Lynn Rapoport

The art world



REVIEW Somewhere along a Los Angeles freeway, a couple have a tense conversation about hamburgers. In Southwick, Mass., three women allow their hair to be braided together, and a Houston resident writes the eventful story of her life in a day. In a bedroom in Sydney, Australia, the dress a young woman wore the day she lost her virginity is laid out on the floor, along with the shoes that, she notes, stayed on for the duration. A sign goes up in a patch of parkland near Penn State detailing the markings and habits that distinguish the common raven from the American crow.

The pages of Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July’s Learning to Love You More are filled with such earnest explanations, recorded interactions, humble creative feats, and scraps from memory or fantasy or some complicated combination — all of them compiled from the thousands of audio, visual, and textual contributions to Fletcher and July’s Web site of the same name. Begun in 2002, the project was launched with the goal of offering concrete creative inspiration to any and all comers in the form of detailed assignments: to make an encouraging banner or an educational public plaque, to start a lecture series or compose the saddest song, to write down a recent argument or make a neighborhood field recording, to spend time with a dying person or heal oneself.

"Assignments" suggests a classroom exercise, and as the title implies, education in various guises is one aspect of the project; another is the goal of simply freeing participants to be artful. As Fletcher and July note in the introduction, "Sometimes it seems like the moment we let go of trying to be original, we actually feel something new — which was the whole point of being artists in the first place."

As word of the project has spread in unpredictable patterns via clusters of participants and viewers drawn in over time, LTLYM has put art-making inspiration, instruction, and encouragement in the hands of a sizable, indeterminate, dominolike scattering of humans across the globe. The result here is a succession of works that provoke the viewer to unpredictable reactions as the pages turn. A sound might begin somewhere between a snicker and a giggle, as when one flips to the back to see a re-created poster of Jack Nicholson baring his teeth in The Shining from the teenage years of Jack McCalla of Farmville, Va., but it’s likely to resolve into a capitulatory sigh over a press release written by Toronto resident Emily Holton that announces to selected media outlets her late-night gastric troubles and uncertainties about love’s power to last.

Some of the tasks result in the merely adorable or the gently nostalgic, like the high quotient of bright-eyed household pets found amid the dust bunnies during "Assignment 50: Take a flash photo under your bed," or the series of old book covers from "Assignment 45: Reread your favorite book from fifth grade," which turns up A Wrinkle in Time, Pet Sematary, and Amazing Secrets of the Psychic World and does offer the quiet pleasure of noting experiential connections with formerly young and faraway strangers. Similarly, the encouraging banners of Assignment 63 run the risk of slogans everywhere — but who knows what would happen if, on one of those demoralizing, head-in-gas-oven sort of days, one rounded a corner and came face-to-face with "You Have a Spine!" or "Death Is Not the End."

The past is a minefield and thus ripe for artistic endeavor, and here the weight of memory brings a charge to mundane objects like those clothes laid flat on the floor. So does the weight of regret, as in "Assignment 53: Give advice to yourself in the past," which provokes Wendy in North Carolina to tell her 15- and 16-year-old iterations, "Please eat. You are not ‘fat.’"

This and other conversations produce some of the most poignant and painful and pleasurable moments — such as Assignment 52’s "phone call you wish you could have," which produces two siblings catching up across the mortal coil barrier and a mutual coming-out and profession of love between friends, punctuated by phrases that progress from "Hey, wuddup fool?" to "Fine! I’m gay!" to "I love you too much to hate you." The insubstantial nature of the person on the other end of the line is affecting, whether they’re beyond the grave or simply unlikely to answer.

As was Fletcher and July’s hope, their project offers the humbling, heart-expanding experience of recognizing that the globe is dotted with original and inventive humans, busy thinking and suffering and wondering about love — and making work that turns the world into a more recognizable and yet more startling place when it’s seen. *


By Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July

Prestel Publishing

160 pages, $19.95 paper

From the ashes


› a&

"They may label you, try to classify you, and even call you a crazy bitch — but don’t flinch, just let them," Honey of Radio Phoenix says to the women of New York City after her black feminist–run station gets bombed by government agents, after her comrade in arms is found dead in her jail cell, as the fireworks are about to go off in a certain tall tower in Lower Manhattan.

There’s no denying the evocative weight of that last image these days. But Lizzie Borden’s 1983 Born in Flames — and in particular, advice like Honey’s — comes to mind every time I watch a film in which grrrls are running riot in the street or on the radio or in the clubs, a slowly but surely growing subgenre as the decades pass (at least in my home video collection).

In the thin line of plot running patchily through Borden’s vérité-style feature, surfacing at the Roxie Film Center on June 22, the War of Liberation has brought about a single-party system run by Socialist Democrats, the postrevolution economy is in the toilet, and working women are bearing the brunt of the mass layoffs that have ensued. Adelaide Norris (Jean Satterfield) is the leader of the Women’s Army, a loose circle of radical lesbian feminists — or vigilantes, as they’re called on the nightly news — who, among other pursuits, patrol the streets on bicycles with whistles at the ready in search of men behaving badly.

Norris begins to see their basically peaceful efforts to gain equality going nowhere and becomes convinced that armed struggle is the only way to get the government’s attention and force a change. When she dies in jail, the news sends a charge through the gathering underground, bringing together disconnected feminist forces that have long kept their distance. Borden’s aim, perhaps unrealistic and perhaps naive, is to present an expanding patchwork of radicalized women unified across lines of class and race in the face of overarching sexism.

You couldn’t call the women of Born in Flames riot grrrls with a straight face. The spiky commentators at Radio Regazza — trash-talking, white punk-rock counterparts to Radio Phoenix’s Honey — look familiar, but this is the second wave of feminism personified (evidenced, for one, by an unquestioning opposition to sex work). But if Borden’s point in setting Born in Flames in a future United States run by socialists, of all things, is that nothing much has changed for the second sex postrevolution, there’s a parallel in watching as a new clan of young women is born in flames onscreen every few years.

Such latter-day films — Kristine Peterson’s 1997 Slaves to the Underground, documenting the Portland DIY scene of the early ’90s; Barbara Teufel’s 2003 part-fiction, part-doc Gallant Girls, set amid the direct-action anarchopunks of late-’80s Berlin — regularly surface at the Frameline fest. And this year adds a couple more to the pack: closing night’s Itty Bitty Titty Committee, a tale of teen radicalization by But I’m a Cheerleader‘s Jamie Babbit (who cites Born in Flames as an inspiration), and the Spanish film El Calentito, by Chus Gutiérrez, set in 1981 on the eve of a coup d’état by Fascist vestiges of Francisco Franco’s gang. These, as well as Flames contemporaries Times Square (Allan Moyle, 1980) and Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (Lou Adler, 1981), are filled with rude girls hijacking the radio waves or the stage, flinging out slogans and manifestos, and screaming bloody murder. Though only Borden’s future radicals are prepared to cause it. *

BORN IN FLAMES (Lizzie Borden, US, 1983). June 22, 10:30 p.m., Roxie

Tale of two Valley Girls


THE ORIGINAL It starts as a joke, but it rarely ends well. You pick up a piece of slang to make fun of it and then, at some point far too late down the line, realize you are physically incapable of putting it down. Who knew — I didn’t in seventh grade, when I first started using the word “like” as an irritating placeholder for nothing in particular — that Moon Unit Zappa and her dad’s joke, a song mimicking a youthful subculture’s garbled tongue, was also on me and my friends, 3,000 miles distant from Sherman Oaks, or that 24 years later I would still sound vaguely like a character from Martha Coolidge’s film Valley Girl?

My community of incoherents is a large one. The syntax has stuck around, and so has the film at least partly responsible for it — not to mention the threads sported on both sides of the film’s Hollyweird-Valley divide, which have now cycled back into fashion at least twice in the past decade. The streets of San Francisco are filled with stripy-shirted hipsters, Valley Girl is still being paid tribute at events such as Midnites for Maniacs at the Castro, and now the admirers who packed that house can even troop down to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a screening that pairs OG VG with a low-budget homage directed by Michele O’Marah.

If you’ve seen the original, and I’m so sure you have, you know exactly why a crazed fan would undertake such an endeavor. Starring Deborah Foreman as Julie, the titular Valley girl, and Nicolas Cage as Randy, her tubular, dreamy-eyed swain from the wrong side of the Hollywood Hills, Valley Girl managed to gently send up a vapid ’80s mall culture while at the same time treating its viewers to a torrid new-romantic love story fueled by worlds colliding, the Plimsouls, and a song about getting it on mid–nuclear holocaust (Modern English’s “I Melt with You”).

Building on the can’t-fail tale of R+J, the film cruises the Hollywood club scene and sneaks into the tract homes of Tarzana and Van Nuys, coolly siding against a brand of teen robotics and materialism epitomized by middle-class girls running loose in the Galleria with their parents’ credit cards — yet admitting that they look “truly dazzling” in their string bikinis at the beach. Fittingly, or fitting-roomly, a shopping montage supplies the footage for the opening credits. But if shopping’s not your bag, try the “I Melt with You” montage, or the Randy-stalking-Julie montage, or lines like Randy’s “Well, fuck you! No, fuck off, for sure! Like, totally!” — an utterance whose consummate blend of anguish and hilarity never fails to secure viewer forgiveness for the admittedly shocking sight, early on, of Cage’s saltwater-slicked V-shaped chest hair. (Lynn Rapoport)

THE REMAKE When she was a teenager, Michele O’Marah’s favorite movie was Valley Girl — reason enough, as an adult, to mount a remake of what’s probably the most popular teen love story of the 1980s (non–John Hughes division). Or was affection the only reason? According to an August 2006 interview O’Marah did with the Web site Austinist, she created her homage as “a serious piece of artwork to be viewed in a gallery” addressing the film’s “serious issues — how a teenage girl thinks about herself, and how she thinks about men and how they should treat her.”

Whether or not this intention comes through is debatable. Fact is, the audience that goes to see a Valley Girl remake (even when it’s showing in a museum) is going to be largely composed of Valley Girl fans, who might let things like O’Marah’s charmingly homemade sets slide but will mutter among themselves when key details are altered. Why didn’t O’Marah direct the guy playing Tommy to make that crazy arm gesture after he knocks back a drink at Suzi’s party? Why are certain crucial lines jumbled beyond recognition?

The disconnects are all the more puzzling when you consider all that O’Marah gets exactly right. Her tweaks can be incredibly winning: Julie’s dad’s broken sandals — the “Water Buffalos” — are made of cardboard; a bewigged Plimsouls cover band offers excellent coverage during the Hollywood bar scenes.

O’Marah was clearly operating with a budget one-zillionth the size of the original’s, itself a cheap film by Hollywood standards. But if her lo-fi Valley Girl is to be taken as serious artwork, it raises a serious question: why remake something you love only to emphasize subtext over joy? In the 1980s a group of junior high kids devoted endless summers to a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They had the same flagrant disregard for copyright laws as O’Marah but no pretensions whatsoever. Their product may have been technically rough, but it was also energetic and enjoyable. Thing is, when you start putting quote marks around quote marks, fun becomes work. To the max. (Cheryl Eddy)


Thurs/22, 6:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Michele O’Marah) and 8:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge)

Sun/25, 2 p.m. Valley Girl (O’Marah) and 4 p.m. Valley Girl (Coolidge)


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


Fall TV death match


If you think about it, there’s a certain poetry to the dramatic arc of the fall premiere season. As we all know, after fall comes winter, and by December many of these TV shows will be dead, with just a few dried-up blog entries left behind to mark their passing. This painful thought might provoke a zealous couch fan to get carried away — watching every last debut to hit the networks while staying faithful to old favorites from seasons past. And granted, certain shows, like the well-cast Six Degrees, with Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, and Jay Hernandez (premiering Sept. 21 on ABC), or Showtime’s Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as a serial killer with the best of intentions (premiering in October), deserve at least a shot at some viewers.
But even the Guinness record (69 hours and 48 minutes) proves there are limits to how much TV one human being can watch — though apparently there are no limits to how many dramas based on the premise of 24 can be developed in one season. Choices must be made — between, say, the NBC comedy about a late-night sketch comedy show starring SNL’s Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin and the NBC drama about a late-night sketch comedy show starring Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, and Bradley Whitford and created and written by Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing). What follows are notes from a highly subjective decision-making process. Show info is subject to change.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip vs. 30 Rock Aaron Sorkin’s writing is pretty much why I started watching television again, and I’m still not over Sports Night’s 2000 cancellation. Thus, in the face-off between shows about sketch-comedy shows, his creation, Studio 60, will no doubt reign supreme. Bradley Whitford from The West Wing stars alongside Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry — and while the latter actor certainly wasn’t the least annoying of Friends’ friends, a guest spot on The West Wing proved his Chandler mannerisms haven’t completely devoured him. (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Mon., 10 p.m., NBC; premieres Sept. 18. 30 Rock: Wed., 8:30 p.m., NBC; premieres Oct. 11)
Vanished vs. Veronica Mars Having spent five years watching Gale Harold plug every available male extra in greater Toronto as Queer as Folk’s surly stud Brian Kinney, I’m tempted to get invested in his character’s FBI investigation of a disappeared senator’s daughter. The thing is, even if he does get to play another unapologetic asshole, he will likely have clothes on. So will Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars, but the latter show, about a smart-ass teen private investigator engaged in all kinds of class warfare, was easily the best high school drama since My So-Called Life, while in a vastly different vein. The sleuth is university bound now, and higher education is clearly a death knell for teen dramas, but I’m betting Veronica won’t let her studies get in the way. (Vanished: Mon., 9 p.m., Fox; premiered Aug. 21. Veronica Mars: Tues., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Oct. 3)
The O.C. vs. Dante’s Cove They may seem like an odd couple, but both The O.C. and Dante’s Cove feature melodramatic sexual entanglements, power tripping, drug addiction, and expensive real estate. The O.C. may have a slight advantage in terms of plotlines and thespian talent, but c’mon: Dante’s Cove, part of Here!’s all-queer programming, has real live gay people, a private sex club — and black magic! Also, I get how satisfying it must have been to finally off the waif with suicidal tendencies, but with Marissa in the grave, The O.C. is likely to become so bearable it’s boring. (The O.C.: Thurs., 9 p.m., Fox; premieres Nov. 2. Dante’s Cove: Fri., check for times, Here!; premieres Sept. 1)
One Tree Hill vs. Friday Night Lights The infant love child of UPN and the WB fashioned a glaringly lowest-common-denominator ad campaign whose thought-provoking tagline for One Tree Hill was “Free to be cool.” And yet, I breathed a deep sigh of relief on learning that the show, basically about a small town that loves its basketball and the dramas that ensue, had survived the merger and gained entrance to the freedom-loving land of the CW. Friday Night Lights, based on the movie that’s based on the book, is about a small town that loves its football and the dramas that ensue. A toughie, but I hate football, so for me One Tree has the home court advantage — plus the laser-beam-eyed power-acting of Chad Michael Murray. (One Tree Hill: Wed., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Sept. 27. Friday Night Lights: Tues., 8 p.m., NBC; premieres Oct. 3)
Prison Break vs. Runaway Maybe it all goes back to my deep, abiding love for The Legend of Billie Jean, but dramas about desperate people on the run from the law have a near-endless ability to captivate me. Prison Break has the hot brothers. CW debut Runaway looks to have more of a Running on Empty family dynamic — with New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg in the Judd Hirsch role. Both hint vaguely at possible political undertones. Mostly for River Phoenix’s sake, I’m going to go with the latter. (Prison Break: Mon., 8 p.m., Fox; premiered Aug. 21. Runaway: Mon., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Sept. 25)
Jericho vs. Three Moons over Milford Jericho has Skeet Ulrich and a nuclear holocaust on the horizon. Three Moons has, well, three moons — or parts of what used to be one moon — and one or more of them might be heading this way. The end (of the season, that is) will be in sight for the latter sooner, which is good, because how many times a week can a person watch the world teeter on the brink of collapse? (Jericho: Wed., 8 p.m., CBS; premieres Sept. 20. Three Moons over Milford: Sun., 8 p.m., ABC Family; premiered Aug. 6)
Project Runway (reruns) vs. Fashion House The community-minded thing to do, no doubt, would be to support KRON TV’s efforts to add dramatic content to its programming. After all, Fashion House, a six-nights-a-week telenovela-style program about the fashion industry starring Morgan Fairchild and Bo Derek, should just about do the trick. And yet, even after Project Runway’s latest season ends later this fall, I’m probably going to find other uses for those six hours — including renting back episodes of the show that makes it work. (Project Runway: Bravo; your local video store. Fashion House: Mon.–Sat., 10 p.m., KRON; premieres Sept. 5) SFBG



There was no better place than the Castro Theatre to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which kicked off the 70mm Series on Aug. 11. (Future delights in store: South Pacific and Tron!) The timing wasn’t bad either: among the film’s many viscerally unsettling images (see: bludgeoned animals; HAL’s omnipresent glowing red eye; an astronaut jerkily struggling for oxygen, then floating off into deep space), one in particular for me managed to mainline a vein of depression and fear concerning where world events — and US foreign policy — are taking us, ceasefire notwithstanding. That would be the moment (melodramatic, yes, but provoking dead silence in the theater) when ape-man moves beyond territorial posturing and realizes that he has the technology to bring home dinner and brutally slaughter his neighbors.
On a less dismal note, go check out our blogs — has spawned a whopping five of them in the wake of our Web site redesign, and we’re quite enjoying our adventures in 21st-century-style online media. We’re a little creeped out to find ourselves in the company of late bloomer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, we learned at press time, just posted his first entry on his own blog (a punishing 2,000-plus words in English). But we feel good about the fact that we got the jump on the Iranian president by at least a month or so.
Ahmadinejad’s first post is packed with autobiographical tidbits and railings against, yes, US foreign policy — much like our own content! But we’ve also got Kimberly Chun’s report and pics from the Bleeding Edge Festival on our music blog, Noise. In Pixel Vision you’ll find Cheryl Eddy’s musings on the fact that, per court order, Ted Kaczynski’s copy of The Elements of Style will soon be on the auction block — plus the extended mix of Eddy’s interview with Snakes on a Plane snake handler Jules Sylvester. And in the Bruce Blog, you’ll learn what happens when a national glossy business mag has the unmitigated temerity to refer to Guardian headquarters as “grungy” in the lead paragraph of its cover story. Read all about it in “Why People Get Mad at the Media,” parts one through six. SFBG