Volume 47 Number 06

If on a winter’s night …

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virginia@bayguardian.com

Chef Magnus Nilsson of lauded restaurant Fäviken Magasinet in the furthest reaches of northern Sweden recently sledded into town to cook up a cutting-edge rustic 12-course meal with Chef Daniel Patterson at Coi, Patterson’s Michelin two-star Mecca of California cuisine. Nilsson’s new book Fäviken (Phaidon) lavishly illustrates why food editors and writers trek hours to his secluded spot for elemental yet exquisite dishes utilizing ingredients like lichen, moss, and open-fired meats. The unique tastes and earthy experiences — conjured with Bay Area ingredients that Nilsson and Patterson foraged for themselves the morning of the showcase meal — were unreal. Here are some highlights.

All photos by Virgina Miller, www.theperfectspotsf.com

Lots going on

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Oh the horror!

Oh the hilarity!

Oh the black bean and chicken chili, spaghetti and meatballs!

No, it wouldn’t look good, journalismically, for me to review Hedgehog’s second li’l movie myself, being after all her ever-loving domestie. Not to mention my three (3) credits, for catering, co-production, and co-score. So, for once I have decided to do the right thing: ask my dad to review it for me.

CHEAP FILM

by Peaches Leone

Having lived 78 years and weathered numerous careers (gas station attendant, softball pitcher, ditch digger, guard rail painter, mail sorter, school teacher, cartoonist, imaginary basketball star, stay-at-home dad, composer, composter, memoirist, country music performer, poet, etc.) I thought I’d try my hand at film reviewing.

Since I’m new at this, I’ll start with a critique of a nine-minute film, “The Chain,” written and directed by Hedgehog (of “Treme” fame), starring the wonderful character actor Earl Butter, the Maze, and Long Tall Philip, with music by Bikkets and Chicken Farmer, Bullet LaVolta, and Daniel Voigt. It begins with Bob (Butter), sitting before his TV waiting for the big game to begin. Soon his friend Jeff, played perfectly by the Maze, arrives with a stash of beer and his cell phone.

I won’t give away the final eight minutes (no spoiler alert here), but it’s scary and surprising. And the music is probably very good.

Cheap Eats continued

Speaking of big games, I of course couldn’t keep my nose out of the World Serious brouhaha. First I hurried home from Lost Weekend for socks and my winter coat, then I went back out into the mayhem, looking as clueless as possible, and asking as many revelers as would meet my eye, “Excuse me, do you know who won?” And other such dada doozies — none of which achieved their desired effect.

Worse, at the bonfire at Mission and 22nd, I must have brushed up against some fresh graffiti, because my favorite white winter coat woke up ruined.

Oh well. Destruction is how we say “yay.” No?

As usual, when the bottles started to fly, I headed home and tried to sleep, beep beep.

 

CHEAP SPORTS

by Hedgehog

The Giants won the World Series! I’m sure you already noticed that since you were in San Francisco at the time and buses were on fire outside your house and shit. Me? I was (and still am) in Los Angeles.

My beloved Chicken Farmer needs a new pair of shoes — and now, it turns out, a new winter coat, to boot. Since she’s on strike, that means it’s time for me to look for a real job which, in my line of work, means going to Los Angeles.

Or Skywalker — but I’ve yet to learn their secret handshake so… Traffic wasn’t bad, thanks for asking. I listened to the first four innings in the car on the way in to town. And by the time things really got heated up (the 8th), I had put in enough face time with Kristy Kreme, my Valley bestie, and my hosts (Groovy and Julie of the Julies), that it seemed appropriate to turn on their huge plasma TV and ignore them for a while.

They have 3D! It makes everyone look like colorforms when the programming isn’t 3D though, so I watched Sergio Romo strike out Miguel Cabrera in only two dimensions, like most of the rest of yous.

Here is LA’s reaction to SF’s win: Kristy said “Fuck yeah.” Julie declared she was in awe. Groovy grilled steaks.

If you work at Skywalker/Disney, please rescue me from this warm, sunshiney place with wide lanes and ample parking. I’m homesick and you’re my only hope.

Cheap Eats continued

Here! Here! No matter how you spell it, it’s better than there there.

New favorite restaurant? …

Don’t have one, deal with it.

THE CHAIN

www.vimeo.com/52043639

 

Good. But revolutionary?

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‘Assassin’s Creed III’

(Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)

Xbox 360, PS3, PC

GAMER Assassin’s Creed III spans decades, from the earliest seeds of the American Revolution and on through some of the most notable events of the war, like the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Such momentous happenings act as backdrops in a story chronicling the life of Connor, a half-Native American and assassin in a secret society dedicated to upholding the tenets of free will. It’s a lofty premise, and one the Assassin’s Creed franchise has rightly earned with a successful run of past games that combine science fiction, history lessons and parkour neck stabbing. And AC III mostly delivers.

AC III is a true sequel, not a cash grab or copy-and-paste of AC II, behavior that many gamers have accused developer Ubisoft of committing with their non-numbered sequels Brotherhood and Revelations. Attention to historical accuracy of the layouts of colonial Boston and New York is impressive, the new free-running through trees is fluid and natural, and, once you get into the real battles, you encounter a surprising number of on-screen characters. Purely on a performance level, AC III is a big step up for the series, but the epic scope means players aren’t allowed to jump into the fray right away; it’ll likely be hours before you get to play as the guy on the front of the box. If you can go with the flow, you’ll find it’s one of a number of interesting risks the Creed franchise is taking with its latest installment.

Following the introduction, a bold narrative feint that introduces players to the most loathsome villain in the series thus far, players are drawn through wilderness and battleground on the hunt for revenge. Compared to Ezio Auditore, protagonist of the past few Creed games, Connor lacks charisma and acts with a clichéd sense of nobility that, in the face of the Revolution’s complex matters, seems to make him too simple a character. Greater emphasis on non-player characters has the simultaneous effects of giving the campaign a grander scope than ever before and causing you to feel less like the protagonist than a supporting participant in others’ stories.

Previous Creed games maintained an appealing balance between offering campaign missions with linear tasks and providing players with a true opportunity for exploration and discovery by allowing them to tour these lost cities on their own. Ironically, AC III’s grand outlook leaves little wiggle room for true freedom, and those accustomed to spending hours dilly-dallying between missions are likely to be disappointed that few sequences allow them to deviate from the mission at hand.

It’s not all bad, and sometimes a guiding force is good to have in a game this large. AC III offers so much content that you can confidently anticipate playing it until next year. Hunting animals, collecting Ben Franklin’s almanac pages, creating useful items, naval battling, assassinating naughty citizens, liberating areas of town — there’s more stuff to do than ever before, and it’s rare that you’re forced to do anything outside of the main narrative that you don’t enjoy.

As the conclusion to a five-game story arc, AC III carries a lot of narrative baggage, and the bold moves taken in telling Connor’s story will likely limit the broader appeal that curious new fans hoped for. But, in a game this large, maybe you don’t care why you are assassinating redcoats, only that you can do so with consistent flair. Finding the formula for a successful video game is tricky these days, and many developers fear the risks of continuing to innovate once they’ve found a proven recipe. The risks taken here lead to both successes and failures, but kudos to Ubisoft for not being afraid to try new things.

 

‘Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation’ (Ubisoft Sofia/Ubisoft)

PlayStation Vita

With another all-new protagonist in debutante and secret assassin Aveline de Grandpré, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is set within the same time period as Assassin’s Creed III, but in New Orleans. Moving play from AC III to the PlayStation Vita exclusive, the technical downgrade is difficult to overlook, but Liberation is no less ambitious and laudably attempts to stuff most of what makes the console series work into a handheld experience.

Fitting all that content leaves little room for story, and Liberation drops the science fiction angle for a straightforward re-enactment of a series of important moments in Aveline’s life. Orphaned and brought into the Assassin order at a young age, Aveline is capable of selecting among different “personas” in order to disguise herself, at times as a slave, at other times as a high-class lady. The lady disguise is likely to be a stickler in many a Creed fans’ craw, as the dress restricts the character’s ability to climb buildings or fight, leaving Aveline with the less appealing abilities of charming men and infiltrating restricted areas. Without a deeper story, the Liberation package feels slight at times, but having a little Assassin’s Creed in your hands is impressive, and the venue change allows Ubisoft to prove its formula works outside of the original narrative.

Goth-hmm city

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM It is a rare but often hugely enlightening thing to know just how and why a particular movie got made, especially when the answer is something more complicated than “to make money.” In the case of This Must Be the Place, Sean Penn apparently saw Paolo Sorrentino’s third feature, 2008’s Il divo — a whirlwind dramatization of pint-sized lifelong Italian politician Giulio Andreotti’s rather contemptible career, during which he was suspected of nearly every possible corruption — and admired it very much, a reasonable response. He let the director know he would he interested in future collaboration. Sorrentino saw an opportunity not only to work with an Oscar-winning actor but also to make his English-language debut, so he set about writing a script. He had also wanted to make a movie about the hunt for surviving Nazi war criminals. Two birds, one stone, all very reasonable.

What resulted, though, is pretty unreasonable on any level, such that it might as well be called Cart: The Horse Movie for the way in which Penn’s role has been allowed (conceptually even more than in performance) to completely overshadow and even render somewhat irrelevant the whole hunting-Nazi-war-criminals angle. And because hunting Nazi war criminals is not something anyone in their right mind would use as a climactic yet ultimately disposable mere plot device for a quirky seriocomic road movie, This Must Be the Place becomes a movie whose perversity is sorta benign yet near-complete. Only making things weirder is the fact that it’s not the debacle you might expect as a result, but something not-bad — not quite good, but still.

Penn plays Cheyenne, a 1980s American rock star who apparently hasn’t performed or otherwise been in the spotlight for 20 years. He trundles around his mansion in Dublin — why, indeed, Dublin? did the high taxes appeal? or was filming there cheap? — doing practically nothing, occasionally taking a wheelie cart into town to go shopping and be stared at. And stare they do, not only because he’s famous but because he looks completely ridiculous: a middle-aged man in floppy black clothes, pancake makeup, lipstick and mascara, topped by a vast fright wig of ratted black hair. (He looks like Robert Smith of the Cure with even more of a drag angle.) His voice is a frail, high breathy thing that seems to apologize for itself save when it occasionally erupts in a loud but quickly doused rage. He is as mincy and peculiar and masochistically odd as Quentin Crisp, without being gay — he even has a wife (Frances McDormand), though she seems more a kind of paid best pal than anything else.

Cheyenne shows he’s good-hearted under all that gook by clumsily trying to get two youths of his acquaintance (Eve Hewson, Sam Keely) together, and worrying about a haunted woman (Olwen Fouere) who spends all day staring out her window, waiting for someone who may never return. This latter business remains pretty obscure, though it may have something to do with the “depressed songs for depressed kids” he once wrote, and which were actually cited as inspiration by a few suicidally depressed teens.

Though we’ve no indication he was ever anything else, Cheyenne now recognizes that he himself is perhaps “a tad” depressed. “There are too many things I don’t do anymore,” he says. One of them is flying, though he has to take that up again after 30 years in order to attend the New York funeral of the father he’d been estranged from for at least that long. It is there, amid many Orthodox Jewish relations, he discovers his late concentration-camp survivor dad had unfinished business with an Auschwitz “tormentor.” American heartland, here comes the world’s most conspicuous amateur investigator.

En route he meets an assortment of types played by Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten, and David Byrne as David Byrne. Place recalls in some respects the strained, condescendingly quirky Americana Exotica representation of Byrne’s only directorial feature, 1986’s True Stories. It, too, is one big private art project, with gratuitous “surreal” moments that Sorrentino’s undeniable skill as a filmmaker (and Luca Bigazzi’s as his inventive cinematographer) somehow render less sore-thumb inorganic than they ought to be.

But why are we watching this character, in this scenario? Both grab attention, but they never really connect. You could explain the irrelevancy and at least partial injustice in the ancient Nazi quarry’s final appearance if this movie turned out to be about forgiveness rather than vengeance — but then it isn’t really about either. In the end Penn’s character goes through a transformation that works as a final visual grace note, but doesn’t make any deeper sense given a couple seconds’ thought. Was being Cheyenne just a phase our hero had to go through? For 35 years or so?

This Must Be the Place is also an inexplicable digression, all the more so for costing 28 million dollars it will never remotely make back. Penn and Sorrentino bring all their considerable dedication to it, but wandering lost between poignance and oddity, their movie never locates the “home” of the titular Talking Heads song. It’s a deluxe but strange, pointless vacation they didn’t need to go on, let alone share.

 

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE opens Fri/9 in Bay Area theaters.

Hi-fidelity weather

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC Shellacked gummy worms, cherubic Ebay’d figurines, one of those ships in a glass bottle usually reserved for nautical-themed offices, a red bike reflector, a holarctic blue copper butterfly, a vintage stenograph. The physical items sit on separate pedestals as part of the release for Michael Zapruder’s newest album, Pink Thunder (www.michaelzapruder.com).

You have through Nov. 18 to visit the Curiosity Shoppe on Valencia in the Mission, stick some headphones on your ears, and press a small red button on a bubblegum-pink square circuit board affixed with a kitschy sculpture of a bear holding an empty pot attached, or that bowl of shellacked gummy worms, or that holarctic blue copper butterfly, and hear the single track encased within. Zapruder dubbed the structures “portmanteaus” after the linguistic term meaning two blended words.

These particular portmanteus are blends of vision and sound, sculpture and music. The objects, and the individual songs that pump out of them — Zapruder’s free-form pop built from poetry — force you, the listener, to think beyond your lazy current manner of music absorption.

“Just generally, I love the idea of a totally unconnected song. This is a song. That feels like an object that’s somewhere closer to the stature of the music, as opposed to a CD. This celebrates music. It dresses it up,” Oakland’s Zapruder says, smiling in the center of his portmanteaus.

Plus, it’s fun to touch the art.

“Imagine if you went into a record store and there weren’t that many things but each thing was really cool, you wanted to pick it up and play with it, and there was only one copy of each thing. Don’t you think that’d be cool?” He laughs after he says it. Could this be the future of the now-shuttered mega record stores? Could downsizing have saved the behemoths?

Of course, it all goes a bit deeper than that, the vision behind this multifaceted, six-year-long project.

“I think it’s good when people listen to stuff in an uncertain state. So many listening experiences are so familiar. You’re working on your computer and you’re listening, or you’re in a club. And it can be amazing. But you know what you’re going to get, you know the structure. [Pink Thunder] songs are all experimental, all free-composed. Hopefully they’re very listenable, but they’re odd, and I thought it’d be good for people to be in a ‘what is this?’ state.”

Though the songs are also being released through a few more traditional venues. Pink Thunder as a whole is the portmanteaus, each with one of 22 songs that are also compiled into CD form and 12-inch vinyl on The Kora Records (known for releasing records such as Philip Glass’ recent Reworked), seven-inches released by Howells Transmitter, which Zapruder helps run, and a bright pink poetry book, put out by Black Ocean.

The whole process took half a decade to create, completed with the Oct. 16 release on The Kora and the installation at Curiosity Shoppe, which opened in mid-October. Though clearly, the wider range of this project, beyond the physical objects, is the relationship between poetry and music.

It all began with a poetry tour organized by Seattle’s Wave Books; Zapruder’s renowned poet brother Matthew helps run the small publishing house. Zapruder jumped on the Green Tortoise poetry bus for a week of the 50-city tour and after a few false starts, he came up with the idea: “I wanted to see if songs could communicate those same kinds of things that these poets’ poems do.”

He gathered up poems by the likes of the Silver Jews’ David Berman, Carrie St. George Comer, Gillian Conoley, Noelle Kocot, Sierra Nelson, Hoa Nguyen, D. A. Powell, Mary Ruefle, James Tate, Joe Wenderoth, and his brother, and turned them into lyrics.

“The poets are such badasses,” Zapruder says, when asked if he sees the project as a way to deliver poetry to the masses. “Most of them are better known than me. The idea that I could give something to them, introduce people to their work, that’s incredible.”

As musician-writer Scott Pinkmountain says in the book’s introduction, “these are poets who understand that the big grabs — Love, Family, Confession, Death — can no longer be approached directly in a convincing way. Today’s audience is too savvy, too wary of manipulation and sentimentality. These poems instead stake their foundation on the minutia of accidental revelation, trusting the details of life to point out the bigger picture.”

We, as the music listener, hear this in the subtlety of a track like “Book of Life,” created from Noelle Kocot’s story about a monk and a phoenix meeting in the woods. At one point, the monk gives the phoenix a squirming worm — hence the shellacked bowl of gummy worms portmanteau at Curiosity Shoppe.

There are slightly more literal interpretations in songs such as the deceptively upbeat string-heavy “Storm Window,” based on the poem by Mary Ruefle, which tells a story of a sedentary couple — “She sat writing little poems of mist/he in his armchair/reading blood-red leather novels/their three-legged white cat wandering between them/24 champagne glasses sparkle on a shelf/never a one to be broken.” It’s about empty domestic harmony, so Zapruder created the portmanteau with that cheery Ebay bear holding an empty bowl. The found object is eerily revealing.

The project’s title came from Zapruder’s brother’s poem “Opera,” which ends with the line,”still riding your bike under pink hi-fidelity thunder.” (The object represented here is a red bicycle reflector.)

One of the more arresting combinations is for the song “John Lomax: I Work With Negroes.” The object is an old voltage meter. The poem, written by award-winning African-American author Tyehimba Jess, and subsequently the song, are about John Lomax, who “discovered” fabled blues musician Lead Belly in the 1930s.

The theme throughout is of the racism of exoticism, the way Lomax exoticized Lead Belly. “Racism that’s couched in admiration, this condescending accolade,” as Zapruder describes it. “So the idea [for the voltage meter] was that he’s constantly measuring and evaluating — but also, Lomax brought all this stuff in his car on tour, hundreds of pounds of equipment, so I thought maybe he had one of those.”

The piano-driven song is brief, just a minute and 35 seconds, but shifts from quiet plea to deep gravelly question mark, and back again, using multiple vocal backing tracks.

The songs often deviate, in tone, and in tempo. As a whole, it’s an impressive, if difficult listen. There are so many layers, so many twists and turns. They don’t have expected pop hooks, there isn’t a whole lot of repetition. Zapruder lets the songs wander, as if he’s creating a melodic new method of storytelling, occasionally dipping into child-like wonder. He builds songs in a Jon Brian-esque style, with Elliot Smith-like sensitivity and raw ache in his vocals, treading ever-so-lightly over tracks of electric guitar, drums, synthesizers, and in some cases, marimba or brass horns.

The actual songwriting process was quick. He wrote half of the them during a solo 10-day residency in a Napa cabin. The recording of said tracks took considerably longer — nearly three years, beginning in December of 2008. The Oakland resident hopped around with the songs in mind, recording some vocals in his own studio, some instruments at Closer Studios in San Francisco, and New, Improved in Oakland (where tUnE-yArDs and her ilk record), and mixed at Tiny Telephone.

He sang and played many of the instruments, but got backup musical help from dozens of fellow musicians, including Nate Brenner (aka Natronix) of tUnE-yArDs, bassist Mark Allen-Piccolo, and multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle. An aside: Allen-Piccolo and his father are the ones who designed the music player circuit in all the wooden bases of the portmanteaus, as they have a circuit design business.

So Zapruder pieced together recordings from different studios and time periods in a situation he describes as a “free for all.”

“It took years,” Zapruder says with a shrug, “That’s what it’s like when you do something you’ve never done before. You make a lot of mistakes.”

And it is a relatively unique idea — there isn’t much to compare this project with. Zapruder mentions Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony on Bang on a Can Records, an electronic composition in five movements on a microchip in the jewel case. Also, a release from German ambient-experimental label tomlab that featured an album with an object (though the music wasn’t inside the object as with Pink Thunder).

In his own career, Zapruder’s recorded three well-received albums; Spin Magazine once called his work prolific, and described his compositions as “in the mold of Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird,” a pretty weighty and favorable comparison in the indie music world. But so far, he’s never done anything quite like Pink Thunder. The stunt for which he’s perhaps most well known is 1999’s 52 Songs, in which he wrote, recorded, and posted one new song a week for a full year; and this was back before the ease of the modern web with ubiquitous sites like Youtube, Bandcamp, or Soundcloud.

So while he’s dabbled in the avant garde, this was certainly the first time he Ebay’d and thrift-shopped physical items (he went to Urban Ore in Berkeley) to display and interlock with his music.

And now he’s back to his other undertakings. The married father of two also works part-time at Pandora (where he was the curator of the music collection for seven years), is in graduate school for music composition at California State University East Bay, and is making another record. He’s a third of the way through recording, and hopes to put it out next year. “I have a lot of songs that didn’t come out because I’ve been working on this,” he explains. He plans to release that in object form as well.

And he’ll be taking Pink Thunder on the road in the next year as well, stopping by the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, lecturing at New York University, and making an appearance with Wave Books and Black Ocean at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Boston, which is “the SXSW for writers.” AWP is also where he first premiered Pink Thunder.

As he describes all this, he wonders aloud if he has dark circles around his eyes, worn from the general life trajectory, and perhaps from explaining his vision for the last hour plus while standing in the diminutive Mission store. He doesn’t have raccoon eyes today, munching on a health bar as he first describes the portmanteaus, but I can see why he’d be tired.

On the same day the Curiosity Shoppe installation closes — Nov. 18 — Zapruder will also perform Pink Thunder live at Amnesia. Earlier in the day, there will be a closing party at the store; that will be followed by the live performance down the street.

At Amnesia, it’ll be a duo with backing tracks and audience participation. “Honestly, I think it can be hard to listen to these one after another if you’ve never heard them before,” he explains. “It’s a lot of new information. Without the help of familiar forms, you’re dealing with new sounds but also like, ‘where is this thing going?'” To help with that, there will be samples and audience members will likely be invited to come up and trigger different sounds during the show. A mad scientist approach to live music.

“Even with everything that’s going on, the main thing is that I’m a musician, and that’s why I did this,” says Zapruder. “It’s to clear the way for these songs to get through to people. The music is the center. I want people to hear it and be affected by it. But that probably goes without saying.”

PINK THUNDER

Through Nov. 18

Curiosity Shoppe

855 Valencia, SF

www.michaelzapruder.com

MICHAEL ZAPRUDER CLOSING NIGHT SHOW

Nov. 18, 8pm

Amnesia

853 Valencia, SF

www.amnesiathebar.com

 

Volume 47 Number 6 Flip-through Edition

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This much is true

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival returns for its 11th year with a typically strong program — whether you like your docs quirky, political, musical, experimental, or just plain strange, DocFest has you covered. Plus, there’s an “80s New Wave Sing-a-Long,” because who doesn’t love screaming Spandau Ballet with a few hundred pals? Read on for more recommendations.

Sorry, recent San Francisco transplants, but you’ll never get to experience the Jejune Institute, an alternate reality game that started attracting players in 2008 and closed up shop in 2011. Participants, lured by flyers or word-of-mouth, began by visiting an office on California Street, where they’d watch a video imparting new age philosophy; they’d then be given instructions for a sort of scavenger hunt in nearby Chinatown. They learned of a missing girl named Eva, and of new meanings for the words “elsewhere” and “nonchalance.”

Was it real? Was it fake? Whatever the truth, it was definitely fun for dedicated players, for whom the narrative continued and got more complicated; there were spontaneous dance parties, a subterranean rescue mission, and a culminating seminar on “socio-reengineering.” The genius of Spencer McCall’s The Institute  is its tone. Some interviewees are clearly in character, while others — including creator Jeff Hull, who cites Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland as an inspiration — proffer both straight talk and ambiguity, keeping some of the mystery of this fake-cult-that-earned-a-cult-following alive.

Another locally-made film, Sam Banning’s thoughtful Cruel and Unusual, takes a look at the negative effects of California’s Three Strikes Law (and by the time DocFest starts, you’ll know if Proposition 36, aimed at reforming the law, has passed). The film charts several cases, including the ordeal of Kelly Turner, sentenced to life for the decidedly non-violent crime of forging a check. Her story has a happy ending, but as the film shows, she’s one among thousands who’ve received similarly harsh sentences for proportionally minor crimes.

Broadway stardom has always been an elusive prize, but it’s become an even tougher pursuit now that many musicals compete for ticket buyers by casting high-profile film and TV actors. Stephanie Riggs’ The Standbys  goes behind the scenes with three professional understudies. Even if you’re not a musical-theater fan, it’s not hard to sympathize with these folks — “Gotta dance!” types who suffer the psychological strain of always being ready to not perform. (And on the rare occasion they get to step in, they inevitably face a cranky, disappointed audience: “Who’s this clown? Where’s Nathan Lane?”) The lifestyle fosters more offstage drama than on, as when the affable Ben Crawford finally ascends to leading-man status in Shrek the Musical — a triumph after all those hours spent sitting backstage in elaborate greenface — only to be set adrift when the show closes.

As careers go, show biz is brutal, but politics may be worse, and Ann Richards’ Texas is probably the most inspiring yet depressing film in DocFest. That’s not the fault of filmmakers Keith Patterson and Jack Lofton, but rather history itself: the feisty, big-haired Texas liberal was knocked out of office by George W. Bush, her opponent in the 1995 gubernatorial race. But just because Texas has gone the way of Bush and (ugh) Rick Perry shouldn’t take away from Richards’ considerable accomplishments — like her prison-reform work, among the good turns detailed here — or diminish her personality, which was as towering as her coiffure.

Though numerous famous friends and admirers (Dolly Parton, Bill Clinton) chime in with words of praise, the footage of Richards just being Richards (at press conferences, on talk shows, and giving speeches — particularly her instantly legendary appearance at the 1988 Democratic National Convention) speaks for itself. If only Richards, who died in 2006, was still around; there’d be no one better suited to rip into the current crop of women-hating Republicans.

Shot like a thriller, Thymaya Payne’s Stolen Seas is an eye-opening exploration of Somali piracy, with re-enactments (using actual audio recordings) of tense ransom negotiations between a Danish shipping company executive and a man retained by pirates to act as their translator. The film also delves into Somalia’s troubled history and recent past, exposing the origins of the piracy epidemic — surprise, surprise: the United States has a hand in it — and the purely business reasons why it will likely continue more or less unchecked.

Though it’s an East Coast tale, Bay Area activists may spot kindred spirits in the subjects of Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky’s Battle for Brooklyn, about community members and business owners who organized against a fat-cat developer’s plan to construct the Brooklyn Nets’ new arena in their neighborhood. The central figure is Daniel Goldstein, a graphic designer turned rabble-rouser whose home is located within the project’s footprint. Filmed over seven years, Battle for Brooklyn offers a well-articulated takedown of the shady politics surrounding the deal, with the happy added bonus of seeing Goldstein marry a fellow activist and father a daughter as the fight progresses.

Two more to add to your list: Eating Alabama, filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace’s chronicle of his year-long quest to dine only on food grown by Alabama farmers (yeah, it sounds like a blog instead of a doc, but Grace’s adventures in local foodie-ism, which give way to broader insights, are thought-provoking); and Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her (also a recent selection at the 3rd I South Asian Film Festival), which reveals some startling contrasts and similarities between Miss India pageant contestants and girls who are being indoctrinated into the country’s Hindu fundamentalist movement.

SAN FRANCISCO DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

Nov 8-21, most films $10-$12

Brava Theater

2781 24th St., SF

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

Shattuck Cinema

2230 Shattuck, Berk.

www.sfindie.com

 

Weezy, take notes

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caitlin@sfbg.com

STREET SEEN Bianca Starr has not only owned a club (222 Club), boutique (eponymous), and soon-to-be clothing brand (same) in these foggy blocks — she also grew up in San Francisco and now raises and, presumably, dresses two brilliant little boys here. So after our photoshoot in advance of her locally made Wed/7 Style From Within fashion show, I ask her what Bay Area style means to her. She doesn’t have a lot to say about color palette, designer influences, or silhouettes.

“We have become accustomed to layering and always preparing for weather changes,” she tells me. Practical, yes, but thanks to that fog monster, unpredictable meteorological happenings give us opportunity for mad flair. “With this we are able to really get away with a lot,” concludes Starr.

The layered look was represented by a few of the outfits Starr and Collage Clothing Lounge (3344 Lakeshore, Oakl. (510) 452-3344) owner Amanda Rae were pulling off the racks during our interview. Chunky sweaters, flowy tanks, maxi skirts, sheer blouses, and bangles on bangles on bangles poured out of Rae’s little shop, which the bashful businesswoman gamely donned for some quick photos behind the store.

This week, the city is somewhat deluged in fashion events (keep reading!), but this Starr’s second runway-club night is the one to check out for versatile local fashion. Three boutiques — Collage, Mission Statement, and Artillery Art Gallery — will be dressing the models. She’s invited her favorite “runway DJ” Ry Toast and Bayonics dreamboat Rojai to drop some tracks from his upcoming debut album.

In the future, Starr says the shows will be a great launching pad for that new clothes line. Expect it to drop by the time the next Style From Within rolls around. She also wanted to use this space to let Lil Wayne know her styling services are available next time he’s in town, and who am I to say I’ve got better things to write about?

Style From Within Vol. 2 Wed/7 9pm-2am, free before 10:30pm with RSVP to bianca@biancastarr.com; $5 at door. Harlot, 46 Minna, SF. www.biancastarr.com

 

THE BOLD ITALIC’S HABERDASH

Damn the men look good in this town. I thank the Bold Italic’s recent spread of fashionable FiDi fellows for proof that downtown does have soul, and I heartily recommend attending the website’s local malewear runway show. Looks from Lower Haight skate chic boutique D Structure, denim gods Self Edge, bespoke shirtsmiths The Artful Gentleman, and more — all soundtracked with a live set by LA’s sexy-breathless pop beatmakers Wildcat! Wildcat!

Wed/7 8-11pm, $30. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.thebolditalic.com

 

VIRGIE TOVAR

Only no one on this page has style like Virgie Tovar, fat activist. Tovar recently pulled together an inspirational collection of fat chick stories, musings, and manifestos in Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion. To read is to luxuriate in the notion that our bodies are beauty, regardless and because of their deviation from fashion mag norms. Tovar’s reading today with fellow Hot and Heavy will be a celebration of fatshion, self-acceptance, and sparkles.

Thu/8 7:30pm, free. The Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF. (415) 863-8688, www.booksmith.com

 

RETROFIT REPUBLIC PRESENTS ADAPTATION

Attend this weekend’s Green Festival for its explosion of new, sustainable products and foodstuffs, lectures, and musical performances by enviro-leaning luminaries. But after Dolores Huerta’s main stage keynote address on Saturday, make sure you turn your fashionista side-eye at a Retrofit Republic-curated lineup of upcycled ‘fits by textile queen Jeanette Au, stylist duo the Bellwether Project, Mission vintage shop 31 Rax, and more.

Sat/10 6-7pm, free with $10 Green Festival day pass. Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.greenfestivals.org

 

FASHION INCUBATOR SAN FRANCISCO WANTS YOU

… If you’ve got skills, I mean. Each year, the nonprofit picks six budding fashion designers upon which to lavish studio space in the Macy’s offices downtown. And you don’t just get access to a rad straight stitch machine: the program includes a year’s worth of classes on all the skills you need to become a ravishing entrepreneur.

Applications due Nov. 30. www.fashionincubatorsf.org

Locally grown

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM First and foremost, make it your business to see Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, which is playing the San Francisco Film Society’s “Cinema By the Bay” series and the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, both of which open this week. (See DocFest article elsewhere in this issue.)

Director Jesse Vile’s film shares some themes with The Sessions, in that its subject is a fiercely talented person who manages to be wildly alive despite being almost completely paralyzed. Hailing from Richmond in the East Bay, Jason Becker got his first guitar at age five as a Christmas present; it wasn’t long before his family realized he was a genuine riff-slingin’ musical prodigy. Home movies and MTV-style videos capture the teenage metalhead’s ascension from school talent shows to jam-packed arenas, and his delight at being hired for a highly sought-after gig in David Lee Roth’s post-Van Halen band.

He was just 20 — big-haired, wide-eyed, and fond of saying “Daaaang!” whenever anything took him by surprise — when he sought medical treatment for what he thought was a pinched nerve but what turned out to be ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Though his body deteriorated rapidly, his remarkably supportive family invented a way for him to communicate using only his eyes. Today, he can no longer play his beloved instrument, but he still makes music — and takes delight in embarrassing whoever’s “translating” for him by cracking off-color jokes.

Closing night selection CXL (from first-time feature director Sean Gillane and writers Theo Miller and Katherine Bruens) follows perpetually bummed-out writer Nolan (Cole Smith), whose Mission District existence is so realistic (oy, that awkward hipster house party) the film could only have been made by a local. Though he still pines for his ex, he falls for Cassie (Lisa Greyson), whose penchant for zany behavior lurches her dangerously close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl status: “I open random doors!” she exclaims when Nolan asks her what she does for fun. Groan.

But wait! Thankfully, CXL changes course before morphing into Ruby Sparks 2 — a dark plot twist ushers in a cheerfully surreal second half, as Nolan’s book, hilariously titled Dehydrated Tears, becomes an unexpected success, and his relationship with Cassie (and with reality) evolves in ways I won’t spoil here. A recurring sight gag has a pack of Nolans trailing behind the real one — suggesting that maybe there are parallel realities at play, or just a guy with a hell of a lot of personal baggage.

Finally, film fans will remember photographer Lucy Gray for “Big Tilda,” a piece that projected huge digital collages of actor (and San Francisco International Film Festival favorite) Tilda Swinton onto SF’s City Hall as part of SFIFF 2006. “A Conversation with Lucy Gray” includes a screening of her short film debut, Genevieve Goes Boating, about a playwright who pens a whimsical story about a girl who sets sail on a homemade boat — narrated by Swinton, of course. *

 

“CINEMA BY THE BAY”

Fri/9-Sun/11, $12–<\d>$25

New People Cinema

1746 Post, SF

www.sffs.org

A sizzling tale

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

LIT Every San Franciscan has at least some knowledge of the city’s pre-1906 earthquake days (Gold Rush!), with the more curious able to rattle off a few more random tidbits (Emperor Norton!)

It’s possible, though, that no other San Franciscan hungers for historical facts like Robert Graysmith, a former San Francisco Chronicle journalist and cartoonist best-known for his true-crime classic Zodiac — the basis for the 2007 David Fincher film. He also wrote The Murder of Bob Crane, which was made into the 2002 film Auto Focus.

Graysmith’s latest is Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer and of the Mysterious Fires that Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco, which uncovers Mark Twain’s friendship with the real-life Sawyer — a colorful figure in the city’s early firefighting culture — and paints a detailed portrait of San Francisco, circa 1849-1866. It’s jam-packed with notable residents whose long-ago importance lingers in the city’s street names (Broderick, Brannan) — plus mustachioed hooligans and “The Lightkeeper,” an arsonist as mysterious as he was destructive. The book also spills over with highly unromantic descriptions of what day-to-day living must’ve been like: raucous, dangerous, and astonishingly muddy. I spoke with the longtime local about his latest tale.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How did you find out about the original Tom Sawyer?

Robert Graysmith Back in 1991, I saw this little article about “torch boys,” and I thought, “What’s this?” No names or anything. Basically, it was boy firefighters. Like with Zodiac, the Bob Crane book, and the Trailside Killer [in The Sleeping Lady: The Trailside Murders Above the Golden Gate], I always like to do the first book on a subject because you start from zero. You have to go to the actual records. You have to go live where the people did. You immerse yourself. You literally get to live what I call “the great adventure.”

So I decided I was going to write about these boy firefighters, because how could anyone not have written about them? A little bit later, I discovered there was an arsonist — the name I’ve given is a name I’d heard before, the Lightkeeper — who’d burned down all of San Francisco six times in 18 months. I thought, this is an even greater story! And then I came across the original Tom Sawyer, and I was going through these journals and diaries and things, and there’s Mark Twain, and they’re friends! Gradually it developed into the first biography of Tom Sawyer, and yet at heart it’s a true crime story about catching this arsonist, and the making of a great city.

But what I really came away with was, even without meeting Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer was a great man. He saved 90 lives at sea after an exploding steamboat tragedy, he fought for the rights of volunteer firemen, and who knows how many lives he saved during fires. As he said in interviews back in 1898, he’d been with the very first volunteer fire company in California. Every aspect of firefighting in San Francisco, Tom Sawyer encompassed that.

SFBG Even beyond Tom Sawyer, Black Fire talks quite a bit about firefighting history in San Francisco.

RG I love that. Isn’t that fascinating? [When I’m writing] I want to know every single thing. If a house is on fire, I want to know who lives there, who got out, how the fire started, the wind direction, the weather, the kind of food they ate. My goal is this: if Tom Sawyer came back today, he would say, “How did he know that?” I like to play that game with myself and I like to do that with the reader. I’d like the reader, at least once on every page, to say “I didn’t know that!”

But I hope I did a good job. I loved the book and I loved doing the drawings for it. [I had so much material that] the companion book, Black Water, is already done — it’s an incredible story, so I’m really counting on Black Fire doing well so we can bring it out. I can’t really tell you what it’s about, but there’s a lot of archaeology involved, and it’s the exact same time period, with a few of the same characters.

SFBG The characters in Black Fire are pretty memorable.

RG I love the characters, like “the ugliest man in San Francisco” — and maybe in the world, we weren’t sure! You’ve got a US senator, a gunfighter, boxing champs, con men. Incredibly bigger-than-life figures, and these are the guys who saved the city! In a city where everybody was terrible, these slightly bad guys were the heroes. They really were what held us together, pulling these water wagons up hills, fighting fires with tiny hoses. It was so overwhelming, the devastation — because we had paper houses, and they kept building the same houses over again. I love the fact that they fought against impossible odds and succeeded.

ROBERT GRAYSMITH

Nov. 15, 7pm, free

City Lights

261 Columbus, SF

www.citylights.com

 

Rare talent

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith may be best known for their hit biannual show, the CONCEPT series — where you munch free popcorn while watching informal presentations of local choreography. Their own company, RAWdance, performs only occasionally. So to see them in a full-evening program, "re: framed" (Nov. 2-4 at ODC Theater), was to realize just how special their work is. Raw it ain’t, conceptual it is.

Of the four pieces, only one of them, Burn In, Part I, consisted of what this duo does best, choreographing on their own sinewy and fiercely interacting bodies. Described in the program as the beginning of a larger piece to be shown next year, Burn seemed to emanate from an intense searching for connection between two people. An underlying tension colored every move, as they invaded each other’s spaces and Rein, incubus-like, hung on Smith’s back and plopped on his lap. Despite the intensity of these dramatic and detailed encounters, emotions were held in check by the analytical processes that seemed to have generated the movements.

Breton Tyner-Bryan, first seen through some slats of light, intruded into the relationship. Her presence became a perhaps corrosive element that heated up an already fiery intensity. It was as if some kind of apocalyptic terror was descending on these slithering and shivering creatures. In the last image Smith was hanging onto Rein’s legs as a beam of red light contracted onto her back, a mountain of quivering muscles. It looked like a piece of raw meat.

For Double Exposure, the two dancers asked for original two-minute duets from good and stylistically different choreographers. They got a pleasant divertissement. Ann Carlson gave them an amusing Beauty and Beast encounter based on rhythmic panting. Joe Goode, punning on the company name, created a sly roll in the hay, followed by a verbal ping-pong match. KT Nelson’s frolicking duet was short, musical, and witty. The most intriguing contribution came from Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga. In skull-hugging caps and long, simple gowns, the couple’s slow progression and reversal of direction looked like Edward Gorey might have been designed it.

The current version of The Beauty Project is the result of rethinking for the stage of a 2009 work originally performed in an empty store at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. I wish I had seen it there, in the context of all those shop windows with their empty-faced mannequins.

The thematic material of the doll that comes alive, of course, is a trope already used by 19th century ballet choreographers — but Ryan and Smith’s take, for five women in tiny dresses and black bob wigs, was fully contemporary. Four silver-painted chairs become tools to architecturally redesign the stage. Designed on an invisible grid, the dancing followed clear patterns of oppositions, canons, and unisons that break up and reconfigure themselves. Though highly formal — that’s the essence of who these choreographers are — the work’s fast-paced rhythms constantly shifted moods as the dancers vacillated between vacuous stares and come-hither sexual invitations. They collaborated and competed, borrowing the assertive strides, half-turns, and hip thrusts from the runway. Every once in awhile, the "models" stepped out of their roles, showing glimpses of the anxiety, aggression, and boredom that makes them human. One of the dancers stared into the audience from downstage left, a look of forlornness about her. However, wrapping her up in cellophane and carrying her off looked too easy, as if the choreographers couldn’t figure out how to end this slight but well-crafted work.

The evening’s closer, 66 Measures, was a throwaway study of fairly standard patternings for a sextet of dancers, each inside a circle of light. They were dressed in a variety of black and white stripes that looked good. But clothes, of course, don’t make the emperor.

The practice of politics

119

steve@sfbg.com

ESSAY San Francisco’s progressive movement needs restoration and renewal. Our focus on immediate fights and indignities has blurred our perspective on the larger, longer struggle for a more just, sustainable, and inclusive society. It’s time to regain that vision by taking a new path and practicing a different kind of politics.

Back-to-back local scandals involving progressive male politicians treating women badly have spawned waves of ugly reactions and recriminations on all sides. Those frustrations have bubbled up against an overwhelming tidal wave of money from wealthy individuals and corporations used to deceive and divide the voting public on the local and national levels.

Real concerns about domestic violence have been reduced to an election-year weapon, cheapening an important issue. Stubborn injustices like lack of gender equity in pay and promotions and access to contraception have been countered with mythical “binders full of women,” a new take on the old dodge of personal responsibility. Unacceptable groping or grabbing is alternatively denied, dismissed, or blamed on the women. Little has changed except the modern polish on our dated pronouncements.

The turbulence of this political year has tested our tolerance and we’ve lost our balance, if not our minds from time to time. But we can learn from our mistakes. San Franciscans should be leading the way forward, not just with our gadgets and technological innovations, but with the example we set in how we practice our politics.

Perhaps I’m not the best one to call out my comrades and propose our next steps. I’m a single, straight man, and I’ve fought as fiercely as anyone on behalf of the Guardian’s progressive values and worldview, sometimes resorting to the same nastiness that we’ve seen bubbling over this year.

But as I’ve covered this year’s high-profile political scandals involving Ross Mirkarimi and Julian Davis for the Guardian — and read the vitriolic comments reacting to my stories and expressed in public forums — it has caused me to rethink my own approach and that of the progressive movement. So I want to offer my insights, make amends, and contribute to the dialogue that our community desperately needs to have.

***

Let me start by saying that I understand why people perceive political conspiracies against Mirkarimi, Davis, and other progressive politicians in San Francisco. Wealthy interests really do have a disproportionate influence over the decisions that are shaping this city’s future, to the detriment of the working and creative classes.

A small group of powerful people installed Ed Lee as mayor using calculated deceptions, and he has largely been carrying out their agenda ever since, practicing dirty politics that have fractured and debilitated the progressive movement. In this election cycle, we saw the willingness of Lee’s deep-pocketed benefactors, such as right-wing billionaire Ron Conway, to shatter previous spending records to achieve their unapologetically stated goal of destroying San Francisco’s progressive movement.

But if we want to replace economic values with human values — emphasizing people’s needs over property and profits, which is the heart of progressivism — we can’t forget our humanity in that struggle. Choosing conflict and the politics of division plays into the hands of those who seek to divide and conquer us. We need to embody the change we want to see and build new systems to replace our ailing political and economic models.

When Mayor Lee decided in March to suspend Sheriff Mirkarimi without pay and without any investigation — and by the way, showing no interest in hearing from the alleged victim, Eliana Lopez — progressives had good reason to be outraged. Domestic violence advocates and the Chronicle’s editorial writers may not see it this way, but I understand why it seemed politically motivated.

I also understand why people wanted Mirkarimi gone, believing that someone who admitted to domestic violence couldn’t possibly remain San Francisco’s chief elected law-enforcement officer. This was a black-and-white issue for them, and they saw progressive opposition to his removal as condoning his actions, despite our arguments that his criminal punishment was separate from the question of what the standard should be for removing an elected official from office.

Both sides fervently believed in their respective positions and were largely talking past one another, unable to really communicate. Positions hardened and were charged with emotion until they boiled over during the Oct. 9 hearing on Mirkarimi’s removal.

But there’s never any excuse for booing or making derogatory comments to domestic violence advocates who braved a hostile crowd to offer their opinions on the issue. Tolerance and respect for differing opinion are core progressive tenets, and our faith in those values must override our emotional impulses, which only feeds a fight that we lose just by fighting.

It was against this backdrop — and partially as a result of this polarized climate — that revelations of Davis’ bad behavior toward women were made public. Davis is a friend of mine, and I was aware that he could act like an over-entitled jerk toward women, particularly during his worst period several years ago, although I had no idea how bad it really was.

As with many political scandals, the issue here wasn’t just the original incidents, but how someone responds to them. That’s the mark of someone’s character and integrity. Most people do the wrong thing sometimes, but if we learn from our mistakes and truly make amends — which isn’t something we claim, but something offered to us if our intentions seem true — then we become better people.

As we said in our editorial withdrawing our endorsement from Davis a few weeks ago, being a progressive has to be more about the movement than the person, and it’s time that we remember that. So as a movement, the moment has arrived to come clean, admit our flaws, start anew, and try to lead by our example rather than our rhetoric or our stands on the issues.

***

They say confession is good for soul, so let me give it a shot. Shortly after Sup. Jane Kim took office in 2010, we had a series of confrontational conflicts over some votes she made and her failure to come clean about what her relationship was with Willie Brown, which seemed to me related. She offered a misleading answer to my question and then said she wouldn’t answer any more questions from me, which infuriated me because I believe politicians have a duty to be accountable. And so I continued to be hard on her in print and in person.

Now, I realize that I was being something of a bully — as political reporters, particularly male reporters, have often been over the years. I want to offer a public apology for my behavior and hope for forgiveness and that our relationship — which was a friendly one since long before she took office — can be better in the future.

While I felt that I was treating Kim like I would any politician, and I probably was, the fact is that the style of combative political exchanges — embodied in the last decade by Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, and many others, mostly men but some women like Carole Migden — is what has brought the progressive movement and San Francisco politics in general to the lowly point that we now find ourselves.

My old friend and ex-girlfriend Alix Rosenthal and other political women I know have long tried to impress upon me the value of having more females in office, regardless of their ideology, as long as they aren’t actual conservatives. I have always bristled at that idea, believing ideology and political values to be more important than identity politics, which has been used as a wedge to divide the progressive movement.

At first, I supported Davis because I saw in him a progressive warrior. But most progressives know in our hearts that nobody wins wars. We are all diminished just for fighting them, and their fallout can be felt in unexpected ways for years to come. Even though I agreed with the Board of Supervisors decision to reinstate Mirkarimi, I felt sad and sick watching the celebrations that followed, and I understood that winning that battle might do real damage to the progressive movement.

So I’m proposing that we just stop fighting. We need to stop demonizing those we don’t agree with. “We are not the enemy,” Domestic Violence Consortium head Beverly Upton told supervisors at the Mirkarimi hearing, and she’s right. We can still disagree with her position, and we can say so publicly and call for her to talk to Lopez or take other steps, but we shouldn’t make her an enemy.

***

Having written this essay before the Nov. 6 election, I don’t know the outcome, but I do know progressive power is waning just as we need it most. Landlords and Realtors are intent on rolling back renter protections, while technology titans and other corporate leaders will keep pushing the idea that city government must serve their interests, something the mayor and most supervisors already believe. And they’re all overtly hostile to progressives and our movement.

Against this onslaught, and with so much at stake, the temptation is to fight back with all our remaining strength and hope that’s enough to change the dynamics. But it won’t. Now is the time to organize and expand our movement, to reach out to communities of color and the younger generations. We need to grow our ability to counter those who see San Francisco as merely a place to make money, and who are increasingly hostile to those of us standing in their way.

It may sound trite, but we need to meet their hate with our love, we need to counter their greed with our generosity of spirit. In the year 2012, with all the signs we see in the world that the dominant economic and political systems are dying, we need to work on building our capacity to create new systems to replace them. If they want to build a condo for a billionaire, we should find a way to build two apartments for workers. If they want to bend the campaign rules and dump millions of dollars into one of their candidates, we should use free media and bodies on the street to stand up for someone with more integrity.

Our heroes are people like MLK and Gandhi, and — and most recently and perhaps more relevantly, Arundhati Roy, Amy Goodman, and Aung San Suu Kyi — and we should heed their examples now more than ever. I’m not going to presume to lay out a specific agenda or new tactics, leaving that leadership to those who embody the new approaches and visions that I’m willing to learn and lend my energies and experience to supporting.

But the one essential truth that I’ve come to embrace is that our current struggles and paradigms are as unsustainable as the system that we’re critiquing. It’s time to embrace a new way of doing things, and to join the vast majority of people around the world in creating a new era.

KCSM and the future of community TV

0

OPINION On October 24th, the San Mateo Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to reject the final two bidders (of an original six) for the broadcast license for KCSM television, bringing to an end an 18-month process by the district to try to sell the television broadcast license housed at the College of San Mateo since 1964. KCSM television reaches 10 Bay Area counties and is broadcast on 60 municipal cable systems in Northern California.

The 48-year old TV station was originally established as a broadcast training facility. From 1964 to 1980, the College of San Mateo ran one of the most comprehensive broadcast journalism programs in the country. In 2004, the station converted to a digital-only signal and in 2009, dropped PBS affiliation and became one of the largest independent public televisions stations in the country.

The district, which operates the College of San Mateo, Skyline College and Canada College, has experienced the severe financial pressures affecting California higher education generally and community colleges in particular. Throughout the US, colleges and universities have been shedding non-commercial broadcast licenses at a rapid rate, causing a crisis in independent media that has long had a home at educational facilities. KCSM-TV is the largest Bay Area media asset to go on the chopping block so far.

KCSM currently broadcasts a block of distance learning opportunities and on-line courses that provide a lifeline to many Bay Area residents who for reasons of disability or family obligations can’t participate in campus-based education. It also features a variety of cultural-exchange, craft/hobby, theatrical and informational programs including Ideas in Action, the Miller Center forums and Moyers and Company. The station is also one of the few sources for children’s programs free of commercials and provides 16 hours of week of kids TV.

Educational broadcasters are a bulwark against the commercially-driven broadcast media, whose need to deliver eyes and ears to advertisers compels them to avoid potentially controversial content and pander to the audiences that are most likely to buy large amounts of consumer goods. The freedom to present content that appeals to smaller niche audiences or presents ideas that may be challenging to some aspects of the status quo largely belongs to the independent media. So when a big chunk of it goes up for sale, it affects everyone who values the free exchange of ideas without a corporate blockade.

My organization, democratic communication advocates Media Alliance, filed a public records request with the District to obtain the details of the bids for the broadcast license and the documents are available for review at media-alliance.org.

Unsuccessful bidders for the station included Christian broadcaster Daystar Television Networks, low-power San Jose station KAXT, the Minority Television Project, which operates KMPT, Channel 32, and Belmont’s Locus Point Networks, a startup run by two former telecom executives The final two runners-up were Public Media Company, a division of the Colorado LLC Public Radio Capital, the radio brokers who have been active in scooping up college radio stations, and San Mateo Community Television, a newly established nonprofit connected with Independent Public Media of Colorado.

At the October 24th board meeting, district trustees stated repeatedly that despite the collapse of the process, they were unwavering their determination to sell the television license. This follows previous board meetings at which some trustees referred to the $5 million public asset as the equivalent of a junked car.

A new bid cycle is likely to ensue, which will provide an opportunity for an open and transparent process to find a responsible local operator to serve Bay Area residents and their informational and educational needs. It’s more than time for colleges and universities to stop speculating on broadcast infrastructure like Maui condos and strive to fulfill the public interest obligations inherent in the free gift of a non-commercial license to broadcast.

Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, an Oakland-based advocate for community media. They can be found at www.media-alliance.org.

Life’s a gas

0

marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO OK, first of all, there is now the first all-night whipped cream supply delivery service in the world right here in SF — the evocatively named Hippie Gap. “We do NOT condone ANY MISS use [sic] of our products!!!” says the About. “Whip-it! Original N2O” it then goes on, before linking to the Wikipedia entry for nitrous oxide. 10pm-10am, y’all. The best parts of rave may have been the stroboscopic aneurysms (and the bisexual Smart Drinks vendors): when the nitrous tank arrived the carnival truly began. But I’ll really sit up if someone bikes a gasmask greased with Vick’s VapoRub to my stoop. Screw your Backstreet Boys crap, that’s when the ’90s really will be back.

Also, right now there is a gang of kick-ass, stiletto-heeled Estonian girls in Miami getting vulnerable rich businessmen drunk at “Russian-style” bars and tricking them into buy extravagantly tacky things like Dom Perignon and boatloads of caviar. They are known as the B-Girls and they grifted one poor slob out of $48,000. They are kind of my girl-gang heroes? Well, right after Pussy Riot, Foxfire, Steel Magnolias, the Mi Vida Loca cholas, and the Sisterhood of the Transgender Pants.

 

MAYA JANE COLES

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShMAgi_d77w

Young Brit phenom has been on an unstoppable tear the past few years, and while the hype has cooled somewhat, the skills have stayed white hot. Jazz-eared, soulful tech-house and killer bass augmentation swing wonderfully wide across a variety of moods, and always hit the spot. With local favorites Moniker and Brian Bejarano.

Thu/8, 9pm, $20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com

 

STARKEY

Ethereal Philly street bass hero bangs the floor out with his futuristic swoops and sticky-starlight arpeggios — get a preview of new album Orbits, dropping in December, at new beats ‘n bass party Sway. Soulful fellow bass-face Kastle, of San Francisco and awfully good looking, dubs it up to open.

Thu/8, 9pm, $10–$15. 330 Ritch, SF. starkeyandkastle.eventbrite.com

 

ASC

A sweet night of thoughtful techno that doesn’t shy away from rippling drum and bass ecstasy from this grown-up veteran of the UK hardcore scene. Local smarties Ghosts on Tape, Bells and Whistles, and Mossmoss jumpstart the sophisticated, super-danceable aural vibes at the monthly As You Like It party.

Fri/9, 10pm-late, $10–$20. Beatbox, 314 11th St., SF. www.ayli-sf.com

 

MOUNT KIMBIE

A lineup to make cerebral bassheads’ hearts go boom. Transcendent UK duo Mount Kimbie aren’t afraid to take you off the rails and down a winding trail with their live sets. Gorgeous Floridian tech-dubber XXYYXX also appears, with SF electronic dreamer Giraffage (“Feels” is one of my fave 2012 tracks), D33J, Dials, and the Lights Down Low nutters.

Fri/9, 10pm-3am, $17–$20. 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com

 

RAREBITS

One of the cutest little secrets of nightlife music nerds has been this wildly eclectic night of, well, rare bits of sonic loveliness and genius off-kilter projections, put on by three cute bearish guys and tucked away in gay bar Truck. For this anniversary free-for-all, they’ve invited 16 DJs (including residents Chicken, Bearno Kardashian, and Bobby Please) to spin 20-minute sets of yummy, weird stuff. Plus there’ll be pop-up food from Two Tarts and a Stove. Delish.

Fri/9, 6pm-2am, free. Truck, 1900 Folsom, SF. rarebits.tumblr.com

 

ALL NIGHT LONG

If you’ve just moved here from another planet, or know a friend who really needs to catch up, witnessing classic DJ Garth take the decks for a fabuloso marathon five-and-a-half hour set in the Public Works loft — well, that’s the perfect crash course in 20 years of San Francisco dance music.

His titillatingly wicked blend of psychedelic rock, cosmic disco, acid house, and pagan grooves will have you howling at the moon right quickly, friend.

Sat/10, 10pm-3:30am, $7. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

NON-STOP BHANGRA DIWALI CELEBRATION

Meanwhile, downstairs at Public Works, one of my favorite monthly parties celebrates the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, with a bhangra-riffic blowout, with the dholrythms dancers, live dhol drummers, and DJs Jimmy Love, rav-E, Santero, and Harvi Bhachu. It all kicks off with a seriously great bhangra flashmob and procession at 16th Street and Valencia at 9pm. Bring a light and let it shine!

Sat/10, 9pm-3am, $10–$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

An icon’s icons

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arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART The new Jasper Johns retrospective currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opens not with his seminal 1955 painting Flag, but with one much less well known from 1956, a painted object titled Canvas. That work is made from a wood stretcher frame and canvas panel turned around to face the wall, the entire back of the thing covered in gray encaustic. Above it on the wall is a quotation from Johns, “I’ve always considered myself a very literal artist.”

This greeting at the show’s entrance is meant to tell you two things: that you may not be seeing all the most iconic works by one of the world’s most famous living artists, and that you’ll want to take this one slowly, since you’re going to be presented with a methodical review of Johns’ handling of artworks as objects. The central narrative of this excellent show — comprising some 90-plus works, some new and never before exhibited — is Johns’ continuing inquiry into the relationship between what an artwork is as an object and what it depicts.

The first two galleries are dedicated to Johns’ Numbers works, which bookend his nearly 60-year career. The numbers stand in for the other early works, the flag and target paintings that made him an immediate star in the late 1950s and announced the arrival of the post-Abstract Expressionist era. The room is framed by a high key oil painting titled 0 through 9 (pun probably intended), in which a stack of superimposed numerals competes with loud bursts of brushed color. Also in the same room is 1959’s White Numbers, a large relief grid of ordered numerals painted in very thick white encaustic. That impasto grid, texture and all, recurs in a cast bronze wall work from 2005, and a silver sculpture from 2008. Likewise, 0 through 9 is shown also as a charcoal drawing, a lithograph, and a lead relief.

The thing about numbers, of course, is the same about targets or flags. Namely, a painting of a flag is in fact a flag (distinct from how, say, a painting of a tree is not actually a tree). Letting this sink in and acknowledging that Johns is interested in the literal facts (pun intended here, too) of painting and sculpture helps frame how you encounter the rest of the works on display. From start to finish of the show, Johns’ works slowly build in visual and textual intricacy, but tend to circle around this same main refrain.

Johns wants you to understand the complex objects he’s creating, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make it easy. Proceeding by a kind of diffracted metonymy, the various components in Johns’ artworks are both meant to be exactly whatever they are, and also to stand in for a set of other things that also might have been included. This is made explicit in the way Johns mulls over compositions, and transmutes them across media, recasting — sometimes literally — a work in different iterations. Compounding this self-reflexivity, you’ll find statements once proposed as standalone artworks recur later as motifs or referents.

In other hands, this activity might be inexcusably hermetic or academic, but in Johns’ best works the effect is to establish at once both a harmonic resonance between concepts and a continual scrutiny of his own conclusions. For example, in the 1970s-80s Crosshatch paintings, you notice that same numerical grid from 20 years prior, this time reintroduced as the underlying compositional structure of works like Usuyuki (1979-81) or Scent (1973-74). Or, beginning with his 80s Seasons series and continuing to his new Shrinky Dink and Bushbaby images, entire compositions from past works are miniaturized and sampled in new ones, in a highly complex virtualization that juxtaposes metonymy with metaphor. When it works it is astonishing.

It’s axiomatic that an artist will return to established precepts over the course or her career, but few have done so with the explicitness of Johns, who uses his own process as fodder for new deconstructions and assemblages. That the show contains several new works and two new series suggests that Johns, now 82, is not done yet. *

JASPER JOHNS: SEEING WITH THE MIND’S EYE

Through Feb. 3

SFMOMA

151 Third St., SF

www.sfmoma.org

 

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

MARIE BOURGET, KENNETH LO, AND DANIEL SMALL

Marie Bourget’s arabesque paintings take from tile work and ceramics and combine them with translations of Walt Whitman to lovely effect. Through Nov. 22, Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph, Oakl; www.johanssonprojects.com

JAMES STERLING PITT

Pitt’s painted wooden sculptures recall both Jonathan Lasker and Richard Tuttle. And that ain’t a bad thing. Through Dec. 8, Eli Ridgway Gallery, 172 Minna, SF; www.eliridgway.com

ROBERT SAGERMAN

Sagerman’s paintings reimagine Georges Seurat’s pointillism as luminous color field paintings. Through Dec. 22, Brian Gross Fine Art, 49 Geary, Fifth Flr., SF; www.briangrossfineart.com