Volume 47 Number 01

All in the call

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I won’t sleep in a dead man’s bed, but I will use his razor to shave my sweater.

“She walks like a little farmer,” Hedgehog’s gram told Hedgehog while I was not in the room.

Gram, recently widowed, is in a nursing home in Bloomsburg, PA. We visited every day at least once a day while we were there. We brought her fudge from the fair. We brought her caramel corn, corn, “penny candy,” and a pork sandwich. I did her nails.

Then we went back out to the fair and got her another pork sandwich. Above and beyond the call of grandfilial duty-in-law, I know, but if you saw what they were feeding her for lunch! . . . A sorry looking disk of “Swiss steak,” plop of instant mashed potatoes, and chopped beets that reeked of can.

I’m not bragging. Anyone with half a heart in their chest would have sprinted at the sight of such unsavoriness out into the world for something real. Well, Hedgehog and I have at least two full hearts in our combined chests. Ergo: two pork sandwiches for Gram.

Of course, they don’t call them pork sandwiches in Central Pennsylvania. They are “barbecue.” You can indeed get real barbecue at the Bloomsburg Fair, but those vendors come up from Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and other delicious Points South, trailing their pitched-black smokers. The locals tend to shun these in favor of May’s steam-table-cue: either pulled pork, chipped ham, or shredded chicken on an enriched white bun with sweet relish. And the pork one is awesome, by the way, in spite of its apparent lack of relationship to smoke, or even fire.

But being that as it May’s, the Bloomsburg Fair is my new favorite thing. For the food alone. In a small town where what’s-for-dinner is not always necessarily exciting, I got to get down and greasy with my new favorite hot sausage sandwich, Pennsylvania Dutch chicken-and-waffles, venison jerky, not-bad jambalaya, bad Mongolian barbecue, great American barbecue, smoked turkey legs, wedding soup, potato pancakes, pierogies, hot-off-the-press apple cider, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, and, of course, funnel cakes.

For four days, the closest we came to anything healthy was fire-roasted sweet corn dipped in butter. The only other way to get vegetables was deep fried. Speaking of which, there was a deep fried Oreo in there somewhere, although I promise I only had one bite — oh, and a deep-fried Snickers bar wrapped in bacon.

That comes with its own whole other story, but I’m not going to tell it because it’s time for:

CHEAP SPORTS (Bloomsburg Fair Edition)

by Hedgehog

On the topic of the replacement refs’ absurd botching of that “Fail Mary” last Monday Night Football: What about the bad pass interference call that set up Green Bay’s TD on the drive previous? The Packers may have been robbed, but it was robbing Peter to pay Paul, way I seen it. Reap what you sow, Green Bay. Not to mention get what you pay for, NFL.

Speaking of questionable calls: the fiddle contest Tuesday night at the fair. The last fiddler was going to obviously take first place because she was an adorable sixth grader who played “Danny Boy” like she had a lilt and washed with Irish Spring. Which would drop the amiable fella with two originals and a twangy rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime” down to Silver. We all agreed: she would win, but he would deserve to.

Sure enough, the cutie took first, but second went to some young buck we didn’t even figure to place. Highway robbery! It was the talk of the entire midway for about a minute. Then, once the formality of the extra point (or in this case, all-star jam of “Orange Blossom Special”) was dispensed with, we all browsed the master pumpkin carver’s work in the farm museum, and it started to seem like a bad dream.

Welcome back, “real” refs!

Cheap Eats continued

Other things we ate included chicken and dumplings (which they call chicken pot pie), and peach pie (which they call peach dumplings). Well, what do you expect from the land where green bell peppers are mangoes, and mangoes are — what, where did you get that?

The reasons I walk like a little farmer, Gram, are twofold. One, I am bow-legged. I don’t know why. I only rode a horse once in my life. And, two, I am a little farmer.

 

Shake, rattle, and read

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LIT What do you get when you bring together a horde of ravenous bibliophiles in a city that’s known for the possibility of a future catastrophic event? No, not the zombie-nerd apocalypse: Litquake, the largest annual independent literary festival on the West Coast. This year’s nine-day festival runs from Fri/5 through Sat/13, ending with Lit Crawl, the infamous booklovers pub-crawl that words up the Mission. The festival’s venues are as diverse as its writers, ranging from theaters, coffee houses, bars to a barbershop, a bee-keeping supply store, even a parklet. The jam-packed program is expected to bring even more attendees than last year (a whopping 16,581), and features 850 authors in 163 events including hundreds of readings and a multitudinous array of panels and cross-media events.

Originally dubbed Litstock, the festival was conjured up by Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware at the Edinburgh Castle pub in San Francisco, a watering hole where local authors had been doing readings of their work. Ganahl and Boulware’s idea was simple: get a bunch of writers together to read their work in Golden Gate Park, and see what happens. With the help of Phil Bronstein, then editor of the San Francisco Examiner, they got $300 for a sound system, and on July 16, 1999, Litstock was born. Twenty-five writers read from their work, and to the surprise of Ganahl and Boulware, 300 people came to hear them. In 2002, the festival acquired its new, quintessentially San Francisco moniker, Litquake, and has been growing exponentially — more than 3,650 authors have presented to more than 83,500 people.

(About this year’s installment, Boulware tells the Guardian, “”This year, the festival feels like the programming has more depth than in previous years. We’re including more events at museums, more events outside the city, in particular the Berkeley Ramble, more tributes to noteworthy authors — Lenore Kandel, Woody Guthrie, and Juan Rulfo — and much more diversity in our expanded Lit Crawl schedule. We’re overjoyed to help cement the Bay Area’s rightful place on the national and international literary map.”)

As the story goes, the renaming of the festival in 2002 was partly inspired by an article in USA Today reporting that San Franciscans spend more money on books and alcohol than the residents of any other major city in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Added to the festival in 2004, Lit Crawl has becoming the living, breathing embodiment of San Francisco’s happy marriage of books and booze — more than 6000 scribes and fans take part in venues in the Mission. San Francisco’s Lit Crawl (this year on Sat/13) has been so successful that there are now Lit Crawls in New York, Austin, Brooklyn and, soon, Seattle.

As neighborhoods go, the Mission is the perfect setting for the event, given its noteworthy independent bookstores and Dave Eggers’s brainchild, 826 Valencia. Like North Beach and the Haight, the city’s former literary hotspots, the Mission has an inherited bohemian spirit (some would call it Beat) that gives life to the idea of literary community.

This year’s Liquake roster of readers is a hefty one, spanning various genres and including such notable participants as Christopher Coake and Daniel Alarcón, both among Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, along with local legends like US Poet Laureate Robert Hass and poet D.A. Powell. A bound-to-be-popular panel featuring cartoonist Daniel Clowes and Eggers himself will surely to draw a crowd, as the two discuss everything from the creative process to their favorite comics, books, and movies.

And for history buffs, there will be panels on little-known and formerly censored poetry of Beat poet Kandel and a tribute to Jane Austen featuring Karen Joy Fowler, author of bestseller book The Jane Austen Book Club.

It’s a fitting testament to San Francisco’s rich intellectual heritage that, in a city known for its ballooning tech industry (the oft-feared culprit behind literature’s “imminent demise”), San Franciscans’ literary love affair shows no signs of waning. Our lust for books still causes the city to tremble.

LITQUAKE

Fri/5-Sat/13

Various times, venues, and prices, SF.

www.litquake.org

 

Aim for these

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Most memorable restaurants boasts an overarching standard of quality to their menus. Other times, one dreams of specific items from certain spots. Here are a few places worth trekking out to for unique dream dishes.

 

LASAGNA BOLOGNESE AT MARCELLA’S

Lasagna… there are few foods as evocative of my childhood. Until now, Gaspare’s in the Outer Richmond was typically where I’d get my old school lasagna fix. Since May, though, Dogpatch now has a lasagneria, of all fantastic things. Marcella’s Lasagneria and Cucina is a humble corner shop selling Chef Massimo’s aioli spreads (like black truffle or spicy Chardonnay) and other housemade food products, paninis, soups, and pizzas for eating in or taking out. Best of all, six kinds of lasagna to choose from.

Jovial Massimo hails from Italy’s Abruzzo region (I’m charmed by the 1980s-looking photo of him above the counter in chef’s hat with a glass of wine), who regales with tales of early kitchen work and family. The shop is named after his daughter, while his friendly son sometimes works the counter. On a typical visit (open weekdays, 11:30am-7pm), lasagna options are butternut squash, bolognese, wild mushroom, spicy eggplant, spicy sausage, and pesto zucchini. I buy a whole lasagna for a family birthday — yes, it’s celebratory-good — and bring home three slices for dinner (8.50 each), reveling in savory-sweet red sauce and ultra-thin pasta sheets redolent with but not overcome by ricotta and mozzarella.

Butternut squash lasagna is typically white, so that the squash shines. Here it still does, while benefiting from a bit of red sauce. Earthy wild mushroom, spicy eggplant or pesto ricotta are winning. I like classic Bolognese best, the version my mother used to make. Massimo corners lassagna balance: there’s never too much of any one ingredient. The entirety melts in your mouth, as heartwarming as your Italian mama’s cookinge.

1099 Tennessee, SF. (415) 920-2225, www.marcellaslasagneria.com

 

MILLIONAIRE’S BACON AT BLACKWOOD

There are not many Thai joints in the Marina (Yukol Place has been keeping it real for years), and certainly not one like Blackwood. High ceilings and shades of black and grey set a chic tone, while non-traditional dishes like mushroom egg rolls and unfortunately named Marina Strips — Wagyu beef strips wrapped in baby hearts of palm — fill the menu. Many dishes are larger, more artfully arranged, versions of typical Thai dishes, like papaya salad or Pad See Ew (spelled Pad See You). Thai fusion is apparent in a Thai Wagyu burger ($12) on brioche loaded with a Thai salad of cucumber, carrot, cilantro, sesame. Or in generous, sizzling stone pots ($14-16), akin to Koran bibimbap filled with rice, veggies, meat of choice (I like crispy red snapper in plum dressing), topped with a fried egg.

However, the one destination item is merely a $5 add-on to a breakfast platter (served daily, 8am-4pm). And what an add-on! Blackwood’s only been open since June, but the millionaire’s bacon has already been named on the Discovery Channel Destination America’s United States of Food. Two hefty strips of bacon are dense, shimmery, chewy beauties, caramelized and slightly sweet and smoky. Despite bacon burn-out over the past decade, with bacon gracing every dessert and dish possible, these juicy strips renew and refresh the love, reminiscent of Southern ham in gourmet jerky-like form.

2150 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-9663, www.blackwoodsf.com

 

CALABRIAN CHILE SPAGHETTINI AT BLUESTEM

Bluestem Brasserie is no run-of-the-mill downtown shopping break. In fact, it has improved since opening in summer 2011, honing in on its menu, house charcuterie, and whole-animal butchery practices (no part goes to waste). With new executive chef Francis Hogan, there is fresh life in the space frequented by tourists, shoppers, and the Moscone Center crowd. While wine on tap, grass-fed beef, and whole-animal practices are common in SF at large, being centrally situated downtown between SoMa and Union Square, Bluestem is exposing a new range of clientele to the delicious taste of sustainability.

Besides satisfying house pâté (on the charcuterie platter) of pork, pistachio, and the like, a whole roasted branzino ($29) is flaky, perked up with roasted summer chilis or your choice of side, while grass-fed six-ounce filet ($31) or 12-ounce ribeye ($34) steaks are appropriately tender, medium rare, with choice of sauce ($3.75), like bourbon espresso or horseradish-roasted garlic cream. The dish I found myself trekking back for whether at lunch or dinner is Calabrian chile spaghettini ($19). Though I would prefer some heat from Calabrian chiles (I detected none), the heaping bowl of pasta is topped with Early Girl tomatoes, arugula, and basil — the pièce de résistance being melted burrata flowing over the pasta in lush waves. A gentle zesting of lemon rind perfects it. Dessert ($9.50) is no afterthought. The Peaches and Herb “Reunited” sundae was a layered summer treat, but the jar filled with mini-cookies baked in-house, including lemon sugar and peanut butter, made me feel like a kid again. There were so many cookies, I finished the rest for breakfast the next day with coffee.

One Yerba Buena Lane, SF. (415) 547-1111, www.bluestembrasserie.com

 

Tetris of awesome

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MUSIC “We’ve done the ISAM show in venues as big as the Sydney Opera House and as small as a local rock venue, but we’re basically holding our breaths every time. Someone could plug in their iPhone charger and blow the whole thing. In Coachella, the act on the field opposite had the idea of turning on floodlights for half their set, which washed us out for a good part with the ambient light.”

Brazilian electronic music legend Amon Tobin is on the phone, recounting some of the mundane worries that come with operating one of the most brilliant stage concepts in years, ISAM Live. The show is a marvel of cutting-edge technology that bathes a towering tetrominal assemblage of stacked cubes in digital projections, while — like the pilot of a Tetris spaceship, clad in his trademark baseball cap, hoodie, and jeans, ensconced in one of the glowing cubes — Tobin performs tracks from ISAM, his seventh studio album, and several other sonic treats. The tour is now in its second, completely revamped conceptual leg, ISAM Live 2.0, coming to Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on Fri/5. Tobin promises that ISAM 2.0 is “totally different … not connected to the album as much at all” from the first version, which played at the Warfield last year. Perhaps he’ll be wearing a spacesuit this time, too:

The visual illusions conjured up by Tobin and collaborators and mapped on the sculpture, made real with the help of a crack team of production designers headed up by Alex Lazarus of local art-tech collective Blasthaus, recall everything from early 20th century Constructivist art and colorform animation to tomorrow’s Xbox 360 game. Some of the effects are absolutely lovely, as when the structure “shatters” to crystalline pieces or a flood of winged creatures take flight across the stage. Some are vertigo-inducing, as when the whole thing acts as a flight simulator, or a slightly different version of the structure is projected onto the structure itself, and then begins revolving: meta! It’s all a sort of hyperreal 3-D, as shapeshifting as Tobin’s ever-elegant and booming compositions. (The music on ISAM itself is typical technopoetic Tobin — what makes the album standout is really how much the rest of the music world has caught up to his signature style, which contains elements of moody ambient, classic drum and bass, squonky electro, and crunchy dubstep without ever falling wholly into any of those genres.)

“What drove me to this idea was trying to find my way around the universal problem of presenting electronic music,” Tobin told me. “How do I make an engaging experience out of an album when I’m really just pushing buttons and twisting dials — it’s what we all do as electronic musicians. I don’t make dance music — I don’t think I even can — so the challenge becomes the concert presentation. And then the unusual situation becomes how to integrate myself into the proceedings. I didn’t just want to go out there and hang about.”

The waving hands and bobbing heads at the Warfield last year may prove that “I don’t make dance music” remark incorrect, but the show certainly succeeds at bridging the rapt audience vs. some arty dude’s knob-twisting divide. Tobin’s projects have lately been as much about technological expression as producing music — although one could argue, especially in his case, that these are one and the same at this point in history. Previous album Foley Room was a mosaic of found sounds recorded on the street (“from neighbours singing in the bath to ants eating grass”), that was accompanied by a gorgeous interactive website called “Field Recording” that featured morphological subaquatic creatures and a night-goggle feel.

This time around, Tobin’s technological adventurousness is helping to pique new interests. The crowd at the Warfield was not composed of the typical intelligent dance music, underground glitch, and scruffy turntablism fans I know from previous Amon Tobin shows. Rather, the “oohs,” “aahs,” and “this is fucking amazings” were coming from what looked to be a distinctly tech crowd. With Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, and countless other digital animation studios located in the Bay Area, is ISAM Live introducing a new wave on enthusiasts to somewhat challenging electronic music through geek-candy visual technology?

“Well, electronic music is inherently tech-y to begin with,” Tobin says, “but even when I was just starting out, I was never interested in scenes. I’m too wrapped up in what I’m trying to do. I’m just hoping people will be into it, no matter who they are or how they got there.”

Tobin’s known for being laidback almost to the point of reclusivity, and his recent relocation to the Bay Area — “I live a little north of San Francisco, in the middle of the woods: I can walk around or go for a drive and do what I like” — has helped contribute to to both his secluded genius image and access to tech opportunity. Once he had the inspiration for ISAM Live, it wasn’t like he put an ad out on Craisglist to find designers, he told me. But a serendipitous encounter with Lazarus and the ease of putting together an adventurous, California-based design team got things going pretty easily. It’s also helped him firm up connections with local musicians he admires like SF’s Kronos Quartet, who were featured on Foley Room and will open for his concert at the Greek, and incredible live-sample collagist Eskmo, who opened for him early in the ISAM tour.

But the mind of Amon Tobin is ever-restless, and ISAM has been around for more than as year — despite the 2.0 relaunch, our conversation perks up when we begin to talk about his new release as Two Fingers called Stunt Rhythms, a beats and bass album that also belies his claim not to make dance music.

Stunt Rhythms is a tribute to the amazing electro and breakdance music that actually saved me, growing up in a shitty town called Hastings in England. Things like Cybotron’s ‘Clear’ or Man Parrish, JVC Force’s ‘Strong Island.’ My relationship to that sound is so deep. It’s music that keeps me pushing for something further off, pushing me through drum and bass, and making my own persona.

“It’s working my way toward that thing just over the horizon that keeps me going.”

AMON TOBIN: ISAM LIVE 2.0

with Kronos Quartet and Holy Other

Fri/5, 8pm, $39.50

Greek Theatre

2001 Gayley Way, Berk.

www.ticketmaster.com

Reborn on the Bayou

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Tofu and whiskey is music editor Emily Savage’s new weekly music column.

emilysavage@sfbg.com

Tofu and Whiskey There are loud grinding noises and those cinematic electric sparks shooting from a machine below a church pew-like balcony. It’s musky and filled with dark bordello wood. The arched main room, the one you see when you walk in the front door of 777 Valencia Street and turn a quick corner, is outlined in bright, bloody red, and there’s a stage.

Despite this transitional state a few weeks back, this stage at brand new Mission venue, Preservation Hall West at the Chapel — named after the jazzy New Orleans venue that inspired it — will hold star-powered spillover from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com) this week, beginning Thu/4; the fest itself is Fri/5 through Sun/7. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans will perform each night of the long weekend with double-dipping special guests including Elvis Costello, Robert Earl Keen, Justin Townes Earl, and Steve Earle. Maybe this means we’ll see a bespectacled Costello riding a bicycle from Golden Gate Park to the Mission, with a guitar slung on his back? One can dream.

Back to reality: “There’s no shame in construction,” said Tracey Buck of Slim’s, who, along with Britt Govea of (((folkYEAH!))) and certainly others in the future, will be doing consulting and programming at the new all-ages venue. The building, now owned by Jack Knowles, was built in 1914, formerly housed the New College, and before that was a mortuary — which gives it a sort of macabre back story. The idea for the Chapel came from Knowles’ friend Ben Jaffe, creative director for the beloved New Orleans venue, Preservation Hall, and leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

In early 2013, the West Coast sister venue will have a full restaurant attached serving fare with elements of New Orleans cuisine. But for now, there will just be concerts, including the aforementioned HSB-linked shows and upcoming visits from the likes of Woods, White Fence, and Here We Go Magic — but not to worry, the Chapel does have its liquor license now, and the bar should be ready to serve.

I pushed for fears about the venuenot being ready in time for its rapidly approaching opening date, anxiety about the relatively short distance between that morning two weeks back and the first show this week, but got back little more than nervous laughter. “It’s crunch time, but everyone knows what needs to be done,” said Buck, diplomatically.

It’s no surprise. First of all, if you live in the neighborhood, or have been near it recently, you’ve undoubtedly poked your head in and have seen what I saw — constant work. Secondly, as rabid HGTVers know, programs like Love It Or List It and their ilk show designers and construction workers whipping out brand new pads in a matter of weeks. Buck even referenced the show Restaurant: Impossible, where they quickly turn around a doomed eatery. So, it can be done.

There was also some less literal rebuilding at the actual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in 2012. After the death late last year of the fest’s founder, head cheerleader, and billionaire backer, Warren Hellman, the crew had some personal reconstruction to work on.

Buck has been working the festival since it began 12 years back, and felt the loss personally. “It’s been tough, and I realize it more and more every day. But his spirit is there.”

Sheri Sternberg, technical director for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, also ruminated on Hellman’s passing, “There was something really great about having our first meeting with Warren each year…how excited he got about all the bands. If it was up to him, we would keep adding stages and days.”

The lineup this year is interesting, it’s a bit smaller — no more Thursday shows — but heavy on seriously disparate musicians such as Dwight Yoakam and Jenny Lewis and actor-bluegrass enthusiast John Reilly, and Cowboy Junkies, along with Giant Giant Sand (Howe Gelb’s hour-long opera) and a handful of younger acts such as Beachwood Sparks, the Civil Wars, and the Head and the Heart, along with the fest pillars like Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle. Sternberg says Gary West is gathering a “greatest hits” of the festival to pay tribute to Hellman, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson, all of whom died last year, in a set called “The Founding Fathers.” It’s kind of the theme of this year as well. That tribute will likely be kicked off with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band doing a second line.

I asked Buck if it was hard to nab artists from Hardly Strictly to play an unknown, nearly unfinished venue like the Chapel and she claims it was the opposite: “They were really eager. I think it’s just exciting to finally have a venue opening — rather than closing.”

 

LAURA MARLING

While bone-rattling noise has its very important place in my heart, there’s something to be said for warm cooing and surreal lyrics. For that, you can crawl up the grand staircase of the Swedish American and opera clap for English folk plucker Laura Marling. Her honest lilt and fluttering riffs have gained her comparisons to Joni Mitchell, but she has a distinctly British affect to these American ears. She played Grace Cathedral earlier this year and returns this week on her “Working Holiday Tour” to play from her most recent album A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon Music, 2011) at this far more intimate venue.

Wed/3, 8pm, $25. Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market, SF; www.cafedunord.com.

 

NOM DE GUERRE

Best band name of the week goes to members of San Francisco’s Butt Problems: Fuck You Cop, You Fucking Cop opens for Street Justice at the Knockout.

Thu/4, 10pm, $7. 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com.

 

TOYS THAT KILL

Here’s to Recess Records — the independent punk label formed in 1989 and thriving in the current web-and-micro record shop musical landscape — and its friendly kingpin, Todd Congelliere. The snot-nosed singer-guitarist-label owner, who also fronted F.Y.P. and Underground Railroad to Candyland, returned this year to his early Aughts punk outfit, Toys That Kill. Todd and the Toys That Kill gang released its first new album in six years — the energetic and well-received Fambly 42 (Recess Records, 2012) — earlier this summer and have sparingly journeyed up the coast from their mythic Sunken City homebase of San Pedro, Calif. to play it live. Fambly 42 might have taken so long to get here because Todd (jokingly?) told me that good bands only put out three albums then quit to form new ones. With Pins of Light, Elephant Rifle.

Fri/5, 9:30pm, $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF; www.hemlocktavern.com.

Endorsements 2012: San Francisco propositions

85

PROPOSITION A

CITY COLLEGE PARCEL TAX

YES

The scathing accreditation report by the Western Association of Schools talks about governance problems at the San Francisco Community College District — a legitimate matter of concern. But most of what threatens the future of City College is a lack of money.

Check out the accreditation letter; it’s on the City College website. Much of what it says is that the school is trying to do too much with limited resources. There aren’t enough administrators; that’s because, facing 20 percent cuts to its operating budget, the college board decided to save front-line teaching jobs. Student support services are lacking; that’s because the district can barely afford to keep enough classes going to meet the needs of some 90,000 students. On the bigger picture, WASC and the state want City College to close campuses and concentrate on a core mission of offering two-year degrees and preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. That’s because the state has refused to fund education at an adequate level, and there’s not enough money to both function as a traditional junior college and serve as the training center for San Francisco’s tech, hospitality and health-care industry, provide English as a second language classes to immigrants and offer new job skills and rehabilitation to the workforce of the future.

It’s fair to say that WASC would have found some problems at City College no matter what the financial situation (and we’ve found more — the nepotism and corruption under past boards has been atrocious). But the only way out of this mess is either to radically scale back the school’s mission — or to increase its resources. We support the latter alternative.

Prop. A is a modest parcel tax — $79 dollars a year on each property lot in the city. Parcel taxes are inherently unfair — a small house in Hunters Point pays as much as a mansion in Pacific Heights or a $500 million downtown office building. But that’s the result of Prop. 13, which leaves the city very few ways to raise taxes on real property. In the hierarchy of progressive tax options, parcel taxes are better than sales taxes. And the vast majority of San Francisco homeowners and commercial property owners get a huge benefit from Prop. 13; a $6 a month additional levy is hardly a killer.

The $16 million this tax would raise annually for the district isn’t enough to make up for the $25 million a year in state budget cuts. But at least the district would be able to make reasonable decisions about preserving most of its mission. This is one of the most important measures on the ballot; vote yes.

PROPOSITION B

PARKS BOND

YES

There are two questions facing the voters: Does the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department need money to fix up badly decrepit, sometimes unsafe facilities, and build out new park areas, particularly in underserved neighborhoods? Has the current administration of the department so badly mismanaged Rec-Park, so radically undermined the basic concept of public access to public space, so utterly alienated neighborhoods and communities all over the city, that it shouldn’t be trusted with another penny?

And if your answer to both is yes, how the hell do you vote on Prop. B?

It’s a tough one for us. The Guardian has never, in 46 years, opposed a general obligation bond for anything except jail or prisons. Investing in public infrastructure is a good thing; if anything, the cautious folks at City Hall, who refuse to put new bonds on the ballot until old ones are paid off, are too cautious about it. Spending public money (paid by increased property taxes in a city where at least 90 percent of real estate is way under taxed thanks to Prop. 13) creates jobs. It’s an economic stimulus. It adds to the value of the city’s resources. In this case, it fixes up parks. All of that is good; it’s hard to find a credible case against it.

Except that for the past few years, under the administrations of Mayors Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee and the trusteeship of Rec-Park Directors Jared Blumenfeld and Phil Ginsburg, the city has gone 100 percent the wrong way. Parks are supposed to be public resources, open to all; instead, the department has begun charging fees for what used to be free, has been turning public facilities over to private interests (at times kicking the public out), and has generally looked at the commons as a source of revenue. It’s a horrible precedent. It makes us sick.

Ginsburg told us that he’s had no choice — deep budget cuts have forced him to look for money wherever he can find it, even if that means privatizing the parks. But Ginsburg also admitted to us that, even as chief of staff under Newsom, he never once came forward to push for higher taxes on the wealthy, never once suggested that progressive revenue sources might be an option. Nor did any of the hacks on the Rec-Park Commission. Instead, they’ve been busy spending tens of thousands of dollars on an insane legal battle to evict the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s recycling center — entirely because rich people in the Haight don’t want poor people coming through their elite neighborhood to cash in bottles and cans for a little money.

So now we’re supposed to cough up another $195 million to enable more of this?

Well, yes. We’re not happy to be endorsing Prop. B, but the bottom line is simple: The bond money will go for things that need to be done. There are, quite literally, parks in the city where kids are playing in unsafe and toxic conditions. There are rec centers that are pretty close to falling apart. Those improvements will last 50 years, well beyond the tenure of this mayor of Rec-Park director. For the long-term future of the park system, Prop. B makes sense.

If the measure fails, it may send Lee and Ginsburg a message. The fact that so many neighborhood leaders are opposing it has already been a signal — one that so far Ginsburg has ignored. We’re going Yes on B, with all due reservations. But this commission has to go, and the sooner the supervisors can craft a charter amendment to give the board a majority of the appointments to the panel the better.+

PROPOSITION C

AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST FUND

YES

This measure is about who gets to live in San Francisco and what kind of city this will be in 20 years. If we leave it up to market forces and the desires of developers, about 85 percent of the housing built in San Francisco will be affordable only by the rich, meaning the working class will be forced to live outside the city, clogging regional roadways and transit systems and draining San Francisco of its cultural diversity and vibrancy. And that process has been accelerated in recent years by the latest tech bubble, which city leaders have decided to subsidize with tax breaks, causing rents and home prices to skyrocket.

Mayor Ed Lee deserves credit for proposing this Housing Trust Fund to help offset some of that impact, even if it falls way short of the need identified in the city’s Housing Element, which calls for 60 percent of new housing construction to be affordable to prevent gentrification. We’re also not thrilled that Prop. C actually reduces the percentage of housing that developers must offer below market rates and prevents that 12 percent level from later being increased, that it devotes too much money to home ownership assistance at the expense of the renters who comprise the vast majority of city residents, and that it depends on the passage of Prop.E and would take $15 million from the increased business taxes from that measure, rather than restoring years of cuts to General Fund programs.

But Prop. C was a hard-won compromise, with the affordable housing folks at the table, and they got most of what they wanted. (Even the 12 percent has a long list of exceptions and thus won’t apply to a lot of new market-rate housing.) And it has more chance of actually passing than previous efforts that were opposed by the business community and Mayor’s Office. This measure would commit the city to spending $1.5 billion on affordable housing projects over the next 30 years, with an initial $20 million annual contribution steadily growing to more than $50 million annually by 2024, authorizing and funding the construction of 30,000 new rental units throughout the city. With the loss of redevelopment funds that were devoted to affordable housing, San Francisco is a city at risk, and passage of Prop. C is vital to ensuring that we all have a chance of remaining here. Vote yes.

PROPOSITION D

CONSOLIDATING ODD-YEAR LOCAL ELECTIONS

YES

There’s a lot of odd stuff in the San Francisco City Charter, and one of the twists is that two offices — the city attorney and the treasurer — are elected in an off-year when there’s nothing else on the ballot. There’s a quaint kind of charm to that, and some limited value — the city attorney is one of the most powerful officials in local government, and that race could get lost in an election where the mayor, sheriff, and district attorney are all on the ballot.

But seriously: The off-year elections have lower turnout, and cost the city money, and it’s pretty ridiculous that San Francisco still does it this way. The entire Board of Supervisors supports Prop. D. So do we. Vote yes.

PROPOSITION E

GROSS RECEIPTS TAX

YES

Over the past five years, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu estimates, San Francisco has cut about $1.5 billion from General Fund programs. It’s been bloody, nasty, awful. The budget reductions have thrown severely ill psych patients out of General Hospital and onto the streets. They’ve forced the Recreation and Parks Department to charge money for the use of public space. They’ve undermined everything from community policing to Muni maintenance.

And now, as the economy starts to stabilize a bit, the mayor wants to change the way businesses are taxed — and bring an additional $28.5 million into city coffers.

That’s right — we’ve cut $1.5 billion, and we’re raising taxes by $28.5 million. That’s less than 2 percent. It’s insane, it’s inexcusable, it’s utterly the wrong way to run a city in 2012. It might as well be Mitt Romney making the decision — 98 percent cuts, 2 percent tax hikes.

Nevertheless, that’s where we are today — and it’s sad to say this is an improvement from where the tax discussion started. At first, Mayor Lee didn’t want any tax increase at all; progressive leaders had to struggle to convince him to allow even a pittance in additional revenue.

The basic issue on the table is how San Francisco taxes businesses. Until the late 1990s, the city had a relatively rational system — businesses paid about 1.5 percent of their payroll or gross receipts, whichever was higher. Then 52 big corporations, including PG&E, Chevron, Bechtel, and the Gap, sued, arguing that the gross receipts part of the program was unfair. The supervisors caved in to the legal threat and repeal that part of the tax system — costing the city about $30 million a year. Oh, but then tech companies — which have high payrolls but often, at least at first, low gross receipts — didn’t want the payroll tax. The same players who opposed the other tax now called for its return, arguing that taxing payroll hurts job growth (which is untrue and unfounded, but this kind of dogma doesn’t get challenged in the press). So, after much discussion and debate, and legitimate community input, the supervisors unanimously approved Prop. E — which raises a little more money, but not even as much as the corporate lawsuit in the 1990s set the city back. It’s not a bad tax, better than the one we have now — it brings thousands of companies the previously paid no tax at all into the mix (sadly, some of them small businesses). It’s somewhat progressive — companies with higher receipts pay a higher rate. We can’t argue against it — the city will be better off under Prop. E than it is today. But we have to look around our battered, broke-ass city, shake our poor bewildered heads and say: Is this really the best San Francisco can do? Sure, vote yes on E. And ask yourself why one of the most liberal cities in America still lets Republican economic theory drive its tax policy.

PROPOSITION F

WATER AND ENVIRONMENT PLAN

NO, NO, NO

Reasonable people can disagree about whether San Francisco should have ever dammed the Tuolumne River in 1923, flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley and creating an engineering marvel that has provided the city with a reliable source of renewable electricity and some of the best urban drinking water in the world ever since. The project broke the heart of famed naturalist John Muir and has caused generations since then to pine for the restoration of a valley that Muir saw as a twin to his beloved nearby Yosemite Valley.

But at a time when this country can’t find the resources to seriously address global warming (which will likely dry up the Sierra Nevada watershed at some point in the future), our deteriorating infrastructure, and myriad other pressing problems, it seems insane to even consider spending billions of dollars to drain this reservoir, restore the valley, and find replacement sources of clean water and power.

You can’t argue with the basic facts: There is no way San Francisco could replace all the water that comes in from Hetch Hetchy without relying on the already-fragile Delta. The dam also provides 1.7 billion kilowatt hours a year of electric power, enough to meet the needs of more than 400,000 homes. That power now runs everything from the lights at City Hall to Muni, at a cost of near zero. The city would lose 42 percent of its energy generation if the dam went away.

Besides, the dam was, and is, the lynchpin of what’s supposed to be a municipal power system in the city. As San Francisco, with Clean Power SF, moves ever close to public power, it’s insane to take away this critical element of any future system.

On its face, the measure merely requires the city to do an $8 million study of the proposal and then hold a binding vote in 2016 that would commit the city to a project estimated by the Controller’s Office to cost somewhere between $3 billion and $10 billion. Yet to even entertain that possibility would be a huge waste of time and money.

Prop. F is being pushed by a combination of wishful (although largely well-meaning) sentimentalists and disingenuous conservatives like Dan Lungren who simply want to fuck with San Francisco, but it’s being opposed by just about every public official in the city. Vote this down and let’s focus our attention on dealing with real environmental and social problems.

PROPOSITION G

CORPORATE PERSONHOOD

YES

If San Francisco voters pass Prop. G, it won’t put any law into effect. It’s simply a policy statement that sends a message: Corporations are not people, and it’s time for the federal government to tackle the overwhelming and deeply troubling control that wealthy corporations have over American politics.

Prop. G declares that money is not speech and that limits on political spending improve democratic processes. It urges a reversal of the notorious Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court decision.

A constitutional amendment, and any legal messing with free speech, has serious potential problems. If corporations are limited from spending money on politics, could the same apply to unions or nonprofits? Could such an amendment be used to stop a community organization from spending money to print flyers with political opinions?

But it’s a discussion that the nation needs to have, and Prop. G is a modest start. Vote yes.

Volume 47 Number 1 Flip-through Edition

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Gruesome discovery

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM In the summer of 1999, horror fans hungered for something, anything, that wasn’t a Scream-inspired self-aware slasher.

Though it had no stars, a microscopic budget, and was filmed in nausea-inducing shaky-cam, The Blair Witch Project burst into cinemas with a novel set-up — filmmakers lost in the woods record supernatural goings-on before falling victim to evil themselves — and scares galore. Towering box-office receipts, a Time magazine cover, and legions of rip-offs ensued.

“We just wanted to scare people,” Blair Witch co-director Daniel Myrick told me when I interviewed him for the Guardian back in 1999. He couldn’t have known that Blair Witch‘s influence would still be felt over a decade later, in movies like the blockbuster Paranormal Activity series — and even outside the horror genre, where stories constructed from characters filming themselves have become commonplace.

Now there’s V/H/S, an energetically exploitative take on the trend that reaches past Blair Witch to high-five the granddaddy of them all, 1980’s legendarily nasty Cannibal Holocaust. V/H/S also nods to vintage horror’s fondness for the anthology format, setting up the action with a frame story, Tape 56: hooligans film themselves behaving badly, then prowl a house in search of a mysterious VHS tape.

The apparently abandoned dwelling is creepy enough, with a dead body just hangin’ out in the TV room. But each tape they watch contains material so shocking (a woman turns flesh-tearingly monstrous after a drunken hookup; a student Skyping with her boyfriend suspects her apartment is haunted; and a road trip, a camping trip, and a Halloween party all go very, very wrong) it unsettles even tough guys who, earlier in the day, were grabbing women on the street in service of their budding “reality porn” business.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv6S3RGMGw8

Each “tape” is directed by a different filmmaker or filmmaking team, all of whom were directed to use the found-footage format. So yes, V/H/S is a movie about people filming themselves watching other people who are also filming themselves.

“With a found-footage anthology, you could make a found-footage movie about people finding footage, and that seemed like such an obvious idea,” explains Simon Barrett, who worked on both the wraparound and haunted-apartment tale The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. “A lot of found-footage [features] become ludicrous; after two hours, you run into all the clichés of characters screaming at each other to turn the camera off. But you can believe that someone would leave the camera on for, say, 14 minutes of something scary happening to them.”

Adds Adam Wingard, whose multiple V/H/S credits include directing Tape 56, “Found footage is the most modern, new way to tell stories that we’ve seen before. We’ve seen vampires and ghosts. It puts it in a whole new context and framework for modern audiences — it basically spices up the genre.”

The biggest name on V/H/S‘s roster is probably Ti West, who made cult hit The House of the Devil (2009) and last year’s The Innkeepers.

“Some of my favorite movies are documentaries, so documentary-style filmmaking isn’t something that I have a problem with,” West says. “It’s that mostly [these kinds of films are] really derivative of the ones that came before them, which is frustrating.”

West, whose V/H/S segment is styled like a vacation video, prefers to shoot his films traditionally, though “I don’t think found footage is going to go away,” he says. “All of us in our daily lives [consume] found footage. We’re so accustomed to recording videos like it’s no big deal, and seeing videos recorded by amateurs. We’re so conditioned by the news and reality TV. It’s now just part of us, and part of our media.”

He’s right, of course. And when the found-footage aspect is no longer the film’s biggest novelty, like it was in the Blair Witch era, there’s room for other themes to emerge. V/H/S is — to use a word that doesn’t exist — “bro-y.” There are multiple scenes of male characters pointing the camera at clothed women, naked women, naked women who don’t know they’re being filmed, women the men are trying to have sex with, etc. (All of the filmmakers were male, though some female producers did work behind the scenes.)

V/H/S played multiple festivals, including Sundance, ahead of its theatrical debut this week. “I’m very curious about how mainstream audiences are going to respond,” Barrett says. “I feel like in the festival world, audiences come at these films ready to find some kind of political subtext to them, which I think our film overall kind of lacks at times. And when they’re trying to find out what it might be, that’s when segments get accused of being misogynistic.

He adds, “I think it’s an instinctive reaction to a horror film that touches on these subjects but doesn’t stop to tell the audience that these things are wrong, which — by the way, I think that actually is sexist, feeling you have to stop and tell the audience that women are empowered. That’s actually pretty condescending. I would rather just make a movie that does those things and hope that people get it. Which, you know, happens about half the time.”

The theme of voyeurism that runs through the film was a coincidence, though Barrett thinks that once the other filmmakers saw the frame story — inspired, he says, by Romain-Gavra’s “Stress” video for the band Justice, Harmony Korine’s 2009 Trash Humpers, and “sharking” videos — they might have been inspired in that direction.

“It is interesting that four of the six shorts could be interpreted as having some kind of failed sex tape element to them,” he says. “But I think that also just kind of organically came up, because we realized that we had total creative freedom to address the things that most found footage movies normally have to avoid. I think this was an opportunity for us to touch on these serious subjects in a goofy way. Ultimately, we just wanted to make a fun horror movie.”

West, who had a tight window to make Second Honeymoon, was the first to finish his short, turning it in before Tape 56 was completed.

“[V/H/S] turned out to have this really intense, misogynistic theme that kind of just came out of nowhere. It wasn’t planned,” he says. “Since I was first, I wonder: if I had gone last, would I have made something different? It sounds really stupid to say we didn’t know [the theme] was going on, but really everyone was very removed from each other.”

Also, West points out, “The filmmakers are not like the people they depict. In a way, the movie is presenting these awful dudes and they’re getting their comeuppance. So it may seem misogynistic, but actually it’s kind of this feminist revenge thing. I don’t know why it happened. I didn’t realize it until Sundance, when I was watching it and going, ‘There are some weird threads going on in this movie.'”

 

V/H/S opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters.

Northern promises

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On the Road (Walter Salles, US/France/UK/Brazil, 2012) Walter Salles (2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries) engages Diaries screenwriter Jose Rivera to adapt Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic; it’s translated to the screen in a streamlined version, albeit one rife with parties, drugs, jazz, danger, reckless driving, sex, philosophical conversations, soul-searching, and “kicks” galore. Brit Sam Riley (2007’s Control) plays Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise, observing (and scribbling down) his gritty adventures as they unfold. Most of those adventures come courtesy of charismatic, freewheeling Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund of 2010’s Tron: Legacy), who blows in and out of Sal’s life (and a lot of other people’s lives, too, including wives played by Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst). Beautifully shot, with careful attention to period detail and reverential treatment of the Beat ethos, the film is an admirable effort but a little too shapeless, maybe simply due to the peripatetic nature of its iconic source material, to be completely satisfying. Among the performances, erstwhile teen dream Stewart is an uninhibited standout. Thu/4, 6:30 and 6:45pm, Smith Rafael. (Cheryl Eddy)

Road North (Mika Kaurismäki, Finland) Mika Kaurismäki’s films are generally much more broadly accessible than the dryly minimalist ones of his brother Aki, yet the latter has by far the larger international audience. That might change a bit with this likable seriocomic road trip. Emotionally recessive concert pianist Timo (Samuli Edelmann) is less than delighted one day to find an uninvited guest slumped outside his apartment: the father who abandoned him 30-odd years earlier. Far from having improved himself in the interim, Leo (Vesa-Matti Loiri) is a corpulent slob, convenience store robber, and car thief. But he is insistent in dragging his son on a journey whose full purpose he won’t reveal until its end. Actually, you can guess where it’s headed — but getting there is full of surprises, some touching and some very funny. Fri/5, 9pm, Smith Rafael; Sun/7, 6pm, Sequoia. (Dennis Harvey)

Fat Kid Rules the World (Matthew Lillard, US) It really does suck to be Troy (Jacob Wysocki from 2011’s Terri). An XXL-sized high schooler, he’s invisible to his peers, derided by his little brother (Dylan Arnold), and has lived in general domestic misery since the death of his beloved mother under the heavy-handed rule of his well-meaning but humorless ex-military dad (Billy Campbell). His only friends are online gamers, his only girlfriends the imaginary kind. But all that begins to change when chance throws him across the path of notorious local hell raiser Marcus (Matt O’Leary), who’s been expelled from school, has left the band he fronts, and is equal parts rebel hero to druggy, lyin’ mess. But he randomly decrees Troy is cool, and his new drummer. Even if he’s just being used, Troy’s world is headed for some big changes. Actor Matthew Lillard’s feature directorial debut, based on K.L. Going’s graphic novel, is familiar stuff in outline but a delight in execution, as it trades the usual teen-comedy crudities (a few gratuitous joke fantasy sequences aside) for something more heartfelt and restrained, while still funny. O’Leary from last year’s overlooked Natural Selection is flamboyantly terrific, while on the opposite end of the acting scale Campbell makes repressed emotion count for a lot — he has one wordless moment at a hospital that just might bring you to the tears his character refuses to spill. Sat/6, 3pm, Sequoia; Oct. 11, 7pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, US) Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns takes on the 1989 rape case that shocked and divided a New York City already overwhelmed by racially-charged violence. The initial crime was horrible enough — a female jogger was brutally assaulted in Central Park — but what happened after was also awful: cops and prosecutors, none of whom agreed to appear in the film, swooped in on a group of African American and Latino teenagers who had been making mischief in the vicinity (NYC’s hysterical media dubbed the acts “wilding,” a term that became forever associated with the event). Just 14 to 16 years old, the boys were questioned for hours and intimidated into giving false, damning confessions. Already guilty in the court of public opinion, the accused were convicted in trials — only to see their convictions vacated years after they’d served their time, when the real assailant was finally identified. Using archival news footage (in one clip, Gov. Mario Cuomo calls the crime “the ultimate shriek of alarm that says none of us are safe”) and contemporary, emotional interviews with the Five, Burns crafts a fascinating study of a crime that ran away with itself, in an environment that encouraged it, leaving lives beyond just the jogger’s devastated in the process. Sat/6, 3:30pm, Smith Rafael; Mon/8, 3:15pm, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)

Rebels with a Cause (Nancy Kelly, US) The huge string of parklands that have made Marin County a jewel of preserved California coastline might easily have become wall-to-wall development — just like the Peninsula — if not for the stubborn conservationists whose efforts are profiled in Nancy Kelly’s documentary. From Congressman Clem Miller — who died in a plane crash just after his Point Reyes National Seashore bill became a reality — to housewife Amy Meyer, who began championing the Golden Gate National Recreation Area because she “needed a project” to keep busy once her kids entered school, they’re testaments to the ability of citizen activism to arrest the seemingly unstoppable forces of money, power and political influence. Theirs is a hidden history of the Bay Area, and of what didn’t come to pass — numerous marinas, subdivisions, and other developments that would have made San Francisco and its surrounds into another Los Angeles. Sat/6, 6:15pm, Sequoia; Tue/9, 4pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

The Sessions (Ben Lewin, US) Polio has long since paralyzed the body of Berkeley poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) from the neck down. Of course his mind is free to roam — but it often roams south of the personal equator, where he hasn’t had the same opportunities as able-bodied people. Thus he enlists the services of Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate, to lose his virginity at last. Based on the real-life figures’ experiences, this drama by Australian polio survivor Ben Lewin was a big hit at Sundance this year (then titled The Surrogate), and it’s not hard to see why: this is one of those rare inspirational feel-good stories that doesn’t pander and earns its tears with honest emotional toil. Hawkes is always arresting, but Hunt hasn’t been this good in a long time, and William H. Macy is pure pleasure as a sympathetic priest put in numerous awkward positions with the Lord by Mark’s very down-to-Earth questions and confessions. Sat/6, 7pm, Smith Rafael; Sun/7, noon, Sequoia. (Harvey)

Flicker (Patrik Eklund, Sweden) The provincial HQ of behind-the-times, inept telecommunications company Unicom is locus to a whole bunch of weirdness during the eventful work week chronicled by Swedish writer-director Patrik Eklund’s first feature. To wit: sterility by electrocution, tarantula therapy, grade-school performances of Frankenstein, Ted Danson fixations, workplace application of dunce caps, blind dates, domestic terrorism cults, and scented candle making. If you only see one Scandinavian comedy this year, make it Klown. If you only see two, however, this is definitely the other one. It’s a goofy, lightly surreal delight. Sat/6, 9pm, Smith Rafael; Mon/8, 3:15pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Jayne Mansfield’s Car (Billy Bob Thornton, US) Billy Bob Thornton’s first directing gig in over a decade is an ensemble piece set in small-town 1969 Alabama — like every U.S. town at the time, a hotbed of generational conflict over the Vietnam War and the generally changin’ times. Particularly defining that gap is the squabbling relationship between hawkish patriarch Jim Caldwell (Robert Duvall) and youngest son Carroll (Kevin Bacon), who — though a World War II veteran, like brother Skip (Thornton) — has appointed himself a sort of elder to the local hippie population. That alone is enough to set Jim’s teeth on edge; he’s put in an even crustier mood upon hearing that his ex-wife has died, and her corpse is being brought back from England by the new family (John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, Frances O’Connor) she’d acquired after leaving him. The awkward meeting between two very different clans quickly thaws in various ways, however, some sexual, some comradely. Dismissed as a garrulous mess in its other festival showings to date, this Car is indeed one rusty, leaky, wayward vehicle at times, with some forced situations and way too much speechifying in the director’s script (co-written with Tom Epperson). But the thematically over ambitious, structurally clumsy movie is watchable nonetheless, with some real strengths: most notably strong performances (especially Thornton’s own) and a real feel for a particular high-Southern Brahmin milieu that hasn’t changed much more in the last 40 years than it did in the prior 40. Thornton will receive the MVFF Award and be interviewed onstage at the film’s screening. Sun/7, 6:30pm, Smith Rafael; Oct. 14, 5pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Ricky on Leacock (Jane Weiner, France/US) Shot over the last 40 years, since she was her subject’s student, Jane Weiner’s film about globe trotting director-cinematographer Richard Leacock is a fond tribute that pays due respect to the latter’s innovations in the documentary form. Dismayed by the lack of spontaneity that cumbersome equipment forced on the genre, he began devising a series of lightweight, synch-sound cameras that could unobtrusively travel with and capture events as they occurred. While his own mostly TV-targeted fruits of that labor are relatively little-known today, their impact on nonfiction cinema was enormous — and Leacock, who died last year at 89, was clearly charming company. Sun/7, 7pm, Smith Rafael; Mon/8, 9:15pm, 142 Throckmorton. (Harvey)

In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, Korea) This latest bit of gamesmanship from South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo (2000’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors) has Isabelle Huppert playing three Frenchwomen named Anne visiting the same Korean beachside community under different circumstances in three separate but wryly overlapping stories. In the first, she’s a film director whose presence induces inapt overtures from both her married colleague-host and a strapping young lifeguard. In the more farcical second, she’s a horny spouse herself, married to an absent Korean man; in the third, a woman whose husband has run away with a Korean woman. The same actors as well as variations on the same characters and situations appear in each section, their rejiggered intersections poking fun at Koreans’ attitudes toward foreigners, among other topics. Airy and amusing, In Another Country is a playful divertissement that’s shiny as a bubble, and leaves about as much of a permanent impression. Tue/9, 4:15pm, Sequoia; Oct. 12, 9:45pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

To Kill A Beaver (Jan Jakub Kolski, Poland) Furtive, paranoid, solitary Eryk (Eryk Lubos) returns from places unknown to prepare his dilapidated farmhouse for a mission that, for a long time, remains equally unclear. Veteran Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski’s enigmatic drama takes its time unfolding the mysteries of Eryk’s traumatic past, unstable present, and future purpose. He’s all suspicion when he finds local teen Bezi (Agnieszka Pawelkiewicz) trespassing on his property, but her brazen come-on and hidden vulnerabilities chip away at his ample defenses. This intricate character study in the guise of a thriller puzzle is offbeat and absorbing, thanks in large part to Lubos’ prickly performance as a man as damaged as he is dangerous. Oct. 10, 6:30pm, Smith Rafael; Oct. 11, 9:30pm, Sequoia. (Harvey)

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France) Holy moly. Offbeat auteur Leos Carax (1999’s Pola X) and frequent star Denis Lavant (1991’s Lovers on the Bridge) collaborate on one of the most bizarrely wonderful films of the year, or any year. Oscar (Lavant) spends every day riding around Paris in a white limo driven by Céline (Edith Scob, whose eerie role in 1960’s Eyes Without a Face is freely referenced here). After making use of the car’s full complement of wigs, theatrical make-up, and costumes, he emerges for “appointments” with unseen “clients,” who apparently observe each vignette as it happens. And don’t even try to predict what’s coming next, or decipher what it all means: this wickedly humorous trip through motion-capture suits, graveyard photo shoots, teen angst, back-alley gangsters, old age, and more (yep, that’s the theme from 1954’s Godzilla you hear; oh, and yep, that’s pop star Kylie Minogue) is equal parts disturbing and delightful. Movies don’t get more original or memorable than this. Oct. 11, 6pm, Sequoia; Oct. 12, 3:15pm, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival runs Oct. 4-14 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; Cinéarts@Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; and 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley. For additional venues, full schedule, and tickets (most shows $13.50), visit www.mvff.com. Additional short reviews at www.sfbg.com.

 

Panther medicine

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caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE The night before our interview, Elder Freeman spoke alongside Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate (and beloved sitcom sassmouth) Roseanne Barr, 2008 Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, and others about the political possibilities of marijuana at a panel discussion held inside Oaksterdam University.

As Black Panther History Month begins, commemorating the 46th anniversary of the party’s founding by Freeman and his peers — see info on events at the end of this article — it seems only fitting that the cannabis movement and the Panthers’ struggle for social justice and the right to control our own communities be connected. For Freeman, the two have become inextricably linked.

The morning of the day we met at West Oakland’s Revolution Cafe, the 67 year old original member of LA’s Black Panther Party had two doctors appointments. Freeman has colon cancer. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He smokes marijuana to improve his appetite — he’s used to eating a single meal a day, but that’s not enough to keep up his strength during treatment. As a long-time 215 card-carrier, the last year’s federal crackdown on cannabis dispensaries threatens to send him back to buying pot on the streets.

Is access to marijuana a Black Panther issue? Freeman thinks so. He tells me why over a cup of coffee (cream, no sugar), and between interruptions by well-wishers — the entire neighborhood knows him, it seems, they all want to pay their respects.

“It’s all connected. The simple fact is that the judicial system is inadequate. The whole idea that they want to keep it in an illegal state is so that they can criminalize people.” He became aware of cannabis, he says, when Bob Marley started talking about its connection to non-violence. “I identified with the Rasta community for awhile,” he tells me.

Freeman’s been told that this current bout of cancer is incurable. But he’s also been told that the Watts uprising in 1965 that was responsible for his political awakening was actually riots and that he deserved to spend those seven years in jail alongside many of his Panther cohorts on a laundry list of mostly trumped-up charges. He didn’t buy those things either.

In fact, at Oaksterdam he shared with the crowd that he plans on going to Cuba for a second opinion on his medical treatment. “There’s something about American medicine that seems to be lacking,” he says.

Last night’s event was actually the first time Freeman spoke as a cannabis activist. He spends most of his time as an advocate these days working for inmate rights — not surprising when you consider he spent the better part of a decade as a political prisoner. He works with All of Us or None (www.allofusornone.org), a national organization that works to “ban the box” — remove questions about past incarceration from employment applications — promote inmate voting rights, and build awareness in the communities most affected by mass incarceration. So although personally, access to cannabis is clearly a health concern, he tends to speak about it with more a law and order focus.

“People are doing a lot of time for something that they shouldn’t even be in jail for.” He wonders out loud to me about why we don’t lock up cigarette producers. “They got it backwards. But that’s capitalism.”

BLACK PANTHER HISTORY MONTH RALLY

Oct. 13, noon

Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakl.

BLACK PANTHER HISTORY MONTH EXHIBIT

Oct. 13, 2pm, free

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle

410 14th St., Oakl.

www.itsabouttimebpp.com

 

Indie indeed

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival is a star-studded affair, with tributes to Dustin Hoffman and 1977’s Star Wars and celebrity guests (Ben Affleck! Ang Lee! Stevie Nicks!), but indie cinema fans won’t want to miss Strutter. It doesn’t have any movie stars, but it comes courtesy of indie heroes Allison Anders (1992’s Gas Food Lodging, 1993’s Mi vida loca) and Kurt Voss, Anders’ co-director and co-writer on 1987’s Border Radio and 1999’s Sugar Town.

Anders says she views Strutter — the tale of Brett, a rock’n’roller working through heartbreak and post-college angst — as a continuation of her other films with Voss, all of which are music-themed and set in Los Angeles.

“When Kurt and I did Sugar Town, we kind of realized it was a companion piece to Border Radio. I think it was Michael Des Barres who said Border Radio‘s musicians were trying to pay their rent, and Sugar Town‘s musicians were trying to meet their mortgage. They were on a different level, but their desperation was the same,” she says. “In Strutter, the characters are even more desperate; nobody has any real roots except the streets of Los Angeles and the desert. In all three, there’s the music angle — but it’s also the desperation of trying to keep a band going, and what that means to people, particularly in LA.”

Though they tell separate stories, the three films share certain actors — but most of Strutter‘s leads are making their feature debuts. “I teach one quarter a year at UC Santa Barbara, which is where I met Flannery Lunsford, [who plays Brett],” she says. “I introduced Flannery to Kurt and they started doing some projects together. Then, Kurt and I started talking to Flannery about doing that last piece of the Border Radio trilogy, because Flannery also had a band.”

The love triangle between Brett, fellow musician Damon (Dante Ailano White), and femme fatale Justine (much-discussed, but never seen onscreen), was inspired by a famous rock’n’roll rivalry.

“Both Kurt and I were very enamored with the Britpop triangle of Brett [Anderson] from Suede, Damon [Albarn] from Blur, and Justine [Frischmann] from Elastica,” she says. “While we didn’t want to do that story, it was a kind of muse for the film, and we named all the characters after them.”

Anders may be a film-biz veteran, but she’s embraced the 21st century idea of online fundraising: both Strutter and its score (by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis) were funded via Kickstarter.

“Kurt still has a sheet of paper where I wrote down names of people who, if each of them just gave us a little bit of money, we could finish making Border Radio. Back then you didn’t have any kind of mechanism for making that happen, but that’s essentially what crowdfunding is,” she says. “The great thing is, now you get your friends and people you don’t know to contribute to your project. Then, nobody [else] owns your movie, or record, or whatever it is. You’re doing your work on your own terms. If you’ve got a movie like Strutter, and you don’t have stars, and you’re shooting in black and white — we were doing everything the way we wanted to do it. For me, it was the better way to do things.”

www.mvff.com

Endorsements 2012

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>>CLICK HERE FOR OUR CLEAN SLATE ENDORSEMENT GUIDE TO PRINT OUT AND TAKE TO THE POLLS

Every four years, we’re told it’s the most important election of our lives — and in 2008, it felt as if maybe it was. A lot of the excitement has worn off since, but the presidential race is still crucial, a going-forward-or-going-back moment for the United States. For California, it seems less dramatic — this true blue state will go for President Obama by ten points. But that’s not a reason to sit this out — there are critical state and local propositions and candidates that could change the direction of the state and the city. On Nov. 6, vote early and often. 

>>NATIONAL AND STATE RACES

>>STATE BALLOT MEASURES

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>>EAST BAY ENDORSEMENTS

To be Dee

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cheryl@sfbg.com

TRASH Scrolling through Steven Spielberg’s filmography and trying to pick which of his blockbusters should be dubbed “most beloved” is no small task, but even diehard Indiana Jones fans and Velociraptor devotees have to give it up for 1982’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the family classic gets a sparkling Blu-ray upgrade, plus bells and whistles (some extras are recycled from earlier DVD releases, and there’s no commentary, but the behind-the-scenes footage unearthed for “The E.T. Journals” is pretty nifty).

Dee Wallace, best-known for playing the matriarch of E.T.’s earth family — though she’s also a cult fave for her roles in horror flicks like 1981’s The Howling and 1986’s Critters — phoned for a quick chat on the eve of E.T.‘s Oct. 9 Blu-ray release.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Re-watching the movie, I was struck by how much of the film is really about a family in crisis.

Dee Wallace For me, the main theme of the film was the friendship between E.T. and Elliott, and that friendship was heightened because of the crisis of the family. Elliott really needed a friend. He needed somebody’s attention. [My character,] Mary, couldn’t give it to him — she was too busy making a living for everybody and raising three kids, you know? I think the family dynamic certainly catapults the film into people’s hearts, because they understand what it means to need somebody.

SFBG The family interactions seem very natural, and the extras on the Blu-ray go into how the kids were allowed to ad-lib some of their lines. What was that like for you?

DW I always looked at it as just being another one of the kids. I love to work that way, where I never know what’s going to happen. Steven would throw people lines and then he’d tell us, ‘Say this line but don’t tell them you’re gonna say it.’ We all were allowed to improv and bring our own ideas in, and then he would add things in to throw us all off. I love that because it keeps you in the moment all the time.

SFBG In telling the story from the kids’ point of view, Spielberg didn’t shoot any of the adult characters’ faces until well into the film’s third act — except yours. Did you have a sense of that at the time?

DW Oh yes. He explained to me that was his plan and that’s why I was cast, because he felt that my energy had a childlike quality to it. Which is true, even today! I’m still pretty childlike.

SFBG You’re also known for appearing in quite a few classic horror films. (I’m a big fan of 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes!) What drew you to those roles and how is acting in a horror film different than acting in a film like E.T.?

DW I don’t think it’s different — I just think you get to act more! [Laughs.] I think you get to use a wider range of emotions, a lot of times, in a horror film. Although in E.T., Mary was very emotional: she was angry, she was worried, she was joyful. I got to create a really beautiful emotional arc in E.T., and that’s what I look for.

SFBG You’ve appeared in some Rob Zombie movies, including his upcoming Lords of Salem, which features several horror vets in the cast.

DW Yes, Rob uses a lot of iconic horror actors in all of his stuff. I adore Rob. I love working with him. I think he’s brilliant. And he reminds me a lot of Steven: very in the moment, very loose, a real visionary, and open to people’s input and creativity.

Downtown development

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LIT/VISUAL ARTS The term “Mission School” was coined in these pages by Glen Helfand in 2002 to describe a loose-knit group of artists based around the Mission District who were then just beginning to break through into international art world success. These artists — including Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Chris Johanson, Alicia McCarthy, Rigo 23 and others — made use of found materials and shared an informal aesthetic that was influenced as much by the low rent streets of the city around them as a relaxed, collective Bay Area vibe.

A decade later, it seems safe to say that the Mission School was probably the last major art movement of its kind in this country, and itself the end of an era. For over three decades, significant art and music breakthroughs in this country were linked to specific urban neighborhoods (hip-hop to the South Bronx; Warhol’s Factory to downtown Manhattan, riot grrrl to Olympia, Wash.; grunge to Seattle; Fort Thunder in Providence, RI, etc.) Today, with the rise of the importance of MFA programs as a means to enter the art world, and the lack of locality fostered by the internet, the era of geographic specificity as arts incubator has perhaps passed us for good.

Two new books take us back to those freer, more experimental days at the inception of the SoHo and East Village arts scenes of New York in the 1970s and 80s. 112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970-1974) (Radius Books, 192 pp., $50) is a brief, but invigorating oral history from the early years of what we now know as SoHo. This just-released catalog to last year’s exhibition at Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea brings to life the sense of discovery and improvisation of the nascent neighborhood scene that centered around the legendary pioneering alternative arts space and its north star, the late Gordon Matta-Clark.

In October 1970, when Jeffrey Lew and Matta-Clark opened 112 Greene Street in the storefront of a “rundown former rag picking factory,” the area south of Houston Street was a wasteland of abandoned former textile factories known as Hell’s Hundred Acres. The space, with its lack of heat, and its raw walls, uneven floors, and poor artificial lighting resembled the city then falling apart all around it. The ruins of the city not only influenced the work; sometimes they literally became work.

Alan Saret remembers walking near Canal Street with Matta-Clark one night when a cornice simply fell off a building right in front of them. Saret found some other cornices on the ground nearby and paid the crew of a passing city garbage truck to haul them back to 112 Greene where they became part of a sculpture piece he called Cornices.

Far from the uptown galleries where Manhattan art world power then was consolidated, 112 Greene’s isolation and state of decay fostered a certain kind of “anything goes” artistic freedom and collaborative spirit. For the first opening at 112 Greene, Matta-Clark jackhammered a hole in the basement floor and filled the area with dirt, where he planted a cherry tree that he kept alive all winter with grow lamps. For a later exhibition, George Trakas wanted to do a two-story sculpture, so he simply cut a hole in the floor so his piece could rise up out of the basement into the main floor. The only rule seemed to be that work had to be created on site and could not be made for sale.

Perhaps predictably, with this last rule, the space could barely keep its doors open. Yet, there is a timeless lesson here for those running arts spaces today: the downfall of 112 Greene came ironically only after it finally achieved financial stability. When Lew landed a big NEA grant in 1973, pure art experimentation and spontaneity gradually gave way to formal scheduling and programming guidelines from the funders in DC, who demanded more and more say in the operation of the space. “The excitement that anything could happen waned as paperwork and schedules were enforced,” remembers Lew. The core group of artists slowly drifted away from 112 Greene, just as the original SoHo, too, was beginning to change all around them into the high-end shopping district it is today.

The SoHo model has become a cynical real estate gentrification strategy, as developers create prefab arts — and shopping — neighborhoods in empty warehouse districts across the country from Miami to Portland, Ore. to Brooklyn. But if, say, Bushwick’s art scene feels less like a real place than the shores of a desert island where hundreds of young artists have been randomly washed up by the storms of the global economy, 112 Greene Street reminds us that the first art neighborhoods were formed organically around genuine community. In 1971, Matta-Clark and artist Carol Goodden started an artist-run collective restaurant in SoHo called Food. By all accounts, Food was not some relational aesthetic stunt; it was a well loved and sincere attempt to provide cheap meals, a gathering place, and jobs to artists in the scene.

112 Greene Street ends before Matta-Clark’s untimely death from pancreatic cancer at age 35 in 1978, and before the artist would famously take the work he developed in the ruins of 112 Greene out into the ruins of the city with a practice he dubbed “Anarchitecture.” He took the city as his canvas, transforming raw space by sawing dramatic cuts in the floors and facades of abandoned buildings in the South Bronx and industrial parts of New Jersey. But the charm and dreamy freedom of the era 112 Greene Street depicts comes through in Matta-Clark’s film, Day’s End. In it, Matta-Clark works calmly with a blowtorch, cutting holes in the steel ceiling of an abandoned city pier on the Hudson River (with no apparent fear of getting caught) as the space slowly fills with radiant light.

A decade later, another artist who would die too young, David Wojnarowicz, would also find a wide-open playground in the rotting piers along the river. Wojnarowicz would spend hours at the piers, writing about what he saw there, having sex with strangers, and drawing murals or writing poetry on the crumbling walls. Wojnarowicz delighted in the ruins and saw the piers as a sign that America’s empire was fading away before his eyes. That today we know it was actually only Wojnarowicz’s world that was about to disappear is just one of the many poignant aspects of Cynthia Carr’s beautiful new book, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (Bloomsbury USA, 624 pp., $35), the first comprehensive biography to date of the artist, writer, and activist who died of AIDS at the age of 39 in 1992.

On the run from an abusive father, Wojnarowicz started sleeping with older men for money while living on the streets in his teens. Drawn to other criminals and outlaws, his first published writings were based on interviews he did with street hustlers, travelers, and homeless people he met in skid row waterfront diners and on hitchhiking trips. In the works of Jean Genet, he found a literary moral universe that helped him make sense of his own worldview. One of his earliest surviving works, a collage entitled St. Genet, depicts the French writer wearing a halo in the foreground while in the background, Jesus is tying off to shoot up. While Wojnarowicz would continue to use such blunt religious imagery in his work, the collage resonates in other ways. Carr reports that it was Kathy Acker who first called Wojnarowicz “a saint” when she appeared with him at his final public reading in 1991. The identification of Wojnarowicz’s life and work with the tragic loss of so many daring, outlaw artists to AIDS is so complete that Wojnarowicz has become a patron saint to young queer and activist artists today, his life story surrounded by an aura of myth.

Carr, a former arts reporter for the Village Voice, carefully picks apart myth from fact: Wojnarowicz didn’t actually start selling his body for money at age nine as he often claimed and he also wasn’t a founding member of ACT UP as many people suppose (though he did participate in some ACT UP protests). Yet, the complex and more human Wojnarowicz that Carr leaves us with is no less inspiring a figure — a self-taught artist whose lifelong struggle to make meaningful art out of his own experience, sexuality, and ultimate diagnosis with an incurable disease would almost by chance place him front and center in the story of the AIDS crisis and the great culture wars of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Carr, a resident of the East Village now for four decades, became friends with Wojnarowicz late in his life, and she refreshingly breaks journalistic “objectivity” to insert her own eyewitness perspective into the narrative at many key junctures. One senses Fire in the Belly is so good precisely because it is a story only Carr could personally tell. Built on years of observation, Fire in the Belly has the ambitious scope and rich detail of a novel, and, more than a biography, is the story of a fabled East Village scene now irrevocably lost.

Wojnarowicz arrived in a gritty East Village where whole blocks had been abandoned to heroin dealers and bricked up tenements. A nihilistic neighborhood arts scene embraced the decay of the streets as an aesthetic, and galleries like Civilian Warfare Studios presented a giddy cocktail of downtown punk and queer culture mixed with the freshly born graffiti and hip-hop scenes of the South Bronx. Carr relates now-famous events like Gracie Mansion’s “Loo Division” show (mounted in the bathroom of her E. Ninth Street walkup), Keith Haring painting on the snow on the street in front of his show at Fun Gallery, and the exploits of the Wrecking Crew — a team including Wojnarowicz and other artists who would binge on acid and stay awake for days, filling galleries with creepy and crazed collaborative installations.

The artists’ isolation would not protect them from the art world for long. Soon, limos were disgorging passengers at openings on the heroin and rat-filled terra incognita east of First Avenue. East Village stalwarts like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Haring became rich and internationally famous, and even Wojnarowicz became a fairly established up-and-coming art star. The rags-to-riches story of the East Village scene might be the same kind of innocent tale of lost Bohemia as that of 112 Greene, were it not for the AIDS crisis shadowing it the whole time. Carr skillfully juxtaposes the narrative of openings and parties with chronological news reports of the then-unknown new disease. Carr describes a party on Fire Island in July 1981: writer Cookie Mueller read a story from the New York Times out loud to the room about a strange, new “gay cancer”. Photographer Nan Goldin, who was present, remembers today, “We all just kind of laughed.”

Carr’s tale picks up suspense after Wojnarowicz himself is diagnosed with AIDS. Over a breathtaking two-year period, Wojanrowicz embarks on an urgent mission to complete every single art project he’d ever hoped to accomplish in the time left to him in life. In the process he almost reluctantly becomes the fiery AIDS activist we remember today. While working on his career retrospective, he also battles the harassment of his landlord who is determined to evict Wojnarowicz and convert his loft in the gentrifying East Village into a cinema multiplex. He struggles to complete his memoir, even as his work becomes the focus of battles over government funding of art. Soon, Republicans denounce the dying man’s work as obscene and anti-Christian on the floors of Congress, and Wojnarowicz becomes a target of conservative Mississippi preacher Reverand Donald Wildmon’s public attacks. Wojnarowicz absorbed these attacks and the era’s stunning homophobia and turned them into what became the most powerful work of his career, the myth of his own life.

Carr’s book stands along with recent work like Sarah Schulman’s Gentrification of The Mind as a corrective to the uncritical nostalgia for the lost New York City of the 1970s and 80s that seems to have flowed like a river from Patti Smith’s 2009 memoir, Just Kids. These works unromantically detail what has been lost and then lovingly describe exactly how painfully it was all lost. Yet, perhaps all is not lost. While arts neighborhoods like the ones described in 112 Greene Street and Fire in the Belly seem like a thing of the past, the towering myths left behind by figures like Matta-Clark and Wojanrowicz still bring young artists against all odds to the rehabbed neighborhoods of San Francisco and New York today. Everytime Sara Thustra serves a meal at an opening at Adobe Books on 16th Street or Homonomixxx shuts down a Wells Fargo bank, we walk, if just for a short time, the streets of our old familiar city.

David Wojnarowicz: Cynthia Carr and Amy Scholder in Conversation
Wed/3, 7:30pm, free
Lecture Hall
San Francisco Art Institute
800 Chestnut, SF
www.sfai.edu/event/CynthiaCarr

Endorsements 2012: State and national races

25

National races

PRESIDENT

BARACK OBAMA

You couldn’t drive down Valencia Street on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008. You couldn’t get through the intersection of 18th and Castro, either. All over the east side of the city, people celebrating the election of Barack Obama and the end of the Bush era launched improptu parties, dancing and singing in the streets, while the cops stood by, smiling. It was the only presidential election in modern history that create such an upwelling of joy on the American left — and while we were a bit more jaded and cautious about celebrating, it was hard not to feel a sense of hope.

That all started to change about a month after the inauguration, when word got out that the big insurance companies were invited to be at the table, discussing health-care reform — and the progressive consumer advocates were not. From that point on, it was clear that the “change” he promised wasn’t going to be a fundamental shift in how power works in Washington.

Obama didn’t even consider a single-payer option. He hasn’t shut down Guantanamo Bay. He hasn’t cut the Pentagon budget. He hasn’t pulled the US out of the unwinnable mess in Afghanistan. He’s been a huge disappointment on progressive tax and economic issues. It wasn’t until late this summer, when he realized he was facing a major enthusiasm gap, that he even agreed to endorse same-sex marriage.

But it’s easy to trash an incumbent president, particularly one who foolishly thought he could get bipartisan support for reforms and instead wound up with a hostile Republican Congress. The truth is, Obama has accomplished a fair amount, given the obstacles he faced. He got a health-care reform bill, weak and imperfect as it was, passed into law, something Democrats have tried and failed at since the era of FDR. The stimulus, weak and limited as it was, clearly prevented the recession from becoming another great depression. His two Supreme Court appointments have been excellent.

And the guy he’s running against is a disaster on the scale of G.W. Bush.

Mitt Romney can’t even tell the truth about himself. He’s proven to be such a creature of the far-right wing of the Republican Party that it’s an embarrassment. A moderate Republican former governor of Massachusetts could have made a credible run for the White House — but Romney has essentially disavowed everything decent that he did in his last elective office, has said one dumb thing after another, and would be on track to be one of the worse presidents in history.

We get it: Obama let us down. But there’s a real choice here, and it’s an easy one. We’ll happily give a shout out to Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party, who is talking the way the Democrats ought to be talking, about a Green New Deal that recognizes that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be doing radically better on employment, health care, the environment, and economic justice. And since Obama’s going to win California by a sizable majority anyway, a protest vote for Stein probably won’t do any harm.

But the next four years will be a critical time for the nation, and Obama is at least pushing in the direction of reality, sanity and hope. We endorsed him with enthusiasm four year ago; we’re endorsing him with clear-eyed reality in 2012.

UNITED STATES SENATE

DIANNE FEINSTEIN

Ugh. Not a pleasant choice here. Elizabeth Emken is pretty much your standard right-wing-nut Republican out of Danville, a fan of reducing government, cutting regulations, and repealing Obamacare. Feinstein, who’s already served four terms, is a conservative Democrat who loves developers, big business, and the death penalty, is hawkish on defense, and has used her clout locally to push for all the wrong candidates and all the wrong things. She can’t even keep her word: After Willie Brown complained that London Breed was saying mean things about him, Feinstein pulled her endorsement of Breed for District 5 supervisor.

It’s astonishing that, in a year when the state Democratic Party is aligned behind Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, Feinstein can’t find it in herself to back away from her decades-long support of capital punishment. She’s not much better on medical marijuana. And she famously complained when then-mayor Gavin Newsom pushed same-sex marriage to the forefront, saying America wasn’t ready to give LGBT couples the same rights as straight people.

But as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein was pretty good about investigating CIA torture and continues to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. She’s always been rock solid on abortion rights and at least decent, if not strong, on environmental issues.

It’s important for the Democrats to retain the Senate, and Feinstein might as well be unopposed. She turns 80 next year, so it’s likely this will be her last term.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 8

NANCY PELOSI

The real question on the minds of everyone in local politics is what will happen if the Democrats don’t retake the House and Pelosi has to face two more years in the minority. Will she serve out her term? Will her Democratic colleagues decide they want new leadership? The inside scuttle is that Pelosi has no intention of stepping down, but a long list of local politicians is looking at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to run for a Congressional seat, and it’s going to happen relatively soon; Pelosi is 72.

We’ve never been happy with Rep. Pelosi, who used the money and clout of the old Burton machine to come out of nowhere to beat progressive gay supervisor Harry Britt for the seat in 1986. Her signature local achievement is the bill that created the first privatized national park in the nation’s history (the Presidio), which now is home to a giant office complex built by filmmaker George Lucas with the benefit of a $60 million tax break. She long ago stopped representing San Francisco, making her move toward Congressional leadership by moving firmly to the center.

But as speaker of the House, she was a strong ally for President Obama and helped move the health-care bill forward. It’s critical to the success of the Obama administration that the Democrats retake the house and Pelosi resumes the role of speaker.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 9

BARBARA LEE

Barbara Lee represents Berkeley and Oakland in a way Nancy Pelosi doesn’t represent San Francisco. She’s been a strong, sometimes lonely voice against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a leader in the House Progressive Caucus. While Democrats up to and including the president talk about tax cuts for businesses, Lee has been pushing a fair minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and an end to subsidies for the oil industry. While Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was struggling with Occupy, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was moving to evict the protesters, Barbara Lee was strongly voicing her support for the movement, standing with the activists, and talking about wealth inequality. We’re proud to endorse her for another term.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 12

JACKIE SPEIER

Speier’s an improvement on her predecessor, Tom Lantos, who was a hawk and terrible on Middle East policy. Speier’s a moderate, as you’d expect in this Peninsula seat, but she’s taken the lead on consumer privacy issues (as she did in the state Legislature) and will get re-elected easily. She’s an effective member of a Bay Area delegation that helps keep the House sane, so we’ll endorse her for another term.

State candidates

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 13

TOM AMMIANO

Tom Ammiano’s the perfect person to represent San Francisco values in Sacramento. He helped sparked and define this city’s progressive movement back in the 1970s as a gay teacher marching alongside with Harvey Milk. In 1999, his unprecedented write-in mayoral campaign woke progressives up from some bad years and ushered in a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors that approved landmark legislation such as the universal healthcare program Ammiano created. In the Assembly, he worked to create a regulatory system for medical marijuana and chairs the powerful Public Safety Committee, where he has stopped the flow of mindless tough-on-crime measures that have overflowed our prisons and overburdened our budgets. This is Ammiano’s final term in the Legislature, but we hope it’s not the end of his role in local politics.

STATE ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19

PHIL TING

Phil Ting could be assessor of San Francisco, with a nice salary, for the rest of his life if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s done a good job in an office typically populated with make-no-waves political hacks — he went after the Catholic Church when that large institution tried to avoid paying taxes on property transfers. He’s been outspoken on foreclosures and commissioned, on his own initiative, a study showing that a large percentage of local foreclosures involved at least some degree of fraud or improper paperwork.

But Ting is prepared to take a big cut in pay and accept a term-limited future for the challenge of moving into a higher-profile political position. And he’s the right person to represent this westside district.

Ting’s not a radical leftist, but he is willing to talk about tax reform, particularly about the inequities of Prop. 13. He’s carrying the message to homeowners that they’re shouldering a larger part of the burden while commercial properties pay less. He wants to change some of the loopholes in how Prop. 13 is interpreted to help local government collect more money.

It would be nice to have a progressive-minded tax expert in the Legislature, and we’re glad Ting is the front-runner. He’s facing a serious, well-funded onslaught from Michael Breyer, the son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer, who has no political experience or credentials for office and is running a right-wing campaign emphasizing “old-style San Francisco values.”

Not pretty. Vote for Ting.

SENATE DISTRICT 11

MARK LENO

Mark Leno wasn’t always in the Guardian’s camp, and we don’t always agree with his election season endorsements, but he’s been a rock-solid representative in Sacramento and he has earned our respect and our endorsement.

It isn’t just how he votes, which we consistently agree with. Leno has been willing to take on the tough fights, the ones that need to be fought, and shown the tenacity to come out on top in the Legislature, even if he’s ahead of his time. Leno twice got the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, he has repeatedly gotten that body to legalize industrial hemp production, and he’s twice passed legislation that would give San Francisco voters the right to set a local vehicle license fees higher than the state’s and use that money for local programs (which the governor finally signed). He’s also been laying an important foundation for creating a single-payer healthcare system and he played an important role in the CleanPowerSF program that San Francisco will implement next year. Leno will easily be re-elected to another term in the Senate and we look forward to his next move (Leno for mayor, 2015?)

 

BART BOARD DISTRICT 9

 

TOM RADULOVICH

San Francisco has been well represented on the BART Board by Radulovich, a smart and forward-thinking urbanist who understands the important role transit plays in the Bay Area. Radulovich has played leadership roles in developing a plan that aims to double the percentage of cyclists using the system, improving the accessibility of many stations to those with limited mobility, pushing through an admittedly imperfect civilian oversight agency for the BART Police, hiring a new head administrator who is more responsive to community concerns, and maintaining the efficiency of an aging system with the highest ridership levels in its history. With a day job serving as executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich helped create Sunday Streets and other initiatives that improve our public spaces and make San Francisco a more inviting place to be. And by continuing to provide a guiding vision for a BART system that continues to improve its connections to every corner of the Bay Area, his vision of urbanism is helping to permeate communities throughout the region

BART BOARD, DISTRICT 7

ZACHARY MALLETT

This sprawling district includes part of southeast San Francisco and extends all the way up the I-80 corridor to the Carquinez Bridge. The incumbent, San Franciscan Lynette Sweet, has been a major disappointment. She’s inaccessible, offers few new ideas, and was slow to recognize (much less deal with) the trigger-happy BART Police who until recently had no civilian oversight. Time for a change.

Three candidates are challenging Sweet, all of them from the East Bay (which makes a certain amount of sense — only 17 percent of the district’s population is in San Francisco). Our choice is Zachary Mallett, whose training in urban planning and understanding of the transit system makes up for his lack of political experience.

Mallett’s a graduate of Stanford and UC Berkelely (masters in urban planning with a transportation emphasis) who has taken the time to study what’s working and what isn’t working at BART. Some of his ideas sound a bit off at first — he wants, for example, to raise the cost of subsidized BART rides offered to Muni pass holders — but when you look a the numbers, and who is subsidizing who, it actually makes some sense. He talks intelligently about the roles that the various regional transit systems play and while he’s a bit more moderate than us, particularly on fiscal issues, he’s the best alternative to Sweet.