Volume 46 Number 31

Cartoonist confidential


VISUAL ART Daniel Clowes draws eyes that are eerily human. Dotting the pages of his well-regarded graphic novels, they are by turns embittered, despairing, and vulnerable. So it’s fitting that the Clowes’ first major retrospective is at the Oakland Museum of California. Oakland is an underdog city, and Clowes — a longtime resident — champions underdogs.

After its Bay Area run, the exhibition will go on to major cities in the U.S. and Europe. It spans his career to date, with panels from Ghost World and Wilson, as well as work for the New York Times and the New Yorker. A book, The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, was recently published in conjunction with the show, and is already in reprint.

I recently spoke with Clowes about the dream-like experience of seeing his subconscious from 20 feet away.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Comic book art goes through cycles of popularity. Where do you think we’re at right now?

Daniel Clowes It’s always like I’m at the eye of the hurricane. I can’t see what the zeitgeist is in terms of how comics are being taken by the public, you know? The feeling that people are going to inherently dismiss comics because they’re comics seems to be evaporating. People who 20 years ago would have nothing but disdain or horror if you told them that you drew comics are now sort of interested and see that as a viable means of expression. But I can’t tell if we’re in a bubble and it’s all going to disappear, or if it’s just going to get bigger.

SFBG Do you experience your own art differently at the museum?

DC I never see my artwork from a distance. The farthest I can get from my artwork in my studio is like 10 feet at the most, and I wouldn’t even do that. And so to see it on a wall, you see it in a very different way. You see the way it works compositionally. It’s just an abstract grouping of black shapes on a page. If I were intending work to go on a wall, I would do it very differently: it would be all about making those black shapes appealing from 20 feet away. And now it’s just sort of luck if that happens or not. It doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to do.

SFBG The panels get larger as you progress through the show from the early work to the later work. They seemed more dense with subtext but with fewer lines.

DC That’s something I’m working toward. A certain kind of efficiency. I feel like any extra line distracts from the reading of a comic. I really want the reader to feel immersed in the story. I think the reason why the artwork got bigger over the years is, when I started, I couldn’t afford the paper. I had to try to squeeze like four pages onto one big sheet of paper. Also I used to have to send my artwork to the publisher — this was all before scanning. And so, if the artwork was really big it would cost a lot more money to send and it would get bent in half in the mail.

SFBG What’s the process you go through when you draw the eyes of your characters?

DC That’s always the last thing I do on a drawing. I leave the eyes blank. And people have come over and seen my work on the drawing board and found it very disconcerting and very weird that there are these faces with no eyes. But [the eyes are] the key to the drawing. That’s by far the most important part. And the eyes have to show some humanity behind them — even if they’re very simple circles. That’s how you can tell if a character is alive or not. It’s not something you can consciously do. I don’t really know what the secret to that is, except you have to sort of believe that they’re alive.

SFBG How do you feel about having your work preserved in a museum?

DC I think of the museum iteration of this work as being a temporary thing. I don’t see that as being where this work would end up. I would hope that [in the distant future] it would end up in book form, that people [will] still knew how to manipulate the pages of books and read them.

SFBG Has anything about the show surprised you?

DC Walking into that room was a strange experience. I really felt claustrophobic, like I was trapped in my own brain somehow. It was very dream-like. Last week was the most dream-like week I’ve had. Right after I went to the opening the other night, I came home and my son and I were out on our porch and we saw a car going 90 miles an hour. It hit the median right in front of the house, flew through the air, turned upside-down, and landed on its roof. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. And then, miraculously — there were little kids [inside], and [they] crawled out of this broken car. The next day I was like, was all that a dream? I was in a room with all my artwork and then I saw a car fly through the air. It was just so odd.

SFBG It was the same week as that thunderstorm.

DC Yes, it was all that stuff. It was very surreal. *


Through Aug. 12

Oakland Museum of California

1000 Oak, Oakl.

(510) 318-8400


I’m not there


THEATER Political borders have their way with the bodies of ordinary people, but ideas are harder to stop at an airport or checkpoint. So when Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour found himself unable to leave Iran (having demurred from mandatory military service, the state demurred in providing him a passport), he decided to send on a play that would stand in for him, and maybe stand for something more.

A group of local theater and performance artists have gamely joined in the endeavor, as yet unsure of exactly what they’re taking on. Such is the design of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit — which premieres this week as one of several tantalizing international theater productions at this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival — that a different artist will deliver a completely unrehearsed performance of the play each night over the course of the run.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a humorously sly piece of meta-theater, half allegory and half action, meant to incite a spontaneous collaboration between performer and audience without need of a director or a set, let alone rehearsals. Audiences wary of so cavalier a lack of structure, however, will be reassured by a lineup that includes many astute local artists of a decidedly political bent, among them San Francisco Mime Troupe’s Velina Brown and Michael Gene Sullivan, self-titled Red Diaper Baby Josh Kornbluth, performer-choreographer Keith Hennessy, and Campo Santo’s Sean San José.

Soleimanpour, who comes from a literary family, originally studied theater in school and now teaches scenic design at Tehran University. Born in 1981, he is part of a generation that has grown up since the 1978–79 revolution that put clerical authority in power. Soleimanpour expressed to me his delight with the Bay Area premiere and gave some insight into the genesis and purpose of his unusual play in a recent email exchange.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Where did the play first premiere outside Iran and how was it received? How did you receive news of its reception?

Nassim Soleimanpour A very early version of Rabbit was performed in New York. In March 2011, the Brick Theater [in Brooklyn] sponsored an Iranian Theater Festival that included it. The new version of the play premiered simultaneously at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Toronto SummerWorks Theatre Festival on August 5, 2011. Winning awards in both festivals was a good start in marketing the show. Our spreadsheet for next year shows productions in more than 20 cities and 15 counties in more than seven languages. We are getting used to performing simultaneously in different countries and languages.

I was lucky to receive thousands of touching emails from my audiences, actors, and producers. People send me photos of the show or report to me what has happened in my absence. I also read reviews.

SFBG What makes theater compelling to you as an artist?

NS To me theater is/was never a way to represent my understanding of things. Instead, it is/was the best way to understand. I guess I will continue making theater as long as I have questions, or as long as I don’t find a better way to look for answers in my life.

SFBG Audiences here are more likely to be familiar with Iranian cinema, which travels widely. Is there much connection between the stage and film in Iran/Tehran today?

NS Sort of, but we have to remember that cinema can easily travel to different worlds. Even ordinary people know most cinema actors and directors in Iran. Theater cannot travel that easily. We rarely see well-made domestic or international theater productions in Iran. We don’t have nonprofit theater companies in Iran. We don’t have national theater in Iran.

SFBG Do you know any of the people involved with the San Francisco production?

NS I never contact my performers before their performance. That’s a rule. The play asks them not even to see the show or read about the play beforehand. Local producers who have been in contact with play rights holders invite actors to read the play. It’s always fun for me to check the list of actors who are going to perform the show. Sometimes actors write me emails. It’s the same story in SF. I have just seen the names and read about them. I wish them all success. And I hope they enjoy their performance. *


May 2-20, free-$70

Various venues, SF



Star search



MUSIC Singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero’s album On a Day Like This garnered tons of praise and cemented her status as SF’s flower-adorned local celebrity. As a TED fellow and the Red Poppy Art House’s former artistic director, Hadero also established an ability to cross-pollinate her far-reaching talents.

But with her latest project, Copperwire (www.copperwiremusic.com), it now appears that the chanteuse is ready to cross into music’s final frontier. Copperwire’s music tells stories about connection and distance through cosmic metaphors. The group just released its debut album Earthbound and is currently bringing its hip-hop space opera to life-forms across the country.

[You can have a listen to exerpts from the album and more from Hadero on the creative process here.]

SFBG: What is Copperwire?

MEKLIT HADERO: Copperwire is myself and two Ethiopian-American emcees, Gabriel Teodros and Burntface. The whole project started with a song called “Phone Home.” We were sitting on a couch and we just looked at each other and suddenly put our index fingers out, and when they touched we all said “phone home.” We were like wait a minute, because ET also stands for Ethiopia. It started from that spark, and we ended up writing the song in two to three hours.

SFBG: From there you decided to make a full-length album?

MH: Well, we didn’t want to just make a record. We wanted to tell a story in a way that felt relevant and fresh to all of us. Earthbound uses metaphors of intergalactic distances to talk about diaspora and cultural connection and disconnection.

Last December I became a member of the SF Amateur Astronomers. I was hosting the deYoung’s Van Gogh Starry Night event and the Amateur Astronomers were around the pond outside. They had about nine or 10 different telescopes that you could look through. I saw the moon, but I also saw Jupiter and four of its moons. It was an incredibly impactful moment for me, especially since I’d been thinking about the reality of these distances that we talk about.

Gabriel had been reading a book by Neti Okorafor, who’s a Nigerian science fiction writer who wrote a book about the Sudan in the future. And all three of us are total science fiction buffs. I love Star Trek.

SFBG: You’re a Trekkie?

MH: The Next Generation… TNG, that’s my era. Yes, I know that I’m revealing my inner dorkiness. Anyway we’d been talking about making a record together for years, and after being in Ethiopia together we were just like it’s time. Crossing that distance while these metaphors were churning kind of came out in the story.

SFBG: Do you relate Copperwire to intergalactic ’70s acts like Funkadelic?

MH: Definitely. It’s also in the line of Outkast, Janelle Monae, David Bowie. It definitely feels like it’s in an intergalactic lineage.

SFBG: Tell me about the star sounds that factor into Earthbound.

MH: While we were recording I saw a posting by one of my fellow TED fellows about an installation in the Bavarian forest that had been done with star sounds. I sent her an email asking “What are these star sounds and how can I get some?” We figured out how to use them in our beats using a program called the isotope spectrum, and used the star sounds in combination with a whole bunch of instruments.

SFBG: What about the star guitar?

MH: The idea for the star guitar came after we’d stopped recording and I’d been wanting to figure out how to do it live. Jon Jenkins from NASA’s Keppler Mission made the star sounds based on their oscillations of light. You can say I want 50 percent star and 50 percent guitar, or you can say I want 30 percent star and 70 percent guitar. You can also hybridize just the highs or just the lows. I’m still experimenting. There are a bunch of different sounds, but I’ve chosen a few that I particularly like.

SFBG: How many different stars are you working with?

MH: Right now I’m working with two stars.

SFBG: Do you know their names?

MH: I don’t and I don’t know where they are, that’s one thing I want to talk with Jon about. But he’s also posting a whole host of new star sounds so I’ll have a lot more to choose from pretty soon. *


With Bocafloja

Sat/5, 9pm, $12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011


A seat in Congress for the 99 percent


For the first time in two decades, voters north of the Golden Gate will choose a new member of Congress. Given the overwhelming party registration, a Democrat will fill the open seat. But what kind of Democrat?

We need a truly independent, progressive Democrat — determined to support the party leadership when it upholds our principles, and just as willing to challenge when it doesn’t.

We can’t defeat a heartless Republican agenda by being spineless. Rather than letting the reactionary GOP define “national security” or “fiscal responsibility,” we’ve got to stand tall for our core beliefs.

That’s why I’m running for Congress.

The retirement of Lynn Woolsey, a stalwart champion for peace and social justice, means that an open seat is up for grabs — and corporate interests are eager to grab it.

I’m convinced that the only way to beat corporate AstroTurf is genuine grassroots. And that’s the ongoing commitment of the Solomon for Congress campaign in this new North Coast district, which stretches from Marin County to the Oregon border.

Our campaign has become the grassroots leader in the race. While refusing to accept a penny from corporate PACs or lobbyists, we’ve relied on thousands of individuals to build our campaign from the ground up.

That’s why more than 1,000 volunteers are engaged in our campaign, why more than 5,100 individuals have contributed — and why the latest poll shows me on track to advance to the general election under California’s new top-two primary system.

This is a deep-blue, very progressive district. We can — and must — do much better than just sending a check-the-box Democrat to Washington.

Like so many in our district, I’m outraged at perpetual war and misplaced federal priorities that bail out Wall Street banks while pushing millions of homeowners into foreclosure.

I insist that we must fully uphold habeas corpus and other precious civil liberties, not throw them under the bus.

Nuclear power plants, including Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, must be closed. We can’t afford a wait-and-see approach. Nuclear energy isn’t safe or green; it’s not sustainable, and its radioactive waste is not an acceptable legacy for future generations.

We need a serious commitment to conservation and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

And we must reject the austerity program that has wrecked budgets and ripped vast holes in safety nets from Sacramento to Washington.

We need a Green New Deal that combines job-creating public investment with a deep commitment to sustainability — while defending the ecosystem instead of big corporations.

North of San Francisco, with an open congressional seat at stake, wealthy interests have put big money on my main opponents.

While I’m outpolling her, multimillionaire Stacey Lawson is dumping huge quantities of money into TV and radio commercials touting her “middle class” values — while declining to mention her enormous wealth, much less the fact that she couldn’t be bothered to vote in two-thirds of a dozen elections.

The elections when Lawson failed to vote included the historic November 2008 contest that decided on the presidency and the anti-gay-marriage Prop 8 as well as a state measure seeking to undermine young women’s right to choose — requiring parental consent, waiting periods and penalties for doctors.

Genuine social change requires fighting for our ideals. Please help me occupy a seat in Congress for the 99 percent. Let’s work together to make it happen. *


Norman Solomon is a candidate for Congress in the new North Coast district that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. A longtime activist, educator and policy advocate, he’s the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” For more information: www.SolomonForCongress.com.

Big trouble in old China



LIT It was a cold, windy January morning in 1937 when a horrifically mutilated body was found sprawled at the base of a rumored-to-be-haunted watchtower in what was then called Peking.

Intrigued yet? Paul French’s Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China (Penguin Books, 260 pp., $26) reads like a mystery thriller, with its dramatic cast of characters (a Chinese-British detective team, a cranky old father with something to prove, a budding beauty filled with secrets, and multiple sinister figures with shadowy pasts) and exotic setting (Peking’s fusty, foreigners-only Legation Quarter — and utterly lawless Badlands district — on the eve of China’s occupation by Japan).

As he wrote Midnight, the Shanghai-based Brit was able to solve the long-cold case — or at least present a rather convincing theory about who killed 19-year-old Pamela Werner. Satisfying closure in a true-crime book about an unsolved murder? Read it and weep, Black Dahlia obsessives. I caught up with French amid his tour to promote Midnight‘s American release.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How did you research what it would have been like to live in 1937 Peking?

Paul French There are quite a lot of both Chinese and foreign memoirs — all of the diplomats, and a lot of the journalists, scholars, and missionaries wrote them. People wrote travel guides. There’s a lot of Chinese literature from that time, too.

SFBG Was the story of Pamela’s murder mentioned in one of the memoirs?

PF I was reading a biography of [journalist] Edgar Snow, which was very dry and boring. The first time I saw the Pamela story was in a little footnote: “and then this girl was murdered, and there was a British detective who worked with a Chinese detective.” There was a whiff of opium, and a bit of sex floating around it, and scandal, and I just thought, “Wow! That sounds really interesting.”

SFBG Was it difficult to dig up more information?

PF At first, I was able to dive in and get all the newspaper reports and the autopsy. I was doing quite well. Then I sort of hit a wall, and thought, “This is all I’m gonna get. I’m going to write a book, but it’s not really going to have an ending. It’ll just be lots of atmosphere, hopefully, and at the end I’ll just say, murders don’t always get solved.” Right on the brink of this collapse of civilization to barbarism, this one girl briefly becomes a kind of symbol of the horrors that China’s about to go into.

So I thought I’d get away with that. But I was in the National Archives in London, and that’s when I completely stumbled across these 150 pages of evidence that Pamela’s father [a former diplomat named E.T.C. Werner] had put together for his own investigation. It had been filed and forgotten for 75 years.

At that moment, the project moved to a whole other level. I looked through everything, and — of course the official line is that I solved the crime, but the truth is, her father really solved it. I compared [his findings] with what the police knew at the time, what the newspapers reported at the time, and the autopsy, and I managed to find four or five people still alive who knew Pamela.

When you cross-reference all of that, I think that it stacks up, which is why I footnoted the back of the book. If people want to have a look at the documents themselves, they’re more than welcome to. And since the book came out — it came out in Australia and Asia first — I have had a few people come to me with new bits of information that sort of confirm what Pamela’s father discovered. Werner was cold, unemotional, and wrapped up in his scholarship; he didn’t pay enough attention to Pamela [while she was alive]. But in the end, he dedicated his whole life, all of his money, and all of his health, to try and track down some kind of justice for her. I came to admire him in the end. *


May 9, 7 pm, free

Books Inc.

1760 Fourth St., Berk.

(510) 525-7777


May 10, 7pm, free

Book Passage

51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera

(415) 927-0960


The Katz correlations



CHEAP EATS Bagels aren’t my favorite thing. Maybe you’ve noticed. I haven’t new-favorite-restauranted a lot of bagel places, if any, through the years. But then one day I was on my way to BART, very much in need of caffeination, and Cafe Petra was, to my surprise, all boarded up.

So the next possibility was Katz Bagels, around the corner on 16th Street. I stood outside, looking in, but had a hard time pulling the trigger. You know how it is, sometimes, when you are too uncaffeinated to make a decision — even a no-brainer, like whether or not to get a cup of coffee. Or pull the trigger.

Trouble was, I needed a bite, too, and bagels are not my thing. I mean, given butter and jam, or lox, or cheese, I like bagels fine. It’s just: If I am totally honest with myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive them for not being donuts.

But I was standing there trying to decide if now was the time to try, when a happyish fellow came caffeining out, noted my attitude of indecision and said, “They’re good. Good bagels.”

So, OK. Went in. And then was faced with a whole new problem: what to get.

What I really want (if I can’t have donuts), is a cinnamon-raisin bagel, or blueberry one, with butter and/or bacon all over it. But I’m too ashamed to order it because, what will the Jews think?

San Francisco is not New York. Go ahead, little hippie, and have your toasted cinnamon-raisin swirl, or your blueberry bonnet with bows of bacon, you rube.

I couldn’t. I can’t. Stop taunting me, me!

This sounded good: the number three sandwich on the menu board — egg with spinach, tomato, onion, and Swiss cheese. Yeah, I could do that, and live with myself, for breakfast. Probably.

And coffee.

“Small coffee,” I said, because it was my turn. And I still didn’t know. So I said small coffee real slow.

“And a sesame seed bagel,” I said, “with eggs,” I said, “spinach,” I said, “hmm, tomato, onion, and . . . yeah, Swiss.”

“Number 3?” the woman said.

“Yeah. A Number 3,” I said, “would be another way of looking at it.”

She laughed, hurried to get me my coffee, and from that point on whenever she looked at me she laughed again. I had made a friend behind the counter! Which helps, where bagels are concerned. Because now, I’m thinking, I can probably go in there any time and order my bagel with ham, pineapple, and sprinkles on top. It doesn’t matter. She’s going to laugh at me anyway. With me.

For coffee, they serve Rodger’s individually dripped brews. No idea who Rodger is, but I do like his work. One sip, sitting at the end of the counter there, and my head cleared all up.

But I still didn’t know why Petra was closed. Or when. I had taken it for a neighborhood mainstay. Not that I ever went there. I mean, I did, for meeting people, when I used to date, because — even though it was only a block and a bit from my place — I never saw anyone I knew in there. Unlike, say, Java Supreme.

Petra was a nice place to sit. A nice place to, you know, get to know someone, A little. Without any fear whatsoever that Earl Butter would show up with a wooden tennis racket and/or Tupperware.

Wow, maybe my dating days coming to an abrupt end, thanks to Hedgehog, contributed to the downfall of the second-closest coffeehouse to my house, I thought, while waiting for my bagel at Katz’s. And I didn’t care what he was carrying, if Earl Butter came in here, I thought, I would buy him a bagel. Now that I am “in” with the counter woman.

Then I had another sip of Rodger, bless him.

My bagel came, and required salt and pepper, but was otherwise what else the doctor ordered. Delicious. Nutritious. There . . .

My new favorite restaurant is Katz. It’s just a nice, comfy bagel bar, with good bagels. Great coffee. A fine place to stop, on your way to BART, and think stupid things.


Mon.-Fri. 6:30am-1pm; Sat.-Sun. 7am-2pm.

3147 16th St., SF.

(415) 552-9050

Cash only

No alcohol 


This is your brain on Zulawski



FILM To the extent he’s known at all, Polish director Andrzej Zulawski is known in the U.S. for the only movie of his that’s gotten any real exposure here: Possession, a scandalous 1981 Cannes prize-winner considered to have some commercial potential due to its “horror” elements, including a creature designed by FX master Carlo Rambaldi. Its American distributor cut the film from 127 to 80 minutes, radical surgery turning an already logic-defying narrative into a complete madhouse abstraction with its own considerable charms — though don’t tell that to Zulawski, who hated the truncated results.

Thrown into 1983 grindhouse bills, this version flummoxed mainstream horror fans (too arty) and critics (too distasteful), but earned a cult following eventually surprised to learn there was a very different, longer, at-least somewhat-coherent Possession also in existence. One making it clear that for all its bloody, fantastical, even mystical flights, this movie was what Zulawski claimed all along: a portrait of a marriage in painful dissolution, with Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill standing in for the director and his first wife (Polish actress Malgorzata Braunek). Even if dramatizing that relationship’s collapse somehow required such metaphorical leaps as Adjani keeping dismembered body parts in her refrigerator and being fucked (happily!) by a tentacled slime monster.

Repaying endless viewings (bonus: after a few you can actually decipher Adjani’s impenetrably accented English), brilliantly acted, and oddly touching despite its myriad outrages, Possession is like nothing else — except, that is, the director’s other films. Five will be shown in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series “From A Whisper to a Scream: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski” this week and next. Watching more than one in close proximity may be hazardous to your mental health, but what the hell.

Now apparently retired at 71, Zulawski was born in Lvov, educated all over Europe thanks to his intellectual family’s diplomatic ties, and assisted Andrzej Wajda on several 1960s films. His first feature, The Third Part of the Night (1971), set the precedent: it was as fevered as its hero, already fragile when the senseless murder of his wife (Braunek) and child by Nazi occupiers turns him into a dervish of frantic motion and impulse. Is he mad? Hallucinating? Already dead? “You behave like the wind,” a friend tells him, a judgment applicable to almost any Zulawski feature or character. This debut won acclaim, but was warily viewed by the Polish government. His next, 1972’s The Devil, an even more berserk Pilgrim’s Progress through war-torn 18th century Poland, was banned outright.


Zulawski responded by moving to France, where 1975’s The Most Important Thing: Love, a heated cry against (and of) present-day orgiastic perversity — “Force yourself to look at what revolts you the most,” as one participant puts it — was a success. As a result, Polish authorities invited him back to adapt a great-uncle’s literary sci-fi epic. An allegorical tale of Earth’s civilization grotesquely recreated on another planet, On the Silver Globe was two years into production and 80 percent shot in 1977 when the same authorities shut it down, destroying sets and costumes for good measure. A decade later, Zulawski turned the striking extant footage into both a semi-realized spectacular and a chronicle of its own undoing — 166 minutes’ auto archaeology.

These films are screening at YBCA, though unfortunately the director’s eight French ventures (apart from French-German co-production Possession, showing in an uncut, new 35mm print) were unavailable for inclusion. Most starring subsequent on and off-screen partner Sophie Marceau, they range from 1985’s astonishing Parisian-gangster Dostoyevsky update L’amour Braque to the overblown soap operatics of 2000’s Fidelity, his last work to date.

A sole later Polish endeavor completes YBCA’s quintet. Szamanka‘s sheer extremity — of cinematic and performance frenzy, of often literal wrestling with sex, violence, religion, philosophy, and politics — crystallizes the best, worst, and most purely Zulawskienne (an actual French coinage meaning “over the top”) of this singular career. An older anthropology prof (Bouguslaw Linda) and gorgeous, unlikely engineering student (Iwona Petry) fuck, fuck, fuck around Warsaw, as compulsively and destructively as the duo in 1976’s In the Realm of the Senses, with an endpoint anticipating Hannibal’s cannibal-licious last supper.

Reviled in Poland, barely glimpsed elsewhere, the 1996 film was notorious before it was finished, with Zulawski accused of wildly mistreating 20-year-old “discovery” Petry. She refused to comment, but immediately abandoned acting and reportedly sought spiritual succor in India. Even the sturdier Adjani said it took her years to get over making Possession. What to say about a director who drives actors over the brink? Only that the emotions — as is sometimes said of the millions spent on lavish productions — are all right up there on screen.


May 3-13, $6-$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2878


A teachable moment



HERBWISE On the occasion of leaving our gentle green bubble in the Bay, I often find myself in the position of explaining what it is I write about. Sometimes I am satisfied with focusing on my federally legal interests as the Guardian’s culture editor. But other times I am compelled to stretch the limits of my extended family’s imagination, which usually leads to some pretty interesting conversations.

I’m sure I’m not the only person interested in demystifying cannabis issues to their loved ones. Which is why I’m happy to introduce you to a 2011 documentary that might prove useful: Lynching Charlie Lynch, a DVD release you can find on Amazon or director Rick Ray’s website (www.rickrayfilms.com). The film even starts with a world history of cannabis usage: look guys, early Mormons used the stuff!

Charlie Lynch is a total goober (a word I use lovingly.) A suburbanite from Arroyo Grande, Calif., Lynch takes pleasure in winning stuffed animals from claw machines and rocking out to self-penned anti-drunk driving ballads in his DIY home studio. When he began medicating for his atrocious migraines with cannabis, Lynch decided to open a dispensary close to his home town, eventually starting one in 10,000-person Morro Bay. It was the only dispensary in San Luis Obispo County.


Ray shows us Lynch’s adorably earnest and thorough process of setting up shop. Lynch goes so far as to call the DEA office, and is directed to four different numbers before an agent gruffly tells him that cities and counties are tasked with “dealing” with such enterprises. Thus enthused, Lynch obtains proper permitting from city and county administrations and holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The mayor and other city officials attend, the chamber of commerce is represented in cheerful photos from that day.

At this point one might pause the film and explain to friends and family that the California medical marijuana industry is not without its complicated issues, and that despite his phone calls, Lynch might have expected trouble from the federal government. But these caveats aside, what happens next is awful enough that “might-haves” and “could-dos” will probably dissipate from their minds.

A San Luis Obispo sheriff’s RV surveils patients and staff coming and going from Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers until sufficient evidence is gathered to obtain a federal search warrant. Your educational audience will cringe as law enforcement raids not just Lynch’s dispensary, but his home. He is taken into federal custody and released only when his family posts $400,000 in bail. There’s a media storm, the feds threaten his landlord, the business is ruined, and finally, Lynch puts his house — the same one where he once warbled cautionary notes to drunk drivers — on the market.

It is worthwhile to note that the Morro Bay raid occurred in 2007, and as an update to the fam you might want to mention the Oaksterdam debacle last month. (A scene from the Oakland cannabis school is included in Lynching Charles Lynch — prophetically, it is an in-class roleplay meant to teach students how to interact with federal agents.)

We say in the Bay Area that we are the epicenter of the cannabis movement, which in some senses may be true. But in some ways it’s not. Regardless of how conscious we are in Oakland, Marin, and San Jose of the hypocrisy of the federal government, national change is not going to take place until awareness of the issue is raised nationally.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify that post-Lynching joint with my aunt in Maryland. Meh!

East Bay Endorsements for the June 5 election


There aren’t a lot of contested races in the Oakland/Berkeley area. Every member of the county Board of Supervisors is running essentially unopposed. When termed-out Assemblymember Sandra Swanson decided not to challenge state Senator Loni Hancock, the East Bay left avoided a bruising primary fight. In essence, voters will be addressing a series of no-contest primaries and two statewide ballot measures. So there’s not a lot to drive the voters to the polls.

But there are two important races — a contest for Swanson’s 18th Assembly seat and a rare election for an open seat on the Alameda County bench. Our recommendations follow.



Always solid on the issues, Hancock has taken a lead role in fighting bogus foreclosures and takes on the often-challenging job of killing bad bills as chair of the Public Safety Committee. She’s been a strong advocate for ending the death penalty.



Another strong progressive, she’s currently pushing to preserve affordable education in the UC system. She’s also a leader in the campaign to tax online sales.



Several strong candidates are seeking this seat, which represents one of the most progressive districts in the state. Our choice is Abel Guillen, a member of the Peralta College Board. Guillen has a strong record in the progressive community and the support of the teacher’s and nurse’s unions. He’s a strong advocate for education and speaks about aggressively seeking new revenue (including a split-role modification of Prop. 13). We were a little concerned about his reluctance to support state Sen. Mark Leno’s efforts to allow local government more authority to raise revenue (Guillen’s worried about statewide equity) but on balance, he’s the best candidate.

We were also impressed with Rob Bonta, vice-mayor of Alameda, who is strong on transit issues and understands the needs of local government. But although he told us he would support repeal of the “three-strikes” law, he’s the candidate of law-enforcement and has the support of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the dangerous statewide cop union that tries to block nearly every piece of progressive criminal-justice reform. He told us that in the past he’s supported the death penalty because “it’s the voters’ choice.” On the relatively simple question of legalizing pot, he said he “probably” would vote for it.

Thanks to the two-two primary system, it’s likely these two will be facing off again in November. Vote for Guillen.



Three East Bay lawyers are running for this rare open seat. Our choice is Flanagan, whose progressive credentials and background make her the strongest candidate.

A former prosecutor in Los Angeles who now does civil litigation and family law, Flanagan is a supporter of open courtrooms and told us she would have no objections to cameras and tape recorders. She agreed that the administrative meetings of the county judges should be open to the public. She’s served as a temporary judge, so already has courtroom experience.

The Alameda bench is still mostly a boy’s club — only 30 percent of the judges are women, and a dismal 1.4 percent come from the LGBT community. Flanagan would bring some needed diversity to the court.



Incumbent Keith Carson has been a stalwart in the Oakland and Berkeley progressive communities for decades. He’s running unopposed.

Upper highs, Valley loves



APPETITE I’m constantly asked what my favorite restaurant is. It’s an impossible question. Inquire about my favorite taqueria, German spot, tea house, French bistro, and I’m ready to talk. There’s a favorite for every style and mood in a metropolitan city such as ours. My current home is on the cusp of Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley, which, like every neighborhood in our food-rich city, has its treasures. We’ll breeze past the touristy swill and explore its best here. Find more of my picks in this neighborhood, from coffee to cocktails, here.



Thank God for The Alembic. The bar has been one of SF’s best since it opened, thanks to bar manager Daniel Hyatt, whose expertise in American whiskeys equals an ahead-of-the-curve selection. Alembic claims many gifted bartenders, like Danny Louie and Janiece Gonzalez, and I’m never disappointed when asking for an off-menu cocktail creation. The food is destination-worthy in its own right — maybe the best in the Haight. Whether at the bar with jerk-spiced duck hearts and a bowl of shishito peppers, or dining on caramelized scallops and sweetbreads over kabocha squash spaetzle, I continue to be satisfied.

1725 Haight, SF. (415) 666-0822, www.alembicbar.com



Owner and brewmaster Dave McLean opened Magnolia Brewery more than 14 years ago, brewing the best beers in SF (in my humble opinion). Magnolia’s space has Old World, gastropub charm in black leather and wood booths and antique floor tiles. It serves the best brunch in the area — sorry, Zazie and Pork Store — which includes BBQ belly over Anson Mills cheddar grits, or quinoa hash and eggs if you want to cut down the fat quotient. For lunch and dinner, house sausages delight (rabbit currywurst!) as does savory mushroom bread pudding or a near-perfect Magnolia pub burger.

1398 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7468, www.magnoliapub.com



Upper Haight’s best hidden gem is Giovanni’s, a pizza kitchen in the back of Club Deluxe (eat in the bar or take-out). Giovanni’s pies aren’t so much Neapolitan perfection as a mix between Italian and East Coast styles, with a classic margherita and spicy Diavola, laden with pepperoncini, salami, Parmigiano, and a Belizean hot sauce. Save room for a West Coast rarity: a fresh cannoli, sweet ricotta stuffing brightened with orange blossom oil. Club Deluxe’s drinks are of the mojito, greyhound kind. Not exactly a cocktailian destination. What makes Deluxe special? Nightly live jazz in a well-loved bar that thankfully hasn’t changed decor for decades, with a 1950s, cozy bar feel. Bands rotate: trios, duos, quartets, even organ acts, providing some of the best jazz in the city, usually free. If only, like New Orleans, our neighborhoods were lined with such clubs.

1511 Haight, SF. (415) 552-6948, www.sfclubdeluxe.com



I wrote much of Ice Cream Bar back in February, so I’ll send you to the review detailing my fascination with this one-of-a-kind, 1930s-era soda fountain. It’s my top pick for dessert.

815 Cole, SF. (415) 742-4932, www.theicecreambarsf.com



Parada 22 is a vibrant little space with aquamarine walls and vintage South American food products lining the shelves. The casual eatery feels vacation-like, offering Puerto Rican food. My favorite dish here is camarones a la Criolla: sauteed shrimp, tomato and onions in a dreamy-light cream sauce. Sides like plantains and red or white beans in sofrito-based sauces, are fresh and appealing. The restaurant has recently joined forces with sister restaurant Boogaloos (www.boogaloossf.com) in the Mission, serving Boogaloos’ brunch menu every weekend.

1805 Haight, SF. (415) 750-1111, www.parada22.com



Haight-Ashbury has two unexpectedly strong Thai spots serving authentic dishes. Ploy II is upstairs in an old Victorian space, with weathered carpet and decor (elephants, tapestries) straight out of Chang Mai’s Night Bazaar. It does standards well, and I crave the mango panang curry: spicy, creamy with coconut milk and peanut sauce. Siam Lotus also is reliable on Thai classics, though it’s the daily changing chef’s special board that sets it apart. Thankfully on the permanent menu, the Thai tacos are a must. Though the paper thin crepes fall apart at the touch, a filling of ground chicken, shredded coconut, mini-shrimp, and peanuts makes for one of the more fun Thai dishes anywhere.

Ploy II: 1770 Haight, SF. (415) 387-9224, www.ployii.com

Siam Lotus: 1705 Haight, SF. www.siamlotussf.com



Hama-Ko husband-and-wife owners Tetsuo and Junko Kashiyama open only when they feel ready and usually treat regulars best, service is slow, and certainly there are no California rolls. But this nearly 30-year-old classic is one of those neighborhood secrets that locals return to and sushi devotees enjoy. It’s straightforward sushi: silky scallops, bright-as-the-sea tai (red snapper), melt-in-your-mouth unagi avocado maki. You won’t find the variety of rare fish found at Zushi Puzzle (www.zushipuzzle.com), but you will find impeccable freshness — Tetsuo sources his fish from the same place The French Laundry and Chez Panisse gets theirs, he proudly tells me — from a couple who cares.

108 Carl, SF. (415) 753-6808

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


International movement



DANCE How do you keep a performance festival alive in a city known for its fractured arts community? A place where officialdom is not exactly ready to jump on the bandwagon, especially when belt-tightening by cutting the arts has become a national sport? Simple. You enlist the people who have always been the arts’ biggest supporters — the artists themselves. They know how to work with limited resources; they are risk-takers and have accepted that what they love to do will never make them rich.

The approach seems to work. “This year, we have had the biggest advance ticket sales ever,” says Andrew Wood, executive director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. What Wood has done since 2003 is develop his own version of “think globally, act locally.”

The British-born impresario has programmed discoveries from around the world that often erase traditional boundaries between theater and dance. They bring a whiff of global artistic trade winds and broaden our sometimes narrow perspectives. In 2009 it was South Korea’s stunning Cho-In Theatre, which performed The Angel and the Woodcutter without speaking a single word. Last year, Polish import Teatr Zar’s multi-venue performance of The Gospels of Childhood Triptych seared itself into memory. Sometimes, glimpses into non-American cultural productions can look eerily prescient, as with 2006’s The Solitary — an exchange between a prisoner and his jailer — by Syria’s Al-Khareef Theatre Troupe.

Engagements by international companies are only possible because they bring a lot of their own funding, either from their own governments or cultural organizations in this country. Sasha Waltz and Guests’ 2009 Travelogue I, for instance, would not have been possible without the Goethe-Institut’s support.

“Most people [abroad] don’t realize how under-resourced we are in this country,” Wood explains. In terms of performance fees he tells the artists that “this is what I can offer if we get the money, otherwise I’ll pay you what I can.”

One of Wood’s biggest challenges, besides patching together the money for the companies he wants to present, is getting them here at all. The State Department has its own ideas of who should be seen by Bay Area audiences. Last year an Iraqi group’s engagement fell short when only two of its company members received visas. This year the “permission slips” for Cuba’s Raices Profundas, SFIAF’s opening act, came through at the last minute.

Raices’ mixed program will offer a perspective on Afro-Cuban dance grounded in both its ritualistic and popular social dance traditions. While he greatly admires the breath and depth of their artistry, bringing this company to the fest “is as much a political act as any thing else,” Wood says. “We have to maintain the human connection [with these artists]. They are in such difficult positions, and they work so hard living in a kind of netherworld where rules don’t work.”

One of the festival’s hallmarks has become the shared programs between local and guest dancers. One can only image the backstage cross-cultural fertilizations that must take place between artists that previously may have known very little of each other.

This year the Swiss company Cie 7273’s Listen and Watch is sharing an evening with Thieves by Oakland’s Dance Elixir. Both works are based on the intimate relationships with music performed live on stage. Two first US showings and a world premiere (created in Tallinn, Estonia; San Francisco; and Helsinki) are on a triple bill with Cid Pearlman Performance Project, Post: Ballet’s Robert Dekkers, and Susanna Leinonen Company.

A welcome opportunity to see two previously shown pieces will come from AXIS Dance Company’s astounding 2011 collaboration with Marc Brew Company, Full of Words. Brew will also dance the American premiere of his solo Remember When. In 2010, inkBoat’s The Crazy Cloud Collection, named after a 15th century Zen monk — the purported subject of this astounding collaboration with Butoh artist Ko Murobushi — looked anarchic, maddeningly obscure, and totally mesmerizing. I’ll attend this encore performance for sure. *


May 2-20, free-$70

Various venues, SF