Birth of a sensation


Unplanned pregnancy is so stylish these days. As Waitress, Knocked Up, and now Juno have demonstrated, we’ve come a long way since a downtrodden Madonna informed Danny Aiello of her delicate condition in the "Papa Don’t Preach" video (1986). Of course, Juno is the only film among 2007’s baby-on-board crew to seriously consider abortion and settle on adoption; it’s also the most sympathetic to its female protagonist, who is thankfully more relatable than Keri Russell’s small-town pie chef or Katherine Heigl’s impossibly hot TV reporter. She’s a high schooler, she’s caustic as hell, and even if she’s occasionally too much of a screenwriter’s construct, it’s hard not to eagerly await her next wry, preternaturally mature observation.

Pitch-perfect as this pocket-size punkette is Hard Candy‘s Ellen Page, whose breakout status after Juno‘s release will be either matched or exceeded by that of hipster scribe Diablo Cody (director Jason Reitman already won over everybody with Thank You for Smoking). Sort-of couple Juno (Page) and Paulie (Michael Cera) consummate their mutual crush on a whim; cue bun in the oven. Ever the anti–after school special, Juno faces the news with eye-rolling determination. Before long, she’s plucked a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) from the "desperately seeking spawn" want ads. At first entirely uninterested in getting to know her baby’s adoptive parents, Juno finds herself drawn to them, especially to the dad-to-be, a failed rocker turned jingle writer whose interest in the preggers teen is maybe not entirely wholesome.

Whatever — people aren’t gonna go see Juno for its social commentary, or its take on teen pregnancy, really. This is one of those flicks with Heathers-like glib-clever-snarky dialogue that beg repeated viewings, memorization, and repetition. Besides a terrific script, the film also boasts a stellar cast, with Juno’s parents played by Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, and a cameo by The Office‘s Rainn Wilson. (Cheryl Eddy)


Opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters

Ficks’s top six


1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Christian Mungiu, Romania, 2007). This Romanian debut feature possesses a nonjudgmental flow reminiscent of a Dardenne brothers film as it follows two women who negotiate for an illegal abortion during the final days of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime. You’ll be holding your breath as the characters dash from one nightmare to the next. There’s a reason this movie won the Palme d’Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival.

2. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, France, 2007). As a rambling red balloon affectionately takes to Simon, a seven-year-old boy in Paris, his single mother — played to perfection by Juliette Binoche — does her best to care for her child, deal with flaky tenants, and continue her professional career as a puppeteer. Don’t be intimidated by Hou Hsaio-Hsien’s reputation; his latest movie is accessible, as is the 1956 French film that it is based on. This tiny, chaotic journey can help you deal with the frantic contemporary world.

3. Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen, UK, 2007). Warning: the new Woody Allen movie is not a comedy. Set in the UK, this minimasterpiece pairs Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as middle-class brothers, both of whom want a better financial lifestyle. As the pair close in on their dreams, their moral codes begin to loosen. The acting is extraordinary (Farrell finds finesse), and Vilmos Zsigmond’s camerawork encloses the characters in a strikingly gloomy world immensely heightened by Philip Glass’s original score. Many critics are dismissing this dark drama as a comedic misfire. But like Allen’s 2005 UK production Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream isn’t courting laughs; these films dig into some disturbing human dilemmas at a time when there’s not much of a reason to laugh.

4. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, US, 2007). For the follow-up to 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach creates another bittersweet coming-of-age exposé of a dysfunctional family. Both Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh contribute some of their best work as sisters who compete with more than support each other. Also, Jack Black is wonderful as a schlub whom Leigh is set to marry, and newcomer Zane Pais is as awkward as a young teenager should be in the role of Leigh’s son. But it’s the sincere and audacious writing that gives Margot at the Wedding its powerful kick.

5. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2007). Behold a personal journey through Guy Maddin’s childhood and hometown done by way of archival footage, personal home movies, narration (by Maddin himself!), and reenactments starring his cinematic mother, Ann Savage (the unforgettable leading dame of the 1945 film noir Detour). It’s hilariously self-depreciating and utterly universal — can this man do no wrong?

6. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands, 2007). Carlos Reygadas updates Carl Theodor Dreyer. If that gets your beard in a bunch, then you’re gonna be in heaven for two and a half hours.

Hit it or quit it


Black White and Gray (James Crump, US, 2007) If Andre Téchiné’s The Witnesses colors the early ’80s red, this documentary about Sam Wagstaff (and by extension Robert Mapplethorpe) opts for a relatively bloodless palette. Though its voice-over shows class chauvinism in asserting that Patti Smith brought validity to punk, Black White and Gray perceptively uses its enigmatic subject as a window onto the changing role of photography within the art world. (Mapplethorpe’s objectification of black men is left uncriticized.) Crump brings in some excellent sources, such as Hanuman publisher Raymond Foye. He also brings in at least one horrible blabbermouth: spewing bitter opinion, historian Eugenia Parry deserves every hearty hiss she’s going to get from a Frameline crowd. The film ends on a flat note by allowing Smith to recite one of her pedestrian recent lyrics, but otherwise she’s a trustworthy and likable source on the relationship between Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe. Maybe the DVD version will bring more of her reminiscences and less of Parry. (Johnny Ray Huston)

June 21, 7 p.m., Victoria

DarkBlueAlmostBlack (Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, Spain, 2006). The term Almodóvarian is being thrown around these days with almost the same frequency as the term Hitchcockian (Almodóvar’s Bad Education was called Hitchcockian) and just as vaguely, but screenwriter-director Sánchez Arévalo’s DarkBlueAlmostBlack is Almodóvarian, resembling his postscrewball phase: it has melodrama without histrionics, likable characters doing absurdly unlikable things and vice versa, malleable (different from queer) sexuality, and near-incestuous family dynamics. The only thing missing is a hideously decorated apartment. In a world littered with the fruits of vacant and wild-eyed Almodóvarians (see — or don’t — Frameline 30’s unintentional disaster film The Favor), a disciple with some chops is cause for applause. Bitterly funny and narratively exciting — it toys with an amiable glibness that always comes back from the brink with devastating human emotion —Sánchez Arévalo’s dark but not quite jet-black comedy could be one of Almodóvar’s strongest films. (Jason Shamai)

June 20, 9:30 p.m., Victoria

Finn’s Girl (Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, Canada, 2007). While other lesbians in the fest ponder whether to start a family, in Finn’s Girl conception is a fait accompli. How exactly it was accomplished is a bit of a mystery, but more pressing questions present themselves. One is whether Finn, a workaholic running a besieged Toronto abortion clinic and mourning the death of her wife, will get her head blown off by antichoice snipers — apparently, religious wingnuts live in Canada too. Another is whether she’s up for single-parenting the charming, precocious, enraged, and increasingly unmanageable Zelly, whose expressive 11-year-old eyes are particularly off-putting when narrowed above the smoke of a joint. Finn’s Girl covers a lot of terrain (grief, reproductive rights and technology, the travails of parenting, tween sexuality) with a fairly light tread, though Zelly’s scenes carry a particular charge of unpredictability. The result is a somewhat involving, sometimes sketchy picture of a family in transition. (Lynn Rapoport)

Sun/17, 12:30 p.m., Castro; Tues/19, 6:30 p.m., Parkway

Fun in Girls’ Shorts (various). Excluding Filled with Water, a smart, beautifully shot animation about a woman who falls for a TV-enclosed ballerina, and Succubus, a semicomedic film about a lesbian couple struggling to have a child, adolescent identity issues and anxieties constitute the major themes of this short-film compilation. With its attractively blurry cinematography, Pariah, about a 17-year-old black girl who keeps switching identities to please her parents and friends, is the most complete example of the suffocative effects that the suppression of one’s identity can have on a person, let alone a teen. (Maria Komodore)

Sat/16, 1:45 p.m., Castro; June 24, 11:30 a.m., Castro

Homos by the Bay (various). Though uneven, this program of shorts by local filmmakers does boast some standouts, including a stop-motion pair by Samara Halperin (who notably queerified Beverly Hills, 90210 in 2001’s Sorry, Brenda): the minute-long rhapsody on hot dogs, Plastic Fantastic #1, and Hard Hat Required, featuring two Lego men who do more than construction on the job. The Clap’s Gary Fembot uses his DJ skills for Mondo Bottomless‘s delightfully vintage pop soundtrack, a perfect match for its 16 minutes of cavorting men in bathing suits. And Nao Bustamante has a joyful punk-rock awakening in the black-and-white suburban fantasy The Perfect Ones. (Cheryl Eddy)

June 23, 1:15 p.m., Victoria

Jam (Marc Woollen, US, 2006). This is a fantastic, fascinating Roller Derby doc about Tim Patten, a local HIV-positive man who ferociously attempted to revive the sport after its virtual demise in the ’70s and, with it, the legendary Bay Area Bombers team. In San Francisco in the late ’90s, Bombers matches at Kezar Stadium were the hottest after-dark tickets in town, uniting swing revivalists, rockabilly fans, queer hipsters, and anyone into exquisitely goofy WWF-type antics but not into scary WWF crowds. Director Woollen takes us behind the scenes of those derby matches, delivering plenty of colorful history and personal drama (along with a few trade secrets) and uniting the disparate stories of the eccentrically flamboyant gang of wheel-heeled dreamers who signed on to Patten’s dream into a rollicking tale of subversive triumph. Now that’s a party. (Marke B.)

Mon/18, 7 p.m., Victoria

No Regret (Leesong Hee-il, South Korea, 2006). If you like movies about sexy orphans who become male prostitutes, you have at least two options at Frameline this year: Twilight Dancers and No Regret. Neither really addresses the issues it promises to (class politics, sex politics, et al.). But No Regret — essentially Pretty Woman for gay male depressives — is at least a better time at the movies. The South Korean film successfully tricks us into thinking its condom-thin melodrama is worthy of our tears, which is nothing to sneeze at. Just don’t expect to come out of the theater having unpacked the psyches of mopey Adonises for hire and their equally mopey rich lovers. (Shamai)

June 22, 10 p.m., Victoria

On the Downlow (Abigail Child, US, 2007) Some of the best pure moviemaking in this year’s festival can be found within this documentary by Abigail Child. Reflecting Child’s background as an experimental filmmaker, On the Downlow finds a lot of poetry and grit in urban Cleveland: a shot of a hooker moseying across the street and a sequence set at a barbecue are great examples of the poetry in motion that can happen when a talented woman with a camera looks at another woman. (Shot by men, these sequences would almost unfailingly be presented in a crude fashion or simply left ignored.) Of course, the main subjects here are men. Child also films them well, adding portraiture to talking-heads segments. On the Downlow‘s somewhat frustrating paradox is that it can’t really directly present its title subject — the guys talking here are either in love with DL guys who aren’t interviewed or they’re young gays- or bi’s-to-be taking awkward first public steps toward an out identity. (Huston)

June 23, 6 p.m., Victoria

Tan Lines (Ed Aldridge, Australia, 2006). The Aussie surfside ensemble drama has deep roots, stretching at least from preasshole Mel Gibson’s 1977 feature debut, Summer City, to last year’s superb, as-yet-unreleased (at least here) crime docudrama Out of the Blue. Landing somewhere between Gus van Sant and shark-bait territory, director Aldridge’s first feature focuses on the few days when 16-year-old surfer Midget (Jack Baxter) falls in first love — or at least first lust — with his best mate’s briefly returned, gay-disgraced brother, Cass (Daniel O’Leary). With its cannily used nonprofessional actors and streaks of absurdist humor, Tan Lines is an offbeat delight for half its length. The charm fades a bit thereafter, but this is still worth a look. (Dennis Harvey)

June 23, 3:30 p.m., Castro

Tick Tock Lullaby (Lisa Gornick, UK, 2006). Flirting with the idea of having a child and confronted with the difficult question of how to go about having it, Sasha (Gornick) and Maya (Raquel Cassidy), a lesbian couple living in London, set out on a sperm escapade. Inspired by the thought process that Sasha goes through as the couple’s hunt progresses, three additional stories emerge and intermingle, representing variations on the potential of becoming a parent. Shot with a beautifully fluid camera, Tick Tock Lullaby is an intimate, complex, and elaborate exploration of sexuality, relationships, and most important, parenthood. (Komodore)

Sat/16, 9:30 p.m., Castro

For more short takes on Frameline 31, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

How to control my body


> annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION The biological functioning of my body is all over the news right now. Lawmakers and federal regulatory agencies are asking themselves whether I should be allowed to have abortions, and whether I should be allowed to take a drug that prevents me from menstruating. You probably know about the brouhaha over abortion, spurred by the recent Supreme Court decision, but you may not have realized that decision came as the Food and Drug Administration decides the fate of Lybrel, a birth control pill that could liberate millions of women from paying Tampax for "wings" every month. But these two issues are not unrelated. They are both symptoms of how much the government loves to regulate the basic functioning of my body. Still, there are some key differences.

Most arguments over abortion boil down to whether you think a woman’s right to control her future is more or less important than the much-debated rights of a potential human. Because the legal status of a fetus has become part of the abortion debate, it’s hard to cast abortion purely as a female reproductive rights issue (as much as I’d like to do that). These days the abortion debate is also about how we define human life and whether a fetus constitutes a being that deserves legal protection.

However, the issue of controlling menstrual cycles is unequivocally about the female reproductive cycle, untainted by questions of embryo civil rights. Why should there be any controversy over pharmaceutical company Wyeth marketing Lybrel, which is exactly like a birth control pill without the seven-day placebo cycle that creates a fake period? (In case you aren’t a Pill geek, the period women have while taking contraceptive pills is caused only by hormone fluctuation and not a biological need to flush out unused eggs – the Pill works by preventing the ripening of said eggs. So it’s purely a cosmetic menstrual cycle.)

There are good reasons to test Lybrel, since nobody is completely sure what might happen in the long term to women who stop menstruating. But now that Wyeth has demonstrated the safety of this pill, what’s the big deal? The New York Times recently published a much-discussed article about negative reactions to Lybrel and other drugs like it. Canadian psychologist Christine Hitchcock told the paper she didn’t like "the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap." Giovanna Chesler, who just made a documentary about "the end of menstruation," objects to the idea that taking a daily pill makes women appear defective. "Women are not sick," she said. "They don’t need to control their periods for 30 or 40 years."

It’s interesting that Chesler uses the word "control" in her comment. Why are women eager to relinquish control over their periods, arguably one of the most annoying parts of being a biological female? After all, we take calcium pills to control bone density; we take showers to control odor; and take ibuprofen to control pain. None of these things are necessary. We don’t do them because we are sick, and not doing them won’t kill us. So why shouldn’t we take control of our bodies and stop having periods if we want to? There are no fetuses being harmed here. Why should we reject Lybrel, if not for the dogma that it’s unnatural for women to control their reproductive functions?

Yes, Wyeth stands to make money on Lybrel, and I’m no fan of pharmaceutical companies, but women already pay to deal with their periods. We pump billions of collars into feminine hygiene products so Kotex can sell us more wings and soft applicators and superabsorbent crap. I say if we can take pills that free us from having to deal with the monthly goo and bother, then let’s do it. Nobody is saying periods are sick or wrong here. It’s just that they’re annoying and uncomfortable – and if women don’t want to deal with them, they shouldn’t have to.

The social rejection of drugs such as Lybrel – which the FDA has already turned down for approval once – is based on the idea that there is something about women’s bodies that women themselves should not be allowed to control. Even in the absence of the fetus debates, we’re still seeing women who are afraid to control their reproductive systems. As long as we are in thrall to this fear, we will never triumph in the struggle for abortion rights and effective birth control. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who gets horrible migraines from birth control pills, so she (alas) will remain trapped in a prehistoric female body.



JAN. 22


Tall Firs

Quiet is the new loud — all the cool kids are saying
so! Take New York’s Tall Firs. Evoking visions of
Sonic Youth road-tripping through the most sorrowful
of rustic landscapes, this three-piece fashions a
narcotic folk blues out of dazzlingly haunting
twin-guitar interplay and broodingly languid vocals.
(Todd Lavoie)

With Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
8 p.m., $18
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750


Roe v. Wade anniversary party

Celebrate with Planned Parenthood the 34th anniversary
of Roe v. Wade with a discussion on the status of
reproductive rights in the United States,
multigenerational and multicultural reports on
abortion experiences, and performances by local
artists. (Deborah Giattina)

7 p.m., $10 El Rio
3158 Mission, SF
(415) 282-3325

F stands for family …


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It is not — finally — a good moment to be a social conservative, as the Republicans have finally failed enough on so many fronts that their failure is being acknowledged. Evidence increasingly suggests large segments of the population don’t really care that much about the terrifying threat of gay marriage, don’t want to turn the clock way back on abortion rights, and prefer keeping church and state as they’re supposed to be: separate. Whatever happened to "family values"?

Maybe folks outside such crazy-liberal enclaves as our own have at last realized that the old mom–dad–2.5 children under one roof equation is an outdated ideal simply because so few people are living it anymore. (Statistics recently confirmed that two-parent households are now indeed in the minority nationally.)

If the movies generally reflect how the public wants to see itself, then 2006 suggested to a large extent that few viewers see the point of happy traditional-family portraiture, even as fantasy material. It used to be that conflict often arose when external circumstances yanked characters from their snug, supposedly normal domestic setup. Now things are usually unstable from the get-go: parents (if both are present) at each other’s throats, kids in alienated crisis, any contented people likely to be delusional (and probably well medicated).

Thus it shouldn’t have been such a surprise, maybe, that the year’s big sleeper was Little Miss Sunshine — a family road trip movie in which everybody who’s old enough to have an opinion loathes everyone else, mostly for good reason. Saddling each relationship with maximum dysfunction, winking at attempted suicide and the appearance of pederasty, the smugly clever script allowed audiences to feel superior to the hapless Hoover clan even as they bought into caring about them. (I didn’t dislike the movie, but it seemed more cynically manipulative than was acknowledged.) Maybe medium-black comedy is the new warm-and-fuzzy comedy for jaded urbanites. If so, it was a surprise that the film adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’s memoir Running with Scissors didn’t do better, since it offered more spectacular bad parenting, growing pains appallingly handled, mockery of basic room and board issues, terrible sexual initiations — and was based on a purportedly true story.

Less-farcical treatment of multihousehold toxicity drives the excellent Little Children, which not only sports the year’s strongest treatment of a pederast (apart from the documentary Deliver Us from Evil) but sees nearly every parent-child and spousal relationship in it unravel in a humid miasma of discontent. Ditto the little-seen but admirable 12 and Holding, whose juvenile protagonists act out in all the wrong ways after one of their friends is accidentally killed. Still, they’re in better mental health than the adults supposedly minding them. Then there are those House of Windsor inbreds who stick together through The Queen. Not that they have any alternatives: in contrast to normal folk, they seem as odd, unnerving, and extinction-bound as a herd of dodoes.

Just about the only nuclear family units onscreen in 2006 were in full-on peril: a mutant clan laying siege to the suburban one (whose members only stop arguing once they start getting killed) in The Hills Have Eyes; Gael García Bernal as a malicious usurper avenging himself on deadbeat dad William Hurt’s new, improved family in The King; Judi Dench acting as a flying wedge to drive apart school colleague Cate Blanchett’s home in Notes on a Scandal; Babel seeing danger everywhere for reckless children and the grown-ups who fail to protect them. Even without kids to worry about, the couples in antiromantic comedy The Break-Up, current upscale drama The Painted Veil, and French marital fry-up Gabrielle can hardly get away from each other fast enough.

What little sentimentality there was to be found in these areas came in suspect packages. Aaron Eckhart’s divorced tobacco industry public relations whiz in Thank You for Smoking may be a slimebag and a tool (and know it), but hey, he still wants his kid to look up to him. It’s the one plot point this movie doesn’t treat with total sarcasm — which only makes the ersatz heartwarmingness queasier. Fairly straight-up family values could be found in movies as diverse as World Trade Center, Apocalypto, The Fountain, and Rocky Balboa — but the one thing uniting those titles is that in important ways they’re all psychologically bogus.

Things look a lot better in the realm of alternative family setups, which this year encompassed such genuinely adventuresome movies as Quinceañera and Shortbus. In less politically correct realms, substitute dads were where you found them — in the mob boss (The Departed), crackhead teacher (Half Nelson), or suicidal gay uncle (Little Miss Sunshine) — but despite their flaws, they were still better than the real, biological item. On the other hand, sometimes the replacement parent is bad enough to make a child’s mind disappear into CGI fantasyland (see Pan’s Labyrinth). As far as the ’60s and ’70s went, institutionalized alternative families don’t look so hot in retrospect: check out the documentaries Commune and Finding Sean. Not to mention the one about a little place called Jonestown.

Children are the future, natch, and no movie made that future look scarier than Jesus Camp — whose little Christian soldiers are being homeschooled into a rigidity of science denial, social intolerance, and street-hassling recruitment. It was also the film, fictive or documentary, that saw narrow-gauge family values in their most aggressive practice. When and if these kids start questioning their parents’ judgment, we may see nuclear family meltdowns of hitherto unknown toxicity. Or worse, if they don’t: god help the rest of us when these know-nothings with a programmed agenda reach voting age. *


(1) Quinceañera (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, US)

(2) Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, US)

(3) Little Children (Todd Field, US)

(4) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, US)

(5) The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy)

(6) Ondskan (Evil) (Mikael Hafström, Sweden)

(7) El Cielo Dividido (Broken Sky) (Julián Hernández, Mexico)

(8) United 93 (Paul Greengrass, US/UK/France)

(9) The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass, US)

(10) Evil Aliens (Jake West, UK)

Smart and dangerous


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
The Fucking Ocean are seriously fucking refreshing: they’ve taken cues from Mark E. Smith and Ian MacKaye alike to produce biting, sincere post-punk that’s nigh anomalous in American music. In band member John Nguyen’s San Francisco home, the current three-piece talked about their politics, new record, playing under the stairs at the Edinburgh Castle, and a shared affinity for Mexican food and DC punk.
It was collegiate rock enthusiasm that initially helped bring about this ensemble. Nguyen went to Brown with fellow band member Matt Swagler, where they played together in what Swagler said was a “pretty embarrassing ’90s power pop band.” When Nguyen subsequently moved west to enter med school at Stanford, he randomly tuned in to Fucking Ocean cofounder Elias Spiliotis on KZSU, the campus radio station.
“I had a show called Lethal Injection on Saturday evenings where I was playing Greek punk and bands like the Fall, Fugazi, and Blonde Redhead,” Spiliotis said. “Before I ever met him, John called in one night, said he liked the show, and asked me, ‘Where are the cool people at Stanford?’”
They inevitably found each other at a station staff meeting a few months later, and Nguyen started his own finely titled show, Sad and Dangerous. Later, after Swagler moved to San Francisco, a 2003 show from defunct DC no-wave ragers Black Eyes blew the friends’ collective mind. Starting a band was the noble, noisy result.
As cryptic as the Fucking Ocean’s name is, it has rather silly origins: “I was dropping off Matt after band practice when ‘Foggy Notion’ by the Velvet Underground came on the radio,” Spiliotis said. The band had been tossing around possible names, and when he suggested “the Foggy Notion,” his Greek accent unwittingly locked in a different phrase, one that they’ve used to this day.
Luckily, Swagler explained, the Foggy Notion serves as a name for playing kids’ birthday parties — when his grandmother recently asked his band’s name, that’s the one he gave her. Spiliotis, while no longer in the band (he left in order to continue his research in cell biology at Stanford), appears on the record with Nguyen, Swagler, and Marcella Gries, who joined the group after former bass player Megumi Aihara moved to Boston for graduate school.
For more than a year their rehearsals were tape-recorded on Gries’s clock radio. The band eventually had a friend help them record a five-song EP that, while never released, primed them for their studio time at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studio.
“We were playing a lot of shows, and our friends in the Mall suggested going to Ian and Jay Pellicci to record an album,” said Gries of the Pelliccis, who have recorded some of their favorite bands, Deerhoof and Erase Errata. They brought the Fucking Ocean newfound on-tape clarity and a pointed drum sound care of Jay Pellicci, as well as some nifty frills — a vintage Gibson amplifier and, appropriately, a telephone, which Nguyen said was “rewired and disordered in a way that makes it sound vaguely like a bullhorn.”
The Fucking Ocean’s affable attitude contrasts with their music’s tension and focus. Drum, bass, and guitar duties aren’t singularly assigned — the band writes collectively and swaps instruments. The approach makes their live show as varied and blindingly fun as their record. On the road they have been carting around new songs and video accompaniment courtesy of local artist Tony Benna. Shawn Reynaldo, who signed the Fucking Ocean to his Oakland label, Double Negative Records, calls them a “musical volleyball team” with a deliberately Minutemen-like songwriting economy. The prevailing maxim among the Fucking Ocean is that if an idea is presented to the listener, it needn’t stick around that long: no use in letting John Q. Listener get too comfortable, right?
Recording the album, all done on analog tape, took six days in June. While a lot of Indian pizza, Gatorade, and various caffeinated drinks fueled their long nights behind the boards, the result, Le Main Rouge, is damn lean. At 11 songs in a little under 27 minutes, it’s an urgent delight of terse angularity from a band bursting with novel ideas, both politically and riffwise.
Addressing abortion rights in the fuzzed, pissed strut of “Adam,” the Fucking Ocean close with the lines “Do you remember when, do you remember when?/ Women had to risk their lives just to live again!” “Bombs in the Underground,” a response to last year’s London Underground bombings, opens with a memorable guitar-bass groove reminiscent of midperiod Sleater-Kinney before bursting into a shouted refrain, then traversing odd tempo shifts and a drum fill — it’s thoughtfully fragmented and endlessly listenable. Le Main Rouge shows a band whose enthusiasm hopefully bodes a good run ahead. You’re advised to polish up that kayak and tune in. SFBG
With Kid 606 and Friends and Warbler
Thurs/16, 9 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455



› tredmond@sfbg.com
I started getting all the usual calls last week, from all of the usual national media outlets, with all the usual questions that a local political reporter gets when a local politician makes good. “Who is Nancy Pelosi, really? What do her constituents think of her? Is she going to bring Burning Man and gay marriage to Washington?”
My answer to everyone, from the liberals to the conservatives, was exactly the same:
Relax. There’s nothing to get excited about. Pelosi is by no means a San Francisco liberal. She’s a Washington insider, a born and bred politician who cares more about power and money than she does about any particular ideology.
I’m glad the Democrats are in charge, and Pelosi deserves tremendous credit for making that happen. But she’s not about to push any kind of ambitious left-wing political or cultural agenda.
Just look at her record. Pelosi was weak on the war and late in opposing it. She was the author of the bill that gave that well-known pauper George Lucas the lucrative contract to build a commercial office building in a national park. She worked with Republicans such as Don Fisher of the Gap on the Presidio privatization and set a precedent for the National Park System that the most rabid antigovernment conservatives can love.
Just this week Bloomberg News reported that Pelosi is working with Silicon Valley venture capital firms to weaken the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley law, which mandates strict accounting procedures for publicly held corporations.
And just a couple of weeks before the election, she told 60 Minutes that same-sex marriage is “not an issue that we’re fighting about here.”
I think it’s pretty safe to say she’s never been to Burning Man.
Pelosi, who is backing antiwar but also anti-abortion Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for majority leader, has an agenda for her first 100 hours. It’s nice moderate stuff — raising the minimum wage (to all of $7.25 an hour), lowering interest on student loans (but not replacing loans with grants), and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower-priced drugs (but not making Medicare a national health insurance program for every American). Tactically, it’s brilliant: there won’t be a lot of national opposition, and Bush will look like a heel if he vetoes the bills.
In fact, as a political strategist and tactician, Pelosi has proven brilliant. She’s whipped together a dysfunctional party and led the most important electoral change to this country in more than a decade.
Along the way, though, she’s pretty much stopped representing San Francisco. On issue after issue, her constituents are way to the left of her. This fall she didn’t even bother to show up in the district (except to extract money for Democratic congressional campaigns around the country). She spent election night in Washington.
There are a lot of people who think that’s fine. Now that she’s speaker, she’ll be able to do a lot for this city, particularly when it comes to bringing in federal money. I appreciate the fact that her work on the national level, which often involved running away from San Francisco, will allow more-progressive Democrats like Los Angeles’s Maxine Waters to chair powerful committees that can go after White House cronyism and corruption.
But if the right-wing talk show hosts are worried about San Francisco liberals like me, they can take it easy: Nancy Pelosi is not one of us. SFBG

Dan Savage comes through in the clutch. The gay sex columnist endorses in his pre-election column in the Voice and other New Times papers, but the Voice and New Times papers do not endorse. Hurray for Dan Savage!!!


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Hurray for Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist for the l7 Village Voice/New Times papers in major markets with major battleground races for the election.

Savage performed heroically under fire and managed to get some key election endorsements into the second to last paragraph of his syndicated sex column in the crucial issue before one of the most important elections in modern history, a plebescite on Bush, the war, and the occupation. (New Times papers historically don’t do endorsments and don’t allow their writers to endorse.) He ran a letter in his column from a Wisconsin male who wrote, “Wisconsin needs your help!. On Tuesday, Nov. 7 we’re voting on an amendment banning gay marriage. As a married heterosexual male I’m supposed to feel threatened by gays getting married, but I’m smart enough to realize it doesn’t affect me at all. I also realize that I got to marry whomever I wanted, and everyone should have that right. Urge your readers in Wisconsin to vote NO on the marriage amendment. Thanks!”

Savage gave the writer the ultimate Savage compliment: “You put it better than I could, JIW. I would add: The amendment in Wisconsin bans gay marriage and civil unions. Vote no.”

Then Savage continued his endorsement: “And to my readers in Colorado, Idaho,
South Carolina, Tennessee, Virignia, Arizona, and South Dakota: Please vote against the gay marriage bans in your states, too. And in South Dakota, please vote to overturn your state’s idiotic abortion ban. And to my readers in Canada: Be glad you don’t have to put up with any of this shit.”

In the presidential race two years ago, Savage snuck his Kerry for President endorsement in the last line of his pre-election column. This time, he slipped his endorsements into the second to last paragraphs, with a neatly disguised ending to his column with a diverting letter from a woman who claimed she couldn’t have an orgasm until age l8. She then took some pot with a “cooperative boy friend and–bam! –six orgasms in five minutes.” And he signed off, “Thanks for sharing.” And sent his readers off to a Savage website to learn more about pot and sex. Well done, Dan. A masterful job.

Meanwhile, Savage’s endorsements were the only real endorsements to be run in the pre-election issue of the Voice, probably one of the first times in Voice history, if not the first, that this bastion of New York liberalism has been Voiceless and neutered and has not endorsed candidates or run serious political coverage in an election. (Why? I put the questions by email to Voice/New Times CEO and chief executive officer Jim Larkin, Executive Editor Michael Lacey, and David Blum, the new Voice editor in chief, but got no reply by blogtime.)

Instead, the Voice this week ran a gripping “report from the trenches of ‘Saturday Night Live’–dress rehearsals, wrap parties, last-minute sketch changes, a l a.m. phone call from Lorne Michaels (and yes, Andy Samberg!”) with a front page illustration of a smiling comedian doing the Bronx shrug. I kid you not. Check the link below and the Voice website and see what has happened to the mighty Voice in the short nine months since Larkin, Lacey,and the Arizona Gang got ahold of it. Meanwhile a quick check showed that none of the other l6 Voice/New Times papers ran any endorsements in their pre-election issues, with the possible exception of the OC Weekly in Orange County. An editor sent me an email saying they were doing endorsements but I could not find them at blogtime.

Well, Nathan Blumberg, my first journalism professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in l953, used to say that a paper that didn’t run endorsements didn’t have any balls. He used the word testicles, because this was Nebraska in l953, but the class all got the point. So: does this mean that Dan Savage has balls, and Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey don’t have balls? Let us let the readers decide.

P.S.1 It’s hard for the staff members of a Village Voice/New Times paper to say much inhouse or publicly about the management style and editorial policies of Larkin and Lacey. For example, note what happened to poor David Schneiderman, the former Village Voice top guy since l978, who they sacked unceremoniously last week. VOICE BOSS GAGGED,” chided the New York Post head. The Post noted Larkin’s subtle style when it quoted an insider as saying about Schneiderman: “The new guys held him in complete disregard. It got so bad that one source said that while Schneiderman was in New Orleans recently delivering a presentation on the company’s web progress, Larkin made a point of taking out a newspaper and reading it while Schneiderman spoke.” Schneiderman will go down in journalism history as the guy who sold the Voice to New Times, and pocketed $500,000 for his work on the deal, but even he probably didn’t deserve the Larkin/Lacey treatment.

P.S 2: Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, the SF Weekly/
Village Voice/New Times ran a front page page illustration of two gay comic figures I can’t quite characterize, but sported the head, “DRAWN TOGETHER, Graphic Homosexual comics and the young women who love them.”
Smith came the closest to a political endorsement when he meandered around with the two major candidates in District 6, Sup. Chris Daly and challenger Rob Black, and wrote a self-immolating piece titled, “Vulgar posing, How our columnist was seduced into watching the World’s Largest Female Bodybuilder beat up on Rob Black.” After missing, mangling, mushing, and making fun of the issues, Smith came up with two summary questions but no clear endorsement: “Isn’t Daly the vulgar jerk who threatened the democratic process? What about the gentility-in-public-life rap Black’s been giving SOMA condo dwellers? Black is gone. I don’t feel like chasing after him with my facile questions.” Well, Smith concludes, “Alone, in SF Weekly’s offices, beer on my breath, an awful sort-porn video on the VCR, I realize I’ve beens seduced by the poses of two political hacks.”

News flash to Smith: There are real major issues in this district. For example, Calvin Welsh lays out a big one in a Guardian op ed this week, “Don’t for a minute believe that he (Daly) is in the fight of his political life because he’s rude, because he doesn’t care about lw and order, or because he prefers dirty streets upon which to raise his son. These petty and silly charges mask a far more serious objection: the way his opponents see it, Daly has been too slow in adopting the massive wave of market rate housing slated for this district and is far too protective of lower income residents in District 6.” He concludes: “There’s a working majority of the Board of Supervisors willing to fight for current neighborhoods and residents and a future that includes them. The battle in District 6 shows that the fight is not without risk. Do the rest of us realize it? Smith, Larkin, Lacey, Voice/New Times folks, do you realize it?

P.S.3: At blogtime, Jonny Diamond, the editor in chief of L magazine in New York, replied to my query about Voice endorsements with this quote: “Yes, the Savage stuff is in, but it’s the only thing remotely related to the election in the entire issue. This is the cover story (and he gave me the link). Remarkable stuff from the country’s formerly foremost alt-weekly on the eve of the most important midterm elections in a long, long time. I’d say this is the final, no-doubt-about-it end of the Voice. As for our own coverage, we’re working on something for Friday.”

So, to get election endorsements and coverage in New York, forget the Voice and
go to the website of the L magazine, a zippy New York arts and entertainment biweekly under the direction of the Steadman brothers.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we may have heard the final word on the eve of the election from the Larkin/Lacey/VillageVoice/NewTimes/SF Weekly crew in San Francisco and New York. Maybe Larkin will stop reading the paper long enough to send me comments or explain to the readers of his l7 papers why they don’;t endorse or do serious election coverage. I’ll let you know. If anybody spots a political endorsement in a Voice/New Times paper, flash me the word. B3, hoping good news is on the way on the way Nov. 7th


October 27, 2006 — DAVID Schneiderman is out as president of Village Voice Media nine months after Phoenix-based New Times took over the alternative weekly newspaper chain.

Following the takeover of the Voice by New Times CEO James Larkin and Editorial Director Michael Lacey, Schneiderman stayed on as president of the combined company, which took on the Village Voice Media name. He split his time between the company’s headquarters and Seattle, where his wife Dana Faust, a New York Times ad executive handling the Pacific northwest, is based.

However, few expected him to stay for long as he was clearly a man without a power base. He was given the job of exploring Web opportunities for the company, an area in which he had scant expertise. Even after he immersed himself in the new role, it didn’t impress the new cowboys from Phoenix.

“The new guys held him in complete disregard,” said one insider. It got so bad that one source said that while Schneiderman was in New Orleans recently delivering a presentation on the company’s Web progress, Larkin made a point of taking out a newspaper and reading it while Schneiderman spoke.

Reached yesterday, Larkin said of Schneiderman, “He resigned.”

Asked if there would be a replacement, Larkin said, “We are going to restructure.” He declined further comment, saying, “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” he said.

When reached by Media Ink, Schneiderman, said, “I’ve been approached by people in the venture capital and private equity world. I just felt the time to move on was now.”

He insisted that his deal as Voice president was “open ended” and that he could have stayed longer.

But making frequent trips between New York, Phoenix and Seattle “was wearing on me.”

“Waking up in my own bed for awhile is important to me,” he said.

The Boston Phoenix was reporting yesterday that its editor Bill Jensen had resigned to accept a job running Web operations for Village Voice Media, its parent company.



Same-sex marriage: On to the Supreme Court


EDITORIAL It’s hard to take the California Courts of Appeal decision on same-sex marriage seriously. It reads like some sort of joke, the product of a bad old mind-set that this country put behind it almost 40 years ago when the US Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage. It’s worse though: the court, by a 2–1 decision, seems to imply that gay and lesbian people don’t have the same fundamental legal rights as everyone else, that discrimination against them doesn’t need to be viewed with strict legal scrutiny.
Hiding behind the absurd notion that the court would be usurping the role of the legislature by finding that it’s unconstitutional to outlaw same-sex marriage, Justices William R. McGuiness and Joanne C. Parrilli overturned a landmark ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer and set the stage for what has to be a full debate before the state Supreme Court.
On many, many levels, this is the defining civil rights issue of our era — and the state’s highest court must agree to take the case and overturn this embarrassingly misguided decision.
The court goes out of its way to try to sound sympathetic to gay and lesbian couples, acknowledging in its ruling that social standards are changing and that “gay and lesbian couples can — and do — form committed, lasting relationships that compare favorably with any traditional marriage.” But the two judges in the majority argue that the state legislature hasn’t legalized same-sex marriage, so there’s nothing the courts can do.
That, of course, is nonsense and flies in the face of centuries of American legal jurisprudence (and most recently, of the well-reasoned decision by Judge Kramer). The Virginia legislature had explicitly refused to legalize marriage between people of different races when the Loving case came before the US Supreme Court in 1967; the court ruled, quite properly, that the so-called antimiscegenation laws by their very nature deprived people of a fundamental constitutional right. The right to an abortion was never established by Congress; the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the constitutional right to privacy protected the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy. The list goes on and on: when courts find that state and federal legislators have acted in a way that undermines basic legal rights, they often wind up enshrining in law rules that were never put to a majority vote.
Besides, let’s remember: the state legislature did take up this issue and passed a bill — which the governor vetoed, saying he was leaving the issue to the courts.
Justice J. Anthony Kline, the lone dissenting voice, put it very nicely: “To say that the inalienable right to marry the person of one’s choice is not a fundamental constitutional right, and may therefore be restricted by the state without a showing of compelling need, is a terrible backward step…. Ignoring the qualities attached to marriage by the Supreme Court, and defining it instead by who it excludes, demeans the institution of marriage and diminishes the humanity of the gay men and lesbians who wish to marry a loved one of their choice.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera will, of course, appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court, where everyone has assumed it was heading anyway. But there’s a danger here: the high court could duck the entire issue, more or less, by simply declining to hear the case and letting the appeals court decision stand. That would be a tragedy. Everyone involved on all sides agrees that this is a huge issue, both legally and politically, and two appellate judges on a sharply divided three-judge panel simply can’t be allowed to hold the last word.
We urge the Supreme Court to take the case. So should every Democratic (and decent-minded Republican) politician running for office this fall, starting with Jerry Brown, the leading candidate for attorney general.
The ultimate outcome of the debate over same-sex marriage isn’t in doubt. A few years from now — 5, 10, 15, 20 — the bigots will have lost their hold on politics and same-sex marriage will be as widely accepted as interracial marriage is today. California can either be a national leader in this progressive cause — or suffer the shame and embarrassment of being a state where the highest court enshrined unconscionable and indefensible discrimination into its constitution. SFBG
The appeals court decision and Justice Kline’s dissent can be viewed at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A110449.DOC.



Oct. 4


Don Ed Hardy

What does it take to earn the status of “the Godfather of Tattoo”? Ask Don Ed Hardy, a practitioner of skin art for 30 years, who’s known for his arresting designs and for melding Western and Eastern aesthetics. It is this cross-cultural mixing of horimono, or classical Japanese tattoo, with Americana iconography that has garnered Hardy his formidable reputation and a specialized creative edge. Find out more about the Bay Area native when he lectures at Mills College in Oakland. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

7 p.m.
Mills College, Music Building Concert Hall
5000 MacArthur, Oakl.
(510) 430-2164


Harmon Leon

Living in one of the bluest corners of blue-state America, it’s easy to forget how the other half lives. This is where Harmon Leon comes in. Leon dives headfirst into the right wing and lives to tell the tale with hilariously savage aplomb. He volunteered on George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, joined abortion protests, went to Christian rock concerts, dined with a group of white supremacists at an Applebee’s. Leon is having a release party for his book The Infiltrator: My Undercover Exploits in Right-Wing America at the Rockit Room. (Aaron Sankin)

7 p.m.
Rockit Room
406 Clement, SF
(415) 387-6343

Royal Fleischer


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Ever since somebody figured out that movies were, indeed, an art form, directors have been viewed as lone authors, or at least queen bees imperially orchestrating the efforts of mostly faceless subordinate collaborators. This is a flattering view, and sometimes a fairly accurate one. But they don’t call it the film industry — as opposed to, say, the film canvas — for nothing. Most employable directors are worker drones who just get the job done. Any job. After all, it’s competency that’s needed, not vision, the goal being entertainment rather than art.
When Richard Fleischer died three months ago, a final door closed on one of the most versatile, undiscriminating, and thoroughly Hollywood careers ever. In fact, the 90-year-old director had long been retired — his last feature was 1987’s Million Dollar Mystery, a starless farcical flop that coproducer Glad Bags promoted via a product tie-in: a $1 million treasure hunt. (The movie, alas, earned less than its title.) But his never stopped being ubiquitous as the “directed by” name on many of the most frequently televised films ever made. Some had originally been major hits, some bombed, some just punched the clock. But all were created equal in the eyes of the tube — and most likely, it seems, in the purview of Fleischer himself.
Just try connecting the dots between the features Fleischer directed between 1966 and 1976, when he was at his peak as a critically derided but reliable veteran entrusted with millions in studio money. He bounced from the psychedelic sci-fi adventure of Fantastic Voyage — with body-suited Raquel Welch as its most special effect — to 1967’s elephantine family musical fantasy Doctor Dolittle, then wasted no time and probably less sleep before turning to 1968’s The Boston Strangler.
Next up was 1969’s notoriously stupid Che!, with Dr. Zhivago (a.k.a. Omar Sharif) as the romantic revolutionary and daft Jack Palance as Fidel. Then came straight-up WWII patriotism via 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora!, followed by a western, a Godfather knockoff, Charles Bronson avenging as usual, blind Mia Farrow walking barefoot on broken glass to escape a murderer, 1973’s immortal Soylent Green, 1975’s bad-taste campsterpiece Mandingo, and — perhaps most incredibly in this context — Glenda Jackson as The Incredible Sarah in 1976. (Pauline Kael griped, “To think we were spared Ken Russell’s Sarah Bernhardt only to get Richard Fleischer’s,” dubbing him a “glorified mechanic [who] pleases movie executives because he has no particular interests and no discernable style.”)
Somehow amid all this middlebrow showmanship, Fleischer snuck in a small, low-key, fact-based British movie during 1971. 10 Rillington Place — part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “Too Scary for DVD: Neglected Horror on 35mm” series — is closer in spirit to the sharp, documentary-influenced B-grade noirs (1952’s The Narrow Margin, 1949’s Trapped) with which he started out his career, before Disney’s 1954 live-action smash 20,000 Leagues under the Sea promoted him to the A-list. Fleischer made several true crime films over the years, but arguably none truer than this chillingly poker-faced tale.
The Christie murders were infamous in Britain, not least because the execution of a probably innocent man played a significant role in that country’s abolition of the death penalty. Milquetoast landlord John Christie drugged, assaulted, and strangled numerous women, hiding their bodies in the Notting Hill house and backyard he shared with tenants and his oblivious wife. 10 Rillington Place focuses on those events of 1948, when a rather awful young couple (Judy Geeson, John Hurt) and their baby took the dingy upstairs flat. The Evanses were easy prey — the husband an illiterate compulsive liar with an IQ of 70, the pretty wife no exemplar either but understandably concerned that a second pregnancy would make their already marginal existence impossible. Christie (Richard Attenborough, future director of Gandhi) claimed knowledge of then-illegal abortion procedures, to Beryl Evans’s fatal misfortune.
Trading in British working-class miserabilism as if born to it (even Ken Loach would be impressed), the distressing yet nonhyperbolic Rillington delivers one credible version of the much-disputed case. Everything about it is astutely controlled, but two performances — Attenborough’s and Hurt’s — push that description into the realm of brilliance, indelibly etching the respective banalities of evil and of innocence.
One might call this sober replay of sordid reality an anomaly for Fleischer, but what film of his isn’t? Like several other major-league commercial directors of the ’60s (Robert Wise, Stanley Donen), he hung on through the ’70s but developed a serious case of irrelevance in the ’80s. Indeed, the embarrassments lined up like ducks: Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer, Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja, Amityville 3-D. No doubt he enjoyed the retirement that by then was so richly deserved. It is reported that he liked playing tiddlywinks with his granddaughter, perhaps while seated near his Mickey Mouse head–shaped swimming pool. (This despite his own father being Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer, Walt Disney’s leading early rival.) The director of Boston Strangler and Mandingo must have been a very nice, normal man to accommodate so many contradictions with so little fuss. He may be in the grave now, but it’s we the living who are spinning. SFBG
Thurs/20, 7:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-ARTS

Rabid rabbi


› news@sfbg.com
“You are my rabbi,” said the caller who claimed to be a Methodist. “Good,” said the talk show host, “Everybody needs a rabbi.”
This is no shock jock being irreverent — he’s a real rabbi. But make no mistake, this is no jolly rebbe kvetching about marrying a nice Jewish boy, nor a lefty Jew talking about justice, diversity, and the Holocaust. He’s Daniel Lapin, dubbed “the show rabbi of the Christian right” by the New York Times. And now he’s a San Francisco talker, Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. on right-wing radio station KSFO.
But Lapin’s more than a front man. He’s a faith-based political operative who was deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandals when Lapin’s nonprofit, Toward Tradition, was exposed as one of a cluster of tax-exempt organizations through which Abramoff secretly routed tribal Indian and other gambling clients’ funds to an aide to Rep. Tom DeLay in return for favorable legislation.
According to news reports published as recently as last month, Abramoff’s nonprofit money-laundering operations are still under investigation. “It’s not a tax-exempt activity to act as a bagman for Jack Abramoff,” Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer and former IRS official, told the Washington Post in June.
The Post piece claims Lapin introduced Abramoff to deposed GOP House leader Tom DeLay, a social feat of epic political proportions. Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters after the scandal broke, “Although I have no clear recollection of having formally introduced them, it is certainly possible.”
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has called Lapin his “spiritual adviser,” and white supremacist David Duke wrote, “There are so few honest voices like that of Rabbi Lapin.”
A rabbi without a congregation, the 59-year-old Lapin gave up his Seattle talk show in February. He’d been filling in for other KSFO hosts and began his show in April, broadcasting from a Seattle studio. Although Lapin denies it, observers opine that he moved to the Bay Area for a fresh start after national publicity about the Abramoff scandals made him radioactive in Seattle.
Toward Tradition has reportedly fallen on hard times after postscandal donations tanked. Lapin has given up his offices, laid off staff, and works out of his home on Mercer Island, a wealthy suburban enclave outside Seattle. He founded Toward Tradition with film critic and neocon radio talker Michael Medved and Abramoff in the early 1990s. The disgraced lobbyist joined the board and served a few terms as chairman. Lapin calls his organization a coalition of Jews and conservative Christians dedicated to faith-based American principles of constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, representative democracy, free markets, a strong military, and a moral public culture.
Until his recent problems, Toward Tradition allowed Lapin to pay himself a $165,000 annual salary, according to a 2003 IRS filing. He also fetched high speaker’s fees and right-wing Christian street cred that’s taken him to the George W. Bush White House for Shabbat dinners and the speaker’s podium at the 1996 Republican National Convention.
Lapin has been a conduit between the GOP and the fundamentalist “values” crowd, but was also directly involved in Republican fundraising. Newsweek reported last year, “When fundraising began for Bush’s re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin . . . urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.” For his loyalty, Bush appointed Lapin to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which helps protect cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in eastern and central Europe. He recently resigned from this post.
Although Lapin can be tedious on the radio, he’s charismatic one-on-one and on the stump. A striking figure in expensive dark suits, bright ties, meticulous ear-to-ear rabbinical beard, and bald pate usually covered with a yarmulke, he is a tall, lanky, ascetic presence.
His mission, as stated on his Web site, is “standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity.” But his version of Judeo-Christianity looks like a right-wing Republican wish list. Lapin believes that currency and capital markets are revelations granted by God to the Jews and passed on to Christians.
As a man of God, he not only supports stable marriages, family life, faithfulness, and integrity, but (along, he says, with God) favors tax cuts, property rights, sodomy laws, school prayers, school vouchers, arranged marriages, and elimination of government social programs. He opposes promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality, welfare, crime, funding for the arts, gun control, environmental laws, and black people giving their kids “funny” names.
“Recycling,” Lapin told the Guardian, “is the sacred sacrament of secularism.” He told KSFO listeners recently that saying a prayer over your dead pets is sick and bizarre.
According to Lapin’s writings, Terri Schiavo’s death was a “premeditated murder-plot,” and he’s said on the radio that living wills are “suicide notes.” Tattoos, birth control, piercings, abortions, and assisted suicide are all sinful because, as he told the Guardian, it’s not your body, thank you very much, you’re only a tenant. And tenants, in Lapin’s view, have no rights, especially when it comes to moving or evictions.
Lapin also crusades against homosexuality and is a headliner and co-organizer, with virulent Seattle homophobe Rev. Ken Hutcherson, of the effective, antigay Mayday for Marriage rallies, one of which drew some 150,000 supporters to the Mall in Washington, DC, just before the 2004 elections. He makes appearances on the pulpit of Hutcherson’s megachurch near Seattle and they’re jointly involved in other political activities. (Hutcherson is the evangelical who bullied Microsoft in 2005 into withdrawing support for a gay rights bill before the Washington State Legislature, which effectively killed it.)
There was comic relief at hearings last year before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee provided by e-mails between Lapin and Abramoff, and read by North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan. Abramoff asked Lapin to help him sex up a résumé to help him get into Washington’s exclusive Cosmos Club, whose membership includes Nobel Prize winners and establishment elites.
“Most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Abramoff complained, going on to say, “It would be even better, if it were possible, that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean.”
Lapin apparently knew what he meant, writing, “Yes, I just need to know what needs to be produced . . . letters? Plaques? Neither?”
Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters that it was merely a “jocular interchange” that he regrets, but Abramoff later used Toward Tradition’s award of “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” in serious applications, according to investigators.
Lapin also leads an organization called the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, which seems to exist only as a page on his Web site. Its board of advisers shows the company he keeps, such far-right luminaries as James Dobson, the current Christian right’s front man; the scandal-tainted Gary Bauer, a failed 2000 presidential candidate; the came-to-Jesus Watergate convict Charles “Tex” Colson; Michael Medved; and preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whose wacky prophecies and laughable gaffes of the last few years have rendered them useless as national spokesmen for the evangelical right. It also includes hard-right orthodox rabbis like Barry Freundel, David Novak, and Meir Soloveichik.
Many Jews are nervous about such lovey-dovey political alliances with the Christian fundamentalists, considering many evangelicals don’t believe God even answers Jewish prayers. To born-agains, Jews will burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their personal savior. Their support of Israel is not born of Christian love, but of Book of Revelation end-world myths that say Jews must control Israel for Christ to come back.
Lapin reassures Jews that despite evangelicals’ having been some of the most persistent anti-Semites in the past, they are the Jews’ natural allies. “I do not fear a Christian America,” he was quoted as saying in an Eastside Weekly article. “I fear a post-Christian America.”
So why does David Duke — the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard turned Republican congressional candidate — like Lapin? Good question, since Duke’s Christian Identity beliefs hold that Jews are “the children of Satan.” This does not look good on a Judeo-Christian résumé.
In an essay that ran in the Orthodox paper Jewish Press in January, Lapin denounced the silly 2004 movie Meet the Fockers, which starred his old friend Barbra Streisand. He compared its Jewish producers (and such Jews as Howard Stern) with the Jews producing Berlin theater in Weimar Germany, with their “deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations.” Lapin quoted Adolf Hitler (the leading voice on “values” of his day) charging that these Jews were responsible for “nine-tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy.” Apparently, Jews were practically begging to be hauled off to the ovens.
Duke, on his Web site, heartily agreed with Lapin and Hitler, and added that anti-Semitism isn’t just blind hatred, it’s for a darn good reason: “It is revulsion to the actions of the Jewish overseers of our mass media.”
Although he spent time growing up in Britain, Lapin was born and raised in and around white supremacist South Africa in the 1950s. Alongside his Afrikaner accent, it’s easy to detect in Lapin a sense of superiority reflecting the mid-20th-century South African Dutch Reformed Church, whose retributive, racist, and self-righteous worldview justified the apartheid system and provided a sociopolitical framework for his formative years.
Lapin often says non-Judeo-Christian cultures and secular liberalism are more of animals than of God and holds historically contentious theories that Western scientific superiority was developed directly from Judeo-Christianity. “Why didn’t the periodic table surface among the Eskimos?” he asked in a 1996 Eastside Week article. “It doesn’t make sense that Africa hadn’t figured out the wheel by the time England was at the end of the Industrial Revolution.”
The reason, Lapin said in that article, is because they never had the opening lines of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”
And that’s not just for third world heathens — it goes for the rest of us who don’t share the rabbi’s opinions. “Modern American liberalism,” he was quoted as saying, “is unquestionably at odds with everything Judeo-Christianity stands for.”
Strange worldview for a Bay Area audience? Maybe, but not for the station that launched Michael Savage and other angry right-wingers. However, the didactic Lapin has never had real broadcasting success, with short stints at Seattle stations and a stab at national syndication that was short lived. He says he’s doing well in the liberal Bay Area, but time will tell. SFBG
For Lapin’s denunciation of Meet the Fockers, see www.towardtradition.org/our_worst_enemy.htm. For David Duke on Lapin and anti-Semitism, see www.davidduke.com/?p=226.

Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. When asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. "What I have heard him say is the jury is still out," Johnson cautiously ventured. "For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category."

Pombo entered Congress determined to "reform" the Endangered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners. Before arriving in Washington, he cowrote a book titled This Land Is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property, in which he declared that he’d become politically active after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park District about the creation of a public right-of-way through his property. He later switched his story to say that his family’s property values had been hurt when their land was designated a San Joaquin kit fox critical habitat.

Both claims were entirely without merit. But Pombo is not one to let the facts get in the way.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, the reforms would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA, which means that a threatened species would have been protected, but its home territory would not have received such protection.

Pombo has hit numerous other environmental high points. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennae on the Farallones Islands. He proposed selling 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development. He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope.

And the 11th Congressional District representative has taken interesting stands on all sorts of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because he has such a wide range of conservative interests, a short list of his Congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0 percent rating from NARAL, the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington, DC.

He has voted in favor of making the PATRIOT Act permanent and supports a constitutional amendment to oppose flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty, and more cops. He voted to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange, in Washington, DC.

Pombo has a 97 percent approval rating from the US Chamber of Commerce. He opposes gun control and product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.

For a more in-depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, go to www.ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70 percent hard-right conservative rating. (Tim Kingston)

Research assistance by Erica Holt

Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. Asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. “What I have heard him say is the jury is still out,” Johnson cautiously ventured. “For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category.”
Pombo entered Congress determined to “reform” the Engendered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners, and while he concentrated on that law, he has put his stamp on a host of other issues, from gay rights to gun control.  

Before he ran for Congress, Pombo co-wrote a book entitled This Land is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property. Part of his book declared that he become active politically after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park district about the creation of a public right of way through his property. He later switched his story to say his family’s property values were hurt when family land was designated a San Joaquin Kit Fox critical habitat. Both claims were without merit.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, they would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA – meaning a species would be protected, but its home territory would not. The legislation called for a two-year recovery plan, but the recovery plan would have been voluntary rather than mandatory.

While this approach has resonated with many voters in the 11th district who agree that the ESA goes too far, it has local and national environmentalists screaming. It’s also upset his opponent, Pete McCloskey, who was involved in writing the original law.

Pombo has hit a number of other environmental high points during his tenure. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennas on the Farallones Islands. He wants to lift the ban on off shore oil drilling. He has read a pro-whaling resolution into the Congressional Record. He has proposed selling off 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development (a proposal that advances Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s Presidio privatization to a new level). He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope. And last but not least, wants to put a freeway over Mt. Hamilton in San Joaquin County.

Pombo also voted twice to protect MTBE manufacturers from being sued for environmental damage. MTBE helps engines burn cleaner, but has also been found to contaminate water supplies in California, necessitating huge clean-up costs. Why would Pombo vote to indemnify such manufacturers? Well, several of the companies are based on Tom Delay’s district in Texas.

But the 11th district representative has taken interesting stands on all sort of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because there are so many, a short list of his congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem-cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0% rating from NARAL the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington D.C.

He has voted in favor making the PATRIOT Act permanent, and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty and more cops. Pombo wants to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange. He sponsored legislation that would require universities to allow military recruiters on campus, but he opposed a bill that would have boosted veteran-affairs spending by $53 million. He opposes gun control and opposes product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

In 2003 Pombo got a 97 percent approval rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and a 92 percent rating from the Christian Coalition in 2003.
For a more in depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, check out On The Issues at www. ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70% hard right conservative rating.

Research Assistance by Erica Holt

Danger! Danger!


Dear Andrea:

Being in my second trimester, I’ve read volumes about the so-called danger of air embolisms caused by blowing air into the vagina during oral sex. Now, I can’t imagine I’m part of an elite few who have had the somewhat embarrassing, occasional “vaginal farts” during or after sex. What do you suppose is the risk of the infamous air embolism occurring from simply getting air forced into the vagina from your basic act of intercourse?

Airy Mary

Dear Mary:

I’ve actually looked into this subject some while in the process of putting together a talk on all the horrible things that can happen to you while having what you thought would be nice, normal, even salubrious sex. You can break your penis or someone else’s penis! You can burst a previously unsuspected ovarian cyst! You can well, never mind. You can do all sorts of horrible things to yourself or someone you are quite fond of, but chances are, you won’t.

A few years after essentially pooh-poohing the embolism issue (“Don’t sit on an air compressor,” I believe I wrote), I had the opportunity to interview and then work with Dr. Charles Moser, the unchallenged expert on how to avoid killing yourself or others in the pursuit of sexual gratification, and he succeeded in convincing me that air embolisms really are a potential danger, even (occasionally) in nonpregnant women. But not even the good doctor suggested that intercourse was likely to cause one, except in certain very specific circumstances that we will get to shortly. A quick review of the literature turns up many articles on air embolisms due to (poorly executed, one assumes) oral sex, although the cases themselves are pretty scarce and often not fatal. You get to go to the hyperbaric chamber, like Michael Jackson!

Since “vaginal farts” are caused by air pumped into the vagina during intercourse, not, heaven forfend, into the uterus, there is likely no correlation whatsoever between your propensity for producing them and any possible danger to you or your fetus. The air has to get into your bloodstream, and the most likely route for that would be through the (open) cervix into a (possibly damaged) uterus. You will, of course, have had a thorough exam, including an ultrasound, to clear you for any cervical or placental abnormalities, before taking my word on anything like this. If you haven’t, we are not having this conversation.

Now, those few fatalities. They were mostly due to intercourse too soon after delivery, a thought that makes me cringe anyway, although I have spoken to women who felt ready to go as soon as the doctor cleared them for takeoff. Doctor and cleared would be the operant words there.


Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend and I always have sex with a condom, and only when she is on birth control, to play it extra-safe. Recently, however, she’s been noticing the antiabortion displays that show up on our college campus sometimes. She now refuses to have sex, because she is so freaked out about becoming pregnant and needing to have an abortion, and she talks about seriously never having sex again because of it. I obviously want to talk to her about this and reassure her, but everything I say, no matter how understanding, makes her think I’m just trying to persuade her into giving me sex. How should I help her calm down about this situation?

Out in the cold

Dear Cold:

You realize your girlfriend’s reaction is way out of the norm, right? That is to say (not that I recommend putting it this way when you do have that conversation), she’s gone a little off-plumb, at least where her risk assessment abilities or lack thereof come into play. Or was she always a little nutty on this topic, as evidenced by the doubling-up of pill plus condoms, which is borderline nutso overkill for birth control purposes (although perfectly rational for disease prophylaxis)?

Look, I have walked through those antiabortion displays. Quite recently I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my husband a little pale and shaky from having to walk through two rows of giant, dismembered-fetus posters. They were stationed outside of what I believe was an obstetrician’s convention, and I confess I could neither eat nor engage in small talk until the ghastly images, mixed with my anger at the fact that these assaultive theatrics were aimed at doctors who provide essential health care to women, had faded. But, dude, I got my groove back. There is something going on with your girlfriend that cannot easily be laid at the feet of the antichoice brigade, not that it wouldn’t give me great pleasure to heap blame upon them.

Suggest that your girlfriend go see a nurse practitioner or someone who can calmly walk her through the actual risks (essentially nonexistent) of condom-wrapped, hormonally blocked intercourse. If that plus taking a different route across campus when the crazies are afoot don’t work, well, I hope you like blow jobs. I hear they’re quite popular.


Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her former life, she was a prop designer. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

Real tolerance


OPINION On March 24, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the message that a group called Battle Cry for a Generation was set to deliver the following Friday on the front steps of City Hall. The appearance of Ron Luce’s teen program at the site had nothing to do with the group’s apparent reason for being in the city, which was to promote Christianity amid smoke machines and rock bands at SBC Park. Luce decided to rally on the steps of City Hall specifically because gay marriages had been performed there two years earlier.

The intent to somehow purify the steps with prayerful teens, the quick response by citizens of San Francisco, and the meaning of that entire encounter was lost completely as local journalists and former politicians rushed to smear the Board of Supervisors with labels like "clueless" and "intolerant."

In doing so, John Diaz at the San Francisco Chronicle and Joanna Thigpen at the San Francisco Sentinel both missed an opportunity to summarize for their readers the meaning behind the meeting of two groups. Instead, both city leaders and organizers of the counterprotest were admonished for their lack of tolerance.

For those in need of a working definition of tolerance, the American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following: "The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." The key word within that sentence is recognize, which is hard to do if all you do when the Christian right comes to town is stay home and fume. Engagement (another version of recognition) is also a value, one that walks hand in hand with tolerance as the citizens of this fair city go forward in search of bigger and better expressions of human and civil rights. Showing up and shouting back don’t indicate intolerance. And staying away doesn’t display tolerance, just benumbed passivity.

Curiously, the charge was made that by issuing resolutions and press statements, both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Assemblymember Mark Leno were attempting to stifle Battle Cry’s right to free speech. Supervisor Ammiano’s office, which was the primary sponsor of the resolution, was contacted by neither the Chronicle nor the Sentinel. What he would have pointed out was that no one in city government made any attempt to silence anyone. The resolution was simply the progressive community’s proverbial two cents thrown into a debate Battle Cry started when the group assembled on City Hall’s steps. No public official ever came close to opposing Battle Cry’s right to frankly indict both queers and women who have chosen abortion or who support its legality.

Civic engagement like the sort displayed by Ammiano and Leno is what makes this city a haven for those who could not get tolerance for themselves, on their own terms, elsewhere. Far from impeding the right of Battle Cry to spread a message of hate disguised as love, we are forwarding the rights of speech to those whose voices are still being suppressed by fear and hate disguised as Christian love and tolerance.

Elizabeth Creely
Elizabeth Creely works with the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights.

Latter daze


In playwright Dominic Orlando’s Juan Gelion Dances for the Sun, Latin American peasant Juan Gelion (a charismatic Johnny Moreno) abandons a promising career in the church to found a new one — or is it the old one reborn? Even Juan doesn’t seem sure. But he renounces material wealth, goes about healing the sick — beginning with beloved cousin Mariana (Juliet Tanner), who lies dying from a botched abortion — and collects a band of unlikely followers, including his cranky atheist brother (Hector Osorio) and a chipper but mentally unstable American (Alexandra Creighton).

Following a half-understood inner voice, Orlando’s hesitant messiah takes his band to the United States. Once landed in Florida, they go toe to toe with America’s military-industrial Christ complex, personified by a secretive rapture-hastening group of three Beltway fundamentalist power brokers and their golden boy, up-and-second-coming governor of Arizona Arn Darby (Nick Sholley). These four asses of the apocalypse, convinced their rich, war-making selves constitute God’s chosen, latch onto Juan Gelion as the false messiah, or adversary, prophesied in Revelations. They arrest and interrogate him, leading to a showdown of supernatural proportions and a surprising denouement. Along the way, more mundane and metaphysical concerns get an airing, along with a smattering of songs from, or accompanied by, the story’s narrator-chorus, a sardonic guitarrista played by composer Deborah Pardes.

Unlike the millennial millionaires it lambastes, Crowded Fire’s world premiere has both style and soul. Artistic director Rebecca Novick’s crisp pacing and appealing cast make it relatively easy to forgive the story’s thinner patches and loose ends, and the production strikes a fine balance of humor and drama throughout. Moreover, its fanciful story line contains both a well-grounded critique and a sincere spiritual question at its core. James J. Fenton’s lovely scenic design, meanwhile, with its graceful parabolic arches and delicate branches (combined with Heather Basarab’s lambent arboreal lighting) makes compellingly manifest Juan Gelion’s antiauthoritarian "church without walls." Delivering sass to the sanctimonious carries a bit of its own presumption, especially if your own thoughts on religion tend towards HL Mencken’s. But bucking the budding American theocracy is a timely subject. These people really are the living end.


Last Planet Theatre, never a company to shrink from a challenge (or to foist one on its audience), has pulled off a startling production of Franz Xavier Kroetz’s Farmyard, a difficult but quietly compelling exploration of love and suffering amid a bleak, isoutf8g landscape of rural poverty. The unflinching and idiosyncratic Kroetz, who not long ago was Germany’s most performed living playwright, may be far less well-known here, but his work finds kindred spirits in artistic director John Wilkins and his cast.

The story unfolds with a kind of aggressively stylized naturalism on a humble American family farm, where Beppi (Heidi Wolff), the retarded teenage daughter of the farmer (Richard Aiello) and his wife (Emma Victoria Glauthier), falls in love with an aging, randy farmhand named Sepp (Garth Petal), who has seduced her with stories. When Beppi becomes pregnant, the farmer takes retribution on Sepp’s beloved black shadow of a dog (Hilde Susan Jaegtnes, effectively swaddled in rags and shoe polish) before turning to his wife for help in solving the problem of their daughter.

The plot is bone simple, but its reverberations are subtle, strange, and unsettling — just as Kroetz’s stunted characters prove remarkably present while rarely managing more than a few brusque words or phrases. Whole scenes come wrapped in silences, long pauses measuring the distance between characters while binding them together. In a way, silence is the play’s principal subject: the silence of moral judgment, the absence (despite the swift trade here in the Commandments and the passing of sentences) of any voice or say beyond the inexorable force of life itself.

In that emptiness opened up so effectively in Farmyard — and echoed in the gentle bleakness of the surrounding country (beautifully evoked in James Flair and Paul Rasmussen’s scenic design, as well as Alex Lopez’s radiant lighting scheme) — it’s life that finally defines and bridges the void. And life converges in Beppi, whose name seems to mark her perpetual child status even in the midst of sexual awakening and motherhood, with all the innocent and anarchic force any farmyard could hope to contain. Wolff’s supple, perfectly assured performance is the natural standout in a cast composed of strong, focused portrayals all around.

Wilkins’s sharp staging adds a unique contribution to the play’s unsettling ambiguity by disrupting its heavy silences with a jarringly lush, sophisticated set of Shirley Horn torch songs. For all its in-your-face effect, the music makes a subtle point in the precise way it both works and doesn’t work: We can’t help aligning the words and ambience with the action, even while recognizing the absurdity of the match. But then what exactly is so absurd? In the end the songs perfectly measure, manipulate, and throw back our own programming, and still — it’s impossible not to add — how fitting that out of absolute darkness comes this beautiful, seemingly otherworldly paean to life. *


Through April 8

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.

Traveling Jewish Theatre

470 Florida, SF


(415) 255-7846



Through April 1

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.

Last Planet Theatre

351 Turk, SF


(415) 440-3050


A selective guide to political events



Pro-choice films

Join the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights and New College as they screen two films that comment on the state of reproductive rights in the United States. Remember the haunting image of a woman lying dead on a motel room floor from an illegal abortion? That story, of the late Gerri Santoro, is told by Jane Gillooly in her film Leona’s Sister Gerri. Imagine what would happen if South Dakota’s ban on abortion spreads from state to state. Raney Aronson-Roth addresses this issue in her film The Last Abortion Clinic.

7 p.m.

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St., SF

$8, $4 students

(415) 437-3425


The 9/11 Commission’s omissions

Is there a story out there that is just too big to touch? David Ray Griffin, theologian and philosopher, has pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room and is attempting to jump on its back and ride it to Washington, DC. In his lecture "9/11: The Myth and the Reality," Griffin discusses crucial omissions and distortions found within the 9/11 Commission Report.

7 p.m.

Grand Lake Theater

3200 Grand, Oakl.


(510) 496-2700


A laughing matter

You know all about the tragic San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in which thousands lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. But do you know about the vaudeville shows and circus acts that rose from the fire’s ashes? In the aftermath of destruction, wit and humor kept spirits high. Starting today, April Fools’ Day, and lasting throughout the month, the San Francisco Public Library puts its collection of memorabilia from the era on display. The exhibition includes cartoons, theater programs, and postearthquake items that may leave you chuckling uncomfortably.

San Francisco Public Library, Skylight Gallery

100 Larkin, SF



Bayview women in politics

Attend a one-day leadership seminar designed by the National Women’s Political Caucus to get Bayview women politically involved in their community. Enjoy free child care and lunch while listening to speakers, including Willie Kennedy of the Southeast Community Facilities Commission.

10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Bayview–Hunters Point YMCA

1601 Lane, SF

Free, RSVP required

(415) 377-6722, nwpcsf@yahoo.com

Creative resistance

Hear a report from local artists Susan Greene and Sara Kershnar on their efforts to bring about Palestinian freedom and on recent events in the West Bank and Gaza. Other Cinema hosts an evening of discussion with these two muralists and the premiere of their video When Your Home Is a Prison: Cultural Resistance in Palestine.

8:30 p.m.

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF


(415) 824-3890


Running clean campaigns

Listen to Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign and Jim Soper of Voting Rights Task Force talk about the effort to strip political candidates of large private donations and demand that politicians answer people’s needs.

12:30–3 p.m.

Temescal Library

5205 Telegraph, Oakl.


(510) 524-3791



Debate SF demographics

Join Inforum, a subgroup of the Commonwealth Club, in a discussion of why San Francisco is losing its young workers and families owing to the state of the public schools and a dearth of affordable housing. A panel will address what is needed to keep young families in the city.

6 p.m.

Commonwealth Club of California

595 Market, second floor, SF

$15, free for members

(415) 597-6705



MLK against the war

Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam" and listen to live music on this day of remembrance. Today marks the day he publicly denounced the growing war effort in Indochina. It was also the day he was assassinated.

7–9:30 p.m.

The Kitchen

225 Potrero, SF

$5 suggested donation


Free medical care

Receive free medical information and tests at City College of San Francisco’s health fair. Services include dental screenings, acupuncture, cholesterol tests, women’s health appointments, HIV tests, and a blood drive.

9 a.m.–noon

City College of San Francisco

1860 Hayes, SF


(415) 561 1905 *

Mail items for Alerts to the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 255-8762; or e-mail alerts@sfbg.com. Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to the publication date.

So much flesh, so little personality


Madonna. At Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Monday, July 20th.

During the encores of the first of her two spectacular shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre last week, Madonna, the fantasy idol of American youth, finally asked the musical question lurking in the shadows of her extravagant performance. When the saucy Ms. Ciccone sang “Who’s That Girl?,” the title song of her forthcoming movie and just-released soundtrack album, she made the riddle of her career explicit. But after more than 90 minutes of relentless razzle-dazzle, after Madonna had revealed so much of her flesh and so little of her personality, the question should have been, why do so many people care?

Clearly they care a lot. Over two nights, nearly 40,000 people trekked to Mountain View for their close encounter of the absurd kind. This “Material Girl” made them willing to part with huge chunk of their disposable income for the privilege of watching her cavort through 16 entertaining but uninspiring production numbers masquerading as songs. The largely post-teen concertgoers paid up to $22.50 for an unscalped ticket, before service charges, and had the chance to fork over ten bucks for a slick program, $16 for a T-shirt and untold pocket change for food and drink from Shoreline’s amusement park-style concession. Scores even hired limousines to carry them to the show.

The power of Madonna’s appeal should be the envy of movie and pop stars alike. Even the most charismatic screen idols don’t attract so many people to one place at one time, and only a relative handful of music performers ever develop such commercial appeal. By successfully straddling both pop culture realms, Madonna doubles her draw. She is no ordinary icon.

How does she pull it off when she’s such a transparantly ordinary talent? The quick answer is that she sells sex, but her current show is remarkably unsexy. Nearly every song was punctuated by lacivious moves, from bumps and grinds with her male dancers (including salacious routines with a boy who looked less than half her 28 years) to teasing masturbatory gestures. And the foundation of her costuming — the black merry widow corset with gold sequined breast tips and twirling tassels — was part Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot and part Gypsy Rose Lee. But Madonna’s precisely programmed dancing was little more than a second-rate rehash of Flashdance (from the same choreographer) and her attire came off like a dress-up game, not a seduction. Nor was the secret of her appeal in the music. The seven-piece band and three back-up singers, under the direction of Madonna’s co-producer Patrick Leonard, was loud and punchy, rhythmically sharp and note perfect. But the musicians, shunted to the sides of the elaborate staircase set, were beside the point. Their routine neo-disco grooves varied little throughout the night and only a few of Madonna’s songs, such as “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Like A Virgin” and “Holiday,” get beyond the busy beats with catchy melodic hooks.

No, Madonna must send other kinds of messages to her fans. In “Papa Don’t Preach,” her big hit from True Blue, she seemed to be picking up a social cause, defending a pregnant teenage girl’s freedom of choice. Presented in concert, however, the song became an overcrowded bandwagon for a mishmash of socio-political themes. Giant projected images of clouds in a blue sky gave way to those of thunderstorms, the menacing face of a surgeon, the entrance to a giant cathedral. A nightmarish Monty Python-style slide montage hinted at the horrors of abortion and careened through bizarre juxtapositions culminating in a giant blowup of the White House, then Reagan’s face, the faces of happy, healthy children and, finally, the words, SAFE SEX.

Whatever Madonna was trying to say in “Papa Don’t Preach,” her fourth song in concert, was quickly forgotten in the onslaught of MTV-style production numbers that followed. Indeed, the show was little more than an overblown “live” music video, full of silly props and simplified physical interpretations of the songs.

At the center of it all was a vaguely attractive young woman who projected nothing of her real self yet represented a kind of between-the-cracks liberation from the creeping conservatism of the 1980s. After all the dressing up and stripping down, nothing of the performer’s inner nature was revealed. But “Madonna” represented the freedom to act out the most outrageous fantasies without fear or guilt. During “Like A Virgin,” a New York Post front page was projected on the huge screen with the headline “Madonna: I Am Not Ashamed.”

She can be a material girl, a party girl, an innocent harlot in red lace undies and a black leather jacket, a rebel without a cause clothed by Frederick’s of Hollywood. She takes a stand against post-feminism by strutting, leaping and groveling on the stage, declaring that if there’s going to be any exploitation in her career, she’s going to control it. She confounds the objectification of womanhood by adding more layers. One of the few female role models that the mass media has coughed up in pop music during this regressive decade, Madonna is merely making the most of it, and making over her image in as many ways as she can within the narrow range of options. She leaves it to her fans to create their own answers to the question, “Who’s that girl?”*