Arts & Culture

Arts & Culture

Art Picks

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‘A Searing Lesson Every Girl Should Know’

ART

Love is the object of Tami Demaree’s devotion, the axis at which everything spins, the departure point and the destination, to be won and lost and won back again. "A Searing Lesson Every Girl Should Know," the LA artist’s first major solo exhibition, gently prods love at every angle and from the point of view of the forsaken girl who is equally perplexed by, and hopeful about, love’s possibilities. Demaree teases out its attendant emotions to absurd effect using an array of materials (acrylic, glitter, neon, contact paper, googly eyes, and so on) that are often accompanied by sly and sweet slogans and puns such as "I love you like ping loves pong" and "You’re my favorite kiss of my whole life." The overall feeling is that of a nose tweak and a wink punctuated with a smirk and the occasional sucker punch that’s wrapped in a rainbow ever aching with the possibility of finding and holding on to true-blue die-for-you love. Although many artists attempt it, combining text and image is difficult to pull off and very few have the facility or intelligence to do it well. Not so Demaree. Her sincere visual and textual puns have just the right amount of irony and stop just short of being too coy. One example is painted directly on a gallery wall: "On the phone you said your love was flaming, and in my head I cheered go Flaming GO!!!" It takes a few beats before you notice the neon pink flamingo plugged into the wall next to it. If, as Cervantes wrote, love is "the greatest god and greatest pain," Demaree keeps love in the realm of greatest great, however transitory it may be. (Katie Kurtz)

A SEARING LESSON EVERY GIRL SHOULD KNOW

Steven Wolf Fine Arts, through Jan 28, Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.

49 Geary, Ste. 411, SF. (415) 263-3677, www.stevenwolffinearts.co

Music Picks

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Future jazz farmers Jazzanova have finally gotten around to issuing volume two of their remixes, appropriately titled The Remixes 2002-2005 (Sonar Kollektiv). With re-rubs of tracks by Masters at Work and Nu Spirit Helsinki, the collection aptly captures J-nova’s move toward a harder, more electronic sound. In an appropriately forward-thinking touch, the CD also comes with a blank CD-R, which buyers can use to burn a copy for friends or record downloaded mixes from the Sonar Kollektiv site. One-sixth of the Berlin-based collective of DJs, producers, and engineers is in the Bay to get down with those wacky Culprits, Eug, Tokyo Component, and Hakobo. (Peter Nicholson)

JAZZANOVA

Pink, Fri/20, 9 p.m.-4 a.m.

2925 16th St., SF. $20. (415) 431-8889 www.pinksf.com

DNA

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For proof – as if any is needed – that television is overwhelmingly a right-wing medium, one need only contemplate the manner in which DNA evidence is cited in the glut of true crime shows that crowd A&E, CourtTV, and other networks. Almost without fail, DNA is shown being used to convict the guilty. It is presented as proof that the legal system – with scientific help – is just and right.

Jessica Sanders’s new film, After Innocence, is devoted to the kind of true-life stories you probably won’t find on Cold Case Files. The DNA evidence here exonerates men who have been sentenced to life, men who’ve already spent decades in prison on false charges. With this type of subject matter, Sanders can’t help making an emotionally affecting movie.

But After Innocence also looks beyond the entwined grief and relief in these men’s lives to the bullheadedness of the system that put them there. For example, in the case of at least one of the film’s subjects, a prosecutor continually refutes seemingly irrefutable evidence because he can’t face up to the fact that he made a – knowing, not innocent – mistake at trial.

I’ve read reviews of After Innocence that complain that Sanders doesn’t stick to her theme – that her dedication to these men’s lives after imprisonment wavers, giving way to an advert-like portrait of prisoner’s-aid group the Innocence Project. These complaints from a too-literal view of Sanders’s title. After Innocence is by no means perfect, but its name refers not only to the lives of those exonerated but also – and just as crucially – to the actions of the criminal justice system. How will it treat a prisoner after his (or her) innocence has been established?

The answer isn’t a satisfying or inspiring one – it’s maddening. Quite often robbed of more than half their lives, the men of After Innocence are expected to be grateful that they’re "free" today. Compensation? Not a chance. Rather like a certain commander in chief, the legal and criminal-justice forces at play here consider themselves above even having to make an apology. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Behind and beyond bars

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Perhaps the best book written about a wrongly convicted man is Jack Olsen’s Last Man Standing, a chronicle of the 27 years Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt spent caged in a California prison thanks to crooked FBI agents and Los Angeles cops. The narrative starts with Pratt’s childhood in Louisiana, tracks his involvement in the Black Panther party and the decades he spent dwelling in the American gulag, and concludes with his triumphant release from prison thanks to the tireless lawyering of Stuart Hanlon and the late Johnnie Cochran. It’s a fucking amazing read – meticulously researched yet hyper-engrossing, torturous and ultimately uplifting.

But I’ve always had the nagging sensation that Olsen terminated his book at the perfect moment: before the homecoming euphoria wore off and the challenges and mundanity of day-to-day life set in. Can a person truly get on with his or her life when the authorities have stolen the vast bulk of it?

It’s the sort of question the makers of the documentary After Innocence put to eight men who were wrongfully sent to prison. The answers are, as a whole, tear-inducing – most of the men are grappling only semi-successfully with a callous world that’s done little to make them whole. Prison, as one man says, "breaks down your soul. It breaks down everything about you. It takes your manhood. It takes your pride. It takes your decency."

They find themselves struggling with the basics. They have trouble building lasting relationships with lovers. They have trouble finding jobs – how do you explain a 10- or 20-year blank spot on your résumé?

And at times they have trouble simply experiencing emotions. In what you’d expect to be an emotional highpoint, the film documents the release of Wilton Dedge, who is freed from a Florida prison after wrongly serving 22 years for sexual battery and burglary. But on his big day, Dedge looks uneasy and half-zombiefied, as if his decades in the joint have simply siphoned the life from him. It’s perhaps the most telling scene in a film filled with potent vignettes.

While tremendously powerful, After Innocence isn’t flawless. At times the movie is a little talking head-ish, telling viewers what they should think rather than letting them witness the stumblings and successes of the exonerated men. Overall, though, it’s a remarkable work – and one that deserves the widest audience possible. (A.C. Thompson)

AFTER INNOCENCE  Opens Fri/20  Lumiere Theatre  (415) 267-4893  Act 1 & 2  (510) 464-5980  Showtimes at www.sfbg.com  www.landmarktheatres.com  www.afterinnocence.com

Princess diaries

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Most teen starlets are probably satisfied to look their hottest on press junkets and don the cutest duds they can find at Fred Segal. But at 15, Q’Orianka Kilcher isn’t your average Teen Vogue pinup. Perhaps it’s indicative of the added expectations – and attendant ambitions – that come with playing Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s The New World, but Kilcher seemed to be firing on all cylinders, in terms of accomplishments, when she showed up at San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton in gorgeous multiskinned boots and a covetable leather jacket, both of which she made herself.

A dancer, musician, and singer, yet relatively untried in the movies, with only a small part in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas to her name, Kilcher – the daughter of a native Peruvian Quecha/Huachapaeri father and a Swiss-Alaskan mother – rose above the iconic demands of playing the metaphorically loaded yet still mysterious Indian princess with considerable charm, unstudied poise, and sweet naturalism on film. Bringing modern-dance moves and a watchful (and watchable) lightness to the first half of The New World, she holds her own when the stifling star power and narrative filter of Colin Farrell as John Smith falls away and Pocahontas and her sadly all-too-familiar story of a native woman’s tragic encounter with "old-world" colonizers move closer to the center of The New World.

Petite, simultaneously softer and rawer than Malick’s other girlish innocents (Sissy Spacek in Badlands and Linda Manz in Days of Heaven), and just as graceful in person as she is in front of the lens (except when she is later startled in the women’s room and then resembles a frightened doe in her buckskins), Kilcher seems to be handling the weighty burdens of representing a legendary figure (which included getting her first kiss, from Farrell) well, although a body can obviously only take so much. "Omigod, my back just … cracked!" she yelped, rising from her gilded nest of a settee.

SFBG: I found the Pocahontas story extremely moving because it reminded me of the sad stories of native Hawaiian royalty I’d hear growing up.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: I grew up in Hawaii! I lived there for six and a half years. We lived on the North Shore, Oahu, Kailua, Waikiki – omigod I’m forgetting the names – Wailua? I remember surfing, being at the beach every day, catching beautiful, tropical-looking fish.

SFBG: What were your impressions of Pocahontas before you took the role?

QK: I just knew the cartoon like everyone else. But when I went to Virginia, I did so much research. I learned her native language, Algonquian, and I can even speak it today. I immersed myself. The sets that Jack Fisk designed, as well as the clothing Jackie West made, really helped me to get lost in the 1600s and how life kind of was back then – the purity and delight and simplicity.

SFBG: The clothing conveys the character’s physical changes.

QK: It really does. When she’s in Virginia in her traditional tribal clothes, she holds the spirit of freedom and is able to move freely around, and when she moves to London and has the corset on, she’s very constricted. I went home and cried the first time I tried on my corset and my shoes. I had them put on my corset extra-too-tight and my shoes a size too small.

SFBG: What was the audition process like? Did you know who Terrence Malick was?

QK: I didn’t. I didn’t know who Colin Farrell was; Christian Bale, not too much. I must have done 15 to 20 auditions. I never knew what to expect, because they’d tell me to suddenly do a traditional feather dance or play my Native American flute. They would put all these obstacles in my path to see if I would withstand them and overcome them.

SFBG: What was the shoot like?

QK: It was an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes I would be crying for four or five hours straight – those were my favorite scenes to film, because I was able to throw my whole heart and soul into it and I wasn’t honestly sure in the beginning that I was able to pull those scenes off. So I’d kind of ask the spirit of Pocahontas to guide me and help me show her story as best as I could to the world.

SFBG: Did you feel any added pressure playing Pocahontas because she is such a symbol of …

QK: Peace.

SFBG: … and …

QK: Betrayal.

SFBG: And America.

QK: People have so many different views. Being a young girl myself – Pocahontas seeing a white person for the first time, with their armor and their white skin, never seeing them before, I think she would have perceived John Smith in a way like a god or spirit. So there was a little bit of a crush and [a] naïveté. Were she given the foresight to see what devastating consequences her actions and beliefs in the hopes for peace would have brought upon her own people, I think she would have gone away from [him]. I wanted to show Pocahontas’s story as best I could to the world and really do her justice because I fell in love with who she was. I thought she was an amazing, strong woman who wasn’t afraid to dream.

Native son

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The John Smith-Pocahontas romance has long been a cornerstone of America’s mythical landscape. He being the original Man Who Knows Indians (an archetype sealed by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans), and she standing in for the land itself: Embodying equal parts purity and promise, Pocahontas represents an ideal, a paradise. The myth of their doomed love speaks to how this paradise was won and then lost. It is a story that Terrence Malick – a writer-director whose work has always sloped toward myth and, in The Thin Red Line, epic poetry – has wanted to tap for decades and finally does in his strange new film, The New World.

The New World is the departure and even, perhaps, the failure that many critics were expecting from Malick’s comeback film, The Thin Red Line. Despite Line’s 170-minute running time, the writer-director’s take on James Jones’s panoramic World War II novel was every bit as entrancing as his revered earlier films (Badlands, Days of Heaven). The New World runs 135 minutes (the version I saw was actually 150 minutes: The movie was recut after already screening across the country), and, this time, Malick does seem to have sacrificed clarity and control for the sake of spectacle. Still, the movie is certainly an important addition to a powerfully coherent filmography. He retains his formidable talent for grounding his characters in a specific geography, and he remains refreshingly concerned with their interiority: Few movie characters have souls as deep as Malick’s.

The writer-director’s movies are all marked by a stark tension between hyperrealism and voice-over-laden stylization (a muted style being no less a style than a flashy one). Much has been made of Malick’s heavily researched, no-artificial-lighting depiction of Jonestown, and, indeed, the naturalistic, cinema verité rendering of America’s first colony is reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s lightning-bolt Aguirre: The Wrath of God (though Colin Farrell’s John Smith doesn’t have a hundredth the intensity of Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre). The film’s opening, which conveys the initial landing with Wagner-fueled bombast, is suitably revelatory and exemplary of Malick’s talent for lyricism.

With that said, there can, of course, be too much of a good thing. The depiction of Pocahontas and Smith’s courtship is almost insane in its unrelenting camera movements, flashes of elegiac sunlight, and impressionistic footage of plants – the scenes almost seem a parody of lyricism. The real problem here is that Malick’s aesthetic isn’t reigned in by a tight narrative construction (despite its expansive running time, The Thin Red Line never erred from a carefully plotted narrative mechanism). This Pocahontas is more human than her Disney counterpart (both because of Q’Orianka Kilcher’s performance and because the character receives a voice-over), but not enough to direct Malick’s labored gaze. By the time the story moves her to England with eventual husband John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and picks up some melodramatic heft from the heroine’s tragic arc, our attention has wavered too far for too long; the film’s many digressive passages fail to materialize into a whole.

Given how slippery The New World is, the film is set to solicit strong critical reactions. It’s indulgent and difficult to classify and will therefore push critics to extremes. In actuality, The New World really is what it seems: a fascinating failure with brilliant flourishes weighing against strained seriousness and muddled lyricism. As far as mythic American lovers in recent movies go, I think I’ll take Johnny and June over John and Pocahontas, but Malick’s vision still makes The New World worth a trip to the big screen. If the writer-director has finally stumbled, it proves what one might have guessed all along: that a Terrence Malick failure is many times more interesting than an average filmmaker’s success. While Malick might be misguided in trying to coax poetry out of a form – prestige Hollywood filmmaking – hardly known for being uncompromised, it’s difficult not to admire the ambition.

THE NEW WORLD  Opens Fri/20  Selected Bay Area theaters  For theater and show time info, go to www.sfbg.com www.thenewworldmovie.com

Class act

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With a new full-length on storied UK label Beggars Banquet in their present and a European tour with the National in their recent past, Bay Area band Film School might be assumed to have the world on a guitar string. But think again.

When I last spoke to them two years ago, founder-vocalist-guitarist Krayg Burton was bemoaning his broke state to guitarist-vocalist Nyles Lannon, beneath the posters of Malcolm "By Any Means Necessary" X and the other righteous underdogs at Café Macondo. Film School’s last recording, the EP Alwaysnever (Amazing Grease) had just come out, the tech bubble had burst, and the world was wide open, leaving Burton and Lannon to hawk their Web-related skills on their own.

Now here we are, in early January, tucked into the lamp-lit control room of drummer Donny Newenhouse’s Middle of the Mile basement studio in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Film School recorded about half of the new self-titled second album. The band has been awarded the gift-of-gab buzz at recent SXSWs, praised by NME, and described by BBC 6 host Steve Lemaq as his favorite new band. Next-level stuff. Now if only they can decide how best to approach a set list.

"We fight about the set list every night, every show," the laid-back Newenhouse says from behind the mixing board. He’s the A/V guy of Film School, according to his bandmates. "It’s like the A team – we’re pretty cool, unified, but …"

"We write the set list five minutes before we go on," interjects keyboardist Jason Ruck, Film School’s class clown. So there’s no room for dissention? "But then there is dissention, and we’re discussing it onstage when we’re supposed to be playing. That actually happened once in front of our label head." He looks pleased.

"It kind of ties into going to the next level," bassist Justin LaBo says, curled catlike in an easy chair in the corner. He’s the guy most likely to be expelled from Film School. "Not being, like, I don’t want to say, amateurs or rookies, but having your shit together, being confident and walking onstage knowing what you’re going to play, and not arguing onstage."

You’d be more pro and more polished, but perhaps less … interesting, I offer from the center of the Middle of the Mile booth. "That’s been the argument the whole time," Newenhouse exclaims, miming an irate bandmate. "<\!q>’I don’t want to be one of those fucking bands that has the same set every night and knows what they’re doing when they get onstage!'<\!q>"

"I kind of like winging it a bit," Burton mutters, the "tenured teacher with the vodka in the coffee cup" at this Film School.

"I want to have a rotating set list, written in stone," Newenhouse continues, half-self-mockingly pretending to carry stone tablets engraved with songs to a stage. "<\!q>’Here’s the 10 commandments’ – straight down from the dressing room every night. It’ll be like Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge – we can have midgets dance around them."

Spitballs aside, it’s comforting to know that some things never quite change – be it Film School’s collective, self-deprecating sense of humor or their honest, exploratory doubts – even as one chapter ends and the band appears to be on the brink of graduating into some sort of big time.
GENUINELY GORGEOUS

At first listen, the new Film School is almost off-puttingly polished: It’s one of the best-sounding self-produced, headphones-only albums by a local band I’ve heard of late, blending the poppier hook-and-groove singles-craft of "On and On" and the elastic, massive, 4AD-ish groove of "Pitfalls" with gorgeous wall-of-psych longer pieces such as the airy, multitextured, Floyd-drenched "He’s a Deep Deep Lake," and "11:11," which moves from an almost early U2-like twitch into glitched-up drone before finally ascending into a dervish of guitar noise.

The mixture of tones was deliberate. "We actually value a record that comes from different directions and has a different sound here and there, as long as it’s cohesive, and we spent a lot of time trying to make it cohesive," wise man on campus Lannon says, sprawled in a lounger. "The record actually has, I think, a unique flow to it. It kind of takes you on this ride."

Just don’t call them "shoegazer." "We just like [My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless] because it’s really textured and spacey, not because it’s guys in bowl cuts staring at their shoes," LaBo gripes.
LONG TIME COMING

Much like their six-minute singles, it took a while to get to Film School. The band that began in 2001 as a live ensemble charged with playing ex-Pinq member Burton’s first Film School self-released album, Brilliant Career, has since become a full-fledged collaborative entity, with plenty of production experience courtesy of Lannon, LaBo, and longtime Bottom of the Hill soundperson Newenhouse (who replaced Ben Montesano in Film School when the latter got married about a year ago). Lannon has worked as Azusa Plane and N.Lannon, LaBo has recorded as Technicolor, and Newenhouse has drummed with Holly Golightly and Hammerdown Turpentine.

They started working on Film School in 2004, turning to three different producers before finally deciding to do it themselves in Newenhouse’s studio, where they cut five newer songs and mixed in older dreamier material recorded in Lannon’s bedroom.

"We actually wasted six month’s worth of time on one song," Newenhouse says. "That was a real drag. Technically, it was difficult. I think [the producer’s] idea of what he wanted it to sound like didn’t really mesh with ours. That’s when we realized we should just do this ourselves."

"I haven’t been back here since we recorded," Burton marvels from the corner, a stocking cap pulled over his ears. "I’m starting to remember those eight-hour days, looking round here – it’s like, oh god."

Since the album spans such a long period, one wouldn’t expect the songs to have much in common with each other, though Burton swears they do: "Maybe there’s a little bit of a theme about trying to move forward and feeling a little stuck." And perhaps that has something to do with the long, drawn-out making of Film School? "Maybe!" he says. "I think it might be just getting older and trying to make those next steps in life."

Beggars Banquet first made contact with Film School’s manager two years ago when the band played with TV on the Radio in the UK. It took about a year of e-mails and talk before a deal was struck, around the time when the album was completed. "It took basically all of last year until the dust settled," Lannon says. "Is it even settled yet? I don’t even know. On this last tour we were like OK, it’s official, right? We’re spending money, this advance. I think once the money is in your account, the thing is really happening."

"It’s weird to be working with a label that isn’t worried about going out of business. Not having this dark cloud over you the whole time," Lannon continues, mimicking an imaginary imprint. "<\!q>’Urrrrr, rock music. Records just don’t sell like they used to.’ That’s every other label we talked to. It’s just a recurring theme that you hear as a person in the indie rock world. Every label you talk to has that, starts with that ‘Feel sorry for me, I’m a label’ sob story. But Beggars has figured it out; they’ve been around for a while – it’s a nice situation."

"We can exhale a little," Burton adds gently.

"Now we just have to play well every night!" Ruck cracks.

FILM SCHOOL  Jan. 26, 6 p.m.  Amoeba Music  1855 Haight, SF  Free  (415) 831-1200  With Sound Team and Citizens Here and Abroad  Jan. 26, 9 p.m.  Bottom of the Hill  1233 17th St., SF  $10  (415) 474-0365

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DO NEW MEDIA move more quickly? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s media arts curator, Benjamin Weil, will officially resign Sept. 3. Starting at the museum in 1999 at the zenith of the dot-com boom, Weil was responsible for commissioning well-regarded pieces by Christian Marclay and Pipilotti Rist, whose work is on view until August. He also reinstated the film program and presented numerous sound projects at the museum. He’ll see through upcoming shows featuring Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy and six works by Gary Hill, which open in February and March 2005, respectively. But Weil will devote most of his time to Eyebeam, a think tank-like art space in New York City where he’s served part-time as curatorial chair since 2003. The serious multitasker is also curating Villette Num&ea cute;rique 2004, a Paris-based new media festival that opens this fall.

I was lucky enough to go on a recent hard-hat tour of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, and I have to report that the building will be a breathtaking surprise when it opens next fall. Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron’s vision melds with the park location, not to mention the northern California landscape – the copper surface suits the atmosphere, while the inset windows and courtyards allow for the park to be almost omnipresent. And the view from the much-contested tower? A stunning 360 degrees! The larger interior does raise an important question, though: can the de Young’s curating choices live up to this new and improved structure? Stay tuned.

‘Winner’ takes all

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IF YOU CONSIDER  it amazing that New York Times best-selling author Augusten Burroughs was able to maintain a lucrative job in advertising while consuming enough alcohol nightly to poison a small town (see the opening pages of Dry), consider the talents of Evelyn Ryan, who, through the ’50s and ’60s, not only supplied America’s merchants with enough advertising jingles to last the century but also raised a family of 10 while avoiding the wrath of a husband who also consumed enough alcohol nightly to poison his own small town. Unlike Burroughs, Ryan never really did get rich off her advertising campaigns – she won just enough prize money to keep her family fed and housed, and her husband never quite made it into rehab. But her daughter, Terry Ryan, did write a winning memoir about her mother’s startling and subversive stay-at-home career conquering the jingle contests popular at the time. And this weekend Ryan’s memoir hits its own jackpot, as the Jane Anderson-directed film of the book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, opens. Anderson (the TV director of Normal, as well as the 1961 segment of If These Walls Could Talk and When Billy Beat Bobby) turns the perky pre-post-feminist into a model of good-humored heroism.

The leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree. Despite her recent diagnosis with stage-four cancer, Terry Ryan, a tech writer and cartoonist who lives in Noe Valley with her longtime partner, Pat Holt, former book review editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, amiably entertained journalists from a room at the Ritz-Carlton a few weeks back. She said she was incredibly happy with the film, though she can barely remember it; she says she was too amazed by Julianne Moore’s re-creation of her mother to concentrate. The most difficult aspect of the whole project, she says, was the death of her mother, which led to the discovery of the vast jingle archive she used for her memoir research. In her papers, Terry Ryan also found evidence of her mother’s real poetry – witty rejoinders to poems by the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay – as well as the rhymes that paid the milkman and the mortgage, like "For chewy, toothsome, wholesome goodness / Tootsie Rolls are right – / Lots of nibbling for a nickel / And they show me where to bite."

Like her resourceful mother, the younger Ryan is also a poet (published), and, following in family tradition, she too found her way to the contesting world. One of her most memorable wins? A Bay Guardian cartoon contest more than 25 years ago. (Susan Gerhard)

‘The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio’ opens Fri/30 at Bay Area theaters. See Movie Clock, in film listings, for showtimes.

Warriors, stay in and playiyay!

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AN ENTIRE GENERATION was introduced to the 1979 cult classic film The Warriors in 1993 when Ol’ Dirty Bastard warbled "Warriors, come out and playiyay!" on Wu Tang’s "Shame on a Nigga." That’s why I rented it. It was one in a long string of rentals prompted by the Wu, and just like Shaolin vs. the Wu Tang, Shogun Assassin, and Master Killer, it was great. Now the most controversial company in video gaming has made a game based on The Warriors. Yes, the company that brought Grand Theft Auto to the world and prompted Hillary Clinton to declare war on vulgar video games, is at it again. As expected, The Warriors (Rockstar Games; PS2 and Xbox) is chock full of violence, street culture, swear words, and antisocial missions. The game loosely follows the movie with recognizable scenes and characters popping in and out, but unlike the movie, it is pretty monotonous: How many hobos and hookers do you have to mug to prove you’re capable of strong-arming digital victims, especially when there’s no variation or challenge in the act? And swearing? Unless there are hidden new swears that were recently invented, I’ve heard and grown bored with them. The fighting engine is pretty simple and easy to use: Kick, punch, and grab buttons allow you to kick, punch, knee, and throw people. It’s somewhat cumbersome and generally leads to button-mashing, but if you have patience and press buttons in certain sequences or twice in a row, special moves occur. Rembrandt, the new blood, sprays paint in his enemy’s face while yelling, "In your face!" Ouch. The game starts a few months before The Warriors are framed for killing gang kingpin Cyrus, which is when the movie begins. The story mode leads you through missions that involve tagging, jumping in new members, and other junk. Unlockable levels reveal the backstory and history of The Warriors. Rumble mode features minigames and a Create a Gang feature. A two-player mode allows you to play through the game with your best pal. Rival gangs like the Satan’s Mothers present all kinds of problems, but you’ll be all right. Each level has you play as a different character, which is great. Playing Rembrandt is the best because you get to tag walls. Tagging is accomplished by navigating a spray can over an on-screen pattern with the analog stick. If you veer from the line, the stick vibrates and paint is wasted. To get more spray paint, you just buy it from a guy on the street, which is totally realistic. To get money to buy paint, you can steal car radios, rob stores, and mug people. If you manage to get whooped by a rival gang while tagging, mugging, or looting and you find yourself lying lifelessly on the ground with a red cross floating above you, a fellow Warrior will revive you if you have Flash, a street drug easily purchased from drug dealers hidden in dark alleys. If I saw my niece playing this game, initially I would want to murder the game designers, but then I’d come to the conclusion that if a kid is stupid enough to want to buy drugs because he/she saw them restore his/her health in a video game, that kid is probably a moron and should be on drugs. In GTA you hump hookers to restore your health; in The Warriors, you do drugs. Big deal; Rockstar loves shocking people. Sex and drugs? Dudley Moore desensitized us to those long ago. Video game voice-overs have improved dramatically in the last few years. This game features great voice actors, including DMC, Aesop Rock, and some people from the original film. The city walls feature art by artists like Futura 2000 and DONDI (RIP), and SEEN’s Hand of Doom car is in the game. The soundtrack is an eerie horror drone occasionally interrupted by rock and soul songs. (Nate Denver)

‘MirrorMask’

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EVEN IF YOU aren’t familiar with any of MirrorMask’s touchstones

Little girls lost

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FREQUENT VIEWERS OF the Lifetime Movie Network know it, as do the producers of Nancy Grace’s eponymous “debate” show: Barring the availability of a convenient serial killer (or killer storm), nothing draws viewers like missing children. Sure, war violence is scary, but kidnappings, which are seemingly more frequent and inevitable than ever, are in many ways far scarier. You can almost feel the parental paranoia spike with every new AMBER Alert.

In Flightplan Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a jacked-up Lifetime mom who faces not just stranger danger but also terrorism when her six-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), implausibly vanishes aboard a jumbo jet. The small family is traveling from Berlin to New York with a tragic mission: to bury Dad, whose coffin is loaded into the plane’s belly as Julia solemnly watches. Director Robert Schwentke, working from a script by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Peter A. Dowling, foreshadows gleefully, playing off travel fears in the manner of another recent in-flight thriller, Red Eye. Not only is there a group of Arab men aboard (who will later be harassed by a frantic Kyle, who declares she doesn’t care about being politically incorrect), but the plane takes off amid icy, unsettling weather conditions. Above and beyond all that, Schwentke establishes a general air of danger that cloaks Kyle from the start

Film: Critic’s Choice: ‘San Francisco’s Broken Promise’

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Thurs/29, Delancey Street Screening Room

WHEN A GROUP  of Modesto Junior College students began looking into what Bay Guardian editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann calls "the biggest scandal in American history involving a city," most of them knew nothing about Hetch Hetchy Valley, and none of them had ever heard of the Raker Act. But spurred by a series of Bay Guardian stories and led by their instructor, Carol Lancaster Mingus, a veteran public television producer, they spent 17 weeks researching the story, doing interviews, and putting together archival footage. The result, San Francisco’s Broken Promise, is a remarkably clear, cogent account of how Pacific Gas and Electric Co. kept public power out of San Francisco. In just half an hour, the documentary summarizes one of the great stories in the city’s history, hitting all the major points. It describes how the fight over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley was the first major nationwide environmental battle, how the Sierra Club and John Muir fought to save the spectacular twin of Yosemite Valley twin, and how Congress agreed to let San Francisco build the dam, but only with a very specific condition: The dam had to generate electricity, and that cheap, public power had to be used to keep PG&E’s monopoly out of town. Obviously, the Bay Guardian (and its editor-publisher) play a key role in the doc. But the real star is Joe Neilands, the retired UC Berkeley biochemistry professor who first got onto the story in 1969. Neilands describes in his calm, soft-spoken way how the entire premise behind the Raker Act has been actively violated for more than 80 years. In the end, the film is a bit soft on the "restore Hetch Hetchy" movement, which wants to tear down the dam (a move that would be a deadly blow to public power in the city). And I would have loved to see some Michael Moore-style confrontations of PG&E executives and key public officials (like US senator, and former SF mayor, Dianne Feinstein, who figures prominently in the story but gets away with simply "declining comment." But Mingus and the student crew do a fine job of telling a complex tale without the use of a narrator, just splicing together a series of interviews. The film provides a wonderful public service: It gives a solid primer on the immensely complicated story of a scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars – and does it in a way that’s entertaining, understandable, and wrapped up in a 30-minute package. Screening this week as part of the San Francisco World Film Festival, San Francisco’s Broken Promise ought to be aired on KQED, on local cable, and in classrooms and meeting rooms all over the city, and it ought be considered a mandatory part of any local activist’s basic political education. Thurs/29, 5 p.m., 600 Embarcadero, SF. $10. Festival runs Thurs/29-Sun/2; call (415) 725-0009 or go to www.sfworldfilmfestival.com/festival.html for a complete schedule. (Tim Redmond)

Army of glum

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ANY GIVEN FIVE minutes of Battlefield 2 (Electronic Arts) play can resemble the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. You’re riding in an amphibious tank with your squad across enemy waters. Rumbles from explosions start getting louder and closer. Stray bullets hit the tank’s armor and the water outside. Suddenly you’re on land, the tank stops, and your squad leader yells, "Move!" over your headset. You jump out into utter chaos, bullets flying everywhere, your teammates falling around you. You run for cover as a stray grenade explosion blurs your vision and rings in your ears. With a giant whoosh, a support bomber passes overhead and takes out some enemy tanks. You blitz the checkpoint, trying to pick off remaining defenders and hoping you didn’t miss anyone in the huts that you’re sprinting past.

One of the most realistic war-themed action games ever made, rivaled only by its predecessors, Battlefield 1942 (EA) and Battlefield Vietnam (EA), BF2 is rightfully one of the most popular action games in the country today. It seamlessly integrates land, sea, and air vehicles into lush, photo-realistic maps where trees shake from the force of chopper propellers and snipers hide in swaying blades of grass. And the game play is just as slick as the graphics, allowing you to coordinate complicated team strategies through a simple command system and speak with your squad mates if you have a mic with your computer. The most dynamic part of the game stresses teamwork. Because of its massive strategic depth, if you want to accomplish anything other than annoying people online, you’ll have to work with your team to capture checkpoints and win matches – a feat never quite achieved on this level by other games.

This is the game I dreamed of when I was a kid playing Rogue Spear and Counter-Strike, diet versions of this action-packed feast. But that was before the current ridiculous war and all the oh-my-god footage coming back on television and in films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Gunner Palace. As the previous games in the series did with WWII and Vietnam, BF2 trivializes the trauma of our current war in Iraq – and a possible future war with China – by making it into entertainment.

The game claims to sidestep politics by presenting a fictional conflict between a hypothetical Middle East Coalition (MEC), China, and the US Marines. The MEC and China switch off battling an invasive United States for strategic checkpoints that your team must camp at for a certain amount of time to gain control of. From the opening cutscene that plays like an action movie with all its destruction-glorifying grandeur, it’s clear that only a nation-player with the will to achieve total military dominance over other countries – and a complete ignorance of the ramifications for the people in those conquered countries – could take pleasure in acting out these scenarios. I’m glad most gamers playing BF2 probably don’t have firsthand experience with military oppression, but games such as this present a disconnect between reality and fantasy that contributes to the acceptance of US military actions.

After 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s safe to say that we’ve ceased to live in a bubble. Yet, although BF2 is just a game, its release at a time when 30 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq are reporting mental health issues stemming from the horrors they’ve witnessed, is a sign that our entertainment-industrial complex has shirked its responsibility by uncritically celebrating a very complicated issue, however inadvertently.

The problem is that the premise for war games acts as its own excuse. Nina Huntemann, director of the 2000 film Game Over: Gender, Race and Violence in Video Games, describes how some military games rely on the narrative of neutralizing a terrorist threat without questioning what makes someone a "terrorist" or why we should "neutralize" them. Though BF2 includes little narrative, the idea that there could possibly be a military conflict between the Middle East, China, and the United States is so obvious and predetermined that none of these types of questions even come to mind.

I don’t fault Digital Illusions, BF2’s developer: It’s difficult to sell sensitivity, but it’s easy to sell explosions. I blame a general immersion in entertainment that is predicated on the lie that fantasy is divorced from reality. The fantasy that we are removed from the war in Iraq is one of the things that allows the reality of it to continue.

Video games haven’t just become more like war – war has become like video games. I’ll never forget the moment in Fahrenheit 9/11 when a kid talks about how he listens to the Bloodhound Gang while he sits in his tank and shoots at people. That sounds a lot like what you do in BF2. The war in Iraq is at least partly being fought by kids whose first ideas of war were shaped by video game simulations before they experienced the reality. Like the tactics of dehumanizing the enemy to ease the ethical hang-ups involved in killing them, this extra layer of detachment enables kids to reconcile participating in potentially traumatic events.

Even the US Army actively tries to sell war as a video game. Recently I’ve caught Army recruitment commercials of guys working at computers and coordinating attacks from the comfort of a tent, perpetuating the idea that war can be fought on a flat screen without real-world messiness. Naturally, BF2’s commander screen, on which you can zoom in on different parts of the map and order squad movements or artillery strikes, looks a lot like the graphics flying around an Army commercial.

The Army also invested more than $6 million in a g ame called America’s Army, which it released for free over the Internet in August 2002, less than a year after 9/11 and seven months before war was declared on Iraq. Possibly one of the most sinister forms of propaganda to fly under the media’s radar, America’s Army essentially indoctrinates players into military life through a graphically advanced action game. Openly billed as a recrui tment tool, the game has players make their way through virtual boot camp and then move on to military operations.

Of course, games have always revolved around war and violence, from dodgeball to capture the flag. War is about strategy, problem-solving, and competition, just like most video games. Its popularity as a theme for video games is no surprise, just as it’s no surprise the Army wants to tap into that recruiting pool. These games aren’t desensitizing kids to real violence or instilling them with a lust for it. But the games’ latent values feed an unquestioning acceptance of the United States’ current militarism and normalize it for future generations. I don’t know if we – or the world – can afford another detached generation. Until we find a way to give kids, and, for that matter, adults, a real context for the fantasies provided by the entertainment industry, the enabling disconnect will continue.

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

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EVER SINCE THAT fateful day on the family farm when our stud calf Beauregard threw me from his back and rammed me several times against a large oak, giving me one heck of a concussion, I knew I was destined to become a leather queen. I was only 11 at the time, and the options were few for actual experience, but dammit — if I couldn’t have the sex, then at least I’d have the outfits. “And what are you?” my innocent neighbors would ask when they opened their doors at Halloween. “I’m Freddie Mercury!” I’d reply with a wiggle of my little homemade chaps (Hefty bags and duct tape) for emphasis. And then they’d give me candy.

Nowadays everyone’s got to have at least one kinky fetish on their sexual resume — thanks, Madonna — yet often the men, women, and “other” of that twisted tribe known as the Leather Community still get a bad rap, especially among young gay club patrons. Part of this is fear, of course: Doesn’t all that pain hurt a little? And part of it is shame: The leather generation that came of age in the ’70s and ’80s has had to shoulder not just the burdens of age and rejection, but also a ridiculous cross between jealousy for living through the hedonistic homo heyday and blame for AIDS. And then, of course, there’s the primal terror of turning into one of those old men with cottage-cheese buttocks and a basketball belly who strut around the Eagle wearing nothing but rainbow flip-flops and a leash.

Oh sure, we’ll let them take us home and spank us on weeknights, but when we see them at the disco, we just shudder and throw shade.

In response, it seems, the leather queens closed ranks. No longer feeling welcome, they became a kind of secret society in the ’90s. Once-omnipresent social institutions like the Imperial Court of San Francisco and the Rainbow Motorcycle Club went underground ��� and, sadly, saw their profiles dwindle. Tight-knit contingents like Mama’s Family and the Men of Discipline sprang up, with their unique rituals and dress codes, shunning the clubs in favor of charity Golden Gate potlucks, cabaret fundraisers, and converted-garage play parties promoting safe-sex awareness. (Leatherfolk are all about the benefits, these days.) The sash circuit moved to the suburbs. Half the community morphed into bears. Even the dawn of the Internet connection only increased the generation gap.

But as the first Arab American leather hip-hop disco clubkid muppet queer San Francisco Drummer Boy 2001 (runner-up), I feel it’s my deep responsibility and honorable duty to reprazent my peeps in the hide. If there’s one thing my leather dad (love you, Ray) taught me, it’s respect, and if there’s another, it’s how to keep from passing out after hanging upside-down for 40 minutes. It’s time for all this nonsense to stop. This year may have seen three more local leather haunts — Loading Dock, My Place, and Club Rendez-Vous — close to become upscale, straight-type martini lounges; the baths are still outlawed; and creepy tweekers have invaded the sex clubs; but the leather lifestyle is still brilliant and vital, bouncing back up through the queer underground and swelling its ranks with curious alternaqueers and radical faeries, who fetishize being open-minded.

Today, the only places the whole queer community can come together regularly are our precious few leather bars. Daddy’s, Aunt Charlie’s, Marlena’s, and The Eagle have all undergone recent renaissances, fueled by a combo of renegade young promoters, indulgent owners, and a healthy new lust for the underground. Where else can beef and chicken meet? Not to mention old punks, baby dykes, hustlers, drag queens, bull daggers, grandpas, gymbots, ex-clones, Aberzombies, club kids, A-gays, bikers, circuit boiz, transgendered hotties, Log Cabin Republicans, and the odd closeted TV anchorman. It seems the more the mainstream media bleaches out our filthy abominations, the more we return to our fruitful past, when lust was the glue that held us together, and abomination was a kind of gang handshake. We may be more diverse than ever, but leather’s still our common ground.

Daddy’s. Daily, 9 a.m.-2 a.m., 440 Castro, SF. (415) 621-8732, www.daddysbar.com.

Marlena’s. Mon.-Fri., 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-2 a.m., 488 Hayes, SF. (415) 864-6672.

Aunt Charlie’s. Mon.-Fri., noon-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-2 a.m., 133 Turk, SF. (415) 441-2922, www.auntcharlieslounge.com.

The Eagle Tavern. Daily, noon-2 a.m., 398 12th St., SF. (415) 626-0880, www.sfeagle.com.

E-mail Marke B. at superego@sfbg.com.