Volume 47 Number 30

Hot Chip off the old block

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Bands have hierarchies. James Murphy was essentially LCD Soundsystem, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard are Hot Chip. If anyone knows this, it’s Al Doyle; the multi-instrumentalist was the guitarist for LCD before it disbanded in 2011, and continues to be a crucial member in Hot Chip.

“Joe and Alexis are a songwriting duo that works extraordinarily well, and no one else has written a song that Hot Chip has played,” Doyle said over the phone, on a bus somewhere en route to Palm Springs, getting ready for the first week of Coachella, where the UK group was slotted to play. Other members Felix Martin and Owen Clarke have made musical contributions along with him, but never whole songs. “Recently, we’ve been collaborating a little more closely, and it might get to the stage where Alexis and Joe feel that they can do a song that I’ve started or Felix has started, but that hasn’t happened so far.”

This probably says less about controlling or opposing personalities, as it does the overabundance of ideas currently in Hot Chip. Goddard released a joyously cuddly dance album with Raf Daddy as the 2 Bears, Taylor is collaborating with German producer Justus Köhnhke as Fainting By Numbers, and Doyle has his own distinct musical outlet in New Build, a project with Martin. “We were working on a few tracks at the same time the LCD thing was going on. The roots were me and Felix, but working in the studio with our engineer Tom Hopkins just seemed to make sense as he got more involved with the project, so it became the three of us.”

New Build’s first album, Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, pulls back from the densely layered production of Hot Chip’s recent albums, for a slightly rawer garage sound that’s more characteristic of Doyle’s LCD background. But much of the somber and tender emotion that typifies Hot Chip is still there. On “Finding Reasons” Doyle morosely recalls Peter Gabriel over a mechanical drum beat, with recurring apocalyptic apprehension. (“And the news is coming in / Of another city’s sad demise.”)

“I was feeling a lot of apathy around at the time I was writing those lyrics,” Doyle said. “Syria was on my mind around that time, and even now there’s a weariness with that kind of information coming through.”

At times, Doyle feels a need to be purposefully obscure as the principal songwriter in New Build. “I probably write a little bit more obliquely, than some of the Hot Chip songs, which are quite intensely personal to Joe and Alexis. When I feel myself getting too personal there’s a sense of paralysis. I can’t really sort of work like that, and often write a couple of steps removed from the original feeling.”

Occasionally things are playful, silly even. Take “The Third One.” Built around a “bleepy” piece by producer Hopkins, it’s got a bouncy rhythm, and some pointedly Prince-like guitar work by Doyle, as the lyrics get into the logic of fighting Nintendo bosses, who as everyone know always come in threes. “I still enjoy videos games,” Doyle said, “It’s something me and Felix do and try not to talk about it too much.”

Still, Doyle is showing through. He describes “Medication” as a curveball, a “straight-up attempt to write as pop-y song as you kind of could.” Over a funky bassline and buoyant beat, the sardonic lyrics recommend simple, chemical solutions to your problems, coming off like a pharmaceutical jingle written by Aldous Huxley. “Retrospectively having looked at that song, there’s a lot of mental illness in my family and it’s something that I tend to find myself thinking about now and again.”

New Build is using gaps in Hot Chip’s schedule (and the relative proximity of its equipment) to stage a West Coast tour. Following the expansive models Doyle is used to, the three members will increase to seven on the road. More expensive, as well, it might mean barely breaking even or going broke, but Doyle prefers the spectacle. “Lots of new bands, you like the music on the record, but then go see them play live and it’s a couple of guys with electronics, maybe one of them is playing guitars but doesn’t really need to, or playing a bit of completely extraneous percussion. I didn’t want it to feel like a tacked on thing, I wanted to feel like an experience.”

“We’re very lucky to find some amazing musicians. Ben Ubly plays bass guitar, and he is childhood friends with Tom, who was like ‘this guy can really play.” And we were like ‘Well, how good could he really be?’ But then he turns out to the one of the best musicians we’ve ever played with. Never been in any bands, literally just a bedroom player. Just stepped up and seems like he’s built for it.”

With New Build, Doyle has also stepped up and into the front. We’ll see how well he’s built, having spent over a decade in two international touring bands, and likely picking up a thing or two from Taylor, Goddard, and Murphy. “James was just able to really relax an audience and make them feel appreciated that’s just something he has as a person. I’d obviously love to try and emulate that sort of presence. I’m still learning how to do that a little bit.”

 

NEW BUILD

With No Ceremony///

Sun/28, 8pm, $17

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

Care clash

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The first week in April was a rough time for Connie Salguero. The Filipina nursing assistant, who says she would’ve been eligible to retire in two years, reported to her shift at the University of California San Francisco medical center at Mt. Zion on April 1 — and was told she was laid off. Two days after that, she was forced out of her home through an eviction, but fortuitously met an elderly Filipina woman who said Salguero could stay with her until she gets back on her feet.

“This manager said to me, Connie, come here, let’s talk,” and delivered the bad news, Salgeuro recounted, getting a little misty-eyed. Two other Filipina hospital assistants in her unit met with the same fate that day, she said.

“I’m trying to find a job,” Salguero said. “It’s very hard. But I will survive.” She projected a sense of resolve despite the whirlwind of sudden stress, which seemed fitting for someone whose job entailed feeding, bathing, and assisting up to ten bedridden patients at a time, many of them suffering from cancer.

Salguero said management told her the layoffs were necessary because of the most recent wave of federal budget cuts. But Cristal Java, lead organizer for UC patient care technical workers’ union, AFSCME 3299, interjected during an interview with the Bay Guardian to refute that explanation, calling it “total crap. They don’t want to tell workers the truth,” Java said, “which is that the hospitals are extremely profitable.”

UCSF ELIMINATES 300 POSITIONS

Salguero is one of about 25 UCSF certified nursing assistants whose recent layoffs prompted AFSCME to register a formal complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board, an agency that mediates labor disputes. The CNA layoffs hit in March and early April as part of a raft of cutbacks that eliminated a total of 300 full-time equivalent positions. Some of those positions were unfilled while other staffers were reassigned elsewhere or had their hours cut; a total of 75 individuals were laid off.

The cuts prompted union representatives to organize a protest at UCSF’s Parnassus Campus April 4, with San Francisco Sup. John Avalos and California Sen. Leland Yee turning out in support of the workers. Salguero was there too, waving a sign, and she wound up telling her story for an international broadcast by a Filipino news station. Things took a dramatic turn when police arrived on the scene, and Union President Kathryn Lybarger and some others were escorted off the premises in handcuffs.

Asked to explain the rationale behind the layoffs, UCSF spokesperson Karin Rush-Monroe responded, “We evaluated the impact of the Affordable Care Act, expected reductions in Medicare, MediCal and private insurance reimbursements,” as well as employee benefits and rising costs in drugs and medical supplies, and ultimately decided on a 4 percent labor budget cut. “We must make a ‘course correction’ if we are to maintain our resources to care for our patients,” Rush-Monroe said.

But the staffing cuts hit just weeks after AFSCME published a blistering report, titled “A Question of Priorities,” charging that UC has prioritized profit margins at its medical centers since 2009 while needlessly eliminating frontline staff positions, all to the detriment of patient care.

“It feels very much like they’re chasing down the Wall Street model of business,” Randall Johnson, an MRI technologist at UCSF Parnassus Campus who is active with Local 3299, told the Guardian. “We’re pressed to move faster and faster and faster. It’s more about profit than it is about patient care.”

Steve Montiel, spokesperson for UC Office of the President, told us that UCSF is “consistently ranked as one of the top hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report,” and pointed out that the AFSCME report coincided with an ongoing contract dispute concerning patient care technical workers, which may lead to a strike authorization in the next few weeks.

DANGEROUSLY LOW STAFFING LEVELS?

Billed as a “whistleblower report,” AFSCME’s 40-page publication portrays an internal environment throughout UC medical centers in which staffers — particularly frontline workers — are exhausted, overburdened, and dangerously likely to make mistakes.

Peppered with anecdotal horror stories describing things like dried blood observed on operating room tables at facilities where custodial staffing was cut to a bare minimum, or an incident in which a mentally altered patient was found on a window sill at a medical facility where harrowed nursing assistants’ attention was divided too many ways, the report portrays an unsafe environment that seems out of sync with the system’s reportedly healthy earnings derived from patient care.

“Bring it up at bargaining, and you get told to kick rocks,” said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse. AFSCME has called upon state agencies and lawmakers to investigate UC policies on “cutting costs, reducing staff, and maximizing revenue.”

“We’ve been getting lots of reports about short staffing, and no coverage for breaks,” said Tim Thrush, a diagnostic sonographer who works with patients experiencing complications in pregnancy, and has worked at UCSF for years. “If you get a break or a lunch, it seems to be rare — even though it’s state law.” Thrush added. “It looks to us … that UC’s response to us raising concerns … is to say, OK well then let’s make it worse. Let’s lay off a whole bunch of people.

“It’s been very disappointing,” he said, “and it’s getting to be kind of scary.”

The report emphasizes California Department of Public Health findings of violations relating to bedsores from 2008 to 2012. The sores can occur if a patient stays in one position for too long, causing reduced blood flow and damage to skin tissue, and have been linked to infection.

Among those affected by the layoffs were “lift and turn team” members, including care workers tasked with turning immobilized patients to prevent bedsores.

Ironically, Rush-Monroe, the UCSF spokesperson, noted in response to a Guardian query that a $300,000 “incentive pay” bonus CEO Mark Laret received in 2011 was based on multiple “clinical improvement goals” that had to be satisfied in order to qualify for the 2011 compensation increase. One of these targets was a reduction in the number of hospital-acquired bedsores.

While the union report points to rising instances of bedsores, and the UCSF administration claims they were reduced to the extent that the CEO was monetarily rewarded for the accomplishment, a quick look at scores on hospital ranking website California Hospital Compare showed that pressure sore rankings at UCSF are almost exactly even with the statewide average.

Meanwhile, hospital rankings of patient safety indicators on Health Grades, an online consumer ranking website, didn’t reflect any dramatic differences between patient safety scores at UCSF, CPMC or Kaiser Permanente.

QUESTIONS RAISED

In the midst of these staffing cuts, AFSCME charges, the $6.9 billion system has enjoyed robust finances, with UCSF earning $100 million in net revenue last year. Between 2009 to 2012, management positions increased by 38 percent system-wide, while payroll costs for managers grew by 50 percent, with an additional $100 million a year allocated to administrative staffing.

According to a 2013-14 budgetary report prepared at the UC level, the system’s network of public universities have suffered deep financial cuts while its five medical centers “have continued to flourish and grow,” and “enjoy robust earnings.”

A revenue breakdown in the UC budget report shows that 62 percent of medical center earnings system-wide were derived from private health care plan reimbursements, while about a third came from Medicare and MediCal, funded by the federal and state government.

Meanwhile, ASCFME’s report has raised eyebrows in the California Senate. Sen. Ed Hernandez, who represents part of Los Angeles County and chairs the Senate Health Committee, “has expressed an interest in looking at it further,” according to committee consultant Vincent Marchand. “We may decide to call a hearing” sometime in May to see if further action is warranted, he added.

Sen. Yee lambasted the UC system for what he called “blatant disregard for the working staff.” Yee said the layoffs raised concerns about the quality of patient care, saying, “How do you lay off 300 individuals and think that it’s not going to compromise patient care?”

Yee added that he thought the UC budget ought to be scrutinized when it goes before the Senate. “Although the Constitution gives the UCs of California tremendous autonomy via the Board of Regents, ultimately we in the Legislature still allocate dollars … so there is a legislative and moral responsibility that we need to exercise,” he said. “Are the dollars within UC being used appropriately to take care of patients and in ensuring their safety?”

CONSTRUCTION, COMPENSATION AND VIPS

In early 2015, UCSF will open its new Mission Bay complex, a 289-bed facility featuring a children’s hospital with an urgent/emergency care unit and an adult care unit for cancer patients. The estimated price tag for the project is about $1.5 billion, and construction costs associated the project were referenced in an Oct. 12 letter Laret, UCSF’s CEO, issued to hospital staff announcing the pending staffing cuts.

Thrush questions decisions made at the highest administrative levels. Laret is “eliminating 300 jobs, and we’re opening a new facility, and he’s getting a $300,000 bonus,” he said, referring to a “retention bonus” expected to be awarded this year, which could be followed by a $400,000 bonus in 2014. “Why is he getting a huge bonus if we’re having to lay off so much staff?”

With a total compensation of around $1.2 million in 2011, Laret’s salary seems excessive in comparison with that of frontline workers — and it is. At the same time, it seems to be within the realm of a CEO of a major medical facility, a quick Internet search reveals.

ACSFME’s report targets Laret specifically, saying he repeatedly emphasized to hospital staff, “When you see patients, you should see dollar signs.” Johnson, the MRI technician, told the Guardian he heard Laret make this statement years ago, when he first came on as CEO. “I know that some physicians were outraged by it,” he said. “I heard that the physicians told him to stop, and he stopped saying it.” UCSF did not respond to Guardian requests for a comment on this allegation.

The report also focuses on a practice of so-called “VIPs” — patients connected with the UC Regents or other influential persons — receiving preferential care. “I got called in on a Sunday to take care of a celebrity, because they had a headache,” said Johnson. “I’ve seen patients have to be on hold so we can scan the [VIPs]. They definitely get preference. I’ve been told, if one of those VIPs comes in, we have to get them on the scanner.” UCSF didn’t respond to Guardian questions concerning VIP patient treatment, either.

LABOR DISPUTE

Montiel, the media relations director for the UC system, responded to a Guardian query with a wholesale rejection of the detailed 40-page report, without directly addressing any of the allegations. Instead, he said the whole controversy arose from a labor rift over pension reform.

“These claims by AFSCME coincide with a bargaining impasse, and the scheduling of a strike vote by its patient care technical workers,” Montiel wrote in an email. “Quality of care is not the issue. The real issue is pension reform. AFSCME has resisted pension reforms that eight unions representing 14 other UC bargaining units have agreed to. The reforms also apply to UC faculty and staff not in unions.”

AFSCME recently announced that its membership would begin voting on April 30 over whether to authorize a strike, following months of stalled negotiations over a contract that expired last September. Stenhouse, the union spokesperson, called it “the impasse of impasses” yet suggested to the Guardian that the strike authorization vote was a side issue from the concerns raised in the whistleblower report. The workers are there to “provide patient care,” he told the Guardian. “They’re not making Buicks.”

“This report is about something much bigger than our members’ livelihoods,” Lybarger stated when the report was released. “It’s about whether the UC is prioritizing quality care for the millions of Californians who put their lives in our hands.”

Volume 47 Number 30 Flip-through Edition

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Pageant play

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caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX Who could have anticipate that this year’s International Ms. Leather pageant (www.imsl.org) would do so much to temper the legacy of Sarah Palin? Thanks to the crowning of Sarha Shaubach, the world now has an alternative posterwoman for that tiny hamlet on the outskirts of Anchorage’s metropolitan area.

Shaubach, who accepted her title wearing a furry hat and a stole with paws on April 20, told us a little about herself via email the day after the pageant’s climax at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway. The event drew leatherwomen from all over the world to the Van Ness Avenue hotel for play parties, history panels, kinky writing intensives, and extensive opportunities for forging a global network of BDSM broads.

2013’s International Ms. Bootblack bella (left) and International Ms. Leather Sarha Shaubach

SFBG: What does your new title mean to you?

Sarha Shaubach: The International Ms Leather title represents a long history of diverse women from all over the country sharing a passion to support and grow bonds between leatherwomen from many different kinds of background and experiences. To me, this title is a chance to learn, educate, grow, and thrive in my journey as a leatherwoman while building bonds between communities.

SFBG: Tell me about your winning outfit.

SS: I wore a combination of fur and leather for my last and final outfit on stage. I felt that [those materials] most authentically represented who I am and where I come from. The furs were harvested by me and my family in Meadow Lakes, Alaska, and the leathers were bought secondhand at various thrift stores.

Shaubach, to the north of her leather community, per usual

SFBG: Highlight of the pageant week?

SS: The excitement of all the hot leather folk at the IMSL “Seductions Show” on Thursday night was a highlight for sure, but calling home to talk to my husband John after the contest would have to take the cake. He seems to be just as excited for my new title as I am.

SFBG: As a leatherwoman, what do you consider your greatest achievement?

SS: My greatest achievement to this point would be producing the first Northern Exposure (www.northernexposurealaska.com) in 2010, Alaska’s only BDSM/leather education weekend. Since then, and with the help of my amazing tribe of friends and volunteers, we have brought more than 50 educators from all over North America to Alaska to teach and present on all kinds of kink and leather-related topics.

SEXY EVENTS

“Maximizing a Women’s Pleasure” Wed/24, 8-10pm, $35. Pink Bunny, 1772 Union, SF. www.pinkbunny.biz. Learn how to work a clit in the Marina? It’s true! Drop in on the adorable, independently owned sex shop Pink Bunny for this two-hour seminar by Japanese bondage expert and sex educator Midori on giving and receiving female feelings. Couples and solo enthusiasts of all genders welcome.

Home Movies 101 Sat/27, 2-5pm, $60 solo admission, $80 couples. Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF. www.sexandculture.org. Porn star Kara Price uses hawt, if clothed, demonstrations of various positions and orgasms to teach you how to make a pro sex tape. Get half off tuition if your partner is in the military or overseas.

Check, please

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steve@sfbg.com

San Francisco restaurants that have been cheating their customers and employees — charging diners for city-required healthcare coverage that they aren’t fully providing to workers — will finally be exposed in the coming weeks, with some notable names in foodie circles among the likely culprits.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is working on settlements with dozens of restaurants that responded to his investigation and partial amnesty offer, which had an April 10 deadline. His effort augments the complaint-driven enforcement actions by the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which has collected millions of dollars for thousands of employees of negligent local businesses in recent years.

At issue is the Healthcare Security Ordinance, the landmark 2008 law authored by then-Sup. Tom Ammiano that requires San Francisco businesses to provide a minimal level of healthcare benefits to their workers. Businesses are also required to report spending and surcharge figures to the OLSE annually, with the next report due April 30.

Last year’s data show celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Mina Group LLC — which includes the restaurants Michael Mina, RN74, Bourbon Steak, and Clock Bar — to be the top violator, collecting $539,806 in surcharges from customers and spending just $211,809 on employee healthcare.

Herrera used that list to ask more than 70 businesses to show they are in compliance with the law or reach discounted settlements now to avoid punitive fines or criminal charges later, and Herrera told us he received 60 responses and had his inquiry snubbed by fewer than a dozen.

“It’s too early to talk about how large a recovery we’ll be getting for workers, but I’m pleased with the response rate,” Herrera told us. He refused to estimate how many of the respondents were found to be in violation, but in an April 11 message to reporters covering the issue, his spokesperson Matt Dorsey wrote, “Based on our investigation so far, we anticipate that the majority of these establishments will be required to pay money to compensate their workers.”

WHAT THE FIGURES SHOW

The Guardian contacted many of the restaurants that topped the OLSE list. Some wouldn’t respond, some said they’ve changed their policies since the controversy erupted, and some wouldn’t talk until after a settlement is announced — including the Mina Group. That seems to indicate they’re about to pay for past violations.

Nicole Kraft, who handles public relations for the Mina Group, responded to Guardian inquires by writing, “I wanted to let you know that Mina Group will soon be releasing a joint statement with the City Attorney’s office, which should answer many of your questions. We’ll be sure to send it your way ASAP.” [UPDATE 4/29: Mina Group settled its case for $83,617.]

Sources in the City Attorney’s Office say settlements with as many as 10 restaurants that admit clear violations of the HCSO could be announced in the next week or two, while another 10 or so have provided data showing they are not in violation. The rest are more complicated and could take weeks or months of investigations, which are being led by Deputy City Attorney Sarah Eisenberg.

“There are going to be some that are given a clean bill of health,” Herrera told us. Herrera also told us that his investigation is just getting started and that it will look at businesses that haven’t made required annual reports to the OLSE. “When we get to a place where we’re announcing settlements, we’ll have more to say,” he said when asked for details and dimensions of his investigation.

GGRA Executive Director Rob Black has maintained that the OLSE figures don’t accurately reflect whether businesses are in compliance because the reporting requirements are confusing. GGRA held a compliance workshop on April 17, and Black told us about 40 restaurateurs attended.

“It was very informative and we got really good feedback from the restaurants,” Black told us. “We had people saying, ‘knowing what I know now, we should redo my 2011 form because I did it wrong.”

Black was initially critical of Herrera’s focus on the restaurant industry, but told us last week, “He made a commitment that the process would be efficient and fair, and he’s lived up to that so far….I still believe that the majority [of violators] didn’t have a mal-intent…Many people on the list that was reported have done nothing wrong.”

Cheesecake Factory — which was seventh on last year’s OLSE list, allegedly taking in $159,242 more in surcharges than it spent on employee health care — insists that it is in compliance and expects the City Attorney’s Office to confirm that.

“We believe the City Attorney’s initial review was erroneous,” Richard J. Frings, the company’s vice president of compensation and benefits, told us. “We are in full compliance with HCSO. Our healthcare costs in San Francisco have far exceeded the surcharge that we have collected. Once the City Attorney’s office has an opportunity to review our filings, we believe this matter will be closed without any further action.” He refused to provide figures to support the assertions.

THE HSA PROBLEM

Most of the restaurants that have been accused of stiffing employees use health savings accounts, which health officials say is a far worse option than private health insurance or the city’s Healthy San Francisco plan, which was created in conjunction with HCSO. Federal law bars cities from prescribing how health benefits are delivered.

San Francisco’s restaurant industry has always been hostile to the HCSO’s employer mandate, with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association unsuccessfully challenging the law all the way to the US Supreme Court. Controversy then erupted in 2011 with revelations (first in the Wall Street Journal, followed up by local media outlets) that some of the city’s most high-profile restaurants were shirking their responsibilities even as they charged diners 3 percent to 5 percent surcharges, sometimes essentially pocketing that money at the end of each year.

That verges on consumer fraud, but District Attorney George Gascon has refused to investigate, telling the Guardian and other papers that he was deferring to the OLSE and the City Attorney’s Office.

In 2011, a progressive-led majority on the Board of Supervisors passed legislation authored by Sup. David Campos to require that businesses keep the money they are required to spend on employee healthcare — which is currently $2.33 per employee-hour for large companies or $1.55 per employee-hours for businesses with less than 100 employees — for employees to use as needed.

But under aggressive lobbying by the GGRA and San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — which asserted the right of business owners to raid these funds, calling the set-aside a multi-million-dollar annual loss to the local economy — Mayor Ed Lee vetoed the measure. He later signed watered-down legislation requiring the money be set aside for two years, setting standards for letting employees know how to access the funds, and explicitly calling for all customer surcharges to remain in escrow accounts.

The OLSE, which also monitors compliance with the city’s paid sick leave and minimum wage laws, can only investigate businesses when an employee files a complaint. But then complaints trigger investigations that cover all of a given business’s employees, who are often compensated for past violations. To file a complaint, just write hcso@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-7892.

OLSE figures show the agency has investigated more than 100 complaints since 2008, resulting in $8.1 million in health care benefits provided to more than 6,400 employees and $244,000 in penalties paid to the city. Herrera’s office also reached a $320,000 settlement with the owners of Patxi’s Chicago Pizza in January, just before announcing his broader investigation.

“The vast majority of San Francisco employers have complied with their obligation to make health care expenditures pursuant to the HCSO,” OLSE Manager Donna Levitt told the Guardian. “With respect to the minority of businesses who fail to meet their obligations, the OLSE works tirelessly to ensure that workers receive the benefits to which they are entitled and that all businesses compete on a level playing field.”

Among the restaurants near the top of the OLSE list that did not respond to the Guardian inquires are Squat & Gobble, Wayfare Tavern, and Trinity Building Services.

“We are actually in complete compliance,” Larry Bouchard, manager of One Market restaurant, told us, explaining its inclusion on the OLSE list by saying, “It’s my understanding that we reported the wrong information.” He said the restaurant uses health savings accounts, but that they are widely used by employees, who get their expenditures repaid within three weeks.

Scott Carr, general manager of Boulevard — who sources say was one of the first restaurants to use the healthcare surcharges on customer bills, and whose parent company, Reroute LLC, was fifth on the OLSE list, underspending by $169,777 — told us the figures didn’t fully reflect the company’s spending on employee health care.

He wouldn’t say whether the company will be settling with Herrera for any past violations, but he did say that the restaurants decided to abandon health savings accounts in favor of health insurance policies for employees starting on Jan. 1. As he told us, “We feel we’ve made a positive step.”

The ride-share parasites

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OPINION These days, all signs point to the eventual deregulation of the San Francisco cab industry.

On any given weekend night in the city, you can find a wide array of illegal taxis operating with impunity, including limo drivers, out-of-town taxis, Super Shuttle vans, ZIP cars, and even some sketchy folks driving their private vans down Valencia Street at 2am soliciting rides for hire. If you have wheels, you can become your own livery service.

It’s a free-for-all out here. The city appears to be giving all comers carte blanche. And while the courts wrangle over ride-sharing rules and what constitutes a taxicab, the cab industry could cave in under the unfair advantage given to its competitors.

The general manager of ride-share startup Uber, Ilya Abyzov, has been quoted as saying that cab companies have had a “state-sanctioned monopoly. They’re not used to competition.” I have two words for him, and they’re not, Yo taxi! We’re competing with about as much chance as the proverbial one-legged man in a kicking fight.

The advertisement on the website of another startup, Lyft, uses for recruiting drivers reads: “Make $22 an hour, have a blast, drive when you want, meet new people, make friends, learn about new restaurants …” This idyllic version of a cab shift could never happen without real cab drivers holding up the foundation.

I don’t think you’ll find a Lyft cab willing to take a sick grandmother from Kaiser Hospital to her home in the Alice Griffith projects. A pink mustache sighting at Griffith and Fitzgerald will probably coincide with the next great earthquake because only a drastic geological shift will cause that to happen.

Right now, it’s a cakewalk for the ride-share drivers. But without the cab industry picking up the rear and girding the underbelly, these parasites couldn’t exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a parasite as an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Substitute the word “nutrients” for the word “money” and you have what in the cab business we call a bingo.

At the end of the day, driving a cab is a hustle. And once your host is gone and the cab business gets deregulated, kiss your city tours goodbye. You won’t be able to rely on donations anymore, and your legal babble and dishonest terminology won’t save you from a harsh descent into the street, into the dog-eat-dog world of a real cab driver.

And then, you’ll know what it’s like to hustle, in the middle of the night when you’re worried about your gates and gas, and it gets real slow, and you have to take chances with your life.

Desoto Shelby III is the pen name for a San Francisco taxi driver.

 

Editor’s Notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES It was breezy and San Francisco-spring-perfect along the Embarcadero the other day. People were jogging, and rollerblading, and sitting in the sun. Red’s Java House was doing brisk business.

Out on the old, crumbling piers, cars were sitting in the lots that now make up most of the economic use of some of the city’s most spectacular and valuable land. Kind of a waste — but the upside (and it’s a big one) was the feeling of open space, the idea that we were all so close to the Bay, that nothing blocked the views of the waterfront or that sense that this is still a city that has some connection to the marine environment that surrounds it.

And then I imagined the Warrior’s Arena. Right there in the middle of everything. And I stopped for a second and wondered what I’d be feeling if I were walking past it 10 years from now. And it made me kind of sad.

I know that parking lots aren’t the best use of Port of San Francisco land. I know that the Port needs huge amounts of capital to rebuild the piers. I know that the most obvious way to get that money is to give developers pieces of waterfront land. I know that a new Warriors Arena will create jobs and bring in tax money. I know that AT&T Park has been a great success for the Giants, the city, and the neighborhood.

I also know that some of the people who oppose the arena are well-off homeowners who don’t want to lose the sight of the Bay out of their fancy condo windows.

But ever since San Francisco, with the help of Mother Nature and a 7.3 earthquake, tore down the Embarcadero Freeway, the waterfront area from Harrison to the Ferry Building has been a really nice place to hang out. Not perfect; not the “Grand Boulevard” that some dream of. But a part of the city where humans can feel the salt breeze and enjoy the outdoors in a relatively mellow way, just blocks from the downtown core. Put an 18-story arena there and it all changes. It mostly goes away.

Is this really the best we can do with the waterfront? What about a bond act for open space, and another Dolphin Club for swimmers, and waterfront parks? Other cities have done it; can’t San Francisco have a world-class waterfront too?

Coquettish

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culture@sfbg.com

DINING When you name your restaurant Coqueta, Spanish for “flirt,” you’re really putting it all out there in terms of your food and atmosphere — playful yet unwavering, open but with a hint of mystery, and definitely attentive. After visiting Coqueta during its opening week, I’m confident celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s new venture will score.

Opened April 13th, Coqueta is seductive on every level. Located on Pier 5, the restaurant is intimate: 60 leather seats in the buzzing main room, wooden tables, stone walls, flickering candles. Nearly every seat has a view of the kitchen — nothing to hide here. On the left side of the restaurant is Bar 5, a glass-enclosed terrace that seats an additional 30 people in rows of long, wooden, family-style tables.

Chiarello’s garnered an exciting following from his days running Napa’s Tra Vigne restaurant and stints on TV, so it was no surprise that there was a wait to get seated. Just a 15-minute delay past our reservation time, though — my friend and I were kindly invited by staff onto the terrace for a drink. (In fact service all round was abundantly attentive; I was even lead to the restroom.)

Immediately, the drink menu swept me off my feet. Created by bar director Joe Cleveland, it ranges from modern classics to San Francisco-inspired creations, solid Spanish gin and tonics to sherry cocktails (all $9–$14 each), plus pitchers of sangria and other Spanish party classics for groups. My friend started out the evening with the El Cazador, a bright sherry cocktail with lime, honey, and Campari. My first choice was the San Francisco-inspired Engine Co #5, a bourbon drink with tobacco-infused cream sherry, lemon, and zurracapote (red wine mixed with fruit, sangria-like but steeped for several days). By the time our drinks were finished, we were seated.

The menu consists of lovely, rustic-looking tapas-sized dishes ($9–$14 each), both hot and cold, along with cheese plates, bite-sized skewers, cured meats, mini open-faced sandwiches, and larger family style dishes. After being offered some sparkling water in beautiful hammered brass tumblers, we decided to start our night with a couple of bite-sized skewers, Chiarello’s light-hearted take on Basque-country pintxos, at $2.50 each. Quail egg with mustard seed and serrano? Why not. Jamon serrano with manchego cheese and apricot? Oh, I couldn’t possibly. Chorizo with artichokes and peppers? Two, please. All tiny bits of deliciousness. Enamored, we ended up ordering two more, the baby beets with spring onions and citrus fruit with more spicy chorizo.

Narrowing down our main dishes was a challenge. We settled on four plates: three hot tapas and one cold one. We first dug into the cold tapa, a cured cod crudo with tomato fresco, hearts of palm, arugula, and citrus dressing. It was a refreshing way to begin our foray. Our next dish was Gambas de Negro, whole prawns grilled with chili and black garlic. The most savory and comforting dish, though, was a sunny side up egg presented with shrimp, crispy potatoes, and a chorizo dressing. Finally came the “Tattas” Bravas, a spin on tater tots — and that classic Spanish bar standard, patatas bravas — with an array of jambon and potato nuggets served with salsa and aioli. Those popped right into our mouths.

While eating, we also ordered a couple tequila drinks. The first was the Castro, a unique tipple consisting of tequila blanco, fruity curaçao liqueur, pepper and lime. The second was The Sun Never Sets, creamy and scrumptious with tequila anejo, Licor 43, lime, fresh pineapple juice, and pineapple espuma brulee. As he made it, Cleveland told me this was his personal favorite.

Although we passed on the desserts, two of them were generously given to us by a guest at the next table — was this flirting? We were definitely beguiled by the sangria pop-rocksicles, tasty and mischievous adult treats, and the cool berry gazpacho, which floated us into the night.

I left the restaurant nearly vowing to Chiarello, who introduced himself to our table (there’s that attentiveness again), that I would return. I probably should have teased it out a little.

Pier 5, Embarcadero, SF. (415) 704-8866, www.coquetasf.com

 

Nordic track

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arts@sfbg.com

SFIFF “The greatest Finnish movie ever made” — drop that phrase on someone (at least a non-Finn) and they will most likely make some crack suggesting there can’t possibly be enough of them for the distinction to matter. But Finland has had a rich and idiosyncratic filmmaking history stretching back to 1907. It hardly begins and ends with Aki Kaurismäki, the droll minimalist who was the first (and still only) Finnish director to regularly win international distribution.

Evidence of that isn’t so easy to find, or especially to watch, however. When a few years ago the Pacific Film Archive hosted a retrospective of fascinating 1930s-40s melodramas by Teuvo Tulio, it was like finding a time capsule left by a forgotten civilization — contents strange, exotic, and sort of wonderful. One yearned for more. But chances to see classic Finnish cinema haven’t exactly flourished since.

So it’s no great surprise that “the greatest Finnish movie” — so say many folk, including Kaurismäki — should turn out to be one that you’ve very likely never heard of. Mikko Niskanen’s Eight Deadly Shots, which the San Francisco International Film Festival is showing in conjunction with Finnish film scholar-director-programmer Peter von Bagh’s receipt of this year’s Mel Novikoff Award, is a five-and-one-quarter-hour rural tragedy starring Niskanen himself as a poor farmer doomed by both self-destruction and a ruthless social system. It’s not an “epic” in the usual sense of narrative expansiveness. Rather, it’s an intimate, deliberately rough-hewn drama that simply takes a very long—but never dull—time to run its course. The SFIFF catalog aptly compares it to Zola. A modern literary comparison would be to the Canadian novelist David Adams Richards, whose bucolic New Brunswick characters likewise stumble drunkenly from one bad decision to another, hemmed in by poverty and despair, yet ultimately achieving a kind of grandeur in their haplessness.

Niskanen was himself from a poor rural background, and such a handful that his father threw him out at age 13. Nonetheless he retained a strong connection to the culture of small farms that typified Finnish life in his youth but was nearly extinct by his death at age 61 in 1990.

Growing into strapping adulthood, he had some success as a 1950s stage and film actor. A man prone to have a hand in everything, he naturally progressed to operating behind as well as in front of the camera. His 1962 feature directorial debut The Boys was widely praised, and commenced a pattern in which his projects almost invariably (even when they were based on someone else’s life or fiction) contained elements of autobiography: in this case portraying a childhood lived partly under wartime privations.

Youth and country life were two of his major ongoing themes. They reached their combined popular apex in his 1967 Skin, Skin, whose sexy young protagonists on rural holiday reflected the era’s rapidly evolving mores to unprecedented box-office success.

Very different was Eight Deadly Shots, directly drawn from a true crime: After serial scrapes with the law (mostly over his illegal brewing of moonshine), an impoverished small farmer had a standoff in which he shot to death several police officers before turning himself in. Niskanen poured a great deal of himself into the story, supposedly going a bit berserk for real when the climactic sequences were filmed.

With its portrait of a well-intentioned but reckless, none-too-bright, alcoholic, eventually suicidal and family-endangering character — one that, by the way, the imprisoned real-life model found painfully accurate when Niskanen showed him the film — the black and white film finds pathos in protagonist Pasi’s steady march toward disaster. He’s too weak to save himself, yet a society in which a small-time farmer can no longer support his loved ones is as much to blame for his downfall as the hooch brewed in a tub in the forest.

The supporting performances (many cast with nonprofessional residents from the shooting locations) can be amateurish at times, but Niskanen’s own central turn is pretty epic. So is the drama he ekes from the minutiae of rural life — a scene of Pasi coaxing his stuck horse out of a snow drift takes on an urgency that could only be earned by a movie that’s made clear just how few resources (animal, vegetable or mineral) this family has.

Expected to be an 80-minute feature, Shots instead wound up being a TV miniseries. (It was later edited down to a two and a half hour feature that’s considered inferior.) It was wildly praised by everyone, even the country’s president. But the much-married, restless Niskanen never experienced such success again, gradually falling into depression and self-pity as various ventures failed to put him back on top. As von Bagh’s own three-hour TV documentary about the late artist makes clear, he was a very complicated man. But no doubt in Finland, like everywhere else, the really creative people are usually a little bit mad.

MEL NOVIKOFF AWARD: AN AFTERNOON WITH PETER VON BAGH

May 4, 3pm, $14–$15

Sundance Kabuki

EIGHT DEADLY SHOTS

May 5, noon; May 7, 12:15pm (includes 10-minute intermission), $10–$15

Sundance Kabuki

1881 Post, SF

festival.sffs.org

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

April 25-May 9, most shows $10-15

Various venues

 

Screening is believing

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cheryl@sfbg.com

SFIFF Most contemporary Americans don’t know much about Uganda — that is, beyond Forest Whitaker’s Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland. Though that film took some liberties with the truth, it did effectively convey the grotesque terrors of the dictator’s 1970s reign. (Those with deeper curiosities should check out Barbet Schroeder’s 1974 documentary General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait.) But even decades post-Amin, the East African nation has somehow retained its horrific human-rights record. For example: what extremist force was behind the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposed the death penalty as punishment for gayness?

The answer might surprise you, or not. As the gripping, fury-fomenting doc God Loves Uganda reveals, America’s own Christian Right has been exporting hate under the guise of missionary work for some time. Taking advantage of Uganda’s social fragility — by building schools and medical clinics, passing out food, etc. — evangelical mega churches, particularly the Kansas City, Mo.-based, breakfast-invoking International House of Prayer, have converted large swaths of the population to their ultra-conservative beliefs.

Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, an Oscar winner for 2010 short Music by Prudence, follows naive “prayer warriors” as they journey to Uganda for the first time; his apparent all-access relationship with the group shows that they aren’t outwardly evil people — but neither do they comprehend the very real consequences of their actions. His other sources, including two Ugandan clergymen who’ve seen their country change for the worse and an LGBT activist who lives every day in peril, offer a more harrowing perspective. Evocative and disturbing, God Loves Uganda seems likely to earn Williams more Oscar attention.

>>Check out our short reviews of several SFIFF films of interest.

More outrage awaits in Fatal Assistance, Port-au-Prince native Raoul Peck’s searing investigation into the bungling of post-earthquake humanitarian efforts in Haiti. So many good intentions, so many dollars donated, so many token celebrities (Bill Clinton, Sean Penn) involved — and yet millions of Haitians remain homeless, living in “temporary” shelters. Disorganization among the overabundance of well-meaning NGOs that rushed to help is one cause; there’s also the matter of nobody trusting the Haitian government to make its own financial decisions. Peck, a former Minister of Culture, offers a rare insider’s perspective. Though the film’s voice-overs (framed as letters that begin “dear friend”) can get a little treacly, the raw evidence Peck collects of “the disaster of the community not being able to respond to the disaster” is powerful stuff.

There’s more levity sprinkled amid the tragedy (and bureaucratic frustration) contained in Ilian Metev’s Sofia’s Last Ambulance. If nothing else, this doc will make you extremely cautious if you ever find yourself visiting the capital of Bulgaria; its depiction of the city’s medical care is grim at best. An underpaid, harried trio — doctor, nurse, and driver — grapple with dispatchers who don’t pick up and drivers who don’t let ambulances pass, bad directions, outdated equipment, and other unbelievable situations that would be funny if lives weren’t hanging in the balance. Metev never films the patients, instead keeping his focus on the paramedics. Sarcastic nurse Mila Mikhailova is a standout, sweetly calming down an injured child, bluntly advising a drug addict, and joking about her love life with her co-workers. Only during rare moments of downtime does her exhaustion emerge.

>>Dennis Harvey on SFIFF’s Finnish angle.

More lives in chaos — albeit slightly more existentially — are depicted in A River Changes Course, which picked up a Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Cambodian American filmmaker Kalyanee Mam followed a trio of rural Cambodian families over several years, eventually crafting a vividly-shot, meditative look at lives being forced to modernize. Talk about frustrating: farmers grapple with a new worry — debt — so the eldest daughter heads to Phnom Penh to work in a factory. But the paltry wages she earns aren’t enough to offset the money they will have to spend on food, since they can’t farm enough to eat without her around to help. Elsewhere, a teenage boy who figured he’d grow up to be a fisherman takes a backbreaking planting job when the fish grow scarce; he confesses to Mam that he’s long since given up any dreams of getting an education. “Progress” has rarely felt so bleak.

Adding a much-needed dose of quirk to all of the above is Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s Rent a Family Inc., about Ryuichi, a Tokyo man whose business name translates to “I want to cheer you up.” He’s a professional stand-in, offering himself or any of his rotating cast of staffers to pretend to be friends or relatives in situations, including weddings, where the real thing is either not available or won’t suffice.

That premise alone would make for an intriguing doc — though there’s a disclaimer that certain scenes with clients are “reconstructed” — but Ryuichi’s career choice feels even more surreal once it’s revealed how dysfunctional his own family is; among a wife and two kids, he gets along best with the family Chihuahua. Though Schröder focuses on Ryuichi’s ennui at the expense of delving into, say, what it is about Japanese culture that enables the need for fake family members, the guy is undeniably fascinating. “I’m like a handyman, fixing people’s social engagements,” he explains — but he has no clue how to mend his own. *

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

April 25-May 9, most shows $10-15

Various venues

festival.sffs.org

 

Short takes: SFIFF week one

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SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

April 25-May 9, most shows $10-15

Various venues

festival.sffs.org

The Artist and the Model (Fernando Trueba, Spain, 2012) The horror of the blank page, the raw sensuality of marble, and the fresh-meat attraction of a new model — just a few of the starting points for this thoughtful narrative about an elderly sculptor finding and shaping his possibly finest and final muse. Bedraggled and homeless beauty Mercè (Aida Folch) washes up in a small French town in the waning days of World War II and is taken in by a kindly woman (Claudia Cardinale), who seems intent on pleasantly pimping her out as a nude model to her artist husband (Jean Rochefort). As his former model, she knows Mercè has the type of body he likes — and that she’s capable of restoring his powers, in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. Yet this film by Fernando Trueba (1992’s Belle Époque) isn’t that kind of movie, with those kinds of models, especially when Mercè turns out to have more on her mind than mere pleasure. Done up in a lustrous, sunlit black and white that recalls 1957’s Wild Strawberries, The Artist and the Model instead offers a steady, respectful, and loving peek into a process, and unique relationship, with just a touch of poetry. Fri/26, 1pm, and Sun/28, 6:30pm, Kabuki. (Kimberly Chun)

The Daughter (Alexander Kasatkin and Natalia Nazarova, Russia, 2012) Imagine a serial-killer tale as directed by Tarkovsky and you’ll get an idea of this fascinating, ambiguous Russian drama by co-directors Aleksandr Kasatkin and Natalia Nazarova. Someone is murdering teenage girls in what otherwise seems a tranquil village backwater. That’s one reason the almost painfully naïve Inna (Maria Smolnikova) is kept on a fairly tight leash by her gruff, conservative widower father (Oleg Tkachev), who expects her to perform all housekeeper duties and mind a little brother. When brash, borderline-trashy new schoolmate Marta (Yana Osipova) surprisingly decides to make Inna her best friend, she’s both a liberating and dangerous influence. Less interested in narrative clarity than issues of morality, spirituality, and guilt (at one point the killer confesses to a priest whose daughter he murdered — tormenting the cleric who is bound to confidentiality), this often-gorgeous feature is a worthy addition to the long line of somber, meditative Russian art films. Fri/26, 6:15pm, and Sun/28, 1pm, Kabuki; May 6, 9pm, PFA. (Dennis Harvey)

The Kill Team (Dan Krauss, US, 2012) Dan Krauss’ documentary chronicles the shocking case of a US Army unit in Afghanistan whose squad leader, one Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, encouraged his men to kill unarmed, unaccused civilians for fun, then cover it up as alleged self-defense. (He also collected severed fingers for an eventual bone necklace.) When subordinate Adam Winfield was disturbed enough by this to tell his parents (his father a Marine vet), and ponder informing officials, he was threatened with his own lethal “accident.” Once the scandal finally broke, he found himself on military trial for murder along with Gibbs and others. While sometimes a little too slickly made in a narrative-feature kind of way, this is a potent look at the vagaries of military justice, not to mention a military culture that can foster dangerously frustrated adrenaline junkies. As one of Winfield’s fellow accused puts it, Afghanistan was “boring as fuck” because they expected to be “kickin’ ass” when “instead we’re forced to help ’em build a well, or a school, or whatever.” Another shrugs “It was nothing like everyone hyped it up to be … and that is probably partly why, uh, things happened.” Fri/26, 9pm, PFA; May 6, 3:15pm, and May 7, 6pm, Kabuki; May 9, 6pm, New People. (Harvey)

Rosie (Marcel Gisler, Switzerland, 2013) Moms: can’t live with ’em … and can’t live with ’em. Roughly, that’s the predicament of successful gay writer Lorenz (Fabian Kruger) when his hard-drinking independent mater Rosie (Sibylle Brunner) keels over with a heart attack. His heart is with his tough old bird of a mother — unlike his more conventional sister (Judith Hofmann) — though a young, adorable fanboy of a neighbor (Sebastian Ledesma) is intent on competing for his attentions. Director and co-writer Marcel Gisler spares no warmth or care when it comes to filling out the story fully, as when Lorenz discovers that he has more in common with his seemingly inaccessible late father than he ever imagined. While Rosie paints a rosier, slightly more sentimental picture, imagine a warmer and fuzzier yet still renegade Rainer Werner Fassbender nursing a wisecracking, headstrong Emmi post-1974’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Fri/26, 9:30pm, Kabuki; Sun/28, 9pm, PFA; Tue/30, 6pm, Kabuki. (Chun)

You’re Next (Adam Wingard, US, 2011) The hit of the 2011 Toronto Film Festival’s midnight section — and one that’s taking its sweet time getting to theaters — indie horror specialist (2010’s A Horrible Way to Die, 2007’s Pop Skull, 2012’s V/H/S) Adam Wingard’s feature isn’t really much more than a gussied-up slasher. But it’s got vigor, and violence, to spare. An already uncomfortable anniversary reunion for the wealthy Davison clan plus their children’s spouses gets a lot more so when dinner is interrupted by an arrow that sails through a window, right into someone’s flesh. Immediately a full on siege commences, with family members reacting with various degrees of panic, selfishness, and ingenuity, while an unknown number of animal-masked assailants prowl outside (and sometimes inside). Clearly fun for its all-star cast and crew of mumblecore/indie horror staples, yet preferring gallows’ humor to wink-wink camp, it’s a (very) bloody good ride. Sat/27, 11:30am, Kabuki; May 1, 9:45pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

Thérèse (Claude Miller, France, 2012) Both Emma Bovary and Simone de Beauvoir would undoubtedly relate to this increasingly bored and twisted French woman of privilege stuck in the sticks in the ’20s, as rendered by novelist Francois Mauriac and compellingly translated to the screen by the late director Claude Miller. Forbiddingly cerebral and bookish yet also strangely passive, Thérèse (Audrey Tautou) looks like she has it all from a distance — she’s married to her best friend’s coarse, hunting-obsessed brother (Gilles Lellouche) though envious of her chum’s affair with a handsome and free-thinking Jewish student. Turns out she’s as trapped and close to death as the birds her spouse snares in their forest, and the suffocatingly provincial ways of family she’s married into lead her to undertake a dire course of action. Lellouche adds nuance to his rich lunk, but you can’t tear your eyes from Tautou. Turning her pinched frown right side up and hardening those unblinking button eyes, she plays well against type as a well-heeled, sleepwalking, possibly sociopathic sour grape, effectively conveying the mute unhappiness of a too-well-bred woman born too early and too blinkered to understand that she’s desperate for a new century’s freedoms. Sat/27, 3pm, Kabuki; Mon/29, 6:30pm, New People. (Chun)

Ernest & Celestine (Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner, France/Luxembourg/Belgium, 2012) Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. Sun/28, 12:30pm, and May 1, 7pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)

Marketa Lazarová (Frantisek Vlácil, Czech Republic, 1966) An extraordinary evocation of medieval life, this 1966 black and white epic — considered by some the greatest Czech film ever made — is being reprised at SFIFF in honor of the festival’s late board chairman and generous benefactor George Gund, for whom it was a personal favorite. The violent struggle between pagan feudalist clans and rising Christian political forces in 13th century Eastern Europe is dramatized in brutal yet poetical form here. You will be very glad you didn’t live back then, or suffer the privations director Frantisek Vlácil and his crew did during an apparently very tough rural, mostly wintertime shoot. But you won’t forget this cinematically dazzling if sometimes opaquely told chronicle based on a classic Czech novel. Sun/28, 12:30pm, PFA; May 3, 8:45pm, New People. (Harvey)

Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, US, 2012) Feature documentaries Benjamin Smoke (2000) and Instrument (2003) are probably Jem Cohen’s best-known works, but this prolific filmmaker — an inspired choice for SFIFF’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, honoring “a filmmaker whose main body of work is outside the realm of narrative feature filmmaking” — has a remarkably diverse resume of shorts, music videos, and at least one previous narrative film (albeit one with experimental elements), 2004’s Chain. Cohen appears in person to discuss his work and present his latest film, Museum Hours, about a guard at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum (“the big old one,” the man calls it) who befriends a Montreal woman visiting her comatose cousin. It’s a deceptively simple story that expands into a deeply felt, gorgeously shot rumination on friendship, loneliness, travel, art history and appreciation, and finding the beauty in the details of everyday life. Sun/28, 5:30pm, Kabuki. (Eddy)

The Patience Stone (Atiq Rahimi, France/Germany/England/Afghanistan, 2012) “You’re the one that’s wounded, yet I’m the one that’s suffering,” complains the good Afghan wife of Patience Stone in this theatrical yet charged adaptation of Atiq Rahimi’s best-selling novel, directed by the Kabul native himself. As The Patience Stone opens, a beautiful, nameless young woman (Golshifteh Farahani) is fighting to not only keep alive her comatose husband, a onetime Jihadist with a bullet lodged in his neck, but also simply survive on her own with little money and two small daughters and a war going off all around her. In a surprising turn, her once-heedless husband becomes her solace — her silent confidante and her so-called patience stone — as she talks about her fears, secrets, memories, and desires, the latter sparked by a meeting with a young soldier. Despite the mostly stagy treatment of the action, mainly isolated to a single room or house (although the guerilla-shot scenes on Kabul streets are rife with a feeling of real jeopardy), The Patience Stone achieves lift-off, thanks to the power of a once-silenced woman’s story and a heart-rending performance by Farahani, once a star and now banned in her native Iran. Mon/29, 6:30pm, and Tues/30, 8:45pm, Kabuki. (Chun)

Peaches Does Herself (Peaches, Germany, 2012) Canadian-born yet the quintessential modern Berlin act — transgressively sexed-up electroclash slash-performance artist — Peaches delivers an expectedly high-concept live show in this nimbly cinematic concert movie. The first 15 minutes or so are absolutely great: raunchy, hilarious, imaginatively staged (completely with an orgiastically inclined dance troupe). But after a while it really begins to bog down in prolonged appearances by elderly burlesque-type standup Dannii Daniels, stilted ones by Amazonian transsexual Sandy Kane, and an attempt at a quasi-romantic-triangle narrative that is meant to be funny and outrageous but just kinda lies there. Diehard fans will be thrilled, but most viewers will hit an exhaustion point long before the film reaches its (admittedly funny) fadeout. Mon/29, 9:45pm, and May 2, 9:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey) *

The San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 25-May 9 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $10-15) and info, visit festival.sffs.org.

Ringside

2

By L.E. Leone

IN THE GAME Gio Camacho, captain of the West Point women’s boxing team, sang the national anthem into the ring announcer’s microphone, wearing boxing gloves. Then she climbed into the ring and beat the beans out of University of Maryland’s Catherine Breslin, who looked a little bewildered.

This was the first fight on a 21-bout card the second night of the inaugural United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association tournament held at USF last weekend. Incredibly, it was the first collegiate tournament to crown women champions, as well as men.

West Point seemed especially excited about this. The academy sent twelve female boxers to San Francisco for the event (and no male ones). Eight out of nine of the women’s bouts featured at least one West Pointer. A couple were West Point vs. West Point.

West Point had coaches. West Point had uniforms. West Point had chants. West Point had Gio Camacho. After a while, it became pretty easy to root against West Point. Everyone from any other college who stepped into the ring with them seemed lonely and intimidated.

It’s reassuring, I suppose, from a national security standpoint, that our country’s future military officers fought with more discipline, confidence, and swagger than (for example) Pat Cannaday of UNC — who I fell in love with when I saw her laughing in her corner between rounds. Something her coach had said to her.

She was clearly being beaten. But didn’t seem fazed by it. At all. The ref interrupted the fight in the middle of the third because her ponytail had come undone. She had to go to her corner and have it taped.

Cannaday lost. Rachel Luba of UCLA lost. Jules Squire, a jangly and wildly strong, free-swinging slugger from UMD, lost, goddamn it. Mei-Le Keck of UCLA lost.

West Point took every weight class from 112 to 152. I started to lose interest. Then I saw three people sitting in another section of bleachers off to the side at the Koret Center gymnasium. They didn’t look “above it all” so much as, yeah, “off to the side” of it.

The woman was wearing a WVU hoody, her hands in the pockets. She wasn’t shadow boxing, chattering nervously, or eating power bars. In fact, it was hard to tell she was a boxer.

Her coach didn’t look like the other coaches, and her boyfriend didn’t look like anyone else in the place: beard, bandanna, shorts and flip-flops . . .

My people! I thought.

When I saw her legs, I knew who was going to take West Point down.

Sadly, though, Jennifer Moreale of WVU never had the chance. She fought Eileen Macias-Mendoza, USF. She fought the home team! And she won, by TKO. First round. Probably the USF boxing coach saw what I’d seen. In fact, he had the best view in the house of where Moreale’s power was coming from, and he threw in the towel. I saw this. It was literal. Towel. Over. First knockout of the night.

The second came in the other 165-pound fight, in which West Point was taken down, finally, by Elizabeth Brunton of Georgetown. Brunton, another likeable fighter, had a strong upper body and an old-fashioned brawler’s demeanor, but bird legs compared to Moreale’s.

Now, the next night, they were going to square off for the 165-pound collegiate title. That’s the heavyweights, for women. Brunton vs. Moreale. It had a ring, for me — like Ali-Frazier or Foreman Grill. I was hooked. Brunton-Moreale. The rest of that evening, and all the next day, it was the only thing I could talk about. West Virginia vs. Georgetown.

In collegiate boxing, they count the punches landed, that’s all, and — barring a knockout — it is how you win or lose. Three rounds. Two minutes apiece. It goes fast, from the outside.

“When you’re the person in the ring, you’re in it alone,” Moreale told me after. “The only voice I hear is the corner. And I feel the punches. And I feel what I am going to do next. But that’s it.”

Brunton went the distance with her, and fought well, but Moreale won. She looked like a different fighter the second night: more bob and weave. “I discovered some things that I always thought I could do,” she said. “I surprised myself, too.”

Counting her half-round TKO the night before, this was her fourth fight ever.

An Italian native, Moreale is two years into her PhD studies. Economics. But she has wanted to box since she was little, when she would practice on a stuffed duffel bag, wearing ski gloves.

“When you believe in something,” she said, two hands on her giant, gaudy, championship belt, “it’s possible.”

I said that I agreed.

 

Bass and space

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Watching premieres by artists with track records is almost as satisfying as encountering pieces by those unknown to you. With the first, you wonder what else they have come with; with the second, you look for a voice that might grow to find even greater resonance.

Alonzo King, whose LINES Ballet celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is clearly in that veteran group. We know his approach to dance; by now we even have a sense about the conceptual streams that feed his choreography. We recognize his predilections for small units within a larger context. We know his preferences for a certain type of spatial and temporal fluidity. Yet he still manages us to surprise and excite us.

King’s collaboration with composer-bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, simply called Meyer, was full of unexpected physical turns and touches of narrative that rarely manage to insinuate themselves into King’s other choreography. Most gratifying were splotches of a light spirit, and a playful sense of presence. Not that there weren’t dark moments, but Meyer‘s sense of the complexities of human behavior floated much more to the surface than in many of King’s other works. Meyer is a friendly, welcoming piece that doesn’t play down to the audience. If that is a trend, let’s have more of it.

To see Michael Montgomery again and again tear up the space with such abandon was exhilarating. In the quartet, two couples actually competed with each other; they ended the stalemate by switching partners. In Meyer‘s somewhat enigmatic “Cards” segment, David Harvey — wonderful in a long off-balance moment — shuffled what I thought were letters, throwing them at an initially unperturbed but increasingly agitated Kara Wilkes, and spreading them around the stage to other dancers. I couldn’t help thinking about the damage that the indiscriminate dissemination of information can to do people. Harvey, somewhat obviously, then tried to eat the pieces of paper. Wilkes, who joined the company in 2011, did a star turn in this performance, turning herself inside out and upside down, ending crumpled.

For the pas de deux, Meyer went into the pit to play the piano. It was so refreshing after all those string sounds (Gabriel Cabezas on cello, Robert Moose on violin). Meredith Webster and Harvey, holding hands to support each other and keep the partner away, were wonderfully contentious and complementary. They deserved their ovation.

I believe that Meyer’s score — both new and assembled — and the musicians’ sensitive presence on stage are what made Meyer such a delightful experience. The dancers and the musicians worked with such ease that some of it looked as if had come about on the spur of the moment. Perhaps King decided to step out of the way and offer the performers a jazzy sense of freedom. Refreshingly, sometimes the dancers set a section going, and the musicians stepped into the picture. The large-scale finale, however, dragged on through several line dance formations. They were probably fun to do.

King choreographed the highly dramatic Writing Ground in 2010 for the Ballet de Monte Carlo. It’s a quintet for Webster and four men who manipulated her into becoming a tool that, at times, she acquiesced to but also desperately tried to escape from. At one point, she broke into a silent scream. The consistency with which her body was literally manhandled when it refused to cooperate was disturbing.

The program opened with two even older pieces. The six selections from the 2005 Handel, set to excerpts from the composer’s Concerto Grossi, did not make a satisfying new whole. They looked as if they had been slapped together. However, individually, they offered performance spotlights for dancers in a company that treasures and encourages independent thought.

In his solo, Paul Knoblauch, who joined LINES in 2012, proved himself as a technically assured perfumer with a wide reach and secure sense of space. Courtney Henry led the finale with a whippet’s speed and an almost desperate sense of volume. And all I could think of during the second reprise, the finale from the 1994 Ocean, was how fabulous that work looked with Pharoah Sanders and his extraordinary players in the pit. Couldn’t we please get all of Ocean back — including the musicians? *

ALONZO KING LINES BALLET

Wed/24-Thu/25, 7:30pm; Fri/26-Sat/27, 8pm; Sun/28, 1 and 5pm, $30-65

LAM Research Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,

700 Howard, SF

www.linesballet.org

 

Return of the mac$

0

marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO It’s been four years since slapstick-nasty, genitally overeager, hilarious/uncomfortable drunk-uncle Bay rap supergroup Kalri$$ian (www.kalrissianbaby.com) lubed the underground’s earhole with its Tales from the Velvet Pocket album. Watch your fuzzy purse, Alternative Universe Beyonce, because the beastly boys (and girl) — MCs Tyrone Shoelaces, Smooth Rick Chosen, Chachi Harlem, and Felix Livinglow, “Scheisty Manager/Ponzi Prince” Bernie Goldstein, producer and person of interest Keylo Venezuela, and sex kitten choreographer Kitty Lamore — are back up from the gutter on a cloud of neon nose candy. New joint Star Magic drops this week, with an uncensored reunion show Sat/27 at Supperclub. As always, the beats are primo and the lyrics, well, let’s just say they’ve significantly expanded the possibilities of what can be done with a cold bottle of Colt 45 and a couple crazy straws. Let’s let them talk dirty.

SFBG Where in hell have you been?

Felix Livinglow I got sent down for a two stretch, for petty theft, petty larceny, and impersonating Tom Petty. While in prison I discovered religion then promptly lost it again, so I started a prison radio show, powered by a potato and using my toilet bowl as a transmitter. I figured if you can transmit diseases via toilet bowl, then why not a radio broadcast?

Smooth Rick Chosen I actually had a camera smuggled in and hooked up to Felix’s toilet bowl for one fate-filled day. I caught what Felix was cookin’ up and literally saw what came out of his guests. I saw new and expansive universes formed in mere seconds, and was inspired to steal Chachi’s motorcycle and drive naked to Cambodia. It was there where Perseus (Rick’s penis) and I trained black-jawed cobras for the jungle circus of Gwao Nham Fokkk. I became a legend and emerged from the sacred mist one week ago. I need a shower badly.

Chachi Harlem With my bike gone, I began walking barefoot across the tundras of time. Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Fresno. I’ve been coaching and teaching “abroad” many of my top quality happy ending techniques. Three of them have been outlawed in the Gwang Jhao Province for inciting “Jumanji Balls,” a rare and beautiful virus I created in a mushroom dream. You would have never thought how tough this job is but, I’ve taken a noble position in my life.

Bernie “The Touch” Goldstein With political spending heating up in America thanks to the SuperPAC, Tyrone and myself saw a golden opportunity to quench an unfilled niche in the musical landscape… the political rally backup band. We formed “Funk Shrugged,” a pro-capitalist funk band, and then really exploded with our libertarian acid rock album Married to Jesus. Big money, lemme tell yuh! Tyrone and I are currently working on a rap album with evangelist Joel Osteen. Stadium status, baby.

Kitty Lamore With the band in chaos and the drugs running out I turned to a tantric cult to get my fix of good vibes. They kicked me out once they found the amyl nitrates I had stashed to really peak my experience. Luckily, the week before I was spotted by a Broadway talent scout while doing sun salutations and he asked me to star in Yoga, the Musical which included my solo debut of “Downward Facing Dog” (a heart wrenching tale with plenty of spirit fingers).

Keylo Venezuela I take a spirit quest to the magic mountains of Peru. This is how the star dream is born and where the power of legend is arrived from.

SFBG What’s so “magic” about Star Magic?

Smooth Rick Chosen I would relate listening to this album as exactly like the feeling of injecting a four gram LSD-laced speedball into your member, and then having said member pulled through a guided tour of Paisley Park by Prince himself, as he rides atop a golden chariot fueled by volcanic bass and angel dreams. Take off your pants and press play.

Chachi Harlem This new album is like a women’s inguinal ligament. You know those abdominal creases from the belly button to the yaya? Through this album, KALRI$$IAN will caress, lick, and suck that area ’til your jeans cream through.

Felix Livinglow It kinda has the rush of coke, with the staying power of one of my ecstasy erections and will make you bob your head like an Essex chick.

Bernie “The Touch” Goldstein This album is like the thrill of a short sale mixed with the euphoric release of an Invisible Hand reach-around.

Keylo Venezuela I need take many soul smokes and spirit spores to make capture the Star Magic. These song visions take truth to this and it is able to be imagined when people learn these journeys. With Velvet Pocket we seeked to take minds and be open in a smaller way, with Star Magic we make minds go expand to outer space with inner touch and feel.

Kitty Lamore It’s a Double D of Colombia’s finest.

KALRI$$IAN STAR MAGIC RELEASE PARTY

Sat/27, 10pm, $15 (“includes CD and STD”)

Supperclub

657 Harrison, SF.

www.supperclub.com

Laid bare

0

marke@sfbg.com

LIT “I met Johanna at a party in New York in 1998 — actually I was talking to her boyfriend first, barrettes in his dyed black hair and painted nails, I was trying to figure out if he was a fag or from Olympia.”

If you were “alternative” in the ’90s, that priceless sentence should ring strikingly true, as will this one: “Obviously we believed in attitude: if someone said something about not wanting to judge people, that was New Age garbage. New Age garbage was almost as bad as a trust fund, it was the same thing as stealing from your friends because you were stealing their rage.”

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore — outspoken queer anti-assimilation activist, genderblending thriftstore style icon, archetypal Mission District character, huge-hearted den mother, insufferable gadfly — is the posterchild for all that was culturally alternative in San Francisco in that pierced-lip poser decade, while at the same time possessing one of the loudest voices cutting through the bullshit clamor back then and questioning it all.

She’s also a brilliant writer, with two novels and several anti-assimilationist essay anthologies, including last year’s Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?, under her sparkly little purple belt. Her new memoir The End of San Francisco from City Lights Books is written in such a hypnotically elliptical style (summoning City Lights’ Beat poet legacy) and contains so many spot-on observations and era-damning epigrams that anyone who lived through the period described will cling to its pages while wishing to hurl the book at a wall in embarrassed self-recognition.

Searing, funny, maudlin, elegiac, infuriating, and confessional, The End of San Francisco is a deliberately disordered collection of vignettes dealing mostly with Sycamore’s span living in the city and launching the highly influential Queeruption, Fed Up Queers, and Gay Shame activist movements.

“At some point I realized that the book centered around the myths and realities of San Francisco as a refuge for radical queer visions in community building,” Sycamore told me via email.

“I first moved to San Francisco in 1992, when I was 19, and it’s where I figured out how to challenge the violence of the world around me, how to embrace outsider visions of queer splendor, how to create love and lust and intimacy and accountability on my own terms. I left San Francisco in 2010, and in some ways this book is an attempt to figure out why or how this city has such a hold on me, in spite of the failure of so many of my dreams, over and over and over again.”

Along the way we get drug overdoses, AIDS, lesbian potlucks, heroin chic, crystal meth, ACT UP, the birth of the Internet, the dot-com boom, the dot-com bust, mental breakdowns, outdoor cruising, phony spirituality, Craigslist hookups, hipster gentrification, Polk Street hustling, fag-bashing, shoplifting, house music, the Matrix Program, crappy SoMa live/work lofts, “Care Not Cash,” gallons of bleach and hair dye, and processing, processing, and more processing.

It’s definitely not a nostalgia-fest: Juicy passages about SF club history, ’90s queer life in the Mission, and Gay Shame’s internal dynamics and gloriously kooky pranks (guerrilla Gay Shame Awards ceremonies blocking Castro traffic; a Pride adjacent, corporate-sponsor-tweaking “Budweiser Vomitorium” where you could “barf up your pride”) are accompanied by an Oprah-load of issues including chronic pain, incest, personal betrayals, anorexia, depression. The moving opening chapter describes Sycamore confronting her father in the upscale Washington, DC home she grew up in about her recovered memories of his sexual abuse, as he lay dying.

And Sycamore has surprising words for those who think queer punk, riot grrrl, the bathhouse disco and clone-look revival, or the scene at the SF Eagle were essential to the queer activist movement (Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill makes a memorable appearance — Sycamore befriended her without knowing who she was, and later attended the first Le Tigre show.) Her habit of questioning everything can often paint her into corners of abrasive self-absorption, but she continues to raise interesting points about the fetishization of machismo in the FTM, leather, and punk communities, the emptiness of hipster activism, and the capitalist-colluding hypocrisy of “alternative culture.”

As usual though, she saves her heaviest judgments for the mainstream gay morass, its Borg-like drive toward cultural hegemony via marriage, military, and consumerism — even as she acknowledges the necessary symbiosis that binds queer outcasts together. At 1993’s March on Washington, “where suddenly there were a million white gay people in white t-shirts applying for Community Spirit cards”: “Gays in the military was the big issue and what could be more horrifying but here’s the thing: freaks actually found one another — we were so alienated that we went right up and said hi, I like your hair…”

This, then, is the tenderness that drives Bernstein to keep speaking out, despite the personal costs. As we weather another dot-com boom of homogenizing gentrification, The End of San Francisco is a timely reminder of the community that can spring from resistance.

MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE reads Tue/30, 7pm, free at City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, SF. www.citylights.com, and Thursday, May 9, 7:30pm, free at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., SF. www.glbthistory.org

 

River phoenix

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Many who have followed the remarkable career of Campo Santo, the longtime resident theater company at Intersection for the Arts, will recognize the real-life figure inspiring the character of “Luis Jaguar” in Campo Santo’s new production, The River, penned for the company by Richard Montoya of famed Chicano theater trio Culture Clash. Luis Saguar (who died too young in 2009) was a unique and mighty presence on Bay Area stages for years, not least in the many exceptional productions with the company he helped found (with Margo Hall, Sean San José, and Michael Torres) in 1996.

The River is finally about more than Saguar. Montoya’s play — the first to be produced under the umbrella of a four-play initiative of Intersection for the Arts and California Shakespeare Theatre’s Triangle Lab called Califas, exploring California stories — embraces the nameless, heterogeneous, polyglot lives that make up this roiling culture. (Next up in the Califas series, incidentally, is another Montoya play, the local premiere in late May of American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, out at Cal Shakes’ Orinda amphitheater.)

Nevertheless, Saguar is the spirit, “the heart,” animating The River‘s central story of memory and the concessions exacted on life’s course. It’s the tale of a Mexican laborer named Luis (a warm, stoic Brian Rivera) who has died on the American side of the desert border, leaving behind his adored wife, Esme (Anna Maria Luera). His burial site, and corpse, affects the lives of two trespassing E-addled Mission District hipsters — the arty, loquacious, and oh-so-arch queer couple of Javier (Lakin Valdez) and Lance (Christopher Ward White) — like an act of possession, causing them to question many things about themselves and their worldview. Meanwhile, a circle of disparate characters gradually gathers around the couple, further blurring lines of identity: a self-consciously ineffectual Indian named Crow (Michael Torres), a fastidious and grudgingly sympathetic park ranger (an amusingly nerdy Nora el Samahy), and two life-scarred bar flies at a nearby tavern (Donald E. Lacy Jr. and Randall Nakano).

Between them all, a cacophonous bout of patter, argot, revelry, ethnocentric posturing, and micro-political mapping ensues, interrupted by gently romantic, wistful moments between Luis and Esme — who meet on an epistolary and imaginary common ground that describes a river that is part metaphor, part myth, and part real-world physical divide.

Tanya Orellana’s appealing scenic design, with its alluvial pattern-work on the floor and vertical cascade of shale steps, adds a choice set of elements to the intimate performance space at the A.C.T. Costume Shop. Live accompaniment by guitarist Steve Boss (channeling Charlie Gurke’s score in Day of the Dead face paint) and subtle video projections by Joan Osato (cast on the floor and depicting running buffalo and other scenes) add further moody, ghostly dimension to the room.

Montoya’s rapid-fire cultural dog-pile has a flow of its own that, while erratic, contains some wonderful rapids and poignant coves. Still, the story’s mystery never quite manifests the wonder or suspense it should, and the tensions present in the text are imperfectly realized across uneven performances in the production directed by Campo Santo’s Sean San José. As fans of Culture Clash might expect, the play’s often-barbed humor comes well grounded in local culture, including its array of niche and broad stereotypes, and these provide much of the fuel for the show’s limited fire.

There’s a tendency to take the loopy humor in the play’s looping narrative a little too broadly at times, but there’s both laughs and a kind of half-bitter, half-defiant recognition in the satirical zigzags, as when Lance (played with spoiled but knowing charm by White) announces his desire to have a baby “and prenatal Bikram yoga classes,” — much to the horror of his partner, unemployed Salvadoran Cal Arts grad Javier (played with a cutting, randy intensity by Valdez) — only to be gripped a moment later by a bad trip that throws all his assumptions into turmoil: “Everything I learned is wrong!” he freaks incredulously. “I got my PhD in hip-hop culture?”

If the production proves inconsistent in its navigation of The River’s demanding dialogue and snaking emotional shifts, however, the top of the second act briefly turns it all around with the introduction of Donald Lacy’s character, Brother Ballard. Lacy, a veteran of some leading Campo Santo’s productions, beautifully delivers a monologue of days-gone-by with an inspired precision and verve that recall precisely the muscular theatrical vitality, the street-wise insouciant wit and effortless cool of so many Campo Santo shows past. The confluence of present and past are never more acutely felt, and the impact is bracing. 

THE RIVER

Through May 4

Thu-Sun, 8pm, $30

A.C.T. Costume Shop

1117 Market, SF

theriver2013.eventbrite.com

 

420 trip(tych)

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

STREET SEEN Snoop wore rhinestone-dripping dichotomy to his 420 concert at the Fillmore. Trust, I was stoned enough to come up with theories based around it.

This year’s preposterous stoner holiday weekend in San Francisco featured a Haight Street-Hippie Hill clusterfuck that snarled traffic lanes for those hoping to flee the THC clouds for lands with slightly more manageable level of good vibes. Down South in Santa Cruz, cops confiscated a two-pound joint stuffed with an estimated $6,000 worth of Cali green from the traditional festivities in the hinterlands of the town’s UC campus.

I stayed far from such daytime fray, though we did manage to snap some photos of Hill-bound bridge-and-tunnelers seeking the 71 bus in their UNIF “Weed Be Good Together” tank tops (available, of course, at Urban Outfitters for some astronomical sum.) They seemed nice enough. I hope they weren’t the ones who left Golden Gate Park trashed with 10,000 pounds of garbage. Yes, that’s an actual park worker estimate.

Not mad at tasteful stoner styling. All park photos by Caitlin Donohue 

My camera and I opted for the slightly more local version of 420 at Dolores Park, where neon Spring Breakers fashion trumped pot leaves and the gentleman proudly sporting a Rastafarian flag as a cape was the exception, rather than the bleary eyed rule to the sunburning throngs. Capturing flicks of various, impressively large picnic buffets, I was proud of my fellow stoners for the most part. Has weed culture progressed to the point where we need not don fake dreadlocks or shiny plastic leaf necklaces to proclaim our affinity to legalization? Down.

Cool cape, breh.

So many snacks. Ladies came prepared. For more DP style, click

KNUCKLE PIECE

Later that evening, after clearing the multi-layered gauntlet of security at the Fillmore (I don’t remember there being metal detectors the last time I came through for a hip-hop show, granted that was for Macklemore) and waiting for his hour-late, $75-ticket appearance, Snoop Dogg put on a predictably fun show. “Classic smash hits” were performed, as promised by the show’s promotional materials. Nate Dogg was piped in for choruses, back from the dead. The crowd sang along to each song, unchallenged by the repertoire of a man as familiar to the world’s hip-hop fans as the MTV logo. He covered “Jump Around,” but even this seemingly unnecessary riff seemed in keeping with much of the first half of the show’s reliance on material from eras gone by.

All Snoop photos by Matthew Reamer

But pacifist, Bunny Wailer-blessed Snoop Lion and his Major Lazer-produced album Reincarnated was entirely absent. Perhaps I was the only one harboring hopes of a surprise appearance by tween daughter Cori B. — whose turn on the hook for “No Guns Allowed” I like to imagine as payback from Daddy for the time those cops found firearms in the family home.

You could see it in his bling, this lack of commitment to his new persona. Though a rhinestone lion swung from Snoop’s slim neck, far more apparent was the garish fist-covering knuckle “Snoop Dogg” piece, which partially obscured his microphone. One wonders if the Lion persona will stick around long enough for Snoop to compile an impressive, be-maned collection of accessories. Maybe not — much of the shtick seems redundant for a rapper already famous for smoking more weed than federal agent bonfires in Humboldt County.

But old school the entirety of the set was not. Singles by Katy Perry and Bruno Mars in which Snoop guest-raps each made the hip-hop purists in the crowd spit. Despite the overwhelming scorn around me, I bopped to Perry’s “California Girls” — but even I couldn’t stomach the aging rapper juxtaposed with the chorus of Mars’ “Young, Wild, and Free”. I wondered if he could be convinced that “No Guns Allowed” ventures far closer to “classic good hit” arena than pop prince crossovers ever will.

MILE HIGH

Uhhhh, like, what else happened? Oh right, there was a shooting at Denver’s massive 420 celebration, the first since Colorado legalized the stuff for recreational use. The news would have been a bummer, had I not gotten to catch up with my girl Coral Reefer, who was a speaker on the Cannabis Cup’s first panel discussion about social media and weed.

“It has been amazing,” said the chipper Reefer, who runs a near 24/7 train of political information and nug glamour shots on her various social networks and Stoney Sunday YouTube potcasts. “Colorado’s been so hospitable and generous.”

News of the shooting — which left two attendees at Denver’s Civic Center Park with non-life-threatening injuries and several with injuries sustained while being trampled during the ensuing chaos amid the estimated 80,000 crowd — didn’t reach attendees at the Cup until a few hours later, Reefer said.

“It was complete sadness. Everyone I spoke to was so disappointed that we had experienced such a great day of community and positive vibrations, and a few miles away something so terrible had happened.”

But at the Cup itself, peace reigned, with the possible exception of the grumblers stuck in the at-times hours-long wait to get in. Reefer says the sophistication of marijuana concentrates continues to improve at these mega-events, and the variety of pot accoutrements — like local brands of vape pens — is impressive. “There’s so much issue with crossing state lines with cannabis products, it seems like each state has developed their own economy when it comes to cannabis goods.”

For Reefer, even the chaotic Civic Center scene signified a growing interest in marijuana she sees as positive. “We need to understand there are millions of people on our side and we need to be prepared when they come to us,” she said.

She also wanted to reinforce that this is one party the Golden State wants in on. “More and more people are celebrating cannabis in Colorado. California needs to step up and legalize, because it’s getting really fun out here.”

Perhaps — a la Snoop’s schizophrenic accessories — someday no one will feel the urge to don crocheted red-yellow-and-green beanies, or make a reggae album, merely to proclaim allegiance to marijuana. Dear government, if we drop the culturally derivative stoner trappings, will you accept that weed has been a part of us all along?