Arts + Culture

Ficks’ Picks: Favorite movies of 2017

'The Florida Project'
Presenting 48 Hills critic Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ top films of last year (and look for his exclusive Sundance reports for us coming soon!). For our film critic Dennis Harvey’s list of top flicks, click here.  
 
1. Twin Peaks: The Return (USA, David Lynch) 
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s 18-hour film proved again that they can push the boundaries of narrative and experimental storytelling into a haunting dream of dark and troubling things. Reinventing almost every trope within a television series, this career culmination for David Lynch left me hyperventilating at the end of every single episode.
 
2. The Florida Project (USA, Sean Baker) 
Sean Baker’s follow-up to his anxiety-core classic Tangerine (2016) is a transcendental gem highlighted by a career-shining performance by Willem Dafoe. The Florida Project is a wonderfully small world that brilliantly reworks Hal Roach’s The Little Rascals and Our Gang series. Baker has created yet another humanistic feature film that crackles and pops with such a colorful look at an impoverished Americana that when the film’s polarizing grand finale peaks, you may find yourself as breathless as its 7-year-old star. 
 
+ Plastic China (China, Jiuliang Wang/Ruby Chen)
Poverty-stricken Chinese families recycle imported plastic from garbage dumps, with the struggling hopes to give their children a better life. But this is much more than just a haunting cinéma vérité documentary; this is the story of Yi-jie, an unschooled 11-year-old girl whose family works and lives in a “plastic waste household-recycling workshop.” Humble and as dramatic as any narrative this year.
 
3. Wonder Wheel (USA, Woody Allen) 
Even though Woody Allen (age 81) is almost twice the age of Paul Thomas Anderson (age 47), both seem to be uncovering yet another side to their consistently curious careers. Allen’s continued collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who shot last year’s underrated Cafe Society and just finished Allen’s next film A Rainy Day in New York) has made an instant classic with this heart wrenching tribute to playwright Tennessee Williams and the films of Douglas Sirk. Early on in Wonder Wheel, the narrator (Justin Timberlake) warns the audience, “I speak in symbols and relish melodrama with larger than life characters.” Expressionistic and experimental lighting drench Kate Winslet, who delivers, hands-down, one of the most devastating performances of her career, much less of the year. This purposefully stagey, if not at times clunky, 1950s period piece has a piercing darkness that is crackling with the same fire that stirs within Winslet’s red-headed wanderlust waitress and her red-haired, movie-obsessed son. For those interested in not overlooking Woody Allen, he’s truly making some of the best films of his 50-year career.

+ Phantom Thread (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s reworking/tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) is so well made, I fear many audience members may take this stunning experience for granted. Phantom Thread practices what its 1950s main character (Daniel Day Lewis) experiences: an obsessive compulsive disorder. Vicky Krieps’ performance as the deceptively naive waitress has such a mesmerizingly disruptive nature as Alma (the name of Hitchcock’s lifelong partner in crime), it not only transports this stylistic showpiece into downright masterpiece territory, it proves that Anderson himself understands that there’s more to his cinema than just style over substance. (Repeat viewings are a must, if not just to listen to Jonny (Radiohead) Greenwood’s breathtaking score.) 

4. The Woman Who Left (Philippines, Lav Diaz)
Based on a short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” by Leo Tolstoy, this stunningly contemplative tale follows an older woman looking to take revenge on a man, 30 years after being wrongly imprisoned. Led by legendary actress Charo Santos, this revisionist film noir is much more interested in exploring the journey of metaphysical transcendence than it is in the actual vengeance. Clocking in at 3 hours and 45 minutes (which is quite short compared to Diaz’s usual six-to-eight hour outputs), this is a wonderfully peaceful place to start for anyone intimidated by Diaz’s unique cinematic style. Winner of the 2016 Golden Lion at The Venice International Film Festival.   
 
+ Raw (France/Belgium, Julia Ducournau)
With audience members passing out during its Cannes Film Festival premiere, this supremely intelligent horror film has the power to gouge out your own eyes and your stomach. Do not read any major spoilers. Let this story of a young vegetarian, who starts attending a veterinarian’s school, work its gurgling magic on you.
 
5. BPM aka Beats Per Minute (France, Robin Campillo) 
Set in the early 1990s, director Robin Campillo emphasizes the grueling meetings of ACT UP, as a way to get closer to a group of HIV/AIDS activists. Gestating within the romantic relentlessness that anyone who’s ever sacrificed their own health for a cause, this two-hour and 20 minute voyage won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival this year and will leave you with more than a few thoughts on how “the personal IS political.” 
 
Detroit (USA, Kathryn Bigelow)
Meanwhile, Kathryn Bigelow’s latest reteaming with screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt LockerZero Dark Thirty) is an absolutely ferocious look at Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. Bigelow’s choice to explore the volatile subject of police brutality so incessantly by channeling her own 1987 vampire/noir Near Dark as well as John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), makes this a mesmerizing cult film that audiences will hopefully uncover a few years down the road.    

 
 
6. Blade Runner 2049 (USA/UK/Hungary/Canada, Denis Villeneuve) + Spectrum States (USA, Paul Clipson)
 
 
   
7. Good Time (USA, Safdie Brothers) + Ma’ Rosa (Philippines, Brillante Mendoza)
8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (UK/Ireland/USA, Yorgos Lanthimos) The Beguiled (USA, Sofia Coppola) 

9. Double Tide (USA, Sharon Lockhart) +Pattern Language  (USA, Peter Burr) 
 
10. The Lure (Poland, Agnieszka Smoczyńska) The Shape of Water (USA, Guillermo del Toro)
 

11. War of the Planet of the Apes (USA, Matt Reeves) + Logan (USA, James Mangold)
 

12. Ex Libris: New York Public Library (USA, Frederick Wiseman) See a Dog, Hear a Dog  (USA, Jesse McLean)
 

13. Get Out (USA, Jordan Peele) mother! (USA, Darren Aronofsky)
 

14. Rat Film (USA, Theo Anthony) Okja (South Korea/USA, Bong Joon-ho)
 
15. Beach Rats (USA, Eliza Hittman) + Antiporn (Japan, Sion Sono)



16. Wonder Woman (USA, Patty Jenkins) + Personal Shopper (France/ Germany/Czech Republic/Belgium, Oliver Assayas)
 

17. God’s Own Country (UK, Francis Lee) + The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (USA, Noah Baumach) 
 
18. Baby Driver (UK/USA, Edgar Wright) + John Wick: Chapter 2 (USA/HK, Chad Stahelski)
 

19. Blade of the Immortal (Japan, Takashi Miike) + Hostiles (USA, Scott Cooper)
 

20. Call Me By Your Name (Italy/France/Brazil/USA, Luca Guadagnino) Song to Song ​​(USA, Terence Malick)

Arts Forecast: Bowie Wowie Zowies!

ARTS FORECAST It’s been two years since David Bowie’s shocking death — an event that many pinpoint as the beginning of world’s current madness spiral, and why not? If it has to hang on something, the passing of the patron saint of weird and wonderful (followed soon by Prince ascending to the purple heavens) might as well have foretold the psycho-cyclone we’re living in.

 San Francisco already threw huge parties to mark Bowie’s birthday (January 8), and since the Starman departed our sphere in 2016, they’ve only grown huger and more poignant. Here’s a quick rundown of this year’s:

7TH ANNUAL BOWIE BASH A two-night extravaganza from the First Church of the Sacred Silversexual, San Francisco (led by Reverent Father Lysol Tony-Romeo) — our very own Bowie performance cult — which will recreate three of his seminal albums live: Friday will see The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and on Saturday we get Station To Station and Let’s Dance. Live band, drag queens, burlesque, and tons of stage shenanigans. Fri/6 and Sat/7, 8pm, $25. The Chapel, SF. More info here

BOWIE AND ELVIS BIRTHDAY BASH Two splashy legends for the price of one? OK! From “Hound Dog” to Diamond Dogs, DJs Shindog (New Wave City) Cammy, Moonshine, and Andy T play all your faves. It’s a costume affair, too, with prizes for best dressed. Birthday cake! Fri/6, 9pm-1:30am, $12. Edinburgh Castle, SF. More info here

BOWIE BIRTHDAY BALL Monthly Club Leisure is our bastion of all things British and pop — from mod to Morrissey — so of course a Bowie Ball chimes with its good times. Bowie-themed drink specials, Bowie tunes, Bowie karaoke, and one of the most stylishly fun crowds in the city. With DJs Aaron, Omar, and Jez and a champagne toast to the Thin White Duke at midnight. Sat/6, 10pm-3am, $10. Cat Club, SF. More info here

BOWIEMAS XIV The 14th installment of this cherished tradition, this year teaming up with the Stud’s rockin’ Sunday Lip Service party for hot tunes and tons of drag and burlesque. A magical night of dance and romance, plus a midnight mass in his honor. Dress up as a Bowie character (or a song lyric) and have a blast. Sun/7, 10pm-1am, $7. The Stud, SF. More info here.   

GOLDEN YEARZ: A BOWIE BIRTHDAY PARTY “GoldenYearz celebrates the ever-changing and far-ranging master of the extraordinary, David Bowie. Our focus is on David’s Golden Years from 1965-1980DJs d’Animal & d’Escargot will spin Bowie and the artists he loved and there will be several live performances.” Projections, surprises, and get your face airbrushed like a Starman. Sat/6, 9:30pm-2am, $10-$15. The Great Northern, SF. More info here

DAVID BOWIE SINGALONG One of my favorite local performers, Kitten on the Keys, leads a lively, good ol’ fashioned singalong of Bowie’s hits and favorites. Grab a cocktail and  belt out something fabulous. Tue/9, 7pm-10pm, free. PianoFight, SF. More info here

BOWIE-A-GOGO A truly freaky tribute! Our weekly pansexual bondage-themed wonderland, Bondage-A-GoGo, pays tribute to the true master. DJs Tomas Diablo and Damon, sexy go-gos, and a dungeon in the back room. Wed/10, 9:30pm-2:30am, $7-$10. Cat Club, SF. More info here

BOWIE BIRTHDAY BASH WITH THE JEAN GENIES Who doesn’t love/live in constant terror of tribute bands? The Jean Genies will bring one Bowie back to life at the Starry Plough with their energetic covers, while openers Burning Down the House will animate another, David Byrne of the Talking Heads. Craziness. Sat/13, 9pm-1am, $10-$12. The Starry Plough, Berkeley. More info here

MORE ARTS EVENTS

SAN FRANCISCO TAPE MUSIC FESTIVAL One of my absolute favorite events of the year! “America’s only festival devoted to the performance of audio works projected in three-dimensional space, The San Francisco Tape Music Festival features four distinct concerts of classic audio art and new fixed media compositions by 30 local and international composers. Hear members of the SF Tape Music Collective, along with guest composers, shape the sound live over a pristine surround system (24 high-end loudspeakers) with the audience seated in complete darkness. It’s a unique opportunity to experience music forming — literally — around you.” Fri/5-Sun/7, $10-$20 for each night/$60 for all four performance. Victoria Theater, SF. More info here

LONG BEACH DUB ALLSTARS Founded in 1997 by surviving members of Sublime (I admit, this is a total selling point for teenage me), LBDA plays  a mixture of punk rock, reggae, dub, ska and hip hop. They’re also endorsed by our own dub party powerhouse, Dub Mission, so you can barely go wrong here. Spark one up. Fri/5, 8:30pm, $25. The Independent, SF. More info here.  

“BRILLIANT DILETTANTES: SUBCULTURE IN GERMANY IN THE 1980S” The invaluable Goethe-Institut brings this awesome show of underground German club, arts, and music to Pro Arts Gallery, and I can’t wait to see it (especially since I was lucky enough to party in Berlin before the fall of the Wall). “Curated by Mathilde Weh, this exhibition presents the most comprehensive survey to date of this extraordinarily innovative subculture, highlighting the work of the bands Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft/D.A.F. (Düsseldorf), Der Plan (Düsseldorf), Die Tödliche Doris (Berlin), Einstürzende Neubauten (Berlin), Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle/ F.S.K. (Munich), Ornament und Verbrechen (East Berlin), and Palais Schaumburg (Hamburg), as well as various artists, filmmakers and designers from West and East Germany.” Opening reception Fri/5, 6pm-8pm, free. Show runs though January 27 with all kinds of live performances and music planned. Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland. More info here

KIRK MAXSON: “BLACK ELK SPEAKS” Kirk Maxson is one of our most exquisite artists, fashioning nature imagery out of metal foil to create forests of reference and delight. (He all recently outfitted models for the Victoria Secret fashion show, so there’s a lot of range going on in his work.) In this ambitious show, he addresses the fact that he was raised believing his family was part Cherokee and immersing himself in the culture: That provenance is now under question, but the sculptural metal works here explore Native American History in the United States, through book, song titles and a phrase from presidential speeches. Opening reception Sat/6, 6pm-8pm, free. Show runs through Feb 17. Eleanor Harwood Gallery, SF. More info here

MIYA ANDO: “OBOROZUKI” Artist Miya Ando’s inspiration for this exhibition, including new paintings and ink works on aluminum, is the Japanese word ‘Oborozuki,’ meaning ‘the moon obscured by clouds.’ For the show she draws on the oldest known Japanese novel “The Tale of Genji.” “Written by Murasaki Shikibu, the book is composed of minute, poetic observations of nature by it’s lead female protagonist, Lady Murasaki. This ancient novel takes as its premise the fundamental interconnectivity of all things, and the fleeting, transitory awareness this recognition engenders. Nature is depicted not as a force, but as the vehicle that inspires in us contemplation and reverie.” Opening reception Sat/6, 5m-7pm, free. Show runs through February 22. Nancy Toomey Fine Art, SF. More info here

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR ODDBALL FILMS’ STEPHEN PARR The local film and underground events community was devastated when Stephen Parr passed away in October. Stephen was the mind behind Oddball Films and the San Francisco Media Archive, and the former proprietor of Club Generic — he was a catalyst of so much that happened to keep underground film alive in the city. This memorial at the Roxie will pay tribute with “remembrances and testimonials, blessings and spiritual sharing and, of course, film and music.” A reception will follow and the memorial will be filmed and shared for those unable to attend. Sun/7, 12:30pm, free. Roxie Theater, SF. More info here.

“BARN OWL” “At the dawn of the cyber age, 39 members of the UFO death cult Heaven’s Gate “exited” their human vehicles [bodies], transitioning, they believed, into androgynous Star Beings and leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs on the World Wide Web. Evan Johnson (PansyDon’t Feel: The Death of Dahmer) teams up with Teddy Hulsker (performer/multi-media artist/Klanghaus Artistic Director) to create a chilling sci-fi ghost story exploring loss, queer cosmologies and the power of belief. Also featuring a live ET channeling by Nouzarbus. Performances by Silkworm, Hollow Eve, Clove Galilee, and Ingrid Shoop.” Ummmm, yes I will be there. Mon/8, 7pm, $7. Z Space, SF. More info here

Our most-read stories of 2017

The scene at Alamo Square as thousands came into the streets to protest a group associated with the resurgent white supremacist movement.

This was a truly unsettling year, from the election of Donald Trump and the resurgence of white supremacist movements to the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee and the ongoing crisis of homelessness and displacement  — a time when independent, local media proved itself more essential than ever. (Unfortunately, we continued to lose voices on the scene when we needed them most.)

With your support, 48 Hills was on the streets and inside City Hall, telling the stories of the Bay Area that mattered. One of the things we’re proudest of this year was expanding our arts and culture coverage, with film reviews, theater reviews, music coverage, arts picks, and even more of our Party Radar nightlife column. We also increased our international coverage, drawing in readers from around the world.

Below is a selection of our most-read stories of 2017. Thank you to our 48 Hills community for reading, and for your support.

Please donate so we can continue to grow in 2018!     

NOTHING LIKE THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED BEFORE
Donald Trump was declared President of the United States, and no one was having it. The Women’s March brought the communal heat to San Francisco’s street on a cold, windy day — and, as part of the national happening, was the largest political protest in this country’s history. Read more

SF SENDS THE WHITE SUPREMACISTS PACKING
The resilience of SF’s resistance network and history shone through on August 26. Tens of thousands of protestors, from the Marina to the Castro, took to the streets to protest a “free speech” rally by a group associated with white supremacists. It was glorious — also horrifying that we even had to be there. Read more.

SHERIFF EVICTS 100-YEAR-OLD + IRIS CANADA DIES ONE MONTH AFTER HER EVICTION
The tragic saga of Iris Canada, the 100-year-old Lower Haight tenant who was evicted from her home — and then passed away a month later — galvanized housing activists and made national news. We covered Iris’ story in-depth, in articles like these and in our special Dialogues for Life Project about the case. Read more here and here.

DISPATCHES FROM THE GARCIA ZARATE TRIAL
Every day for several weeks, Tim Redmond and Sana Saleem attended the trial that captured the nation’s attention — not least that of the rabid rightwing-o-sphere– and ultimately led to the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on charges of killing Kate Steinle. You can read the full dispatches here.

TEARS (AND BUBBLY) FOR BUBBLES
One of San Francisco’s most recognizable free spirits, and a nightlife legend, was shot to death point blank in the Tenderloin. We reported from the wake/party on the streets celebrating Bubbles’ life. Read more.

SAN FRANCISCO BRACES FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF IMMIGRATION RAIDS
Of all the horrible possibilities of the unhinged Trump administration, the threat of armed agents of the government hauling away our neighbors was one that affected the Bay Area mightily. After President Trump signed an executive order aiming to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, we reported from a legal training to help understand what ICE could and couldn’t do. Read more.

The GHOST SHIP FIRE, ONE YEAR LATER
As the anniversary of the Bay Area’s worst nightlife tragedy neared, we interviewed Andy Kershaw, the husband of victim Amanda Allen, who updated us on the case and opened up about how it had affected him. Read more.

INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS AT SFO SHUT DOWN IN PROTEST OF TRUMP’S MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s odious Muslim travel ban inspired hundreds of protestors to shut down San Francisco International Airport, until a court blocked its imposition. Read more.   

VIDEO SEEKS TO SELL ‘FABULOUS’ UNITS CLEARED BY EVICTION
When a shady real estate agency tried to pink-wash its flip of eviction-marred properties by hiring a drag queen to make a cutesy video advertisement, we called it out. Read more

BAY GUARDIAN BEST OF THE BAY 2017 
The 42nd installment of Best of the Bay — and the second that 48 Hills hosted after the Bay Guardian stopped publishing weekly in print — was a wonderful compilation of beloved SF institutions and new businesses that proved we still live in the best place on earth. Read more.

INSIDE THE YIMBY CONFERENCE
The push for unchecked, market-rate development put on a youthful, tech-ready face at an Oakland conference called Yimbytown 2017. We were there to report on the civil discussion on the surface — and the nastiness behind the scenes. Read more.

LEE’S DEATH SHOCKS THE CITY
Tim Redmond reported live from City Hall as stunned officials gathered to mourn the mayor after his sudden passing and figure out next steps. Read more.  

Please donate so we can continue to grow in 2018! 

‘Watch on the Rhine’ chimes uneasily with our moment

Caitlin O’Connell, Jonathan Walker, and Kate Guentzel in Lillian Hellman’s 'Watch on the Rhine' at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Kevin Berne

ONSTAGE In 1941, when she wrote Watch on the Rhine (playing at Berkeley Rep through January 14), Lillian Hellman would have had no idea of the mass murder of millions that would follow the ascendance of fascism in Europe.   

Today, we know about the Holocaust, but we don’t know about tomorrow. As each day’s headlines bring news of a ban on Muslims, militarization of local police forces, immigration raids, and mass deportation, and a power-hungry president who threatens journalists who expose his lies and hurls invectives at African American athletes who dare to dissent, we can’t help but wonder where it will lead. As Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone explains, “A new level of anxiety has embedded itself into our DNA… looking for the right moment to explode into our everyday reality and destroy any illusion of normalcy.”

The choices that Hellman so poignantly portrays in this 75-year-old play — whether, on one extreme to stand by and assume that this too shall pass or, on the other, to commit a most heinous act against one person to save the lives of many others — still resonate powerfully today. Under the skillful direction of Lisa Peterson, associate director of Berkeley Rep, the excellent ensemble, including the three children, create a vivid, compelling picture of a world on the eve of disaster.

At first, the two moral poles seem to be set by two men: Kurt Muller (Elijah Alexander), a German engineer who has risked his life in an attempt to join the partisans trying to block the advance of the Nazis, and Count Teck De Bracovis (Jonathan Walker), a Romanian aristocrat with ties to the Nazi regime. These two immediately distrust each other, carefully scrutinize each other’s movements and eventually come to blows.

But the predominance of that match between good and evil is deceptive.  Hellman prefers to plumb the grayer areas.

Jonah Horowitz, Emma Curtin, and Elijah Alexander, Sarah Agnew, and Silas Sellnow in ‘Watch on the Rhine.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

The real opposing pole to Muller’s militancy is matriarch Fanny Farrelly, played with a unique combination of wit and éclat by Caitlin O’Connell. The wealthy widow presides with an iron hand over her splendid home in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The set by Neil Patel oozes with inherited wealth, from the recessed wooden ceilings to the brocade upholstery to an eclectic mix of vases, clocks and decorative lamps. Farrelly is the unlikely hostess to both Muller and the Count. Muller, because he is married to her daughter Sara (Sarah Agnew) who has returned to her childhood home after a 20-year absence, and De Brancovis because, well, Farrelly has a soft spot for European nobility, “who play good cribbage and tell good jokes,” even if they are delinquent with their bills. 

It is late spring 1940. Europe is already gripped by the Nazi onslaught, but the US has not yet entered the conflict, and the clouds of war seem quite distant, especially in this affluent home where breakfast is always served at 9am. When the Muller family arrives with battered suitcases and shabby clothes, they stand in sharp contrast to the elegance of Farrellys’ living room with its French doors that open to a plant-filled verandah. The children, Joshua (Silas Sellnow), Babette (Emma Curtin), and Bodo (Jonah Horowitz) are precocious, polite and fluent in several languages — but they are also hungry, having had only a warm bun and a glass of milk on their train journey.  Even the servants, Anise, the efficient and clever housekeeper played with style by Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, and butler Joseph (James Detmar) are dressed far smarter than the Muller family. 

Sarah Muller, well-aware how insulated by privilege her mother and brother David (Hugh Kennedy) are, tries to gently explain how distant her current life is from the cotillions and society teas she once knew. She doesn’t know how long they will stay. The Muller children, who are clearly loving towards their parents, despite their unconventional and precarious upbringing, slowly make themselves at home in their grandmother’s house, taking delight in the plentiful breakfasts, the sanitary plumbing, and the luxurious hot baths. Kurt explains to his children they are on holiday and that they “will have plans when the hour arrives to make them.”

Kurt is energetic and bursting with ideas. He has crossed many borders, taken part in clandestine acts, and endured blows and bullets, which have left their mark, so he walks slowly and his hands tremble. He tells his mother-in-law that he has given up engineering to become an “Anti-fascist,” a “job” he cares passionately about even though “it doesn’t pay well.”  After he saw 27 men murdered in street clash with Nazis, he tells her, he could no longer stand by and watch.

“My time,” he says, “has come to move.” 

The dapper, conniving Count De Brancovis is not only freeloading off the Farrellys and cruel to his wife Marthe (Kate Guentzel), but he is also on intimate card-playing terms with Nazi officials in the Embassy.

Fanny’s role is more nuanced than either of these two men: her dilemma is the one that is the most familiar today. Her life is more than comfortable, she wants for nothing aside from wishing her rather unimaginative son were more like his deceased father. Though her daughter’s arrival brings her closer to the realities of war, her solution is to keep that family safe in her mansion where she presumes the war can’t touch them. When their shielded life is threatened, her instinct is to buy her daughter and granddaughter fancy new dresses. 

Kurt has made his decision: he has no choice but to sacrifice his time, his work, and even his children’s well-being to fight fascism. Fanny’s opulent home has been immune to the terrors of war, but when she finds the conflict right under her roof, she faces the central moral dilemma of the drama.  

How long can you ignore the thundering march of the jackboots?  When do the offenses get so strong that you have to take action? Fanny hasn’t seen the victims the Nazis murdered in the street, but is there a moment when it will be her “time to move?” And what action do you take? Is providing sanctuary enough? Money? What if there is a risk of endangering your daughter or your grandchildren? Or someone else’s grandchildren?  

If the title of play seems familiar, it may be because “Watch on the Rhine” or “Die Wacht am Rhein” is the song from Casablanca that the German soldiers sing in Rick’s bar, before they are drowned out by the French patriots’ rousing “La Marseillaise.” It was a German battle song from the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, all the way up to World War II.  We learn from Kurt that when he was a member of the German unit of International Brigade fighting Franco in Spain, they changed the words to an anti-fascist anthem: “This time we fight for people, this time the bastards will keep their hands away.” 

Hellman won the New York Drama Critics Award for this play when it was produced on Broadway in 1941, but it has been rarely produced since. She is perhaps most well-known for her response to the House Un-American Activities Committee when they asked her to name names of political subversives she knew. She refused their request, stating: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

In this prescient drama, she clearly answers the question, “When is it time to move?” Sometimes, Hellman’s characters discover, we have to take the risk – no matter what the cost. 

WATCH ON THE RHINE
Though January 14
Berkeley Rep, Berkeley.
Tickets and more info here.

Party Radar: A Too-Cute New Year’s Eve 2017 Party Guide

LA's Dâm Funk kicks the 2018 party off right at Public Works.

PARTY RADAR Halleloo, halleloo! This dumb-ass year is ’bout to get kicked in the dumpster. I’m off to Palm prings to hide from the holidays with a giant margarita, poolside beneath some chili lights strung from a Joshua tree — Merry-juana Christmas, everybody! But folks have been hitting me up for SF NYE recs, so here are some bright beacons in that blizzard of amateurs we call NYE. And don’t forget to stay tuned for my “Comedowns are for Losers” annual guide to what matters most, New Year’s Day parties, coming soon. Right after I finish up this next marg. Bon voyagee.

PS If you’re looking for bigger parties, there are these galore, of course, from the all-night POPNYE EDM rave at the Armory (and the not-so-all-night Kaskade EDM rave at Bill Graham) to the hippie electronic jams of STS9 at the Warfield, the Steampunk-folk Burner jams of Beats Antique at the Midway, the monster mash-up mosh of Bootie NYE, shirtless hairy men galore at Bearracuda NYE, and the gay dragstravaganza, featuring rapper Cazwell and some of my favorite performers, at Oasis.  

PPS Might I suggest you kick everything off with something gorgeous New Year’s Eve morning: taking a swing at a 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell at the Asian Art Museum

PPPS New Year’s Eve gets all the presss, but there are some other great parties this weekend, too, including the awesome Hotline Winter Wonderland Bash — with a real snow machine (Fri/29), Yungg Trip and Felex Up Crew at Dub Mission (Fri/29), Hot Froot (Fri/29), KINGDOM! Drag King Black and Gold NYE Ball (Fri/29) Chulita Vinyl Club at the KnockOut (Sat/30), and drag goddess Glamamore’s Pre NYE Eve rager, Glamamore’s Nutz

ACID TEST NEW YEAR’S FREAKOUT! “A psychedelic happening featuring lights and sounds,” with groovy psych-rock music by LA five-piece The Creation Factory and Berkeley’s The Pop Club Group, plus DJs Steve and Noemi, Jodie Artichoke, and more. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$15. Elbo Room, SF. More info here.  

SWEATER FUNK NEW YEAR’S EVE This adorable crew of local vinyl funkateer DJs comes together to play you classic “boogie – modern soul – steppers” at the Knockout. Your angora will get itchy! Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$20. The Knockout, SF. More info here.    

INSPECTOR GADJE Nothing resounds so wonderfully and woozily with the feeling of a great New Year than a BBBB — big Balkan brass band. Whirl and stomp with the awesome Inspector Gadje band at this artists’ extravaganza evening, put on by the eye-popping Salles des Artistes. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $35. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Hall, SF. More info here.    

NYE PACHANGA Launch into 2018 with some Latinx love. Virgil’s Sea Room and Gallerie de la Raza in the Mission are teaming up for food, fun, a little piñata-whacking, and of course dancing, courtesy of DJs Sizzle, Crasslos, Carnitas of Hard French, and FlyLoveSong. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $15-$20. Virgil’s Sea Room, SF. More info here

UP ALL NIGHT AT THE STUD Fifteen dollars (presale) for 12 hours of dancing and drag — including Midwest underground techno powerhouse DJ Noncompliant aka Shiva, psychedelic electronic sorceress Mozhgan, a Club Lonely takeover at dawn, and oodles of friendly queer faces. It’s also the anniversary of the Stud Collective taking over the space and converting it into the country’s first worker-owned cooperative nightclub! (I will be there and a fun mess.) Sun/31, 9pm-9am, $15-$25. The Stud, SF. More info here. 

Afrolicious

AFROLICIOUS NYE This local funk-electronic collective contains some people I adore, playing Afro-House, Latin Grooves, classic funk, island jams, and everything under the sun Wear comfy kicks: With a live band and ace DJs on hand, you’ll be on your feet all night. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $50. Rickshaw Stop, SF. More info here.   

POOLSIDE + DÂM FUNK LA funk deity Dâm Funk will launch Public Works into space after dreamy duo Poolside (starring our own Jeffrey Paradise) dunks the crowds in sunny melodies. With Body Music and Groovewell. Sun/31, 9pm-3:30am, $25. Public Works, SF. More info here

SWAGGER LIKE US Vibrant queer hip-hop and deep beats at this Best of the Bay winner, with the amazing Bearcat from Discwoman and Atlanta’s Leonce. The crowd at this party cannot be beat for fabulous looks and warm attitude. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $20+. F8, SF. More info here.   

NEW YEAR’S EVE FLAMENCO The dramatic, addictive Spanish dance genre — which built the foundation for modern nightlife — whirls into the new year at Thirsty Bear. Three shows starting at 8pm, plus a menu of tapas goodies. Sun/21, 8pm, free. Thirsty Bear, SF. More info here.   

Metric

METRIC Beloved indie dance group returns with their Canadian synth ways to light up Mezzanine. Their live show is fantastic — at least when I avidly followed them in the aughts — and this will be both a reunion and a bang-up celebration. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $80. Mezzanine, SF. More info here

TURBO DRIVE NYE The smooth-synth retro minds behind latest party phenomena Turbo Drive and Neon Black — think the Drive soundtrack in an ’80s arcade — are taking over Emporium, the giant new arcade on Divisadero, and pinballing you into 2018 via 1989. With DJs Danny Delorean, Fact.50, and more. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, free + five game tokens. Emporium, SF. More info here.   

FATHER OF THE YEAR LOL, this incredibly cleverly titled gay shindig brings out the dadbods (and not-so-dadbods) to Driftwood for dad-dance music by Mark O’Brien (Polyglamorous), Sergio Fedasz (Go BANG!), and “ResiDAD” DJs Michael Romano and Kelly Naughton. Plus a Double Scorpio brand “midnight magic poppertunity toast!” (wink) Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10.50. Driftwood, SF. More info here

TYCHO Our hero of electronic pop-atmospherics returns for a night spent ballooning out the walls of the Fillmore. Bring your edibles, throw on your Ray-Bans, and bid the dark of 2017 adieu. Sun/31, 9pm-1am, $75. The Fillmore, SF. More info here

CLUB LONELY NYE One of my supreme favorite small house music parties with a huge vibe, Club Lonely, brings in an awesome DJ, Myles Cooper, from another equally delectable party, High Fantasy, to join resident DJs Vin Sol, Jeremy Castillo, and Primo in burning 2017 to the ground. Sun/31, 9pm-4am, $15. Club OMG, SF. More info here

MANGO NYE This lesbian wonder-party has been around for more than two decades and still rules the scene with its super-diverse blend of dancers, and house and hip-hop beats by legend Olga T. With DJs Lady Lu and La Coqui and El Rio’s strong drinks. Juicy! Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $15. El Rio, SF. More info here

Screen Grabs: A Christmas weekend movie bonanza

Brazil is part of a Terry Gilliam double-feature at the Roxie, Fri/22

We are now in that time of year where for many, going to the movies means finding something “suitable for the whole family.” Ergo this week brings Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a fantasy adventure which is expected to be huge despite early word that it is possibly even worse than the Robin Williams movie it remakes. Much more of a commercial gamble is The Greatest Showman, that very rare thing today—an original movie musical—starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, with Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Oakland’s own Disney-groomed Zendaya in support roles. (It is not, rather strangely, connected at all to the widely successful 1980s stage musical Barnum.) There’s will also inevitably a whole lot of singing, as well as girl power, in Pitch Perfect 3

Elsewhere, the year-end march of award hopefuls continues with famed TV writer Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, his big-screen directorial bow. It’s dramatized true story, with Jessica Chastain as a sidelined Olympic skier who turned her intensely competitive nature towards orchestrating extremely high-stakes, questionably-legal poker games. Slick and extremely garrulous in the Sorkin style, it’s this year’s Portrait of a Winning Asshole, in the tradition of Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short—except this time the asshole is a woman! Yay? Laden with showy speeches (at one point Kevin Costner arrives to basically deliver the entire movie’s psychological depth in checkoff-list form), it ends on perhaps the emptiest note of Inspirational Uplift ever. But it’s still more fun than The Post

Those looking for family-unfriendly entertainment with no redeeming social consciousness whatsoever will get the gift of Father Figures, a slab of raunchy R-rated comedy in which Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Ed Helms and others are men behaving badly. 

But if I were you, I’d go see something among the below instead: 

DOWNSIZING 
Struggling heartland couple Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) are chasing that American Dream, but not getting any closer. In this seriocomic fantasy penned by Alexander Payne and his usual writing partner Jim Taylor, they mull the titular option: Being scientifically shrunk to minute size, in which form they’d enjoy the relatively luxurious life their modest savings can bankroll in a specially designed Lilleputian community. 

Gradually moving from quirky social satire to something more weighty—even addressing such topics as income inequality and global warming—this is not another home run from the director of Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska and so forth. But it’s a welcome if mixed-bag leap of the imagination that is never dull, and ultimately quite rewarding. Perhaps the oddest duck amongst 2017 Christmas releases, Downsizing is refreshing for the risks it takes, and for the thoughtful sociopolitical commentary it pulls off within a rather soft-edged whimsical concept. Opens Friday at area theaters. 

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
No doubt more curiosity will be directed at this year-end release, however, if only because of the bizarre high-profile circumstances that engulfed its completion: When Kevin Spacey became persona non grata due to umpteen sexual harassment accusations, director Ridley Scott re-cast his part… in the already completed movie. Nine presumably frenetic days were spent filming Christopher Plummer (who says he was semi-prepared anyway as an early candidate for the role) as wealthy, miserly industrialist J. Paul Getty in a drama about his grandson’s kidnapping for ransom in 1973. Michelle Williams again, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Plummer (no relation) also figure in the cast. 

Will the last-minute rehaul complicate Scott’s usual meticulous craftsmanship? Money wasn’t press-screened in time to provide an answer. Still, his fascinating true story has got to make for a better movie than his profoundly disappointing recent Alien prequels. Opens Friday at area theaters.

I, TONYA
Yet another ripped-from-headlines tale… yeesh, can’t Hollywood do anything but docudramas and sequels anymore? (Hats off again to Downsizing.) However, there is plenty to like about Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, the Olympics-aspiring US figure skater who notoriously was involved—to what degree is still murky—in an attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. 

Director Craig Gillespie and scenarist Steven Rogers’ film gets a little too cute at times with winky fourth-wall-breaking and other gimmicks that feel second-hand. Yet like The Disaster Artist, this is a comedy about hapless real people that nonetheless ultimately manages to avoid ridiculing them. Robbie is terrific as the fiercely determined, not-especially-likable heroine, and Allison Janney is terrifyingly good as her monstrous stage mother. I, Tonya finally does have its cake and eat it too: It gets us to laugh at “white trash” culture, yet also underlines how hard it can be to transcend just such class divisions in our supposedly “classless” society. Opens Friday at area theaters.

SF PUNK FILM SERIES: IN THE MOMENT
Surely Tonya Harding would have been happier if she hadn’t been pushed into a “princessy” competitive arena and had instead been allowed to flaunt a mohawk and slamdance to the Misfits. This kickoff program to a four-part series at the SF Main Public Library features “shorts and clips from 1977-1980,” presented by the San Francisco History Center’s SF Punk Archive. It will include archival performances by local punk legends The Nuns, CRIME, The Avengers, Mutants, Dils and more. Further installments in the series will play Dec. 30, Jan. 6 and Jan. 10. Free, but advance reservations are advised. Wed/20, SF Main Library. More info here

CHRISTMAS AT THE CASTRO: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC
On the other hand, the Nancy Kerrigans of the world can feel safe attending either of two utterly wholesome celluloid traditions at SF’s favorite movie palace. On Friday it’s none other than Frank Capra’s deathless 1946 classic. with James Stewart as the small-town Everyman who loses all hope and gains it all back on Xmas Eve. Admit it: You, too, cry when you see this thing. And its political edge might seem a little sharper this year. A few days later, the Castro brings back the Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, which may not have a Yuletide theme—but it’s got singing nuns fer Chrissakes! Life: Fri/22, Music: Tues/26-Mon/1, Castro Theatre. More info here.

CHRISTMAS EVIL
Mercifully for some, there’s much less conventional holiday-revival fare going on a few blocks down in the Mission. Midnights for Maniacs presents a 100-minute director’s cut of this infamous 1980 black-comedy slasher, the first but not the last horror film to feature a homicidal Santa Claus. It has been designated the favorite Xmas-themed movie of John Waters—even more so, presumably, than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with little Pia Zadora. Sat/23, Roxie Theater. More info here.

A VERY TERRY CHRISTMAS: BRAZIL AND TWELVE MONKEYS
Striking even more of a counter-programming note are the two vintage Terry Gilliam dystopian fantasias the Roxie is screening in 35mm prints tonight. There is indeed a Christmas theme buried in the crazy quilt of 1985’s surreal comic blowout Brazil, as well as Twelve Monkeys from a decade later. Jonathan Pryce plays the hapless protagonist negotiating a demented future in the former; Bruce Willis a time-tripping victim of fate (and manic Brad Pitt) in the latter. This double bill of mind-warping imagination and visual excess will render your seasonal cheer that much more inebriated. Fri/22, Roxie Theater. More info here

Puff: The Weed-Lover’s Holiday Gift Guide

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

PUFF Fear not frazzled holiday shopper! Here is my list of stocking stuffables and potent presents for the marijuana lover in your life. Rest assured, these do not have to be only gifts for someone else. They can always be self-gifts to help you buzz through the holiday with as little stress as possible. And many are made locally. Here they are in alphabetical order. 

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

BREEZ
Medicated mints
Original Mint tin, 5 mg each, total 250mg THC, price: $20.
Cinnamon CBD Mint tin, 5 mg each THC and CBD, total 400mg, price: $40.
Royal Mint tin, 20 mg each THC, total 1000 mg, price: $50.

One of my favorite ways to medicate. These microdosing marvels will also leave your breath fresh and minty. You can go for a mild high to give you that little lift or take two 20mg and I’ll call you in the morning.

Where: Flower Power, Green Door, Urban Pharm, Flow Kana, Buzz Delivery, Waterfall Wellness.
Website: www.breezmints.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

FUZZIES!
Infused mini pre-rolls
Three pre-roll tin, Top Shelf Bud, CO2 Wax, Kief, Terps, S. Silver Haze, Sativa, price: $22. Three pre-roll tin, Top Shelf Bud, CO2 Wax, Kief, Terps, OG Kush, Indica, price: $22.

A true find. These powerful pre-rolls will give you a great and strong high. They actually look fuzzy from all the kief. I have only located them at one location, Flower Power. Worth it!

Where: Flower Power.
Website: www.sublimeco2.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

HENRY’S ORIGINALS
Pre-rolls
Fiu pak half gram smokes, price: $30.

New to the Bay Area from down south in LA. These have lovely packaging. I tried one, well two, with three friends, and we all enjoyed it. I was happy and stupid for hours afterwards, so thumbs up!

Where: Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana 
Website: www.henrysoriginal.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

HIMALAYA VAPES
500mg cartridges
Top Shelf J1 (Jack Herer x Skunk), Sativa, 82.6% THC, 1.3% CBD.
Carpenteria (Private Reserve OG), Hybrid, 82.8% THC, 0.24% CBD.
Darth Vapor (Blackberry Kush x Mr. Nice), Indica Cross, 82.1% THC, 1.18% CBD.

These guys are putting out new flavors right and left. They had me at Darth Vapor, a 90% Indica. It is powerful. I’m currently enjoying their new Top Shelf label J1 (91% Sativa), and I have no complaints. Coming soon, Janis Joplin (75% Hybrid), Sweet Dreams (75% Indica), Blue Dream (82% Hybrid) and Sour Glue (84% Sativa). I love all the names.

Where: Purple Star SF, Grass Roots SF, Dutchman’s Flat, CBCB (Berkeley), Phytologie Oakland.
How much: $35.
Website: www.himalayavapor.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

LITTLE GREEN BEE
Cannabis topicals and natural products
0.5 oz Eye & Lip Cream, 3.9 mg/mL THC, 2.1 mg/mL CBD, price: $28.
1 fl oz High CBD Healing Facial Serum, 1.4 mg/mL THC, 2.1 mg/mL CBD, price: $34.
0.34 oz Medicated Massage Oil, 88.2 mg CBD, price: $14.

Nice packaging and quality ingredients make these a must for the cannabis-healing curious. I like the roller ball dispenser on the massage oil.

Where: SAVA, Foggy Days delivery service. Order directly at [email protected] Website: www.littlegreenbee.net

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

MANZANITA AND MADRONE
Natural Cannabis Sodas
Flavors: Cola, Lemon Lime, Ginger Root. 12 fl oz, 50mg THC, price: $12-$15
12 fl oz, 5mg THC, low dose, price: $5
Fire Cider Tonic, 160 mg cannabis, $22-$24

The flavors are great. They pack a punch at 50mg per bottle. I love the label. It is great over ice or mixed with your favorite booze. A great way to get high and enjoy a tasty beverage. They have low dose 5mg and non-medicated sodas as well.

The wellness tonic has co2 cannabis oil, apple cider vinegar, wildflower honey, ginger, tumeric, orange and lemon juice and peel, garlic, horseradish, habanero pepper, quillaja bark and citric acid. Sounds like it is ready to kick some ass! The perfect thing to have around during the cold and flu season.

Where: Harvest, Sparc, Urban Pharm, BASA, Purple Heart, 7 Stars, and Blum in the East Bay.
Website: www.manzamadrone.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

MEDI-CONE
Flower-infused pre-rolls
Emerald Triangle Blend Tin, 2 Indica pre-rolls, 2 Sativa pre-rolls, Infused with hash oil, price: $36.
Cone-oisseur, 8 mini 1⁄3 gram pre-rolls, Top Shelf Sativa and Indica fortified with hash oil, price: $50.
Pre-rolls fortified with hash oil: Sour Diesel, Sativa, price: $11.
Honey Banana, Hybrid, price: $11. Zkittlez, Indica, price: $11.
High CBD, price: $12.

Lovely, quality pre-rolls full of fresh flower and mighty hash oil. The Emerald Triangle four-pak tin is perfect for a stocking stuffer.

Where: Barbary Coast SF, Grass Roots SF.
Website: www.medi-cone.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

MOONMAN’S MISTRESS
Medicated edibles
Solar Flare Chocolate Chip Cookies, 10mg CBD per serving, 50 mg CBD per box, price: $20.
Super Nova Cookies Trail Mix, 10mg THC per serving, 50 mg THC per box, price: $22.

As I write this I have moved the remaining cookies away from my reach because I could eat the whole package, and I don’t want to get too stoned. If you like a nutty, seedy edibles, these are great. Moonman also has all kinds of cookie choices on their website from vegan to ones without nuts and seeds. You can order from their website, like some mail-order stoner Girls Scout Cookie kinda thing! A delicious and healthy way to microdose.

Where: You can purchase items and find locations on their website.
Website: www.moonmansmistress.com 

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

PACIFIC REMEDY
Hand-rolled shatter joint with a fusilli pasta crutch
Strawberry Banana Flower with Blueberry Jack BHO Snake shatter, Sativa, price: $20. Zkittlez Flower with Royal Sour BHO Snake shatter, Indica, price: $20.

It could just be about the great packaging and quality flower and shatter, but then there is the twirled (fusilli) pasta crutch at the end. That is the piece de resistance. It is a gluten free pasta so it will not absorb moisture from the mouth, it cools the smoke and helps the joint to burn smoothly. Plus it is a great gimmick. Try one. You will like it. It makes a great gift too.

Where: Flower Power, Dutchman’s Flat, Harvest, Bloom Room SF, Harborside Oakland, Green Remedy (Richmond), 7 Stars (Richmond), Northstar (Sacramento), Redwood Herbal Alliance (Santa Rosa).
Website: www.pacificremedy.com

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

SF ROOTS SOFT GELS
RCG CBD soft gels, 25 mg CBD each.
2 tablet pak, price: $5.
15 tablet container, price: $38
30 tablet container, price: $70
60 tablet container, price: $120

These CBD gel caps have really helped me with body pain. I suggest you try them out.

Where: Most smoke shops and dispensaries in the Bay Area.

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

G-MONEY’S TREE SAP CIGAR GLUE
5 ml, price: $5
30 ml, price: $15

That perfect little something for the blunt and cigar smoker in your life. The glue itself will not get you high.

Where: Most smoke shops and dispensaries in the Bay Area.
Website: www.sfrootsca.com 

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

SOMATIK
Cannabis-infused coffee
4 fl oz, 10mg THC, price: $8.
8 fl oz, 15 mg THC, price $12.
8 fl oz, 30mg THC, price: $15.

Microdosing with your morning coffee. Teaming with Ritual Coffee, the team at Somatik has put together a lovely concoction to give you that lift any time of the day.

Where: All Apothecarium locations, Sava, All Harvest locations and Barbary Coast . Website: www.somatik.us

Photo by Dan Karkoska and Johnny Kat

SPARKS
Cannabis-infused coffee beans made with Ritual coffee
1 ban, 3mg THC , price $19.
1 box, 99mg THC, price: $19.

These yummy chocolate covered Ritual Coffee beans are a fun way to get a little 3mg cannabis kick in your day.

Where: Sava (www.getsava.com) and M Club.

There you have it. A list of cannabis treats for the holidays and beyond. Remember, if you find a product you especially like, take the time to write a note to the company on their website or Facebook page. They will appreciate it and can use your testimonial to better promote their product!

Now it’s time to light up!

Examined Life: Reclaiming sacred spaces in the Digital Age

Welcome to Examined Life, our new column that explores the intersection between politics, culture, and living mindfully in the Bay Area and beyond. 

EXAMINED LIFE Do you remember the last time you stepped out into nature or simply had a moment of silence to reflect on what it means to be alive? First, you felt this all-encompassing awe and wonder. Then, the sobering recognition that this feeling is the exception, not the rule, in our daily lives. That’s because we have all lost our minds. Of course, humans have been losing their minds since forever. The problem is that we’ve now lost the places to which we once went to recollect them. We’ve lost our sacred spaces.

Sacred spaces are places where we go to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, and contemplate the wonder of existence; spaces where we gather with other human beings to revel in artistic expression or natural beauty; spaces where we break bread together, and gather to share our troubles and delights. The hiking trail, the dinner table, the arts venue, and the road trip—places that were once sacred—are all abuzz today with texting, checking in, and posting.

I hiked a volcano in Hawaii this year and had reception in the crater. Every time I go to a local live music venue, half the crowd is viewing the show through small rectangular screens. Recently, I attended a silent meditation retreat where I was surprised to see that many participants, once careful to leave their electronics at home or in the car, now had to be coerced by staff to surrender their devices in a bizarre faux-spiritual ritual. Just five years ago, I’d walk into the room to teach a yoga class in San Francisco, and the students would be on their yoga mats, quietly waiting for class to start. They still are, but now they’re on their yoga mats checking Facebook. 

As individuals, we’re not to blame. The human mind is fragile and easily misdirected by shiny, alluring, temporarily pleasurable distractions. Our devices have been engineered to fit the bill perfectly. Basically, we’re addicted—and we all know it. (Bay Area musician Cello Joe even wrote a hilarious song about it.) But what does this addiction mean, for our minds and for the future? 

Addiction, as you know, is a relationship with an activity or substance that we can’t break without serious difficulty. But though addiction is hard to end, it begins quite simply: We experience a very human feeling of discomfort—like loneliness, anxiety, or run-of-the-mill ennui—and we reach for some kind of balm or distraction. When we’re in an emotionally healthy space, we may self-soothe with community, nature, art, or exercise. Or, if we practice mindfulness, we may learn to tolerate the discomfort without reaching for anything. But if our nervous systems are taxed or we don’t have immediate access to healthy emotional relief, we reach for a quick fix. Dopamine. 

Dopamine is a happy-feeling neurotransmitter that is awesome at taking our minds off our present heartbreak or existential crisis du jour. This chemical is necessary for our brains, and is released during profound and deeply rewarding experiences through a slow and steady pathway. However, it is also released in intense and short-lasting bursts during activities or substances that offer immediate gratification. When we receive dopamine as this quick fix, we come down hard and fast, and then feel agitated until we get more. Over time, as a result of these repeated quick bursts, we desensitize to dopamine and need more and more of it to feel good—or even normal.

This is how major addictions like alcohol or gambling get going. But it also explains why, according to a recent study by a research company Dscout, the average person engages with their smart phone 2,600 times a day. While obsessive emailing and googling won’t ruin our lives the way heroin will, the addictive mechanism is similar. Our brains have been hijacked by a cyclic chemical process of which we are not in control; in essence, we have lost our minds.

In addition to temporarily hijacking our minds, another unfortunate result of this process is that, over time, it changes the brain and distorts our memory. The result: We literally forget other less immediately intense, but more meaningful and lasting, ways to access pleasure. So, we’re not intentionally disregarding those sacred spaces we once had. We’ve actually forgotten the point of them. In our inebriated states, we can’t see any reason to protect them. 

But it’s essential that we do. 

Smart phone addiction poses a very special kind of problem for those affected (i.e., most of us) because device abstinence is simply not an option for most people. Our phone, as you’ve likely noticed, is not just a phone—it’s our whole life in digital form, and it’s very hard to logistically do without. According to a recent study by Hackermoon, only about 50 percent of phone time is used for texts and calls. The rest of the time, we do questionably useful things (like watch videos, engage with social media, and play games), as well as essential and practical things (like get directions, send emails, track our bank accounts, pull up our boarding passes, and even, ironically, meditate). For the first time in history, all of the facets of our entire lives—the necessary along with the potentially addictive—are completely interwoven. So, while you might nobly desire to curb your dopamine-spiking social media-posting habit, you still need to use your calendar. Since it’s all in one place, it’s nearly impossible to visit the calendar without also visiting social media. And then you’re back in the loop of distraction.

There’s really only one antidote to this insanity, and that is the practice of discernment. This is the art of intentional choice-making, and it has played a major role in every great social and spiritual movement since the dawn of time. To practice discernment, we have to orient not to the short-term pleasure an activity might yield but instead to the long-term more profound benefits of any given action. Healthful eating over ice cream, the fragile life of the planet over quick financial gains, our long-term relationships over short-lived affairs: These are all acts of intentionality, not impulse. In this way, discernment is at odds with addiction because it is less about an immediate dopamine reward, and more about living a meaningful life. 

The practice of discernment is essential to protect our sacred spaces, which are, in turn, the best places to develop deeper discernment because we can notice, in those spaces, how awesome it feels to be free. Quiet, tech-free spaces give us access to the most essential parts of ourselves; if we lose these spaces forever, we’ll eventually forget what it is that we have lost, and thus have no hope of recovering it. We must establish times and places where we simply turn off technology (both the useful and the pleasure-seeking aspects). Think of it as rehab or detox for your mind. And if that doesn’t sound attractive, think of it as a time to dream and engage again with wonder and the infinitesimal space of consciousness that is your birthright. 

Our lives are deeply interconnected, which means we are all responsible for creating these spaces together, whether it’s the dinner table, the retreat center, the basketball court, or the yoga studio. Create social contracts with friends, family, and colleagues to put technology aside for a meal, a meeting, or the whole weekend. Make the bold choice to leave your house without your phone when you’re walking your dog or going food shopping, and just be present to the mundane miracle of existence. Invest in a cheap flip phone (I have one for just this reason) that can be your emergency contact number, so you’ll have no excuse not to turn off your smart phone at night, at meals, or on your days off. Most importantly: When you make the choice to power down, notice how empowering it feels; the imprint of that feeling will encourage you to develop more discernment.

And remember that sacred space is not only an external construct. The space of your own mind is also sacred, and—with some effort—can be maintained even when we do use technology. This takes a different type of discernment. It means that each time you reach for the phone, you pause for a moment and check in to see if you actually need it. If you do, stay focused on that purpose and don’t allow yourself to be pulled into another app or screen. And if you don’t, consider reaching for something else. Like a feeling of freedom. Like the understanding that it’s okay to be exactly as you are in this moment—lonely, anxious, fatigued—without checking out in the digital abyss. Reach for space, itself, and then abide within it. In moments like these, saying no to technology is saying yes to your relationship with all things sacred, including yourself.

Arts Forecast: Coolest holiday events for everyone

Holiday Gaiety with Armstead Maupin at the SF Symphony features drag emcee Peaches Christ and conductor Edwin Outwater joining the beloved author of 'Tales of the City,' Fri/8. Photo by Alex Fiore

ARTS FORECAST Holidays can be a drag — and that’s a good thing! Two big drag holiday traditions lead our list of fun events that out the “oh, hey!” in holiday. Two big things, though, to kick it all off: If you have not been to the Great Dickens Faire (through Sun/17), please do go — three years after visiting, I am still recovering from the overwhelmingness of this enormous ye olde Burning Man-meets-Exotic Erotic-meets-Edwardian Ball-meets Renaissance Faire thing.

Second, The San Francisco Botanical Gardens are free on Christmas Day, Dec. 25 (also on New Year’s Day, too!) Spend the day wandering amid the gorgeous orchids, primeval ferns, and blooming cloud forests with your family from out of town — or just by yourself, in all that glorious nature, celebrating your personal solstice.   

PS: This is your fair warning — stay off the streets Sat/9 for Santacon, or risk being puked on by a reindeer. (Hey, your choice, it’s the holidays.) This afterparty at Monarch looks cute, though. 

PPS: Duck into Martuni’s for a warming drink and some songs of the season live on the piano! Cutest bar for holidays ever.   

DRAG QUEENS ON ICE Slip slide away — just don’t lose you wig — as a cavalcade of elegant gender clowns shows off its figure eights. This is one of the warmest, friendliest, family-full events I’ve attended in SF, and perfect to set off your joyful season. Thu/7, 8-9:30pm, free. Union Square Ice Rink, SF. More info here.

WINTER WALK WITH HOUSE OF MORE! Pair your Drag Queens on Ice with the legendary drag queens of the House of MORE!, led by Juanita More, as they strut their stuff near Union Square. “Catch two fabulous holiday shows with the House of MORE! Pose for awkward family photos at our free holiday photo-booth, featuring ugly sweaters, kitschy photo props and classic Christmas card backdrops, as well as a DJ Jim Collins blasting campy holiday tunes to fuel all your merrymaking.” I think there’s also food trucks? This event has everything. Thu/7, 5:30-8:30pm, free. 133 Stockton, SF.  More info here

TENDERLOIN MUSEUM HOLIDAY BAZAAR “Ten local artist-vendors will bring pop up shops to the Museum for a festive marketplace flush with neighborhood wares. Forget the old chestnuts and stereotypical stocking stuffers–enliven your gift game while supporting the arts. From hand-tooled leather belts to intricately-latticed metalworks to cherry-picked vintage duds, there will be a plethora of unique gifts for sale. This year’s seasonal celebration coincides with the opening reception for Holly Coley’s solo exhibition in the TL Museum gallery, Tender Life: Graphic and Ceramic Memories of Tenderloin Living, 1999-2004.” Thu/7, 6pm-9pm, free. tenderloin Museum, SF. More info here

CASTRO ART WALK This new monthly neighborhood peregrination puts out a plethora of goodies for your delectation. Stop in, especially, at the wonderful Dog-Eared Books Castro for some wonderful crafts and cheer — all featuring local artists, of course. Thu/7, 6pm-9pm, Castro District, SF. More info here

KITKA: WINTERSONGS Do not miss this, no matter what your take on the “holidays”! I took my parents a couple years ago and it was perfect and gorgeous. ” The women of Kitka have mastered repertory from all over and include everything from Sephardic songs to Eastern Orthodox sacred choral works; to Baltic pagan incantations for the return of the Sun Goddess, to Romany tunes and much more, some in arrangements by choir members.” Throughout the Bay Area Thu/7-Thu/21 (Oakland Fri/15 and Sun/17, SF Sat/16). More info here

HOLIDAY GAIETY WITH ARMISTEAD MAUPIN The beloved author of Tales of the City is joined by scarily brilliant drag emcee Peaches Christ, SF Symphony conductor Edwin Outwater, actor Cheyenne Jackson, the legendary Bob the Drag Queen, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and more for a night of fabulous and dazzling performances and readings. Fri/8, 7:30pm, $15-$44. Davies Symphony Hall, SF. More info here.  

DECEMBER FIESTA AT COMMUNITY MUSIC CENTER the Community Music Center is a fantastical, magical San Francisco institution in the Mission that hosts this awesome cultural celebration every year and draws huge crowds. “A vibrant multi-generational celebration of Latin American song and dance! Performances by the Mission District Young Musicians Program, Children’s Chorus, Coro Solera, and the Cuban Charanga Ensemble. Come for the music and stay for the celebration with a piñata, tamales, hot chocolate, and a Cuban charanga dance party!” Fri/8 (7pm-9pm) and Sat/9 (3:30pm-5:30pm), CMC, SF. More info here. Oh! And then go back on Sun/10 for the Winter Music Celebration full of poetry and music classics. 

GOLDEN BOUGH: CHRISTMAS IN A CELTIC LAND “Folk songs tell a story and the music of the Celtic trio Golden Bough is full of the stories and mythology of the Celtic lands. For 36 years Golden Bough has been delighting audiences with their exceptional interpretations of the music of the Celtic nations and the uniqueness of their original compositions.” Sat/9, 8pm, $5-$23. Old First Church, SF. More info here

MEXICAN MUSEUM HOLIDAY MERCADO The Mexican Museum‘s La Tienda holiday gift store opens its doors during the “Holiday Mercado” at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. La Tienda features items from Mexico, Central America, and local artisans and vendors for this special holiday shopping event.  The Holiday Mercado also offers fun art activities for families and the opportunity to see the exhibit, “Mexico In San Francisco: Works On Paper From Diego Rivera to Alejandro Santiago,” before it closes.” Sat/9 and Sun/10, noon-5pm, free. Fort Mason Center, SF. More info here

UNSILENT NIGHT WITH THE SF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC PLAYERS Very cool, and participatory: “We hope you’ll join us for this family-friendly, free holiday event linked to ‘Unsilent Night’ celebrations around the world. The original composition by Phil Kline, written specifically to be heard outdoors in the month of December, takes the form of a street promenade in which the audience becomes the performer. Each participant plays one of four tracks of music downloaded to a smart phone, or anything that amplifies music, together comprising ‘Unsilent Night.’ We will walk a carefully chosen route in and around San Francisco’s Dolores Park area, creating a unique mobile sound sculpture.” Sat/9, 5pm-6pm, meet at Dolores Park tennis courts, SF. More info here.

SF FETISH FLEA MARKET Ho ho ho, honey — gifts for everyone on your naughty list. “Whether you’re curious about the local kink community or you’re an experienced player looking for the best new toys, the Fetish Flea is for you. The Flea hosts a variety of toy makers, artists, businesses, upcyclers and more right at the SF Citadel for one day. Think of the Fetish Flea as your friendly neighborhood kinky shopping mall. Get all your gear in one place, and support the artists in your local community! All genders, presentations, and consensual dynamics are warmly welcomed!” Sat/9, 11am-5pm, $5. SF Citadel. More info here.  

PETER AND THE WOLF Narrated by hunky half-Vulcan (in the Star Trek movies, anyway) Zachary Quinto, this Prokofiev classic will have you and your younger friends gasping and bopping in your seats, in awe of the timeless fable and music, as played by the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra. Sun/10, 2pm, $25-$79. Davies Symphony Hall, SF. More info here.  

Mariachi Sol De Mexico.

A MERRY-ACHI CHRISTMAS “Led by the incomparable José Hernández, Mariachi Sol de Mexico returns to Davies Symphony Hall for a festive musical tribute to Mexico’s Christmas traditions. Experience a truly international celebration, with the ensemble singing and playing holiday favorites from both Mexico and America in a vibrant performance that will have the whole family dancing in the aisles.” Sun/10, 8pm, $16-$90. Davies Symphony Hall, SF. More info here.

KUGELPLEX I personally cannot wait for this: “Celebrate Hanukkah with a wild performance by Kugelplex, California’s rockin’-est purveyor of klezmer and old-world party music. Formed in 2001, the group plays wild, soulful dance music.” Sun/17, 4pm, $5-$23. Old First Church, SF. More info here

NIGUNIM CHORUS PRESENTS: HANUKAH COMMUNITY CELEBRATION “A grand time of music, fun, entertainment, candlelighting, dancing, tchochkes, Hanukah gifts, books, and refreshments. Featuring the 45-member Nigunim Chorus directed by Achi Ben Shalom, the Adama Band, Story Teller Joel ben Izzy, virtuoso violinist David Chernyovsky, and special guests. All ages are invited!” Sun/17, 1pm, $20-$24. Freight and Salvage, Berkeley. More info here

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS — LIVE! “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the entire Peanuts gang are back at Davies Symphony Hall! The show begins with your favorite characters dancing along to holiday classics and colorful video. Then, the gang returns to the stage to bring A Charlie Brown Christmas to life! With singers, dancers, and actors performing in front of an animated background, and Vince Guaraldi’s timeless music performed live by the Symphony.” Thu/21-Sun/24, $30-$80. Davis Symphony Hall, SF. More info here

BUD E LUV CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR The 28th anniversary of this campy-yet-actually-amazing big band/lounge act spectacular. It’s got a spectacular history as well: “The Christmas show had its humble beginnings at the famed Paradise Lounge at 11th and Folsom in 1990. Unexpectedly, the power went out in the club but they pulled power from the next door, lit candles, and the Christmas Show tradition was started. When it moved to The Red Devil Lounge in 1998 they added the full nine-piece big band and continue with that extravagant sound to this day. From there it moved downtown to The Rrazz Room for three years to sold out crowds. Mayor Willie Brown has made this show part of his Christmas tradition for years. So put on your best cocktail dress and swinging dinner jacket and STAY in the Christmas spirit for one more day.” Sat/23, 8pm, $22-$25. The Chapel, SF. More info here

KUNG PAO KOSHER COMEDY 25TH ANNIVERSARY Holy pickled herring! Can’t believe it’s been a quarter-centry of yuck-yucks over roast duck with this institution. Basically: Comedy in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, for anyone who doesn’t want to sit around all day at home. And it’s charitable! Go out, why don’t you! Eat something! Laugh a little!  Two shows a night, Fri/23-Sun/25, 5pm (with dinner) and 8:30pm (cocktails and veggie dim sum). New Asia Restaurant, SF. More info here

The Ghost Ship fire, one year later

Amanda Allen. Photo by Gehno Sanchez Aviance

It’s been a rough year of “firsts” for Andy Kershaw, a DJ and record label owner who lost his wife, Amanda Allen, last December in the Ghost Ship fire.

“Going through the year and realizing this would be the first time she wasn’t here for this or that annual event or something she loved could bring everything rushing back,” Andy, who moved here with Amanda from Boston several years ago to become deeply embedded in the local nightlife scene, told me over the phone.

“These reminders would sneak up on me, because there are so many things she was a part of. Thanksgiving was the last ‘first’ though, and now it’s just the anniversary of the fire left. I’m feeling hopeful that after this year, things will become, not necessarily easier, but evolve from shock into a different, meaningful direction.”

Amanda Allen. Photo by Andy Kershaw

On Saturday, December 2, relatives and friends of the 36 partygoers who died in Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire a year ago will gather outside the still-cordoned-off husk of the building for a special memorial. “All of Amanda’s and my family are flying in,” Andy said. “We’re aiming to be at the Ghost Ship site at 11 o’clock that night. I’ll be happy to have our families there, because it will be pretty powerful and I’m not sure how I’ll react.”

For those not at the site, a moment of silence between 11pm and midnight on December 2, organized by DJ Danny Delorean, will take place at many local nightclubs and music venues to commemorate the victims. (There will also be a three-day dedicated remembrance, Fri/1-Sun/3 at at Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes.) “That’s pretty huge,” Andy said of the moment of silence, “because in San Francisco, the music never stops. I hope it will be at 11:24pm, because that’s when it happened…” his voice trailed off, as he referenced the time the the fire swept through the crowded artists’ living space that hosted the party.  

Fundraising t-shirt design for Amanda featuring one of her favorite jokes: available at www.teespring.com/stores/pandasnaps

For many, the anniversary brings up memories still too painful to contemplate. I’ve spoken informally with relatives and friends who continue struggling with losing so many young and talented members of the arts and music community. (And survivors are still recovering). Memorials dotted this year’s Day of the Dead display in the Mission and at Oakland Museum. Memorial records have been released by a grieving dance music community. A breathtaking mural has sprung up near the Ghost Ship site, and an actual memorial ghost ship has been launched on Emeryville harbor.

The details themselves still feel stunning. “They gave me the pair of glasses Amanda was wearing,” Andy told me, referring to her trademark colorful frames. “They look like what you would expect them to look like after something like that. I helped her pick them out. I said at the time that they would be something people would come to recognize her for. I haven’t shown them to anybody yet.”

One way he’s found some measure of solace has been to immerse himself in the details of the investigation of the fire. “I’ve become a kind of expert on the case,” he told me. “And have used what means I have to help spread information about what’s going on, as well as fight any misinformation. I’ve saved every number of every reporter who’s contacted me, and made sure people have heard me when bad things have happened, like the disgusting ‘Chicago Fire’ episode on NBC” that aired three months after the tragedy.

Andy has also helped disseminate details of the Ghost Ship fire civil case, and is part of the master complaint filed in May. He’s been vocal about wanting to keep individual performers and the music label 100% Silk — whose artists were featured at the Ghost Ship party and which was recently dismissed from the suit — from being named in the civil case, instead focusing his anger and action on the City of Oakland and its fire and building departments.

“I absolutely blame the City of Oakland for negligence in this case,” he said. “Most of all I blame [Ghost Ship building landlord] the Ng family, even more than the people who ended up with criminal charges. PG&E was also at fault.

“As for the Ghost Ship operators themselves, I think the criminal charges are correct, but it is complicated — however, if they ended up going to jail I wouldn’t care. I saw the recent jailhouse interview with [Ghost Ship master tenant] Derick Almena on Fox, and he’s clearly a sociopath with mental issues, but I feel more that the Ng family was responsible and could have stopped it. With Max [Harris, the Ghost Ship party planner an rent collector], I feel he is also partially at fault because he was running a tattoo parlor out of there, and you need to be very conscious of health and safety when you do that. So that right there tells me he had blatant disregard.

“Anyone who at any point had the opportunity to stop this ship from sailing shares in the responsibility,” Andy said.

Andy DJing at the Slinky 18 campout in April 2017, behind one of many impromptu Ghost Ship memorial altars set up by event attendees.

And as the civil case has been moving along, there has been some frustration with the speed of the criminal case. “There’s a lot of rumors flying around about what’s taking the criminal case so long, especially since it involves the city of Oakland” Kershaw told me. “A lot of us figure it’s taking a while to gather enough evidence from some of the investigations. Now the big hearing, at which the judge is supposed to say whether there’s enough evidence to proceed, has been delayed again from November 13 to December 4. This could be good thing, because many of the family members will be in town for the memorial, and will be at the hearing now, too.” 

The criminal and civil cases are “very complex and triggering to think about, and hard to talk about,” Andy said. “But for me, there’s Ghost Ship the party and Ghost Ship the artist’s housing, and it’s important to think of them as two very different things.”

He told me he’s very aware of the issues of gentrification that led to spaces like Ghost Ship being necessary, and how the fire set off a wave of crackdowns on artist’s spaces throughout the country. “I’ve visited the site four times this year, and there’s a homeless encampment just across the street. Someone was living in their car right in front of the building. It just shows we have a very, very long way to go.” 

Memorial mural by Vogue near the site of the fire.

But, he said, Ghost Ship was an outlier in how underground party spaces usually operate. “If you call yourself a raver, as I do, then you’ve definitely been in a warehouse space. They are big, empty spaces — and this was not that. I had never heard of Ghost Ship before this, and I know Amanda didn’t either. I read comments like, ‘They knew what they were getting into,’ but really they didn’t. We do have a self-policing responsibility. And most of us do a great job of that. But even in licensed venues, when parties got shut down there was always a fire marshal there, and I was like, ‘Why?’ Now I get it. 

“Part of being in the underground is going out of your way to discover new spaces, transforming them with music and art, he said. “That’s why I think what the Vital Arts project is doing to keep that alive, working to purchase spaces and maintain them as affordable for artists, is so innovative and necessary.”

 Andy’s been going to therapy since the fire — “I’m fortunate to have access to that service,” he says, citing his frustration that others affected aren’t so lucky — and still gets overwhelmed sometimes by the enormity of what happened. 

Steph Curry’s Ghost Ship shoes. Photo via SF Gate

I haven’t been able to watch the Warriors since the fire. Amanda and I were really into them,” he told me. “But then I found myself standing at the Oakland Museum in front of Steph Curry’s shoes with all the Ghost Ship names on them, and it was too surreal. I wanted to tell Amanda so bad that she was on Steph Curry’s shoes.”

Another act that floored him was an official letter from State Senator Nancy Skinner documenting that the Senate — which read all 36 names of the dead into the public record — had adjourned on January 5 in memorium of Amanda’s passing.

In Memorium statement from State Senator Nancy Skinner

“I’ve been so impressed with the community, Andy told me. “I’ve always said ‘the Rave Cross is better than the Red Cross.’ This thing of ours, this nightlife thing, has been so resilient, and so many things have come out of this. This wasn’t like a ‘normal’ tragedy, where you experience it on your own and have friends to turn to. Literally everyone in my life experienced this tragedy and was struggling with it. But we’ve been there for each other. 

“And when I saw all the names and profiles of people who had been lost being broadcast on a national stage, seeing how people were talking about and wanting to emulate their best qualities, how this was resonating with people on a deep level who had never even known anyone there … Well, it was real evidence of the strength of our community. And I know we will continue on.”