Volume 47 Number 13

We go together

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APPETITE A celebratory or comforting drink is just what we crave at this time of year. When it comes with an excellent bite, even better. Here are a few of the most noteworthy drinks, winter cocktail menus, and dishes in SF as 2012 passes into 2013.

 

AME

It’s not a cocktail, and its blowfish base has long been known as dangerous… but in skilled hands, is entirely safe. Ame Restaurant in The St. Regis serves this fugu (blowfish) fin sake, the most adventurous drink on order this winter. Yes, it’s infused with an actual toasted fugu fin resting in the bottom of a ceramic mug ($15 for 6 oz.), filled with warm Honjozo-style “Karatamba” sake from Japan’s Hyogo prefecture. In Japan, this torafugu is considered to be of the highest quality, the fins traditionally roasted and steeped in warm sake. I couldn’t miss a chance to taste the rarity when it came on the menu a few weeks ago — and it will be available through February 2013. On a brisk, clear winter’s night, it warmed me from within with rich, layered, funky, even umami notes.

Eat with: Sit at Ame’s small bar with a mug of blowfish fin sake accompanied by Ame’s now classic Lissa’s Staff Meal ($16.50), an artful bowl of cuttlefish noodles, appropriate soft and muscled, tossed with brightly fresh sea urchin and quail egg in soy and wasabi.

In the St. Regis Hotel, 689 Mission, SF. (415) 284-4040, www.amerestaurant.com

 

BLACKBIRD

Launched on December 17, Blackbird’s winter menu offers the most sophisticated, satisfying cocktails in the Castro. Owner Shawn Vergara has been filling this needed niche on Market Street since opening Blackbird in 2009. This brand-new menu features some of Blackbird’s best drinks yet. I adore Italy’s sexy, sparkling red wine, Lambrusco. Here it’s a vibrant aperitif with pear-infused gin in the Poached Pear ($8), balanced by honey and lemon. Crimson King ($9) is another rosy, cool sipper of hibiscus-infused brandy, house pistachio orgeat, cranberry, and lemon. My tops on the new menu just might be Harvest Moon ($10). It’s a Bols Genever and Nocino (green walnut liqueur) base, sweetened with maple and pumpkin butter, balanced by lemon and Angostura bitters, softened with egg whites.

Eat with: Blackbird’s six different bar jars smeared on crispy crackers make for playful snacks, whether you opt for the smoked trout or deviled ham jars. I lean towards the pimento cheese jar laden with piquillo peppers and cheddar.

2124 Market, SF. (415) 503-0630, www.blackbirdbar.com

 

15 ROMOLO

Running through the first week of January, 15 Romolo’s Sherry Christmas! explores the wonders of sherry in cocktails that don’t taste merely of sherry. The impressive range is no surprise from what has consistently remained one of the best cocktail menus in San Francisco — with damn great food, too. The menu features all sherry styles from fino to oloroso, which act as shining stars or subtle unifiers. Manzanilla sherry subtly backs gin in Gardner’s Delight ($10) next to celery bitters, Dolin blanc vermouth, lemon, and a house thyme shrub — a lively “delight”. White Elephant ($9) illumines white port, sherry vinegar. and spiced liqueur with manzanilla sherry, a dash of absinthe tying this refresher together. Typically when I see rye whiskey, Cynar, and amontillado sherry together, I expect a musky, fall-spiced drink. In the case of a Solstice Sour ($10), these elements are mixed with a light hand, touched with lemon and cinnamon syrup, a cocktail that manages to capture winter in an almost spring-like way. Here’s hoping these sherry beauties stay on past January.

Eat with: Chef Justin Deering added on a few Spanish inspired dishes to accompany sherry cocktails or half bottles of sherry, like gambas a la plancha (shrimp in garlic and lemon), juicy albondigas (beef-pork meatballs), and sherried mushrooms ($5-8).

5 Romolo Place, SF. (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com

 

JASPER’S CORNER TAP

Bar manager Kevin Diedrich and crew produced another all-star cocktail menu this season at Jasper’s Corner Tap. One of the most unusual, savory drinks you’ll run into anywhere is Diedrich’s Genki ($13), inspired by a dish he recently had at Makoto in DC. With a base of Del Maguey Vida mezcal balanced by Partida Blanco tequila and Combier orange liqueur, Diedrich adds Togarashi syrup, lime, egg white and Matcha salt. Genki is simultaneously spicy, perky, refreshing.

Though there’s many a joy (don’t miss the creamy-but-light, floral Rum Shaker, seamlessly mixing Bacardi 8 Rum, Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, lime, pumpkin syrup, cream, egg white, orange flower water), one of the most playful drinks is a bottled Here Comes the Fuzz! ($11). Charred peach is infused in Jasper’s house bourbon, bottled with Manzanilla sherry (sherry dominates this season!), honey, lemon, pomegranate molasses, peach bitters and Angostura Bitters. Fizzy and vivacious, charred peaches and sherry imbue a gorgeous, nutty hue.

Eat with: With the invigorating drinks above, a trio of deviled eggs ($8 or $4 each) is appropriately light but satisfying. Though deviled eggs seem to be everywhere the last couple years, this trio stays fun with heirloom tomato caprese, “Caesar salad”, chipotle-romesco.

401 Taylor, SF. (415) 775-7979, www.jasperscornertap.com

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Gentle mosh

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TOFU AND WHISKEY Vetiver and Howlin Rain have both been haunting around the Bay for the better part of a decade. Sonically split, playing tender Americana folk and 1970s-tinged psychedelic rock, respectively, the bands share a common thread of superior musicanship and drive — each releasing a landmark album in the past year or so (Howlin Rain’s The Russian Wilds and Vetiver’s The Errant Charm). The other link? Mutual admiration.

The two bands will play a series of three concerts together this weekend (Fri/28, Sat/ 29, Mon/31, 9pm, $20–$35, Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com). In anticipation of those, we did a sort of round-robin of interviews. I asked the musicians — Vetiver band leader and chief songwriter Andy Cabic and Howlin Rain’s Ethan Miller — a few general questions, then they took their conversation adrift, discussing literary influences, favorite Bay Area bands, and “the softest mosh pit in history.” Here are some hearty pieces of the conversation. There’ll be more up on SFBG.com/Noise.

SFBG What compelled you to create music in San Francisco, initially? What keeps you here?

AC I was playing music before I moved here and just gradually found folks to play with here in SF. Bands like Thinking Fellers Union and Caroliner were an initial inspiration. I’ve been here a while and have an apartment with reasonable rent, so that along with the weather, food, community and landscape of the city keeps me here.

EM Initially I moved up from that haunted little paradise that is Santa Cruz to be with my band at the time, Comets On Fire. The rest of the guys had all started migrating to the city and I was finishing up school there, I knew I needed to be with the band and San Francisco had a real buzz of excitement and electricity in the air for us at that time, we were moving toward a dark magic both in the atmosphere of San Francisco and the creative work that was ahead of us.

I actually live in Oakland. I love it here. I stay for my bands, the culture, access to the art museums, the food, the music, the airports, the architecture, the weather, the outlying and incorporated nature, the people, my friends, the work opportunities — I could go on and on, I really don’t have any incentive to leave. After 10 years of living in the metropolitan Bay Area I think my romance with these cities and all they have to offer is stronger than ever and my engagement with their mythologies is increasing daily.

AC [Ethan,]I know you are a voracious reader, and someone who is a fan of epic and oftentimes challenging works of fiction, like Valis, Gravity’s Rainbow, and War and Peace. What is the attraction to committing to a lengthy or monumental work, and how does this impact your songwriting?

EM I started to get into some pretty dark head places when we were making the last record The Russian Wilds. As it dragged into year three, I realized I really needed some highly focused activities outside of music in my life to dismantle stress/anger/exasperation/despair etc. I began jogging religiously to beat these emotions out of my body on the pavement and I took on some heavy books to beat them out of my mind. Moby Dick and War and Peace were the two big ones that began to clear the mental air for me.

Even though we’d finished the album and life moved on to a different kind of pace and substance, I loved the challenge and grandiosity of those works and continued on with the epics. I read Gravity’s Rainbow this year while on the road near the end of our tour cycle and loved it. It is a work that has taunted, haunted, and eluded me for years and now I can say it’s one of my all time favorites; it just took some relatively hard work and time to begin to engage properly with it. It is a true and singular masterpiece but it plays by a different set of rules than most of us are used to dealing with in literature.

AC Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Tim Green and his role in the recording process of ‘The Russian Wilds’?

EM Tim worked for months and months, perhaps dedicated half his year to The Russian Wilds. I can’t say enough about his focus and enthusiasm for the making of that album. Tim and I have been working together on records for 13 years now and we have a pretty telepathic level of communication at this point. I always learn from him, a true professional and an incredible mix of artist and scientist and a great friend. The songs that you hear on that album were chosen and shaped by Rick in their basic forms but the sounds and the “album” that you hear is Tim Green. That’s his blood, sweat, and tears along with ours.

EM Stylistically, perhaps the thing Vetiver is most famous for is your “hushed”/”understated” delivery. Your singing, phrasing, and various levels of serene projection really are the mechanism that delivers Vetiver’s artistic manifesto. When you first began to sing, was what we now know as your style already there by intention or default? Was there a conscious decision to build that style?

AC I think I’ve always sung in a soft way. I had a band in college where I tried yelling and shouting and in that context it worked alright, but never quite clicked for me. I was usually hoarse by the end of those songs. I have a predilection for jangly, poppy sounds and melodic singing, and having never been trained or really taught how to sing correctly, I don’t sing with a very strong voice.

Getting an acoustic guitar and learning to fingerpick allowed me to bring the volume of the performance in line with my voice, and helped me develop a songwriting style that felt easier and more natural.

EM I’m keen to know what kind of literary influences move your musical mind…favorite books or authors that you go back to for musical inspiration year after year? Do you often cross-pollinate influences for songwriting inspiration? Cinema, poetry, visual art?

AC I worked for some years as a buyer for a used bookstore (Aardvark Books on Church at Market…the best!), and though it was one of my favorite jobs, it kind of ruined my ability to stick to one book at a time, hence my reading taste is a bit divided. I read a lot of non-fiction, history, and biographies.

As far as fiction goes, I’m a fan of authors who imbue their writing with their own personal voice. Charles Portis, Robert Walser, Eric Ambler, Paul (and Jane) Bowles, Donald Barthelme and Gertrude Stein are a few of my favorite authors. I’m inspired by economy of language and simplicity, when a lot is communicated with just a few well-chosen words. Conviction of conception is important to me. Bold ideas executed with modesty. The artwork and lived life of Wallace Berman and Marcel Duchamp is a big inspiration for me as well.

EM When we were backstage at a show a while back you told me about a mosh pit that broke out at a Vetiver gig last year. You or someone in the conversation described it as one of the softest mosh pits in history…

AC This was earlier this year, at Pitzer College, during their Kohoutek Festival. It was a blow-out for the students at the end of their term, and we were asked to play last, which is unusual as Vetiver’s sound isn’t exactly of a climactic nature, let’s say. Kids were definitely tripping balls and the prior electronic pop acts had raised the bar to where everyone was ready to go.

A significant portion of the people up front were mesmerized by the dancer twirling her LED hula hoop. That kind of thing. And basically when we began, some folks started pushing around and trying to make it more than it probably was. Some loose student with large pupils got on stage and strained inanities into the microphone between songs, and we were told after a few tunes that the police had arrived and asked to turn ourselves down. We’re probably the only band that has no problem turning down.

EM There are great rolling layers of ambience beneath the more attention grabbing pop and rock elements of ‘The Errant Charm.’ It’s almost as if another dimension has slipped into the world we know and casts a dream state on the listener. A subtle overthrow of pop consciousness. What is that ambient world? Is it of a Machiavellian nature? And why or how is it there flowing effortlessly and breeze-like in and out of a more familiar pop world?

AC This ambient world is a reflective space for me. The Errant Charm may have more of this as the album began with myself and Thom Monahan building layers of keyboards and effects as a substrate for the tunes. I love catchy melodies as well as slow moving ambiences and tried to create opportunities for both to coexist.

AC What’s your favorite underrated Bay Area band of all time and why?

EM Man, this is a tough one between Icky Boyfriends and Monoshock. Probably Icky Boyfriends. Their reunion gig at the Hemlock this year was really something else. I’ve been super into the Public Nuisance record that just got reissued, but they are a lost group from Sacramento and that may be a little too far out from the Bay. Still worth checking out!

 

Respect your elders

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By Sara Maria Vizcarrondo

arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN FILM Before Bruce Willis saved Bonnie Bedelia at Nakatomi Plaza, he was David Addison, detective-agency foil to Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting. Then, after some multi-genre foreplay (1987’s high pedigree rom-com Blind Date, an iffy pop album), Willis charmed the pants off America in 1988’s Die Hard, sliding — gritty and glistening — down an air duct to escape the film’s fiery climax.

It’s been a hero’s journey ever since, so appropriately enough, the 57-year-old co-stars in next year’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation. According to the trailer, he’ll mow down villains triumphantly, then annoy some hottie with TMI about the pains of aging. Maybe Willis’ action-hero persona has come full circle, but the movies haven’t exactly evolved with him. With the exception of the mercifully MIA Steven Seagal, the 1980s’ biggest action stars spent 2012 doing the shtick they perfected long before latter-day idols like The Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield and The Avengers star Chris Hemsworth (both born in 1983, which makes them one year older than The Terminator and one year younger than First Blood) entered the third grade.

>>Read more from our Year in Film 2012 issue here.

But unlike more spandex-y saviors, the leathery hunks who’ve been making films for a generation aren’t asking us to grow with them; instead, they’re growing old in front of us. (In The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale’s Batman is just pushing 40, but he spents half the movie in post-injury, old-man wobble mode.) If we wanna watch these guys be badasses, we’d better mind our touchy-feely instincts, because aging is rougher than a hailstorm of bullets and nowhere near as pretty. At least the flashy shit happens quickly.

Usually, an actor demonstrating frailty provokes viewers to confront their own weaknesses — the goal there is identification, poignancy. So what are we to make of the unstoppable Expendables series? The movies are as one-note as the best glossy shoot-’em-ups, which is relevant because Sylvester Stallone couldn’t have cast Willis, Dolph Lundgren, or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the cockroaches of the mercenary world without their stone-cold legacies. This epic Viagra ad of a franchise is built on the same single-mission structure of the classics that made its stars famous in the first place. The Expendables 2 pads its cast with Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme (as a villain named “Vilain”) — but adds a “kid” (Liam Hemsworth) and a woman (Yu Nan) to the mix. Of course, the film atones for these updates making a plutonium mine the center of the film. (Also, it’s set in an old Russian military base — ah, sweet memories!)

But Stallone, Willis, and co. aren’t the only geezers attached to the aging-heroes trend. Think of Liam Neeson, sizzling anew at age 60 thanks to the Taken films. His career has only gotten hotter as he’s aged and started embracing lower-brow roles — does anyone look more fierce fighting wolves than Neeson? Tom Cruise, who turned 50 this year, doesn’t need a career reboot, even after Rock of Ages; his action-man streak continues apace with the upcoming Jack Reacher, plus 2013’s Oblivion and an inevitable fifth Mission: Impossible film.

James Bond may have shagged half of Europe, but he’s a lone wolf (no cubs) by design, and when the character turned 50 (current Bond Daniel Craig is 44), the plight of post-middle age was all his 23rd movie could talk about. Skyfall, a.k.a. The Best Explosive Marigold Hotel, features a Bond that fights for Britain and his own relevance at the same time — while the series does the same, making the bad guy a hacker and aiming for poignancy with a back story the 1960s Bond would have been too busy sexing around the globe to indulge.

According to the rules of the cowboy — speaking of, is Clint Eastwood still out there somewhere, talking to that empty chair? — the silver star goes to the next in line. But these cowboys ain’t going nowhere, no matter how many Channing Tatum clones start lurking around the box office. The Expendables 3 has already been announced (two words, casting directors: Nic Cage). No word if Willis is in that cast, but he does have G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Red 2 (another series about “retired, extremely dangerous” operatives), and A Good Day to Die Hard on the docket. Terrorists, Cobra Commanders, JCVD, wolves: 2012’s mature action heroes fear not these things. Their only true adversary is time. And possibly gravity.

They see me rollin’

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN FILM Two of 2012’s finest, most philosophical, and most frustrating movies share a setting of sorts. Although one film takes place in New York, the other in Paris, both films’ protagonists spend a lot of time in their white stretch limousines. The limo: an ostentatious symbol of status and wealth, a home away from home.

In David Cronenberg’s unsettling Don DeLillo adaptation Cosmopolis, it’s superwealthy magnate Eric Packer (a defanged Robert Pattinson) who eats, fucks, and talks business in a limo, trapped in ever-worsening NYC traffic. For Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, the limousine is also place of business. When I first saw Holy Motors, I noted the “limo-as-liminal-space” — Oscar’s limousine is his dressing room, a place of transformation for the chameleonic arch-performer.

>>Read more from our Year in Film 2012 issue here.

This common factor, though coincidental, is not accidental. The limousine as symbol and space is crucial to the structure of both films, which I’ve taken half-facetiously to calling “limo operas.” In both, white stretch limos are distinctive cells in the secret circulatory system of late capitalist society. Their passengers have a privileged viewpoint — they can see out, but others can’t see in. When the camera joins the passengers inside the limo, the city becomes an almost unreal backdrop for the private activities within.

In Cosmopolis, there’s an ongoing, ambivalent dialogue about the dispersal of all things into data; everything is getting smaller, faster, swept away by the flow of “cyber-capital.” But Eric Packer, whose vast wealth is about to collapse due to minute changes in the value of the yuan, is obsessed with large, worldly purchases. He has two private elevators with specialized soundtracks, and a Soviet bomber plane that he keeps in a hangar. He’s insistent that he wants to buy the Rothko Chapel, despite its nature as a public artwork. And he describes his limo as a car sawed in half and expanded. He’s had his limo “Prousted” — lined with soundproof cork like Marcel Proust’s bedroom — which he describes as “a gesture … a thing a man does.” The soundproofing doesn’t work, though. His limousine is a performance of his ego, and of its futility.

It’s also an object in the movie’s central dialogue about systems that operate beyond perception. Much like units of encrypted economic information, limos push through the city announcing the self-importance of their passengers. They might be carrying a president or a celebrity, but one of Packer’s employees reminds him that limos also connote “kids on prom night, or some dumb wedding.” And then they go away. Packer asks, “Where do all these limos go at night?” and he finally gets an answer from his limo driver — there are underground garages — they slumber beneath the city. Even his driver’s description of the garages reinforces the weird information-value of the vehicle — “a marketplace of limos.”

Oscar’s limo in Holy Motors is perhaps less of a grand statement to the public, but it’s still a sort of grandiose contradiction on wheels. Oscar is an actor who fulfills “appointments” — enigmatic, prearranged convergences with other lives, where he transmutes into elaborately conceived new beings, for an audience of no one and everyone. When another strange figure, the critic to Oscar’s artist, appears in the limo, Oscar explains his less convincing performances as a result of technological progress: “I miss the cameras. They used to be heavier than us. Then they became smaller than our heads. Now you can’t see them at all.” And so he prepares for his appointments in an eminently visible, garishly substantial machine. In the world of Holy Motors, white stretch limos are apparently markers of Oscar’s trade — when his limo collides with another, it is coincidentally also carrying a performer, his old flame, en route to her own appointment.

In contrast to Cosmopolis, Carax’s film gives a glimpse inside the occluded space of the garage where limos sleep — literally. In its amusing and crucial final scene, Holy Motors returns to the titular motor pool, and eavesdrops on the after-hours gossiping of an entire fleet of sentient limousines. One laments that they’ll soon all be junked, and another agrees: “Men don’t want visible machines anymore.” But visible machines are precisely what Oscar wants, so he makes his office in a limo.

Both Packer and Oscar are aging, battling obsolescence while stubbornly clinging to old operating procedures. In these two films, deeply entrenched in commenting on the withering progress of postmodern life, the stretch limo is a loud, defiant holdout. You might even call it a relic — it is, after all, a holy motor. *

 

Read more from Sam Stander at hellascreen.blogspot.com

 

 

SAM STANDER’S TOP 15 OF 2012

 

1. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, US, 2011)

2. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US, 2011)

3. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy)

4. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, US)

5-6. [tie] Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, US, 2011)/The Avengers (Joss Whedon, US)

7-8. [tie] Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, US/Ireland, 2011)/Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, US)

9. Whores’ Glory (Michael Glawogger, Germany/Austria, 2011)

10. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)

11. Pina (Wim Wenders, Germany/France/UK, 2011)

12. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

13. The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry, US, 2011) 14. This Is Not A Film (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2011) 15. Kill List (Ben Wheatley, UK, 2011)

Chick it out

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN FILM Cluck as you may, it was only a matter of time before the chicks started rewriting those chick flicks. Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, and their peers represent the girls — how politically incorrect — in all their messy, sexy, oozy, frizzy-haired, fallible, flabby, and unflappable glory. And this year saw a major meeting in the ladies room, films out real soon, that poked fun at women’s work, relationships, identities, and insecurities.

The pedestal that history’s most notorious auteur-patriarch was so quick to place his icy blondes upon, rhapsodized in the nostalgia-laced Hitchcock, was toppled in feminist Pygmalion revamp Ruby Sparks, penned by lead actress Zoe Kazan. Meanwhile, Rashida Jones took a revisionist tact and rethought the second-wave myth of the woman who can have it all by writing and playing the lovable power bitch who nevertheless kicks her slacker soul mate to the curb in Celeste and Jesse Forever.

>>Read more from our Year in Film issue here.

In a more clearly chick-flicky vein, writer-star Lauren Miller amped up the sexual side of the rom-com with For a Good Time, Call…, whereas Julie Delpy reveled in an old-world/new-urban interracial culture clash while writing, directing, and starring in 2 Days in New York. Zoe Lister Jones got the second-banana gal-pal’s revenge by writing herself all the best lines in the unsettlingly girlie Lola Versus, a movie that seemed designed to test the patience of men, critics (especially male ones) by wallowing in one girl’s mournful sexual shenanigans.

Why take on the notoriously powerless role of screenwriter? “A pretty dreary lot of hacks,” Raymond Chandler once put it. “On billboards, in newspaper advertisements, [the writer’s] name will be smaller than that of the most insignificant bit-player who achieves what is known as billing.” It’s a critical step in deconstructing the tropes, disassembling the lines, and unpacking the baggage so many so-called women’s films have been supplying for years. No wonder female actor-writers so often seem to be in a race for the bottom with the guys, writing themselves roles that make themselves look more morally ambiguous, sexually conflicted, taste-testingly lurid, and simply screwed-up. Born in Flames (1983), these movies aren’t.

Instead, dub them the natural byproduct of a DIY video-making movement or simply a pendulum swing away from 2011, when it seemed like all the blockbuster roles for women lay in servant’s quarters of The Help and females were protagonists of only 11 percent of all films, in contrast to 2002’s 16 percent (according to a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University).

Chalk it up to the afterglow of Wiig’s Bridesmaids (2011), spinning off the comedy that won over audiences with its flurry of frenemy backstabbing, scatological humor, and extremely close attention to women’s bizarro rites of passage. Or attribute it to the seismic activity set off by Lena Dunham, who satirized the YouTube generation in 2010’s Tiny Furniture, a comedy she herself shot on a Canon 5D digital camera. Dunham’s HBO hit, Girls, only added fuel to a blogosphere backlash that seemed less about Dunham (her looks, her privileged background) and more about hipster-culture smugness, an entire generation’s perceived sense of entitlement, and good ol’ jealousy.

That kind of outcry is a risk that women are increasingly willing to take, as they wrote themselves onto the big screen and told their own stories. They spun tales about their perhaps petty, perhaps big-deal concerns, and went there — to the not so deep, but sort of dirty little secrets in the Hidden World of Girls, to crib the title of that Fey-hosted NPR series.

And however you felt about her genre-defining rom-coms, there was a certain sad poetry to the fact that writer-director Nora Ephron quietly passed away amid this year’s girlquake. She spent less time in front of the camera than many of these actress-writers do, but you know the woman who directed and co-wrote 1992’s This Is My Life — the film that inspired Dunham to make movies — would have been eager to pass the baton.

 

 

KIMBERLY CHUN’S TOP 10 SHOTS IN THE DARK OF 2012

 

Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece, 2010)

Crazy Horse (Frederick Wiseman, USA/France, 2011)

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, UK, 2011)

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, US)

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)

Gerhard Richter Painting (Corinna Belz, Germany, 2011)

Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon, US)

I Wish (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2011) Marina Abramovich: The Artist Is Present (Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre, US) Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, Sweden/UK)

This ain’t a wrap

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YEAR IN FILM Perhaps the backlash was inevitable. Any film that so flawlessly wows its initial audience in turn begins to receive a lot more scrutiny down the line, and there are definitely things about This Ain’t California to scrutinize. Billed as a documentary, yet centered around a character who may not actually exist, This Ain’t California details the unlikely rise of a rebellious East German skateboarding scene hidden from view behind the Iron Curtain.

An exuberant mischung of archival and new video footage, a brash and punkish soundtrack, animated sequences, and compelling, little-explored subject matter, the film made irreverence its watchword, from storyline to storyboard. And although the sheer scale of this irreverent approach, including the filmmakers’ unorthodox methods of framing their story, raised serious questions about This Ain’t California‘s self-definition as documentary, what was undeniable was the movie’s greatest success — its flawless capture of a zeitgeist, not just of a specific place and time, but of the irrepressible vitality of youth cultures everywhere.

>>Read more from our Year in Film 2012 issue here.

Screened first at the 2012 Berlinale in February (and in San Francisco at the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival in October), This Ain’t California won the coveted “Dialogue en Perspective” prize for young filmmakers, an award given with this statement that foreshadowed the controversy to come: “We’ve rarely been so splendidly manipulated.” While the jury in Berlin was referring to the dynamic editing job spearheaded by 23-year-old Maxine Gödecke, as the film won more awards around the festival circuit — including “Best Documentary” at the Cannes Independent Film Festival — details about its unconventional creation began to emerge in the press. That much of the so-called “archival” video footage was recreated by a slew of modern-day skaters disguised in touchingly hilarious GDR-era hairdos and aggressively mismatched stripes. That all of the footage of the central character Denis “Panik” Paraceck was actually that of Berlin-based skater-model, Kai Hillebrandt. That Denis Paraceck (who, according to the film, died in Afghanistan in 2011) might actually never have existed, let alone been the impetus behind the film’s modern-day reunion of the now-adult skaters (and at least a couple of hired actors, including David Nathan and Tina Bartel).

German news weekly Der Spiegel condemned it as a glorified advertisement for skate culture, bloggers such as Berlin-based Joseph Pearson of The Needle decried the dangerous folly of Germans rewriting their own history, and the filmmakers themselves have been cagey about admitting to the extent of their subterfuge.

“[It’s] so much more fun to keep that secret,” director Martin Persiel explains to me via email when asked to comment.

But lest the naysayers condemn the film as pure hoax, it should be noted that there most definitely was an underground skate scene in East Germany, in addition to other outlaw scenes, including break dancers, punk rockers, and heavy metal bands. Plenty of the film’s old-school skate rats are verifiable as such, and some of the most frankly unbelievable details of the film, such as a compatriot with a Finnish passport being tapped to smuggle boards in from the West, appear to be corroborated independently by academic Kai Reinhart, who has been researching sports history and GDR funsportart since 2005.

“As a filmmaker there is a huge responsibility to truthful depiction of your subject,” Persiel insists. “[And] as far as feedback from the skaters from the East goes, we did do justice to their story.”

On the controversy over allowing a partially fictitious film win awards in the documentary category (against presumably less colorful and more rigorously fact-based films), Persiel remains silent, though he does theorize that the definition of “documentary” is expanding and evolving all the time.

“I call This Ain’t California a ‘documentary tale’,” he explicates, adding his own micro-category. It’s an explanation that probably won’t placate his detractors, but whatever side of the definition of “documentary” the film winds up being relegated to, the definition of “best” will still apply. No matter what, it’s a movie well worth seeing, and controversies aside, a movie well worth having been made — for truly we have been splendidly manipulated. *

 

 

2012’S TOP SELF-CURATED DOUBLE FEATURES (A.K.A. TWO-DOLLAR WEDNESDAY AT LOST WEEKEND IS MY JAM)

 

More in common than you’d expect Delicatessen (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, 1991) and Deliverance (John Boorman, US, 1972)

William H. Macy is underrated Edmond (Stuart Gordon, US, 2005) and The Cooler (Wayne Kramer, US, 2003)

All about men A Single Man (Tom Ford, US, 2009) and A Serious Man (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, US/UK/France, 2009)

Post-Prometheus Ridley Scott-a-thon Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, US/Hong Kong/UK, 1982) and Alien (Ridley Scott, US/UK, 1979)

Noomi vs. Rooney The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, US/Sweden/Norway, 2011) and The Girl with the

Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, Sweden/Denmark/Germany/Norway, 2009)

Please kill me Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, various, 2000) and Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, US, 2010)

Gay follies Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, US, 1990) and The Birdcage (Mike Nichols, US, 1996)

Dark days Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, US, 2003) and Deliver Us from Evil (Amy Berg, US, 2006)

The masochism tango The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, Austria/France/Germany, 2001) and Secretary (Steven Shainberg, US, 2002) Let’s get physical Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, US, 1997) and Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, US, 2012)

Harvey’s list

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DENNIS HARVEY’S TOP 25 NARRATIVE FILMS OF 2012



Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, US)

Bernie (Richard Linklater, US, 2011)

The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi, Australia)

Fat Kid Rules the World (Matthew Lillard, US)

Footnote (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2011)

Girl Walk//All Day (Jacob Krupnick, US)

Hermano (Marcel Rasquin, Venezuela, 2010)

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)

The Hunter (David Nettheim, Australia, 2011)

In Darkness (Agnieszka Holland, Poland/Germany/Canada, 2011)

Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs, US)

Klown (Mikkel Norgaard, Denmark, 2010)

Life of Pi (Ang Lee, US/China)

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, US/India)

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

Michael (Markus Schleinzer, Austria, 2011)

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, US)

Natural Selection (Robbie Pickering, US, 2011)

Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2011)

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, US)

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, US)

Sister (Ursula Meier, France/Switzerland)

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK/US)

21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, US)

Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore, US)


DENNIS HARVEY’S TOP 10 DOCUMENTARIES OF 2012



Gypsy Davy (Rachel Leah Jones, Israel/US/Spain, 2011)

The House I Live In (Eugene Jarecki, various)

How to Survive a Plague (David France, US)

Informant (Jamie Meltzer, US)
The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, US)
The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, US/Netherlands/UK/Denmark)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Léa Pool, Canada, 2011)
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, US)
Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, Sweden/U.K.)
Surviving Progress (Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, Canada, 2011)
The Waiting Room (Peter Nicks, US)

Ficks’ picks

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1. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy) During the five times I watched this brilliantly slow-burning, transcendental flick, I saw dozens of audience members fall asleep, walk out early, and complain all the way down the corridor of the Embarcadero Center Cinema hallways. I had to watch it that many times (plus read the book and have countless late-night discussions) just to try and wrap my brain around this era-defining exploration of what it means to be a (hu)man in the Y2Ks. Robert Pattinson proved he’s a truly spectacular actor, Paul Giamatti has never been better, and David Cronenberg is only getting better as he gets older.

2. In the Family  (Patrick Wang, US, 2011) Self-distributed due to its length (169 minutes), this is a stunningly haunting and devastating work. Viewers with the patience to stick with it are rewarded with a genuinely achieved emotional volcano that I can only relate to John Cassavetes’ greatest films. A truly landmark film, in both style and content.

3. The Master  (Paul Thomas Anderson, US) Of all the films that Anderson has boldly attempted, audaciously experimented with, and (perhaps most importantly) been critically embraced for, The Master is a balanced period piece that combines both poetic and historical elements with a couple of truly profound performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is not a film only about Scientology, or about just one master. This is a film that asks many questions, but supplies few answers.

4. The Comedy (Rick Alverson, US) Perhaps containing the most mean-spirited characters of the decade, this harrowingly insightful satire of the hipster generation’s compulsion to heap irony upon irony inspired many an audience member to exit mid-film. But the many who dared to remain (including fans of the film’s lead actor, Tim Heidecker, from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) may have found themselves forced to question their own heartless (and even sociopath) tendencies.

Director Rick Alverson’s perceptive use of a contemporary antihero is quite comparable to the counterculture characters of the 1970s: Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), Peter Falk in Husbands (1970), and Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1970). And since The Comedy was not necessarily made to be enjoyed, it will probably, sadly, take 20 years for people to recognize that there is no finer film to define this generation.

5. Florentina Hubaldo CTE (Lav Diaz, Philippines) With this six-hour film, Lav Diaz has created yet another minimalist masterpiece that few will even attempt to watch — 20 people started out in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ screening, and only 10 finished it. Diaz has a monumental goal in mind for his character, and his film’s length is a major part of achieving it. I am not sure if there will ever be a time when six-hour character studies will be all the rage, but until then, Diaz is paving an uncharted road for others to follow.

6. Shanghai (Dibakar Banerjee, India) This Hindi remake of Costa-Gavras’ monumental political thriller Z (1969) may not have French New Wave cinematographer Raoul Coutard behind the camera, but Shanghai‘s director of photography Nikos Andritsakis adds his own brand of raw intensity. For his part, writer-director Banerjee creates an even more complicated look at the state of politics in the age of the modern terrorist. Seemingly inspired by fellow director Ram Gopal Varma’s career of gritty political dramas, Banerjee is an international director to watch.

7. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France) The perfect companion to David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, this film contains a tour de force performance by the almighty Denis Lavant (of Claire Denis’ 1999 Beau Travail), with Michel Piccoli, Eva Mendes, Édith Scob, and Kylie Minogue in supporting roles. Unique, surreal, and completely inspired, this day-in-the-life journey will make you want to watch it again as soon as it ends.

8. The Grey  (Joe Carnahan, US) The best existential “animal attacking human” flick since David Mamet’s 1997 cult classic The Edge. It’s a film that showcases Liam Neeson as he tapes glass to his fists to battle a pack of giant wolves — and manages to be emotionally stirring at the same time. Make sure to keep watching all the way through the credits.

9a. Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton, US, 2011) Lynn Shelton’s follow-up to her genre-defining bromance Humpday (2009) is a pitch-perfect indie that attempts to dig deep within its dark and confused characters. Depressed and confused thirtysomething Jack (played by Mark Duplass, master of casual awkwardness) heads off to a remote island to figure out his life. The only trouble: his best friend (a mesmerizing Emily Blunt) also has a lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is already there doing her own soul searching. With this contemplative, honest, and hilarious film, Shelton is turning out to be quite a splendid voice for our current generation of progressive pitfallers.

9b. Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Jay Duplass and Mark Dupass, US) They’ve done it again! With Jeff, the mumblecore masters (2005’s The Puffy Chair; 2010’s Cyrus) construct a stoner comedy-existential trip for the man-child generation. While inspiring outstanding performances from Jason Segal and Ed Helms (both the best they’ve ever been), playing brothers, a poignantly performance by Susan Sarandon as their mother raises this wonderfully earned sentimental indie flick to the ranks of family dramas like Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays (1995) and her most recent overlooked gem, The Beaver (2011).

10. Lotus Community Workshop (Harmony Korine, US) His next film, Spring Breakers (due out next year), is poised to become Harmony Korine’s most accessible film to date; it’s a T&A-filled exploitation film, led by James Franco as a grimy, gold-grilled-grinning, dreadlocked drug dealer who lives to prey on bikini-clad young girls. But 30-minute meta-masterpiece Lotus Community Workshop, which played the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year (as part of omnibus film The Fourth Dimension), is maybe Korine’s greatest film to date. The almighty Val Kilmer plays a dirt bike-riding, fanny-pack wearing, roller-rink guru named Val Kilmer — and yep, it’s as mind-blowing as it sounds.

11. ParaNorman  (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, US) This stop-motion animated film surprised parents who felt its PG rating should have been PG-13 — and it inspired gasps and even yells (from adults!) in every screening I attended. Daringly shot on a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR Camera and released in a fully utilized 3D, this ode to midnight movies is a kids’ film that will stand the test of time and should rank right alongside Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Army of Darkness (1992): horror parodies that transcended their own self-awareness and become classics themselves.

12-14 [tie]. A Simple Life (Ann Hui, Hong Kong, 2011), Amour (Michael Haneke, Austria/France/Germany), The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US, 2011) Ann Hui’s simple, straightforward tale of a woman’s choice to check herself into a retirement home after suffering a stroke will probably get overshadowed by Michael Haneke’s wonderfully minimalist approach to an elderly couple’s decline after one of them experiences the same ailment. Meanwhile, Béla Tarr’s final film is for acquired tastes only; it’s a cyclical journey with a rural couple, who eat potatoes, are isolated in a stormy darkness, and care for their horse. All three films lay out a terrifyingly realistic blueprint of old age.

15. Compliance  (Craig Zobel, US) No film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival encountered as much controversy as Compliance. At the first public screening, an all-out shouting match erupted, with one audience member yelling “Sundance can do better!” You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Every screening that followed was jam-packed with people hoping to experience the most shocking film at the fest. And it doesn’t disappoint: Zobel unleashes an uncomfortable psychological mindfuck on the viewer all the way through to the stunning final 15 minutes, which are even more shocking than all the twists and turns that came before.

16. The Kid With a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy, 2011) Can these Belgian brothers make a bad film? Seriously? Like their Palme D’Or winners Rosetta (1999), The Son (2002), and L’enfant (2005), Kid is yet another hypnotic, neo-realist portrait of modern-day youth. Every character makes unexpected yet inevitable decisions. No moment is false. The Dardennes create movies that make life feel more real.

17. Beasts of the Southern Wild ( Benh Zeitlin, US) Fantastical special effects created by 31 students at San Francisco’s own Academy of Art University (yes, I am biased), plus star Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, a precocious six-year-old searching to understand a world post-Katrina, post-race, and more importantly post-childhood. Combining David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2001), Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (2008) and perhaps even Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991), Zeitlin has created a haunting enigma for modern audiences that deserves multiple viewings. But even though it won multiple prizes at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, will it get the Oscar attention it deserves?

18. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams, US) When Jean-Claude Van Damme started this franchise back in 1992, it was a nice little combo of First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984) and Robocop (1987). Twenty years later, the series’ fourth entry is co-written, co-edited, and directed by John Hyams, the son of Peter Hyams, who directed JCVD classics Timecop (1994) and Sudden Death (1995) — and man oh man does he deliver a tough and gritty little action sci-fi film. Van Damme takes on an even darker role than his scene-stealing turn in Expendables 2; with a cleverly subversive script, eloquently choreographed fight scenes (one of which gives Dolph Lundgren some pretty priceless moments), and a denouement that has to be seen to be believed, you may be rooting for this VOD released genre film as much as I am — not to mention Indiewire, which called it “One of the Best Action Movies of the Year!”

19. John Carter (Andrew Stanton, US) With a budget of $250 million, this epic based on Edgar Rice Burroughs stories brought the Walt Disney company to its knees by only making $73 million back. If you saw the film in 3D, you might be confused as to why no one bothered to see it. In my opinion (having watched it twice), John Carter achieves everything James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) did, as far as sci-fi extravaganzas go, but it also has an inspired story and a charming cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, and Willem Dafoe. This is possibly this generation’s Ishtar (1987), and like Elaine May’s infamous still-unavailable bomb, John Carter is actually enjoyable; it’ll need a decade or two for audiences to find it as one of the most enjoyable CGI spectacles in recent years.

20. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, US) [SPOILER ALERT!] I found The Dark Knight Rises hard to dismiss as just another money-making super-hero adaptation. After multiple viewings, I’ve come to think of the conclusion to the trilogy as the finest of the three. I’ve also had time to puzzle over the film’s intricate plot.

While many fellow critics seemed to find the film’s political handlings of Bane’s Occupy/French Revolution movement to be flimsy and even irresponsible, I would argue that the film works in a more complicated way toward politics. If Bane’s misguided revolution fell flat, then it would be important to look at Catwoman’s anarchist ways. And about that — did she put her selfishness aside to start over with a broke Bruce Wayne, or is the closing sequence just Alfred’s fantasy? (And if the latter is true, did Batman actually blow himself up in the end?)

And then there’s Blake, who bests the pathetic Deputy Commissioner, then turns his back on the well-meaning yet lying-to-the-people Commissioner Gordon. Though Blake knows he has to quit the police force amid such corruption, he can’t dismiss his urge to help the helpless and downtrodden — after all, he’s an orphan from the streets — and Robin is born. He’s alone (no butlers down in that cave anymore …), and will need to figure out what to do in Gotham City — a town that’s always wild at heart and weird on top.

(Note: list compiled prior to viewing Zero Dark Thirty or Les Misérables.)

Best Actor of 2012
Matthew McConaughey for Bernie (Richard Linklater, US, 2011), Killer Joe (William Friedkin, US, 2011), Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, US, 2011), and The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, US)

Best Unreleased Films of 2012

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous, Denmark/Norway/UK)

Black Rock (Katie Aselton, USA)

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK)

Pilgrim Song (Martha Stephens, US)

The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie, US)

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks programs the Midnites for Maniacs series, which emphasizes dismissed, underrated, and overlooked films. He is the Film History Coordinator at Academy of Art University.

Putting transit first

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By Stuart Cohen, Leah Shahum, Rob Boden, and Elizabeth Stampe

OPINION Every day, San Franciscans pay the price of an underfunded transportation system. We have all experienced painfully overcrowded bus rides … or, worse yet, the bus that never shows up. Now, Muni is reducing service during Christmas week, as it is faced with a $7 million deficit this fiscal year.

Today, we are finally facing up to the reality that our declining transportation system hurts us all. It hurts our economy and it hurts people all along the economic spectrum. San Francisco is a world-class city in many ways, but we have a long way to go to have a world-class transportation system.

San Franciscans want better transit options: reliable, fast, comfortable buses, and safe and pleasant streets for walking and biking. San Franciscans support the city’s official transit-first policy, but lacking political will, the city hasn’t delivered on it.

By failing to make the tough decisions to fund our transit system, our leaders have put the burden on those who depend on affordable transportation options most. Transportation is one of the top expenses for people living in the Bay Area, after housing, and an exponentially greater burden for those with lower incomes.

Who will be hurt most by Muni’s skeletal service this holiday week? Working families.

That is why our organizations are proud to have joined together recently to support a proposal to update the Transit-Impact Development Fee (TIDF), which would have ensured that major developments pay their fair share into the city’s transit system. This would have included large nonprofits like Kaiser and the Exploratorium, when they build major new developments that generate thousands of new trips. The fee, probably about 1 percent of costs, would have paralleled the existing development fees for water, sewer, parks, and even art, that nonprofits already pay. It would not have included small nonprofits, and of course most nonprofits never build developments at all.

It would have helped visitors to large institutions have more dependable transit to get there, and helped the whole transportation system work better for everyone.

But it didn’t pass, and last week’s opinion piece (“The Muni vs. housing clash,” 12/18/12) mischaracterized the issue, suggesting a trade-off between basic services and transportation. But good, reliable, safe transportation is a basic service. Just like housing and health care, it’s something everyone should have access to, and something our city has declared a priority with its transit-first policy.

Unsafe streets are inequitable streets; low-income people and people of color are more likely to be hit by cars while walking. Underfunded transit is inequitable; low-income people have fewer options aside from walking or taking the bus, and the stakes are higher when the bus is late or doesn’t arrive.

Funding transit is a core progressive value. Great public transit — and being able to get around the city under your own power, by walking and bicycling — are great equalizers in a city like ours.

We should be investing more and expecting more from our transit system. Our organizations are proud to be doing just that. It’s time to help San Francisco finally live up to its transit-first policy — because that means putting people first.

Stuart Cohen works with TransForm, Leah Shahum with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Rob Boden with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, and Elizabeth Stampe with Walk San Francisco.

More recycling fallout

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The unintended consequences of closing the Haight Ashbury’s only recycling center are about to ripple through small businesses in the neighborhood. As the recycling center’s final days loom, merchants are gearing up to face new fees — as much as $100 a day.

But they may get a reprieve sooner than they think.

State law requires stores that sell beverages in cans and bottles to take them back for recycling — unless there’s a functioning recycling center within a half-mile radius.

With the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center gone, Whole Foods supermarket, the largest purveyor of beverages on Haight Street, will be faced with a decision — provide bottle and can buy-back services, or pay a $100 a day fee instead. If Whole Foods decides to pay the fee and not provide recycling in the area, small businesses in the Haight will be forced to make the same choice — only they won’t be able to afford the $36,500 a year fee.

San Francisco’s Department of the Environment doesn’t enforce those fees, but does provide oversight on recycling in San Francisco. Guillermo Rodriguez, spokesperson for the department, said that his office is in the planning stages of creating a mobile recycling center, which could roll out in early 2013.

“Certainly it’s not in our interest to have those businesses pack up and move out,” Rodriguez said. The mobile recycling center gives the neighborhood a new option.

If a recycling center serves the Haight neighborhood, the small businesses in the area could avoid paying the steep fees, and from having to go through the trouble of seeking exemption.

“Its similar to food trucks,” Rodriguez said. “After they finish for the day, they leave. But they’d set up at a usual time in a usual spot.”

San Francisco Supervisor Christina Olague, whose district includes the Haight Ashbury, said she was working on a way for HANC to turn into a mobile recycling center. Though she said that those talks had since stalled, Rodriguez said that if HANC wanted to be a partner in the new mobile center, the Department of the Environment would be open to it.

Why does the state of California expect small businesses to provide a can and bottle buy-back program on site, or face fees in the first place?

Rodriguez explained that the laws weren’t necessarily made with San Francisco in mind.

“When the rules were drafted, San Francisco was the exception, as we are for a lot of things,” Rodriguez told us. “The law was written for the suburbs, where small businesses generally have parking lots where recycling can easily be handled.”

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks department has long pushed for the Haight recycling center’s ouster. Sarah Ballard, spokesperson for the department, said the recycling fees and regulations that will hit local businesses aren’t Rec-Park’s problem.

“HANC has been on a month to month lease for over a decade,” she said. “The Parks Department have never sought to stop them from seeking non-park property to continue to run their business.”

Basically, HANC can operate wherever it wants to — just not in Golden Gate Park. And there aren’t a whole lot of other low-cost open spaces where the center can set up shop.

Small businesses we’ve talked to say they don’t have the space, staff, or ability to handle buying back recyclables. Fred Kazzouh, owner of “Fred’s New Lite Supermarket” on Haight and Masonic streets, doubted he’d get a reprieve from the fee.

“I mean if we all apply for an exemption, there’ll be half a mile radius without a recycling center,” Kazzouh said. “I saw recycling centers on Safeway on Webster (street) and I don’t see why Whole Foods can’t do it.”

Kazzouh’s store has been in the Haight neighborhood since 1995. The Haight has long been known as a place that draws alternative people, he said. And that’s the way he likes it.

“I don’t like to be in the clean neighborhood with the white picket fence and suits and ties,” Kazzouh said. “That’s not a real life. Its a very fake life.”

Even some of the ritzier stores along Haight St. aren’t bothered by the homeless population there. Firras Zawaideh, owner of Liquid Experience on Haight, sells high end (expensive) alcohol that few homeless people can afford.

He said he thinks only the transplants and new folks to San Francisco are bothered by them.

“I’m a native San Franciscan, from the Sunset [district],” Zawaideh said. “We’re the ones who don’t hate the homeless. Its all the transplants from New York and the midwest who complain about it.”

Zawaideh already handles bottle and can buy-back through his store, though he said that no one has ever taken advantage of it. But with HANC closing, he dreads the idea of people bringing cans and bottles en masse to his store.

“Say on a busy Friday night someone comes in with a cart full of recyclables,” he said. “Then what? I have to help them out too?”

The mobile recycling center would exempt Zawaideh of that responsibility. But if neighbors of HANC complained about the homeless population, would the same customers cause a problem for the mobile center as well?

Rodriguez said he wouldn’t speculate on if the homeless population that now uses the Haight recycling center would follow the food trucks around as well.

“I think we’ll have to take it as it comes,” Rodriguez said. Though he wanted this to be clear: “Not everyone that participates, frankly, is a homeless person.”

Fred Kazzouh was dubious that the homeless population would go away with HANC’s closure. “If HANC goes away, the homeless won’t go with them,” Kazzouh said. “The homeless will just have less people fighting for them.”

Reports from the end of the world

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TULUM, MEXICO — Sometimes you need to just listen to the universe and the many ways she conspires to set your path. That seems particularly true while visiting the Yucatan to cover the end of the Mayan calendar, the galactic alignment, and the winter solstice. Things at the grand festival that was supposed to be happening did not go according to plan — to say the least.

I was supposed to be Chichen Itza, attending the Synthesis 2012 Festival and perhaps the Ascendance party. But several factors lined up to keep us in Tulum, miles away from the Mayan pyramid where the much-awaited festivities were to take place.

For one thing, there was my sweetie’s bout with bad ceviche. But there was also the general disorganization of an event that was supposed to bring thousands of people, many of them Americans, to a part of the world not exactly set up for mass tourism.

The shuttle service from Tulum to the festival essentially fell apart. Our hotel room at the festival also disappeared, along with rooms offered to performers at the festival by organizers who overbooked and overpromised, apparently too optimistic in this moment’s power to provide.

They also seemed to have a little too much confidence in the welcome they would receive from locals: The sound system delivery crew was turned away and threatened with violence. The show eventually went on after organizers found a sound system provided by a local vendor — but the scene was chaotic.

I tried to get more information about the sound system truck, but the festival organizers ignored my request for a copy of the email describing the incident that was sent to performers. Musician Jeff Scroggins told me he’d been informed that the truck was pulled over by locals, who told the crew to go away and said they’d be shot if they returned.

My press contact minimized the incident, which left the festival without amplified sound for its first day. But the incident does seem to get at an inherent tension between local life in a small Mexican town and the hopes and ambitions of outsiders who came to layer a big festival onto this sacred moment.

Festival organizers seemed pretty overwhelmed by the fact that, as one musician taking a break from the madness told us, “everything that could go wrong did go wrong.” Or as media spokesperson Candice Holdorf told me, “It’s kind of like radical self-reliance,” borrowing a phrase from Burning Man.

On the other hand, the Mayans that I’ve talked to about the end of their Long Count calendar on this trip, like my cab driver yesterday in Tulum and someone we met a few days ago in Playa del Carmen, mostly just shrug when I ask about 12/21.

Perhaps we’re all projecting lots of our first-world hopes and desires onto this occasion. When I interviewed Peter Mancina — a cultural anthropologist who studies Maya culture (and who works as a board aide to Sup. David Campos) — he emphasized to the modern Mayan people are still plentiful and have diverse viewpoints on the world. Similarly, author John Major Jenkins told me that he didn’t want to see the Mayan people and their needs get lost in this moment.

It’s been amazing to watch the rapid transformations of space taking place all around us as this once-pristine beachfront develops ever-more amenities for the visiting tourists.

The Yogashala hotel across the road from our Pico Beach cabanas had a new roadside room and sign added over the last two days. Next door, an Italian couple opened a roadside juice bar two weeks ago. On the other side of that, Jaguar Restaurante was staffed mostly by people who have been here for weeks, months tops. And as I write these words, a new beach is being rapidly built right before my eyes.

But tourism is still tourism, and there is certainly a reverence and respect for the Mayan culture being expressed by all the festival goers that I’ve talked to, even if this may be one in a series of culture moments that are part of this age of transformation and the creation of values that are different than the ones we’ve inherited from older generations.

As astrologer Rob Breszny told me, people are emotional beings, and there’s something about transformation festivals that mark a moment and allow us to build on it, from the days of Woodstock through the annual exercise in community building that is Burning Man. And with this log thrown onto the fire, perhaps those interested in transformation will burn a little brighter.

Tulum is still pretty close to paradise, with its white sands beaches, warm clean seas, chill happy people, and wonderful off-the-grid abundance. Here, it’s easy to commune with the natural world, which seems to be what this day calls for. Whether its the symbols in the sky created by the outlines of unfamiliar birds, or the dots of bioluminous organism on the beach as we celebrated the arrival of Dec. 21, they all seem portentous of something better.

Volume 47 Number 13 Flip-through Edition

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