constant phone calls, which started off artificially cheerful but turned threatening if he refused to accept money to relocate.

Dawson pays a base amount of $635 per month for his rent-controlled studio, so he suspected he might be a target. Once a residential manager discreetly warned him that his name was on a “hit list” of tenants whom the owners wanted gone, he said.

According to a confidential document leaked to advocates by an anonymous source, tenants who paid the least came under the greatest pressure to relocate since San Francisco rent-control laws prohibit raising existing occupants’ rents to market rate. The document outlines how loan repayment and estimated profits were calculated wholly on the expectation that existing tenants would vacate, rather than relying on normal projections like natural turnover.

“Tenants with significantly below market rents are chosen for thorough screening to see if they might be relocated,” according to the document, a 2008 Credit Suisse prospectus concerning a pool of 24 buildings under Lembi ownership that have since been foreclosed. “Those tenants most below market and/or with the longest history are the priority for relocation.”

All 24 buildings in question — including properties on Larkin, Market, Cesar Chavez, Post, and Leavenworth streets, in addition to others — were subject to rent control. “At acquisition [Aug. 30, 2007], the portfolio was approximately 5 percent vacant,” it notes. “As of May 2008 the portfolio was 19 percent vacant, as a result of Lembi successfully executing their business plan of vacating units and rolling them to market.”

Although the paperwork spelling this out in stark terms didn’t surface until recently, advocates who worked on the CitiStop campaign essentially figured it out years ago. A collaboration between the Tenants Union, Pride at Work, and other advocacy groups, the campaign sent organizers door-to-door to inform tenants of their rights, hosted potlucks where people could swap horror stories and forge alliances, and staged demonstrations outside CitiApartments’ Market Street offices.

They tracked public records from the Assessor-Recorder Office and swooped in to warn tenants whose buildings had fallen into the Lembis’ clutches. It didn’t always work. According to the Credit Suisse document, Lembi had relocated 2,500 units as of August 2008, a fact pointed to as evidence of its “successful track record.” But the relocation team only drove out a small number of the lowest-paying tenants; the vast majority of those who took buyout offers left units that paid closer to market rate.

“They really needed to get more turnover than what they accomplished,” Gullicksen said. “The fact that they couldn’t is attributable to the CitiStop campaign.”

Singer rejected this assessment, saying the real problem was the economic downturn and the loss of capital availability. “I can see why they want to say that, why they want to take credit for bringing down the Lembis,” he said. “But I don’t think it would have made any difference if [tenants] left or not.”

A common complaint nowadays is that former tenants haven’t gotten their security deposits back, a matter that has spurred a class-action lawsuit against 57 corporate defendants associated with the Lembi Group.

“They’re claiming that they have no money,” Brian Devine, an attorney with Seeger Salvas LLP, told the Guardian. Devine estimates that he will end up representing several thousand tenants who are entitled to their deposits. In March, a judge awarded sanctions of $30,000 to Devine’s firm because the Lembi Group refused to cooperate with discovery, withholding documents necessary for the case to proceed.

Herrera has encountered a similar recalcitrance in his own suit and won court sanctions of $50,000 in February for the same reason. “We have been engaged in discovery for a long, long time,” noted city attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey. “We’re hoping that the judge is at the edge of his patience.”

Singer said the problem was that there wasn’t enough “people power” to photocopy thousands of documents. The Lembis were never up to any nefarious purpose, Singer insisted — they only wanted to make the buildings nicer. As for the tenants who endured the most brutal relocation tactics? “I can understand why they didn’t want to leave,” he said. “Some of them didn’t leave — and they’re still there.”

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

When I first heard that Arne Duncan, who hails from the charter-schools-are-great side of the educational spectrum, was going to be President Obama’s secretary of education, I figured: that’s too bad. But after all these years of Republicans, how bad can it be?

Well, pretty bad.

Duncan has discovered that he has a powerful tool to use to force some really terrible "reforms" onto school districts and states that really don’t want them. And he’s using it in a way that’s almost cruel.

See, every public school district in urban America is hurting right now. Everyone needs money; everyone’s desperate. Teachers are getting pink slips, schools are closing, class sizes are growing, programs are getting cut … and school boards and superintendents are reduced to begging for spare change to buy chalk and pencils.

And along comes Secretary Duncan with billions of dollars in grants, scraps of food for starving people — and all you have to do to get some of it is adopt an agenda that blames the problems of the education system on the teachers.

Get rid of teacher seniority. Get rid of tenure. Link teacher pay to student performance, as measured by standardized tests. Approve more charter schools (which suck money out of the public school system). Just do those things and you can compete in the beauty contest called "Race to the Top" — and maybe you’ll get some cash.

The New York Times Magazine had a fascinating story on this May 21. The writer, Steven Brill, marveled at how successful Duncan had been leveraging a fairly small amount of money into the most profound changes in educational policy this country has seen in 30 years. That’s because these days, school districts will do almost anything to keep the doors open.

But the problem is that the federal grants will run out, and some day the economy will recover, and maybe we’ll come to our senses and realize that government at every level should properly fund education — and the damage of the Duncan reforms will be done.

I can’t blame the SFUSD, which just agreed to apply for Race to the Top money, for seeking cash everywhere. And the SFUSD application doesn’t promise anywhere near what Duncan wants, so we won’t win anyway. But at some point, somebody’s got to say: this is a bad way to run the public schools.

Newsom’s lousy economics

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EDITORIAL Every major newspaper in California should have plastered the May 2010 report from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research across the front page. The headline: “Governor’s budget will destroy 331,000 jobs.”

It’s a stunning analysis. Ken Jacobs, who heads the center, and two associates used a sophisticated computer program to track exactly how the cuts would play out in the current California economy. If the governor’s proposals are adopted, the job losses would greatly exceed any new job creation, causing the unemployment rate in the state to rise by 1.8 percent.

On the other hand, the study shows, raising taxes on rich people and oil companies would save 244,000 jobs.

So if, as nearly every politician of every party in the state insists, the biggest policy goal in California today is job creation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is going about it entirely the wrong way.

The good news is that the Democrats in the state Legislature are finally talking seriously about an alternative budget plan that includes about $5 billion in new revenue. The plans by the Assembly and Senate leadership aren’t perfect and will still require significant cuts to cover the budget gap. But after years of cuts-only budgets and a pervasive fear of tax increases in Sacramento, the Democratic proposals are encouraging. (Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, shouldn’t worry about associating himself with the plans: two-thirds of Californians favor increased taxes on wealthy people to pay for better public education, according to the most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll.)

So at the very least, the state Capitol — a place not known as a bastion of progressive thought — is going to have an intelligent debate over how to address the budget deficit without further damaging the economy. Yet in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom continues to cling to a no-new-taxes budget that will devastate community services — and add to the city’s unemployment rate.

That’s just disgraceful.

Every city-employee union has stepped up to the plate and offered concessions. City workers are taking furloughs (actually, pay cuts) and layoffs. They’re giving back scheduled raises. They’re making a good faith effort to be part of the solution — in fact, labor is now pushing for an increase in the hotel tax to help cover the costs of public services.

Newsom isn’t asking any of the wealthy businesses or individuals in town to give anything.

That’s not just bad politics, it’s bad economics.

The Berkeley study acknowledges that raising taxes on the rich and big corporations has an economic impact — an oil severance tax, for example, would raise $1.4 billion a year for the state, reduce economic output by $128 million, and lead to the loss of 400 jobs. A 1.5 percent increase in the top income tax rate for individuals who earn more than $250,000 would bring the state $2.1 billion, and lead to the loss of 13,000 jobs.

But on balance, both of those are a good deal for the state — because cutting that $3.5 billion from the budget would cost the state far, far more than 13,400 jobs. That’s because when you eliminate public sector jobs, particularly lower-paid jobs, there’s a direct, immediate impact on consumer spending. Although a rich person may spend slightly less if he or she has to pay slightly higher taxes, a middle-income worker who gets laid off stops spending much of anything — and the local merchants who relied on that person’s spending see the impact.

In fact, the Berkeley study points out, more than half the jobs that would be lost under Schwarzenegger’s plan would be in the private sector. The same goes for San Francisco: saving jobs requires new revenue solutions. And if Newsom’s budget doesn’t address that, the San Francisco supervisors must.

 

The hidden zinger in Prop. 14

11

 

By Richard Winger

OPINION Proposition 14, a June 8 ballot measure, would mandate that all candidates for Congress and state office appear on the same June ballot, and that all voters use that ballot. Only the two candidates who got the highest vote totals could run in November. Even write-ins would be banned in November for Congress and state offices.

Prop. 14 also has a hidden zinger in it that would remove the Peace and Freedom and Libertarian parties from the ballot. But so far only one daily newspaper has mentioned it — the San Francisco Chronicle, in a March 11 story by Wyatt Buchanan. The state ballot pamphlet says nothing about this particularly nasty detail of Prop. 14.

California has six recognized political parties: Democratic, Republican, American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom. The parties remain ballot-qualified either by polling 2 percent of the vote for any statewide race in a midterm year (all parties get a free ride in presidential years) or by maintaining registration equal to 1 percent of the last gubernatorial vote.

In practice, it’s far easier for the smaller parties to meet the first test. The Peace and Freedom Party has 58,000 registered members, and the Libertarian Party has 85,000 registered members. But these parties always meet the 2 percent vote test. Minor parties typically draw far more votes than they have registered members.

The problem is that Prop. 14 eliminates, in practice, the 2 percent vote test. Under Prop. 14, no party officially has any nominees for any office except president and vice-president. And since minor party candidates almost never place first or second in the June primary, minor party members would never be able to run for statewide office in November. And, the catch is that only the November vote counts for meeting the 2 percent vote test.

Prop. 14 also says that members of unqualified parties will not be permitted to list their party label on the June ballot.

The real irony is that the big newspapers of California know about this problem with Prop. 14 but refuse to mention it. That’s ironic because back in 1981, when Democrats in the Legislature wanted to toughen the ballot-access requirements, the big newspapers of California denounced that bill with full fury. Forty of California’s biggest newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations editorialized against that measure.

This year the Los Angeles Times (which led the charge for minor-party access in 1981) refused to mention that Prop. 14 has the same characteristic as that bill, only worse. The Times has rejected at least 10 op-eds submitted by various individuals in the last year that mentioned this problem. None of the Los Angeles Times stories about Prop. 14 have mentioned it. None of the political columnists for that newspaper have mentioned it.

Prop. 14 is supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the for-profit health insurance companies, the for-profit hospitals, and various multimillionaires, and the Yes on 14 campaign has a huge war chest. Why won’t the L.A. Times even mention this flaw in the measure? Who are the big dailies afraid of offending?

Richard Winger is the editor of Ballot Access News.

 

Older ‘n’ wider

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS One night the Maze came over because that’s what he does. He comes over. Sometimes he brings his dinner with him.

This time he brought his dinner with him.

He started pulling things out of his backpack as if they were rabbits: part of a loaf of cranberry bread! Hummus! Broccoli! Rabbits! In the water bottle holder on his bike was a half-empty bottle of semi-important wine. Me, I’d already eaten.

Another thing the Maze does is worry. He hedges his bets, shakes his head, and assigns point values to things that most people just try to put into words. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes language doesn’t cut it, but given a choice between it and math … I mean, in matters of the heart, come on: poetry vs. calculus?

The Maze is, for example, lonely. He wants to write; he wants to edit; he wants to sing, soar, shred on the guitar, or at least be in a band. These are just examples.

I like to dance. I get the two-step. I look the Maze in the eye, run the numbers with him, shake my head, want and wonder what he wants and wonders, and just generally try to be useful.

Sometimes I even threaten to throttle or kick him.

"I don’t know, Dani," he said. "I just don’t know."

"Me neither," I said, having a sip of his half-full bottle of bike-rack red. We were standing in my kitchen. As opposed to sitting. I forget why. Maybe he was fixing to leave.

"I mean, I just don’t get it. What am I supposed to do?"

If I knew, I would have said. I’m a good friend. If he would have cried, I would have cried. Existential dilemma loves company.

"Is there something I’m doing wrong?" he asked, sincere pain in his voice, his forehead all wrinkled and labyrinthine (which is how he got his name). And he said it again: "Am I doing something wrong?"

"I don’t think so," I said, because I honestly didn’t. But then a possibility occurred to me. "When you make pasta," I asked, "you’re not rinsing it after you strain it, are you?"

He looked more confused than before. "No," he said.

"Good, then, no, you’re not doing anything wrong."

I wasn’t exactly joking. As far as I know, this is the only real, unequivocally always wrong mistake one can make in life. And even then, it could be argued that if you’re cooking noodles for soup, a cold rinse might not be a bad idea. You know, so they don’t overcook in the broth.

But how did I get here? Speaking of existential dilemmas.

It was my birthday, and for my birthday I listened to Abba without guilt. I ate at Boogaloos. I got older. Had late-night hot wings with Earl Butter. Lunch: a smashed sandwich at Tartine. For my birthday the Pod bought my ticket and we all watched a baseball game at the Coliseum. I had a hot dog and a beer. For dinner I ate grilled salmon with a squeeze of lemon over quinoa and swirled kale with tamari sauce.

Kidding!!! I had chicken and waffles, of course. This time at Frisco Fried, which is cheaper than anything I have come across, chicken-and-wafflewise. Six bucks for two thighs and a waffle! You can barely get a burrito for that price anymore.

But before you move to Bayview, this is not the cheapest chicken and waffles in the Bay Area. A bird named Jay just told me: Oakland’s Home of Chicken ‘n Waffles, or Home O’ as I call it for short because chicken and waffles now goes without saying (as does the letter ‘f’), has a weekday happy hour special. Between 4 and 7.

But I have to go back to Frisco Fried first and find out what a burger dog is. I can’t speak for their Rice-a-Roni, but the mac ‘n’ cheese was really wonderful. The waffle was okay. The chicken, fried to order, was super-hot and crazy juicy — not quite as flavorfully battered as Auntie April’s or Farmerbrown’s Little Skillet if you’re keeping score, Maze, but definitely up there. *

FRISCO FRIED

Tue.–Thu. 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

Sat. noon–9 p.m.; Sun. noon–7 p.m.; closed Mon.

5176 Third St., SF

(415) 822-1517

D/MC/V

No alcohol

LAST DAY TO VOTE! OUR 2010 BEST OF THE BAY READERS POLL

It’s that time again! In 1974 we blazed a trail by being the first paper to present “best of” awards. Every year since then we’ve given Best of the Bay recognition to the people, places, and things that make the Bay Area great.

Our 2010 Best of the Bay issue hits stands July 28 and will include our annual Readers Poll. This is your chance to give a shout-out to what you love best about the Bay Area. Categories this year are: Food and Drink, Arts and Nightlife, Shopping, City Living, and a special section where you can tell us about your very own “Best of the Best.” Voting ends at 5 p.m. on June 23. One entry per person, please. Have fun!

>>CLICK HERE TO BEGIN VOTING FOR BEST OF THE BAY 2010

 

Save the date: You are invited to celebrate with all the winners who make the Bay the best! Join us August 5, 2010, at 9 p.m. at Mezzanine.

 

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