The amped-up promo video for Cirque du Soleil’s latest big top show Volta (at AT&T Park, through February 3) had me thinking we were in for a full-throttle EDM extravaganza, a Mad Max ultra-rave, perhaps, with glowstick-flashing hands in the air and spandexed limbs flying all akimbo. It seemed a bit overwhelming!
So it was a surprise when this extravaganza turned out to be a sweetly beguiling evening—still brimming with jaw-dropping feats of human prowess, of course, but tipping away from strained, arena-zazzing grasps at relevance into that special, if often lampooned, French-Canadian magic of the pre-Vegas Cirque shows of yore. (The premiere earlier this month was already a surreal scene, with audience members donning masks against the toxic cloud, and Mayor London Breed awkwardly pushing her way through the casts’ curtain call to get to her next event.)
Don’t worry, there aren’t any jars full of rainbows or mimes with their crotches in your face. And Volta kicks off full-speed, with a Hunger Games-like game show featuring a blindingly toothy figure named Mr. Wow, deciding the fate of various performers, while both an army of cell-phone obsessed drones and a camouflage-clad population of outsiders represent a dystopian society on the fringes of the action. (The costumes, by Lady Gaga costumer Zaldy, add to the trademark Cirque combo of Thunderdome-meets-Jazzercise a bit of super-hip designer Raf Simmons and classic Burning Man—plus tons of feathers.)
It’s in this competition, which cleverly introduces us to Volta’s performers and features a astounding Tron-inspired double dutch routine, that we meet gentle protagonist Waz, who wows the Mr. Wow crowd. But Waz soon reveals a trait that gets him marked an outcast who must find his own form of comfort in a cold and uncaring world. Most of this is achieved by a retreat into childhood memories and welcoming encounters with fellow freaks, until he realizes the power of difference.
That’s about it for the cliche storyline, but who’s bothering to follow along too closely when there’s so much happening onstage? Once the pyrotechnics of the opener are over, the hypnotic score by Anthony Gonzalez aka electronic pop giant M83 (I gasped) takes over—to my ear, an ’80s-tinged mashup of Pat Benatar and Enya, with some early Seal thrown in—and the segments breathe with the dreamlike pace of nostalgia. Numbers cleverly open up and spread out: I wasn’t aware we were watching a fabulous unicycle number or a dirt bike ballet until we were in the midst of things. A trampoline-based parkour romp through a revolving cityscape gently teases attention in different directions, a short story with supple plot twists.
Entrancing, yes, even ruminative at points (an inexplicable but perfect Buddha-themed acrobatic dance by Daniel Blim was definitely a highlight, as was a laidback tumbling routine featuring stackable hexagons.) But you’ll hardly be lulled asleep—plenty of sparks flew from another dirt bike-based number, this one featuring plexiglass ramps and gonzo flips, and several acrobatic acts, one featuring a pair of bright white sculpted twins. As always, Cirque drops a good old-fashioned clown into the mix, and Wayne Wilson was a brilliant physical comedian, especially in a hilarious laundromat kerfuffle bit.
It’s all held together by the wonder and perseverance of Waz, played by Torontonian Joey Arrigo, who has cited his gay identity as helping him connect with the role of an outsider. He brings his own set of skills, including making passages that should seem schmaltzy appealing. In the end, it’s the overwhelming charm of Arrigo, the free-spirited roller skater Ela, and rest of the cast that plugs Volta in—although I missed the slightly more complex gender dynamics and design of Cirque’s previous show here, Luzia, which featured a female soccer wiz, pantomime animals, and a splash of androgyny. It’s still a pretty full night of wow.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S VOLTA Through February 3, 2019 Big Top at AT&T Park, SF. More info here.
FALL ARTS PREVIEW The light is deepening, the food is getting heartier, harvest is bringing much good grape and green, and fall arts season is lighting up the longer nights (and brighter days). Before we jump into everything, I want to plug two awesome 48 Hills events that you should hit up. First is the naughty one, on October 17: A party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the US publication of the great homoerotic illustrator Tom of Finland. It’s part of the sprawling Litquake festival (see below) and is called, what else, Beefcake: 50 Years of Tom of Finland, featuring dancing, live music, a lookalike contest, and some outrageous surprises at the Eagle bar.
The second great upcoming 48 Hills event is a live music fundraiser—we need your support to keep going! Come to the Bindery October 18 to see literary-musical supergroup The Deadliners: A rockin’ 48 Hills benefit!” Hobnob with some cool peeps and soak in the Haight Street vibe. On with the show!
There’s so much going on! It’s great. This weekend sees the huge Oktoberfest by the Bay, Fri/21-Sun/23, so soup-up your steins. Folsom Street Fair usually kicks off the fall season with a bang and a jangle September 30, followed a week later by the more wholesome Castro Street Fair, October 7. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free civic treasure, will swamp Golden Gate Park with music fans of all types October 5-7. Litquake, the citywide parade of literary lights, takes over tons of SF venues October 11-20.
Grab a (compostable) fork for the SF Street Food Festival, October 13 at the Potrero Power Plant. The Moby Dick Marathon features 100 authors reading the white-whale tome, October 13-14 at the Maritime Museum. Schlep out to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin FestivalOctober 13 and 14 to see some o’ them giant gourds. Super-cute, and featuring all sorts of homegrown entertainment, is the Potrero Hill Festival, October 20. Then it’s time for warmer indoor holiday thoughts at the massive Dickens Fair, starting November 17 at the Cow Palace. Already???
Ongoing museum shows you should run to right now (or in the near future): “Bay Area Now 8” (through March 24) is the latest installment of the triennial survey of young Bay Area artists, and it is fantastic, from the homo-imp photographs of Jamil Hellu and the knockout paintings of Cate White, to some incredible installation work that blew my mind. “Peter Hujar: Speed of Life” (through November 18) at BAMPFA shows oodles of incredible photos from one of the quintessential artists of the AIDS era, and balances super-hip portraiture with stunningly austere yet intimate landscapes and street scenes. “Ficre Ghebreyesus: City with A River Running Through” at MoAD (through December 16) is the first museum showing of the paintings of Eritrean American artist Ficre Ghebreyesus (1962-2012), who fled conflict in his country and made his way to the United States as a political refugee. And “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (through January 6) is one of the rare SF shows of fashion that goes beyond fancy sponsors to actually document a vast cultural movement.
Upcoming visual arts? Pair the CJM’s show with the tremendous-looking “Contemporary Muslim Fashion” at the de Young (September 22-January 6). “Wesley Tongson: The Journey” (October 12-December 15) at the Chinese Culture Center looks at the fascinating work of the schizophrenic Hong Kong ink artist, who died in 2012 and toward the end of his life abandoned brushes for his fingers and nails. And check out the talents of one of our polymath politicos as he debuts several works of collage-painting in the “Matt Gonzalez: Derivations in Color” (October 4-27) show at Dolby Chadwick Gallery.
The 20th SF International Hip-Hop Dancefest, as always presided over by dance guru Micaya, brings the noise to the Palace of Fine Arts, November 16-18. Before that, though, you’ll want to clang clang clang your way through San Francisco Trolley Dances, October 20-2, and gasp in delight at the absolutely gorgeous dances of Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu’s can’t-miss “Hula Show”(October 20-21 and 27-28) at the Palace of Fine Arts. Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Pepperland” (September 28-30), with Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, celebrates 50 years of the Beatles Sgt Pepper album, and Zaccho Dance Theatre give a free performance at the Bayview Opera House to celebrate the neighborhood, called “Picture Bayview Hunters Point,” October 11-14 and 18-21. Want to get in on the physical exertion (albeit in a relaxed, literary way)? Bikes to Books(October 13) celebrates five years with “our signature bike tour of Literary San Francisco, from South Park to North Beach, Jack London to Jack Kerouac.”
The play’s the thingie: “Barber Shop Chronicles” at Cal performances “eavesdrops on conversations in six different barbershops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare over the course of a single day.” I’m stoked about ACT’s production of Men on Boats, Jaclyn Backhaus’ gender-flipping play that notoriously features no men and no boats. “The Homophobes: A Clown Show” at Counterpulse (October 18-20), directed by photographer Dino Dinco, is “a transcendent trans-comedy of errors featuring mad ministers, divine interventions, confused angels and maybe even the antichrist.”
“An American Ma(u)l,” at Brava Theater October 18-November 11, is playwright Robert O’Hara’s “scathing and hilarious political satire about the creeping return of enslavement in the 21st Century.” Definitely go see surrealist improv geniuses the SF Neofuturists’ “Infinite Wrench” show every weekend at Piano Fight. And finally, the impeccably titled Problematic Play Festival at Z-Space, October 12-14, seems just right for our times.
SFFILM, the organization that brings us the packed San Francisco Film Festival in April, doesn’t hibernate in the other months. It’s got heartthrob actor-director Rupert Everett popping in for a tribute and a preview of his new Oscar Wilde bio-pic The Happy Prince September 26 at the Castro Theatre. Then there’s the cinematic fireworks and flying fists of the Hong Kong Cinema series (September 28-30) at the Vogue Theatre, which ” the gamut in tone and style from hard-hitting drama to social realism to pulse-pounding action.” And October 4-21 pays tribute to a great Indian director with Satyajit Ray: Intimate Universes at the SFMOMA. Ray’s Apu Trilogy is such a landmark of modern cinema, it will be a treat to see his other work as well on the big screen.
The Mill Valley Film Festival, October 4-14 goes gaga for serious star power and ace flicks, while the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, also October 4-14, may have you tapping in your seat. Roxie Cinema hosts the SF Shorts Festival, with shorts from 25 countries (deceptive name!) but some from here as well, October 18-October 20. The 21st Arab Film Festival comes to screens October 13-22, bursting with news from all over the Arab world. Plus the Roxie is also putting upon of my favorite films of all times in a new restoration: Wim Wenders’ 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire, October 26-30. That library scene! That streetcar scene! That falling scene!
The folks who bring you the SF Indie fest aren’t sleeping amongst the golden leaves either: Not only are they presenting brand new festival of provocative short films SF Indie Shorts, November 9-11 at Alamo Drafthouse, they’re also returning for the 15th year to scare the bejeezus out of you at the Another Hole in the Head Festival of horror and terror, November 28-December 12, at New People Cinema.
The Treasure Island Music Festival (October 13-14) is always a hoot, and a good gauge of who’s who on the current festival circuit. But first you might want to dive into September 30’s SF Music Day at the War Memorial, which “showcases the dynamism and diversity of Bay Area music, from string quartets to jazz combos, new music pioneers to chamber groups steeped in musical sounds from across the globe.” The San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s New Music Ensemble plays much from one of my favorite composers, Steve Reich, also on Sept 30. And the SF Symphony launches into a “Rebellious Beauty” celebration of one of departing conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’s favorite obsessions, composer Igor Stravinsky’s whirling complexity, September 21-30.
Some major reunions and rejuvenations of note: Australian psyche-jangle dreamers The Churchplays the Chapel October 1 for the 30th anniversary of their Starfish album. Also at the Chapel: 30-year-old drone metal pioneers Earth come though October 12, and psychedelic-pop-shoegazers Mercury Rev slide in October 16 for the 20th anniversary of their Deserter’s Songs album. Hey, stop feeling old! Maggie Rogers with Mallrat, certainly one face of the future of music, comes to the Fillmore October 15, as does Lykke Li on October 17 and Tune-Yards October 20. Catch reverb-pop rebooter Wild Nothing October 27-28, British trip-rappers Young Fathers November 10 and 11, and, OK we’re getting retro again and delightfully so, The Orb November 15, all at the Independent.
September 30 is the Folsom Street Fair, so you will probably want to plant yourself at the Stud all weekend for the dancing fallout, including Pittsburgh’s notorious Honcho Crew September 28, electro warlock The Hacker September 29, and all-day dance floor craziness full of proud pangender perversity on September 30. Nightlife legend Justin Vivian Bond returnsfor their one-person show “The Boys in Trees!” at Oasis October 3 and 4, singing “songs of people I want to f*ck!” (Followed by my favorite drag act ever, Varla Jean Mermanat Oasis, performing October 4-7.)
San Francisco’s native funky techno sound gets a rave-up October 6 when the classic Qoöl crew celebrates 111 Minna’s 25th anniversary, burning for 13 hours. From there you might want to dial up the 1-800-DINOSAUR party, October 6 at Public Works, with a DJ set from wheedly heartthrob James Blake. Bop time in the park time October 14, with the annual As You Like It Picnic in Golden Gate Park, with Chicago DJ Chrissy. Dub godfather Lee “Scratch” Perrylaunches you into space at the Chapel October 18. The glorious pairing of enormously popular house DJs The Black Madonna and Honey Dijon aka Black Honey with blow down August Hall October 19. And one of the best house DJs ever, South Africa’s Black Coffee, touches down at Halcyon October 28.
Before you know it, Halloween will be upon us, and what could be better than a haunted house hosted by a drag queen? With Into the Dark: TERROR VAULT, which kicks off Peaches Christ takes over the Mint for all kinds of scary shenanigans, and probably some dancing mummies, too. Meanwhile, you’ll want to dance yourself on actual Halloween night: Go big at the ginormous Barco Fantasma, October 26 and 27 at the new SVN West, or more intimate but equally insane on Halloween night, as underground sensation Violet plays the Honey Soundsystem party.
November 9 sees our soulful house lodestar, DJ David Harness, celebrating his 50th birthday with an all-night affair at Great Northern. Ross from Friends, an actual (and actually great) techno musicmaker, comes to 1015 Folsom November 15. And, for the dedicated heads, Crystal Method toots into Public Works November 17.
ART LOOKS The video and dance performance coming to the Asian Art Museum, Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating, features scuba gestures, air traffic signals, Busby Berkeley-style dancers with vases on their heads, and a tap dancer wearing flippers.
Artist Genevieve Quick, who created Planet Celadon, says she was looking at a Korean moon jar in the museum’s collection—fashioned in the jade green, transparent celadon pottery style—when she started wondering where its planet was.
“I was looking around and everything was made of celadon, and I thought maybe it’s Planet Celadon,” she said. “Celadon migrated all over Asia, so there’s Japanese celadon and Korean celadon and Chinese celadon, so it can sort of stand in for being Asian American.”
Quick, who got her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and has done residencies at the de Young Museum, MacDowell, Djerassi, and Yaddo, also found inspiration for this piece in Carl Sagan’s The Golden Record, which he made for the 1977 Voyager mission as a way to communicate about life on earth. It included images as well as the sounds of wind, surf, thunder and bird and whale songs, as well as greetings in more than 50 ancient and modern languages.
Busby Berkeley, another inspiration for this performance,was known for his over-the-top dance numbers (Quick calls them “amped-up gender play,” in pieces such as Carmen Miranda‘s “Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat“)
Planet Celadon has a science fiction narrative about communicating with a distant place and culture. Quick has always loved the genre.
“I love the way it fuses historical records with futuristic speculations,” she said. “Like how in Star Wars when Hans Solo and R2D2 are at this sort of outcast bar with Chewbacca, and their costumes look like they might be Mongolian or Egyptian, and there are these historical references built in.”
For this performance, Quick created a character, the Asianaut, to communicate between earth and Planet Celadon.
“Part of the project is about dislocation,” she said. ”Being an Asian American growing up in the United States, there’s this push and pull, and you feel displaced in a way. I wanted to take thechallenges of communicating across cultures and extend that to the challenges of communicating intergalactically.”
Quick spoke about the upcoming performance in her Bayview studio, with the costume for the Asianaut (a futuristic version of the traditional Korean hanbok) hanging nearby, along with a couple of the white scuba diver costumes. At one point, she got up from her stool to demonstrate the air controller motions and the scuba gestures that will be incorporated into the dance.
Quick, an interdisciplinary artist who does sculpture, video, photography, and drawing, has used dance before in her work. But this is the first time she has hired a choreographer: Liz Tenuto. And Quick is learning to tap dance for the 30-minute performance. There will also be six dancers with vases tied onto their heads.
“The dancers have sort of drag mannerisms with full green faces and bright red lips and vases on their heads,” she said. “They’re sort of Asian women and sort of aliens and vases—they’re all three things at the same time.”
Don Ed Hardy, who became obsessed by tattoos when he was only 10 years old, hates how the artform was perceived for a long time in the United States.
“I resented the fact they were so looked down on, and it was an aberrant, antisocial thing like, ‘Oh, were you drunk?'” Hardy said. “It was so demonized. I just thought, ‘Well, that’s wrong.’ If people want a tattoo, they should be able to get one.”
That includes correspondence between Alberts and other tattoo artists, flash sheets that show tattoo designs, and samples of work by Albert’s contemporaries, such as his partner, Charlie Wagner. There’s also newsreel footage of Millie Hull, one of the only women tattoo artists at that time, working on a tattoo.
Back in the ’70s, friends of Hardy’s in San Jose called to tell him they had a couple trunks of antique tattoo material. A tattoo artist had died with no will, so his material went to the state, and they made a blind bid.
“They said you have to come down and see this, it’s incredible,” Hardy said. “It was this whole tattooer’s life—design sheets and machines and all this historic tattoo stuff. “We didn’t know it was Lew. The drawings were all on the backs of received letters and fliers and found papers. I assumed they had been drawn by some tattooer who had been in prison and didn’t have access.”
Hardy and his friends pieced things together by seeing who the letters were from, like, “Brooklyn Joe” Lieber, who worked in Alameda, and C.J. “Pop” Eddy. Alberts’ legacy should be better known, Hardy said.
“He was really a terrific draftsman, and he invented some of these designs,” Hardy said. “He was enterprising in that he was one of the first people to produce commercially printed flash sheets to sell to other tattoers, so he established kind of an image bank that became central to what American tattooing looked like.”
Hardy thinks tattooing was his destiny. He studied printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, and he had a scholarship to go to Yale University for graduate school. Then he met Sam Stewart, whose “needle name” was Phil Sparrow, and had moved out from Chicago to Oakland. Hardy calls Stewart, a part of Alice Toklas’ circle, a renegade who changed his mind about going to grad school.
“He was educated and articulate, and he showed me a book of Japanese tattooing,” Hardy said. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, if tattoos can look like that, I think I want to do this.'”
Hardy who describes himself as a “book nut,” started publishing books about tattooing because he wanted documentation. After his book about Alberts, he ended up meeting his great niece, an attorney in New York, who came to San Francisco for the opening of the CJM show.
“It was a neat connection,” he said. “She remembered meeting him when she was like five or six—he was way retired then. It’s great she came out from New York with a bunch of her family. That really feels good to give some honor to this guy.”
“Growing up in the Mission, murals are something sacred. No one touches them because they tell our story, the story of a multicultural community that has held on and even thrived despite difficulties we face,” said community organizer Roberto Y. Hernandez of Our Mission No Eviction. “For someone to come in and deface a mural, that’s a blatant act of hate.”
Hernandez was referencing the vandalism of the beloved mural of musician Carlos Santana at 19th Street and Mission that occurred sometime on July 13. The mural, called “Para La MiSion” was painted by Mel Waters in 2014. “Mel was raised in the Mission, and has black, Latino, and Filipino roots,” Hernandez said. “The mural was meant to give hope to people in the Mission due to the massive gentrification of Latinos and to honor Santana, who was raised int eh Mission District.”
“There’s an unspoken street rule that no one messes with murals,” Hernandez said, “even graffiti taggers know there are places they can and can’t tag. So this is obviously from someone outside the community, and I consider it a hate crime. Splashing white paint right on the face of Santana, on a huge mural that takes up one-third of a block—come on, that’s not a random act.”
Hernandez said that just Thursday evening, Mission residents were holding a rumba, an improvisational musical celebration in from top the mural. “There were a bunch of musicians jamming to Santana songs, “La Bamba,” fun stuff,” Hernandez said. “It was a community gathering place, and it really feels like an invasion of space to have this happen.”
Waters has been restoring the mural: He came out on Sunday and Monday to repaint the damaged part. “I’m glad he’s doing it,” Hernandez said. “When people come out with hate, we’re coming out with love. That’s part of where Santana himself was coming from, with his part in the hippie movement. We’re angry, but we’re nothing to let that anger turn into hate. We’re not going to let the Mission District be attacked like this, but we need to pray for people who are doing this kind of stuff. These are some sick people who need to heal.”
After the mural is restored, “We’re going to have a big rumba, to celebrate the resilience of the community.”
Hernandez reached out to police to investigate as soon as the vandalism was discovered. In a statement today via email to 48 Hills from SFPD Public Information Officer Robert Rueca said:
On July 13, 2018 we received a report of a vandalism to a building. The vandalism was done to a ‘Carlos Santana’ mural located on a building located at 19th St. and Mission St. It was reported that the vandalism occurred between July 12, 2018 around 7:00 PM to July 13, 2018 around 9:00 AM. The investigation includes speaking with possible witnesses and gathering evidence such as surveillance video capturing the incident and/or the suspect. This is an open and active investigation. Anyone with information regarding this incident is ask to speak with the police at 415-575-4444 or Text a Tip at TIP411 and start the tip with SFPD. You may remain anonymous.
“Propaganda can be as important as petroleum. The heart, too, must have its combustibles; the engine that is man must be stocked with hatreds.” –Columbia University’s Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1939
Spurred by a headline about Hillary Clinton,murder, and the FBI—none of which was true—NPR reporter Laura Sydell went to the Southern California suburbs to track down the man who wrote it. He told her he was a liberal. He started off writing fake news as a joke—and he found it lucrative, making $10,000 to $30,000 a month.
Craig Silverman, Buzzfeed’s media editor, who launched a web-based startup devoted to crowdsourcing the fact-checking of fake news, Emergent.info, found that tweets that are a mixture of true and false get retweeted the most.
Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist who recently donated $20 million to the City University of New York’s journalism school, said he wants to support organizations that try to find fake news so they can stop it.
All three participated in a panel at the de Young on June 23 entitled Rumors, Retweets and Reason, talking about how “fake news” affects us today. The panel was in response to an exhibition at the museum through October 7, Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda, and the panelists walked through the show with associate curator Colleen Terrylooking at posters, ads, film clips, and textiles from the World Wars.
The exhibition covers the exploitation of fear, showing how the Germans’ crimes when invading Belgium were exaggerated; how the Axis powers portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt as King Kong, or a demon with fangs and huge hands;the importance of signs and symbols, such as “V for Victory”; and how Disney became a symbol of American imperialism worldwide with propaganda showing Mickey figures invading Japan or Disney characters piloting planes dropping bombs on France. There are 10 propaganda kimonos inside a glass case, many for children and babies, with nationalist and military symbols, meant to be worn at home.
Afterwards, Silverman, Sydell and Newmark addressed a full auditorium to talk about the phenomenon of deliberately deceptive news presented as credible and how to combat it.
Who wants to talk about #FakeNews?LIVE: In Rumors, Retweets, and Reason, guest speakers Craig Silverman (Buzzfeed), Laura Sydell (NPR); and Craig Newmark (Craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies) will take us through their work on the widespread phenomenon of fakes news, why we believe it, and how we can combat it.
Silverman, a Canadian, began his presentation by quipping that he wouldn’t be able to get any attendees citizenship. After this bit of Trump-related humor, he told people rumors are sort of a necessary part of human behavior, filling in the gaps of what we don’t know.
While looking at the posters in the exhibition and the leaflets dropped from planes, Silverman said he thought about how much faster and farther information, false or not, can travel now on social networks. He said it also made him think about what civilians can do. The exhibition shows how people were encouraged to help the troops by canning food or buying war bonds during the war. Now we can try to stop the spread ofmisinformation, Silverman said.
“The new civic duty is to take a pause before liking or sharing anything,” he said. “Think about if you are spreading rumors.”
Sydell told the audience that she, like many of them, has relatives who share dubious information on Facebook ( “Aunt Tilda, no, Muslim nurses do wash their hands”), and she talked about deciding to chase down a fake news story. She put up a slide of a headline “FBI agentsuspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.”
Everything about the story is fake, Sydell said—including its source, The Denver Guardian. But it got shared 500,000 times. Sydell said it fits into a certain worldview.
“If you believe Hillary Clinton and John Podesta run a child porn ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor, then this feeds right into people with that narrative,” she said. “They’re ripe for it.”
Sydell, with the help of colleagues was able to get an address for the website. They went to Southern California to find the company, Disinformation Media, and the address was a P.O. box. But they had the name of the man running it, Jestin Coler, and he lived around the corner. Sydell played the audio of her knocking on the man’s door. He didn’t talk to her, but later Coler, a big NPR fan, emailed her. He agreed to talk to her andexplained how he started doing in fake news—first as a joke, making fun of rightwing media, and then in earnest, when he realized how lucrative it was, making him $10-$30,000 a month from ads. Later, Sydell ran into him at South by Southwest, where he was on a panel about fake news.
The definition of what fake news is has become a little wobbly, Sydell said—there are human reporters like her who make mistakes, and then there are stories deliberately intended to mislead.
And that’s what they need to go after, said Craig Newmark, who gives money to organizations that try to stop the spread of misinformation.
We are in an information war, Newmark said, and we have another battle coming on November 6. He says he sees hope in how news professionals, such as at Columbia’s Tow Center and the Columbia Journalism Review, are getting involved trying to disrupt networks of misinformation and harassment.
“They’re looking at where does bad stuff start and how does it propagate,” he said. “Once you learn that, you can work with people to start cutting it off.”
He also talked about the work New York University’s danah boyd, who founded Data & Society, is doing on “strategic silence.”
“Let’s say you got a politician of some sort who’d lying all the time—I’m sure that must happen somewhere,” Newmark said. “The deal is if you repeat a lie, you can make that lie stronger.”
Newmark also talked about Brian Stelter of CNN’s concept of a “truth sandwich,” and how reporters can cover major figures without spreading misinformation.
“Before you repeat the lie, you tell people something like, ‘Hey, you’re about to hear a lie, here’s the lie, and here’s why it’s a lie,’” Newmark said.
Newmark says he also plans to talk with the linguist George Lakoff, a big proponent of not repeating the lies of public figures, whether in reporting or in mocking them.
“I’m not a news professional, I’m seriouslya nerd in the plastic pocket protector sense,” Newmark said. “But it’s time to stand up, to put one’s reputation on the line, to put one’smoney where one’s mouth is, and I am pretty optimistic given that a lot of people acting in good faith are now working together to provide an ecosystem of trustworthy news.”
“On a troubling note, after 25 years, I am getting evicted from my home base and studio space,” artist Kal Spelletich tweeted this morning. “I provided housing and/or studios for countless artists, freaks, traveling activists, and radical journalists. Save Kal’s Robots here: https://www.gofundme.com/save-kals-robots… Thank you thank you Thank You”
So much of Bay Area arts culture is indebted to Kal, from Survival Research Laboratory shenanigans like giant fire-spewing robots (he was the first to bring both robots and flamethrowers to Burning Man) and interactive machine art that helped pave the way for today’s creative developments, to constantly helping and hosting artists (he teaches at the SF Arts Institute) and causes like Green Party fundraisers, Streetopia, and so many more … well, this just sucks.
Kal’s studio has been a ground zero for local innovation—the kind we used to value, the non-commercially-driven kind— for a quarter century, as well as his home. Now, Kal says, “Like many Bay Area artists Im being forced from my home. I’m asking for $10K to move and store my robots by the end of the month.”
The 57-year-old artist is filing a renter’s lawsuit. “There’s always a risk with a renter’s lawsuit. It could lose and if it does it’s possible I could be sued for a lot more than I have ever made or will ever make in the rest of my life. Much more than I’m asking for right now.
“My entire art career has been a risk and a challenge. I’m on year 38 as an artist,” he writes on his fundraising page. “I’m working to make everything fall into place to keep momentum for the next couple of years—some of the most important in my life. A main concern is my old, tired body. Formerly broken fingers and limbs – my art wounds- flare up now and then. One is nothing without their health. Sorting through and moving 25 years of equipment and materials on my own is a major challenge.”
However, he remains determined: “Over the past 38 years I’ve built momentum. Losing this is NOT an option.”
“Live is definitely its own medium,” says Anita Badejo, senior producer for Pop-Up Magazine—the marvelous, one-time-only, three-times-a-year live show that originates in the Bay Area and tours around the county. (This edition launches at Oakland’s Paramount Theater, May 10). “So just as a story comes across differently online, or in the pages of a magazine, or on a podcast or film, it lives differently on our stage.”
The stories told at Pop-Up Magazine, which garnered a Best of the Bay Editor’s Pick in 2010, range from in-depth character studies and spooky mysteries to hyper-contemporary flights of fancy and enthralling personal reminiscences. All have some intriguing multimedia aspect (projected Power Points with original illustrations, sound effects, puppets), and the whole thing is accompanied by house band Magik*Magik Orchestra, playing original music.
Pop-Up Magazine comes from the folks who put out California Sunday Magazine—but don’t expect the show to be documented in the pages of that publication, or online at all. Pop-Up is an intentionally in-the-moment experience: You just have to be there. Popping up for spring? Contributions from Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield, New York Times Op-Ed editor Jenée Desmond-Harris, Found Magazine editor David Rothbart, New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner, style photographer Andres Gonzalez, and fantastic Oakland musician Fantastic Negrito, and more.
I spoke with Badejo about the mechanics and purpose of putting on such a briefly incandescent spectacle, and the allure of live narrative in our screen-glued times.
48 HILLSYou always have such eclectic lineups at Pop-Up Magazine shows. With so much creative work and reporting being generated in the world, how do you choose what stories to tell?
ANITA BADEJO We accept and receive pitches constantly, and we also reach out to folks whose work we admire to see if they’d be interested contributing. Usually the process starts with a phone call to see what people are up to, what they’ve been working on, what they’re excited about. Sometimes folks are debuting things in the show—part of a bigger project they’re working on that’s going to be released later, or a story that’s on its way to being published.
Other times people come up with things whole-cloth just for the show, generating an idea that’s specific to Pop-Up, which has a live feel from the beginning. Sometimes journalists who have focused on one issue or character for a long time, that they may have published about before, will pick up a line or a paragraph in previous story and draw that out into something that really works great as a live presentation, and is its own amazing, revealing story unto itself.
What ties all this together is that the work is new, it’s never been published before as a podcast or documentary.
48H I assume there’s a lot of dramaturgy and stage magic that goes into transforming some of these stories into “pop-up” forms of their own—the lights, the music, and really just having writers and presenters actually perform their works for a big audience, rather than just read something off of a monitor.
AB It’s funny because when we start out working with people, our thought process is ‘we’re a magazine, we’re a magazine, we’re a magazine!’ And then at some point our thought process completely turns and then it’s ‘we’re a theater production!’
We work very closely with them to help craft them in a way that makes sense for live. No one’s ever producing stuff on their own that we then just plug in, it’s pretty much a collaborative effort. We draw upon all the resources we have in addition to the script or the text, or the films or the photos. We’ve commissioned opera singers before to help tell the stories, dancers, original photography and animation, interactive elements with audience participation. We’ve glued things into peoples’ programs that the have to take out during the course of the story. And we have an original score by our house group, Magik*Magik.
We like to play and experiment with what’s the best and most effective way for people to take in the story, and really understand the information that’s being conveyed.
48H Can you share a particular highlight of this upcoming show?
AB Jenée Desmond-Harris, who’s coming on tour with us—she grew up in Mill Valley, lives in Palo Alto, and was a Knight Fellow, so she’s a Bay Area person through and through. Her story is really incredible. It takes place in San Francisco, and is about a “sex therapy institute” that existed in the 1970s, and has a ton of twists and turns in it. It should really be made into a movie at some point. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the people who ran the institute are people that she is very close to.
48HPop-Up Magazine defines itself again the Internet by emphasizing the “you have to be there” element. It’s very experiential: Nothing goes online afterwards, there’s no recording, etc. How do you feel that’s important?
AB It’s true, our show is intentionally ephemeral. You do have to be there to see it, and that’s something that’s always been a core of our philosophy and how we put together a show. I think it’s more important now than ever. We’re in an age when we’re all just inundated with information all of the time. I wake up and my phone has 20 notifications on it, and then I get online and I read 15 Facebook posts with different pieces of information, and then I go on Twitter … I think when people have so much to consume and parse though, it’s really important that we create space where we can put our technology aside, and take in stories in a way that we can just focus on who is telling a story and what they’re saying—without any distractions.
This is even more powerful in a communal atmosphere where everyone is focusing on this one particular moment in time. It can be really magical.
ARTS Rob Melrose first read one of Shakespeare’s least-produced plays, Timon of Athens (through May 6 at Cutting Ball Theatre), in a contemporary English version his teacher at Yale had produced.
“Usually when you first read Shakespeare, it’s a lot of looking down at the notes. And this way I was just able to enjoy the beautifully poetic speeches,” Melrose said. “It has so much humor and sarcasm.”
When Melrose and Paige Rogers founded the Cutting Ball, one of their first projects was a staged reading of Timonof Athens for the Bay Area Shakespeare Marathon. Melrose wanted to use his teacher’s translation, but the organizers wouldn’t allow it. They told him he could cut as much as he wanted out of the original, though. So Melrose slashed most of the first three acts, getting to the poetry, powerful speeches, and cynicism that comes later in the play.
It’s a concentrated approach that suit the contemporary staging: Timon has been transformed into the “hottest CEO this side of Market Street: he’s young, he’s rich, and there’s nothing he likes better than hosting a wild party and spreading wealth amongst his flocking friends.” Athens is San Francisco’s “near-future: a city marked by radical gentrification and sweeping economic disparity.”
In Timon, which Shakespeare wrote with Thomas Middleton, the protagonist can’t do enough for his friends. When he loses his money, his friends are nowhere to be found and he ends up living outside the city, under a tarp. Now seems like the perfect time to do Timon in San Francisco, Melrose said.
“The theater is in the Tenderloin and all these tech companies are moving in and things like exclusive speakeasies are popping up where you need a password, and then you’ve got people living in tents,” he said. “There’s a line in the play about The middle of humanity thou neverexperienced, but the extremity of both ends — and that seems like San Francisco right now.”
Usually if a theater company has committed to doing Shakespeare’s canon, by the time they get around to Timon, the actor who plays the lead is often the same one who plays King Lear, Melrose said. He changed that to make it more familiar to San Francisco.
“In most communities, a rich person is an old person,” he said. “Here a rich person could be a 20-year-old who created an app.”
Melrose wanted to make the wealth and poverty feel familiar to contemporary San Francisco so, using ideas from the cast members as well as his own, there are iPads, Google maps, and ostentatious parties. And when Timon retreats from the city and lives in poverty, his house is a tent and his face is burned by the sun.
“Hamlet says that we should hold a mirror up to nature,” Melrose said. “It’s always more interesting to see ourselves reflected onstage, to see a life we already understand, and that makes the play much clearer.”
At the end of the play, Alcibiades, the military commander, marches on Athens. This feels different and more profound since he did the play in the late ’90s, Melrose says.
“Especially during time of Trump, having a guerilla army come and throw you out of power has a lot of potency,” he said. “Since we did this, there’s been Occupy Wall Street and the WTO in Seattle and the Women’s March, and it definitely feels like Alcibiades’ occupation is speaking truth to power more than it did 20 years ago.”
We know, huge film festivals can be overwhelming and intimidating—something it feels like you have to prepare for weeks in advance. Don’t miss out because the SF International Film Festival seems like a monster! Grab the second half by the tail and see something swell with our recommendations below.
Minding the Gap
My favorite documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and winner of the US Documentary Competition Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking is a downright must see. Bing Lu’s epic first time feature (reminiscent of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams) follows three best friends, who’ve made skateboarding home movies for years. This Rust Belt tale will hit every viewer straight in the gut due to its honesty about finding ways out of volatile and broken homes. Do not miss director Bing Lu IN PERSON on Friday, April 13, 2018 9:00pm(Creativity Theater) & Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 3:00pm (BAMPFA). Also screens Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 8:45pm (Roxie Theater). More info here.
POV Award: Nathaniel Dorsky
This year’s “Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award” honors Nathaniel Dorksy, one the most interesting experimental filmmakers of modern times. His transcendental journeys seem simple but in fact are some of the most breathtakingly unique and eerily difficult movies I have ever experienced. As the guide says, “for more than 50 years, Nathaniel Dorsky has been illuminating minds with silent short films in which light, nature, and everyday surrounds are carefully captured and combined to prismatic, alchemical effect.” Do not miss Dorsky IN PERSON with these rarely screened (only available in 16mm) films: Autumn (2014), The Dreamer (2015), Abrahim (2016), and Intimations (2016) – Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 5:45pm(BAMPFA). More info here.
Night Comes On
Jordana Spiro’s debut feature is a poetic expedition that does a remarkable job at allowing space and time to affect its two young characters as they track down a man from their past. Lead actors Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall deliver such moving performances that you may find yourself thinking about them days after. Much like the melancholy movies of the early 1970s, this cinematic experience is a major standout and should not be missed. Do not miss the director Jordana Spiro IN PERSON on Saturday, April 14, 2018 7:30pm & Sunday, April 15, 2018 5:30pm (both at the Roxie Theater) Also screens Tuesday, April 17, 2018 8:30pm (Victoria Theatre). More info here.
Shorts Program 4: New Visions
SFFiLM programmer Amanda Salazar curated this incredibly daring program of excitingly nontraditional cinema. Led by Kevin Jerome Everson’s brilliant Rams 23 Blue Bears 21 (8 min, 2017) updating on Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory (1895), this gaggle of shorts by Jem Cohen, Maya Erdelyi and Hope Tucker and more are worth taking the chance. Screens Monday, April 16, 2018 4:30pm (Roxie Theater). More info here.
Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot
Gus Van Sant’s return to form is based on the memoir of the controversial Portland-based cartoonist John Callahan. Utilizing mockumentary techniques via To Die For (1995) and emphasizing straight forward, Oscar worthy acting ala Milk (2008), Van Sant gets back on solid ground, giving Joaquin Phoenix yet another show stopping performance (See Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here) and especially Jonah Hill, who will both be surely two of the most memorable achievements of the year. This closing night is sure to be a special one with director Gus Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman expected to be IN PERSON on Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 7:00pm (Castro Theatre). More info here.
JesseHawthorneFicks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and curates/hosts the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS series at the Castro & Roxie Theater. He is also a member of the San Francisco Critics Circle and writes film festival reviews for 48hills (aka SF Bay Guardian).