Archive for April, 2009

Launch of The Next Frame: Indie Film in SF (warning: blatant self-promotion)

Those of you who have enjoyed my posts on film here on SF Metblog over the past year or so are invited to check out the blog I launched this week about indie and festival film in San Francisco, called The Next Frame. For now, at least, it’s a component of my personal site, which will ultimately also feature a regular litblog and a blog about street art. Everything’s still a little beta, so please excuse the layout oddities for now: they should be ironed out in the next couple weeks.

My most recent post is a review of Anvil! The Story of Anvil!, a really great doc that’s opening tonight at the Bridge Theater over on Geary. The upcoming reviews and interviews include Enlighten Up! (the yoga doc), Tyson, and Tulpan; along with those, I’ll be reviewing a batch of upcoming Landmark films and other stuff showing at SFIFF52 in the next two weeks, so stay tuned if you’re interested in all that!

Okay, I’ll stop with the blatant self-promotion now; thanks for indulging me. And huge props to Metblogs for letting me obsess about film here for the past twelve months! I’ll be sticking around here for the foreseeable future, but posting quite a bit less about film, and more about stuff like Muni and the weather. You know, news!

Just because it’s from Milan, do we have to take it?

Modern tram (real!) in Milan. Flickr photo by <A hREF="">martin97</A>uk

Modern tram (real!) in Milan. Flickr photo by martin97uk

I was literally startled when I saw this photo on a post on Streetsblog, a transit and urban planning-oriented site, showing a modern tram plying the streets of Milan, Italy. At first I thought it had to be photoshopped, but no, it’s real.

Streetsblog suggests using these monsters during commute times. I can’t imagine it helping. While you could load hundreds more passengers onto those long trains, what would happen to the streets crossing Market, given the sometimes short blocks between intersections? Imagine one of those things stretching back from Third St. all the way back to Second, completely blocking the Montgomery > New Montgomery intersection, which is one of only two ways to exit the Financial District during rush hour. Oy!

Ironically, San Francisco already has several streetcars from Milan — the orange “Peter Witt” jobs that still have Italian placards and warnings on the interior. Frankly they’re a lot of fun to ride. I’d save that long, modern tram for, maybe, the T line.

Film: "In a Dream" at the Roxie

In a Dream, which screens at the Roxie starting Friday night, is a film about the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, who has become an icon in South Philadelphia due to his long, intensely local career and the massive scale and extent of the mosaics he has created there. They include, by his description, about “a hundred murals” and “seven buildings, top to bottom, inside and out.” His best-known work is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which represents the transformation of two derelict buildings into a labyrinthine complex that covers half a city block with winding mosaic-covered passageways and sculptures.

Zagar’s mosaics are bright, colorful, and complex, rich with a celebratory spirit towards physicality and sensuality. But the surface cheerfulness of these mosaics belies the deeper obsession and the narcissism that makes such vast, intricate works possible in the first place, and Jeremiah Zagar — the director of the film and the artist’s younger son — uncovers that darkness here with unrelenting economy. All the father’s past secrets rapidly come out in the open, culminating when one of his most shameful episodes plays out right in front of the camera: his self-centered pursuit of “passion” with his assistant, which ends with a brief separation from his wife Julia, right when their oldest son is separated from his own wife and having drug problems.

Jeremiah describes the moment: “I went home to film my parents as they picked my brother up from rehab. The stress from the situation boiled over, and my father suddenly admitted [the affair] to my mother and me … that same night, my parents separated for the first time in 43 years.” Isaiah’s admission is made directly into the camera, and it’s a moment of remarkable drama. Amazingly, Jeremiah retains his composure — he coughs and the handheld camera shakes for an instant, but that is all — and he goes on to capture every instant of what ensues. “I shot 16 hours that day and hated myself for every minute of it,” he writes. What happens next is unsurprising but not predictable, and the film ends with a brief epilogue, highly effective in its simplicity, that shows how the family continues on into the next adventure.

For all the darkness that Jeremiah reveals, it’s an affectionate film. He shot his footage over the course of seven years, filming “whenever something significant happened,” and he describes the result like this: “what started as an exploration of my father’s life has exposed the secrets of our entire family. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. … We know now how imperfect we really are, but also how much we need and love each other.”

The film is highly recommended. In a Dream screens at the Roxie starting Friday night. [This review was originally published, in somewhat different form, on October 25th, 2008.]

Writers with Drinks, Pamela Z, Easter vigils

pamela_zTonight Writers with Drinks features Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness), Stacie Boschma (Happy Rainbow Poems from the Unicorn Petting Zoo), Laurie R. King (Touchstone, The Art Of Detection), Sean Stewart (Cathy’s Key, Yoda: Dark Rendezvous), Regina Lynn (SexRev 2.0, Sexier Sex), and Minal Hajratwala (Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents). As usual, it’s at the Makeout Room, 3225 22nd. St. near Mission in San Francisco, starts at 7:30 pm, and benefits the Center for Sex and Culture. I’d go just to hear Pam Houston read — she’s always terrific.

If you’d rather see something artsier, experimental music maven Pamela Z (pictured at left) is presenting the second in her ROOM series of performances, tonight at 8:00 pm at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa St. at Harrison.

And if you’re up for something mystical, dark and theatrical, attend one of the many Easter Vigil services held at Christian churches tonight. Classically, a congregation would meet in the “undercroft” of the church, the sub-basement where the skeletons are buried, to remind them of the tomb from which Jesus rises. Nowadays you’re more likely to find yourself in a candle-lit church basement, but the service is still great theater, with scripture readings that move from the creation to the exodus from Egypt to the passion and resurrection. Good bets are Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in North Beach, 8:00 pm; St. Gregory Nyssa Episcopal Church on Potrero Hill, 8:00 pm; Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, 8:00 pm; or St. Francis Lutheran Church in the Castro, 7:00 pm.

Good Friday: procession through the Mission District


Earlier today I posted about this event in advance; here’s a picture from the actual religious procession through the Mission District. They stopped at several places, including BART stations, the Women’s Building, non-profit organizations and the sites of drive-by shootings, and this closed-down gas station at 23rd and Valencia.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: The Movie

MOP014_Peter Sarsgaard as Cleveland Arning and Jon Foster as Art Bechstein stare up at the cloud factory

[Peter Sarsgaard & Jon Foster contemplate The Cloud Factory. Courtesy Peace Arch Films.]

Michael Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, has been made into a feature film (website here) opening this Friday evening at the Embarcadero Center Cinema. It stars Jon Foster as Art Bechstein and Nick Nolte as his gangster dad, Sienna Miller as the love interest, and Peter Sarsgaard as the jealous semi-ex boyfriend. To quote the plot summary from the ticket page:

A coming-of-age story set in the faded glory of early 1980s-era Pittsburgh … the story opens with Art Bechstein (Foster) floundering in his new-found post-college freedom, opting to take the job with the least amount of responsibility he can find (at the appropriately titled Book Barn), while sleep walking through the Series Seven prep courses that will speed him into a job chosen for him by his father (Nolte), far away from the security of his childhood Pittsburgh. Art’s fortunes begin to change when a chance encounter with freshman roommate and part-time drug dealer Mohammed (Omid Abtahi) lands him at a swanky summer party where he falls for the beautifully tipsy Jane Bellwether (Miller). The two quickly connect over a late-night plate of pie, but Jane’s on-again off-again boyfriend Cleveland (Sarsgaard) has other plans for the pair. Taking Art hostage from the dreary Book Barn, Cleveland threatens to throw Art off the top of an abandoned steel mill, a hide-out that Cleveland romantically calls “The Cloud Factory.” Suspended high above Pittsburgh, Art realizes that his summer has finally begun, what would become the last true summer of his life.

Superfans of the book should know that the director and screenwriter, Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) has substantially reworked the material to make it more cinematic; you may already have noticed that one major character is entirely gone from the summary above, and a lot of other stuff has been dropped, added, or otherwise changed. But in spite of all that, it really captures the essence of the book — which isn’t surprising, as Michael Chabon himself was intimately involved with the development of the film, giving a great deal of support to Thurber and feedback on his script, and he has approved of the final product.

Incidentally, last year I wrote about how Oakley Hall prompted Chabon to turn that dad into a gangster, so in a way, we have Oakley Hall to thank for this nice movie.

Tickets available here; engagement begins Friday night at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.

Our City Dreams: The Lives of Five Women in Art

Our City Dreams

[Above, Marina Abramovic and her posse dare the ocean to hit them with its best shot.]

Our City Dreams chronicles the careers and lives of five female artists, now based in New York City, who have been drawn there by everything the city represents — all its chaos, romance, and the advantages of being at the center of the art world. It opens with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge — from a car driving on it, presumably into Manhattan — a jazz soundtrack, and an apt epigraph from Susan Sontag, whose own career was inextricably bound up with the city: “I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams.” The words well suggest what is to follow: a documentary about five women who have each been able to realize their “dreams,” by which is meant both their ambitions and their artistic visions.

Director Chiara Clemente (herself the daughter of a famous painter, Franciso Clemente) followed each of these artists for a year, documenting some key moments in their lives. One artist opens her first solo show and another opens a 25–year retrospective. The women are profiled in order of age, so that in the course of the film you develop a sense of what an entire lifetime in art might mean for a woman. But since each artist started her career about a decade earlier than the one previously interviewed, we also get a brief history of contemporary art in reverse order, a series of personal views into some of the major currents in art over the past half-century, starting with street art and moving backwards through performance art, art explicitly informed by feminist criticism, and Expressionist art.

More than that, though, we get a clear insight into what it means to be a female artist in our society after the feminist movement — and something of what it meant to be one before. Near the end of the film, the painter Nancy Spero (born 1926) celebrates her eightieth birthday, and recalls, of the 1950s and early 1960s: “I was dying for people to ask me what I was working on,” as it didn’t happen much in those years. That memory makes for a sharp contrast with the first woman profiled, the street artist Swoon (born 1977; incidentally, you might have gone to this recent event) who seems to have the world before her: she says she feels lucky to be working “at a moment when women are being really encouraged” to be artists — and as if to prove the point, we’re shown footage of her first solo show, given when she was twenty-eight, at Deitch Projects. In between these two, we get studio visits and some time spent with Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, and the self-described “grandmother of performance art” Marina Abramovic.

Altogether it’s a fascinating film and a good introduction to five of the most significant artists of our time.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is presenting this film at 7:30 on four evenings starting on April 9th and continuing through the 12th. Tickets and trailer available here.

[Note: When originally published, this article incorrectly stated the opening night as April 8th.]

1930s era SF ‘wonderful creations’ include Alcatraz?

I missed this LA Times travel piece when it came out a month ago — a nice little writeup on how many San Francisco landmarks were built during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower to the Opera House. Here is a beautiful photo gallery.

Other newspapers are still reprinting the piece: for example the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal, whose website today highlights one curious 1930s San Francisco landmark: Alcatraz, which opened in 1934. Their headline says Wonderful creations emerged during the hard times of the ’30s, with a picture of Alcatraz right underneath. Somehow I doubt the copy editor who wrote that headline has been to Alcatraz.

Anyway, the piece nicely totes up the number of Diego Rivera murals in the city, including the one at the San Francisco Stock Exchange (“What were the stockbrokers thinking?”) — and the one at City College.

Places you’re not supposed to see

This morning I’m going to the SFMOMA to meet artist and writer Trevor Paglen and interview him.
        Update: Here’s the interview on
He may be best known because of his appearance several months ago on “The Colbert Report” talking about his short book about the unit patches worn by people working on secret military projects, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me. He’s also the author of “Blank Spots on the Map,” a geographical approach to the black world of secret military projects, and co-author of Torture Taxi, about the Bush administration’s uncharted rendition air flights.

But he’s not just an author and academic — he’s a geography professor at UC Berkeley — but a photographer whose work is hanging at both SFMOMA and the Altman Siegel Gallery in SF. His photographs, many of which use what he calls “Limit Telephotography” or the practice of taking very long range telephoto pictures, peek into places you’re not supposed to see:

Trevor Paglen: Large Hangars and Fuel Storage/Tonopah Test Range, NV/Distance ~18 miles/10:44 am

Trevor Paglen: Large Hangars and Fuel Storage/Tonopah Test Range, NV/Distance ~18 miles/10:44 am

… and pick out needles — secret surveillance satellites — in the haystack of the night sky.

Godard at the Castro, and in beer spoof

Godard's 'Made in U.S.A.'Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film with Jane Fonda, Made in U.S.A., plays tonight at the Castro Theatre, 7:00 and 9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, and through April 7.

Meanwhile, the Belgian brewer Stella Artois launched a new ad campaign in which one ad spoofs Godard’s work circa Le Mépris and Pierrot le fou. It has that wonderful ability of European ads to be chic and tacky at the same time. 7.

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