Volume 47 Number 19

Milk’s real legacy

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OPINION Ever since Supervisor David Campos announced his proposal to add Harvey Milk’s name to SFO, there’s been an unending string of criticism — mostly from one source — that has an eerily familiar ring to it.

We heard it years ago when we tried to change the name of Douglas School in the Castro to Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. Believe it or not, it took seven years before the School Board finally voted for the name change — and there was still bitterness. This was a school in Harvey’s neighborhood that Harvey personally helped when he was alive.

And of course Harvey heard it himself, when he was constantly told not to rock the boat, not to make waves, not to be so out about being gay. Why? Because it would be divisive, alarm our friends, empower the gay community’s enemies, and set the movement back. And forty years later, people are still saying that.

It’s not just Harvey Milk. When we went to change the name of Army Street to Cesar Chavez, the same cast of characters voiced the same empty complaints, and it wasn’t until a vote of the people that it was finally settled.

Now we come to Campos’s courageous proposal to add Harvey’s name to San Francisco International Airport. For the city that wildly celebrated gay marriages at City Hall (another event that naysayers were quick to criticize), the city that is the emotional heart of the gay civil rights movement, and the city in which Harvey Milk lived, rose to prominence, and died — this should be a no-brainer. People say this is divisive? In fact, it should be an issue that unites us.

Yes, it will cost the airport some money to change its signage. But this can be done over time, through attrition, and can be far less than the estimates. (Which still only amount to one-half of one percent of the airport’s annual budget.)

But by far the most pernicious charge against the proposal is that it would tarnish Harvey’s legacy if it loses. Let me tell you — a little adversity never scared off Harvey Milk. He knew how to take a punch. And he knew how to move the civil rights agenda forward through provocative proposals.

For example, did you know before this that 80 airports in the United States are named after individuals, and not one is gay? How long are we going to be second-class citizens?

I commend Supervisor Campos for having the guts to put this proposal forward. That’s the real legacy of Harvey Milk: a city with openly gay elected officials who are willing to put their own careers on the line to challenge the status quo. Harvey would be proud.

And, as the powers that be sanctimoniously intone that we shouldn’t name the airport after any individual, our great city itself is named after St. Francis.

If being named after an inspiring individual is good enough for our city, it’s good enough for our airport.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 17th District.

 

My campy Valentine

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FILM Love is the drug, or so sang somebody once. Yet violent conflict has always been a more predominatingly addicting factor in movies — which is why it seems both natural and despairing that the Vortex Room‘s “For Your Vortex Only” celebration of “Love…Vortex Style” (please guys, only one title per series), every Thursday in February, features eight vintage movies in which “love” is less a matter of romantic fulfillment than a titular selling point.

Which is not to say the Vortex programmers have not ranged far and extra wide to find 16mm prints (when available) of the most obscure and eccentric among odes to St. Valentine, though several weren’t remotely obscure at the time. That would include the kick-off double bill, which starts off with 1979’s Love at First Bite — a post-Young Frankenstein knockoff farce whose selling point was aging Old Hollywood himbo George Hamilton as a Count Dracula exported via coffin-encased necessity to disco-era Manhattan. He’s funny; Richard Benjamin as Jewish-shrink Van Helsing is funnier. Not so much: the tiresome racial stereotypes or clutter of TV sitcom faces.

That movie was a sleeper hit. A shameful semi-success, by contrast, was its Vortex co-feature The Love Machine (1971) — second adaptation of a Jacqueline Susann bestseller after 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls, and by far the best. Of course it’s still a glossy, ridiculous swamp of lurid melodrama and degraded “name” actors. John Phillip Law (1968’s Barbarella and Skidoo) probably locked himself out of the mainstream stardom by playing Susann’s soulless, indiscriminately sexually satisfying TV-executive climber. He’s actually very good — more than one can say for the fellow thespians (notably Dyan Cannon, Robert Ryan, Jackie Cooper, and David Hemmings as a particularly mean homosexual caricature) in what was only director Jack Haley Jr.’s second stab at narrative directing before he turned exclusively to celebrating his son-of-Tin-Man Old Hollywood heritage via documentaries like 1974’s That’s Entertainment!

Actual Valentine’s Day programming at the Vortex is certifiably insane: 1935’s Mad Love has Peter Lorre as a mad scientist in the daddy of all severed-transplanted-hands-of-a-murderer thrillers; while 1987’s Love is a Dog From Hell, a.k.a. Crazy Love, channels the Skid Row poetics of Charles Bukowski into a dazzling Belgian demonstration of art house bravado. It’s fatiguingly great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTd3B0NXf44

The last two Vortex Thursdays in February wade into genuinely forgotten cinematic chapters. Least (forgotten, but also worthy) among them is The Love-Ins, an inadvertently hilarious 1967 highlight in hippiesploitation with Peyton Place regular Susan Oliver and future Hawaii Five-O star James MacArthur as vulnerable university students roped into the dangerous radicalism of a Timothy Leary-like prof (Richard Todd). When she’s dosed on acid, the ensuing polite Alice in Wonderland “freak-out” ballet is perhaps Hollywood’s dumbest counterculture indictment ever.

Yea more obscure are this amorous series’ final selections. The Love War (1970) is a TV movie sci-fi with Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson as combatants on an interplanetary-games war using Earth as its playing field. It’s gimmicky but stupid alongside the next year’s Quest for Love, a clever parallel-time fantasy perhaps beyond the capabilities of director Ralph Thomas (1974’s It’s Not the Size That Counts) and star Joan Collins (whose earnest efforts suggest she never had a naturalistic acting moment in her life).

Unavailable for preview was that Quest‘s Vortex co-feature Love Slaves of the Amazon, a 1957 Universal International exploitation film of which surely more should be known, if only to preserve our fragile balance between the sexes against so much perverted input. Including, of course, camp retrospectives like the Vortex’s. *

“FOR YOUR VORTEX ONLY: THURSDAY FILM CULT PRESENTS LOVE … VORTEX STYLE”

Thu/7, Feb 14, 21, and 28, 9 and 11pm, $10

Vortex Room

1082 Howard, SF

Facebook: The Vortex Room

 

Six pack

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Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg, Canada, 2012) Yes, that Cronenberg. The spawn of veteran filmmaker David makes an auspicious feature debut with this, uh, Cronenberg-esque body-horror tale. In the stark, gloomy near-future, celebrity worship has become so out of control that healthy people visit special clinics to be injected with diseases gathered from superstars. When he’s not offering “biological communion” via shared flu germs plucked from blonde goddess Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon of Cronenberg Sr.’s 2012 Cosmopolis), medical technician Syd (Friday Night Lights’ Caleb Landry Jones) is working black-market deals on the side, peddling illnesses to a sketchy broker who works out of a butcher shop that sells steaks grown from celebrity muscle cells. And if that sounds gross, just know that as Antiviral‘s clever, sci-fi noir plot twists itself into ever-darker (and gorier) contortions, there’s plenty more stomach-turning mad science ahead. You done good, son. Sat/9, 7:15pm; Tue/12, 9:30pm, Roxie.

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK, 2012) It’s the 1970s, and frumpy British sound designer Gilderoy (a flawless Toby Jones) has, somewhat inexplicably, been hired by a flamboyant Italian filmmaker to work on his latest lurid genre piece, The Equestrian Vortex — about a girl who realizes her riding academy is haunted by witches. Any resemblance to 1977’s Suspiria is entirely intentional, as writer-director Peter Strickland crafts a meta-horror film that’s both tribute to Argento and co. and a freaky number all its own, as Gilderoy begins to realize that the “vortex” he’s dealing with isn’t merely confined to the screen. Fans of vintage Euro horror will appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek at the era’s filmmaking process, as well as Strickland’s obvious affection for one of cinema’s most oddly addictive genres. Bonus points for the Goblin reference. Fri/8, 9:30pm; Feb. 13, 7:15pm, Roxie.

Bound By Flesh (Leslie Zemeckis, US, 2012) Following up her 2010 burlesque doc Behind the Burly Q, Leslie Zemeckis (wife of Robert, director of 2012’s Flight) tackles another subject sprinkled with the tarnished glitter of a bygone era: conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, vaudeville and film (1932’s Freaks) stars who were exploited from birth by a series of shady guardians. When they finally earned their freedom in a landmark emancipation trial, their triumph was short-lived; not only were they ill-equipped to negotiate the perils of show biz on their own, they also suffered from grown-up-child-star syndrome, having tasted a level of fame early in life that they’d never reach again, though not for lack of trying. And, of course, they were conjoined twins — so amplify every possible life obstacle by about a million. Though Bound By Flesh suffers a bit from its limited source materials — be prepared to see the same photos of the Hiltons used over and over throughout the film — it nonetheless tells a tragic, fascinating, and utterly unique tale. Feb. 16, 5pm; Feb/ 17, 2:45pm, Roxie.

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (Jorge Hinojosa, US, 2012) Ice-T presents this study of a man (real name: Robert Beck) whose early years dabbling in “the second oldest profession” led him first to prison, and then — rather improbably — to the top of best-seller lists, as books like Pimp: The Story of My Life and Trick Baby (which became a 1972 blaxsploitation film) achieved cult status. Though the film’s first 30 minutes lay on the hero worship a bit thick (yeah, pimps are cool cats as far as movies and hip-hop’s concerned, but the real Beck is described as someone who “got a thrill out of degrading women”), the author’s talkative first wife and three daughters soon appear to offer some perspective. Archival interviews with Beck, and a detailed examination of his publisher, Holloway House (which employed only whites but specialized in African American literature), only add to this vivid biography. Sat/9, 5pm; Mon/11, 7:15pm, Roxie.

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (Alexandre Philippe, US, 2012) Eight correct predictions, eight tentacled arms, millions of enraptured cephalopod admirers: who could forget Paul, whose apparent ESP earned him nearly as much vuvuzela-blaring fanfare as the 2010 World Cup itself? This “fairytale” from the director of 2010’s The People vs. George Lucas begins with Paul’s death — he was young for an oracle, but old for an octopus, explains an employee at Sea Life Oberhausen, Paul’s German home. The doc then doubles back to examine how a publicity stunt involving acrylic boxes with taped-on flags and food tucked inside, plus one hungry octopus, could incite a global frenzy: epic lines at the aquarium, scrambling bookmakers, a full-scale media blitz, death threats, a rich Russian offering to buy Paul for a cool million Euros, an “Ask the Octopus” app, YouTube tributes, and more. At 90 minutes the doc stretches a little thin (fellow psychic animal Punxsutawney Phil even puts in an appearance), but this is fun stuff nonetheless. Sat/9, 2:45pm; Sun/10, 5pm, Roxie.

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, UK, 2012) Ooh, yes, it’s the US premiere of the latest from rising star Ben Wheatley, who exceeds even 2011’s very fine hitman-goes-bananas Kill List with the sick and hilarious Sightseers. Awkward, nerdy couple Tina and Chris (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, comedians who wrote the script with Amy Jump) pile into an RV and burn rubber toward some of Britain’s lesser-known attractions: Crich Tramway Village, the Cumberland Pencil Museum, etc. But it’s clear from the start that all’s not well in this relationship, and it doesn’t take long before their “erotic odyssey” also includes screaming fights, dognapping, and multiple homicides. So wrong, and yet so right — the evocative Sightseers manages to invent, and perfect, its own genre: the serial-killer road-tip rom-com. Sat/9 and Mon/11, 9:30pm, Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy) *

SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Feb 7-21, most shows $12

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.sfindie.com

Muppets, manholes, and mayhem

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Vincent Gargiulo is originally from Stockton and lives in San Francisco, but I spoke with him over the phone from Duluth, Minn., where he’s about to start filming his latest project, Duluth is Horrible. “So far, it’s actually lovely,” he admits. “But Duluth is Lovely, nobody wants to watch that movie.”

The title came to him in a dream — he’d never been to Duluth before — but he decided to take the inspiration and run with it. “I came up with a bunch of little stories, semi-based on my life, and decided to set it in Duluth and use that title, and here I am,” he says, noting that he’s casting locals to act in the project. “A lot of people have been supportive, and a lot have not been. But I’m just hanging out with the supportive ones.”

Before his Great Lakes odyssey, Gargiulo was best-known for a pair of videos that brought him a certain amount of notoriety: “David’s Pizza Commercial” (which has over half a million views on YouTube) and “Taste the Biscuit,” which caught comedian George Lopez’s eye and became a running joke on Lopez Tonight. Both clips are excerpts from longer Gargiulo projects; the pizza ad was part of a 1980s TV parody, KNFR From 7:00-7:30.

“I needed some local commercials, and I came up with this pizza song. I thought, ‘I should just give it to a random pizza place,’ so I gave it to David’s Pizza in Stockton — they got a commercial without them knowing about it,” he says. “I thought if anything from that film would have viral potential, it would be that, because the song’s pretty catchy. So I just put it out there, and sure enough, it did. I mean, I like all attention I can get, but I don’t necessarily seek it out. It was funny because a lot of people were interviewing David — he was on talk shows and stuff, and it was fun to watch. And they don’t even mention me at all.”

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival’s local-shorts focus, “Cults, Manholes, and Slide Rail Riders,” contains seven entries, but only one that features humans playing puppets. That’d be Gargiulo’s The Muppetless Movie, a fake movie trailer that pays earnest homage to the Muppets as only a true fan with a crazy idea can. The casting is impeccable: the director busts out a killer Kermit impression, and there’s dead-on Statler and Waldorf banter and an uncannily perfect Gonzo.

“I am a huge Muppets fan,” Gargiulo admits. “The new Muppet movie was coming out at that time, and I was afraid it was gonna suck. So I thought, ‘I’ll make my own Muppet movie, just to be on the safe side.’ Originally I was going to use puppets, but there’s probably more legal issues there. So I decided to have humans do it instead.”

Just about the only thing Manhole 452 has in common with Muppetless is that it’s another standout in “Cults, Manholes, and Slide Rail Riders.” Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse’s eerie short is narrated by an unseen commuter as he nervously rides the 38 Geary downtown from the Richmond. His paranoia: exploding manholes. As the film progresses, his fears are backed up by found footage depicting actual manhole explosions. His unease become ours, as we start to realize he’s onto something real and terrifying.

Muse and Finley have been working together since 1988; for the past several years, it’s been a cross-country collaboration, since Muse teaches at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and Finley teaches at California College of the Arts in SF. Manhole 452 originally appeared as part of a 2011 installation at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, whose Geary Street location provided early inspiration.

“My antenna was up, as was John’s, around the question of manhole covers,” Finley recalls. “We did a lot of research, and it became really evident that they blow all the time. For example, three days before our show opened, a manhole blew right in front of the gallery. So we were aware of this phenomenon — and then San Bruno happened. A horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Finley decided to count all of Geary Street’s manhole covers. “A lot of weird things have happened on Geary Street,” Finley says. (Manhole 452 specifically points out the former location of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple.) “It’s a really interesting San Francisco street, and a pretty ugly street, too.”

Soon after, the pair wrote a script based on actual stories that they’d dug up, interwoven with a character they imagined as their narrator: a man who’d had a manhole blow under his car while he was driving down Geary, forcing him to take the bus — and to question the stability of his surroundings.

“A lot of our work deals with inexplicable, unpredictable random events and the relationship of personal will to those random events: how do you confront an event of that nature, and move through it? And as you move on, how do you take it with you?” Finley explains.

Adds Muse, “We tend to try and make free-floating anxieties explicit and real, and give them shape. In this case, it’s the street: the street is a surface, it’s a membrane, it’s porous and delicate. At any moment that membrane could be torn away, and the fragility of everything is suddenly exposed. We thought about that metaphor a lot — the surface of the street as barely protecting us from what’s underneath.” *

“CULTS, MANHOLES, AND SLIDE RAIL RIDERS”

Feb. 17, 2:45pm; Feb. 19, 7:15pm, $12

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.sfindie.com

Volume 47 Number 19 Flip-through Edition

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Buy me love

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caitlin@sfbg.com

STREET SEEN You are welcome to spend Valentine’s Day as I will this year: corralled onto a dark dancefloor with 200 similar atheists in the face of the love goddess. But as many of you will be happily celebrating with partners (hiss!), I’ve assembled this four-pack of completely locally-made Valentine’s Day gifts. You’re welcome (pfft.)

TOURANCE FAKE FUR RABBIT ROBE, $178

You can’t get more luxe than this without killing something, and unless it’s vintage, I find artifacts of animal death incredibly unsexy. Tourance makes all its faux fur right here in the city, so if your Valentine isn’t much for Hef wear, check out the line’s vests in faux fox and mink, and its throw blankets modeled on chinchilla fuzz or inspired by mane of lion. Highly recommended for those of us too embarrassed by the word “snuggle” to ever ask to be embraced — nuzzling comes naturally when you just unwrapped the softest garment known to personkind.

www.tourance.com

 

RECCHIUTI’S CREATIVITY EXPLORED DOG ART CHOCOLATES, $21

 

Guardian photo by Caitlin Donohue

I am not a fan of gifting chocolates on V-Day to anyone but the most perfunctory recipient (the sweet woman who lives above you, the office manager, one’s priest.) That being said, it is possible to make a case for the originality of this four-pack of burnt caramel bites. The foursome is only available at Recchiuti’s Dogpatch shop, which is tucked into the flank of the factory where the chocolates are made (next to the company’s super-fly Chocolate Lab café, which is doing two dinner seatings for a special Feb. 14 menu.) The doggie designs were born as art made by developmentally-disabled adults at community gallery Creativity Explored, an echo of the for-sale exhibition you’ll find behind Recchiuti’s cash register. And in addition to all these things: doggies. People love those guys.

807 22nd St., SF. (415) 826-2868, www.recchiuti.com

VARIANCE OBJECTS HARNESS, PRICES START AT $240/SET

Why does BDSM fashion have to be so damn obvious? Everybody knows you’re there to be roughed up, do we really need to drop hundreds of dollars on the same industrially-accessorized black patent leather that everyone’s wearing? I love Variance Object’s founder Nicole Rimedio for making beaded bondage gear for your kinky-yet-discreet angel. “I love the idea that I may be wearing a rope to bind my lover’s body, but that most everyone else thinks is just an onyx necklace,” Rimedio told me in an email. The line includes pieces strung with super-strong cord that can be worn around the calves, looped underneath the crotch, or tied around wrists. Most everything is modular, for versatility/variety’s sake.

www.varianceobjects.com

SF BEER WEEK, PRICES VARY

 

Photo via Yelp

Although you will get side-eyed by many Valentines if you suggest that a bottle of Miller High Life is an adequate way to celebrate Cupid’s aim, warm fuzzies while boozing are still totally possible. Per usual, V-Day falls in the thick of the Bay Area’s marquee week for gourmet brew events, SF Beer Week. So take your low-key, suds-loving babe to Thirsty Bear’s $20-25 “Chocolate, Beer, and Cupid” night to sip coco-vanilla cask ale while making your own chocolates (feel free to bring your boo’s favorite aphrodisiac throw-in for xxxtra points.) Also happening on Feb. 14: sweet and sour beer pairings at The Monk’s Kettle, four limited release brews on tap, with sweet bites from Socola Chocolatier at Speakeasy Brewery’s newly-opened, Kelly Malone-designed tap room. Elixir, Noc Noc, the Sycamore, Rosamunde’s Mission location, La Trappe, and Blackbird are all doing V-Day Beer Week specials as well.

Various Bay Area locations, www.sfbeerweek.org

 

Can Yan noodle?

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Style-over-substance at popular restaurants grew old in my Los Angeles days. A pretty package matters little if food isn’t excellent. In SF, we tend towards the other direction. Thank goodness for places like Gitane, Bix, Foreign Cinema, which manage both — a little style is welcome. With the entry of two new, upscale Chinese restaurants, we get style aplenty. One, the international Hakkasan chain, feels oh-so LA or NY, and the other, M.Y. China, is inside a mall (very Southern California) from famed chef Martin Yan.

Buzz has been nonstop about these two, where I’ve spent a pretty penny, from lunch to dessert. I disagree with the racist-tinged complaint that typically cheaper, ethnic cuisines shouldn’t cost more, but the reason any cuisine should is quality of ingredients and reinvention or reinterpretation of classic dishes. Stir-fry, for example, shouldn’t cost double what it would in a hole-in-the-wall if it’s virtually the same dish. After multiple visits, my assessment is mixed, each restaurant boasts strong points, but neither reinvents Chinese cuisine, which begs the question: are the prices worth it?

 

HAKKASAN

Early on, Hakkasan succeeds on a number of points: seamless service from a team that seemed to work in sync from opening day. Though the second floor restaurant overlooking Market Street is a bit scene-y, especially around a large, central bar, I can’t help but applaud a space that says “night on the town”… particularly when the food is quite good. Similar to dining at the subterranean London Hakkasan, I find the overall experience satisfying if someone else is paying.

Drinkwise, I’m delighted with a refreshing, elegant Plum Sour of Yamazaki 12 year Japanese whisky, umeshu plum liqueur, lemon, Angostura bitters and egg white, or a robust Smoky Negroni (Rusty Blade, Carpano Antica, Campari, smoke-infused Grand Marnier), but the $12-15 cocktails aren’t superior to or necessarily equal to lower-priced cocktails around town. Similarly, roasted silver cod in a Champagne honey sauce is silky and lush but at $39? Countless Japanese restaurants worth their salt serve a fantastic version of similar miso cod at half that price.

As with M.Y. China below, dim sum is a highlight, but $7–$26 for a few dumplings is a struggle when far cheaper, quality dim sum is plentiful around town. Worthwhile dishes are atypical dim sum, like roasted duck pumpkin puffs or black pepper duck dumplings. Whether noodles ($12–$39) or stir-fry ($12–$58), I haven’t had a bad dish here. But leaving lunch for two over $100 lighter, or the same for drinks and a couple appetizers, I can’t help but conclude: food, drink, and service shine… on someone else’s dime.

1 Kearny, (415) 829-8148, www.hakkasan.com/sanfrancisco

 

M.Y. CHINA

Growing up, I loved watching “Yan Can Cook.” To this day I’m inspired by Martin Yan’s energy and childlike exuberance. His anticipated SF restaurant opening, M.Y. China, is more affordable than Hakkasan, conveniently under the dome at the Westfield Center mall for a post or pre-movie meal. Despite all the noodle attention, including a world-champion noodle puller and noodle pulling stations viewable while dining, spectacle doesn’t necessarily equal stellar noodles. For example, squid ink snap noodles ($18), more like torn pasta squares, tossed with shrimp, scallops and calamari in Shaoxing wine, fail to exude much flavor. Dan Dan noodles ($12) are a stronger choice, and the favorite of everyone I’ve talked to is lush scissor noodles ($14), cut by kitchen scissors then wok-cooked with wild boar.

Wild boar shows up everywhere, a mild version of the robust meat (i.e. inoffensive for those afraid of boar), in lettuce cups ($9), dumplings (four for $8), and more. Every visit yielded disappointingly average wok-tossed dishes, and flavorless small plates like portabello sliders ($8) or mapo tofu ($8), which gets its sole perk from Sichuan peppercorn oil. Teas are a comforting choice, while cocktails ($10-13), which are better but pricier at Hakkasan, have been off balance, like a too sour Three Gorges, with a base of #209 Gin and lemon, lacking absinthe’s nuance or clean bitter structure from Cocchi Americano.

Each meal there’s a singular standout category: dim sum ($6-19). Spicy seafood dumplings (six for $9) are a joy in vivid green spinach wrappers loaded with scallops and shrimp, as are plump, lightly crispy whole wheat potstickers filled with pork and cabbage. Go for decadence with pork and black truffle dumplings ($18). Dessert includes Delise cafe ($4) offerings, among my favorite locally made ice cream, with flavors like Chinese almond, toasted rice or lemongrass.

Despite the mall setting, “under the dome” is the Westfield’s striking feature while chic design and noodle pulling entertainment set the experience apart. As for me, I’ll return for unusual dim sum.

Westfield Center, 845 Market, 4th Floor, (415) 580-3001, www.mychinasf.com

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

 

Out of the Batcloset

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marke@sfbg.com

VISUAL ARTS “When I first saw the 1970s comics version of Batman by Neal Adams, I got a bit weak-kneed — though I was too young to know what that meant at the time,” comics artist Justin Hall (“No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics,” “Glamazonia”) told me over a beer at his Mission apartment. “Here was a more realist Batman, with muscles and chest hair … and he had gotten rid of Robin at that point, which left room for me!”

Venturing into a comic nerds’ den — especially one containing Hall and Rick Worley (“A Waste of Time”), two of SF’s comicus nerdii ne plus ultras — can make for a heady experience, involving intricately detailed discussions on topics as varied as copyright infringement, Tijuana Bibles, Bob Dylan vs. Roy Lichtenstein, Alfred Hitchcock’s lesbian subtexts, the evolution of the muscle daddy in popular culture, and recent scandals like that of Vertigo Comics executive editor Karen Berber’s rather abrupt departure from the DC Comics fold.

In short, in this case, a delectable mental Bat Cave full of Gotham arcana pertaining to the hoariest slash-fic topic this side of Kirk/Spock, the enduring homo subtext of the Dynamic Duo. With “Batman on Robin,” a group art show at Mission: Comics and Art opening Fri/8, Hall and Worley are displaying the works of dozens of comics artists willingly tackling the theme — and finding that beyond the Boom! Pow! Splat! of the men-in-tights 1960s camp TV classic or the suggestively archetypal narrative of brooding, rich, handsome Bruce taking in and mentoring (and, in the ’40s, even sharing a bed with) young orphaned circus hustler Dick, there are innumerable points of entry and intrepretation for queer fans.

Of course, that candy-colored, vaguely existentialist TV show does have a lot to answer for, along with its direct descendants. “I’m pretty sure I first encountered Batman when the Tim Burton movie came out in 1989,” Worley told me. “I saw a table display at a B. Dalton in a mall, and I was intrigued because it was the first time I had ever seen comic books displayed like that in a bookstore. The comics there were Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and my mom wouldn’t let me look at them because she said they were too dark. I would have been about seven, and in the case of those comics she was probably right. So obviously, that just made Batman all the more intriguing to me.

“The first time I actually saw something with Batman in it, though, was probably afternoon reruns of the Adam West show, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it because I really wanted to bang Burt Ward as Robin. The Robin costume has always been hot to me since then.”

But once Worley and Hall put out the call to other artists for their graphic interpretations of Batman-Boy Wonder relations, they were inundated by all sorts of personal takes.

“The pieces we have in our show are amazing,” Worley said. “We have paintings, like a Gustav Klimt homage by Andrew Guiyangco. We have more indie style comics. We have some more Yaoi looking-ones, a cute chibi one, one by Brad Rader in a very classic ’40s Batman illustration style, only with Robin butt-naked. We have a story of a lesbian encounter between Batwoman and Catwoman by Tana Ford, which she did with sort of JH Williams-style layouts. Justin’s doing a Batman Kama Sutra. There’s so much stuff.”

The broader history of interpretations of the Dynamic Duo’s sexuality is full of twists and turns. “I think what has changed most over time is the awareness of gay identity,” Worley said. “If you were gay in the ’40s, there was almost nothing gay available for you to see. It was exciting when you found things [in comics]. I think what’s happened in the meantime is a kind of convergence. As people don’t have to be closeted, figuring out if somebody is or isn’t gay isn’t as much a part of gay life. Now in comics, there are superheroes who are gay, you don’t have to find signs and create your own interpretations of ones who may or may not be. And if you’re a gay writer trying to include that subject matter in a comic you’re writing, you don’t have to encode it, either. But because mainstream superhero comics are dealing with characters who were created decades ago and who have been worked on by hundreds of artists, those characters have now accumulated the baggage of all those interpretations and it’s part of what is always present when they’re being used.”

Hall adds: “In his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, Fredrick Wertham pointed their relationship out as particularly unwholesome, and so I think it’s fair to say that ever since Robin burst onto the scene in his little green Speedo and elfin shoes, there have been suspicions about the goings on in the Bat Cave. The Batman-Robin fantasy has changed some over time, as queer relationships have become more normalized and mainstream. But many readers still have a perverse joy in finding unintended homo subtext in work like the Batman comics.”

“BATMAN ON ROBIN”

Opening reception Fri/8, 7pm, free.

Show run through March 3.

Mission: Comics and Art

3520 20th St., Suite B

www.tinyurl.com/batmanonrobin

 

Out of place

414

news@sfbg.com 

In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Ed Lee cheerfully characterized San Francisco as “the new gravitational center of Silicon Valley.” He touted tech-sector job creation. “We have truly become the innovation capital of the world,” Lee said, “home to 1,800 tech companies with more than 42,000 employees — and growing every day.”

From a purely economic standpoint, San Francisco is on a steady climb. But not all residents share the mayor’s rosy outlook. Shortly after Lee’s speech, renowned local author Rebecca Solnit published her own view of San Francisco’s condition in the London Review of Books. Zeroing in on the Google Bus as a symbol of the city’s housing affordability crisis, she linked the influx of high-salaried tech workers to soaring housing costs. With rents trending skyward, she pointed out, the dearth of affordable housing is escalating a shift in the city’s cultural fabric.

“All this is changing the character of what was once a great city of refuge for dissidents, queers, pacifists and experimentalists,” Solnit wrote. “It has become increasingly unaffordable over the past quarter-century, but still has a host of writers, artists, activists, environmentalists, eccentrics and others who don’t work sixty-hour weeks for corporations — though we may be a relic population.”

LIMITED OPTIONS

The issue of housing in San Francisco is highly emotional, and there is perhaps no greater flashpoint in the charged debate than Ellis Act evictions.

When the housing market bounces upward, Ellis Act evictions tend to hit long-term tenants whose monthly payments, protected by rent control, are a comparative bargain. Even if they’ve submitted every payment on time and upheld every lease obligation for 20 years, these renters can find themselves in the bind of being forced out.

And they don’t just lose their homes; often they lose their community. San Francisco has become so expensive that many Ellis Act victims are tossed out of this city for good.

Enacted in 1986, the state law allows a landlord to stop renting units, evict all tenants, and sell the building for another purpose. Originally construed as a way for landlords to “go out of business” and move into their properties, the Ellis Act instead gained notoriety as a driving force behind a wave of evictions that slammed San Francisco during the tech boom of the late 90s. Between 1986 and 1995, just 29 Ellis evictions were filed with the San Francisco Rent Board; in the 1999-2000 fiscal year alone, that number ballooned to a staggering 440.

Under the current tech heyday, there are indications that Ellis Act evictions are gaining fresh momentum. The San Francisco Rent Board recorded 81 this past fiscal year, more than double that of the previous year, and there appears to be an upward trend.

TIC CONTROVERSY

Buildings cleared via the Ellis Act are typically repackaged as tenancies-in-common (TIC), where several buyers jointly purchase a multi-unit residence and each occupy one unit. Realtors often market TICs as a path to homeownership for moderate-income individuals, creating an incentive for buyers to enter into risky, high-interest shared mortgages in hopes of later converting to condos with more attractive financing.

The divide between TIC owners and renters came into sharp focus at a contentious Jan. 28 hearing, when a Board of Supervisors committee met to consider legislation that would allow some 2,000 TIC units to immediately convert to condos without having to wait their turn in a requisite lottery system.

One TIC owner said he was financially burdened, but had only entered into the arrangement because “I wanted to stay here and raise my family, but we couldn’t afford a single family home.” Yet tenants brought their own set of concerns to the table, saying the temptation to create TICs was putting a major dent in the city’s finite stock of rent-controlled units — the single greatest source of affordable housing in San Francisco.

“My feeling is, let’s stop doing TICs,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a tenants right activist with the Housing Rights Committee, told the Guardian following the hearing. “The city has to just start making sure that the condos that are built are the kind of thing [TIC buyers] can afford. Instead, we cannibalize our rental stock? That’s a reasonable way? You evict one group of people to house another: How does that make sense?”

The grueling five-hour hearing illustrated the sad fact that San Franciscans in a slightly better economic position were being pitted against economically disadvantaged renters. The two groups were bitterly divided, and all seemed weary, furious, and frustrated by their housing situations.

The condo-conversion legislation, co-sponsored by Sups. Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell, did not move forward that day. Instead, Board President David Chiu made a motion to table the discussion until Feb. 25, to provide time for “an intensive negotiation process.” Chiu, who rents his home, added: “While I myself would like to become a homeowner someday … I do not support the legislation in its current form.”

Sup. Jane Kim sought to appeal to the tenants as well as the TIC owners. “It’s very tragic that we have set up a situation where [TICs and renters] are pitted against one another,” she said. She hinted at what a possible alternative to might look like. “We should be looking at a ban of scale,” she said. “If we allow 1,800 potential units to go thru this year, are we willing to do a freeze for the next 8 to 10 years?”

It’s unclear what will happen in the next few weeks, but if this legislation makes it back to the full board in some form, the swing votes are expected to be Sups. London Breed, Malia Cohen and Norman Yee.

CASH OR EVICTION?

New protections were enacted following the late-90s frenzy to discourage real-estate speculators from using the Ellis Act to turn a profit on the backs of vulnerable seniors or disabled tenants. Yet a new wave of investors has discovered they can persuade tenants to leave voluntarily, simply by offering buyouts while simultaneously wielding the threat of an Ellis Act eviction. “The process got more sophisticated,” explains San Francisco Rent Board Deputy Director Robert Collins.

Once a tenant has accepted a check in lieu of eviction, rent-controlled units can be converted to market rate, or refurbished and sold as pricey condos, without the legal hindrances of an eviction blemish. Buyouts aren’t recorded with the Rent Board, and the agency has no real guidance for residents faced with this particular dilemma. “We don’t have the true number on buyouts,” says Mecca. “We don’t know how many people have left due to intimidation.”

Identity-wise, renters impacted by the Ellis Act defy categorization. A contingent of monolingual Chinese residents rallied outside City Hall recently to oppose legislation they believed would give rise to evictions; in the Mission, many targeted tenants are Latinos who primarily speak Spanish. From working immigrants, to aging queer activists, to disabled seniors, to idealists banding together in collective houses, the affected tenants do have one thing in common. When landlords or real-estate speculators perceive that their homes are more valuable unoccupied, their lives are susceptible to being upended by forces beyond their control.

The upshot of San Francisco’s affordability crisis is a cultural blow for a city traditionally regarded as tolerant, forward thinking, and progressive. In the words of Rose Eger, a musician who faces an Ellis Act eviction from her apartment of 19 years, “it changes the face of who San Francisco is.

Out of the Castro

By Tim Redmond

You can’t get much more Castro than Jeremy Mykaels. The 62-year old moved to the neighborhood in the early 1970s, fleeing raids at gay bars in Denver. He played in a rock band, worked at the old Jaguar Books, watched the rise of Harvey Milk, saw the neighborhood transform and made it his home.

He’s lived in a modest apartment on Noe Street for 17 years, and for the past 11 has been living with AIDS. Rent control has made it possible for Mykaels, who survives on disability payments, to remain in this city, in his community, close to the doctors at Davis Hospital who, he believes, have saved his life.

And now he’s going to have to leave.

In the spring of 2011, his longtime landlords sold the building to a real-estate investment group based in Union City — and the new owners immediately sought to get rid of all the tenants. Two renters fled, knowing what was coming; Mykaels stuck around. In September of 2012, he was served with an eviction notice, filed under the state’s Ellis Act.

He’s a senior, he’s disabled, his friends are mostly dead and his life is in his community — but none of that matters. The Ellis Act has no exceptions.

Mykaels spent a fair amount of his life savings fixing up his place. The walls are beige, decorated with nice art. Dickens the cat, who is chocolate brown but looks black, wanders in and out of the small bedroom. Mykaels has been happy there and never wanted to leave; “this,” he told me, “is where I thought I would live the rest of my life.”

There’s no place in the Castro, or even the rest of the city, where he can afford to move. Small studios start at $2,500 a month, which would eat up all of his income. There is, quite literally, nowhere left for him to go.

“A lot of my friends have died, or moved to Palm Springs,” he said. “But this is where my doctors are and where I’m comfortable. I’m not going to find a support system like this anywhere else in the world.”

Mykaels is the face of San Francisco, 2013, a resident who is not part of the mayor’s grand vision for bringing development and high-paying jobs into the city. As far as City Hall is concerned, he’s collateral damage, someone whose life will have to be upended in the name of progress.

But Mykaels isn’t going easily. The former web designer has created a site — ellishurtsseniors.org — that lists not only his address (460 Noe) and the names of the new owners (Cuong Mai, William H. Young and John H. Du) but the addresses of dozens of other properties that are facing Ellis Act evictions. His message to potential buyers: Boycott.

“Do not buy properties where seniors or the disabled have been evicted for profit by real estate speculators using the Ellis Act,” the website states.

Mykaels is a demon researcher — his site is a guide to 31 properties with 94 units where seniors or disabled people are being evicted under the Ellis Act. In some cases, individuals or couples are filing the eviction papers, but at least 14 properties are owned by corporations or trusts.

Mai told me that he knew a disabled senior was living in the building when he and his two partners bought it, but he said his plan all along was to evict all the tenants and turn the three-unit place into a single-family house. He said he hasn’t decided yet whether to sell building; “I might decide to live there myself.” (Of course, if he wanted to live there himself, he wouldn’t need the Ellis Act.)

Mai said he “felt bad about the whole situation,” and he had offered to buy Mykaels out. The offer, however, wouldn’t have covered more than a few months of market rent anyplace else in the Castro.

By law, Mykaels can stay in his apartment until September. If he can’t stave off the eviction by then, San Francisco will lose another longtime member of the city community.

 

Dark days in the Inner Sunset

By Rebecca Bowe

The living room in Rose and Willie Eger’s Inner Sunset apartment is where Rose composes her songs and Willie unwinds after playing baseball in Golden Gate Park. Faded Beatles memorabilia and 45 records adorn the walls, and a prominently displayed poster of Jimi Hendrix looms above a row of guitar cases and an expansive record collection.

It’s a little worn and drafty, but the couple has called this 10th Ave. apartment home for 19 years. Now their lives are about to change. On Jan. 5, all the tenants in their eight-unit building received notice that an Ellis Act eviction proceeding had been filed against them.

“The music that I do is about social and political things,” explains Rose, dressed from head-to-toe in hot pink with a gray braid swinging down her back. Determined to derive inspiration from this whole eviction nightmare, she’s composing a song that plays with the phrase “tenants-in-common.”

Cindy Huff, the Egers’ upstairs neighbor, says she began worrying about the prospect of eviction when the property changed hands last summer. Realtor Elba Borgen, described as a “serial evictor” in online news stories because she’s used the Ellis Act to clear several other properties, purchased the apartment building last August, through a limited liability corporation. The notice of eviction landed in the mailbox less than six months later. (Borgen did not return Guardian calls seeking comment.)

“With the [average] rent being three times what most of us pay, there’s no way we can stay in the city,” Huff says. “The only option we would have is to move out of San Francisco.” She retired last year following a 33-year stint with UCSF’s human resources department. Now, facing the prospect of moving when she and her partner are on fixed incomes, she’s scouring job listings for part-time work.

The initial notice stated that every tenant had to vacate within 120 days, but several residents are working with advocates from the Housing Rights Committee in hopes of qualifying for extensions. Huff and the Egers are all in their fifties, but some tenants are seniors—including a 90-year-old Cuban woman who lives with her daughter, and has Alzheimer’s disease.

Willie works two days a week, and Rose is doing her best to get by with earnings from musical gigs. Both originally from New York City, they’ve lived in the city 35 years. When they first moved to the Sunset, it resembled something more like a working-class neighborhood, where families could raise kids. The recent tech boom has ushered in a transformation, one that Rose believes “changes the face of who San Francisco is.” Willie doesn’t mince words about the mess this eviction has landed them in. “I call it ‘Scam-Francisco,'” he says.

The trio recently joined tenant advocates in visiting Sup. Norman Yee, their district supervisor, to tell their stories. Yee, who is expected to be one of the swing votes on an upcoming debate about condo-conversion legislation vehemently opposed by tenant activists, reportedly listened politely but didn’t say much.

As for what the next few months have in store for the Egers? “I can’t really visualize the outcome,” Rose says. “I can only visualize the day-to-day fight. And that’s scary.”

 

Fighting for a home in the Mission

By Tim Redmond

Eleven years ago, Olga Pizarro fell in love with Ocean Beach. A native of Peru who was living in Canada, she visited the Bay Area, saw the water and decided she would never leave.

Fast forward to today and she’s built a home in the Mission, renting a small room in a basement flat on Folsom Street. The 55-year-old has lived in the building for eight years; polio has left her wearing a leg brace and she can’t climb stairs very well, but she still rides her bike to work at the Golden Gate Regional Center. She’s a sociologist by training; the walls in her room are lined with bookshelves, with hundreds of books in Spanish and English.

The place isn’t fancy, and it needs work, but it’s hard to find a ground-floor apartment in the Mission that’s affordable on a nonprofit worker’s salary. Since 2011, when she moved in, she and her three housemates have been protected by rent control. And Pizarro’s been happy; “I love the neighborhood,” she told me.

The letter warning of a pending eviction arrived Jan. 16. A new owner of the building wants to turn the place into tenancies in common and is prepared to throw everyone out under the Ellis Act. There’s no place else in town for Pizarro to go.

“I’ve looked and looked,” she said. “The cheapest places are $2,500 a month or more. Maybe I’ll have to move out of the city.”

Pizarro’s building is owned by Wai Ahead, LLC, a San Francisco partnership registered to Carol Wai and Sean Lundy. I couldn’t reach Wai or Lundy, but their attorney, Robert Sheppard, had plenty to say. “San Francisco is going the way of New York,” he told me. “Manhattan is full of co-ops that used to be rentals, and lower-income people are moving to Brooklyn and Queens. That’s happening here with Oakland and further out.” He argued that TICs, like co-ops, provide home-ownership opportunities for former renters.

Sheppard, who for years represented tenants in eviction cases, said the Ellis Act is law, and America is a capitalist country, and “as long as there is a private housing market, there will be shifts of people as the housing market shifts.” He agreed that it’s not good for lower-income people to lose their homes, but “the poor will always be hurt by a changing economy. It’s called evolution.”

Pizarro told me she’s shocked at how expensive housing has become in the Mission. “It’s gotten so gentrified,” she said. “People show up in their BMWs. It’s starting to feel very isolated.”

She’s fighting the eviction. “I didn’t intend it to be this way,” she explained. “I just want to live here.” Lacking any family in the area, the Mission has become her community — “and I’m frustrated by the violence of how expensive it is.”

 

Affordability goes out of style

By Rebecca Bowe

Hester Michael is a fashion designer, and her home doubles as a project space for creating patterns, sewing custom clothing, weaving cloth, and painting. She’s lived in her Outer Sunset two-bedroom unit for almost two decades, but now she faces an Ellis Act eviction. Michael says she initially received notice last June. The timing was awful -– that same month, her husband passed away after a long battle with terminal illness.

“I’ve been here 25 years. My friends are here, and my business. I don’t know where else to go, or what else to do,” she says. “I just couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.”

Michael rents the upstairs unit of a split single-family home, a kind of residence that normally isn’t protected by rent control. Yet she leased the property in 1994, getting in under the wire before that exemption took effect. Since she pays below-market-rate rent in a home that could be sold vacant for top dollar, a target was essentially inscribed on her back when the property changed hands in 2004. That’s about when her long battle with the landlords began, she says.

From the get-go, her landlords indicated that she should look for a new place, Michael says, yet she chose to remain. The years that followed brought things falling into disrepair, she says, and a string of events that caused her feel intimidated and to fear eviction. Finally, she consulted with tenant advocates and hired an attorney. A complaint filed in superior court alleges that the property owners “harassed and retaliated [Michael] when she complained about the defective and dangerous conditions …telling [her] to move out of the property if she did not like the dangerous conditions thereat … repeatedly making improper entries into [the] property, and wrongfully accusing [her] of causing problems.”

Records show that Angela Ng serves as attorney in fact for the property owner, Ringo Chung Wai Lee. Steven Adair MacDonald, an attorney who represents both landlords and tenants in San Francisco housing disputes, represents the owners. “An owner of a single family home where the rent is controlled and a fraction of market has virtually no other choice but to terminate the tenancy,” MacDonald said when the Guardian reached him by phone. “They’ve got to empty it, and the only way to empty it is the Ellis Act.”

While Michael received an extension that allows her to remain until June 5, she fears her custom sewing business, Hester’s Designs, will suffer if she has to move. There’s the issue of space. “I have so much stuff in this house,” she says. And most of her clients are currently located close by, so she doesn’t know where her business would come from if she had to relocate. “A lot of my clients don’t have cars,” she says, “so if I live in some suburb in the East Bay, forget it. I’ll lose my business.”

The prospect of eviction has created a major dilemma for Michael, who first moved to San Francisco in 1987. While moving to the East Bay seems untenable, she says renting in San Francisco feels out of reach. “People are renting out small, tiny bedrooms for the same price as I pay here,” she says. With a wry laugh, she adds: “I don’t think there’s any vacant apartments in San Francisco -– unless you’re a tech dude and make seven grand a month.”

Ride ’em

1

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS “It’s amazing how Ohio still exists,” said Shawn Shine out of the blue. I think it was in Salt Lake City that an old woman, on her birthday, referred to him and my brother Phenomenon as “a couple of real cowboys” — and this made their day.

Phenomenon of course is a real cowboy — as surely as I am a real chicken farmer. It’s what he does, in other words. Puts on a western shirt, a bolo tie, boots, and a hat, and he sings “Home on the Range.” Shawn Shine plays the banjo and stomps his feet or slaps his thighs. He wears flannel shirts and a trucker-style baseball cap with the letters ROY G. BIV embroidered on the back of it.

Couple a real cowboys, yipee-kai-yai-yay.

Technically, Shawn Shine is more of a trail blazer. For real. I’m pretty sure he actually gets paid to blaze trail for National Park Service, sometimes. He gets a job, then he takes a train to somewhere, sleeps out on the trail, under the stars — with his ROY G. BIV hat pulled down over his eyes, as I imagine it.

Hedgehog and I befriended the bejesus out of Shawn Shine while we were all on that cute little tour together last month. In one of his songs he sings the line: “Now I can’t hug you goodbye if you’re covered in bees.”

Every night I’d hear him sing that with his eyes closed and some other place’s light reflecting off his glasses, and I would just squiggle and squish inside with admiration and respect for my new friend, the real damn cowboy, Shawn Shine.

Come to find he wrote that line about Jean Gene the Frenchman, my other brother! Shawn Shine explained the whole thing to me and Hedgehog at Thai House 530, other night.

Like a lot of people I meet here, or even in other parts of the world, Shawn Shine is already in with my whole kooky family in Ohio — where the weird ones stay. See, between trails once (pronounced wunst), he took him a class in cob bench making — I don’t know, I guess because he wanted to make cob benches, or something — and the teacher turned out to be Jean Gene the Frenchman. Then the next thing he knows he is helping my brother tear down some old gangster’s house around the corner from my mom’s. Something historical, from the 1800s, hammered together with what Shawn Shine called “Jesus nails — you know, with four corners.”

Anyway, they were recycling what they could for my other other brother’s house around the other corner from mom’s. Some beams, some posts. But the walls of the house . . . instead of insulation and wires or even dirty money, they were filled with billions of bees. And of course Jean Gene got it into his amazing head to recycle the bees, too. (Hot damn do I love that brother!)

So, yeah, they started a sort of a shuttle service for bees — as best as I can picture it, using their bodies as busses. And every songwriter in the world wishes they were there for that, I would imagine. But only this one was, bless him: Shawn Shine, everybody.

Most of the Bay Area, to think, doesn’t even know yet how happy they are to have him here! When Phenomenon drove back to Ohio after the last show last month, he left Shawn Shine behind. In need of a room in a house, by the way, and work. For between roundups.

Meanwhile, dinner’ll be on us. At Thai House 530, as I was saying. Over and over again, since I’ve latched on to that nasty head cold going around, and duck soup is my medicine. Plus the waitressperson there had the very good sense to compliment Hedgehog’s T-shirt, not knowing Hedgehog was not only wearing her T-shirt but had dreamed it up and had it made! To sell off the stage at our shows, even though it doesn’t say Sister Exister anywhere on it.

“I love her,” Hedgehog whispered to me, when she went to put our order in. I did not feel threatened. Just sick.

Hedgehog’s grilled pork was fantastic. The duck soup cleared my head a little bit, but not enough. Perfect: I would have to go back the next day, and the next. It’s good medicine: deep, dark, and greasy with plenty of duck, cilantro, sprouts, and scallions. In a bowl shaped like a football!

Or a boat, I suppose. Would be another way of looking at it.

Eat here on your way to Lost Church this Friday:

THAI HOUSE 530

Sun-Thu noon-10:30pm; Fri-Sat noon-11pm

530 Valencia, SF

(415) 503-1500

AE/D/MC/V

Beer & wine

Something old, something new

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Once a year, long-time colleagues Todd Eckert and Nol Simonse share an evening showcasing their choreography. Unfortunately, the “Shared Space Six” program, presented last weekend at Dance Mission Theater, was not as promising as one would have hoped. Most dispiriting was that the evening’s best piece, Eckert’s Disparate Affinity, dates back to 2006.

Performed by Eckert and his former colleague at Robert Moses’ Kin, Katherine Wells, Disparate is a sensitively developed exploration of how two different people can inhabit similar universes. Here, they become aware of each other, finally get together only to separate again.

With her long-limbed physique, Wells looks as fragile as a reed, but she has a fierce and versatile technique, making her one of the finest dancers in the Bay Area. She and Eckert — strong, muscular, and sturdy — complemented each other excellently. At first occupying opposite spaces on stage, they engaged in a long-distance conversation. When they finally met, touch became an essential part of their connecting. As Eckert floated away, she was left holding in her hand the space he had occupied.

Unfortunately, Simonse badly misstepped in the premiere of his disappointing Kafka Sex Party, set primarily on himself and four male dancers, with Tanya Bello and Kaitlyn Ebert acting as, perhaps, guides to a netherworld. Referencing the fate of Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Simonse wiggled in with a giant shell on his back. He repeatedly asserted that this was who he was, and if you wanted to touch him, that’s what you’d get. Bello and Ebert, in black accessorized with aviator sunglasses, cheerfully liberated him, and the scene shifted to a dungeon.

Bathed in murky red light, the men — in black leather dance belts — pumped, stretched, and slid onto each other’s bodies, coupling and retreating. At one point, three of them squeezed themselves into a sandwich. These anonymous encounters occurred as if on cue, as did the periodic group hops and risings from the back like the spokes of a wheel. In the work’s third section, white streamers were lowered from a fan into a maypole for the men to dance around. Was it a dream or a nightmare, or both?

One of Kafka‘s difficulties may be that Simonse took a highly evocative literary reference but didn’t work with it enough (or, at least, not clearly enough). Also, the anonymous erotic encounters he tried to suggest are difficult to translate to the stage. They were both too stilted and too bland. The uncredited musical collage of rumbling drums threatening melodic strains had the kind of complexity that the choreography sadly lacked.

Last year, Simonse danced in a black ruffled skirt with Theatre Flamenco. He looked fabulous. So perhaps, it’s not surprising that for the premiere of I Could Never Make You Stay he donned a white facsimile. His and Eckert’s first try at co-creation yielded an unwieldy but harmless affair with some fine and a lot of meandering dancing. Each choreographer contributed a perspective on impermanence.

Eckert’s duet with handsomely trained newcomer David Schleiffers had the two men locked in a frozen head-to-head collision. It’s an image that would re-occur. They looked like boxers waiting for the referee to step in. But then some mysterious force started to turn and unglue them into luscious encounters with sensuously interlocking arms and a sense of spacious, though temporary, connection between them.

Taking a break from hanging laundry, Simonse’s well-paced solo sent him scurrying along the ground, loping across the stage, curling and shooting his limbs in all directions. Dancing on to his toes with his arms into ballet’s high fifth position, he projected his longing upward. I Could Never‘s most charming sequence, however, came with an unlikely duet for tall, sturdy and visibly pregnant Peta Barrett and a weasel-like Chad Dawson.

The white T-shirts on Simonse’s laundry line may have stood for past loves — but perhaps they were just ordinary white shirts. A quartet of women, in a feminist metaphor, wiped the floor with them, or donned them as accoutrements. The grand finale’s 16 whirling dancers cheerfully asserted as couples the work’s title, and indeed, they couldn’t make each other stay. Dressed in voluminous white wedding gowns, they looked as if they’d been plopped into creampuffs. Rigorously shaking their colorfully clad legs, they metamorphosed into circus artists.

Weird tales

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM It was a particular thrill to talk to Don Coscarelli on Jan. 8 — Elvis’ birthday. He is, after all, the guy who made 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep, which imagined an elderly version of the King fighting the evil mummy that’s menacing his nursing home. Coscarelli’s other credits include 1979’s Phantasm (and its 1988, ’94, and ’98 sequels), 1982’s The Beastmaster, and his latest: supernatural noir buddy comedy John Dies at the End, based on David Wong’s comedy-horror novel.

San Francisco Bay Guardian I’m a big fan of Bubba Ho-Tep. I read that you met [John Dies star] Paul Giamatti because he was also a fan of that film.

Don Coscarelli Absolutely true. About five or six years ago, I received an email from Eli Roth, who was over in Eastern Europe working on one of the Hostel movies. He’d had a meal with Paul while they were there, and Eli sent me this email right away: “All Paul could talk about was Bubba Ho-Tep!” I thought he was just exaggerating, but it was true — Paul really liked the movie a lot, which was really rewarding to hear.

When we first met, I was trying to put together a sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep, and I had this idea that Paul could play Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The Bubba project didn’t end up coming together, but when I came across the David Wong book, I pitched it to him and he really liked the idea. So he helped as both executive producer and by playing the role of Arnie in the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy83MPk7Wpg

SFBG Besides Giamatti, the cast is mostly up-and-comers — plus Glynn Turman, who played the mayor on The Wire. Are you a Wire fan?

DC A huge Wire fan. I’m toying with the thought of starting from scratch and watching it from the beginning again.

SFBG How did you cast the dog, Bark Lee?

DC Here’s the thing with dogs: many years ago when I was a young lad, I made this movie called The Beastmaster (1982), and I learned not to expect much from animals. [Their performances] all have to be done in terms of editing and just lots of shooting. But this dog — and his real name is Bark Lee — I’d known for awhile, because [his owner is] a good friend who was one of the co-producers on the movie, Brad Baruh. So I thought, “Why couldn’t Brad’s dog just play the role?” Brad started training him on his own, and it worked out great. He did very well.

SFBG How did the special effects in John Dies break down, in terms of props versus CGI?

DC I never really quantified which is which. We probably bit off more than we could chew in terms of too many digital effects. But, look — they’re all just tools, and you just have to find the right one for the right thing. Sometimes, combining the two can be so much better than either of them.

The meat monster sequence [in John Dies] was always a challenge. In pre-production, I was trying to figure out how to do it. I consulted a lot of friends and effects folks, and was thinking at one time of making it a 3D construct. But then it had to interact with the actors, and throw out a sausage link and grab ’em by the neck, and I just didn’t see how that would work in CG.

Robert Kurtzman, who is one of the guys from K.N.B. EFX Group, had also done the Bubba Ho-Tep monster. He did an illustration where we could do it as a man in a suit, so we did it that way — and the suit is a total work of art. When it was finished, we added some highlights with CG, where we animated the little trout that runs up the back of the meat monster as he’s coming together. I think that added a level of bizarreness to it that took the edge off it just being only rubber.

SFBG John Dies has a lot going on: gore, surreal humor, buddy comedy elements, and even some film noir flair. How did you get the tone just right?

DC It’s all a function of the editing process. Going into it I had a lot of ideas about what the tone would be, but when you’re filming it’s hard to really keep track of that. With this screenplay, there was always the opportunity for it to go off the rails. It takes so many liberties and it’s so out there.

Luckily I had enough time where I was able to bracket the performances. I could do a subtle one, I could do a moderate one, and I could do an over-the-top one. Editing’s really like writing with visuals — you can watch the previous scene and watch the succeeding scene and then tailor it so that you’ve got some sort of tone and flow. But it always was a challenge.

SFBG Any chance you’ll ever make that Bubba Ho-Tep sequel?

DC Elvis is eternal. He will outlive all of us! It’s something I would like to do. It felt like it was gonna happen, about three or four years ago, and then it just fell apart. But I still would love to do it one day, and I’ve got a lot of great ideas.

One of the best things about Bubba was that we had a load of fun thinking up sequels. You can just take Bubba and put a monster after it, and you’d have a sequel. You’re talking about weird ones like Bubba Blob, and of course there was always Bubba Sasquatch, which would have been great. Because, you know, Elvis in the woods fighting a tribe of Bigfoot … now that would be cool! 

JOHN DIES AT THE END opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.

West Memphis blues

3

arts@sfbg.com

FILM At this point, it’s hard to imagine a present-day murder trial more painstakingly documented than that of the so-called West Memphis Three. The subject of four documentaries, with a feature film in the works (starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, no less), and inspiring at least as many books, websites, and countless articles, the story of the three teenagers convicted of the brutal killings of three small boys has never quite dropped from public attention.

Still, despite its relatively high profile, almost two decades have passed since the crime, and the defendants’ quest to have their convictions overturned has taken literally half their lives — a journey they’re still traveling, despite a surprise 2011 deal cut with the state of Arkansas that allowed them to walk out of prison, free men but convicted felons. According to the newest documentary in the canon, West of Memphis, that’s just too long to wait for justice.

West of Memphis can be considered both a crash course for those who somehow missed the Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger-directed Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries which preceded it, as well as a telling portrait of a deeply-flawed criminal justice system at work. It’s an evenly-paced montage of talking heads, archival trial footage, and interviews with investigators and legal experts, with additional focus on the personal life and relationship between death row inmate Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, who met while he was incarcerated.

The doc traces the entire case, from the initial news reports of the disappearances of eight-year-olds Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and Steve Branch, to the supporter-funded, post-conviction investigation and appeals process still unfolding today. Produced by Echols, Davis, and power-duo filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, West of Memphis centers specifically on Echols’ case, in distinct contrast to the Paradise Lost films.

“There were a lot of different reasons for that,” director Amy Berg explains. “[One was] because Damien was on death row, he was taking a different journey through the legal system [than fellow defendants Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr., who were sentenced to life imprisonment instead].”

Another reason: access. Echols and Davis were not only central to the narrative of the film, they were also instrumental in getting Berg acclimated to West Memphis. Their contacts became her contacts, and their story became her focal point.

Over the years, Echols’ defense team had gradually amassed testimony from a slew of high-powered experts — profilers, forensic pathologists, and DNA testers — all of which pointed away from the West Memphis Three, and in some cases suggested new suspects. But despite this seemingly compelling material, Echols’ appeal hit a wall in 2008, when then-Circuit Court judge David Burnett, who had presided over the original trials, denied a new hearing, citing “inconclusive evidence.” It was then that Jackson and Walsh, who had privately bankrolled much of the investigation leading to the DNA appeal, began to think about making a documentary.

“We’d been shut down by the court system,” Davis says. “We didn’t know what else to do to get this information about the case out to the public.” That’s when Berg, whose 2006 doc Deliver Us from Evil was nominated for an Academy Award, was approached by Jackson about the possibility of filming the continuing saga of the West Memphis Three. A former investigative journalist, Berg’s experience in the field led to some very interesting interview footage of subjects hitherto undocumented, including two young men — friends of a nephew to victim Branch’s stepfather — whose rather late-in-the-game affidavits may turn out to be the impetus for the state to reopen the investigation that the West Memphis Three have been hoping for.

“Amy just has this amazing ability to wait it out,” Davis says. “People would just open up to her.”

But where were these witnesses before West of Memphis? There’s been a reward offered on new information for years, and it seems like there’s been plenty of opportunity for folks to come forward before now.

“There’s such a culture of fear in Arkansas, and in the South in general,” Berg considers. “I really think everyone was concerned for their own well-being.”

It remains to be seen if breaking the long silence of a cluster of perjurers and procrastinators will translate into a reopening of the case; word is there’s some movement in that direction. But for now, at least, the public finally has a chance to hear the testimonies that the West Memphis Three have waited so long to present.

WEST OF MEMPHIS opens Fri/8 in San Francisco.

Editor’s notes

97

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES People who rent apartments aren’t second-class citizens. In fact, under San Francisco laws, they have (and ought to have) many of the same rights as the landed gentry.

If you rent a place in this city, and you pay the rent on time, and abide by the terms of the lease, you should be able to stay in your home (and yes, it IS your home) as long as you want. The rent can only go up by a modest amount every year.

Landlords know that when they enter into rental agreements. Accepting a tenant means acknowledging that the person may want to say in his or her apartment for years, maybe for life; the rent the landlord sets for that unit has to be adequate to cover a share of the mortgage, expected maintenance costs, and a reasonable return on the owner’s investment.

When you buy a piece of rental property in the city, you are told that tenants live there; you’re told what rent they pay, you’re informed that you can’t raise it much, and unless your utterly ignorant of local law, you realize that the tenants have, in effect, lifetime leases since you can only evict them for “just cause” — which does not include your desire to make more money.

If the numbers don’t pencil out under those conditions, they you shouldn’t buy the place.

That’s how a sane rental housing system ought to operate. Unfortunately, the state Legislature has undermined local rent-control laws with the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict all their tenants, cease renting altogether, and turn the place into condominiums. Or, since there are limits on condo conversions in this city, into tenancies in common, which are not limited at all.

Sup. Scott Wiener wants to make it easier to turn TICs into condos; he says the poor TIC owners are having a tough time and can get better mortgage rates if they rules are changed. I don’t feel bad for them; they knew the rules when they bought their TICs. They have no right to convert to condos; that’s a privilege granted to a limited number each year, by waiting list and lottery. Buy a TIC? You should assume it will remain your ownership model for a long, long time.

The city can’t stop the TIC conversions, but it can set ground rules — for example, local law mandates a payment to tenants who are evicted, which can reach $5,000. Sounds big — but it won’t even pay two months’ rent on a new place in this market.

SO let’s be fair here: If you want to evict a tenant, who has and ought to have the right to a stable place to live, you should pay enough to make that person whole. Calculate market rent on a similar place; subtract the current rent the tenant is paying, and cover the difference — for, let’s say, five years.

If that makes TICs too expensive, and thus lowers property values by making evictions difficult and keeping rents low, fine: Property values are too high in this town anyway. And if it means more stability for lower-income people at the expense of property owners … well, I can live with that.

Freak show

0

emilysavage@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY As Homer Flynn describes to me the Bay Area musical landscape during the time when iconic, experimental music-arts collective the Residents first rolled into town in 1966, I can’t help but picture a tiny gold hammer cracking the earth wide open like it was a piñata, with glitter, powdered wigs, freakish masks, oversized eyeballs, and gingerbread men spewing out in a magnificent tangle.

“A lot of what attracted the Residents to the Bay Area was the psychedelic music scene of the mid-to-late ’60s,” he says, with a pleasant Southern drawl. “What was so interesting about that era, was that it was wide open. Because the money was not as big, there was a lot more freedom.”

Flynn’s talking to me as a van carrying the current members of the Residents careens through the New Mexico desert on their first tour in two years, their 40th anniversary tour, which crawls to San Francisco on Feb. 24 (8pm, $35. Bimbo’s, 1025 Columbus, SF. www.bimbos365club.com).

Looking back at the beginning of the band’s career, he includes early FM radio as part of that equation: “FM radio was really getting its start, in terms of broad exposure, and it was wide open. You would turn on KSAN Radio at that time, [and] you could hear Mozart, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, swing music. It was very eclectic, and that’s what made it interesting.”

He could be describing the Residents themselves with that last descriptor. The mysterious band (always covered in the face, often in whimsical dada-tastic costumery) might have been lured to the Bay by the psychedelia scene, but they took cues from far broader reaches of sound. There was cosmic jazz composer Sun Ra — “I mean, Sun Ra said he was from the planet Saturn.”

“There was a lot of mystery about Sun Ras…and when he spoke, everything was all poetic and enigmatic. He was a huge influence on the Residents, in terms of style and music presentation, although, they never really tried to emulate him in terms of music. But there was a lot of respect and influence.”

Musically, and composition-wise, there was influence from Captain Beefheart, more on the fringes of psychedelia, and far weirder than the acts that made it exponentially bigger by decade’s end. But the Residents have staying power — releasing 60 albums and multimedia CD-ROMs over four decades, including first single Santa Dog (1972), and milestone records like Eskimo (1979) and Freak Show (1990).

This is probably a good time to point out that we the listeners don’t exactly know who the band members are, or who Flynn is.

This much is true: the Cole Valley neighborhood resident is part of the band’s two-person management team, Cryptic Corporation. He’s also the art director who created most of their album covers, and who ushered in the concepts for the Residents’ many memorable faceless looks (specifically, and most well-known, the eyeball masks, though his original concept for that was giant silver globes).

The heavy globes were a no-go, so someone suggested eyeballs (the better to see you with).

“It was like, well if you have an eyeball, what goes with that? At this time it was still hippie to some extent. What was in for bands was sloppy and slovenly — which, of course, it still is at this time — so the idea of tuxedos they thought, that’s cool and classy. And then the top hat was just the perfect compliment to the eyeball and the tuxedo.”

He may also be in the band, and the band’s main lyricist, but claims to this day otherwise. It’s been a long debate, as to who is actually a member of the Residents, because, again, they all wear masks.

However Flynn’s connected with the group, he’s certainly been along for the journey — the Shreveport, La.-native has long been in that bumpy Residents bus, not least for this tour, the 40th anniversary special, which began a day before our conversation.

The live show this time around is a retrospective of the Residents entire career, laying out the colorful story of the band, with monologues and musical bits throughout. The show kicks off — where else? — with “Santa Dog.” Flynn says it’s meant to paint a broad and entertaining picture of the band.

To add a punctuation mark to the anniversary, the group is offering an ultimate box set: a 28 cubic-foot refrigerator containing releases from the group’s entire career, 100 different first pressings including 40 vinyl LPs, 50 CDs, DVDs, and a signature eyeball-with-top-hat mask. Asking price? A cool $100,000 to the lucky buyer.

On the road, the group is also bringing more practical merch, such as t-shirts and commemorative coins. Hopefully there’ll be plenty left at the Bimbo’s show near the end of the tour. While there will still be a couple more dates after it, Flynn considers the SF show to be the big return home.

“I’ve traveled around quite a bit, I’ve seen a lot of places that I like, I’ve never seen any place else that I’ve wanted to live. In terms of the Residents, best thing I can say is that they’ve been happy to call the Bay Area home.,” Flynn says dreamily. “I know it will feel really good to pull up in front of Bimbo’s and take all our stuff in, our well-worn crew at that point, coming to play the show.”

 

GHOST BEACH

Are you familiar with the term “tropical grit-pop.” Neither was I, but listen to the NYC band Ghost Beach’s Modern Tongues EP, and it should all come together. Or better yet, see it live this weekend. It’s all electronic burps and yacht rock vocals, from a pop duo (possibly?) named after a Goosebumps book, with ’90s-baiting lyrics, and ’80s synth layers. With ONUINU, popscene DJs.

Thu/7, 9:30pm, $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com.

 

BIG FREEDIA

If you’re celebrating Mardi Gras without Big Freedia, you’re doing it wrong. Lights Down Low is bringing the New Orleans bounce queen out especially for you, the sexy people. Oh, and don’t forget to twerk. With MikeQ, Hard French DJs.

Fri/8, 9pm, $16 (advanced tickets). Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com.

 

BEAK>

Beak> is at one once unsettling and charming; its Krautrock backbone and angular guitars create eerie, paranoid grooves, à la Silver Apples — you know the itchy, building beats — but those hushed, mumbly vocals soothe the senses. Drummer-singer Geoff Barrow, keys-guitarist Matt Williams, and bassist Billy Fuller, are all members of other bands (including Barrow’s Portishead), so they split their time between acts, but have already released two albums in the few short years they’ve been able to get together, including critically-lauded 2012 full-length, >>. And their albums are all live recorded improv sessions in the same room, which translates well to shows, making the appearances mesmerizing extensions of previous jam sessions. With Vex Ruffin, Peanut Butter Wolf.

Feb. 13, 8pm, $20. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com