SFBG Blogs

Yee racing past Nevin


By G.W. Schulz
Leland Yee Campaign Headquarters

Just across the Daly City border on the sleepy southern reaches of Mission Street, State Senate District 12 candidate Leland Yee has yet to show up to his election party. It was 8 p.m. when I arrived, and about 200 supporters were mingling anxiously. Cheers erupted when a voice announces that Yee is racing past Mike Nevin in San Francisco absentee ballots 66 to 34 percent. But the two are stilll running a dead heat in San Mateo County at 40 percent. In both counties, Lou Papan is wavering between 15 and 20 percent. Yee campaign consultant Jim Stearns said that predictions that Papan would spoil the race appear to be not true, “at least right now.” He says it’s still not clear how some of the late-stage negative campaigning would impact final results.

Not good for Reilly


By Tim Redmond
At City Hall

Well, with a little over 10 percent of the precincts counted, the numbers don’t look good for Janet Reilly. After you back out the absentees, the election-day votes are running 59 percent in favor of Fiona Ma. Things will have to change pretty quick for Reilly to have a chance at all.

It appears at this point that the high-powered, well-funded negative attack ads have taken their toll.

more results and analysis


With a few precincts starting to trickle in, here’s what we have:

Ma 58, Reilly 41; this is narrowing a bit. Yee, 66, Nevin 28, Papan 5; unless San Mateo is WAY for Nevin, this one’s looking pretty close to in the bag.

Prop. B is going to win, and Prop. D — despite all of Joe O’Donoghue’s money — is going down in a huge way. The conservative absentees are against it, 67-32.

Ballot measures


Results for the props are interesting, too. Prop. A is behind, 53-47, but that’s the conservative side of town showing up in the absentees. So there’s a good chance it will survive. Prop. B, the TIC-disclosure measure, is ahead, 50-49, which means it’s almost certainly going to be victorious; if the conservatives are voting for it, it’s over.

Prop. D is losing, big — 32.8 yes, 67 percent no. That means this one is over, and Doug Comstock, the campaign manager, as much as admitted it to me a few minutes ago.

Notes from the AC


By Sarah Phelan
Somewhere in Alameda County

You’ve got to feel just a tad sorry for the political animals in the East Bay tonight. While other campaigns are cracking open the bubbly, or drowning their sorrows in pitchers of beer, on this satanic-sounding O6.06.06 election night, the folks in Alameda County are going to be chewing their nails, a manicure-challenging activity they’ll likely continue until the wee hours — or even until noon, Wednesday, June 7 — before they find out if their candidate won.

first results


By Tim Redmond
At City Hall
First results are in, mostly the more-conservative absentees, and even so, there are some surprises. Leland Yee is way, way ahead in the state senate races, 66 percent to 27 percent (although part of the district is in San Mateo, so Yee can’t quite celebrate yet.

Fiona Ma is well up on Janet Reilly, 58-41.

In the governor’s race, Angelides and Westly are close, but Angelides is ahead, 47-44 percent. Remember, this is among absentees. I’d say that a good sign of Angelides taking San Francisco easily — let’s see what it means for the rest of the state.

Turnout and SF races


By Tim Redmond
At City Hall

Well, our resident expert on political predictions, Chris Bowman, who is that rarest of creatures (a smart Republican), stopped by with his predictions. He estimates 42 to 44 percent turnout city wide, which is actually better than I had expected. That’s based on a formula for predicting turnout based on absentees that he’s used for about 15 years.

one to watch


By Tim Redmond

As the night wears on, pay attention to the special election in the California 50th Congressional District, where Francine Busby is trying to put a heavily Republican district that had been represented by Randy “Duke” Cunningham into the Democratic column. Almost everyone agrees that this is a canary-in-the-coal-mine race that will tell us how deeply people are sick of Bush, lies, corruption, and the GOP hegemony.

maybe tomorrow


By Tim Redmond
At City Hall

Just in case anyone hasn’t figured this out yet, we may not know until tomorrow who the Democratic candidate for governor is. That’s because Alameda County, which hasabout five percent of all democratic voters, won’t be finished hand-counting — yes, hand-counting — ballots. The L.A. Times has the scoop on what happened in some detail.

turnout looks bleak


By Tim Redmond
SF Gate is reporting low turnout and bored election workers playing sudoku. In Bernal Heights, where I live, the poll workers told me it had been very slow — and that’s not good news, since this is usually a high-turnout district.
If you haven’t voted yet, go now — our endorsements are below (scroll down)

What happened to our Web site?


By Tim Redmond

Well, the simple answer is that we’re still not sure — but there’s some indication that we were socked by a denial-of-service attack. Imagine that happening on 6/06/06, in the middle of election day.

Even the folks at DailyKos have been speculating about this, wondering if maybe the Republicans were involved somehow. I dunno; maybe someone local who didn’t want our endorsements available (they are now, below, scroll down). Maybe it’s just one of those things; maybe it’s ……. SATAN!

Either way, we’ve managed to get this blog up, which will take us through election night.

east bay election parties


Here’s the list of east bay parties:

Oakland Mayor

Ron Dellums
· Carneval, Behind Yoshi’s, on 2nd street
· http://www.rondellumsformayor.com/
· 510. 444. 6016

Ignacio De La Fuente
· 8:30 at Zazoo’s restaurant
· 30 Jack London Square, Oakland
· http://www.delafuenteformayor.com/homex.asp?Q=Homepage
· 510. 893. 2006

Nancy Nadel
· 8:00 or 9:00 at the Uptown Bar
· 1928 Telegraph Ave, Oakland
· http://www.nancynadelformayor.com/
· 510. 654. 6966

Oakland Assembly

Sandre Swanson
· 8:15 at Campaign HQ
· 449 15th Street (corner of Broadway) Oakland
· http://www.sandreswanson.org/
· 510. 251. 9765

John Russo
· 8:30 or 9:00 at Campaign HQ
· 3217 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland
· http://www.johnrusso.com/
· 510. 419. 0613

Oakland City Council

Aimee Alison
· 6:30-10:00 at Oasis Bar and Restaurant
· 135 12th Street (between Oak and Madison) Oakland
· http://www.aimeeallison.org/
· 510. 277. 0182



By Steven T. Jones
Maybe there is something to this 6/6/06 numerological weirdness after all. The mood seems dark and sinister for an election day. And it was certainly some devilish characters who have shut our Web site down all day with a denial of service attack. We don’t know which ones, but the likely suspect list should start with those affiliated with candidates that we didn’t endorse in close races: Fiona Ma, Mike Nevin, Lillian Sing, Steve Westly, and the downtown players gunning for Chris Daly’s propositions. I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m just saying it was someone, and probably someone who knows how influential Guardian endorsements have been in the past.

But we’re back, ready to canvas the city, cover the parties, and put it all online. So check back regularly tonight and in the coming days.



For those of you who are still trying to vote, I’m really sorry that our endorsements haven’t been available, but here they are:

The Clean Slate
Our endorsements for the June 6 election. Tear off and take to the polls
National races
(D) No endorsement
(G) Senate
Todd Chretien
Congress, District 6
(D) Lynn Woolsey
Congress, District 7
(D) George Miller
Congress, District 8
(D) No endorsement
Congress, District 8
(G) Krissy Keefer
Congress, District 9
(D) Barbara Lee
Congress, District 11
(R) Pete McCloskey
Congress, District 12
(D) No endorsement
Congress, District 13
(D) Pete Stark
State races and propositions
(D) Phil Angelides
Lieutenant governor
(D) Jackie Speier
Secretary of state
(D) Debra Bowen
(D) Joe Dunn
(D) Bill Lockyer
Attorney general
(D) Jerry Brown
Insurance commissioner
(D) Cruz Bustamante
Board of Equalization, District 1
(D) Betty Yee
Superintendent of public instruction
(nonpartisan) Jack O’Connell
Senate, District 12
(D) Leland Yee
Assembly, District 12
(D) Janet Reilly
Assembly, District 12
(G) Barry Hermanson
Assembly, District 13
(D) Mark Leno
Assembly, District 14
(D) Loni Hancock
Assembly, District 16
(D) Sandré Swanson
Proposition 81
Proposition 82
San Francisco races and propositions
Superior Court, Judicial Seat 8
Eric Safire
San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee:
District 12
Susan Hall, Trevor McNeill, Jane Morrison, Melanie Nutter, Connie O’Connor, Roy Recio, Arlo H. Smith, David Wong
District 13
Bill Barnes, David Campos, Gerry Crowley, Rick Galbreath, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joseph Julian, Rafael Mandelman, Tim Paulson, Laura Spanjian, Holli Thier, Scott Wiener
Proposition A
Proposition B
Proposition C
Proposition D
Alameda County races and measures
Roy Thomsen
Patrick O’Connell
District attorney
No endorsement
Gregory J. Ahern
Superintendent of public instruction
Sheila Jordan
Superior Court, Judicial Seat 22
Fred Remer
Measure A
Measure B
Oakland races
Ron Dellums
Courtney Ruby
City Council, District 2
Aimee Allison
City Council, District 4
Jean Quan
City Council, District 6
Desley Brooks
School board, District 2
David Kakishiba
School board, District 4
Gary Yee
School board, District 6
Chris Dobbins
Live election night coverage at www.sfbg.com
For detailed explanations of our endorsements and a printable version of this slate card, go to www.sfbg.com.

Election-night parties


We’re having some web-server problems here, as some of you may have noticed. But we’ve managed to get our election blog up and running, which is what you see here now. For your infor, here’s the list of election-night parties.

Janet Reilly
Canvas Café
1200 9th Avenue at Lincoln

Fiona Ma
Irish Cultural Center
2700 45th @ Sloat

Yes on A
Powell’s Place
1521 Eddy @ Fillmore

No on D
2522 Mission St. (on the roof)

Leland Yee
Campaign Headquarters, 6644 Mission Street, Daly City, CA

Mike Nevin
Plumber’s Union Hall
1519 Rollins Road

Eric Safire for Judge
398 7th St.

Lame campaigns


By Tim Redmond

The polls have the Democratic primary for governor way too close to call, with some showing Westly moving up and some suggesting that Angelides has the momentum — and all of them showing that almost a third of the voters haven’t made up their minds the day before election day. Randy Shaw at BeyondChron predicts an Angelides win because the hard-core Democrats are most likely to go to the polls. Markos at DailyKosgives a nod to the possibiity that negative campaigning has turned a lot of voters off, but he goes further, saying that both sides have run lousy campaigns.
The constant internal warfare matters in this race a lot more than the nastiness in the Reilly-Ma contest. The candidate who takes the Democratic Assembly primary in SF is the sure winner in November; the Republicans don’t have a chance (although if the winner is Ma, I’m voting for Barry Hermanson. But either Westly or Angelides will have to unite the party and fight an ugly battle against Arnold in the fall, and this shit won’t help a bit.

It just gets nastier


By Tim Redmond

On the last day before the election, Warren Hinckle managed to get a final blast in, distributing (he told me) 40,000 coies of the Argonaut, his occasionally published journal that seems to be published largely when there are political ads available to fund it. Most of the distribution’s going on the west side of town, and the cover features a rather nasty illustration of Janet Reilly, in a low-cut, tight dress, drinking a glass of champagne in her Sea Cliff mansion.

NOISE: Desmond Dekker, RIP


Ska legend Desmond Dekker died on May 25 in his home in England. Guardian calendar editor Duncan Scott Davidson writes in praise of the Jamaica native:


“Oh Lord, it is not easy,” Desmond Dekker sings in falsetto on his track “It Is Not Easy.” “I work and I toil/ Yet I suffer all the while/ Trying to live a life on my own/ I don’t want to end up like Al Capone.” The suffering has ended for Dekker; he succumbed to a heart attack on May 25. Even the baddest gangster and the King of Ska must, eventually, go the way of all flesh.

The ska Dekker helped originate in his native Jamaica is a much slower, more groove-centered affair than the frenetic, even spastic, punkified outbursts from what the English Beat’s Dave Wakeling called the “high school horn section” bands that have come to be associated with the genre in its latter days.

For me, a Dekker record is a ticket to a good mood. There’s really know way to be depressed or stressed out when listening to a Dekker tune. It’s good-times music, but there’s always something deeper going on: There’s the struggle to walk the path, to be upright in the face of suffering, to not give in to a life of crime that, for a parentless teenager in Kingston, must’ve been a huge temptation. Dekker’s music mirrors this struggle as his hits alternate between religious numbers like “Honour Your Mother and Father” — where he quotes directly from the ten commandments — and “The Israelites” and songs about punch-up, rude boy culture.

An example of the deeper currents that Dekker circulated underneath perfect pop songs is his “Licking Stick:” “Mama, mama, mama I am feeling sick. Papa, papa licked me with the licking stick. I’ve got the fli-ipping hiccups, Mama. I’ve got the fli-ipping hiccups, Papa.”

If you’re driving to the beach with the top down, the lyrics completely fly under the radar. You start hipshaking ever so slightly in your seat, and the percussive syllables are just another part of the rhythm, like the later “chka chka” oral punctuation thrown into so many ska tunes — especially with the nearly comic basso profundo “don’t go” in the background and the falsetto echoes of “Mama, Mama, Mama” over the top.

But when the fade comes and Desmond quietly sings, “Mama please tell Daddy/ Do not hit me with that/ Mama, I’m feeling pain/ I’m really, really feeling/ I can’t stand it…”

Well, it’s not really a song about hiccups, is it? Like the Muscle Shoals sound that was happening across a geographic and cultural gulf, Desmond Dekker’s ska is party music with soul, Emma Goldman’s long-awaited revolution you can dance to. To quote Toots: “Reggae Got Soul,” and no one had it more than Desmond.
















My night with “Marie Antoinette” — live at Cannes


Gary Meyer of Balboa Theater fame dishes the Cannes screening of Sofa Coppola’s forthcoming opus:

Can we get more frills on that? A still from Marie Antoinette.

A hometown girl made good at the world’s most prestigious film festival when Valley Girl (Napa Valley, that is) Sofia Coppola presented her newest film, Marie Antoinette, at Cannes.

The movie was filmed in France and deals with one of the country’s most famous historical characters — an American is always taking chances dealing with something so essentially French. Kirsten Dunst said at the morning press conference, “In America we learn mostly about our history and only a paragraph is dedicated to the French Revolution. “

An 8:30 a.m. press screening generated a handful of predictable boos from a group of French critics though the published reviews were generally favorable and the opening day box office was huge here. What happens at the public showings in more important.

And that is how I wanted to experience Marie Antoinette. I scored hard-to-get tickets for the evening gala. This is the “big deal” where the celebrities and France’s crème de la crème put on their finest. Everyone is required to dress accordingly. Following a day of screenings, I rushed back to my hotel to get into my tuxedo at 5:30. At 6:30 I met my date in front of the Palais. This massive structure is entered via dozens of red carpeted steps flanked by hundreds of photographers and TV camera crews.

Photo opps galore. Credit: Gary Meyer

As we started our ascension, Yseult, wearing a stunning long dress, was stopped because a security guard noticed she wore black tennis shoes underneath. With some fast talking and a flash of her smile, she got him to look the other way. And then we started an entrance that seemed to take a very long time. Not only are there numerous sets of stairs, but everyone is expected to stop and pose for pictures…just in case we happened to be famous. Suddenly there was loud cheering. We put on our best we-are-important look and pretended to belong. Reaching the top steps we turned to look back and it soon became clear that maybe the cheering had been for Samuel L. Jackson. Oh, well, we had our fantasy moment.

Inside the 3,000-seat auditorium we had excellent orchestra seats thanks to Columbia Pictures. On the huge screen was projected the arrivals. We’d been up there minutes before. And now we had a close-up view as jurors ZiYi Zhang, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Monica Bellucci, Tim Roth, and Wong Kar-Wai arrived. Soon came Sharon Stone and Faye Dunaway, then Pedro Almodovar with his film’s star, Penelope Cruz. Several women in astonishing dresses and massive colorful hats came dressed right out of the film. And finally the cast and crew of Marie Antoinette led by director-writer Sophia Coppola under the watchful eyes of proud parents Eleanor and Francis Ford. Ellie made certain to capture everything on her camcorder. Kirsten Dunst was glowing, and her co-stars Jason Schwartzman, Marianne Faithfull, and Steven Cooper seemed to be thrilled, too. As the film’s entourage entered the cinema, the TV cameras followed, and suddenly we saw them a few yards away while projected 50 feet tall. The entire audience rose to offer an advance standing ovation.

Face time inside the Palais. Credit: Gary Meyer

The movie began. It is a beautifully made work that concentrates on the life of a young woman brought from Austria to be married at 14 years old to the heir to the throne, Louis XVI. The rules were strict at Versailles. Annoyed at first that she couldn’t even get undressed without a staff helping her, Marie soon became accustomed to her escape from family infighting and gossip by indulging in the constant pampering, shopping, eating, and playing with her pets. Her husband wasn’t interested in intimacy, and for years Marie was blamed for their lack of an heir.

Coppola has brought a contemporary sensibility to this tale about the young queen. Her script largely avoids politics with the coming revolution being a factor only at the end of the two-hour film. Sofia explained at the press conference that she wasn’t telling the story of the French Revolution, but it is clear to the audience why the masses would rise up in protest at the extravagance of the royal family while most people were starving.

Jason Schwartzman and Kristen Dunst maneuver at the press conference.
Credit: Gary Meyer

The settings and costumes are authentic, and the actors explained how they worked to move and inhabit the clothing. They all did considerable research for their characters. Schwartzman told how amazing it was to wander around Versailles alone and develop a sense of what it might have been like to live there. But Coppola wants the movie to come alive for today’s audiences, and her musical score features 1970s and ‘80s tunes while the spoken language feels comfortably contemporary. She admits to having taken liberties with history while drawing parallels between the excesses of the 18th century French monarchy and modern-day affluence. Valley Girl, indeed…Loire Valley Girl.

“I wanted the film to be credible, but I was inspired more by the visual than historical facts. I want people to be transported into another era with an echo of today,” Coppola said.

The film comfortably coasts along with little dramatic tension, but is a pleasure and should be a popular, if unlikely success to follow Ms Coppola’s very different but linked The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation.

Following the screening was a lengthy standing ovation and then those with colorfully painted fans/invitations moved outside and over to Plage Marie Antoinette for the after party. Tables filled with assorted seafood from raw tuna on spoons to crayfish and oysters, were supplemented by vegetables, salads, and the tastiest cheese balls that have ever melted in my mouth. A large table sported a tall fountain of flowing chocolate waiting for assorted fruits to be drowned. Sofia was spotted indulging, and when nobody noticed (except my friend from the Hollywood Reporter), she wiped some chocolate off on her dress. Additional guests, many dressed casually, arrived. We spotted Robin Williams, Michele Yeoh, REM’s Michael Stipe, and cyclist Lance Armstrong. There were crème puffs but they didn’t let us eat cake, the famous reference, which is referred to as a joke in the movie.

The weather was perfect, and at midnight a spectacular fireworks show erupted over the harbor. A DJ played great ‘80s dance music. My feet started to hurt at 2 a.m., and it was time to go home. There was an 8:30 am screening to rest up for. I carefully exited in hopes that the masses weren’t waiting outside to rise up against the most extravagant party I’ve attended.

To read quotes from the Marie Antoinette press conference, visit the festival site.

“X-Men” Schmeckman


First off, I can bitch about the ridiculousness of the Golden Gate Bridge effect, the absurdity of setting so much of this movie in SF when they actually shot most of it in Vancouver (it looks pretty faux, to boot), and the narrative mishaps that leave me, the onetime X-Men semi-superfan, uncaring about whether Jean Grey/Phoenix lives or dies.

The Bridge.

But just to be a super-bitch, why has X-Men become a place where supermodels (Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn, we’re looking at you) go to die? Famke, I’m sorry, but you’ve looked finer and your color job has been much classier. This look ranks up there with Val Kilmer’s bad wigs in The Doors. Blame it on the Brett Ratner production?

Can we get any redder?

All that aside, I wanted to simply share a moment in the preview screening when the button/easter egg appeared after the credits. Not only was it blatantly cheesy and soap-opera-ish, but the devotees who I caught it with, were literally roaring. Most memorable response: “Bullshit!”

NOISE: Live, live, live, if you want it — Mission Creek and so much more


You didn’t ask for it but you got it anyway…here’s beginning of your belated, scattershot lowdown on Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival as well as recent and not-so-recent shows.

Vincent Gallo on Polk Street last year.
He was in town to promote Brown Bunny.
Credit: Kimberly Chun

Last week, the name on everyone’s lips was Vincent Gallo. Vincent, Vincent, Vincent, we just can’t stop talking about him. Word had it he was a dick; other words had it he was charming; still more words had it that he had quite a dick (see BJ scene in Brown Bunny).

I caught the last couple songs of his Friday, May 19, show at Bimbo’s 365 Club, and boy, was it a madhouse. Gallo and Sean Lennon were seated, playing acoustic and electric instruments, trading quips. Gallo was in beige and in a chatty mood; most quoted bit of stage patter had to do with where he was staying (the Phoenix) and the fact that he was very lonely. You could practically read the minds of all the hot, fashionable ladies out on the sidewalk afterward the show: Do we swing by the Phoenix now, or later? I haven’t see so many cool, cute women in one spot in ages…

I guess the merch booth was partly geared toward them — Gallo was in sheer superstar mode, charging more than a $100 for plenty of items including art books, tankini and bikini sets, and “hand-made” Gallo shirts (a little bird told me he was up the night before spray-painting them in his Phoenix hotel room).

Chris Sabbath reports that at one point, Gallo made a remark about how he likes looking at Lennon naked but, to loosely paraphrase the man, “we all know the size of Asians.” Even Lennon looked uncomfortable at that moment, and vague noises of discontent and disgust were audible. The love returned quickly, though, as shout-outs of “We love you, Vincent,” “Chloe,” “Brown Bunny” began once again. After someone yelled, “Chloe,” Gallo said something about how they’re not really close friends.

Gallo also made a comment toward the end of the show that Lennon is his best friend and that he has such tremendous respect for him onstage because he’s so calm onstage. Meanwhile, he’s a ball of tension ready to explode. Reports have it he was all charm backstage, however, though a genuine worrier. Rumor was that he demanded a large pile of cash up front to play the show and then more handed to him the moment he left. It turned out to be just that: rumor.


Lets go back a way: Remember Dinosaur Jr.? Seems those April 19-20 shows were notable for their rockingness — and utter, abject loudness. Word has it that stuff broke as a result of the sheer volume at those shows — this after the Great American Music Hall had a new sound system installed. Triple-bummer.

Stacked and jacked: J. Mascis at Great American Music Hall.
Credit: Kimberly Chun

Sources say J. Mascis is so deaf he needs the massive volume to simply hear himself on stage. Those Marshall stacks surrounding him had a real function after all.

Doing the Cannes-Cannes, Part Two


Gary Meyer of the Balboa is at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here is the second of his reports.

What a day! They’ve moved things around. Problems with my accreditation badge mean I can’t get into the movies. Offices that used to be in the Palais are at the other end of the Croisette, a 20 minute walk. The lines are huge and don’t seem to move. Finally I get my problems cleared up but every screening is full. Even my friends connected with some movies can’t get me in. The day is almost over and I haven’t seen one film yet. BUZZZZ. “Good morning. This is your 7am wake up call. Have a nice day.” Anxiety dreams are the worst here. I am feeling guilty that I only saw four films yesterday, but that was all there was worth seeing.

The morning started promisingly. Ken Loach’s newest, The Wind that Shakes the Barley , is generally well-received. Cillian Murphy proves that his acting turns in Breakfast on Pluto and Red Eye were not flukes. He stars as a young doctor faced with an offer to practice medicine in London — or stay in his village and become increasingly involved in forming a guerilla army to fight the “Black and Tan” army from England, sent to squash Irish independence. Set in the 1920s, the film has contemporary relevance. The first half is exciting, playing like a grand adventure with a political conscience, just as we have come to expect from Loach. The second half slows a bit but still worked for me.

Continuing in the history vein, with sociology and myth thrown in, is Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes. This Dutch director has developed a small but faithful following with his diverse filmography of under-distributed movies including The Quiet Room, Dance Me to My Song, and Alexandra’s Project. Ten Canoes was developed with actor David Gulpilil (most known for starring in Walkabout) who was interested in the stories of his own tribe, the Ramingining people. Gulpilil narrates (in English) simultaneous stories related to forbidden love but separated in time by many generations. There is a certain irreverence in his storytelling that is surprising: What is a flatulence reference doing in a story set hundreds of years ago? But then one realizes people have passed wind as long as they have existed. The guilty warrior is moved to the back of the line as they go through the forest — and more bawdy humor reminds us that dirty jokes aren’t new.

Ten Canoes is an impressive accomplishment on many levels. Though its austerity may be off-putting for some audiences, the fascinating stories, stunning visual delights, and truly unique experiences make it worthy of distribution.

The next two films shouldn’t be watched on a full stomach … but a viewer might not want to eat afterwards either. Taxidermia is the second feature from Hungarian director György Pálfi, after his astonishing Hukkle. Like Ten Canoes — another film dealing with several generations in a family — Taxidermia opens with a story of an orderly masturbating while observing his master’s young daughters, and servicing the man’s rather large wife on a monthly basis. The accidental offspring grows up to become a champion eater, winning contests while becoming a national, very fat, hero. Just as the sexual escapades of his father were graphically portrayed, we are shown huge amounts of vomit following the son’s competitions. The absurdity of it generates nervous laughter from those who haven’t turned away from the screen. He grows older, and becomes so large he cannot move. When he explodes, his son, a taxidermist, does what you might expect — and then what you won’t expect.

In some ways Taxidermia is a brilliant piece, with incredible cinematography, black humor, and a couple of visual treats. A brief sequence in a pop-up storybook and one exploring the myriad of uses for a bathtub are moments I should like to see again. But this is a hard movie to recommend to most; the gross outs just keep coming, each topping the previous one. Obviously, it’s only for those who can stomach it.

If one hasn’t lost his or her appetite after Taxidermia, the fiction film adapted from Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book Fast Food Nation could move anyone in that direction. The author developed the screenplay with director Richard Linklater (whose animated science fiction film, A Scanner Darkly, screens here next week). The story centers around an executive at a thinly disguised hamburger chain — “Mickey’s” — who is sent to Colorado to investigate reports concerning fecal matter in beef. Along the way he encounters a number of characters working at the slaughterhouse and at the chain’s local burger joint.

In trying to cover as many controversial bases as he can, Schlosser may have taken on too many issues (the treatment of illegal aliens, sexual harassment, America’s poor dietary habits, the lack of sanitary conditions in both the meat-processing plant and the retail outlets, corporate neglect for bigger profits, etc). But the over-ambitious narrative rarely makes the impact these issues deserve. Following Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, Schlosser’s investigative book confirmed that things aren’t much better in the 21st century. Though trying to reach a wider audience with a narrative film is a noble idea, it doesn’t succeed as either entertainment or piece of muckraking. The French seemed to generally like Fast Food Nation, probably because it makes for an easy anti-American target. But they also eat fast-food burgers in huge numbers.

High concept

The Marche is a massive film market that happens simultaneously with the film festival. More junk that you ever imagined is produced all over the world, and thousands of films are being sold here. Some are finished and others are in development. Many will never be finished.

We can always expect ripoffs of Hollywood blockbusters. There is no description for Sacrament Code or Stealing the Mona Lisa in the ads because the makers are probably hoping for some down and dirty direct-to-international video and cable sales. I’ve seen ads for at least three pirate movies, each looking very much like the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean II, with supernatural elements floating through the art work and featuring casts of total unknowns who look a lot like Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley.

One of my favorite things at Cannes is seeking out the most ridiculous titles for movies selling in Marche. Are you ready for a horror film about “hair extensions that attack the women that wear them?” Japan’s Toei is selling it here. Exte will star Chiaki Kuriyama, the crazy chain-swinging schoolgirl in Kill Bill.

And how about Motor Home Massacre? No description offered and none is needed.


The masses gathered at Cannes rarely refer to upcoming Festival movies by their title. We are asked, “Are you going to see the new Almodovar?” or “Did you see the Turkish movie?”

We say: “I liked the first feature from the director of that short Wasp,” and “Don’t miss the Indonesian documentary about the tsunami aftermath.”

This puts the film in a context that is easier to explain than “Are you going to see Volver? Iklimler? Red Road? Serambi?”

What do those titles mean? Until enough people have seen or heard about them, they are merely strange words or odd phrases. Volver is the new film from Pedro Almodovar; it’s a bit more subdued than some of his over-the-top recent entertainments. Penelope Cruz, who returns to her roots in Spanish cinema, plays a mother dealing with a teenaged daughter, a lonely sister, and an aging aunt. When the aunt dies, her dead mother appears, first as what the women assume is a ghost — but, maybe she never died in the fire that took their father? Initially the filmmaker continues his homage to Hitchcock with a surprise murder (and Bernard Herrmann-like music) before moving more to melodrama. While not a great film, Volver is wonderfully entertaining, full of surprises, and features a performance by Cruz that made me an instant fan. The buzz is great.

Iklimler has an English title of Climates, an appropriate description of the hot and cold relationship between a man and a woman who break up during a beach vacation and meet again in the snow. Like director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous film Uzak (Distant), the Cannes Grand Prix winner in 2003, this film could be best described as contemplative. On the surface it is a simple story of a relationship, but the emotions and motivations dig much deeper. The characters are believable, the emotions real, and the performances powerful. With virtually no camera movement, the filmmaker beautifully composes each shot; so impressed with his work, the camera stays in that one position for long sequences. Some raved about this “work of art,” but gorgeously composed images don’t make a movie. For me, this slowed too much midway. I stayed with it and appreciated the ending, but as with so much at the festival, Iklimler is an acquired taste. No doubt I will be damned for my comments.

Red Road is another story. Scottish director Andrea Arnold’s first feature is a tense and original thriller. Working from a concept proposed by Lars Von Trier’s team, three different filmmakers set out to create original stories based on the same main characters. Each were given notes; the same two actors will star. Red Road is the first to be made. A woman works for a security company watching various video monitors for possible troublemakers in a rough neighborhood. She concentrates on a man recently released from prison for a crime obviously committed against someone close to her. This variation on Hitchcock’s Rear Window grows increasing more tense as details are carefully revealed. Despite a few missteps, the film works well and Arnold is a talent to watch (her Oscar-winning short, Wasp, was a knockout).

In a given day there will rarely be a logical pattern to the order of film-watching — and the segue from one to the next can be very strange. Following Red Road with Serambi was such a radical shift. This documentary explores the aftermath of the tsunami, following children, young adults, and adults who search for their friends and relatives while coming to the realization they must rebuild their lives and city.

Another documentary, Boffo! Tinsletown’s Bombs and Blockbusters proved a good way to end a day that also included a program of shorts and a long Korean film about young soldiers that left me cold (The Unforgiven). Boffo! is by onetime Bay Area director Bill Couturie. Packed with film clips and great interviews, it tries to help us figure out why a movie is a hit or flop — even if people from filmmakers to studio heads come back to writer William Goldman’s quote: “Nobody knows nothing.”

Doing the Cannes-Cannes


Gary Meyer of the Balboa is at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here is the first of his reports from the Croisette and the theater trenches:

Getting there — No snakes on the plane
The trip to Cannes always starts when I board the plane in San Francisco, looking to see if anyone I know is aboard. The 747 was huge but full exploration didn’t reveal any obvious candidates for the Festival.
Once in Paris things change. On the transfer to Nice I always run into several friends making the final leg of our journey to the south of France and 10 days of movies, morning till dawn. We compare stories about how much sleep we did or didn’t get before leaving and on the plane. And the inevitable jokes about being jet-lagged and surely taking naps in films.
Each year I also spot someone famous getting on my plane. One year I chatted with French superstar Jeanne Moreau. I had been involved in distributing a movie she directed, L’Adolescente. Another time Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) was nervous about the trip. It was his first time in France and he was appearing at the premiere of the movie Unstrung Heroes. He was a nervous wreck. He couldn’t figure out how to use the pay phones, scared of the security and certain he would never find his way to the airport gate at DeGaulle (a reasonable worry). I befriended him and showed the way.
This year as the long line waited to board our flight, Snakes on a Plane‘s Samuel L. Jackson was escorted to the front of the line. A member of the Cannes Jury, he had a hat pulled down so he’d only be half recognized. Someone in the line called out, “I’ll see you in Cannes,” to make sure we all knew where they were both headed.

Opening night
Arriving a day early has it benefits. The crowds haven’t assembled. One can take care of accreditation, press orientation and study the various program books. A press screening of The Da Vinci Code was the only scheduled event. I had already seen it and chose to have dinner with friends.
Film festivals like to open with a high profile movie that is sure to attract big stars, tons of media attention and a major post-screening party that will last all-night. Allowing a film to open a festival, especially Cannes, is taking a big chance. The movie will come under extra heavy scrutiny from critics. The Da Vinci Code is a logical choice to open the 59th Cannes International Film Festival. It is based on a huge best-selling book and largely set in France. Starring a major American movie star, Tom Hanks, and one of France’s most popular actresses, Audrey Tautou, it also features numerous important European actors. As I write this, over my left shoulder I can see them walking up the red carpet for the opening night ceremonies. Thousands of people jam the streets in front of the Palais. TV cameras and photographers catch the face of every person who ascends the steps to make certain they don’t miss anyone of importance.
The press has now seen The Da Vinci Code. The response isn’t too good. But despite the criticism you will read, Columbia Pictures made the correct choice. Director Ron Howard’s last film, Cinderella Man, was invited in 2005 but the producers passed. And the film failed at the box office. This time they aren’t about to miss out on the glitzy stamp of approval that comes with opening the world’s most famous film festival.

Day one
I’ve seen three films the first day of the Festival — all official selections caught at press screenings. I’ll catch a few more tonight.
A good way to start off the morning is with something not too demanding. Paris je t’aime is a collection of 20 five-minute films by an eclectic group of international directors including Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Walter Salles, Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, Gurinda Chadha, Tom Twyker, Wes Craven and many more guiding a superstar cast from Natalie Portman to Gena Rowlands, Gerard Depardieu to Fanny Ardant. (Ben Gazzara, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, and Bob Hoskins also are featured.) Anthology films inevitably are a mixed bag. Each piece is about love in Paris. They are like simple short stories; the best ones aren’t overly ambitious. Paris looks lovely of course and I enjoyed most of it.
Next came a film from Paraguay, Hamaca Paraguaya. At only 78 minutes, this is the kind of movie not to see when still jet lagged. It is all voice-over dialogue (subtitled) with stagnant camera shots. When the lights went up, I asked my neighbor, author Phillip Lopate, if I snored. He said I was a very considerate napper and wanted to know how he did. Just fine, I guess, as he didn’t wake me up. I have no doubt it will be hailed as a work of art by someone.
Much better was Summer Palace, the first competition film. Director Lou Ye (Suzhou River, Purple Butterfly) has constructed a complex film of relationships starting in 1989 China. A student leaves her small town and boyfriend to attend university in Beijing. She discovers both friendship and sex, with the pleasures and confusion they can bring. We journey through the political changes in China and Germany (where some of the characters go) over the next 15 years as the group of friends separate and rejoin. The film is often powerful, vibrant and involving, if a bit difficult to follow at times. It overstays its welcome at 140 minutes; some careful editing would help it become even better.
Summer Palace is the only Asian film in the Competition. It arrives amidst controversy. The Chinese government has complained that the producers didn’t get censorship approval and have broken the law by submitting it to Cannes. But the filmmakers claimed they didn’t submit it to Cannes. (Must have been the sales agent in France.) The Chinese censors turned the film down. Some suspect it is for the highly erotic nature and political reasons. There have been reports that the film has been withdrawn and the director has returned to China. This won’t be the first time claims of censorship by China have garnered attention here. The highest profile case was Zhang Yimou’s To Live.

Sitting in front of a sandwich stand a young British woman told her companion that film sales have been tough and that the DVD market has slowed to practically nothing: “We are looking for Video In Demand, computer downloading — anything where people don’t have to leave their homes.”