SFBG Blogs

Festival-sized doses of art, food, and technology at Portland’s TBA fest

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As the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) presented the 12th iteration of the Time-Based Art Festival September 11-21, two newer festivals (Feast Portland and XOXO) also peppered the Rose City with foodie events and tech talk galore.

TBA, under the artistic direction of Angela Mattox, formerly the performing arts curator at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, emphasized music and vocal experiments in this year’s program. The international festival is distinct in its presenting platform and density of experimental performance, making it well worth the hour flight to Oregon from San Francisco.

The rather utopian format of a 10-day art binge features rigorous lunchtime conversations about artist processes and concepts, a stacked lineup of daily performances, visual art, and film at venues across the city, and a beer garden for late-night gatherings and conversation, serving as a hub for artists and attendees to mix and digest the work. Additionally compatible with certain Bay Area sensibilities are the possibilities of experiencing the festival by bike and sampling the city’s somewhat precious cuisine, coffee and beer. (Of course, Portland loves to start happy hour at 3pm.)

There’s a choreography to the festival, allowing a sequence of works to rub against each other. After an initial weekend featuring music, sound, and body-based performance, Sept. 15 brought the first text-based work of the festival via a one-woman show. The week moved into personal and self-reflexive modes of storytelling and rounded out with productions of experimental theater tackling rather epic themes such as human evolution and post-traumatic societies.

“We are here for such a short time. We are not supposed to be struggling in our flesh,” Tanya Tagaq commented during her artist conversation. She discussed the release of control as a healing process and her performance was the walk to her talk. Tagaq, who last appeared in San Francisco with the Kronos Quartet in 2012, expanded the Inuit art of throat singing during a highly improvised performance in concert with Robert Flaherty’s seminal silent film Nanook of the North (1922). Tagaq, with violinist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin, appeared barefoot, frequently assuming a wide stance as she projected her forcefully rhythmic and breathy vocals. Her fully embodied song responded to the vintage footage of an Inuk family projected behind the musicians. The semi-documentary illuminates the harmony and struggle of living off the Arctic land with images of seal hunting, igloo building and child rearing.

Maya Beiser was among the abundant female artists in this year’s festival lineup. A founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Beiser performed Uncovered: electric cello arrangements of cover tunes including Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Like Tagaq, the glamourous Beiser employed the moving image, playing downstage of a film by Bill Morrison. 

These highly visual music performances bookended a sold-out performance by Tim Hecker, a Canadian noise artist who performed in a darkened house, his arms on the soundboard barely visible. (Gray Area Art and Technology presented Hecker’s San Francisco debut in July.) The darkness amplified visceral and sonic elements of his drones and melodies, a sound bath which rattled the shirt on my body. Hecker’s immersive stasis and wall of sound provided a deviant TBA moment. Resonance over meaning. I wanted to be closer and standing.

The life stories of seniors, both speculative and real, were also featured. Mammalian Diving Reflex’s All the Sex I’ve Ever Had illuminated decades of true stories about intimacy, old age and life milestones revealed by a handful of willing Portland seniors. Cynthia Hopkins’s A Living Documentary took the form of a solo musical in which Hopkins played an elderly experimental performing artist reflecting on her lifetime creating art in a capitalist society. 

“It’s called show business, not show vacation!” Hopkins wailed. Her narrative about labor, resource, and occupation situated artists at the center of the festival, providing the lens of an elderly maker. She was a hobo. Ingredients of the lifestyle included vodka, birth control, and antidepressants. Hopkins brilliantly employed the palatable storytelling devices of the musical — an underdog who moved through adversity — to tell a depressing story audiences may not want to hear. Hopkins’s character mused about her “impulse to do something not about survival” but rather purpose, meaning and identity.

Costume and makeup changes occurred seamlessly onstage. She shined as a rousing motivational consultant telling artists to grow some “spiritual testicles” as they navigate their business. In the end Hopkins walked away from her art, however there are no clean breaks from trajectories lived for decades. 

The Works served as the site of Jennifer West’s PICA-commissioned Flashlight Filmstrip Projections installation. During the performances, which activated the work, a team of artists carrying flashlights illuminated the suspended filmstrips to Jesse Mejia’s live synthesizer soundscape. The flowing white dress worn by Connie Moore performing Loie Fuller’s Serpentine Dance in the center of the space served as an additional projection surface. A deep sense of ritual and archive emerged with the cinematic fragments and live re-performance of a historic choreographic work.

Also at the Works, San Francisco artist Larry/Laura Arrington instigated an iteration of SQUART! (Spontaneous Queer Art), which challenged community participants to rapidly create a work performed the same evening. Bay Area artists including Jesse Hewit, Jess Curtis and Rachael Dichter were among the participants. The routines, which included a jump rope, a small dog and plenty of other tasks and antics, were evaluated live by a team of judges from the art world.

Returning to my bike from Pepper Pepper’s glitterfied Critical Mascara “A Post-Realness Drag Ball” at the Works, I passed another warehouse, the Redd, with similar outdoor food vendors, twinkly lights, and a beer garden atmosphere. This hub belonged to the XOXO Festival. Now in its third year, the conference (Sept 11-14), founded by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, bills itself as “An experimental festival celebrating independently-produced art and technology”.

Further up the street at Holocene I encountered XOXO attendees gathered for evening music programming. They flashed their orange badges to listen to a lineup of bands including Yacht, John Roderick and Sean Nelson, Nerf Herder, Vektroid, and DJ Magic Beans. XOXO is a closed affair, selling out tickets months prior. According to the Verge, “The number of people who experience XOXO in person is small: the festival is limited to 1,000 attendees, including 750 with all-access passes, and 250 who attend nighttime events but not the talks during the day.”

It was clear after speaking to several delegates at Holocene that few were aware they were blocks away from the dense batch of experimental artists at TBA. I can imagine these guys (and yes most of them were guys) enjoying sound artists like Tim Hecker presented by PICA this year. If XOXO is truly interested in cross field collaborations and self-identifies as an art and technology conference, I hope they consider how to work in conjunction with some of the risk-taking artists with wild imaginations at the simultaneous art festival, TBA, which has been running four times as long in Portland with an international reach.

Trendy food items like pork and the Negroni had moments in the spotlight at a third September festival, Feast Portland, presented by Bon Appetit Sept. 17-20. Founded in 2012 by Mike Thelin and Carrie Welch, Feast Portland highlights local culinary leaders and the bounty of the Pacific Northwest along with top chefs from across the country. And may your conscience be clear while you are possibly pigging out on pig – net proceeds of Feast go toward ending childhood hunger through Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and Share Our Strength.

Talent came from as far as Dallas and Atlanta to compete among 14 top chefs facing the challenge of the Widmer Brothers Sandwich Invitational at downtown Portland’s Director Park. Before the lines got long, I visited local favorites including Lardo’s Rick Gencarelli and Salt & Straw’s Tyler Malek (who was making a PB and J with brioche, jelly, and peanut butter ice cream). With three festivals providing such a dense convergence of art, food and technology, one thing’s for sure: September in Portland was made for San Franciscans.

For another take on the 2014 TBA Festival, check out Robert Avila’s piece here.

The Aislers Set reunion welcomed with open arms, nostalgia at The Chapel

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By Rebecca Huval

After an 11-year hiatus, dream-pop lovables The Aislers Set played to a sold-out room swooning with nostalgia at The Chapel Sunday night.

Singer-songwriter AV Linton sang catchy melodies backed by a curtain of reverb and Yoshi Nakamoto’s chest-thumping, punk-infused drumbeats. Unlike the typical audience of young rapscallions drawn to Valencia, this late ‘90s band surfaced the 30- and 40-year-olds — and even had them jumping and dancing past 11pm on a Sunday.

In the late ‘90s and early aughts, the San Francisco-based Aislers Set drew comparisons to contemporaries Belle and Sebastian, and toured with Sleater Kinney and Yo La Tengo. But after Linton burned out on tour, the band went bust about a decade ago, much to the chagrin of its Bay Area and international fans, with members dispersing to New York, Germany, and Sweden.

But The Aislers Set is back — at least for now. Though Linton has moved back to California, the band’s members still span the states and Europe. They reissused 1998’s Terrible Things Happen and 2000’s The Last Match on Sept. 23, and they’ll reissue 2002’s How I Learned To Write Backwards on Oct.14, all via Slumberland.

On Sunday night, as a familiar chord broke the silence, the crowd clapped and laughed with relief, as if the distance between now and that year when they first heard the song had just dissolved. They were transported. Linton and Alicia Vanden Heuvel wore roomy T-shirts and sneakers, and they sounded as comfortable in their voices as they were in their clothes — not overly performative, but beautiful in the basics. They harmonized, occasionally going slightly out of key, but in a way that lent truthfulness to their anguished lyrics.

“I was so mistreated when you danced with me,” Linton sang to Nakamato’s deceptively cheerful beats and the trill of a tambourine. At the end of “I’ve Been Mistreated,” the crowd chanted “Yoshi, Yoshi!”

After a broken amp in the beginning of the set, the band smoothed out its kinks and had commandeered the audience’s hearts by halfway through. The wandering guitar riffs and piercing trumpet lines of “Mission Bells” filled the room, thrusting several fists into the air. Occasionally, an organist would pop up to play jingle bells or the glockenspiel, often in time to the disco lights sparkling around the ceiling.

Throughout the set, The Aislers Set exuded polite wholesomeness. Vanden Heuvel exclaimed “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday night!” and threw her arms akimbo, as if she was about to hug the crowd. When she accidentally spoke over Wyatt Cusick, she said, “Oh, sorry to interrupt you!”

Then, Wyatt introduced the one song he sang, the sweet “Chicago, New York,” by saying, “It’s so nice to have so many people ask to play your only song.”

After a decade away from their fans, The Aislers Set seemed genuinely grateful to be back. And we were happy to have them.

Ralph Nader writes a letter to Rep. John Boehner

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September 22, 2014

Dear Speaker Boehner,

While millions of hardworking Americans are working more and more for less and less, you and your House of Representatives seem to have no problem working less and less for more and more.

If a mother of one in Butler County, Ohio — your home county — working at the Ohio minimum wage ($7.95 per hour) wanted to make a living wage — according to MIT’s Living Calculator for the county — she would have to work 88 hours a week, which adds up to a little over 12 hours of work per day, 7 days a week. You once defended the placement of Ten Commandments on public property. If this mother wanted to obey the Fourth Commandment — “Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy” — by not working one day a week, she would have to work over 14 hours per day, leaving her with only two hours left to spend with her child, given eight hours of sleep. For millions of Americans, the fair deal of eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours of discretionary time has been broken.

Meanwhile, the work schedule of you and your fellow Representatives cannot be more different. You took a month in August off, as well as the first week in September. Last week you worked a four day week to start the month and then another four in the second week, and then cancelled a four day session that was set to begin on September 29. As one count pointed out, over the course of 103 days between the start of August and the middle of November, you will have been in session for eight days. You are out of control. Give a listen to Republican Rep. David Jolly:

“I believe in the radical notion that Congress should work. Congress should govern. And Congress should work more, not less…By increasing the days that we are in session, I believe we will create an environment where Republicans, Democrats and Independents can work together, substantively, thoroughly, and with great deliberation. We will create a Congress that works.” (http://1.usa.gov/1obUcMi)

Congresspersons are paid $174,000 a year, meaning that your pro-rated salary for 103 days of the year is $49,101. Presuming a 10-hour work day during those eight hard days of work in September, you earned the following hourly wage: $614 per hour. That mother of one making the Ohio minimum wage of $7.95 in Butler County would have to work 77 hours to make the $614 hourly wage for your colleagues during your September House session. (This is all without mentioning that specifically you, as Speaker of the House, make $223,500 a year, meaning you make $63,070 during this 103-day period this fall: a $788 per hour wage for your eight days in session, which would take the Butler County mother of one working minimum wage 99 hours of work to catch up to your earnings for one hour of work.)

If the 1968 minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.92 per hour, over three dollars higher than the paltry $7.25 per hour level to which Congress has let it erode. Should not hard, full-time work pay at least as much as minimum wage workers made 46 years ago? As twenty-six Republicans, spearheaded by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, wrote in a 2006 letter to you when you were Majority Leader urging you to raise the minimum wage: “nobody working full time should have to live in poverty.”

Yet you continue to prevent even a House floor vote on raising the minimum wage — a cause that is supported by a large majority of Americans. It’s time to ask yourself: while you and your colleagues make over $600 per hour of in-session work between August and November this year, do not the hard working low-wage Americans who cook, clean, farm, serve and care for people like you deserve a vote on restoring their minimum wage to its mid-century inflation-adjusted level?

Why don’t you ask the people back in your Congressional District — residents of Troy, Hamilton, Greenville, Tipp City, Eaton, and Springfield, Ohio; residents of a Congressional District where 62,000 workers would receive a raise if you allowed a vote on a minimum wage raise to $10.10; residents of a state where over 527,000 children live with a parent making less than $10.10 — these questions?

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.  He was the founding editor and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian, 1966-2012). 

Two-fer Tuesday: New music videos from Cathedrals and The Stone Foxes

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Because nothing showcases the breadth of music being made in the Bay Area better than some chilled-out electro R&B followed by a driving blues-rock sprint of a song: Here are the latest music videos from local faves Cathedrals and the Stone Foxes. 

The Cathedrals‘ first music video, for their song “Unbound,” marks one year since the duo began releasing music online — beginning with that tune, with Brodie Jenkins’ seductive singalong of a chorus over a layered symphony of Johnny Hwin’s guitar and synths. For the video, released today, the pair recruited Maria Kochetkova, a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, to perform in front of a light sculpture called Sugar Cubes, by SF artist Alex Green. Cathedrals’ debut EP came out this month on Neon Gold, and they’ll play Treasure Island Music Festival Oct. 19.

And in an entirely different vein, The Stone Foxes,  who are home this week after a whirlwind tour of the West Coast, gave us this brand-new video for “Locomotion,” in which our heroes — showcasing a good sense of humor alongside their lack of physical prowess — challenge a bunch of guys who actually know how to play basketball to an ill-fated game. “We thought, what kind of video could encapsulate the song’s story of the [band members] Koehler Brothers’ great grandfather running away from the authorities in newly communist Russia? A sports movie of course!” wrote the band by way of explanation. Gonna call that one a slam dunk.

The band promises to release new music the first Friday of every month for the next year, building up to an album in late 2015. For now, the Stone Foxes will kick off a residency at The Chapel Nov. 1 with Strange Vine. 

 

Luxy! The dating app for the 1 percent is NOT a prank

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I got a press release announcing a new app yesterday that immediately set off my “hoax” radar. Not only is Luxy not a prank, but actual people are signing up for it.

In the press release, Luxy is advertised (in all caps) as TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.

Finally — an app guaranteed to ensure Greg Gopman’s pool of dating prospects won’t be infected with the grotesque human trash he so despises.

“Tinder was pretty awesome when it came out,” according to a quote from an unnamed user included in the press release, “but there’s a lot of riff raff on there.”

“It’s Tinder without low-income dating prospects,” according to the description. “In fact, the average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”

So far, this doesn’t actually appear to be true. I downloaded Luxy to find out if it was real, and listed my income as above $1 million. So far I’ve managed to escape detection as riff raff.

Here’s the formal description from the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few.”

“Haha good prank,” I wrote in response to the press release. “Who’s behind it?”

Darren Shuster of Pop Culture Public Relations responded almost immediately.

“Why a prank?” He wrote in an email. “It’s a dating site for rich folks — Have you ever heard of companies like MillionaireMatch.com, SeekingArrangement.com and SugarDaddie.com? These companies have been around for 10 years+ and this ‘Tinder-like’ platform just brings it too a whole new level.”

A whole new level indeed. “Sites / apps like my client’s are probably just a sign of the times,” Shuster mused. “While narrowcasting replaced broadcasting years ago (getting only the news you’re interested in receiving), maybe we have something happening like ‘narrowmatching’ where people only seek to match within certain population pools / segments (i.e., dog owners only, Conservatives or Liberals only, Christian only, rich only)?”

Interesting sociological analysis, Mr. public relations spokesperson.

All I can say is that I cannot wait to see what happens when the Occupy Wall Street set discovers Luxy.

Live shots: Modest Mouse sweat it out at the Masonic

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Modest Mouse got hot and heavy at the Masonic Sept. 26, and we were there to catch them in all their sweaty glory. Mimicking Birds (first photo below) opened.

All photos by Emily Sevin.

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Investigation shows outsider ownership of SF’s luxury condos

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Former Bay Guardian editor and publisher Tim Redmond has a great new investigation on his 48Hills site showing how many new luxury condos in San Francisco are owned as investments by out-of-towners, puncturing the myth that unfettered market-rate housing development will help with the city’s affordability crisis. Check it out. 

Ammiano “angry” as Brown vetoes prosecutor misconduct bill

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Assemblymember Tom Ammiano strongly criticized Gov. Jerry Brown today [Mon/29] for yesterday vetoing his Assembly 885, which would have provided modest sanctions for prosecutors who willfully withhold evidence during criminal trials, a huge problem we’ve repeatedly covered in the Bay Guardian.

From the case of JJ Tennison and Antoine Goff — who served long prison terms before being freed after a Guardian investigation showed misconduct by the police and prosecutors in San Francisco — to the similar and most recent case of Obie Anthony, as told by Ammiano to his legislative colleagues during the hearings, prosecutorial misconduct is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

AB 885 became a good compromise measure and it worked its way through the legislative process, in the end allowing judges to inform juries when a prosecutor has intentionally withheld evidence, an important factor when weighing credibility that is usually shielded from jurors.

But in his veto message, Brown wrote, “Prosecutorial misconduct should never be tolerated. This bill, however, would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed. Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light during trial.”

Yet the reality of the criminal justice system is that such remedies rarely get applied, particularly in cases where the defendant is a poor person of color, sometimes because judges (many of them appointed by Republican governors during shameful tough-on-crime eras) are biased in favor of police and prosecutors.

This is a problem that was ripe for a legislative remedy in country where racism and the world’s highest incarceration rates are still huge problems, and we share the frustration of Ammiano over this veto.

“I’m not just disappointed at the Governor’s veto of this bill, I’m angry,” Ammiano said in a press release. “We need so much more than this to balance the system and keep the innocent out of prison, as the writers of the Constitution intended. Most prosecutors are honorable, but we’ve seen too many cases where DA’s don’t play fair – hiding evidence or releasing it at the last minute.”

“I recently met 40-year-old Obie Anthony, who has spent nearly half his life in prison because prosecutors hid evidence that would have pointed to his innocence,” Ammiano continued. “A court has now completely exonerated him, but that exoneration has come 20 years too late. We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice. We can’t wait decades to free the innocent while the true perpetrators run free.”

Ammiano noted that while the courts have prohibited non-disclosure evidence, he said the remedies that Brown refers to are weak and rarely used. For example, in Anthony’s case, the prosecutorial misconduct resulted in just a 24-hour continuance and no disclosure to the jury.  

“AB 885 could have saved me from spending 17 years in state prison,” Anthony said shortly after it passed the Legislature.

Brown is right that, “Prosecutorial misconduct should never be tolerated,” but in today’s criminal justice system — where cops and prosecutors are regularly exposed for railroading low-income defendants — it is not just tolerated, it is commonplace. 

The back story of the celebrated Boys’ Night Out at John’s Grill

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By Bruce B. Brugmann (Scroll down for photo id and to see Ex- Marine Pete McCloskey jump the barricade and storm Martin’s Beach) 

Boys’ Night Out, a creation of press agent Lee Houskeeper, was held recently at John’s Grill, home of Dashiell Hammett and the Maltese Falcon.   Houskeeper turned the falcon on its side, which meant that all of the news and gossip turned up by his newsworthy guests was privileged and could not be repeated to the outside world.

Nonetheless, the timing was perfect because the next day came the welcome news that a San Mateo Superior Court judge had ruled for the public and against a  billionaire coastal landowner to open up a valuable chunk of privately held San Mateo coastline. The Surfrider case was handled by  Attorneys Joe Cotchett and Pete McCloskey, both of whom were at the dinner.

Houskeeper, who does publicity work for Cotchett,  explained the back story to me after the dinner. He said that the Surfrider forces started “the public brouhaha” two years ago when the “Blackwater type security goons were arresting surfers who dared jump his locked Martin’s Beach gate fence.”  Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, had acquired the 53-acre parcel near Half Moon Bay in 2008. Houskeeper asked McCloskey, a Korean War veteran,  if he would risk arrest, jump the gate, and lead the surfers a half mile to “free” the beach.

“The former Marine (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts did just that at 85 years old,” Houskeeper said. 

“Six sheriff cop cars showed up and decided to protect Pete’s right to march to the beach. That action effectively stopped Khosla from arresting any more surfers.” And it was yet another victory for McCloskey, an environmenrtal hero as a fighting attorney, 16 year peninsula congressman, and the politician who beat Shirley Temple for Congress and then ran against Nixon in the Republican primary for president.  McCloskey was 87 on Sept.29. 

In the above photo, Cotchett is in the middle in the back row. McCloskey is sitting in the second row in suit and tie on the right between Houskeeper and Ron Turner.  Others in the picture in no particular order are listed below.  The photo was taken by Robert Altman, official photographer at  Boys’ Night Out events. b3

Ex-Marine Pete McCloskey jumps the barricade…

…and leads the charge of surfers to free Martin’s Beach. This was the key assault in the winning battle to save the beach.  Photos by San Francisco Stories 

Wavy Gravy, Joe Garrity, Greg Corrales, Joe Cotchett, Pete McCloskey, Mark Leno, Ron Turner, Bruce Brugmann, Don Sanchez, Al Saracevic, Bob Sarlatte, Michael Finney, Don Sanchez, Peter Albin, Kevin Fagan, Joe Rosato Jr., Alex Clemens, Gene Schoenfeld, Mark Matthews, Jonathan Bloom, Herb Gold, Tony Ribera, Rich Corriea, J.C. Juanis, John Marshal, Tomas Roman, Paul Wells, Phil Gregory, Paul Alvarado, Larry Kamer, Fred Pardini, David Ebarle, Jim Huntington, Marc Vogel, Rob Caughlan, Rod Glaubman, Robert Altman, Eric Christensen, Michael Taylor and Jack Balentine

Moderate politicians push “affordable housing” definition up to higher income brackets

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San Francisco, its General Plan Housing Element, and various city codes have always had a very specific definition of what they mean by “affordable housing”: homes that are affordable to those making 120 percent of area median income (AMI) and below, the kind that generally require public subsidies to build from scratch in San Francisco. That group is defined annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development using the latest data, and this year in San Francisco, it is defined as individuals making $81,550 or less year, or households of four people making $116,500 or less, according the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

But Mayor Ed Lee and other neoliberal and pro-developer politicians and political groups in town have in recent years been trying to redefine what the city means by “affordable housing” to reach up to 150 percent of AMI, definitions that made their way into the Proposition K housing policy statement on the November ballot and into a City Hall hearing yesterday [Thu/25].

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee held a public hearing to respond to the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report, “The Mayor’s Office of Housing: Under Pressure and Challenged to Preserve Diversity,” which called on that office to be more transparent and aggressive in addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis, writing “the need for public transparency and fair access to housing opportunities has never been greater.”

MOHCD Director Olson Lee agreed with almost all of the report’s recommendations, pledging to provide more information to the public and complete an overhaul of the department’s website by the end of the year, making it easier for the public to apply for subsidized housing and more easily track where public resources are being spent.

“We agree with the grand jury report globally,” Lee said at the hearing.

But two of the three supervisors on that committee used the occasion to push this redefinition of “affordable housing” in San Francisco, with Chair London Breed pressing Lee and MOHCD on what it’s doing to serve those higher income brackets who want the city’s help with housing.

“Even people at 150 percent AMI can’t afford to buy a median-priced home today,” Lee acknowledged, pledged his office’s resources to help address the problem.

Sup. Katy Tang also pressed the point, telling Lee that “to stretch it to 150 AMI is really important,” clearly defining what she meant when she said, “San Francisco needs to continue building and really accommodate family housing.”

While it may be true that with median home prices in San Francisco now reaching $1 million, an individual making $101,950 per year or family of four making $145,650 — that is, 150 percent of AMI — would be hard pressed to buy real estate in this booming housing market.

But it’s not like this relatively small group of people (refresher: “median” is the middle point, meaning half the citizens make 100 percent of AMI or below) is being forced out of the city, like those truly low-to-middle income people traditionally served by affordable housing.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti, co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organization, tell us they’re concerned about this upward creeping definition of affordable housing, even though they strongly support Prop. K, which calls for 33 percent of housing to be affordable to 120 percent of AMI, but also for half of all housing to be affordable to those at 150 percent AMI and below.

They’re fine with the city doing what it can to encourage more housing affordable to those in the 120-150 AMI range, but they’re adamant that money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and other public resources don’t subsidize housing for that group.

“It’s going to be a continuing discussion,” Marti told us. “But legally, we can’t talk about city subsidies going into that sector.”

Hopefully, the transparency reforms that MOHCD is pledging will allow the public to make sure that upper-middle-class San Franciscans — the very people whose influx (encouraged by the city’s economic development policies) is driving up the cost of housing for everyone — aren’t also cannibalizing the city’s already inadequate affordable housing resources. 

Arca underwhelms at Gray Area

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By Ryland Walker Knight

Gray Area Arts & Technology is a newish venue, admittedly a work in progress, with construction and renovation continuing when the doors are closed, but they are already booking unique electronica acts. My first visit was, as it happens, the first time Tim Hecker played a show in San Francisco (late July; great waves of processed sounds), and my second, Tuesday night (Sept. 23), was one of the five stops on Arca’s current DJ tour along the West Coast.

Arca is probably most famous for being hired by Kanye to tweak tracks on Yeezus, though another of his collaborators, FKA Twigs, is gaining ground in the weirdo electronica game. The Venezuelan-born DJ artist will release his first full-length record, Xen, in November, and the lead single has been streaming for some time. His brand of music is harsh yet spacey, chugging bass syncopated against stabs of high end melodies, a math-y brew of garage and trance with some dubstep for good measure.

On this small tour, he’s playing four CDJs with a fellow collagist, Total Freedom, while Jesse Kanda projects all manner of videos (some YouTube sensations, some original animations, some outre body images, all inflected, at least in my brain, by the word “trauma,” which was the title of a joint piece he and Arca performed at MOMA PS1 in 2013). At Gray Area, the visuals were projected on three walls and one screen in the middle of the room. A lot of the early visuals played campy against the “ironic” remixes, and “arty” noise, but the interest in bodies was striking because every single body was “wrong” in some way.

I spent a lot of the show curious what this “confrontational” bent was for, and it made me feel old (gasp!), but the beat scene has always been about manipulation, so it makes sense that, if somebody wants to warp sounds they would want to twist and turn our physical matter in tandem. This doesn’t mean the music is necessarily heady, in fact most of the crowd was dancing pretty hard, but there is an “art school” bent to the onslaught of irreality.

What made it doubly difficult for me, however, was the interruption of a neighbor’s complaint that made the music cut out for a spell, and drained the room of the energy that had been building. I want to blame the night of the week (Tuesday) as much as improper sound proofing, but the fact of the matter is: the house was on fire with bass and sinewave screams and if you’re not ready to party that way, no matter who or how old you are, I’m gonna bet you’d rather that snap-cackle-trap shut the hell up.

Where are all the vanilla sexuality events?

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I moved to the Bay Area this year with the intention of diving head first into kinky chaos. As far as repressed small town chicks go, I guess you could say I’m a daredevil. When I expressed my desire for sexploration to the locals, they had helpful suggestions ranging from fucking a sybian to getting hung from ceilings with rope.

And even though all that sounds fun (a little porny, but fun), I couldn’t help but notice people weren’t concerned with easing me into things. (Where’s the foreplay, guys?) And in all the excitement surrounding sexual possibility, I realized I hadn’t explored good old-fashioned, vanilla sexuality. So I decided to find an event that covered the basics of sexual energy and human connection. Easy right? Actually, no.

It’s surprisingly difficult to find a sex gathering in the Bay Area that doesn’t involve kink, fetish, or some sort of spiritual sex magic. I searched for weeks, and just when I’d about given up hope, I discovered sex educator Elisabeth Bolaza’s SexyHuman Workshop. It was advertised as a singles event, but it wasn’t a matchmaking mixer, and it was the first gathering I’d seen where people weren’t expected to learn how to meditate, grope, or fuck each other.

Like me, Bolaza is a transplant to SF; she moved here from a somewhat conservative town in southern California four years ago. Even though she adores the sex community here, she’s noticed that wild events dominate the scene. She thinks “alternative” events are awesome, but recognizes that most people don’t relate to sexuality that way. If people don’t understand the lure of sex parties or BDSM, they can feel like disempowered prudes in SF’s hyper-sexual community.

“In the Bay Area, there’s a lot of sexuality work being done. For more private folks, it’s a little bit scary,” Bolaza said. “So I’m trying to bring people into that conversation in a way that feels safe.”

So I went to the SexyHuman Workshop with the intention of taking a breather from my outrageous sexploits and getting back to basics.

The workshop was held at The Hub in Oakland — a creative alliance-esque place where you can rent meeting rooms and collaborate with artists. The room where the workshop was taking place had sexy ambiance, with deep blue walls, soft lighting, and a snack table with figs and chocolate covered gummy bears. 

There were less than 20 people in attendance — partly because this was the first SexyHuman event ever and also because Bolaza was cautious and didn’t want to overwhelm anyone with a crowd. The attendees were diverse in both gender and race, but all of them looked equally uncomfortable. Many of them had never been to something like this before despite the fact that they were natives.

To start, Bolaza asked everyone to share why they were there. A 23-year-old copywriter expressed her desire to learn what she wants from sexuality in general. A lady with long brown hair asked how it’s even possible to fit sexuality into her life when she’s so busy. An older gentleman revealed that he’d just gotten out of 22-year marriage and didn’t know what it was like to be sexual outside of a relationship. And a 20-something guy said he wanted to stop being a “love retard” and actually pick up on erotic energy from women when he meets them. 

None of these people seemed like they were ready to try bondage or attend an Intro to Tantra class. They just wanted to learn what sexuality meant for them.

At the beginning, Bolaza got a few eye rolls when she told everyone to pretend to hold imaginary balls of energy in their hands and share them with the people next to them  —  but she was quickly forgiven for that hippie moment when she started her lecture.

Bolaza was wise to the discomfort of her audience and kept the language concise and to the point. She borrowed ideas from ancient philosophies, but kept the words tailored to the everyman and taught the basics.

She talked about how extra stimulation and intensity aren’t actually the keys to orgasm, no matter how much our culture and city may hype up whacky sex positions and fancy vibrators. She explained that men come off creepy when they hit on women because they haven’t learned to connect their minds with their crotches. She even talked about how it’s okay to be attracted to someone, even if the feeling isn’t reciprocated.

All of these ideas may seem obvious to some, but in the discussions that followed, people admitted to never thinking about these things. The workshop only touched the tip of sexuality, and the topics may seem banal to sexual veterans. But to those in attendance, these ideas were brand new — even to those who’ve lived here all their lives. If natives don’t know this stuff, then there’s a need for this kind of education.

I’m not saying that SF doesn’t offer ANY vanilla events outside of speed dating (I’m sure they exist) — but I definitely had trouble finding them. The SF sex culture is so appealing to outsiders like me because it’s supposed to have a space for everyone. Either newbie sex events need better advertising or SF needs to make room for the sexually tame. Let’s add some vanilla to that swirl.

 

Head First runs on the SFBG Sex SF blog every Thursday. Readers can contact Krissy and view her previous work at www.krissyeliot.com.

 

TIFF 2014: Three more notables, plus a lucky top 13

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Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

Three films at this year’s Toronto Film Film Festival achieved a consistently exhilarating cinematic aesthetic. 

The first was instant horror classic Goodnight Mommy (Austria), which had critics tripping over each other as they ran out of the theatre. I overheard one woman hailing the psychological terror film as the best movie she had seen at TIFF in five years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fv859onWKPU

With art-porn filmmaker Ulrich Seidel as producer (see 2012-13’s Paradise Trilogy: Love, Faith, Hope), the eerie film evokes high levels of hypnotic and unspoken terror. DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS about this fiction debut from Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. There is not a false note in the film and I cannot wait to watch it again and again and again. 

Next up was Joshua and Ben Safdie’s visceral indie Heaven Knows What (US). Anyone who witnessed their previous panic-inducing ditty Daddy Longlegs (2010) should take note. With the determination of an early-1980s Abel Ferrara film combined with Martin Bell’s seminal homeless youth documentary Streetwise (1984), the Safdies give Heaven star Arielle Holmes a chance to reinact her real life story, in all of its abrasive glory. Also worth a mention: the ear-crushing soundtrack, brimming with sludged-out remixes of Tomita and Tangerine Dream as well as “hardstyle” favorite Headhunterz and Norwegian church-burners Burzum. 

Lastly, Peter Strickland’s follow-up to his 1970s-psychedelic Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is another nostalgic throwback, this time reveling in the psychosexual castles of Jean Rollin films. The Duke of Burgundy (UK) follows the sadomasochistic relationship between two mysterious women. Like its predecessor, in this film Strickland pays a never-ending amount of attention to detail along, with multiple layers of style to burn. Along with burgeoning British retro-genre filmmaker Ben Wheatley (A Field in England, 2013), Strickland seems to polarize cinephiles. Make sure to experiment with these little-films-that-could before making any hasty decisions.

Best of the 2014 Toronto Film Fest

1. Lav Diaz’s From What is Before (Philippines)

2. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe (Ukraine)

3. Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York: Uncut Version (France/US) and Pasolini (France/Italy/Belgium) 

4. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence (Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/UK) 

5. Joshua and Ben Safdie’s Heaven Knows What (US) 

6. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy (Austria)

7. Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home (China) 

8. Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan (Ukraine) 

9. Eugène Green’s La Sapienza (France/Italy)

10. Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy (UK)  

11. Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (UK) 

12. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep (Turkey/France/Germany) 

13. Tsai Ming-liang’s Journey to the West (Taiwan/France) 

Sound sneak preview: Ai WeiWei Alcatraz exhibition

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Here’s a taste from @Large, the exhibition by internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, which will open to the public on Alcatraz Sat/27.

This recording is from Illumination, one of the sound installations, which makes use of the prison hospital – an Alcatraz site not normally open to daytime visitors. 

To hear it, visitors must enter psychiatric observation cells, small tiled chambers with a chilling history: Inmates who had psychotic breaks were held there for observation while in their most acute states.

Step into one of the tiny cells and you are enveloped in sound from a Buddhist ceremony at the Namgyal Monastery, in Dharamsala, India, where monks from Tibetan lineages perform rituals associated with the Dalai Lama.

The musical chanting piped into the observation cell next door is Eagle Dance, a traditional song of the Hopi tribe, recorded in 1964. That has historic significance, too, because Hopi prisoners were held at Alcatraz in 1895 for refusing to send their children to boarding schools set up by the US Government.

The @Large exhibition on Alcatraz Island is the product of a collaboration between the FOR-SITE Foundation, the National Park Service and the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. The seven sound, sculpture and mixed-media works center on the themes of freedom of expression and the social implications of incarceration.

“The major tenets of this exhibition are the need for basic human rights, freedom of expression, our individual responsibility and the role that we play in helping create a just society,” said FOR-SITE Foundation executive director and @Large curator Cheryl Haines.

“Also, the importance of communication – there’s an interesting parallel in this exhibition about how a prison populace is controlled, and they’re not allowed to communicate with their community, and there are some cases here on Alcatraz, when it was a federal penitentiary, where that was the case. It was a silent prison for a number of years, and some of the works relate to that.”

New protections for abortion seekers proposed, but may face rival efforts

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After a years-long saga of trying to regulate the loudest and rudest protesters outside clinics that offer abortions, a new law may finally protect patients and employees of Planned Parenthood in San Francisco from harassment. Sup. David Campos introduced a resolution yesterday [Tues/23] that would refine his previous legislation creating a buffer zone outside reproductive healthcare centers, the latest in legal maneuverings to protect free speech while sparing medical care-seekers from harm.

Although San Francisco houses only one of Planned Parenthood’s 22 health centers in Northern California, the opposition to its Valencia Street location stands out. “In San Francisco, there are particularly harassing protesters, a small but vocal group,” Adrienne Bousian, the vice president of public affairs of Planned Parenthood Northern California, told us. “They film women and men walking down the street, shout insults, and follow women. They try to block access with their arms and get in front of the door.”

It’s the same old song, as pro-life protesters tout the sins of abortion to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, the people they harass are customers seeking STD checks or other health care. Sometimes the people they harass are simply neighbors. Large photographs of fetuses and bloody remains greet passers-by. When former Guardian staff writer Caitlin Donohue visited last year, she cataloged clinic-protester Erika Hathaway’s gem arguments.

“Don’t kill your baby! If it could talk it would say ‘Mommy, don’t judge me,'” she shouted. Hathaway is one of the protester mainstays. Another favored tactic of Hathaway’s: playing Christmas music on full blast, to remind those inside the Planned Parenthood that “Christ was a baby once.”

As Bousian told us, sometimes women facing the life-changing choice of abortion have to face down the “gauntlet” of these protesters, and their frightening photos. One can only imagine how scarring that could be, while already facing a decision that could color the rest of one’s life.

abortion protesters

Outside the Planned Parenthood, last year. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CAITLIN DONOHUE.

Campos’ “buffer zone” resolution last year was intended to end “the gauntlet” of harassment, establishing a 25-foot space in front of reproductive healthcare clinics protesters were barred from crossing. But after the US Supreme Court knocked down a similar buffer zone law in Massachusetts, the city got skittish over enforcing the law, and the protesters came back in earnest.

Now, it’s time for another crack at removing the emboldened protesters. The new resolution calls for a 25-foot zone around a reproductive health care facility that protesters cannot follow or harass people within, a tweak that may make all the difference. It will also bar anyone from impeding entry into a reproductive health care facility, and bar use of amplified sound or shouting within 50 feet (with reasonable exceptions, like car horns).

Perhaps this new resolution was what tipped Planned Parenthood into endorsing Campos’ candidacy for the 17th California Assembly District. Notably, it wasn’t the nonprofit itself that endorsed him, but rather their political arm, the Planned Parenthood Northern California Action Fund. Bousian, putting on her political hat, said the action fund felt Campos distinguished himself in defending women’s rights, including with this resolution.

“We want California to lead the way as a state expanding access,” she said. “That’s our goal.”

Still, an open question lingers: What will become of Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Malia Cohen’s planned resolution to protect healthcare providers from harassment? Normally, a resolution like this would be a slam-dunk at the Board of Supervisors. But Lee and Cohen’s resolution mirrors Campos’, and was announced earlier this month. Some political insiders indicated to us that the mayor may be open to merging his efforts with Campos, but Campos’ office said it received no word from the mayor yet. And with Cohen’s District 10 supervisorial race and Campos’ Assembly race giving both cause to want to take ownership on this issue, there’s a chance for political strife and gamesmanship along the way.

Hopefully, political squabbles and posturing won’t postpone needed efforts to protect women and other healthcare seekers.

“San Francisco should be leading the way,” Bousian told us.

Yes, it should.

Anti-war groups take to the streets of SF to protest US bombing campaign UPDATED

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With the US military now bombing targets in both Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State that we’re targeting threatening to retaliate against US citizens, the Bay Area’s anti-war movement is taking the streets today [Wed/24] and in the coming days (although the SF Chronicle apparently didn’t get the memo).

Two of the Bay Area biggest anti-war groups, the San Francisco chapters of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition and The World Can’t Wait, have called for a march and protest today at 5:30pm starting at Market and Powell streets.

“[President Barack] Obama owns this immoral and illegal action, the ultimate war crime — invasion of a sovereign nation that poses no imminent threat to the aggressor. “We” did not ask for or approve this war. NOTHING good can come from U.S. bombing, and we need to say so immediately and widely,” The World Can’t Wait said in a statement calling for people to show up with sign and something to say.

Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, put out a statement that included this: “Let’s tell the fundamental truth that the Obama Administration conceals from the people. The so-called Islamic State or ISIS wouldn’t exist today as a major force either in Syria or Iraq except for the U.S. military aggression that smashed the secular, nationalist governments in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 followed by its catastrophic support for the armed opposition against the similarly organized government in Syria.”

But hey, nothing solves problems created by US militarism like the US military, right? No? Yeah, probably not, so get out there and be counted as a voice for peace.

[UPDATE Thu/25]: The turnout and energy level at yesterday’s anti-war rallies seemed a little lackluster, which was probably more of an indicator of the disempowerment people feel and their grim resignation toward our state of neverending war than actual support for the current military operations. I reflected on this phenomenon in 2008, five years after our military invaded Iraq, in an award-winning piece called “Resistance is Futile — or is it?” and I think it’s work another read in light of current events.  

Tough decisions ahead: The Bay Area Record Fair, the Oakland Music Festival, and more

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Ever get so overwhelmed by all the awesome events in the Bay Area on a given weekend that you give up on trying to decide between any of them and find yourself just hanging with whomever you can get to come to your house to drink with you and your cats? Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, venturing 50 yards down the street to watch baseball at the closest bar with a TV?

Haha, me neither! Just kidding; that person sounds like a loser who is definitely not me. ANYWAY, this is one of those weekends where you’re going to have to make some tough calls. It’s called being a grownup. Here we go.

FRI/26

San Franciscans may think they have the market cornered on psychedelia, but things sound a little different in the desert — dusty, moody, lonely, and super atmospheric. All of these are apt words for decker., a Sedona-based “desert folk” act led by singer-songwriter Brandon Decker that won hearts with its soulful live act at SXSW, among other stages. This show at Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St, SF), which serves as a record release party for the band’s fifth album, Patsy, will actually be a double-helping of soul: Oakland favorites Whiskerman, with multi-instrumentalist Graham Patzner’s vocal chops at the helm, will help open the evening.

Bob Mould, Castro resident and extremely well-spoken guy in addition to being an exceedingly talented guitarist and legendary all-around frontman, is coming home — and his welcome party’s at the Fillmore (1805 Geary, SF) tonight with Cymbals Eat Guitars. Mould’s new record, Beauty and Ruin, has been on repeat in certain headphones; check our interview with him in this week’s paper for more.

 

SAT/27

The Bay Area Record Fair, aka the best new acronym to come out of the local music scene since possibly ever, is throwing the second edition of its schmooze-fest/record sale/party this Saturday at Thee Parkside (1600 17th St, SF) and the surrounding blocks. This free shindig, thrown by local label Father/Daughter Records alongside promoters Professional Fans, will feature live sets from Happy Diving (whose excellent debut LP is out next month), Hot Flash Heat Wave, Wild Moth, and Flim Flam and The Jet Stars of Three O’Clock Rock. All of that while you swing by tables from more than 30 Bay Area record labels, who’ll be hawking CDs, LPs, t-shirts, stickers, that one weird rare flexi-disk you’ve been looking for forever, etc. The party goes down from noon to 5pm, but $5 gets you early entry (first access to the crates, you fiends) at 11am. RSVP here. Oh, and here’s our review of the last one.

Over on the other side of the Bay, the second annual Oakland Music Festival highlights the best in local-ish hip-hop, funk, R&B, dance and electronic music, with a few folky singer-songwriters in there for good measure. The daylong fest has four stages throughout downtown (21st, 22nd, and Grand Streets between Broadway and Webster) with headliners like rapper Dom Kennedy, beatmaker Esta, soulful singer SZA as headliners, while the legendary Chuy Gomez and hometown heroes Trackademicks and 1-O.A.K hold down the DJ stage. Plus, you know, food, beer, a beautiful day in the East Bay sunshine. Tickets (for $28 or $35, unless you go VIP) right here.

 

SUN/28

How do you get away with throwing a bonkers dance party on public Ocean Beach in broad daylight? Pipe the music directly into the crowd’s headphones, that’s how. The Silent Frisco crew has found the ultimate underground vibe, above ground, with HushFest. Here’s how it works: Gather at the party spot (imbibe your libations beforehand, please, no drugs or alcohol on the beach), pay $20 for special wireless headphones, and dance in the sand with a huge gaggle of other wildly, silently gesticulating aficianados — all for $20, kicking off at 11am. DJs at this annual event around include genius duo Psychmagik, who rejigger deepest funk-rock memories of the 1970s, Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation, and Fort Knox Five. Yes, you can still yell “woo!” (Marke B.)

The Aislers Set, Cold Beat, and the Mantles at The Chapel (777 Valencia, SF). This here’s an SF triple-threat, with the Brit-influenced, late ’90s/early aughts indie-pop veterans The Aislers Set making their much-awaited return tonight. Hannah Lew’s (ex-Grass Widow) Cold Beat will lend a harder edge to the evening, sandwiched alongside the Mantles’ 60s-tinged dream-pop. Also for $20, we can think of worse ways to stave off the Sunday night blues.

 

 

Extended review: British prison drama ‘Starred Up’

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By Haley Brucato

Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie’s prison drama Starred Up is a brutally raw indie film starring rising actor Jack O’Connell as Eric, a 19-year-old offender who has just been “starred up,” or transferred to an adult prison due to his uncontrollable and dangerous behavior. Though he’s passive when we get our first look at him, he won’t be for long: One of the first things Eric does upon entering his new cell is expertly rig a shank out of a toothbrush and a shaving razor, which he then hides in an overhead light fixture. Clearly, he’s done this before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE4ziBfu0JA

This weapon takes awhile to be deployed, but he’s not so patient with his fists, nor is anyone here; inmates regularly resolve their differences by beating each other to a pulp. Screenwriter Jonathan Asser provides powerful insight with his own history as a psychotherapist in a London jail, an experience that inspired the character of therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend). Oliver has hope for the violent Eric — he’s maybe the only one who does — knowing that this furious creature is likely destined to slip through the cracks like so many before him.

The well-meaning doc attemps to challenge prison authorities who prefer slapping troublemakers into solitary confinement by offering anger-management treatment to the worst offenders. This includes, however briefly, an inmate who happens to be Eric’s surly, long-absent father (Ben Mendelsohn). But there are no quick fixes for any of these characters, especially with shifty allegiances between different factions both in front of and behind bars. 

Although American viewers will likely struggle to understand the thick accents (not to mention the free-flying jailhouse slang), this doesn’t exactly matter in a film that propels itself via physical confrontations rather than dialogue. As for star O’Connell, he’ll soon be seen as a very different kind of prisoner in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken

STARRED UP opens Fri/26 at the Roxie.

TIFF 2014: American standouts

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Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

In high school, Hal Hartley was my first cinematic battle. On paper, his existential themes of truth, his French New Wave references, and the stilted dialogue he favored seemed like they would align perfectly with my sensibilities. Like many film students of the era, I gobbled up The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990), and Surviving Desire (1993) multiple times. But as Simple Men (1992), Amateur (1994), and Flirt (1995) graced art-house theaters, I found Hartley’s films to be more and more like fingernails shrieking down a neverending chalkboard.

Late-night arguments over Hartley films became full-fledged deal breakers. At least one friendship was destroyed (I apologize, John Powers). And then came the climactic scene in his career-defining opus Henry Fool (1997). I felt like Hartley had finally shed his farcical facade for just one moment, allowing me to feel an overwhelming sense of insecurity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNKU8Jf3eEA

Unfortunately, he went digital shortly thereafter, and wallowed in a series of “mass-media” rants. But after an interesting return with the Parker Posey vehicle Fay Grim (2008), a sequel to Henry Fool, Hartley has concluded the trilogy with perhaps his most accessible and enjoyable film: Ned Rifle (US). Aubrey Plaza is downright hilarious as a suspicious and obsessive fan of writer Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan), perhaps tying all the characters together for one big clusterfuck. What is most refreshing about this return to form is Hartley’s self-effacing humor about his own issues; it’s also elevated by rapid-fire snappy dialogue and enough Robert Bresson references to satisfy his fans. It’s a joy to watch Hartley regulars like Posey, Ryan, James Urbaniak, and Martin Donovan give it one last (?) go in this cinematic universe. In fact, Ned Rifle might even muster up some new Hartley fans … which will hopefully result in a new generation of late-night disagreements.

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher (US) sports Oscar-bait performances from its stellar cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum (yes, that Channing Tatum), and Mark Ruffalo. But it is clearly Miller’s sparse and surprising steady direction that gives this based-on-a-true-story flick its gleam. As its theme of loneliness is hauntingly accentuated across the board, I am curious if repeat viewings will enhance or detract from the film’s purposeful tone?

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

In my opinion, every year should be the year of exploitation pioneer Abel Ferrara’s comeback. Taking Toronto by storm with two feature films, as he did in 2014, is definitely the way to do it. His long awaited tribute Pasolini (France/Italy/Belgium) showcases Willem Dafoe as infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. While the film is not the epic extravaganza that many were perhaps hoping for (it chronicles the final days of his life), this is most definitely a personal allegory for Ferrara’s own career and should be treated as such. Beautiful cinematography by Stefano Falivene (who shot Ferrara’s overlooked 2005 Mary) gives the film a distinctly classic feel that seemed to baffle some critics. Along with Dafoe’s pitch-perfect Pasolini, Maria De Madeiros fleshes out a wonderfully campy part as Laura Betti, one of the director’s best friends.

At a crisp 86 minutes, Ferrara’s film attempts to communicate with Pasolini’s uncompromising drive and artistic endeavors. There is a stunning scene in which Pasolini, amid an interview with an Italian TV reporter, gives a 10-minute soliloquy about the importance (and difficulty) of holding onto one’s artistic vision; every student of film should watch it on a daily basis.

Ferrara made headlines beyond TIFF with his other 2014 entry: Welcome to New York (France/US), which gives Gérard Depardieu his meatiest role in years. Based on the true story of French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, infamously charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid during a visit to New York City, it contains a monster-like performance from Depardieu (who hasn’t been without his own controversies of late). It’s bound to invite direct comparisons to Harvey Keitel’s balls-to-the-wall role in Bad Lieutenant (1992).

The film has garnered ecstatic write-ups, along with downright repulsed responses. The real Strauss-Kahn has announced he will be taking legal action against the film, but what’s most baffling is that according to an Indiewire report, “IFC Films wants him to deliver an R-rated cut” to American audiences. And Ferrara is livid (see the Indiewire article for his colorful quotes). Luckily, Toronto’s Royal Independent Theatre was screening the uncut, international version; as is, it’s one of the best films of the year. Transgressive cinema with a soul has always been Ferrara’s modus operandi. It’s your duty as a film lover to refuse to watch IFC’s censored version and seek out Ferrara’s original cut.

With While We’re Young (US), Noah Baumbach delivered a more sophisticated take on what is fast becoming an Y2Teen sub-genre: white yuppie 40somethings vs. white hipster 20somethings. What started with surprise PG hit Grown Ups 2 (2013) was reconfigured into an R-rated success with Neighbors. Baumbach’s spin on this story pits Ben Stiller and his iPhone against Adam Driver and his laid-back, vinyl collecting, vlog artist. The film works wonderfully on most levels as the aging couple (Stiller and Naomi Watts) find themselves caught in limbo land between adolescence and would-be parents. But with a surprisingly lackluster final act that discards the younger perspective as easily as an unaware 45-year-old might, it felt for the first time like Baumbach has actually lost a step himself.