Volume 46 Number 07

Volume 46 Number 7 Flip-through Edition

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I don’t want to grow up

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TRASH The 1980s U.S. hardcore punk scene was one refreshing bastion of opposition in the Reagan era of militaristic, monetary, and quasi-“family values” conformism. But it was also increasingly a turn-off for folks who liked the music and the message but not the violence at shows.

Rather than leaving the rest of us to pogo in peace, inevitably a few shirtless yobbos would turn the mosh pit into an ever-widening demolition derby that typically devolved into punches. First girls left, then finally bands depressed by every gig turning into Fight Club. Sure, the perps wore mohawks, maybe even waxed pious about being straight-edge. But the sentiment applied: frat bratz, go home.

Still, it was a fairly harmless outlet (if also a factory) for all that excess testosterone. Boys will be boys, etc. Sooner or later they’d have to grow the fuck up. Right?

Well, wrong. Punk became punk-pop, embraced by the musical product divisions of multinational corporations everywhere, and while the chords didn’t change much, the lyrics stopped being angry about political-economic injustice — now they were about the kind of dubious injustice one might summarize as “I know I was a jerk but I’m a rebel and anyway who does that bitch think she is leaving me without a girlfriend WHAAAAAAAAAH.” The Adolescents were one thing; permanent adolescence is another. How (let alone why) do you grow up when label execs and fans want you to stay the guy who causes shoulder dislocations worldwide?

Illustrating one gun-to-head route toward responsible adulthood is Andrea Nevins’ The Other F Word, a fun if superficial new documentary in which the missing unmentionable is (gasp) fatherhood. Punks become dads! Like whoa! Break out the swear jar!

Much of this is cute. But the notion that getting older and more sedate is any more revelatory in a 45-year-old man from a 20-year-old band than it is for the rest of us seems questionable. Our principal guide is very likeable Pennywise leader Jim Lindberg, seen getting less and less happy with his road-to-family-time ratio, given an endless touring schedule and three daughters who miss daddy (and vice versa). Many lifers came to punk from broken homes; Art Alexakis from maybe-not-so-punk Everclear, who endured horrific childhood abuse, touchingly stresses “I’m raising my kids the way I wish I’d been raised.”

Some other interviewees here — I won’t name names — look like parental recipes for future therapy. A deeper documentary might have probed that, while asking wives and kids for their two cents. But F Word seldom gets past the surface “shock” appeal of heavily tattooed, aging bad boys changing nappies and joining the PTA. It’s still stuck in a testosterone zone most of its subjects have at least learned to compartmentalize. (Dennis Harvey) 

THE OTHER F WORD opens Fri/18 in Bay Area theaters.

Thoughtful hooligans

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC A somber organ chord rings out on the opening track of WU LYF’s Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, “L Y F.” As the distant clash of cymbals grows louder, a wailing guitar lures you in like a siren song. Then Ellery Roberts unleashes a desperate, hellish growl, and you realize that WU LYF is unlike any band you’ve ever heard.

Characterized by Roberts’ guttural snarl and a rich, grandiose sound the band refers to as heavy pop, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is a cathartic masterpiece born from the restless adolescence of four young Mancunians. WU LYF (an acronym for World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation) came together through a firm resistance to a conventional transition into adulthood.

“I didn’t want to go to university,” says Roberts. “I felt like it was kind of the only option I had.” On the phone, Roberts is a far cry from the gravel-throated animal on WU LYF’s debut. The 20-year-old is thoughtful, reserved, and exudes a remarkable intelligence.

Roberts and bandmates Tom McClung, Joe Manning, and Evans Kati were in their mid teens when they began playing together in their native Manchester, England. “When we wrote [the single] ‘Heavy Pop,’ that was the moment,” Roberts says. “It didn’t feel like we were trying to sound like anyone else.”

Sure, Roberts’ vocals easily draw comparisons to Tom Waits, and the band’s epic sound is reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions In The Sky. In an era of rampant imitation and recycling, however, WU LYF has stumbled upon a sound that’s refreshingly unusual.

Expecting “Heavy Pop” to reach only a handful of friends, the group posted the track online. Media outlets caught hold of the song and began speculating wildly about the mystery band from Manchester. Rather than sign a record deal, WU LYF set up a website with vague, anti-authoritarian musings where fans could join the Lucifer Youth Foundation. For a small entry fee, members received the band’s single and a white “bandit flag of allegiance.” This worldwide alignment of hoodlums funded WU LYF’s full length debut.

If “Heavy Pop” marked the genesis of WU LYF, the abandoned church where Go Tell Fire To The Mountain was recorded is the mother that nurtured the beast. The group abstained from working in a studio, which Roberts says “seemed like a mathematic way of making music.” Instead, the foursome went out in search of big, empty spaces.

“We were walking around this old, industrial part and we just came across this church in the middle of a maze of factories,” he says. “It added so much to the record. None of us were really controlling the sound.”

Though Roberts’ impassioned vocals render his words nearly incomprehensible, a quick look at his lyrics reveals a literary astuteness. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain‘s narrative structure was inspired by a screenplay Roberts wrote at the age of 17, and the cinematic album explores themes of camaraderie, mortality, and ambiguous religion.

“We put a lot of ourselves into it,” says Roberts. Although the record’s only been out for a few months, WU LYF has achieved a cult like following that Roberts calls “pretty amazing, but strange.” In the wake of the monstrous reaction to Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, WU LYF is embarking on its most extensive tour thus far.

The band’s been in the US for a few days when we speak so I ask Roberts if he’s spotted any LYF members in the audience. “We’ve seen a couple,” he responds. “It’s always nice to see when you come on stage, [the] fans that have their white flags. You know you’ve got your friends out there.”

WU LYF With Crystal Antlers

Mon/21, 8 p.m., $15

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

Editor’s notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

Occupy Oakland has been very good at exposing one local problem — police brutality. The first raids, and the tear gas and rubber bullets that flew afterward — showed the world how poorly trained the Oakland cops are and how unprepared they were for a largely peaceful demonstration.

But overall, the Occupy movement has been about national issues — or rather, The National Issue, which is income inequality. Nothing else going on in the United States compares. On an economic level, I could argue that nothing else matters — until we resolve the wealth and income gap, the recession will never end, the deficit will never improve, the unemployment rate won’t stabilize, the nation will grow weaker and weaker and more and more unstable … basically, we’re doomed.

But while there have been marches on local banks and corporations, not a lot of Occupy attention has gone to local inequality — to what the folks at San Francisco City Hall, and Oakland City Hall are doing to make the one percent in our own backyards pay its fair share for the services that most impact many of our lives. Mayor Jean Quan got booed for calling in the riot cops, but Mayor Ed Lee isn’t getting booed for corporate tax breaks.

The OccupySF people came out in force to a Board of Supervisors hearing to demand that their camp be left alone. But they aren’t out in force to demand, say, a local fee on bank foreclosures.

That’s not a criticism of a movement that continues to inspire me every day; it’s just a statement about tactics and strategy. And it’s one we all ought to be thinking about.

In a brilliant opinion piece this week, Raj Jayadev, director of Silicon Valley Debug, notes:

“In San Jose, the city that used to promote itself as the capitol of Silicon Valley, city budget cuts have either eliminated or dramatically slashed hours for youth sanctuaries like libraries and community centers. … For us, the one percent are just up the street -– the 101 to be precise. Those tech giants exist in the same Silicon Valley that cannot even keep its library doors open. Why have they not given? Why have we not demanded?”

Good question.

XX hardcore

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC When Blatz, a political punk band connected to all-ages Berkeley music venue 924 Gilman Street Project (the Gilman), was looking for a girl singer to join the act in 1990, it wound up with two new additions.

Annie Lalania and Anna Joy Springer were separately asked to audition, but the band didn’t realize they were already friends. When the women arrived, they decided they didn’t want to leave, and so they both joined the band, which made for chaotic, memorable live shows with massive pits in crowd and sometimes double of every instrument on stage. It was like “a silly American version of Crass,” says Springer.

Now a published author and professor of creative writing at U.C. San Diego, Springer recounts this story and other anecdotes, laced with humor and debauchery, about maneuvering through the ’90s Bay Area punk scene as a feminist queer woman in the new documentary, From the Back of the Room.

Directed by D.C.-based filmmaker Amy Oden, the documentary — which screens at the Center for Sex and Culture this week — follows the trail of women in punk, hardcore, riot grrrl, and other DIY music scenes beginning in the 1980s. Its clusters of interviews span generations, scenes, and states, with vintage and contemporary footage of live shows sprinkled throughout.

Via phone, on an eight-hour road trip during a Southern tour with the film, Oden tells me she hopes the documentary will start a dialogue on the issues faced by women, adding “My other big hope is that if younger women see it, they feel they can be a part of this community, or whatever community they want to be a part of.”

Following initial introductions and clips, From the Back of the Room is segmented into sections discussing different aspects of sexual politics — categories such as violence in the scene, and later, motherhood, arise and are addressed by female musicians, roadies, bookers, graphic designers, and house show providers.

“I started coming up with people whose bands I’d always admired, or listened to a lot,” explains Oden, also a musician. “It was bands I’d listened to growing up. [The film] was half that, and half people being like, ‘oh you should talk to this person’ or ‘have you met this person?’

The end result is a film that includes Leora from NYC hardcore act Thulsa Doom, Slade Bellum from San Francisco’s Tribe 8, Laura Pleasants from current sludge act Kylesa, hard-rocking twin sisters Janine Enriquez and Nicole Enriquez from Witch Hunt, Jen Thorpe from experimental Canadian punk band Submission Hold, and Allison Wolfe from seminal riot grrrl act Bratmobile, among dozens of other interviewees.

Riot grrrl is likely the most consistently recognized form of female punkdom, thanks to the media frenzy in the early ’90s surrounding Wolfe’s band and acts like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney.

“It was overwhelming,” Wolfe says of the hype during a phone call from her home in Los Angeles. “At first you’re flattered…but what it ends up feeling like is that your community is being taken from you and served up in a really watered-down way. The message was heavily edited — declawed and defanged.”

Wolfe, who now plays in the band Cool Moms, says riot grrrl was very much a part of third-wave feminism, adding, “I don’t feel riot grrl is super current, I think it does exist in a certain time and place, but it’s part of a [feminist] continuum.”

And therein lies another issue Oden addresses in her documentary — while riot grrrl is no longer contemporary, or at least, no longer hounded by media, there are still plenty of females in the punk scene that deserve recognition — and many more that came before it.

“I definitely think riot grrrl did some amazing things,” says Oden, “But I think that often times the other side of that story gets left out, the women that were active contributors to the punk scene before riot grrrl, during riot grrrl, and since riot grrrl.”

Clearly, women in punk did not die off in the ’90s. This week, there’s a show in San Francisco at Public Works with T.I.T.S, Grass Widow, and experimental punk act Erase Errata — the continuing torch bearers of the DIY punk movement, the Bay Area band formed in 1999 that toured with electro post-Bikini Kill act, Le Tigre.

From the Back of the Room explores longevity, but also contradictions — punk is not a cohesive scene, and it’s not void of the usual trappings of mainstream society. It’s a many-layered, impassioned, conflicting, world. Lyrics screamed about equality do not always match actions.

Springer of Blatz and later, Gr’ups, knows well the disconnect. Just last year, on a reunion tour with Gr’ups, she played with anachro-punks Subhumans and the old power struggle with the audience was alive and well. She tells me, “We were on a stage and there were all these people shouting the words to old Subhumans songs, all these amazing lyrics about freedom and equanimity.” Then, some “no shirt-wearing pseudo skinhead looking guy” in the crowd yelled “shut up and show us your tits.”

Says Thorpe from Submission Hold in the trailer for From the Back of the Room,”A lot of people come into the punk scene thinking it’s an ideal world where they’re not going to come across sexism, racism, homophobia — all the isms — but that’s not true, it exists there as well, and it needs to be addressed there as well.”

“FROM THE BACK OF THE ROOM”

Sat/19, 8-11 p.m., $5–$7 sliding scale.

Center for Sex and Culture

1349 Mission, SF

(415) 902-2071

www.sexandculture.org

 

Unaffiliated yet tangentially related show this week:

T.I.T.S, GRASS WIDOW, ERASE ERRATA

Thurs/17, 9pm, $8

Public Works

161 Eerie, SF

(415) 932-0955

www.publicworks.com

Some joy in Mudville

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caitlin@sfbg.com

“I like the way you trim it/I got to bag it/Bag it up.” A ganja-fied version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” was playing over the speakers the night of Saturday, November 12 at 847 Lounge, an event space above the SoMa dispensary Green Door. The party’s mood was — yes — high as patients awaited the announcement of the winners in three categories of cannabis products at the Patient’s Choice awards ceremony, conversation with the activists and patients assembled in the room veered towards the serious.

Medical marijuana activist Mellody Gannon enjoyed the scene from a table in the center of the room: “As a patient, it’s really important right now that things like this are going on,” she said. Amid puzzling federal crackdowns, the future of her medicine is smoky. Recent pressure from the Department of Justice on landlords and banks has caused many dispensaries to consider shutting their doors (see “Feds crack down,” 10/12/11).

Which is why she was heartened to see cannabis connoisseurs coming together to celebrate the best of what California cannabis producers have to offer.

This year’s Patient’s Choice event was a much more intimate affair. Attendance was open to the public in 2010, but this year was limited to dispensary staff, activists, and the patients who had paid the $350 for a judge’s testing package. Judges had to sample over 30 strains (not to mention other products) in the 10 days leading up to Friday, when their votes were tallied and winners announced to stoned elation.

The event, sponsored by many of the city’s best-known dispensaries, was a fundraiser for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an organization that promotes secure and available ways for prescribed patients to access medical marijuana.

Gannon, a patient since 1996, said that ASA’s advocacy is important — many times her doctors have turned up their nose at the medical efficacy of her marijuana prescription. “They tell you that you’re crazy or just a pothead,” she said.

After breaking a host of bones in a car accident, she relies on cannabis to mitigate chronic pain. “If they start closing these clubs, where are you going to go?” she asked.

Lynette Shaw sat nearby, smoking a strain home-grown buds she’s named Bonanza Jellybean. Shaw founded the Marin Alliance dispensary in Fairfax in 1997 after working on the Proposition 215 campaign the year before. She obtained special zoning from the city for the dispensary and insisted “we’ve done everything they told us to, even when the rules changed. We’re completely regulated to the satisfaction of the community.”

Nonetheless, one of the Department of Justice’s cease-and-desist letters landed in the mailbox of her landlord. Now unless something changes, Shaw’s dispensary — located in a county with one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the nation — will be out on the streets. Her landlord was threatened with 40 years in prison for renting to an illegal drug trafficker.

While others have pegged the Obama administration’s about-face on the tolerance of medical cannabis to election year grandstanding, Shaw thinks the persecution of state-legal marijuana operations like her own is a harbinger of much more dire civil rights violations.

“They’re trying to break the Constitution over marijuana. That’s why it’s important that we fight back now,” she said.

It was clear from the crowd at 847 Lounge that the medical marijuana movement wasn’t going to lose their meds without a fight. Perhaps strangely, the family producers that proudly hoisted their glass, Stanley Cup-looking trophies for best strain and other products still had an air of winning about them.

Playlist

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CASS MCCOMBS

HUMOR RISK

(DOMINO)

Cass McCombs’ Wit’s End, released in the spring, was as elegant and somber as a candle-lit church. It was consistent, too, both sonically and thematically. In contrast, Humor Risk, the singer songwriter’s second LP this year, is eclectic, brighter, and less restrained. “Robin Egg Blue” is a breezy, nod your head side-to-side number, and “Mystery Mail” is crunchy hard rock. However, Humor Risk is hardly all smiles. After all, it’s Cass McCombs. “The Same Thing” is upbeat, but the lyrics are chilling. And “To Everyman His Chimera” (a female monster that breathes fire) sounds like a sequel to Wit’s End‘s “County Line”— it’s stripped down and fraught with tension. On the whole, Humor Risk is as infectious as pop but so substantive that it resists being called it. (James H. Miller)

 


 

 

THE MUSICAL ART QUINTET

NUEVO CHAMBER

(CLASSICAL REVOLUTION RECORDS)

This lively local string quintet formed at Sunday jam sessions at Revolution Cafe (homebase of its label) with the purpose of fusing classical to Argentine, Cuban, African, and electronic dance rhythms. Not a novel concept, but main composer-bassist Sascha Jacobsen’s concoctions hop nimbly through a world of styles while impressing with ear-catching intricacy and handsome technique. (“Turtle Island String Quartet high on Ástor Piazzolla” springs to mind.) Occasionally the project errs slightly in its earnestness — the jazzy positivity of “Life is Beautiful” is a bit relentless, although little kids will dig it — but indelible tracks like “Milonga de San Francisco” and Afrobeat-inflected “Fela Feliz” are spirited treats that will have you twirling across the floor. Musical Art Quintet performs Fri/18, 8 p.m., $10/$20 at the Collins Theater, 1055 Ellis, SF. www.musicalartquintet.com. (Marke B.)

 


 

 

AYSHAY

WARN-U

(TRIANGLE)

It’s nice when a record begins and immediately you feel as if you are being summoned into a secret ceremony. Raised in Kuwait and born in Senegal, Ayshay (Fatimi Al Quadiri) translates traditional Islamic songs into haunting and hypnotic spells on Warn-U. These tracks creep way under your skin, layered and looped vocal chants, alongside witchy electronics that bridge the gap between Grouper, Zola Jesus, Dead Can Dance, and Ofra Haza. There is something refreshing and rewarding about a debut that understands its scope. These four songs, coming in at 20 minutes, illuminate a singular vision and new voice that we’re sure to hear a lot from in years to come. Simultaneously sensual and creepy. (Irwin Swirnoff)

 


 

 

ATLAS SOUND

PARALLAX (4AD)

The incomparable Bradford Cox’s genius lies in his ability to mate transcendent lightness with cumbersome human vulnerability. His third release as Atlas Sound, Parallax, is the most refined example of this skill thus far. Shimmering harmonic tones blossom throughout Cox’s celestial pop songs, but his stream-of-consciousness vocal musings are forever steeped in melancholy. “When you’re down, you’re always down,” Cox cries over twinkling harpsichord loops on “Te Amo.” “My Angel Is Broken” is an anthem for the downhearted driven by summery surf guitar riffs. Featuring piano and backing vocals from MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, “Mona Lisa” is a jangly cosmic joyride. The album’s closing track, “Lightworks,” floats off into oblivion like a lost balloon in the night sky. (Frances Capell)

 


 

WAX IDOLS

NO FUTURE

(HOZAC RECORDS) It’s unnerving when you realize you’ve been subconsciously waiting for something. Wax Idols’ No Future, is the record that filled an unknown void in my music collection, the slim crack between 1980s sleaze and modern post-punk. On the album, the Bay Area trio offers a sweet taste of the past without dipping its dirty fingernails too deeply into the punk classics pie. While songs like “Hotel Room” have the paranoid drums of the Germs, and snarling female vocals of Lydia Lunch, tracks such as “Nothing At All” lean more toward a shoegazy, garage-y Pretenders. The disaffected mood throughout is set by titles like “Uneasy,” and “Bad Future,” and yet, No Future sounds to me like the future of punk. (Emily Savage)

Bling and the kingdom

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arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL “Why curate an exhibition focused on a single country in an age of disappearing boundaries?” is one of the questions posed by the curatorial text at the start of “The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art from India,” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ survey of recent photography, sculpture, and video from the subcontinent.

One obvious answer is, “Why not?” The recent historic record gives plenty of reason enough. Despite all those “disappearing boundaries” and the wider circulation of art and ideas and artists around the globe, there is the fact that, perhaps with the exception of Chinese art, comprehensive displays of contemporary art from non-Western countries are proportionally much rarer in major Western institutions, especially those in the US.

There is also the issue of timeliness. Although India’s transformation into a leading global economic player is not news, the impact that growth has had on the arts and the art market still is. An Artinfo.com headline asked only last week, “Is India Becoming the World’s Hub for Internet Art Commerce?” (with the related article on the blue chip, Internet-based art fair, India Art Collective, making a persuasive case for “yes”).

But the most compelling reasons for The Matter Within are offered by the art itself. Alternately playful and reflective, packing visual pop and demanding of deeper consideration, the exhibit’s pieces are as densely-packed with ideas, portraits, and questions about what and who comprises as complex an entity as “India,” and also what India’s future might look like when reflected in its past and present, as YBCA’s galleries are chock-a-block with things to look at.

This breadth is both “The Matter Within”‘s greatest curatorial strength and the source of some of its practical weak spots, particular in regards to how it is installed. There is simply more art here than YBCA can comfortably accommodate, as well as intriguing omissions (why no paintings?). Different series by the same artist are spread across the space’s two main galleries, something not explicitly stated in the wall didactics, which often address both bodies of work but are positioned alongside only one of them.

This is all the more frustrating since not everything in the show necessarily deserves inclusion. Sunil Gupta’s photo-story Sun City, which recasts the heterosexual relationship at the center of Chris Marker’s 1962 science fiction film La Jetee as a trans-national homosexual one played out against the backdrop of AIDS rather than nuclear annihilation, is a moving engagement with both the film it references and the shifting valences of minoritarian sexuality and desirability across borders.

His large-scale, multi-portrait narratives focusing on gender-ambiguous couples in the next room over, however, is less compelling and lacks the directness with which Tejal Shah documents the female masculinity of her transsexual and transgender subjects in the photo series and digital slide show, “I Am.” Shah’s portraits would’ve made for a smart counterpoint to Pushpamala N.’s “Native Types” series — in which the photographer appears as various Indian female archetypes culled from art history, pop culture, and religion— that instead are hung across from Nikhil Chopra’s equally costume and prop-heavy, yet less conceptually tight, photos and video in the show’s entry gallery.

Similarly, Rina Banerjee’s Frankensteinian sculptures of colonial-era antiquities and costly animal remnants, although rich with historical allusion, simply look busy compared to Siddartha Karawall’s giant send-up of a horse and rider statue Hangover Man, made from wax-covered T-shirts that had originally been donated to poor communities in India by an American charity but got re-routed to the open market. The rider in question is the former Maharaja after whom Karwall’s art school was named, who now appears as a Don Quixote-like wraith representative of the gulf between Western goodwill and the Indian “ground truth” of need and impoverishment it is supposedly addressing.

A different sort of disconnect haunts the Asian Art Museum’s “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts,” the other major exhibit in town currently devoted to India. Maharaja means “great king” or “high king” in Sanskrit, a status expressed in the breathtaking level of sumptuousness and luxury of the material items through which Indian rulers displayed their power.

Light on historical context and heavy on the baubles, Maharaja offers up a seemingly endless parade of such items: extravagantly embroidered textiles, magnificent ceremonial accouterments, and enough serious bling to outshine the borrowed sparkles of any contemporary red carpet. The effect is strangely flattening. Monarchy is the golden goose that produces marvelous things rather than a larger institution, the spoils of which only tell one part of a more complex and usually bloody story.

Thus, what Maharaja leaves largely unaddressed are questions of power and history, as well as the politics of display. For example, what was the cost in human labor (and perhaps lives) to spin and weave the silk necessary to make the stunning 18th Century bridal gown in the second gallery? Or to mine the diamonds, rubies, and emeralds that emblazon so many of the items displayed?

The fact that the majority of the artifacts come from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum –an official co-presenter of the exhibit— speaks more to the legacy of British colonial rule than the brief gloss the Raj and its aftermath receive in the show’s third gallery, which crams in most of Maharaja’s history lessons. And judging from the case of various Cartier commissions from the 1920s and ’30s, and the gorgeous modern furniture commissioned by Yeshwant Rao Holkar II (a jazz age jetsetter and friend of Man Ray’s who is the exhibit’s breakout star), India’s deposed royals did pretty well for themselves, even as the times changed around them.

But then again, that the already powerful would continue being high rollers is not really news. As Mel Brooks pointed out long ago, it’s good to be the king.

THE MATTER WITHIN: NEW CONTEMPORARY OF INDIA

Through January 15

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF.

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

MAHARAJA: THE SPLENDOR OF INDIA’S ROYAL COURTS

Through April 8

Asian Art Museum

200 Larkin, SF.

(415) 581-3500

www.asianart.org

 

Ed Lee’s challenges

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EDITORIAL Mayor Ed Lee has always talked about bringing the city together, about avoiding division and harsh conflict. And how that he’s won a four-year term, he’s going to have to address a wide range of city problems that in the past haven’t responded well to consensus and compromise.

He’s going to have to do it in the wake of an election in which the centrist candidates all finished low in the pack — and the strongest progressive actually won more votes than anyone else on Election Day. And his victory comes at a time when there’s more concern over economic inequality than this country has seen since the 1930s — represented most visibly by the large and growing OccupySF encampment.

The mayor received huge financial support — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — from some of the same people and businesses that the Occupy movement is targeting. Some of his campaign contributors have an conservative economic agenda that’s way to the right of the center of San Francisco politics. And some of his closest allies (and strongest supporters) are, to put it kindly, ethically challenged.

So it’s not going to be easy for the mild-mannered mayor to lead the city — and if he wants to be successful, he needs to work with and not ignore the left.

There are a few critical steps that would show the people who opposed him that he’s not a captive of big-business interests and that he can be trusted:

1. Appoint a real progressive to Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi’s District Five supervisorial seat. If Lee is really a mayor who’s above petty politics, the chief criterion for the appointment shouldn’t be loyalty to Lee.

District Five supported Avalos over Lee by a solid margin (in the Haight, Avalos got twice as many votes as Lee). The district has been represented by two people, Matt Gonzalez and Mirkarimi, both of whom were elected as Green Party members. It’s almost certainly the most left-leaning district in the city, and deserves a supervisor who represents that political perspective. Most of the qualified people who fit that description supported a candidate other than Ed Lee for mayor.

2. Don’t send the cops to roust OccupySF. The movement has support all over the city and is making an historic statement. It’s probably the most important political demonstration in San Francisco since the 1960s. A mayor who has any shred of a progressive soul should recognize that the most important issue facing this city and this nation is the wealth and income gap and help OccupySF make its voice even louder.

3. Present a plan for more than a “cuts only” budget. Yes, the sales tax measure lost, putting a hole in the city budget, and yes, it will be a year before a credible new revenue measure can go on the ballot. But now is the time to start bringing people together to look at what comprehensive tax reforms might be more appealing than a regressive sales tax.

4. Don’t give away the city to the One Percent. A developer wants to build 160 condos for the very, very rich on the waterfront at 8 Washington. Mayoral ally Rose Pak supports the project. It’s about as blatant an example as possible of something that only benefits multimillionaires, and it will be one of the first major land-use decisions Lee will have to grapple with. Making his opposition clear would demonstrate his independence.

5. Run an open administration. Both previous mayors, Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown, were openly hostile to the press, hostile to open government and supremely arrogant. Lee has a different personal style — and he ought to show that he respect the Sunshine Ordinance by directing his departments to abide by the rulings of the Sunshine Task Force.

That’s what good government would look like.

Visual wizard

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Having brought life to a host of magical creatures and creations in movies including the original Star Wars trilogy, Jurassic Park (1993), RoboCop (1987), Starship Troopers (1997), and more, special effects legend Phil Tippett’s film credits span more than three decades and counting.

Fans of his work and films are in for a special treat Thursday and Friday, when Tippett will be appearing at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley as part of its “Behind the Scenes: The Art and Craft of Cinema” series. Tippett, who was born and raised in Berkeley, will give an illustrated talk, screening film clips from a variety of films that influenced him, then move on to cover his career, showing more clips and behind-the-scenes photos, and sharing personal anecdotes about working on different projects.

King Kong came on television in 1955, when I was 4 years old, and my brain just couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. I guess parents didn’t care if kids watched stuff that freaked them out back then,” Tippett laughs.

“Then when I was seven, in ’58, I saw The 7th Voyage of Sinbad — it just totally knocked my socks off. I was never the same after that. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me, and over the years I just tried to figure out what that was that I was looking at, because it was just mesmerizing,” he remembers. “There weren’t really the trade periodicals and journals that they have today. The only thing we had was Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.”

Tippett religiously read the magazine, and eventually befriended Ackerman, who in turn introduced the budding filmmaker to Ray Harryhausen, the legendary stop motion animation pioneer who had worked on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Tippett went on to hone his stop-motion skills without the benefit of a formal education, gleaning what he could while offering to help out others already in the industry.

“I never took any film or animation classes or anything like that, but found the people that did, and availed myself to them — you know, throw some hay down in the back room somewhere and I’ll sleep there and help you out,” recalls Tippett. “I was just lucky, being in the right place at the right time.”

Although he remains humble, Tippett has created some of the most iconic images and scenes in modern movie history. Some of his most recognizable work includes the Imperial AT-AT Walkers and Tauntauns from 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, the design of Jabba the Hutt in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the ED-209 from Robocop, and several dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Tippett has run his own studio based in Berkeley for the last 25 years, and is still very active in the movie business, with his company being involved with the production of current films such as Immortals, which came out last week.

Although the industry has largely shifted from stop motion animation to computer animation, and Tippett Studios is at the top of the game in that realm, Tippett himself still prefers the classic, old-school method to movie magic making.

“It’s the whole craft — it’s some kind of weird alchemy,” says Tippett. “You are just looking for this thing that’s always elusive and you always surprise yourself in what you find.”

“BEHIND THE SCENES: THE ART AND CRAFT OF CINEMA: PHIL TIPPETT, SPECIAL EFFECTS MASTER”

Thurs/17-Fri/18, 7 p.m., $5.50–<\d>$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2757 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249 bampfa.berkeley.edu

Let’s get lost

0

FILM Dragonslayer tags along with Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, a Fullerton, Calif. skater celebrated for shredding pools and living a vagabond’s life. First-time director Tristan Patterson fronts with the kind of side-winding portraiture that prizes sensory impressions instead of back-story, but whittle away Dragonslayer‘s loose ends and you end up with an unremarkable lost generation romance, a Bonnie and Clyde with lower stakes. If Dragonslayer‘s Sundance awards and Christine Vachon executive producer credit are any indication, Patterson’s combination of familiar character packaging and cool reality effects has already been a lucrative one.

The film meets Skreech at 23: he’s turned his back on sponsorship gigs and a romance that produced a son (no trace of the mother here). In an arbitrarily defined chapter structure, Skreech investigates freshly abandoned pools, squats in a friend’s backyard, shows off his medical marijuana license, and cracks tallboys in Southern California’s magic light. He’s stunned by a pretty girl’s red lipstick and fades into a relationship with her (it takes a while before the movie treats her as anything more than scenery). He takes a few earnest stabs at fatherhood and rehearses his principles of no principles to the soundtrack’s well-stocked bangs.

There are a few genuinely poignant moments — Skreech’s taking a call from his estranged mother in a bus full of punks — but in general Dragonslayer is too caught up in its own glossy reverie to register emergent emotions. Patterson’s tendency to use editing as dramatic shorthand is evident in an early sequence of Skreech muffing a skate contest abroad: repeated shots of Skreech wiping out are cut with the eventual winner’s triumphs and then back to our hero’s defeated expression. Arranged in the foregone style of reality television, the actual event is given no room to breathe. This kind of telescoping becomes even more calculating when Patterson treads into Skreech and Leslie’s garbled romance. Patterson seems eager to place the movie in the tradition arty wasted youth pics (take your pick), but Dragonslayer‘s riskless form makes like Real Skaters of Orange County.

Skreech’s interesting face is the only thing that counts. Like a punk Giacometti, he appears very differently from one angle to the next. His rotating hairstyles and t-shirts provide visual fizz, and he’s also good for sweetly stoned bits of dropout philosophy. With all that said, it’s difficult to imagine Patterson pulling off the same frictionless portraiture with one of the punks squatting in Oscar Grant Plaza — someone, that is, who would necessitate difficult editorial decisions. I didn’t love Matthew Porterfield’s 2010 Putty Hill — another portrait of lost youth with plenty of other elements in common — but its canny diffusion of grief and formally inscribed layers of knowledge make for an instructive comparison with Dragonslayer‘s shallow depths. The filmmaker’s hand is both invisible and inescapable in Dragonslayer, its main purpose to score the artistic equivalent of a contact high.

After inking Skreech with a tribute to his son, a tattooist speaks wistfully about how the young man’s wild style hearkens back to the days before skateboarding was another ESPN sport. For his own part, Skreech listens to the Germs when he’s cruising Fullerton with his infant son. There’s an interesting question of punk nostalgia lurking here, but Dragonslayer is too caught up banking a pretty picture to address it.

DRAGONSLAYER opens Fri/18 at the Roxie.

Blue Hawaii

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Alexander Payne turned 50 this year, and surely ranks somewhere on the list of American directors (and scenarists) whose efforts are counted on as a reliable plus. Yet he’s only been at it for 15 years, making just five features — a decent number, until you realize it’s been seven years since the last one. By contrast, since 2004 Woody Allen has made eight features, a couple his best in some time. Still, not one of those is as good as Sideways.

Like all Payne’s films save 1996 debut Citizen Ruth, The Descendants is an adaptation, this time from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ excellent 2007 novel. It’s the kind of book whose story scale is ideal for a movie — nothing important need be cut — even if its very literary pleasures of tone, style, and voice might resist translation.

Matt King (George Clooney) is a Honolulu lawyer burdened by various things, mostly a) being a haole (i.e. white) person nonetheless descended from Hawaiian royalty, rich in real estate most natives figure his kind stole from them; and b) being father to two children by a wife who’s been in a coma since a boating accident three weeks ago. Already having a hard time transitioning from workaholic to hands-on dad, Matt soon finds out this new role is permanent, like it or not — spouse Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie, just briefly seen animate) will not wake up, and her living will requires life support end should such a circumstance arise.

The Descendants covers the few days in which Matt has to share this news with Elizabeth’s loved ones, mostly notably Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as disparately rebellious teen and 10-year-old daughters. (Also notable, for less poignant reasons, is Robert Forster as the wife’s obnoxious, bullying, blindsided father.)

Meanwhile, there is the inconvenient and pressing business of 25,000 inherited Kauai acres — a last great chunk of unsullied “paradise” — which most of the extended King clan want sold to a big developer for a cool half billion bucks. Matt’s reluctant status as primary trustee makes him appear like the very definition of haole greed, even if his family’s roots go back here 150 years.

Last, there’s the unpleasant discovery that the glam, sporty, demanding wife he’d increasingly seemed “not enough” for had indeed been looking elsewhere and found it, in a casting surprise I’ll leave unspoiled.

The novel’s sly, self-deprecating wit is posited as Matt’s own. Reading it, Paul Rudd seemed a perfect choice. When has George Clooney suggested insecurity enough to play a man afraid he’s too small in character for a larger-than-life spouse? But dressed here in oversized shorts and Hawaiian shirts, the usually suave performer looks shrunken and paunchy, like any middling h.s. athlete turned desk jockey; his hooded eyes convey the stung joke’s-on-me viewpoint of someone who figures acknowledging depression would be an undeserved indulgence. Clooney has only fairly recently become as much an actor as a movie star. He’ll probably never have great range. But if this is his Oscar turn, we could all do a lot worse. (Such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s J. Edger Hoover, the showy-miscasting antithesis to nuanced understatement.)

Payne’s film can’t translate all the book’s rueful hilarity, fit in much marital backstory, or quite get across the evolving weirdness of Miller’s Scottie — though the young actors are fine, not least Nick Krause as Sid, the boorish yet useful teenaged tool Woodley’s Alex insists on bringing along as an ally.

These are small quibbles, anyway. The Descendants is hardly The Tree of Life — yay — but its reined-in observations of odd yet relatable adult and family lives are all the more satisfying for lack of grandiose ambition. There are moments here when Payne’s restraint itself is a thing of beauty, like a discreet late cut to some landscape shots where shameless tearduct-milking would normally go. The oil-and-water seriocomedy of a well-intentioned recent movies like 50/50 reveals how tricky this director’s customary feat really is, of making the serious and the comic blend together seamlessly.

THE DESCENDANTS opens Fri/18 in San Francisco.

Peeping tomato

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS The wind blew our giraffe over. Technically, it’s the neighbor’s giraffe: a fantastic yard sculpture made of tin and holes in tin. But we look out our bedroom window at it. At night, it casts a shadow on our shades. So we consider it ours, too.

Another thing the neighbors have that I covet is a neglected cherry tomato plant, just exploding with clusters and clusters of perfectly ripe tomatoes. I spend a lot of time at our kitchen sink, my hands raisinating in warm, soapy water, just looking out the window at this plant and imagining salads and sauces.

It’s Oakland! There are tomatoes in our yard, too, and our landlordladyperson has kindly welcomed us to them, so we have plenty. But I am a poacher by nature. I pretty much grew up in a state of constant trespass. No lie: as often as possible, I slept in the woods and ate lunch in trees. And while many of the acres that I habitated belonged to my grandparents, most did not.

I love how Mountain Sam, my northerly kindred spirit, refers to certain walnut trees that he harvests as his walnut trees. He has apple trees, persimmon trees, and plum trees too — none of which are on his property. But they’re his. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a secret stash of cows somewhere.

Of course, Mountain Sam is a Native American Injunperson, so he may have a more legitimate claim to his various steaks than I do. Nevertheless, I’d been threatening since we moved in here to go over the wall. Under cover of night — but only because it sounds good to say so.

I rarely see my neighbors in their beautiful yard, or even looking out their windows at their beautiful yard. And — not that I keep a constant vigil — but I’ve never once seen them eat a tomato.

Meanwhile, tomatoes and tomatoes just hang there, perfectly ripe. And the giraffe blows over in the wind.

But if ever a person’s personality was defined by the air-freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror of their car, that person is Hedgehog. It’s lost its smell entirely. The picture is of a beautiful woman holding a beautiful tomato next to her sweet, smiling face. The words are: YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY FUCK YOU.

Point being that a couple weeks ago when I said “Fuck you, Just For You,” and this paper edited it to just “Just For You,” that pissed Hedgehog off.

“Where the fuck did the fuck go?” she said when she read that particular work of art for the second time, this one in the paper.

A couple days later she asked, out of the blue, “Hey, did you ever ask your editor about that fuck?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He said to tell you, Tomato.”

Right across the street from my new favorite restaurant (that I accidentally keep forgetting to write about) is my new favorite restaurant, Thai Time. I can’t tell you where it is, or you’ll know what’s across the street.

Anyway, first time I went there was with Hedgehog, after having a balance test. Which is a story unto itself. Suffice to say: in order to try and figure out what’s making you dizzy, they make you very dizzy.

So my appetite was less than healthy to begin with. To boot, the little shoe repair shop next door was just then having some kind of a glue explosion. The smell was everywhere — on the sidewalk, in the doorway, and (gasp) even inside my new favorite restaurant. I was in no condition for strong industrial-style smells. In fact, although they had duck noodle soup on the menu, I couldn’t imagine eating it with the door open.

They were kind enough to close it for me, but still I only ordered a bowl of plain rice noodles, and Tom Yum minus mushrooms. It was fantastic. Hedgehog got a lunch combo. We were both happy, but my favorite thing was how happy the people working there were. Joking and laughing in the kitchen . . . a true cute little cozy little ma-and-pa-style joint.

With good food. Including the duck soup, which I sneaked back for a few days later.

THAI TIME

Sun., Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

315 8th Ave., SF.

(415) 831-3663

AE/MC/V

Beer and wine

 

Contemplating Appetite

1

virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE My adventures in food and drink have been the subject of my SFBG Appetite column for nearly three years online at SFBG.com. As of last month, you now also find me in print every week. Many have asked where I am going with this column — some expecting a formal weekly review, others a mix of subjects and directions. The latter is true. I cannot replace former Guardian food critic Paul Reidinger’s eloquence and decades-long experience as a food writer (and I’m glad to say we will continue to hear from him in various articles). I take this opportunity to explain where I’ve come from and my philosophy in covering the edible world.

First and foremost, I bring to the table passion. From mostly Italian and German stock, I’ve eaten heartily since early childhood in Oklahoma and Missouri, 16 total years of my youth in Southern California and New Jersey (just outside LA and NYC respectively), and travel over five continents. As an incessant reader and writer since girlhood, books first opened me up to the world, though I dreamed of having my own adventures to write about. Moving to San Francisco a decade ago, I was wowed not only by its unique, radiant beauty, but by the consistent quality of food, spending spare dollars eating out constantly. Though SF wasn’t the immediate love affair for me New York was, it is a love that has only increased each year, the home I would happily end up in. This city still takes my breath away.

Patricia Unterman’s original San Francisco Food Lover’s Guide was my food bible in those early days. I connected with her quest for the authentic, no matter the cuisine. I ate my way through neighborhoods, marking up her book (and all my dining guides) until I had been to every single restaurant, market, and bar in its pages. Eventually, requests asking me where to go and what to eat reached a fever pitch, so my husband (and partner in taste and travel) helped create my own humble website, The Perfect Spot, to share my reviews and finds. I’ve been sending out a bi-weekly newsletter for nearly four years based on my writings for the site. I also write for an ever-increasing number of magazines and websites.

“Diet,” “lowfat,” and “hold the cream” are words you’ll never hear me say. My hunger for food as adventure means I make it a goal to have no food prejudices. Many say, “I’ll try anything once,” but my philosophy is to keep trying anything I don’t like until I do. The food may not have been prepared properly; it was perhaps of poor quality; maybe the palate wasn’t quite ready for it — dishes still deserve to be known at their best. I spent years trying to overcome my aversion to uni (sea urchin), for example. Eating chef David Bazigran’s brilliant uni flan at Fifth Floor early this year was a revelation. I realized it was uni’s texture, not its of-the-sea flavor, turning me off. I’ve enjoyed uni ever since, though only when ultra-fresh. From personal experience, I know one can change one’s abhorrence of a food, and in so doing expand one’s horizons another inch, uncovering another of life’s simple delights.

Sometimes fear arises around unfamiliar foods — and the unfamiliar in general. Without variety and a vast range of expression, the world loses it color — and its joy. While sameness can be comforting (and there’s a time for that), it is entirely boring. To go through any part of life bored or complacent is simply lazy. As with music or books, one can discover unknown lands with a few new ingredients, enlivened by the hands of a gifted, caring chef. Whether food cart or fine dining, there’s no reason to settle for mediocrity, not with the unreal produce, vision, and talent surrounding us.

Internationally, I’ve fallen in love with black pudding in Ireland, extreme spice in Thailand, Tyrolean food in the Italian Alps. I’ve explored wine chateaus in Bordeaux, agave fields in Mexico, gin distilleries and cocktail labs in London, whisk(e)y houses in Scotland and Ireland. I’ve frequented restaurants, coffee havens, bars, chocolate shops, farmers markets everywhere. I sample obsessively and comparatively. Rather than one single review, I prefer to cover a mixture of highlights in any given week. I’m opinionated, yes, but don’t care much for snark, flippancy, or jadedness. Though honest assessment is crucial, rather than rip apart the few not doing it well, I’d rather focus on the many having fun with or perfecting their craft.

My “holy trinity” of US cities for food and culture, though, consists of New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Travel is one of life’s greatest gifts, yet when I cannot afford to go, I am able to travel in my own city. Authentic foods transport me back to the place in which that food was illuminated — anchovies on the coast of Italy, bastilla in Morocco, Creole cream cheese in New Orleans, or bahn mi in Vietnam. It helps to live in a place as international and cosmopolitan as SF. But even in nondescript towns, I uncover gems. The hunt is a key part of the thrill.

Besides travel, you’ll notice I also write about drink… a lot. Whether coffee, spirits, and cocktails (my first love), wine and beer (the ultimate food accompaniments), my knowledge of drink grows along with the culinary. Even at 21, I wanted a grown-up atmosphere in which to imbibe, detesting noisy, crowded “scenes.” Drink, for me, is similar to food: it’s about quality, artistry, and adventure, not buzz or quick consumption. A memorable meal isn’t complete without the right sip to begin, pair, or end with.

As with food, Northern California was instrumental in furthering my taste for fine drink, though global explorations have shaped my standards of comparison. It started with cocktails years ago as SF (and, of course, NYC) lead the way in reviving classics, and creating experimental, culinary drinks. The artistry and history behind these drinks intrigued me, connecting to my Old World, retro, jazz-loving self.

Delving into cocktails inevitably led to my great love of craft spirits, many of our country’s trailblazers and innovators being based right here. (Thank you, St. George, Charbay, Germain-Robin, Anchor Distilling, et. al.) Our local Wine Country and craft beer pioneers like Fritz Maytag likewise have shaped the world, while local personalities such as Kermit Lynch and Rajat Parr in the wine realm are experts on global glories in drink.

What makes a great meal? Service, setting, and, of course, food are crucial. Ultimately, I see eating as a communal ritual. A thoughtfully-prepared meal surprises and nourishes the body and spirit. We engage (or should — put those cell phones away!) over a meal, reflect on our day, truly taste, actually look at and listen to each other. Expect me to share with you the best tastes and backdrops from these moments.

While I don’t expect our tastes to be the same, I do look forward to embarking on delicious adventures together throughout the food realm. *

BEST NEW OPENINGS OF 2011

In the spirit of ushering in my print column, I recap the year with my list of 2011’s best new openings, realizing we still have a few weeks worth of openings left:

CASUAL

Wise Sons Deli www.wisesonsdeli.com. Although not getting a brick and mortar location until 2012, this pop-up deli (every Tuesday at the Ferry Plaza) was one of the year’s great new delights, filling a gaping vacancy of quality Jewish food with excellent babka, bialy, and corned beef.

Hot Sauce and Panko 1545 Clement, SF. (415) 387-1908, www.hotsauceandpanko.com. With an impressive array of hot sauces from around the world, addictive chicken wings in a crazy range of sauces (tequila-chipotle-raspberry jam!), this quirky take-out also has a hilarious blog.

Mission Cheese 736 Valencia, SF. www.missioncheese.net. Mission Cheese serves not only lush cheeses and wines, but some of the best grilled cheese sandwiches around in a chic cafe setting.

MID-RANGE

Bar Tartine 561 Valencia, SF. (415) 487-1600, www.bartartine.com. Though not a new opening, I refer to the complete revamp and Eastern European-influenced menu under chef Nick Balla that happened this year. Unusual dishes, Hungarian and beyond, and Balla’s impeccable technique make this menu unlike any other.

Boxing Room 399 Grove, SF. (415) 430-6590, www.boxingroomsf.com. It’s refreshing to get some New Orleans breezes in SF from a Louisiana chef making his own Creole cream cheese and frying up fresh alligator.

Nojo 231 Franklin, SF. (415) 896-4587, www.nojosf.com. We’ve had a glut of izakayas open over the past few years, but this one stands above in warm, hip atmosphere and consistently delightful food.

Park Tavern 1652 Stockton, SF. (415) 989-7300, www.parktavernsf.com. From the owners of Marlowe, this immediately feels like the buzzing destination restaurant of Washington Square Park for satisfying American food with gourmet edge.

Jasper’s Corner Tap 401 Taylor, SF. (415) 775-7979, www.jasperscornertap.com. All things to all people: comfortable meet-up spot with perfect cocktails, craft beers and wines aplenty, and the food is consistently heartwarming.

 

Her way

4

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Early in the 20th century, Ezra Pound declared “the artist is the antenna of the race.” True or false? Do artists have the ability to predict the future, or are they stuck in the present?

Krissy Keefer, artistic director of Dance Brigade and Dance Mission Theater, tends to side with Pound. While she wouldn’t go as far as writer-performer Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who considers the artist a shaman, she does think that “there is something about the artistic process that opens your brain to see into the future, to see things happening before they actually happen.”

This weekend Keefer and her troupe are celebrating the 35th anniversary of Dance Brigade and its antecedents the Wallflower Order. The performances, all with free admission, include a retrospective of works spanning the last three decades, plus the 2009 Great Liberation Upon Hearing, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead; Keefer created the work after losing two close friends within the same year.

Women taking charge of their own fate may not be news today, but in 1975, Wallflower’s five female warriors were pioneers. The turmoil of the post-Vietnam era and the rise of feminism had created a climate in which audiences hungered for dance that spoke to their lives. Many of them were women. The company was made up of contentious women, strong dancers, committed activists. They were not about to be stopped, much like their “grandmothers” Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham or, in terms of politics, the characters in 1964 Chinese ballet The Red Detachment of Women.

Most remarkably, Keefer’s commitment to make art addressing issues that matter has not waned — she’s as ready as ever to mount the barricades and make her voice heard through art. In retrospect, it is surprising how much of her past work was highly prescient.

She recently called my attention to my reservations about her having drenched one section of the 2002 Cave Women in images of extreme destruction and war. (At the time, the bloodiness seemed over the top). Almost immediately, all hell broke loose in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, a huge success from 1987-1997, features one-percenters the McGreed family, an abused undocumented servant in Clara, and a homeless Sugar Plum Fairy. Issues that were under the radar at the time have become headlines.

Appearing in Nutcracker — with an excellent, Tchaikovsky-based score by jazz composer Mary Watson — were then-little-known artists like Axis Dance Company and aerial dance pioneer Terry Sendgraff; Keith Hennessy played the McGreed’s renegade son.

For all her predilection for “making art that includes themes of social responsibility and dealing with real situations with real people,” Keefer is also very much a creature of the theater. The work has to stand on its artistic feet, perhaps not surprising for a woman who trained as dancer at age six — long before she knew what she wanted to dance about.

The 2005 Dry/Ice, a look at the effects of global warming, for instance, was a commission from the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Now who else, except someone who besotted by the stage, would lug a cast-iron bathtub, weighing over 300 pounds, into Theater Artaud for two performances? “I just wanted to do something about the environment,” she recalls. (Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the next year.)

In the 2004 Spell, a collaboration with Hennessy, Keefer became a raging goddess-witch figure doing an exorcism for peace and economic justice. It was a power performance that, given the lives many people have today, probably would play well in the suburbs.

Keefer also takes her social activism outside the theater. In 2000, when she felt that the criteria for acceptance to the San Francisco Ballet School were unjustifiable — based on the experiences of her daughter, eight years old at the time — she complained loud and clear. It started discussions about the female dancer’s body at the time when academics had barely touched the subject. In 2006, she was so furious about the country’s priorities that she ran for Congress. Of course, she knew that she wouldn’t win — but she wanted to take a stand. Even her parents encouraged her to do so. “I can’t believe that I ran against Nancy Pelosi when she was poised to become Speaker of the House,” she laughs today.

Meditation has helped Keefer step away from anger, what she called her “habitual response” to injustice. The resolve was shaken, however, this past summer, when — coming back from a successful East Coast and Caribbean tour with Liberation — all the costumes (transported via Greyhound, the only shipping the company could afford) were stolen. “What can you do?” she shrugs. This Mother Courage of dance will just put her shoulder to the wheel a little harder. 

 


“FROM WALLFLOWER ORDER TO DANCE BRIGADE: A 35-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE CELEBRATION”

Fri/18-Sat/19, 8 p.m.; Sun/20, 2 p.m., free

Novellus Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF www.dancebrigade.org


“MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS:” LOCAL ARTS LUMINARIES TOAST DANCE BRIGADE

 

DANCE From Brady Street to Dance Mission and beyond, Krissy [Keefer] has been one of the true champions of our dance community, in no small part due to her own artistry. The spirit of her work is visually and musically rich, fundamentally diverse, and deeply committed to social relevance — attributes she’s manifested on so many levels in a long and vital career. Rob Bailis, Former Artistic Director, ODC Theater

In the dance ecology of the Bay Area, Dance Brigade, and especially Krissy Keefer, play such vital role. I can’t think of anyone else as fierce about what she believes in, what she cares about, and how she creates work to reflect those beliefs. In many ways she is our conscience when we might waver in the face of budget cuts and the endless struggle to get money to do work. Because she is so strong about this herself, I really count on her to keep us honest around our vision and our integrity of purpose. Kenneth J. Foster, Executive Director, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Krissy Keefer’s life energy is totally invested in professional, community-based, inclusive, and affordable feminist art. She has consistently supported women artists for over 30 years. It is no easy task to maintain an artistic vision and a financially secure organization, and to be able to deal with the high volume of traffic that is required to run a studio anywhere, much less in the most expensive city in the U.S. That piece of real estate at 24th and Mission has always been a port in the storm for the dance community. Mary Alice Fry, Artistic Director, Footloose Dance Company and Shotwell Studios

What makes Dance Brigade’s work special and important is how they take on the big issues facing the world and then find a way to make us laugh. Krissy Keefer is the Jon Stewart of the dance world! Krissy’s perspective, passion and tenacity are testament to the company’s longevity; that a Dance Brigade show dealing with war, greed, or even addressing violence towards women, can be entertaining is powerful. Krissy, in her wonderfully brash and focused manner, has the ability to remind us that we are citizen-dancers, that we need to participate, and that big messages, abstract dance and the hope for social change can happily co-exist on stage. Wayne Hazzard, Executive Director, Dancers’ Group

Dance Brigade’s legacy in the Bay Area is huge. By not allowing their company to become mainstream, they paved the way for alternate companies to see that there is a place at the table for work that is not shiny, slick and influenced by institutional homogenization. Dance Brigade has demonstrated by example that contemporary dance can be messy, political, and uncomfortable. By blurring the lines between politics and art, a whole new generation of politicized artists have been given permission to emerge and that has infused Bay Area dance with a lot of new ideas and energy. Joe Landini, Director, The Garage

Krissy and the Dance Brigade have been at the forefront of bringing political concerns into the theater. They have paved the way, both artistically and practically, for dozens of politically engaged artists who may or may not identify with their work. To me, Dance Mission is a physical embodiment of the importance of the Dance Brigade’s values of democracy. It’s not easy to separate the artistic and the community legacy of Dance Brigade’s work; it’s the combination that makes them so powerful. Jessica Robinson Love, Executive and Artistic Director, CounterPULSE

When Dance Brigade emerged in San Francisco in the mid-’80s as an outgrowth of the nearly-mythical Wallflower Order, they brought together a number of tendencies that were already percolating in the dance community: using dancers of widely varying body types, introducing world music (sometimes performed by the dancers), spoken word, and text narrative, circus and vaudeville tricks and, always, no-holds-barred political content. Dance Brigade inspired other companies to be braver through their example of what might be called gonzo feminist dance. Krissy and her dancers and collaborators took these disparate influences and turned them into powerhouse performances where the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Kary Schulman, Director, Grants for the Arts. (Compiled by Rita Felciano)

Rank complaints

27

steve@sfbg.com

Even before all the votes had been cast on election day, the two most conservative members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors proposed a ballot measure to repeal the city’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, prompting all the usual critics of this voter-approved electoral reform to denounce it as confusing and undemocratic.

Those same two supervisors, Sups. Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell, were also the ones who unsuccessfully pushed for a weakening of the public financing system last month, changes that will likely be wrapped into discussions in the coming weeks over how elections are conducted in the city. And progressive supporters of both systems warn that district supervisorial elections will probably be the next target of this concerted push to roll the clock back on electoral reforms in the city.

"The [San Francisco] Chronicle and the [San Francisco] Chamber [of Commerce] have been at it from day one," Steven Hill, who helped crafted both the RCV and public financing systems, told us. "They’re really clear about what they want to eliminate, so we should be clear about what we need to defend and we can’t get confused by this."

Indeed, the Chronicle ran an editorial Nov. 14 advocating the repeal of ranked-choice, calling it "a fundamentally flawed system that is fraught with unintended consequences." The paper, as well as its allies at the Chamber and other downtown institutions, has been equally vociferous in criticizing public financing and district elections.

Hill said that’s because moneyed interests prefer systems that they can manipulate using the millions of dollars in unregulated independent expenditures they can summon — an ability they demonstrated again in his election on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee — such as low-turnout runoff elections, citywide supervisorial races, and elections without the countervailing force of public financing. "They’ve been doing this steadily and looking for ways to chip away at it," Hill said.

But conservatives aren’t the only ones raising questions about RCV; some progressives say the system needs adjustment, too.

Although Farrell opposes all three of those electoral reforms, he insists that his concerns about RCV are about voter confusion and the perception that winners don’t have majority support and could be viewed as illegitimate. "There is just so much voter confusion out there," Farrell said, citing comments from voters who don’t understand how their votes are tabulated to produce a winner.

Hill counters that voters do have a clear understanding of how to rank their choices, downplaying the importance of whether they understand all the details of what happens next. But Farrell said that and the majority rule issue have undermined people’s faith in the elections.

"People get very upset when they realize someone didn’t get a majority of the vote," he told us, referring to how the majority threshold drops as voters’ top three candidates are eliminated. "To me, it’s just simpler to go back to the runoff system."

Many moderate politicians agree. "I don’t like ranked choice voting and I never have," City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who finished third in the mayor’s race, told us on election night. "I defended it all the way to the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals in his role at City Attorney], but I think it’s bad policy."

Sup. Scott Wiener, a Herrera supporter we spoke to at the same election night party, also wants to see a change. "I supported ranked-choice voting and until recently I continued to support it, but this race changed by mind," Wiener said, attributing the large mayoral candidate field and free-for-all debates to RCV. "There is no way most voters will be able to distinguish among the candidates."

But Hill says it’s a mistake to attribute the large field to RCV, or even to the public financing system that some are also trying to blame, a problem he said can be addressed in other ways, such as changing when and how candidates qualify for public matching funds.

Wiener said he hasn’t made up his mind about repealing RCV, and he said that he absolutely opposes a return to the December runoff election. One alternative he suggested was a system like that in place in New York City, with the initial election in September and the runoff during the general election in November. But he does think some change is needed, and he’s glad Elsbernd and Farrell proposed an RCV repeal.

"They’re starting a conversation with the repeal, but that’s not where it’s going to end," Wiener said.

Indeed, the system still has the support of most progressives, even Sup. John Avalos, who finished second in the mayor’s race and would now be headed into a runoff election against Ed Lee under the old system. "I continue to support ranked choice voting," Avalos told us. It takes six supervisors to play the charter amendment repealing RCV on the ballot.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who was narrowly elected sheriff in the ranked-choice runoff despite a 10-point lead in first place votes, said of the Farrell and Elsbernd proposal, "I do want to hear their criticisms."

"I understand the larger discussion, which was a bit of a misguided approach that some of our colleagues used to go after ranked choice voting on election day," Mirkarimi said. "But they are good politicians and they seized an opportunity."

Mirkarimi did say he was open to "maybe some tweaks. I do think ranked choice works better when you have many choices." Others, such as former Sup. Matt Gonzalez, have also recently advocated a ranked-choice system that allows more choices, which would address the majority-vote criticism because fewer ballots would be exhausted.

Hill said the legislation that voters approved back in 2002 already calls for more choices, but the technology used in the city’s current system only allows three choices. Yet he said the city’s vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, has developed a system allowing up to 11 choices, for which it is currently seeking federal certification.

Although he said various tweaks are possible, "I think the system worked well in this election," Hill said, noting that few San Franciscans would have wanted to drag this long campaign out by another month or to pay for another election.

State of the occupations

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

The police evictions of OccupyOakland and OccupyCal over the last week, and the looming threat of another attempt to evict OccupySF, presented challenges for the Bay Area protests just as similar police crackdowns targeted Occupy encampments in Portland, Denver, New York, and other cities nationwide.

These fast-moving developments also come at a time when university students from around California will be descending on San Francisco for a Nov. 16-17 University of California Board of Regents meeting that was canceled this week because of public safety concerns. All of this adds up to a big and unpredictable moment for the widening movement (see “The growing 99 percent,” 11/9).

So we’ve decided to start a regular feature to track the latest developments in an Occupy movement that seems adamant about standing its ground even as it’s forced to deal with threats from police, organizing challenges, and the coming of winter.

 

#OCCUPYCAL GROWS UP FAST

Students at the University of California at Berkeley burst onto the Occupy scene Nov. 9 with the launch of OccupyCal, a student-led protest that made waves nationally after university police advanced on around 500 students in Sproul Plaza, the historic epicenter of the Free Speech Movement, and struck them with batons after they tried to set up camp.

UCB police made 39 arrests in two separate actions against protesters, fueling student protesters’ resolve at a general assembly convened afterward that drew more than 1,000 people and lasted well into the night. At around 1:30 am, students voted to hold a student strike on Nov. 15 in solidarity with others throughout the UC system.

The harsh police response prompted condemnation from the Free Speech Movement Archives (FSM-A). “It appears that the campus police are in need of remedial education concerning fundamental protections offered by the US Constitution — including First Amendment rights to Free Speech and Free Assembly that were clearly recognized and enshrined on the UCB campus 47 years ago on these very steps,” the group noted in an open letter.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who was out of the country during the violent police crackdown, issued a statement on Nov. 14 ordering a third-party investigation of the clash and granting amnesty under the Student Code of Conduct to all students who were arrested for blocking police from removing the encampment.

“It was only yesterday that I was able to look at a number of the videos that were made of the protests on November 9. These videos are very disturbing. The events of last Wednesday are unworthy of us as a university community. Sadly, they point to the dilemma that we face in trying to prevent encampments and thereby mitigate long-term risks to the health and safety of our entire community,” he wrote. “Most certainly, we cannot condone any excessive use of force against any members of our community.”

 

#OCCUPYSF, THE NEXT BATTLEGROUND

At press time, student and labor groups that were planning to converge on the UC Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay on Nov. 16 by the thousands were deciding how to respond to the meeting cancellation, but protests are still planned for that day, with support from OccupySF.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee continues to insist that OccupySF break camp, but instead it has only grown larger, with the tents spreading out from Justin Herman Plaza onto the nearby sidewalk along Market Street in front of the Federal Reserve. At press time, protesters feared what seemed an imminent police raid, particularly now that the election is over and busloads of student protesters were headed into town.

 

TRAGEDY STRIKES #OCCUPYOAKLAND

On Nov. 10, Kayode Ola Foster, 25, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head following an argument, just yards from the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza (Oscar Grant Plaza to the occupiers who’d camped there for a solid month).

A somber mood settled over the plaza in the hours following the shooting as the tent city dwellers absorbed the gravity of the situation, and occupy activists held a candlelight vigil. Although initial reports suggested Foster had no relationship to the camp, police later said they believed he and one of two shooting suspects had spent time there.

 

#OCCUPYOAKLAND GETS THE BOOT

Three days after the fatal shooting near the OccupyOakland encampment sparked a hard-line response from local government officials, the camp was dismantled in an early morning police raid Nov. 14, the second to befall the occupation since it began a month ago. That evening, thousands marched back to the plaza in response to the raid and held a general assembly.

On the night of the raid, it took several hours for police to arrive at 14th and Broadway streets, where protesters began congregating in the intersection around 2 a.m. in anticipation of the forced eviction from camp. Law enforcement came en masse, with mutual aid support from seven different regional law enforcement agencies.

While two lines of riot police formed an L-shaped formation blocking protesters’ access to the plaza and nearby streets, hundreds more poured into the plaza to dismantle tents, flatten structures, and make arrests. Police arrested 32, the majority of whom belonged to a group of clergy members from the occupation’s Interfaith Coalition tent who sat calmly together in the plaza and sang by candlelight as they waited for police. Occupiers who witnessed the dismantling of the camp from behind police barricades yelled out, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

Steven T. Jones contributed to this report.