Volume 46 Number 26

Solo mio

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FILM The phenomenon of grown children remaining under (or returning to) mom and dad’s roof well after the customary sell-by date has been a regular topic of late in American entertainment and pop sociology.

In Italy, however, that situation is hardly seen as representing some sort of domestic evolutionary failure. In fact it’s pretty normal, for reasons that include differing attitudes toward real estate (few would sell a flat that’s been in the family for generations), perpetually bleak employment prospects (all the worse sans nepotistic connections), and the umbilical cord seemingly never severed between mothers and sons.

It’s not for nothing that the country where the Pope lives is Ground Zero for the Madonna-whore complex. Art and life have so frequently reinforced notion that for Italian men, there are only two relevant kinds of women: the kind they want to fuck, and Mama.

Gianni Di Gregorio is both a triumph over and cautionary illustration of the aging uomo, racking up decades of experience yet still infantilized by that most binding tie. He’s a late bloomer who’s long worked in theater and film in various capacities, notably as a scenarist for 2008’s organized crime drama Gomorrah. That same year he wrote and directed a first feature basically shot in his own Rome apartment. Mid-August Lunch was a surprise global success casting the director himself as a putz, also named Gianni, very like himself (by his own admission), peevishly trying to have some independence while catering to the whims of the ancient but demanding mother (Valeria De Franciscis) he still lives with.

Di Gregorio thus entered the rarefied realm of writer-director-actors who make lightly fictionalized but essentially autobiographical movies about themselves. That kind of enterprise can go either way — insufferable or delightful, indulgent or insightful. Fortunately, Lunch was charming in a sly, self-deprecating way, and The Salt of Life is more of the same minus the usual diminishing returns. The creator’s barely-alter ego Gianni is still busy doing nothing much, dissatisfied not by his indolence but by its quality. But his pint-sized, wig-rocking, nearly century-old matriarch has moved to a plush separate address with full-time care. That plus her extravagant generosity to friends and employees is eating up Junior’s hopeful inheritance.

Having exhausted his own pension (he was forcibly “retired” at 50, and one senses he didn’t exactly knock himself out looking for other work), Gianni views mom’s spendthrift twilight with whiny but helpless dismay. Under his own roof, there’s more functional disorder: daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio) comes and goes, often less visibly than the on-off boyfriend (Michelangelo Ciminale) who stays here overnight more often than at his own parents’ place. It takes some time to figure out that Gianni’s wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) lives here too, since their relationship has obviously long ceased to extend co-parenting and tenancy. He is, as they say, at liberty.

Salt‘s main preoccupation is Gianni’s discovery that while he’s as available and interested in women as ever, at age 63 he is no longer visible to them. Surrounded by femininity in low-cut dresses — while lower-key, this movie stares open-mouthed at breasts as fervently as Italian sexploitation king Tinto Brass does asses — he is depressed to find they perceive him in asexual terms. (It is particularly wounding when a sexy neighbor says she had a “beautiful dream” about him … in which he was her grandfather.) A still randy lawyer friend (Alfonso Santagata) trying to get him back into circulation advises, “An old engine that’s been abandoned for years and gone rusty needs time to start working again.” The screenplay attempts lubricating Gianni’s gears via Viagra and, later, an accidental dosing of some party hallucinogenic.

While Fellini confronted desirable, daunting womanhood with a permanent adolescent’s masturbatory fantasizing, Di Gregorio’s humbler self-knowledge finds comedy in the hangdog haplessness of an old dog who can’t learn new tricks and has forgotten the old ones. Nearly as food-focused as his first film, The Salt of Life is like a rich home-cooked meal lent gentle absurdity by the cook’s constant worrying aloud whether his digestion can still take the strain. *

 

THE SALT OF LIFE opens Fri/30 in Bay Area theaters.

Mister Vengeance

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FILM Iran is the kind of nation where political protest in public art has to be muted or disguised. It was well buried in recent hit A Separation, and is just slightly more apparent in Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter. Shot and set during the contentious 2009 Presidential campaign — Pitts is a rare expat filmmaker allowed to shoot in the country his family left decades ago — it starts as a Kafka-esque portrait of quiet desperation in a cold, empty Tehran, then turns into a sort of existential thriller. The precise message may be ambiguous, but it’s no surprise this two-year-old feature has so far played nearly everywhere but Iran itself.

Ali (Pitts) is released from prison after some years, his precise crime never revealed. Told that with his record he can’t expect to get a day shift on his job as security guard at an automotive plant, he keeps hours at odds with his working wife Sara (Mitra Haijar) and six-year-old daughter Saba (Saba Yaghoobi). Still, they try to spend as much time together as possible, until one day Ali returns to find them uncharacteristically gone all day.

After getting the bureaucratic runaround he’s finally informed by police that something tragic has occurred; one loved one is dead, the other missing. When his thin remaining hope is dashed, with police notably useless in preventing that grim additional news, Ali snaps — think Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 Targets. He’s soon in custody, albeit in that of two bickering officers who get them all lost in the countryside, the terse but strikingly shot film now recalling elements of Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing (2010) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) in its endless pursuit through imposing landscapes.

Pitts, a long-ago child performer cast here only when the actor originally hired had to be replaced, makes Ali seem pinched from the inside out, as if in permanent recoil from past and anticipated abuse. This thin, hunched frame, vulnerable big ears, and hooded eyes — the goofily oversized cap he wears at work seems a deliberate affront — seems so fixed an expression of unhappiness that when he flashes a great smile, for a moment you might think it must be someone else. He’s an everyman who only grows more shrunken once the film physically opens up into a natural world no less hostile for being beautiful.

Ali actually does hunt game, earlier on — but in The Hunter, we glean he’s been the hunted one way or another his whole life. The film’s score is sparse percussion that, like the drums in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, count down toward an inexorable extinction that bears mythological (or authoritarian) fate’s hand. 

 

THE HUNTER opens Fri/30 at the Roxie.

Domestic violence: A Latina, feminist perspective

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Earlier this week, we posted an Op-Ed piece by Myrna Melgar which has been receiving a lot of attention. The piece was orginially published on the blog of publisher Bruce Brugmann, and then in this week’s paper. Click here to read the original post

Inside-outside

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS One of my favorite places to be is at the foot of Potrero Hill in Jackson Park, where I played pick-up baseball in the 1990s and soccer in the 2000s. It’s very unclaustrophobic around there, maybe you’ve noticed. Although: the air is thick with Anchor Steam hops and, for me, memories of athletic style glory such as grounding out to third.

Shit, I got old. Wait. Did I? I am sappy and nostalgic. My foot hurts and I have to “put it up.” I take fiber supplements. Loud music annoys me. I’m almost always cold. We are looking into getting a camper.

Very soon, if all goes as planned, I will be able to stick my hands in boiling water like Grandma Rubino did. And then I will know that I have made it.

Meanwhile, there’s laundry to do. I have a football game tonight and all my sports bras are stinky from playing soccer and soccer and racquetball and ping-pong, so — wait a minute — maybe I’m not old.

Yeah. Maybe loud music only annoys me when it isn’t the Verms. Which it was one time, at Thee Parkside. At the foot of Potrero Hill. Across from Jackson Park.

One of my favorite things about San Francisco these days is that bar food is stepping up — and in interesting ways such as crawfish grits and wedding soup at Broken Record, the whiskey-infused bacon burgers at Bender’s, and fried pickles and chili-cheese tater tots at Thee Parkside.

The burgers aren’t as good as the ones at Bender’s, though. Come to think of it, the tater tots aren’t either. But the music is better, especially on Twang Sundays. That must have been what it was when I saw the Verms there.

Now, the Verms. The Verms are by miles and miles my new favorite band. It’s Earl Butter! What this means is the songs are about underwear and pork sandwiches. In fact, as serendipity would have it, they played the pork sandwich song while we were eating ours.

We were me, Hedgehog, and Kayday, sitting and standing around a small, tall table near the door. Kayday wasn’t eating, and Hedgehog wouldn’t tell me what she wanted.

“Surprise me,” she said.

So I went out to the patio and stared at the menu for about a half hour. There were kids running around, people eating, people waiting to eat, people dancing.

It’s really nice, the indoor-outdoor layout of the place. You can adjust your volume, light, and air intakes simply by poking around the premises. In fact, there used to be a ping-pong table in the way-back, but I forgot to notice if it was still there.

Anyway: pork sandwich. Yes. And a bacon burger with barbecue sauce. Skinny fries. Tater tots. The idea being a 50-50 split.

This was before the goddamn gluten-free garbage, praise Jesus, or I’d have had to eat all the buns and none of the meat. As it was, I messed up anyway.

See, I love barbecue sauce on burgers. Hedgehog — surprise! — does not. Worse, when we halved the burger, luck would have it, she drew the slathered half and mine had next to none — just the first bite, so that I would know what I was missing for the rest of them.

Bite. Damn! Bite. Damn!

I wish we’d have worked it all out in advance, like communicative adults, but it’s hard in bars. The loud music. Lack of light.

By the time we even knew each other’s disappointment, it was too late: The burger was gone.

Ironically, while everyone loves barbecue sauce on barbecue, the pulled pork sandwich came without. Just coleslaw was on it, by which they mean pickled purple cabbage, and a special mayo-y mix, so… hold that.

Good food, great place, amazing show.

Hedgehog still has the set list. She takes it out sometimes, and looks at it.

Me, I’ve gotta go catch some footballs and pull some flags. Tomorrow, hopefully victorious, I set sail for Frisco — and will see you all in the flesh (or thereabouts) next week. At my new favorite restaurant!

THEE PARKSIDE

Mon.-Fri. 2pm-2am; Fri.-Sat. 3pm-2am

1600 17th St., SF

(415) 252-1330

Cash only

Full bar

www.theeparkside.com

Southern obsession

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Southern food has a profound hold on me. No, I’m not a Southerner — but few cuisines the world over elicit in me such yearning and comfort. Finding the real deal in the Bay Area is tricky, although a recent Southern trend has helped. Aside from my beloved Brenda’s and delightful Boxing Room, the following spots fulfill cravings.

 

HOPS AND HOMINY

Recently opened downtown, Hops and Hominy has the charm of being tucked away at the end of an alley off bustling Grant Ave. I must admit, when I saw packed crowds and a neon maraschino cherry (versus a quality brandied one) in my cocktail, I doubted H&H, opened by three Florida natives. But in this early stage, it shows promise.

Despite the cherry and too much ice, a Smoked Bacon Old Fashioned was more balanced than I expected. Using Bulleit bourbon infused with bacon, the drink is thankfully light on maple syrup. This is not exactly a cocktailian’s destination but you can get a decent beverage. Better to go with the beer menu: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Ommegang Hennepin Saison are examples of the greats they have on tap.

In terms of food, a couple dishes jump out. The most unusual for this setting is espresso-cured chocolate duck ($12). Rare duck is perched on a potato pancake with mascarpone drizzled on top. Chocolate and coffee notes are subtle, adding an unexpected seductiveness to the dish. While the potato pancake doesn’t exactly fit, it doesn’t detract either. Mac ‘n cheese is so common, but here, served piping hot in a skillet ($8), it’s oozing with cheddar goodness and typical house cured bacon. Crispy sage leaves elevate it.

Buttermilk battered chicken ($19) is not the best in town, but free-range chicken is tender and generously portioned. This dish is an ideal way to also try the mac and cheese, a companion along with Brussels sprouts. Deep water shrimp and cheesy Southern grits ($19) work but don’t recall the best of the South.

1 Tillman Pl., SF. (415) 373-6341, www.hopsandhominy.com

 

HOG AND ROCKS

Hog and Rocks has grown into one of our great casual gathering spots, with better-than-ever cocktails and food, and a winning American whiskey selection. I’ve been a huge fan of the ham platters (the hog) and oyster selection (the rocks) since they opened, particularly when H&R offer such incredible Southern hams as one from Tennessee’s G&W Hamery, lightly drizzled with sweet Fresno chili syrup.

The impetus for recent visits was a new Scott Beattie-designed cocktail menu and new bar manager Michael Lazar. There are longtime Beattie favorites on the menu, like the fall-influenced, whiskey-apple-ginger lushness of his John Chapman. (Oh, that Thai coconut foam!)

Two original drinks are Lazar’s bright Calabria ($11) — Old Grandad 114 bourbon, bergamot, honey, and Averna, bright with ginger beer — and Beattie’s Coastal Collins ($10.50) which stood out with St. George’s fabulous Terroir gin, lemon, soda, bay laurel and huckleberries. It’s a refreshing, herbaceous sipper. Ask Lazar to make you a Hanky Panky, a classic London Savoy cocktail. Lazar tweaks the measurements of gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca for a more complex, sexy whole.

Foodwise, I’ve long found the pimento cheese in a jar ($7.50) the best in town — bordering on addictive. Recent enjoyments include hefty meatballs ($12.50) in whiskey barbecue sauce over cheddar cheese grits and white cabbage, and fat cheddar beer sausages ($13.50). Standout dish: a Berkshire pork cutlet ($16), prepared like German schnitzel (pounded flat, breaded), in a smoky maple syrup and hot pepper relish alongside Red Russian kale evoking collard greens. Here’s to chef Scott Youkilis’ upcoming BBQ venture across the street, Hi-Lo, due to open this Summer.

3431 19th St., SF. (415) 550-8627, www.hogandrocks.com

 

THE FRONT PORCH

The Front Porch’s garage sale, drafty charm still works. Over the years, it’s been a consistent source of quality, quirky Southern eats in cozy, worn red booths beneath pressed tin ceilings.

Crab fritters ($9) won me over immediately, packed with fresh, flaky crab meat, dipped in remoulade. Discounting Brenda’s incomparable take and 1300 on Fillmore’s refined twist, Front Porch serves the best shrimp n’ grits in town ($18.50). Bacon and less traditional wild mushrooms add heft to white wine-doused arbuckle grits. The Porch does right by fried chicken ($17 for 3 pieces, $34 for 9 pieces). Though it’s not the ultimate version, tender Rocky Jr. organic chicken satisfies alongside garlic mashed potatoes and collard greens.

You could do worse than finishing with an Abita root beer float — add in bourbon, if you like. Then head across to the street to new sister location, the comfy, divey Rock Bar for a nightcap.

65A 29th St., SF. (415) 695-7800, www.thefrontporchsf.com *

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com

 

Volume 46 Number 26 Flip-through Edition

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Past, present, future

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE This weekend choreographers Robert Moses and Sean Dorsey present new dances. Moses’ Helen, inspired by the myth of the beautiful Greek whose face launched a thousand ships, is at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Dorsey’s The Secret History of Love, based on how LGBT people used to meet, plays Dance Mission Theater. Both choreographers started dancing in their hometowns — Philadelphia for Moses, Vancouver for Dorsey — and began choreographing professionally in San Francisco. They recently talked to the Guardian about how they came to be where they are now.

SFBG Do you remember how dance entered your life?

Robert Moses We danced the way kids do. My sister and family members all danced. As teenagers we would get together in clubs where you showed your steps, and you had a contest. You couldn’t just jump around a little bit. You had to be the very best dancer that you could be.

Sean Dorsey My first memory is spinning round the living room in a leotard to “Free to Be … You and Me.” There was a lot of music in my house, lots of artists in my family, and there was a lot of space and encouragement for that kind of activity.

SFBG How did your formal training in dance start?

RM In my last semester in high school, I ended up in a dance class when another class was cancelled. At university, I started training in West African, Haitian, ballet, contemporary, tap, and musical theater. I did all of it because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

SD My big childhood hero was Carol Burnett; my dream was to go into comedy. I was in graduate school in Community Development when I was invited to audition for the dance department. So I started to study dance at 25. It was going to be recreational, but I found that it was my deepest love.

SFBG We all bring our cultural background and life experiences to our work. If and in what way does that influence what you do?

RM Of course, it influences what you do; there is no way that it couldn’t. You are a member of group but you are also an individual who is changing and maturing. Sure, I have put perspectives on American, African American, and displacement issues. The thing to remember is what you do is not who you are.

SD As a transgendered person, a queer person, and an immigrant person, an outsider’s consciousness charges my art-making, and I hope that brings a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the kind of themes that I explore in my work such as family, love, or searching for a place in the world.

SFBG How does the process of making a new piece start?

RM It’s different each time. Sometimes it starts with a topic; sometimes with just a movement. A work might also tell me to lean more on the music or talk more about a subject. I also consider how a piece will be presented within a particular frame. The movement itself is created in the studio by the dancers and myself.

SD My process feels ridiculously long. All my pieces are accompanied by a sound score of narration and music. It takes four to six hours in the studio to make one minute. It’s always music, music, music and words, words, words. Once that is finished, I take the draft to the dancers and we make the movement together.

SFBG What would you like us to know about the upcoming premieres?

RM We are talking about the Greek Helen and the notion of an idealized woman, but also about the way people are the playthings of the gods. I am a fan of Carl Hancock Rux’s spoken word and music; he alludes to the Iliad but I am really interested in how women react to the situations they are in.

SD The show is based on archival research and features the real-life stories and voices of eight LGBT elders, from 1920s speakeasies to wartime love affairs, and the really repressive 1950s.

ROBERT MOSES’ KIN

Fri/30-Sun/1, 8 p.m., $25-$45

Novellus Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF

www.robertmoseskin.org

SEAN DORSEY DANCE

Thurs/28-Sun/1, 8 p.m. (also Sat/31-Sun/1, 4 p.m.), $10-$25

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St., SF

www.brownpapertickets.com

www.seandorseydance.com

Sis hop

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marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Like many of the great, oldish-school Bay Area hip-hop party collectives, the Sisterz of the Underground core crew has skedaddled — founder Sarah Smalls to LA, creative director Traci P. and organizer Crykit to Las Vegas — following their fortunes to other, perhaps fresher climes. But just like those spectacular b-girl (and -boy) cypher dance circles that have been popping up on finer San Francisco floors of late, the Sisterz are returning, hopefully bringing more of that fly feeling back with them.

A huge Sisterz of the Underground 10th Anniversary Celebration on Sat/31 (sisterzunderground.eventbrite.com) includes not just a dazzling nighttime party at Public Works with music by Kid Sister, DJ Shortee, Butterscotch, La Femme Deadly Venoms, Jeanine Da Feen, Green B, Pony P, and more, plus a gallery show of all-female artists, nail art, vendor fair, live painting, and a one-on-one female all-styles dance battle — but also afternoon production tech and dance workshops and a panel discussion about female empowerment and multiculturalism at CellSpace. The Bay is going to get some phenomenal femme in its face, and not a moment too soon OK?

Talking with the Sisterz is a trip — see my full interview on our SFBG Noise blog — with nostalgic name-drops like storied rap and turntablism venue Justice League, the Extra Credit Kru dance battlers (still in effect), graffiti artist Arouz, emcee Inchant, and Def Ed, the incredible education and empowerment program the Sisterz started that reached schools in six counties in the Bay Area before it was disbanded a couple years ago. The general Sisterz network itself is still slamming, with chapters up and down the West Coast, as well as in New Mexico and Brazil.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOgLK4t-Rts

And the Sisterz still aren’t shy about expressing themselves. When asked about the state of hip-hop, Traci P says, perhaps with a certain super-hyped Bay Area MC in mind, “There is less and less attention paid to substance and more to image and look. Half of these girls can’t even perform live and are in a sense disposable because they have no stage presence. Just a pretty face with flashy clothes and jewelry. At a time when everything seems so fabricated, it’s essential that people be exposed to the roots of the music and the culture.” Werrrd.

 

SUBB-AN

I caught this UK house wunderkind last year in Berlin at the awesome Tresor club — he played a pumping, expansive set that eventually set off for deeper currents, intricate grooves ride over each other for long periods and innovative technology put into the service of the steamy atmosphere rather than just being “showy.” And he’s cute.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewt5hS3todw

Thu/29, 10pm, $10. Vessel, 85 Campton Pl., www.vesselsf.com

 

FORWARD 10TH ANNIVERSARY

Another 10-year banger — this one for adorably talented Adnan Sharif’s Forward tech-house collective, bringing in an absolutely bonkers lineup to move us into the next. Deep and wiggy Clockwork from Milan co-headlines with Seattle smart-techno fave Pezzner, plus Nikola Baytala, the No Way Back crew, and a Silent Disco space out side with Star Kommand and more.

Fri/30, 10pm-5am, $10-20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.forwardsf.com

 

LEXINGTON 15TH ANNIVERSARY

Time flies when you’re a flaming hot lesbian! Can it be 15 years already since the proudly dive-y Lex threw open its doors to the gorgeously rough-and-tumble dykes of the Mission and their humble admirers (like yours truly)? Oh hell yes. Congratulate owner Lila and crew on keeping one of the few lesbars in homocity open, with filthy music, smokin’ go-gos, kinky quinceanera shenanigans, and lipstick-obliterating drink specials.

Sat/31, 9pm, free. Lexington Club, 3464 19th St., SF. www.lexingtonclub.com

Two incidents

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caitlin@sfbg.com

UPDATE: The District Attorney’s office has retracted the memo detailed in this article, and told the Guardian that D.A. George Gascon “unequivocally supports medical marijuana.” Full story here

HERBWISE “If they can successfully take out San Francisco, then medical marijuana is gone,” said spokesperson of SF’s Medical Cannabis Task Force Stephanie Tucker. I had given Tucker a call because I was trying to salvage some meaning from last week.

It was a confusing one for followers of local cannabis news. News broke of the district attorney’s memo calling marijuana sales illegal (more on this later). They canceled Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars reality TV show. Thieves dressed as ninjas robbed a cannabis deliveryperson in West Covina, Calif. Anti-cannabis driving laws were proposed by Chino Assemblymember Norma Torres. In a long-awaited KQED interview with US Attorney Melinda Haag, Haag pegged the blame for the threatening letters she’s sent to the landlords of cannabis dispensaries on unsubstantiated crime spates such businesses invite to their communities. News reports circulated that Florida teen Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school for petty cannabis possession, as if that explained his murder at the hands of a racist crank. In the middle of it all, SF’s Department of Public Health launched a campaign against the sale of hash and medicated edibles — but only for nine hours.

Well then, that’s something. Of this last incident, at least, Tucker could offer some small clarification. On Tuesday, March 20, someone at the DPH sent out a memo outlining steps that could be taken to reduce the unspecified “potential hazards” of cannabis edibles. One of these counseled against selling products that “required concentrating cannabis active ingredients” — products like hash or kief, which is composed of sifted cannabis trichomes.

“Immediately after the advisory was issued, activists were alerted,” Tucker said. The curtailing of concentrated products and edibles especially worried patient advocates because many can’t — or choose not to — ingest marijuana by smoking it. After informal dialogue with the Department, the matter was squashed, the memo’s message retracted by the agency.

That responsiveness is heartening for those concerned with safe and easy cannabis access, though the thought that a city agency would harsh on medical marijuana particularly now, at a time of heightened scrutiny by the federal government, is disquieting. Or perhaps the agency saw the memo as a way to patrol commercialization and increased branding of edible products. In recent years, everything from chocolate-covered waffle tacos to peanut butter energy bars have been infused with cannabis for commercial sale. Ironically, this kind of increased professionalization has also led to tighter quality control testing in analytical labs around the Bay Area — hypothetically making those products safer.

At any rate, cannabis patients won that office memo battle. The same has yet to be determined in regards to another recent threat to patient rights: a 14-page review that district attorney George Gascon’s office produced this month calling out the “marijuana mega-myth.” Stoners will be surprised to learn Gascon used the colorful term (he also employs the use of “semantogenic shell game” to describe efforts to normalize sales, vivid!) in reference to the belief that dispensary sales of cannabis are legal.

What will this mean for the future of SF dispensaries? Without a doubt there will be many more angry phone calls from patients. But it’s already having legal ramifications. The memo was a response to an objection from a dispensary’s attorney who was perturbed by an incident in which the collective’s delivery driver was arrested by law enforcement en route to making a delivery. Gascon’s assertion that the entire business was illegal was surely not the reaction the attorney had hoped for.

Marathon of sound

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC There is just no easy way to define longtime Oakland band, Faun Fables. But here goes: send a classically-trained dark folk duo into the brush and bramble of a snow-tipped forest as part of a nefarious fairy tale, then ask them to sing for their supper. See? It’s difficult.

That’s precisely why the band (Dawn McCarthy and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Nils Frykdahl) was chosen as one of the headliners for the fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival — the eight-hour-long marathon of fearless composers and bands making music that doesn’t fit neatly anywhere elsewhere in the Bay. “The idea with the programming is that a lot of this music doesn’t really have a home because it doesn’t fall easily into one genre or another, so Switchboard is trying to be that home for these groups,” explains co-organizer Ryan Brown.

The day will include 13 dizzying sets: some at just 15 minutes, most at 30 minutes, and two headliners at 45 minutes. Along with Faun Fables, the other headliner is Volti, an a capella chamber choir. “They do this incredible modern music for choir with all these extended vocal techniques and different sounds from around the world,” says Brown. “We’ll have them together on stage [with Faun Fables] for a song or two as well — that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

Other acts this year include Dominique Leon, Cornelius Boots, Ramon and Jessica, Mercury Falls, Jeff Anderle, Beep, the Hurd Ensemble, and Grains. The SF Conservatory Guitar Ensemble will play a piece composed by Brown on six classical guitars, electric guitar, electric bass, and percussion.

“The sets are short enough that… you hear things back to back and you can sort of start to make these connections between different genres and styles that you might not otherwise make if you were exploring on your own,” says Brown.

Now completing their PhDs in music composition at Princeton, Brown and pal Jonathan Russell first came up with the Switchboard concept shortly after receiving their masters from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The two hung around the school after graduating — teaching and working in the box office — and routinely ate lunch together, which is where they discussed a desire to showcase the musicians they’d met. Jeff Anderle, a clarinetist at the school, came in to the discussion and the three came up with Switchboard.

“We wanted to do something that brought together all the amazing musicians, different scenes, and genre-blending zeitgeist that that seemed to be happening in the city,” says Brown. “Genre lines were being deliberately broken down, things were being mixed in strange ways.”

That first year the three organizers just made a list of people they knew who were breaking down those barriers and programmed the event. The first three years the event was held at the Dance Mission Theater, capacity 135, and last year it jumped to Brava Theater, which can house around 350 people. “The sound there is incredible, it’s just a really cool space and size,” Brown says.

And in that space there will be nearly 100 musicians milling about, both in the proper concert room where bands will be playing, and out in the lobby, where there will be merch, food and drink, and a projection of the live music. Attendees will be given wristbands, so they may also mill about during the eight-hour stretch.

As in years past, nearly every band playing the festival is from the Bay Area. It’s been a deliberate choice, as Brown and his co-organizers feel the region doesn’t get the attention it deserves for having such an innovative music scene. And, they feel like they’re filling a niche in that scene.

“There are other festivals here that are doing what they do really well,” says Brown. “Outside Lands, showcasing a certain type of rock music, Other Minds, showcasing a certain type of contemporary music, the jazz festival — but what about the music that doesn’t fit into any of these distinctions?” 

SWITCHBOARD MUSIC FESTIVAL

Sun/1, 2-10 p.m., $15

Brava Theater

2781 24 St., SF

(415) 641-7657

www.switchboardmusic.com

 

End the healthcare scam

7

OPINION Last year, after receiving data from San Francisco, the Wall Street Journal reported on an investigation into the use of health reimbursement accounts by several local restaurants. It showed a group of employers evading the city’s health care law while charging their customers a “Healthy San Francisco” surcharge that is never actually spent on employees’ health care.

Rather than providing health coverage to their workers, as customers are led to believe, the restaurants are allocating funds for HRAs — and taking back the funds before they can be used.

The numbers speak for themselves: Of the $62 million that was set aside for health care accounts in 2010, more than $50 million was kept by employers.

Workers spoke about never being notified about the accounts; being forced to jump through numerous, often onerous hoops to receive reimbursements or never receiving reimbursements; facing severe restrictions on use of the funds; and fearing retaliation for seeking to access the funds. It was clear that as long as employers can take back unspent funds they have a large incentive to restrict workers’ access.

In response, Supervisor Campos drafted an amendment to the Health Care Security Ordinance (known as Healthy San Francisco) that would have closed this loophole, which was being exploited by a small number of employers. The Chamber of Commerce, accompanied by the San Francisco Chronicle, made hysterical claims about impending job loss and business closures, and after the Board of Supervisors approved the legislation on a 6-5 vote, Mayor Ed Lee vetoed it.

Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Chiu then authored “compromise” legislation that actually didn’t address the problem. Their version merely allowed employers to take back workers’ health care dollars after two years instead of one. This cosmetic change did, however, provide enough window dressing to please the Chamber, so the supervisors approved it and Mayor Lee signed it into law.

Now, just a few months later, an article in the Public Press showed exactly why we opposed the Cohen/Chiu amendment in the first place: It doesn’t really close the loophole. Employers can still take money back from the HRAs. This creates a clear incentive to choose HRAs over insurance — the worst option for workers. Furthermore, the loophole leaves responsible businesses that provide health coverage to employees through insurance or HSF competing against employers that exploit it by paying less into HRAs.

When the landmark Healthy San Francisco legislation passed five years ago, it never occurred to us that some businesses would be so obvious in their attempts to game the system. We find it unconscionable that there are businesses charging customers a healthcare surcharge and then keeping the money for profit. What is more unconscionable is that City Hall passed an amendment that continues to let it happen.

The Department of Labor Standards Enforcement compliance data for 2011 will be available next month — and if that continues to show abuse of the HRA provision, then it’s time for the Board of Supervisors to end the charade and truly close the loophole once and for all. Healthy San Francisco is about providing healthcare for workers — not creating additional profit for businesses.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 13th District. Supervisor David Campos represents District 9.

Elevating the issue

17

The Mirkarimi saga and the troubling prevalence of domestic violence are disturbing. But if there’s a bright side, it’s that advocacy groups, including La Casa de Las Madres, the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, and SF National Organization of Women (NOW) have been able to use the incident to raise awareness about domestic violence. Now, they may be affecting city policy.

Upset by Mirkarimi’s infamous comment that the incident was a “private matter, a family matter,” La Casa de Las Madres has funded several billboards in English and Spanish declaring that “domestic violence is NEVER a private matter” and directing the public to domestic violence response services.

For some, the next step is to permanently codify a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence by law enforcement officers.

In 2003, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote a model policy on this topic that has been adopted in some California counties. NOW SF Chair Mona Lisa Wallace told us that several feminist and anti-domestic violence nonprofits are currently in talks with the mayor and SFPD about adopting it in San Francisco.

“We want domestic violence victims to trust that the officers in blue are on their side,” said Wallace.

The policy states that “Any officer convicted through criminal proceedings of a domestic violence crime shall be terminated from the department.”

Had the policy been in place already, Mirkarimi likely would not have pled guilty, since it would have automatically cost him his job. It also states: “If the facts of the case indicate that domestic violence has occurred or any department policies have been violated, administrative action shall be taken independent of any criminal proceedings as soon as practicable. “

That clause would involve the discretion of police chiefs, commissioners, and the sheriff. It would be hard to apply it to the sheriff, who is an elected official who reports to nobody.

The policy also makes clear that “Any officer determined through an administrative investigation to have committed domestic violence shall be terminated from the department.”

When police are charged with crimes, they go through administrative hearing investigation. They are first “tried” by the police chief, and then, if need be, the Police Commission. These administrative investigations can lead to dismissal, though they don’t in the majority of cases.

If the policy was in place, and an administrative investigation found that a police officer had engaged in domestic violence, the commission members would have no discretion: they would be obliged to terminate the officer.

In Mirkarimi’s case, an “administration investigation,” as required under the policy, would likely look very much like the procedure he is already undergoing. It’s unlikely that it would have made the process any less drawn-out or consuming of public money, attention, and resources. But, if adopted, the policy would represent a broader city stance on domestic violence beyond terminating Mirkarimi. It includes procedures for screening police candidates with histories of abuse and working with police to prevent them from committing violent crimes.

Extra points

0

emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC If the triumphant theme to 1986-released video game The Legend of Zelda sends a knowing shiver down your spine; if you’ve ever spent hours obsessively clicking homemade remixes and covers of the soundtrack on Youtube (oh hey Deadmau5); there’s finally a highbrow spot for you among the upper crust: “The Legend of Zelda™: Symphony of the Goddesses Tour” is making its exultant, geeked out way to Davies Symphony Hall this week.

It features two hours of the theme from that first game — originally created by legendary Nintendo composer Koji Kondo — and themes from subsequent games in the Zelda franchise, up through 2011’s Skyward Sword for Wii, in a complete four-movement symphony, orchestrated and arranged by Chad Seiter.

Back to lowbrow YouTube for a moment. This comment on Zelda perfectly sums it up: “There is only ONE tune,? ONE game that unites all other gamers together and defines who we are. Here we have the pinnacle version of that tune.” Hyperbolic? Certainly, but you get the point. People freak out about the music of Zelda.

The inspiration for this momentous high-low culture mashup sprang from the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise and a longtime gamer/producer. Jason Michael Paul had been producing video game-inspired concerts since the early Aughts, including “Dear Friends — Music from Final Fantasy” in 2004, and “Play! A Video Game Symphony” in 2006.

Nintendo, for its part, was planning some unique releases to coincide with both the anniversary and the Skyward Sword release — anniversary concerts and a symphonic CD.

Music director Seiter took the short motifs and expanded the themes for the orchestra. Throughout the symphony, video projections of Princess Zelda and Link flash behind the classical musicians, matching up with key orchestral moments and providing the full live Zelda experience. Fans should be jumping in their seats.

“THE LEGEND OF ZELDA™: SYMPHONY OF THE GODDESSES TOUR”

Weds/28, 8 p.m., $45–$125

Davies Symphony Hall

201 Van Ness , SF

www.zelda-symphony.com

www.sfwmpac.org

Sorting through scandal

22

news@sfbg.com

>>Read the Guardian Op-Ed by Eliana Lopez’s friend Myrna Melgar here.

On March 20, Mayor Ed Lee announced his decision to suspend and seek the removal of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, taking the city into complex and uncharted legal and political territory. He did so with little explanation in a statement lasting two minutes. Then he went and hid.

Over the past week, the mayor has refused to expound on the reasoning behind his decision, won’t answer questions from reporters, and has held no public events where he might face the news media.

But he’s set off the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb, forcing the supervisors to take on a no-win situation in an election year and leaving the City Attorney’s Office, the Ethics Commission, and Mirkarimi’s lawyers scrambling to figure out how this will all play out.

At issue is whether Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge — and his actions since the New Year’s Eve conflict with his wife, Eliana Lopez, that led to the three domestic violence charges that he originally faced — warrant his immediate removal from office without pay pending hearings that could take months. Mirkarimi, the mayor alleges, violated official misconduct standards written into the City Charter with little discussion in 1995, broad language that has yet to be interpreted by a court.

Mirkarimi and his new attorney, David Waggoner, responded March 27 by filing a court petition challenging that language — “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers” — as unconstitutionally vague and arguing Lee abused his mayoral discretion in suspending Mirkarimi and violated his due process rights by taking away his livelihood without a hearing. They are asking the court to order Mirkarimi’s reinstatement, or at least the restoration of his salary, until the long city process determines his fate.

“It makes it more difficult for the sheriff to fight these charges when he’s suspended without pay,” Waggoner told us.

To those who have been calling for Mirkarimi’s removal for the last few months, the case seems simple: Mirkarimi grabbed Lopez’s arm with enough force to leave a bruise, police and prosecutors got a video the neighbor made of the wife tearfully telling the story, and Mirkarimi tried to quell the controversy by calling it a “private matter” — infuriating anti-domestic-violence advocates who have spent decades trying to explain that DV is a crime, not a family issue. The sheriff ended up pleading guilty to a related charge.

That, many say, is plenty of reason to remove him from office: How can a top law-enforcement official do his job when he’s been convicted of a crime for which advocates say there should be zero tolerance? How can a man who runs the jails have any credibility when he’s pled guilty to false imprisonment?

“He has chosen not to resign and now I must act,” Lee said at a press conference he held shortly after the 24-hour deadline he gave Mirkarimi to resign or be removed.

But like everything in this politically fractured and passionate city, it’s a lot more complicated.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Lopez and her attorneys have consistently maintained that Mirkarimi was not abusive, that the video was created solely in case their deteriorating marriage devolved into a child custody battle, and that it was not an accurate description of what happened that day, suggesting the former Venezuelan soap opera star was telling a particular kind of story.

The Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle (“Mirkarimi’s argument with wife detailed,” March 25) have pieced together some of what happened. Sources say the couple argued in the car on the way to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria about whether Lopez would take their nearly three-year-old son, who was sitting in the backseat, with her to Venezuela.

The couple had been having marital problems and Mirkarimi, worried that she might not return or that their son could be kidnapped for ransom, got angry. As the argument escalated, Mirkarimi decided to take the family home. On the way, Mirkarimi told her that he had spoken to a lawyer and learned that she needed written permission from him to take their son out of the country and that he wouldn’t do so.

That made Lopez angry and she got out of the car and tried to unfasten their son to leave when Mirkarimi grabbed her right arm, leaving a bruise that was clear in the videotape but which wasn’t visible a week later when she wore a sleeveless dress to Mirkarimi’s swearing in ceremony for sheriff.

That’s the couple’s version of events, anyway. There are no witnesses who can verify or dispute it.

Lee never called Lopez or her attorney to hear this story before deciding to remove him from office. But in the official charges he filed against Mirkarimi, Lee alleges “acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife” and that he “restrained Ms. Lopez and violated her personal liberty,” plus unproven allegations that he was never charged with, including encouraging neighbors to destroy evidence, and of hurting morale in the Sheriff’s Department (based on a newspaper quote from a political opponent).

You don’t have to defend Mirkarimi’s conduct or belittle the serious crime of domestic violence — in fact, you don’t have to believe anything the sheriff or his wife have said — to ask a few basic questions. Is this extraordinary executive power warranted in this case? What harm would come from waiting for a recall election, the usual method of removing elected officials after a scandal? Why did Lee give Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign and did he offer anything as incentive (sources tell us he offered another city job)? Will he release the City Attorney’s Office advice memo, and if not, why?

The Guardian submitted those and many other questions to Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey, who said she would answer them by March 23, but then sent us this message at the end of that day before going on vacation: “After looking at your questions, it seems Mayor Lee addressed much of this in his comments on Tuesday. After Sheriff Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a crime of false imprisonment, Mayor Lee made a thorough review of the facts, reviewed his duties under the Charter and gave the Sheriff an opportunity to resign. When that did not happen, he moved to suspend the Sheriff.”

Very few progressives have stood up publicly and taken Mirkarimi’s side. One of them is Debra Walker, a longtime activist and city commissioner.

“This is about McCarthyism at this point, and not domestic violence,” Walker told us. “Instead of helping [Lopez], they have succeeded in breaking this family apart. It’s just bullying. It was always aimed at Ross stepping down and removing him as sheriff.”

THE LEGAL MESS

So what happens next? It is, to say the least, unclear.

The last time a public official was charged with misconduct was in the 1970s, when Joe Mazzola, an official with the Plumbers Union, was removed from the Airport Commission because he refused to order striking plumbers back to work. The state Court of Appeal later overturned that decision, ruling that “official misconduct” had to be narrowly construed to be conduct directly related to the performance of official duties (a case Waggoner relies on in his petition).

But the City Charter has changed since then, and now allows removal for the vague charge of “conduct that falls below the standard of decency and good faith and right action impliedly required by all public officers.” That phrase gives extraordinary power to the mayor — and, given some of the conduct we’ve seen at City Hall over the years, could have been used to remove a long list of city officials.

The Charter states that Mirkarimi, as the accused, will get a hearing before the Ethics Commission, and that he can be represented by counsel. It’s silent on the question of what form that hearing will take, what the rules of evidence will be, what witnesses will be allowed, and what rights the defendant will have.

Four of the five Ethics Commission members are practicing attorneys, and before they can call a hearing, they’ll have to hold a meeting to discuss the rules.

In the case of former Sup. Ed Jew, who was accused of falsifying his address, Ethics was prepared to take only written testimony (Jew resigned before any hearing, partially to deal with more serious federal charges of shaking down constituents for bribes). But that’s not a hard and fast rule — this time, the panel could decide to allow both sides to present witnesses.

If the commission decides to allow evidence, someone will have to rule on what evidence can be presented and what can’t. Will that be the commission chair, Benjamin Hur, or the commission as a whole?

The answer is: Nobody knows for sure. Hur told us he couldn’t comment on anything related to the case; the City Attorney’s Office won’t comment, either, since the office is representing both the mayor (on the prosecution side) and the supervisors and the Ethics Commission, and the board and the commission haven’t made any decisions on rules yet.

Then it gets even trickier. The Board of Supervisors has to vote on whether to remove the sheriff, and it takes nine votes to do that. So if three supervisors vote no, Mirkarimi is automatically back in office.

There are no rules in the Charter for how the board will proceed; in theory, the supervisors could simply accept the recommendation of the Ethics Commission and vote without any further hearings. They could rely on the record of the Ethics proceedings — or they could hold the equivalent of a second trial, with their own witnesses and procedures.

To add another layer of confusion, Mirkarimi, as sheriff, is classified under state law as a peace officer — and the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights sets entirely different standards for administrative and disciplinary hearings. Among other things, Mirkarimi could assert the right to have the Ethics Commission hearing closed to the public and the records sealed.

State law also mandates that a peace officer facing suspension without pay has the right to a hearing and adjudication within 90 days. That’s not in the City Charter; under the Charter, the city can wait as long as it wants to decide the issue.

Nobody knows for sure whether the Peace Officers Bill of Rights trumps the City Charter.

It’s clear that Mirkarimi, like anyone accused of a crime or facing an administrative hearing, has the right to due process — but not necessarily the same rights as he would have in a court proceeding. It’s also clear that the supervisors will be sitting in a quasi-judicial role — and thus can’t take into account anything that isn’t part of the official record of the case.

They probably can’t, for example, hold a public hearing on the issue — and judges in a case are theoretically supposed to ignore the hundreds of calls and emails that are now flooding in to the board offices on all sides.

The political implications are equally complex. Lee would have been in a dangerous situation if he declined to file charges — if Mirkarimi ever did anything else this disturbing, some would say it was Lee’s fault for leaving him in office.

It’s a safe bet that none of the supervisors are happy about having to vote on Mirkarimi’s job, but it’s particularly tough for the progressives. Anyone on the left who votes against removal will be subject to a barrage of attack ads — and since the balance of power on the board will be decided in November, when David Chiu, John Avalos, Eric Mar, David Campos, and Christina Olague, all more or less part of the progressive bloc, will all be up for re-election, the pressure on them will be immense.

That, in and of itself, ought to be reason for the sheriff to step down, some progressives say: Is preserving Mirkarimi in the Sheriff’s Office worth potentially destroying the progressive majority on the board? It’s a good question — and one that Lee’s advisors were well aware of, too.

50/50

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Strange how being “of a certain age” can bring so much uncertainty along with it. In the installment of Berlin-based choreographer Silke Z.’s “Just Between Us — The Generation Project” making its US premiere at CounterPULSE this weekend, two guys, at least, will move boldly forward into the middle ages.

A coproduction of Silke Z./resistdance and Jess Curtis/Gravity, Jess Meets Angus is a duet between San Francisco’s Jess Curtis and renowned Scottish choreographer Angus Balbernie, both accomplished artists now in their 50s (Curtis just barely), meeting on stage over the subject of being men and dancers in maturing bodies.

“We’re the 50-year-old guys in this larger concept that now has six generations of duets,” explains Curtis via Skype from UC Davis, where he is completing a doctorate in performance studies. (Following the CounterPULSE shows, Jess Meets Angus will have performances in Davis as well.) Silke Z. had begun the project with an encounter between two 30-somethings named Felix, hence titled Felix Meets Felix, which Curtis saw in Berlin (where he’s divided his time for over a decade now).

In asking Curtis and Balbernie — the latter her own teacher at Dartington College of Arts; he was also the bridgehead for Steve Paxton and the spread of contact improvisation in Europe in the 1970s–80s — Silke Z. is also bringing together two related but distinct traditions of postmodern dance. But the piece, which has already premiered in Germany and Lithuania with more stops ahead in Montreal and Poland, is designed to speak readily to a general audience, through text and movement, about a universal theme.

That said, traveling with the show has brought to light a sense of the social, cultural, and environmental specificity in concepts and experiences of aging. Curtis says the piece surprised, not to say freaked out people in Lithuania, for instance. One audience member explained to him that there, where the health of the male population as a whole is poorer, men in their 50s are generally “about to die,” not merely midway through life. The forthcoming dialogue from the stage was also a shock.

“The fact that we said anything about our personal lives — they didn’t even know what to do with that. I felt that people were really excited about [the work], but it is such a different vision of maleness, it’s a little confusing and challenging.”

Even Curtis admits putting himself onstage to discuss aging wasn’t entirely easy. “I had some little bits of resistance,” he says. “When I began working on the piece I was still 49, and Silke kept calling it ‘the 50-year-old guys,’ and I was like, ‘Look, I’m not 50 yet. We can call it guys around 50, or something.’ I don’t want to be rushed into that. But otherwise it made sense to me. It’s some of the first performing that I’ve done in a while. That was kind of relaxing.”

He adds, “In terms of the material, it felt quite interesting to engage with. I was simultaneously working on Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies [which premiered locally at YBCA in February 2011], so there was [connection with] those issues: yeah, this is the body I have. What are the stories in it? My father was also ill, and I was watching him age and watching things getting [physically] more difficult for him. Some of that poignancy was there too, as I was asking, ‘OK, what is the dance to make right now?'”

The honesty in the process does not necessarily imply literal truth in the text, cautions Curtis. “Yes, there’s a big autobiographical dimension, but not everything is true. We’re Jess and Angus and we mine a lot of our histories. But there were things that came up as we were improvising and trading back and forth that kind of stretched; that worked theatrically and are a deeper truth, but are not necessarily facts about our lives.”

As for how much he and Balbernie discovered they had in common when it came to the theme, Curtis is intriguingly vague: “Enough similarity and enough difference to be interesting.”

JESS MEETS ANGUS

Thurs/29-Sun/1, 8 p.m., $15-$20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

www.counterpulse.org

 

Lost at sea

3

cheryl@sfbg.com

AMERICA’S CUP Clear your mind, if you can, of brawls over San Francisco piers and other obscenely expensive parcels of waterfront real estate. Focus solely on the inevitability of the 34th annual America’s Cup.

Summer 2013, it’ll rip into town, offering self-described “adrenaline sailing at its best” to jet-setting yachting enthusiasts. In 2010, the 33rd contest was won in Spanish waters by Oracle Racing, headed up by billionaire Larry Ellison. In 2013, Ellison plans to defend his trophy as the competition (ironically, dealing with its own financial struggles; the San Francisco Business Times reported March 23 that America’s Cup officials laid off half their staff) makes its San Francisco Bay debut.

Of course, average San Franciscans — often found ransacking their couch cushions to scare up burrito funds — couldn’t give a rat’s ass about an event blatantly catering to the one percent. But they should, and here’s why: unless we want to see all those Top-Siders stride directly to wine country after each day of racing concludes, we need to give the visitors (estimates vary on the numbers: 10,000? 200,000?) a reason to hang out in SF, visit its neighborhoods, and spend money locally.

One idea: organize an arts festival with programming complementary to the America’s Cup races. Such an event would potentially offer a huge boost to the local arts scene.

The most passionate supporter of an America’s Cup arts festival has got to be Andrew Wood, executive director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Last fall, he announced the 2013 SFIAF would shift its dates from May, when it usually takes place, to July through September. That way, SFIAF could coincide with the race — and be a component in what he envisions as a much larger, citywide event.

“We first contacted the America’s Cup about including an arts component before they even confirmed San Francisco as the venue,” Wood remembers. “They’ve never really had a strong arts component to the America’s Cup before, but they’ve never tried to do anything like they’re trying to do here.”

He’s referring to this particular race’s unique appeal for “a land-based audience.” Geographically speaking, some America’s Cup races are viewable only to television audiences and anyone who happens to have a boat hanging out within sight of the course; the San Francisco Bay obviously offers far more viewing opportunities for landlubbers.

“If you do either of the two largest sporting events in the world — the Olympics and the World Cup — an arts festival is mandatory. You can’t even bid on the Olympics unless you have a festival that’s going to run alongside it,” Wood explains. “[The event will then] appeal to more people. People will stay in the locale longer and spend more money — [especially important for] the America’s Cup, where there’s only racing for an hour a day.”

Money is always a factor when planning for an arts festival of any size, particularly something large enough to entertain 200,000-ish people.

“We can raise a lot of our own money, but what we need is some type of agreement that says we can go out and raise it as the name ‘America’s Cup’,” Wood says, noting that he’s already broached the subject of fundraising with some of the consulates representing countries with boats entered in the race. He’d like to bring artists from all of the participating countries (so far: Italy, Spain, France, South Korea, New Zealand, China, and Sweden) to San Francisco to perform alongside Bay Area arts groups. His grand vision includes theme weeks for each country revolving around the various holidays that happen to fall within the race dates — for example, France’s Bastille Day, July 14.

 

AN IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?

Wood was optimistic after his first meeting with Mark Bullingham, then the America’s Cup director of marketing, in April 2011.

“Then I jumped into SFIAF in May,” Wood remembers. “When I came back in June or July, he’d resigned. We were never able to get traction with the America’s Cup after that.”

As time for fundraising grows short — and the America’s Cup deal shrinks and evolves as development plans are tinkered with; the latest incarnation was presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors March 27 — Wood holds out hope that an arts festival will be included in the deal. A little bit of hope.

“If they let the deal be signed without including an arts component — or even just mentioning ‘Well, we’ll have a future conversation around this’ — then Larry Ellison can do what he wants. Oracle can have some entertainment if they wish, or they can cut the entertainment if they wish,” he says. “The way the actual America’s Cup legislation is written at the moment, the city is going to let the America’s Cup Event Authority escape without having to commit to any type of arts program whatsoever.”

From the city’s point of view, that’s not entirely true. San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development acknowledged the importance of having an arts component in a memo titled “America’s Cup Neighborhood Engagement Strategy” presented to the Board of Supervisors February 22, 2012 — though so far, that’s been the only official word on the subject.

“We’re still trying to get our approvals here so we haven’t really moved much beyond [what’s in the memo],” says the OEWD’s Jane Sullivan, Communications Director for the America’s Cup project. “I think what we in the mayor’s office are concentrating on is trying to make sure the economic benefits spread across the city, and probably using the neighborhoods as a focus of how to do that. But certainly that would include the arts component in the neighborhoods and maybe beyond.”

One promising idea outlined in the memo is to use a smart phone app to help alert visitors to neighborhood activities, including arts events.

“There’s an app that exists right now called Sfarts.org that is a project between the [San Francisco] Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts,” Sullivan explains, noting that working with the San Francisco Travel Association would be a way to market the app to visitors.

Though discussions are “ongoing,” Sullivan says the city is focused on “coordination and promotion, and then helping to develop or further develop a robust technology platform to support that.”

When asked if she thinks an official, large-scale arts festival would make its way into the America’s Cup deal, she’s straightforward: “I do not think that’s going to happen.”

 

X GAMES 2.0

Tony Kelly — facilities manager at Bindlestiff Studio, and a longtime participant in San Francisco’s arts and political scenes — believes that arts events are “the only way to save the America’s Cup” in terms of reaping any of the event’s promised neighborhood economic impact.

“It’s not just having arts events, it’s putting them in places to draw people to the neighborhoods,” he says. “If people go to the races in the afternoon, then you draw them out into the neighborhoods for arts events in the evening, then they actually stay in the city longer. They go to restaurants, bars, hotels, and merchants.”

However, he cautions, “If you think this many people are showing up, you better have things for them to do. If you don’t think this many people are showing up, you better create things so that people do show up. Either way.”

He’s concerned about the city’s strategy of promoting existing arts events without offering additional support to arts groups.

“If the city pretends that we have this ongoing international arts festival any weekend of the year, and therefore we’ll just promote what we already have, and that’ll be our festival during the America’s Cup, that essentially works as a budget cut,” Kelly says. “There’s a certain amount of funding that dribbles down to the arts right now. It is what it is. And then they’re like, ‘We’re gonna add this whole other thing, and we hope you guys can add capacity to handle this stuff, because here come all these people. But no, we’re not going to support it at all.’ That’s a classic unfunded mandate. ‘Oh, you can take this on too.'”

Kelly, Wood, and other members of the arts community have brainstormed a hypothetical list of festival events: an America’s Cup-themed parade, allowing Sunday Streets on Market Street throughout the weeks of racing, outdoor musical performances, an art walk along the Embarcadero, and more, tapping into publicly-owned venues around the city. A sample budget was also drafted.

“It is definitely an example of what could be done fairly quickly and efficiently in this year’s budget, if anyone at City Hall chose to do so,” Kelly says.

Unsurprisingly, Wood shares Kelly’s frustration with the city’s let’s-promote-what’s-in-place plan. “San Francisco has this enormous arts infrastructure that it isn’t using properly,” he says. “Why not hotwire the system to create a program of events that would also complement [arts events which are] already going on? There’s been no real effort to try and corral what’s going on and figure out how it fits together, so that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

Kelly remains skeptical that the America’s Cup will even draw the promised crowds; he suspects its actual impact on the city will more resemble the X Games — which San Francisco hosted in 1999 and 2000 — than an event “as big as multiple Super Bowls.”

He also views the city’s reluctance to support an arts festival as part of a larger, long-standing problem.

“San Francisco is this great, hip, fun, creative city — why is that? It’s because of the artists. But housing prices keep going up, so more artists have to leave,” he says. “However, when there’s an event that’s counting on us to actually deliver this stuff to the neighborhoods, there’s no support for it. Push is coming to shove and has for a number of years now, and this is just one more obvious, obvious example of it.”

Barbed wire love

0

TRASH In 1968, Pretty Poison, which plays the Castro Theatre this Thursday in a new 35mm print, arrived a bit early. The next year Easy Rider would suddenly make young American directors seem like “the future” of an industry then hobbling on the same now-arthritic legs that had supported its Golden Age decades earlier. By 1970 and for several years afterward small, idiosyncratic, independent (both within and outside studio funding) films would flourish, in number and frequent quality if not commercially.

But 1968 was the year of Belle de Jour, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary’s Baby, Petulia, two Ingmar Bergmans, and three Jean-Luc Godards — all “foreign films” in fact or stance. Stage or TV-trained not-quite-newbies like Arthur Penn or Mike Nichols aside, the perception was that U.S. cinema needed new voices yet unfound.

Certainly 20th Century Fox had no great expectations from Poison, which seemed eminently disposable: A small-town thriller with medium-watt stars, a first-time director (Noel Black had only done Skaterdater, a prize-winning ’65 short about suburban boarders), and a TV scenarist (Lorenzo Semple Jr., just off the Batman series). Expecting to dump it into drive-ins and second run houses, they opened in one New York City theater without a press screening, then were taken aback when Pauline Kael and Newsweek sought it out and praised it to the skies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJovJY-1f8c

We first meet Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) being released from a lockup institution of some sort, his probation officer advising him to stay in touch and keep his “fantasies” in check. Relocating to a sleepy mill town for drone work at a chemical plant, Dennis quickly abandons both those principles. He’s convinced he’s under surveillance, because he’s onto a conspiracy to poison the water supply. Or is that absurd intrigue just a ruse to beguile the high school honor student he’s ogled on the football field in her miniskirt?

Sue Ann Stepenek (Tuesday Weld) is the golden all-American ingénue in Blondie’s “Sunday Girl:” “cold as ice cream but still as sweet.” She responds to Dennis’ crazy overtures with Girl Scout enthusiasm; looking for adventure, she’s willing to play along with his secret-agent delusions. It takes us a while to realize what’s really happening — that Dennis is not the bigger freak here. When we meet Sue Ann’s hectoring single mother (Beverly Garland), we begin to glean she might be using the older man to get out of her own domestic lockup. Later it occurs that she is Mother Version 2.0, with twice the chrome and venom. Weld doesn’t channel deception as most actors might — her Sue Ann doesn’t let us see the act’s seams any more than Dennis does. The depth of her performance is only revealed in a full-circle tag scene at that unlikely hub for criminal genius, the hot dog stand.

Weld was supposed to be our great actress of the 1970s, but that didn’t happen. Was the teen-pinup image impossible for audiences to overcome? Was she too “difficult”? Was she just not that interested? A few roles like this one make her career seem tragically under-realized. Director Black’s, not so much — the two movies he made (1970’s Cover Me Babe, 1971’s Jennifer On My Mind) on Poison‘s promise were nadirs of New Hollywood flailing that sentenced him to TV work and B genre flicks. But for a moment, Pretty Poison made it seem like anything was possible for them both.

PRETTY POISON

Thurs/29, 7 p.m., $7.50-$10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.castrotheatre.com