Volume 47 Number 38

Undercover Juggalo



MUSIC When I pitched attending one of the Insane Clown Posse’s shows from its two-night stand at the Oakland Metro as an “undercover juggalo,” I felt the need to make it clear to my editor that I was not a fan. This would just be for a story and fun pics. I wanted documentation of the Detroit “horrorcore”-rap duo’s strange appearance in the Bay Area, but more importantly, of the fucked-up subculture and fan base that ICP has bred over the years.

Given the band’s notoriety for misogynistic lyrics, alleged violence at shows (plus the added element of the FBI’s 14-month investigation of juggalos as a potential gang threat); my perceptions of the band and its followers being a generally trashy bunch who boast bad music had me thinking, this could be my scariest assignment ever.

Going in drag was partly to protect myself. As a native Midwesterner (born and raised in Michigan) I thought I knew damn well what I was getting into. Elements of my past were about to come crashing into my present-day self and surroundings. My preconceived notions of juggalos, largely based on living in Michigan when the group found fame in the mid-to-late ’90s, were superficial and prejudiced, but not completely unfounded (grabbing the nearest trucker hat, donning ugly cargo pants, and putting on a pair of 10-year-old Nikes was totally the right thing to do). I thought hiding behind face paint would be an easy in for acceptance or at least a good cover.

I had important questions: What are Bay Area juggalos like? Why is this happening in Oakland? Would it really just be the Central Valley invading? Black juggalos?! WTF?! Does that even exist?

Beforehand a friend of mine agreed with my concerns and quipped it was going to be like entering some “ultimate societal vortex.” Others warned me to brush up on my juggalo lore as I wouldn’t want to be exposed as a poser. I did my homework, read a few good articles on The Gathering and watched a really sad YouTube video about a juggalette mom who calls in to a radio show to tell the story of her baby who died shortly after birth in the hospital. She uses that story to fulfill her obsession with scoring free ICP merch.

Reverse racist, white-trash poser

Nervous about walking the streets and getting on BART with my face painted, I still had to get from San Francisco to my destination. I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I was glad to have my friend and photographer, Dallis, along for the ride. Although he wouldn’t join me in wicked clown make-up, he did help me feel as if I wasn’t completely alone. He quizzed my knowledge on the topic at hand and casually dropped the term “white trash.” It’s not an epithet I like to use, but I agree there are worse. Unfortunately, this is the one assigned to the juggalo.

Just about everyone looks down upon and ostracizes them like they’re a symbol for what’s wrong with Middle America. I got some strange stares on the train, but that was about it. Once we popped through the tunnel and found our stop, some fellow “ninjas” (who looked like frat boys) noticed me. They asked if I had any more face paint. Unaware if they were legit fans or if this was mockery, I asked if they were going to the show. It turned out they were being un-ironic (I saw them later at the Metro), so I guess I was the poser.

Waiting in a long line wrapped around the building with “The Family” was the best part of the night. Finally, I had power in numbers (though not all juggalos wear the paint). It was familiar to me, not just because of Midwest roots, but because of fanaticism over a music act. Their energy was electric. They wanted to see their heroes, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J perform. That’s when it clicked. This was all about inclusion.

We couldn’t get over how nice everyone was. At one point Dallis was trying to get a picture, but was tapped on the shoulder by a juggalo who told him to get closer for a better angle. It was uncharacteristic of the pretense among the crowd at a typical Bay Area show.

Sure, my jaw dropped when I finally deciphered that one of the opening act’s lyrics that I was bopping my head to was, “dead girls don’t say no,” but why is it that I give fellow Detroiter DJ Assault a pass when I laugh hysterically at his raunchy sampled lyrics like “suck my mutha-fucking dick,” or consider “Ass ‘n Titties” to be anthemic? Am I a reverse racist, or is it simply taste in music and the understanding that you don’t have to believe in the lyrics or take them to heart, kill people with a hatchet, etc.?

Shock value and entertainment are nothing new here. Witnessing the unrelenting Faygo shower (Faygo “pop” is from Michigan and comes in a variety of weird flavors) is like being a kid on the Fourth of July watching fireworks. Scary clowns dressed in glittered gowns dance on stage and shake two-liter bottles, letting the candy-scented foam spray onto the audience as it shimmers in the light, and it is a true spectacle. The takeaway: juggalos are the salt of the Earth.

One ringy-dingy



STAGE “Oh, Ernestine has plenty to say about the current phone-surveillance thing,” the irrepressible Lily Tomlin told me, referencing her famous “one ringy-dingy” phone operator character and the recent NSA spying revelations. (Tomlin was driving down an LA freeway on her way to do some errands, popping in and out of coverage on her hands-free.)

In fact, another classic phrase from Ernestine, who’s been snooping on calls since Tomlin’s 1970s days on Martin and Rowan’s Laugh-In, rather appropriately sums up the civilian surveillance clusterbuck: “Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?”


“Back during the whole Bush wiretapping time, Ernestine became an emblem for political cartoonists,” Tomlin continues. “But her association with government shenanigans goes back through Iran-Contra, all the way to Nixon and Watergate. In fact, during Iran-Contra in the ’80s, I was performing at the Emmys — I was up for one that year — and I called up G. Gordon Liddy to do a skit with Ernestine. He was going to play Oliver North! And I would be eavesdropping on him. He agreed, but then I backed off because I thought I was making too much light of the whole thing.”

The rogue’s gallery in the above paragraph gives some indication of Tomlin’s longevity in the biz, as well as her necessity. “I’ve been performing since I could basically walk,” she says. “When I was growing up in Detroit, I used to hang a blanket as a curtain on my back porch and put on shows for my family and neighbors. And then, because it started to get dangerous on the streets, I immersed myself in afterschool arts programs. I started incorporating film in to my performances, as well as comedy, drama, a little of this and a whole lot of that. I think I was the original performance artist!”   

Along with Ernestine, Tomlin’s essential characters like Edith Ann, Mrs. Beaszley, Sister Boogie Woman — maybe even her characters from 9 to 5 and Big Business, please? — will be in tow for “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin” worth trekking up to Napa to catch. The show, a version of which Tomlin performs 30-50 times a year, is a a kind of constantly evolving greatest hits extravaganza. “These characters never leave me; I’m constantly playing with them in my head, like some weird kind of checkerboard,” Tomlin said with a laugh. “But they have to say something, something relevant. Somehow, of course, it always seems like there’s something for them to say, especially lately.”

Now 73, Tomlin’s coming off a season on TV as the pot-happy hillbilly grandma from Reba McEntire’s sitcom Malibu Country and the Tina Fey movie Admission. She’s also a regular as Lisa Kudrow’s mother on web series Web Therapy, an avid social media user, and a crusader for several causes. “Darn good genes,” she says when I gasp at her energy, roughly 1000 times any other human’s. “I had an aunt just pass away at 91. Marke, she would have lived to 120 if the smoker’s emphysema hadn’t slowed her down.”

And her maverick feminist spirit still shines bright. “There’s more opportunity for women in this business now than when I started out. Working with Tina and Lisa was inspirational, and now with new media, the possibilities are really opening up. I mean, people used to think women did comedy only because they were too ugly to do anything else. When I first started getting better known, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me saying, ‘Oh, Lily, you’re so much prettier than you are on television!’ Ha. Can you believe that?”


Doors 7pm, show 8pm, $70-$85

The Uptown

1350 Third St., Napa

(707) 259-0123

Father’s day



LIT In late-1980s San Francisco, Steve Abbott hosted a gay writer’s workshop at his small apartment at the fabled corner of Haight and Ashbury. One fleeting but reliable occurrence was an appearance by Alysia, the daughter he’d raised since his wife died in a car accident years earlier.

Each week, the teenager stormed about just long enough so we could feel her wrath before slamming the bedroom door. It was funny, but also understandable: at that age, who wants their personal space regularly invaded by strangers? Let alone gay male adults, reinforcing your separation from the heterosexual family norm?

Steve was a significant presence in SF’s literary scene for nearly two decades, publishing his own adventuresome small-press books in various idioms (poems, essays, fiction). He edited small magazines including the influential Poetry Flash; was first to promote such edgy “postmodernist” voices as Kathy Acker and Dennis Cooper; and was an idiosyncratic cultural commentator for local weeklies (including the Bay Guardian). He was unfailingly generous with other fledgling writers, myself included.

He barely kept the rent paid via rote day jobs, while raising a child alone — an awkward match to the carefree gay community he joined upon moving to SF (and coming out) in 1974. As Alysia Abbott writes in her acclaimed new release Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father (W.W. Norton and Company, 352pp., $25.95), there were no role models then for gay single parents. Their very close but turbulent relationship amplified the clash between her often-peevish parental needs and his belated self-discovery in a sexual-artistic bohemia. They found balance as she found her own identity upon leaving for college. But then the AIDS epidemic swept both up in its devastation.

Abbott, now living in Boston with a husband and two children, answered questions in advance of two local appearances this week.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You had an unconventional childhood with an unconventional parent. Has that influenced your own parenting?

Alysia Abbott My father was raised in a strict Catholic household where family members rarely showed affection. He kept his feelings bottled up. By the time he had me, he wanted a completely different family experience, transparent and open. He often shared his romantic and professional woes, sometimes seeking my advice.

I absorbed a lot of my dad’s worry, and sometimes found myself in situations where I had to be more adult than I was ready to be. I want to be my true self with my children. But I also want to protect their innocence to some degree.

SFBG You’re frank about having been an “obnoxious” unhappy teenager. Are there things you or your father could have done differently? Was it a phase you just had to work through?

AA We were trying to create a life with a lot of setbacks, sharing a cramped one-bedroom in the Haight with little money or family help. My father was lonely, and trying to get sober just when I discovered drugs and alternative culture. We did our best under the circumstances. But as often as we clashed, there was a lot of love. This was a period we needed to go through.

SFBG Your father identified so strongly as a writer, but Fairyland doesn’t address how you became one yourself.

AA I’d always wanted to be a writer, or an artist. But after watching him struggle financially, I pursued steady-paycheck work in cushy corporate structures (which I now hate). I also didn’t know if I had his native talent, or could be as intellectually rigorous and pure. I always had our story to tell, but worried I wasn’t worthy of it. The idea of writing Fairyland and having it not meet my own expectations was unbearable. Now I realize perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. To succeed, you have to be willing to fail.

SFBG When Steve was facing mortality, he wrote that you’d probably better appreciate his writing after he’d passed on. What do you think about his literary legacy now?

AA I’m embarrassed to admit I really didn’t read my father’s books until ten years after he died. During his lifetime, the work’s weirdness, its attraction to transgressive figures and ideas threatened me. I accused him of not being a “real writer” because no one had heard of him and he didn’t make any “real money.” What a terrible thing for a daughter to say!

Researching for Fairyland, I came to respect his contributions and integrity. All the writers I know today have to be such master self-promoters. My father was almost embarrassingly naïve in this regard. That may be why few people know his work today. But he was so devoted to writing, and supporting writers that impressed him, even if that effort did nothing for his own career.

I now really love several of his poems and books, especially Lives of the Poets — but some still make me uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t good, or still too “out there” for me.

SFBG After so many years, how do you feel about returning to SF? Many of your father’s creative generation are dead. It’s a much yuppie-er burg.

AA San Francisco is very different from the city I knew in 1974, or even 1994. I’ve worried that those who remember the old San Francisco, or appreciate its history, are dwindling — they’ve died or been forced out by Ellis laws. But new residents are attracted by the city’s beauty just as we were. And though much better-heeled, these tech workers and professional types are also trying to reinvent culture, if with much greater odds of profit — and interest in profit.


Wed/19, 7pm, free

City Lights Books

261 Columbus, SF



Thu/20, 6:30pm, free

San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin, SF


Console prizes



GAMER The days of game consoles being all about pretty graphics are over. The leap in visual fidelity when we went from PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3 isn’t going to happen this time, which is one reason it’s been seven years since the current consoles have been refreshed. All that changes this year, with the impending release of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Microsoft had a false start last month, with the reveal of Xbox One occurring ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3. Showing off the sleek new console, the One was positioned as a unifying “everything” box, addressing the many Xbox users who regard the system as a gateway to all things movies, TV, and Netflix. However, by ignoring games and being cagey on important issues of DRM (a type of copy protection that has caused much past furor) and positioning the console as a high-speed always-online device, Microsoft willfully alienated a chunk of its audience.

The Xbox conference in Los Angeles last week saw the company hoping to gain ground by backing off its usual focus on sports, Kinect, and kids games and keeping true to “core game” experiences. In this regard, Microsoft was smart to tempt the Metal Gear Solid franchise to launch simultaneously on Xbox for the first time, and likewise big-time Sony-only developer Insomniac Games announced the One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive. Other Xbox-only experiences included Titanfall from the newly formed Respawn Games, which has the chops to be as big as the team’s last huge success — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And of course, more Halo is ever imminent.

Initially, Sony’s E3 conference appeared less cohesive, and quite a bit sloppier, than the Xbox conference as it proclaimed a new life for its struggling Vita handheld, but failed to follow its passionate declaration for the console with big game announcements. The company chose instead to revisit previously announced PS4 games, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son.

But Sony’s presentation deficiencies were quickly forgotten as the show drew to a close. Directly addressing complaints about Microsoft’s next-gen policies, Sony loosed a salvo of not so subtle digs against Xbox One, announcing the PS4 to be DRM-free and offline-friendly — not to mention the PS4 at $399 would cost $100 less than the One. Such brazen acts of competition are rare between these two, but Sony apparently found the cracks in Microsoft’s strategy too tempting to ignore.

Since the 2011 PlayStation network hack that left many users’ personal data at risk, Sony has performed the humble, pro-consumer act well and, even if it doesn’t always offer a superior console experience, it knows its audience. For once, it didn’t matter who had the better games, the bigger hard drive or the best specs. This E3 was all about attitude.



As we wave goodbye to the consoles that have kept us warm for the past seven years, gamers have been looking for a game to dub “the last great game of the generation.” Releasing amid all the hubbub of E3, The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/Sony; PS3) is a fitting final hurrah, capping the reign of the PS3 with not so much a bang but with an assurance and a confidence that are unfamiliar to the medium of video games.

Set a number of years after a worldwide infection has destabilized the country, The Last of Us follows Joel, a no-nonsense smuggler, as he attempts to transport a 14-year-old girl named Ellie out of Boston. From the developers behind the Uncharted series, one might expect big action set-pieces and witty banter, but The Last of Us is more true to the conceits of survival horror. At heart, this is a stealth adventure, until the odds invariably and adamantly force your hand into acts of ferocious brutality. There are bad people, bad monsters, and a whole lot of riveting moments — which I won’t spoil — but it’s not so much the story as how it is told. Despite its gloom, The Last of Us has sweetness and a sense of hope that shapes the characters and makes their journey all the more impactful.

In other words, The Last of Us is the game to beat in 2013.

More to grow on


Pit Stop (Yen Tan, US) One of the very best narrative features at Sundance this year, Yen Tan’s drama nonetheless completely flew under the radar of media attention. It’s a beautifully low-key tale of two 40-ish gay men in a Texas small town. Neither are closeted, but they aren’t exactly fulfilled, either, both being in awkward domestic situations. Gabe (Bill Heck) is still living with angry ex-wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz) for the sake of their six year-old daughter. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) still shares his apartment with younger, slackerish ex-BF Luis (Alfredo Maduro), who keeps dragging his feet about actually moving out. Everyone is dissatisfied, but not quite willing to risk making a leap into unfamiliar territory. We know Gabe and Ernesto are fated to meet, yet it’s Tan’s terrifically nuanced portrayal of the relationships they must exit first that dominates almost the entire feature. Pit Stop is the kind of slow burner that sneaks up on you, surprising with the force of well-earned climactic joy after so much concise observation of credibly ordinary, troubled lives. Fri/21, 4pm, Castro; June 27, 7pm, Elmwood. (Dennis Harvey)


Free Fall (Stephan Lacant, Germany) A young German police cadet, Marc (Hanno Koffler), finds himself disturbingly drawn to a fellow cadet, Kay (Max Riemelt), during a weekend of training exercises — a regimen that proves to be not quite enough of an outlet to diffuse the erotic tension between them. Back home, though, are Marc’s very pregnant girlfriend, Bettina (Katharina Schüttler), and a circle of friends and family who expect him to continue along his current track of shacking up, forming a family, and demonstrating his loyalty to the macho brotherhood of his colleagues on the force. When Kay transfers into the department, his presence exerts a pressure on Marc that threatens to derail him. Director Stephan Lacant’s film, co-written with Karsten Dahlem, movingly depicts the painful breakdown of a man ruled by impulses he’s unable to face up to, and the consequences that come of remaining paralyzed in an impossible state. Fri/21, 6:30pm, Castro; Mon/24, 9:30pm, Elmwood. (Lynn Rapoport)

C.O.G. (Kyle Patrick Alvarez, US) The first feature adapted from David Sedaris’ writing, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s film captures his acerbic autobiographical comedy while eventually revealing the misfit pain hidden behind that wit. Tightly wound David (Jonathan Groff), on the run from problematic family relations and his sexual identity, takes the bus from East Coast grad school to rural Oregon — his uninhibited fellow passengers providing the first of many mortifications here en route. Having decided that seasonal work as an apple picker will somehow be liberating, he’s viewed with suspicion by mostly Mexican co-workers and his crabby boss (Dean Stockwell). More fateful kinda-sorta friendships are forged with a sexy forklift operator (Corey Stoll) and a born-again war vet (Denis O’Hare). Under the latter’s volatile tutelage, David briefly becomes a C.O.G. — meaning “child of God.” Balancing the caustic, absurd, and bittersweet, gradually making us care about an amusingly dislikable, prickly protagonist, this is a refreshingly offbeat narrative that pulls off a lot of tricky, ambivalent mood shifts. Sat/22, 9:15pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Bwakaw (Jun Robles Lana, Philippines, 2012) Grumpy old man in the rural Philippines — OK, Jun Robles Lana’s seriocomedy isn’t going to top many lists as the sexiest movie at Frameline. But it’s one of the most deeply satisfying films at this year’s festival. Six-decade Filipino cinema veteran Eddie Garcia plays Rene, a crusty loner who lives alone and works without pay (he’s officially retired) at the local post office just to have something to do. He has cranky relationships — “friendships” would be a stretch — with the area priest, a widowed neighbor, and two over-the-top queens who run a hair salon. His closest bonds are to a rest-home denizen now too senile to remember who he is, and to the stray mutt who’s sort of his dog — though not so much that he’ll actually let it in the house. After decades in denial, Rene finally accepted his homosexuality at age 60, when “my time was [already] passed.” But he gets an unanticipated new surge of hope, possibly misdirected, upon befriending rough-hewn younger bicycle-taxi driver Sol (Rez Cortez). With its leisurely pace and seemingly stereotypical characters who turn out to be much more complex than they initially appear, Bwakaw is a disarmingly modest movie that gradually reveals a rather beautiful soul. Sun/23, 5:45pm, Victoria. (Harvey)

The Out List (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, US) Documentarian Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose previous projects have focused on prominent African Americans and Latinos, supermodels, and porn stars, turns his lens on the LGBTs for a survey film set to air on HBO this month. While there’s no sign of the radical faeries or the poly queers with negative interest in the marriage equality battle, Greenfield-Sanders has gathered a decently varied collection of 16 LGBT individuals, mostly but not only celebrities, whose common thread is having gone public. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and ex-NFLer Wade Davis describe their time in the closet and their coming-out episodes, while Hollywood stars Neil Patrick Harris and Cynthia Nixon comment on strategies for getting work and fighting the good fight (which for the latter includes closeting her bisexuality). Only an hour long, The Out List merely skims the surface of its subjects’ experiences, but we do get some sense of their scope, which includes finding family in NYC’s ballroom scene, getting elected as a lesbian Democratic sheriff in Dallas County, Texas, and learning to view one’s orientation as a gift from god. Tue/25, 4:30pm, Castro. (Rapoport)

Beyond the Walls (David Lambert, Belgium/Canada/France, 2012) Aptly compared in the Frameline catalog to such intelligent recent gay relationship studies as Weekend (2011) and Keep the Lights On (2012), David Lambert’s finely crafted debut feature charts its protagonists through an unpredictable, rocky romance. Paolo (Matila Malliarakis) is living with an older woman when he meets bartender-musician Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), who’s amused by the young blonde’s drunken antics while wary of the mutual attraction between them. When immature, puppyish Paolo gets thrown out by his exasperated girlfriend, he lands on Ilir’s doorstep as an uninvited instant-boyfriend, and despite some initial grumbling, that’s pretty much how it works out. Yet an unfortunate turn of events forces a long, involuntary separation between the two that their coupledom might not survive. While it requires a certain suspension of disbelief that focused, self-confident Ilir would fall for the flighty, needy Paolo, the eventual complexity of their relationship makes for a powerful cumulative impact. June 27, 9:30pm, Castro. (Harvey)

Reaching for the Moon (Bruno Barreto, Brazil) Brazilian director Bruno Barreto (1997’s Four Days in September) offers a moving account of the romantic relationship between the American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires), which spanned the 1950s and the better part of the ’60s. The pair meet under inauspicious circumstances: traveling to Brazil, Elizabeth visits her old Vassar friend Mary (Tracy Middendorf) at the gorgeous rural estate where she lives with Lota, a wealthy woman from one of Brazil’s prominent political families. Unfortunately for Mary, Lota’s regard for the timid, restrained Elizabeth moves along a precipitous arc from irritation to infatuation, her subsequent impetuous pursuit of her lover’s friend revealing a heartless egoism — as well as an attitude toward householding that blends a poly sensibility with a ruling-class sense of entitlement. The film tracks Elizabeth and Lota’s enduring affair during a period marked by professional triumphs, personal lows, and political turmoil, all of which take their toll on the relationship. June 28, 6:45pm, Castro. (Rapoport)

Out Here: A Queer Farmer Film Project (Jonah Mossberg, US) Jonah Mossberg’s documentary crosses the country seeking out the perspectives of LGBT farmers, visiting some 30 farms before narrowing the focus to seven disparate subjects growing food in settings that range from a community garden in West Philadelphia to a farmstead in rural Alabama (or what one participant calls “the toenail of the Appalachians”). An allegiance to organics and other sustainable practices establishes some common ground. However, asked to encapsulate how queerness impacts her farming life, a woman raising crops and chickens in the Bronx’s Garden of Happiness observes, “I don’t think the land asks that question — if you’re gay or straight,” while others tease queerness out of acts like turning to permaculture and draw connections between heteronormativity and industrial agriculture. Look for fermentation guru Sandor Katz at Tennessee’s Little Short Mountain Farm, and stay seated for the longish closing credits interspersed with earnest (and otherwise) discussions of which veggie wins the title of queerest piece of produce. June 29, 1:30pm, Victoria. (Rapoport)

Young and Wild (Marialy Rivas, 2012) Structured around the anonymous and oft-graphic blog posts of a Chilean teenager, director-cowriter Marialy Rivas’s inventive, engaging film depicts a young woman’s navigation — both solitary and very, very public — of her sexual and romantic impulses as they clash with a rigid upbringing of spiritual indoctrination. Raised in an evangelical Christian household, Daniela (Alicia Rodríguez) bluntly documents, under the screen name Young and Wild, a period of upset and exploration during which she is outed as a fornicator and expelled from school, threatened by her hard-edged mother (Aline Küppenheim) with missionary exile, and faced with the sorrow of watching a beloved aunt (Ingrid Isensee) battle cancer. As Daniela begins a relationship with a young man (Felipe Pinto), begins a relationship with a young woman (María Gracia Omegna), and records the proceedings with a complicated mixture of comic insights, lyrical observations, and obscenities, her introspections play with the device of the straightforward voice-over—broadcast to untold numbers of unknown peers who avidly follow and comment on her adventures and misadventures. June 29, 8:30pm, Roxie. (Rapoport)

Frameline37 runs June 20-30 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St, SF; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St, SF; and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk. For tickets (most shows $12) and complete schedule, visit www.frameline.org.

Lives less ordinary



FRAMELINE Each year Frameline’s program vividly reflects issues that of late have seemed most urgent in the LGBT community — for many years, for instance, there was an understandably overwhelming amount of films about AIDS. Most recently, the fights for gay marriage and trans rights have dominated many a dramatic and documentary selection.

It is sometimes nice, therefore, in the fray of pressing public debate and community activism to escape topicality and sink into the achievements and personalities of more distant queer-history eras. Several documentaries at Frameline37 offer just that, as they chronicle the lives and times of five extraordinary men (albeit one normally found in a dress and fright wig).

The most San Francisco-centric of them is Stephen Silha, Eric Slade, and Dawn Logsdon’s Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, about “a golden secret of West Coast bohemia.” The late James Broughton was a poet, prankster, and experimental filmmaker who began making films in the late 1940s “to see what my dreams really looked like.” A significant figure in the pre-Beat San Francisco renaissance of avant-garde art, he won a prize at Cannes for 1953’s typically playful, hedonistic The Pleasure Garden, but declined the commercial directing career offered him — in fact he didn’t make another movie for 15 years, when free-love hymn The Bed became a counterculture smash.

Broughton married and had three children (including one with not-yet-famous local film critic Pauline Kael), but at age 61 found his soulmate in 26-year-old fellow director Joel Singer, thereafter devoting his life and work to celebrations of gay male sexuality. (Interviewed here, his ex-wife Susanna calls this turn of events “a very unwelcome incident from which I never recovered.”) The documentary provides a treasure trove of excerpts from a now little-seen body of cinematic work, as well as much archival footage of SF over the decades.

Bringing joy to a lot of people during his too-brief life was Glenn Milstead, the subject of Jeffrey Schwarz’s I Am Divine. A picked-on sissy fat kid, he blossomed upon discovering Baltimore’s gay underground — and starring in neighbor John Waters’ underground movies, made by and for the local “freak” scene they hung out in.

Yet even their early efforts found a following; when “Divine” appeared in SF to perform at one of the Cockettes’ midnight movie/theater happenings, he was greeted as a star. This was before his greatest roles for Waters, as the fearsome anti-heroines of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), then the beleaguered hausfraus of Polyester (1981) and Hairspray (1988). Despite spending nearly his entire career in drag, he wanted to be thought of as a character actor, not a “transvestite” novelty. Sadly, he seemed on the verge of achieving that — having been signed to play an ongoing male role on Married … with Children — when he died of respiratory failure in 1988, at age 42.

A different kind of tragedy is chronicled in Clare Beaven and Nic Stacey’s British Codebreaker, about Alan Turing — perhaps the most brilliant mathematician of his era, who basically came up with the essential concept of the modern-day computer (in 1936!) He played a huge role in breaking the Nazi’s secret Enigma code, thus aiding an Allied victory. But instead of being treated as a national hero, he was convicted of “gross indecency” (i.e. gay sex) in 1952 and hounded by police until he committed suicide two years later. Half conventional documentary and half reenactment drama (with Ed Stoppard, playwright Tom’s son, as Turing), Codebreaker illustrates the cruel price even an upper-class genius could pay for his or her sexuality in the days before Gay Lib.

Two literary lions are remembered in the last of these historical bio-docs. Daniel Young’s Swiss Paul Bowles: The Cage Door is Always Open recalls the curious life of a successful American composer turned famous expat novelist. He and wife Jane Bowles moved to post-World War II Tangiers, where they entertained a parade of visiting artists — and, by all accounts, a succession of same-sex lovers. Clips from Bernardo Bertolucci’s underrated adaptation of Bowles’ literary masterwork The Sheltering Sky (1990) are here alongside input from acquaintances and observers including John Waters and Gore Vidal.


The latter is the whole focus in Nicholas Wrathall’s Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, and what could be better than that? Perhaps undervalued as a frequently very fine novelist because he was so prolific (and popular), he’s considered here primarily as a public intellectual — a term that seems positively antiquated in our climate of pundits and ranters — and fierce lifelong critic of American hypocrisy in all its forms, especially the political. He was a scold (or a “correctionist,” as he put it), albeit of the wittiest, most clear-headed and informed type. Among myriad highlights here are seeing him on TV reduce friend-rival Norman Mailer to sputtering fury, shred the insufferable right-wing toady William F. Buckley, and make poor Jerry Brown squirm under his effortless tongue-lashing.

Endlessly quotable (“We’ve had bad Presidents in the past but we’ve never had a goddam fool,” he said of George W. Bush), obstinately “out” from an early age if never very PC in his views (“Sex destroys relationships … I’m devoted to promiscuity”), Vidal is aptly appreciated here as “a thorn in the American Establishment, of which by birth he is a charter member.” There will never be anyone quite like him — but we sure could use some who are at least in the general ballpark. *


June 20-30, various venues


Where to next?



DANCE Ben Levy sure knows how to throw a party. For the 10th anniversary celebration of his LEVYdance company, he once again closed off SOMA alley Heron Street, where his studio is located, and hung balloons, speakers, and lights. He put up bars and set out soft sofas, and erected a large stage with a central pit full of pillows (for those who might prefer to recline). It was one of those rare San Francisco evenings with clear skies — and just the slightest of breezes — which made you glad you don’t live across any bridges.

But does Levy know to choreograph? You bet he does. A decade ago he burst onto the San Francisco dance scene with clarity of vision and skills to match, unheard-of in a dancer just barely out of college. But that’s exactly why this festive event lacked an essential ingredient.

Seeing the four works — one from 2002, two from 2004, and one from 2005 — put a damper on the evening. No amount of finessing and rethinking of repertoire can take the place of the risk and excitement involved when a choreographer steps into unknown territory. Looking back on a decade’s accomplishments may be gratifying, but more essential is giving an audience an inkling of where the artistic trajectory is going.

Grant Diffendaffer’s open-air stage, essentially an elevated square of walkways around an open center, necessitated some reconfigurations that diluted what sometimes felt like volcanic forces about to explode in Levy’s choreography. But it also allowed for increased intimacy, depending on where you sat.

Levy’s four dancers dove into the choreography with an impressive unity of purpose. They attacked complex interactions — often at top speed — with razor sharp timing. Seeing the dancers dressed in brilliant white against the riotous chaos of the graffiti covered brick walls suggested an unexpected symbiotic relationship between dance and murals.

pOrtal, the oldest piece on the program, still fascinated in the way Scott Marlowe, Yu Kondo Reigen, Paul Vickers, and Sarah Dianne Woods upset each other’s balances. They grabbed, yanked, and poked; flipped a partner; or pushed a knee against a belly. When a dancer leaned over a colleague’s knee, it would drop away beneath them. The idea seems to be avoiding stability at any cost — like living in the middle of a non-stop earthquake. What might look like violence or aggression in another case is delivered in such a matter-of-fact way that it becomes a self-contained image of one way of being.

Originally, If this small space, choreographed by Levy and Rachael Lincoln, was performed on a five-by-five lit square that set up limitations. Shifted to the open, the attention immediately shifted onto the internal forces that strained against the confines of Marlowe’s body. Performed magnificently by this beautiful dancer, If this small space might have him look up and push against invisible walls — but it was the small trembles, muscular contractions, currents, and mysterious somethings rolling through his torso that collapsed his knees. The effect indicated just how at the mercy of imprisoning forces this human being was. Perhaps the most touching moment came when Marlowe lifted one leg and it looked like it might try to float away from him.

The engaging Holding Pattern opened with Reigen’s stunningly performed solo, in which warring forces seemed to tear her body apart as Vickers and Woods traced a cautious circle around her. The trio engaged in a contentious give and take, part wrestling match, part karate engagement. For a while it looked like the two women were ganging up on Vickers, but then he gave as good as he got.

That Four Letter Word (apply your own definition) finds the quartet in every possible permutation of relationships between two men and two women. Some of it is quite funny — though I could have done without the balloon jokes — but here the spatial reconfigurations created too much distance. Four ran out of steam though it did showcase Vickers and Marlowe — super-articulate, elegant dancers — exquisitely mirroring each other.

The program also highlighted Levy’s excellent musical choices — many of them commissioned. Let’s hope he’ll soon have an opportunity to use some more.

You can’t see me



SURVEILLANCE It’s all a mess: the government is suddenly (to those of us waking from our Twinkie nap) spying on us. Mulder and Scully were right, trust is for the foolish and undisturbed sleep is for the ignorant.

All the more reason to go out. Authoritarian regime is no excuse for poor style, says New York high tech fashion designer Adam Harvey. And armed with his projects, drone-defeating tactics can look damn good.

Even before Edward Snowden’s heroic leak of documents laid bare the NSA’s wide-ranging surveillance of American citizens, Harvey was busying himself merging privacy rights with fashion. Witness his LED-aided clutches that deflected the flash of cameras — the ultimate accessory for A-list independents (“Camoflash”, 2009).

But perhaps you are more of the sporty type? Harvey’s newest collection, “Stealth Wear” includes a half-hoodie that deflects thermal imaging surveillance. Heat-seeking systems won’t be able to see you, but that babe in the club sure will. His designs have an anti-colonial gaze: two “Stealth Wear” garments take the form of burqa and hijab. He’s also developed “CV Dazzle”, a series of makeup looks that foil facial recognition software and “OFF Pocket”, a sleek envelope that blocks one’s cell phone from sending or receiving signals.

We caught up with him through an insecure email account.

SFBG “CV Dazzle”‘s look seems very of-the-moment when it comes to the avant-garde fashion you see in clubs. What’s the inspiration? 

Adam Harvey The first look, with the black-and-white makeup, developed from my fascination with the Boombox scene in London. I studied party photographs as well as tribal face painting, especially from Pacific Islands. What I found was that only one of these styles worked, club fashion. Tribal body decoration does more to enhance key facial features which make a face easier to detect. The bold, ambiguous looks of the club scene were more algorithmically resistant. From there, I worked with Pia Vivas, a hair stylist to create the first look. And then collaborated with DIS Magazine to create the second and third looks.

SFBG How have the recent NSA revelations informed your work? 

AH The news struck while my collaborator and I were planning production for the “OFF Pocket.” It’s the first time I’m taking an art project and turning it into a marketable product. A lot of my work in privacy arts is speculative and provocative, but I think some concepts can be even more provocative when they’re accessible to more people. What happens when countersurveillance goes mainstream? That’s a discussion we need to have because if the government doesn’t respect privacy, then I think we should have the right to countersurveillance.

SFBG Where is “OFF Pocket” at in the production process? Have you sent one to Edward Snowden? 

AH It’s very close. I’ve gone through a lot of prototyping and testing to ensure that the product works well. Once a phone is inside and the case is properly closed, you really can’t access any part of it. If I knew where Edward Snowden was, I would send him a thankful dozen.


The end of an era, but not of a legacy


Tim Redmond has a big heart. He cares deeply about this city and he cared deeply about this newspaper. But last Thursday was Tim’s last day at the Bay Guardian, the place where he worked for the bulk of the past three decades. In typical fashion, he stuck to his principles to the end.

The Guardian is not as economically healthy as it once was, and 2013 has not been kind to the paper. Revenues are down and many issues lose money, a trend that threatens our mission if left unchecked. During the past month, Guardian management had been contemplating some painful but necessary changes that included layoffs. Tim participated in these discussions, but in the end he chose to resign rather than downsize a staff he loved like family.

I understand Tim’s decision, but believe it was shortsighted. During the past year and a half, the Guardian’s two sister papers — the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly — have undergone similar restructuring, which included layoffs. The goal was not to extract obscene profits — a mission I wouldn’t support even if it were still possible in 2013 — but rather to ensure both papers’ survival and recovery. It was an unpleasant process, and one that Tim could not abide.

But today, the Examiner and Weekly are both significantly healthier than they used to be. The Examiner is no longer the mouthpiece of right-wing buffoons, and in recent months has expanded its Peninsula coverage and enlarged its editorial staff. And the Weekly boasts significantly more new coverage, listings and advertising than it did just six months ago.

I want the Guardian’s future as a progressive voice to be similarly assured. So now, 32 years after selling my first freelance news article to the paper — a brief about BART’s effort to evict the Ashby Flea Market — I find myself replacing Tim as publisher. Longtime Managing Editor Marke Bieschke, aka Marke B., is filling his shoes as interim editor.

I know some Guardian readers assume that this means the end of progressive journalism in the paper. Please let me assure you that will not occur. I have spent the bulk of my career editing investigative newsweeklies and have no intention of going down in history as the guy who dumbed-down the Guardian.

The very night before Tim told me he was leaving, he presided over a packed forum on the topic of economic dislocation in San Francisco. At the height of a tech boom that has inflated rents and led to a wave of migration and evictions, it’s hard to imagine few other topics of greater importance. Tim and the Guardian have reported extensively on this issue in the year since the paper was acquired by the San Francisco Print Media Company. Of course, the Guardian was already writing about evictions long before Tim’s predecessor assigned me to write that 1981 article about the flea market.

Under Tim’s successor, that emphasis will not change.