Speed Reading

Pub date February 11, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature


Edited by Peter Maravelis

Akashic Books

300 pages


San Francisco has many legacies, including the social movements of the 1960s and ’70s. But before more recent utopian impulses, SF was the Barbary Coast — and Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District were havens for gambling, prostitution, and crime. This gritty, nefarious reputation was enhanced in the ’30s by Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon, and in the ’40s by John Huston’s film version, among other SF-set stories. SF was a noir city, defined by hard drinking and hard living. This is a legacy that the current city perhaps would prefer to forget, much like a blackout during a drunken binge.

In his excellent introduction to the first San Francisco Noir anthology in 2005, editor Peter Maravelis writes, "Crime fiction is the scalpel used to reveal San Francisco’s pathological character." With San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, Maravelis does more than pick up the scalpel once again. Using a timeline, he reprints some of the grainiest SF snapshots by Barbary Coast writers. He starts with Mark Twain’s hard-boiled description of the infernal Hall of Justice in the late 19th century — a rogues gallery of vermin, where judges drop like flies from stress-induced heart-attacks. He then traces these noir elements to a doppelganger tale by Jack London, on to Hammett, and to contemporary authors such as William T. Vollmann, who writes what Maravelis calls "splatter-noir, where plutocracy has won and the dispossessed give graphic descriptions of the tears in the social fabric." Through recent stories by Janet Dawson, Oscar Penaranda, and others, Maravelis ups the ante, as if to say: this is the real San Francisco. Always has been, always will be. (D. Scot Miller)


Sat/14, 8 p.m.

Ha Ra Club

875 Geary, SF

(415) 362-8193




Edited by Stéphane Aquin


272 pages


Roger Copeland has his claws out at the very beginning of "Seeing Without Participating," an essay in Warhol Live, the LP-size silver-covered brick of a monograph accompanying an exhibition of the same name devoted to music and dance within Warhol’s gargantuan oeuvre. The target of his attack isn’t as noteworthy as the argument that follows, which is in sync with Peter Gidal’s recent writing on Warhol’s distinct repositioning of traditional forms of participation and spectatorship. From there, Copeland reveals filmmaker and choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s influence on Warhol. Some other musings within Warhol Live spotlight obvious or over-familiar aspects of Pop or rock history. But John Hunisak convincingly argues that Warhol shared Ondine’s love of Maria Callas and recognized her as a punk pioneer; Branden W. Joseph digs up uncommon information about Warhol’s brief stint as a member of a band called the Druds; and Melissa Ragona perceptively taps into Warhol’s (by way of Brigid Berlin’s) recordings.

The book’s vibrant and powerful visual presentation hints that the exhibition — which opens this week at the De Young Museum— might be more rewarding in terms of organization than content. Fluorescent 1980s portraits and Interview covers don’t flatter Warhol, who had fallen into embracing the past-prime Cars and talent-less groups such as Curiosity Killed the Cat by the time of his death. Still, it’s refreshing to see a gathering of sleeve art for his albums, and here and there there’s a surprise pleasure, such as the potent pages devoted to the color slides used at Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Sat/14 through May 17

De Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

Golden Gate Park, SF

(415) 750-3600



By Peter Gidal

Afterall Books

86 pages


It’s too easy, really, to say that an 86-page appreciation of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job is the critical equivalent of the film’s title. One potentially funny — though also provocative — aspect of Blow Job is its 36-minute length, a span of time that would make any jawbone, even a purely imaginary one, ache. As filmmaker and writer Peter Gidal points out, that time span is partially achieved through projection — like Warhol’s screen tests, Blow Job is presented at the silent-film speed of 18 frames per second, though it was shot at 24 or 25 frames per second.

The temporal is one main focus of Gidal’s heady interpretation of Blow Job, which comes and goes much like the many-reeled subject, and which is art historical and philosophical more often than theoretical, and never vogue-ish when it tends toward the latter. One of the unexpected rewards of this book is Gidal’s discussion of paintings in relation to Warhol’s films, in particular Diego Velázquez’s sinister Luncheon or Three Men at a Table and Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). His passage about Warhol’s Shadow series of silkscreens is revelatory. Gidal persuasively removes Warhol from mere camp interpretation, even if his recognition of or devotion to the sensual aspects of Blow Job and Sleep (1963) is fleeting at best. At times, one wishes he could mirror rather than admire and explicate Warhol’s knack for expressing complex ideas in simple, monosyllabic terms. Like Roger Copeland in the new monograph Warhol Live, Gidal is most insightful when addressing the mortal themes and pull of Warhol’s art, and the challenging — and not merely transgressive — manner in which he reframes notions of acting and watching. (Huston)