Arts + Culture

BIG WEEK: 22 terror-ific Halloween events

48 Hills:Big Week Halloween

From Motown maniacs and “boograss hillbillies” to glam rock ghouls and the Phantom of Grace Cathedral, SF’s undead are dancing to a Beetlejuice beat.

48 Hills: Halloween
Rock out with your guts out at SIXXTEEN: HALLOWEEN, Sat/31

By Marke B.  

DEAD MAN’S PARTY RADAR Hey-O, fellow Halloweeners, it’s time for our city’s favorite civic holiday, the one with so many parties I often just want to crawl back into my coffin and wait for after-hours tricks and treats. (Or maybe just sleep until Day of the Dead on Monday night). But there’s just too much great stuff happening.

Wha’cha gonna be this year? Toilet Paper Mummy? Zombie Ron Conway? Internet Outrage? Laid-Off Twitter Employee? Sexy Aaron Peskin? Sexy Airbnb logo? The Ellis Act? And more importantly, wha’cha gonna do?

You could go HUGE, with enormous parties at HQ The Armory or Pier 70’s carnivalesque Ghost Ship. You could pack yourself like an unholy sardine into the sidewalks of the Castro District. (Unofficially, of course, since Halloween is all but banned from those streets). You could even pub hop through the Marina — now that might truly be the ultimate terror!

Or you could look over these terror-iffic Halloween events, delivered direct from my steaming Hello Kitty cauldron of leftover cheap wigs, nauseating-smelling Halloween Store “Scream” masks, and discount three-pound bags of Baby Ruths from the Walgreen’s last year. I’ve concocted such a magical agenda for you!

Horror films save lives

48 Hills: Horror
Teem torment, teen redemption: A softer side of Freddy Krueger, courtesy director Wes Craven.

A personal appreciation of the bloodiest genre of all. Plus a super-scary stalker top 10!

48 Hills: Horror
Teem torment, teen redemption: A softer side of Freddy Krueger, courtesy director Wes Craven.

By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

SCREEN GRABS My mother told me that as a child I was not allowed to talk about my Halloween costume until October 1. I understood that my “passion” towards these outfits was perhaps a bit overwhelming to others, so I began immersing myself in horror movies, hoping to find the fantastically gory visions that filled my maniacal heart and soul. I now can only imagine what my elementary school classmates (and teachers) must have thought.

Upon returning from a trip to Massachusettes in 1985, my mother presented me with a recorded VHS copy of Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street. I have often spoken about this revelatory experience, of being exposed to the grisly madness of Fred Krueger, at the ripe old age of nine. (30 years ago!) Yet, what is often left out of my infamous tale is how every Halloween that followed, all I suddenly wanted to be… was Freddy!

48 Hills Horror
Little terror: The author in an early iteration of his Halloween look.

That is not because I related to Freddy emotionally; rather at a very young age, I understood that Freddy wasn’t real. And if you removed him altogether from the series of Nightmare films, these were actually tales of struggling suburban adolescents. In fact, I still find myself motivated by Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), the ultimate “Dream Warrior.”

Recrowning the lost “Reigning Queens”

48 Hills:
Detail of "Ambi Sextrous" " (circa 1976). Vintage color print on Kodak paper. Photo by Roz Joseph.

Rediscovered photos of downtown 1970s drag balls displayed at GLBT Museum, beginning Fri/23.

48 Hills: "Reigning Queens"
Detail of “Ambi Sextrous” ” (circa 1976). Vintage color print on Kodak paper. Photo by Roz Joseph.

By Marke B.

ART LOOKS NYC’s drag vogue balls have been all the rage in pop culture, ever since Paris is Burning hit the scene 25 years ago. But ballroom drag events — the community coming together in grand (or not) dance palaces in ostentatious displays of choreographed pageantry, hard-fought contests of beauty and poise, and yes, sometimes spectacular catfights — have been essential gay institutions since the early 1900s, centering in Harlem, NYC. Ballroom culture reaching peaks in the ’20s, ’60s, and ’70s before breaking through to mainstream culture in the ’90s via the hyper-vivid vogueing scene (and Madonna’s pop appropriation of it, which even today continues to infiltrate America’s airwaves in very strange ways indeed).

SF’s own drag ball culture in the ’60s and ’70s was entwined with our incredible Imperial Court system, inaugurated in 1965 by its first ruler, Absolute Empress I, Jose Sarria, The Widow Norton, who passed away two years ago and was put to rest in a spectacular fashion, the closest SF can come to an official state funeral.

48 Hills "Reigning Qeens"
“Frieda IX, Ninth Empress de San Francisco, at Streetwalkers and Hookers Ball” by Roz Joseph.

Roz Joseph, an established photographer who had recently moved from New York, wandered these Imperial Court balls in the 1970s with her camera, shooting the eye-popping looks and candid moments of the queens who made up our downtown underground scene — queens like Ambi Sextrous and Frieda XI. She eventually hoped to publish a book of the stunning photos, but her interest moved on. (She made a name for herself as an architectural photographer).

So for almost 40 years, the photos languished in the now-90-year-old Joseph’s archives unseen, until this week. Beginning with an opening celebration Fri/23, the photos will be displayed at the GLBT History Museum in the Castro. (I am helping to host the party.)

The illuminated woman of ‘Crimson Peak’

Guillermo de Toro’s latest gothic horror has more up its sleeve than loving, gory homage. 


By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

SCREEN GRABS Cinephiles should have a field day sifting through Guillermo del Toro’s latest gothic horror tale that pays homage to the genre’s greatest classics.

With strong nods to the director’s previous films The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Crimson Peak tips its entire hat to the “Master of Suspense” Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. As the movie touches on everything Hitchcock, from Rebecca (1940),  Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Vertigo (1958) and even Psycho (1960), many audiences may be too distracted by all the references to notice del Toro’s shining achievement: the subversive inversion of gothic horror’s prototypical female protagonist.

Let me assure you that Crimson Peak is not just a maudlin tribute; it is a devastating character study of a woman trapped in her (gorgeously horrific) 19th Century manor — and 19th century manners.

Sssuper ssscary! ‘Shocktoberfest: Curse of the Cobra’

48 Hills Shocktoberfest
David Bicha in Thrillpeddlers production of Shocktoberfest 16: Curse Of The Cobra. Photo by

Thrillpeddlers’ 16th annual stage spooktacular  is delightfully silly and gross in equal measure. 

48 Hills Shocktoberfest
David Bicha in Thrillpeddlers production of ‘Shocktoberfest 16: Curse Of The Cobra.’ Photo by

By Marke B.

ONSTAGE Things really get hilariously gruesome — and uncomfortable — in the second act of the Thrillpeddlers’ 16th annual “Shocktoberfest” show (through Nov. 21 at the Hypnodrome). That’s when the incest starts creeping into an All-American family’s dream home, along with a mysterious gas from the cursed site it was built on. (It’s also an affirmation that the elastic-faced, gender-jumping Birdie-Bob Watt, here playing a devious teen in pigtails and shiny Mary Janes, is one of our stage scene’s absolute comic treasures.)

By that point we’ve already squirmed and laughed our way through throat-slittings, shootings, beatings, cannibalism, and a tray of disgusting ham rolls. But who’s keeping count? This is “Shocktoberfest,” a San Francisco tradition, bursting with vignettes that pay tribute to Grand Guignol, the French theatrical practice that replaced the public-square guillotine as ghoulish entertainment.

Katrina Kroetch and Bruna Palmeiro in Thrillpeddlers production of Shocktoberfest 16: Curse Of The Cobra. Photo by
Katrina Kroetch and Bruna Palmeiro in Thrillpeddlers production of ‘Shocktoberfest 16: Curse Of The Cobra. Photo by

The action may not be as flashily-staged or exploding with vocal histrionics as the recent Lizzie: The Musical, Ray of Light Theatre’s rock opera about the life of ax murderess Lizzie Borden. (Seriously, that show was like a Heart arena concert in 1988, squeezed into the Victoria Theater.) But the Thrillpeddlers know that what most audiences really want with this kind of material is campy humor, broad winks, a little leg, and blood, blood, blood. Indeed, half the fun is watching how cleverly mopping up the blood before the next spill is worked into the stage directions.

BIG WEEK: What to do Oct. 14-20, 2015

48 Hills Big Week
Circus Automatic's 'Raised by Wolves" (See Thu/15) promises high-flying adventure.

Treasure Island Music Fest, Clarion Alley Block Party, Felabration, Trolley Dances, Litcrawl, Na Lei Hulu, Mission Sunday Streets, more essential events

48 Hills Big Week
Circus Automatic’s ‘Raised by Wolves” (See Thu/15) promises high-flying adventure.

By Marke B

BIG WEEK One of the more surprising things I’ve fallen in love with since I moved to San Francisco has been Hawaiian culture — especially its traditional dancing. Our climes our so much cooler than those of the Islands, but SF’s Hawaiian community is no less passionate about the gorgeous and powerful moves of hula.

As always, hula is a lot more complex and historical than American pop culture would have you believe — stringed instruments came to Hawaii in the late 1800s, but it still took a while for the familiar ukulele-and-grass-skirt scenario that we all know so well to develop. Hula is also an ever-developing form, and many of our local hula companies/schools (halau) take the dance in surprising new directions.

The most groundbreaking — indeed, sometimes controversial — of these is the incredible Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, which is putting on its 30th Anniversary hula show, “Kanakolu,” this weekend and next (Sat/17 and Sat/24, 8pm, Sun/18 and Sun/25, 3pm, $35-$45. Palace of Fine Arts, SF.)

Local hula company Na Lei Hulu celebrates 30 years of expanding the Hawaiian tradition.
Local hula company Na Lei Hulu celebrates 30 years of expanding the Hawaiian tradition.

These dances and dancers are spectacular. What’s more, director Patrick Makuakāne really digs into the ancient (drum-heavy, primal) and expands into the contemporary. You want techno hula? Gospel? Disco with drag queens? How about a little New Wave? You’ll find it here. Two of the coolest things I’ve ever seen were an entire Na Lei Hulu show on the history of Hawaiian newspapers, and a jaw-dropping number that incorporated tribal house anthem “Love and Happiness.”

Dreaming of a new Streetopia

48 Hills Streetopia
Art by Xara Thustra for Streetopia 2012

Groundbreaking 2012 arts festival — which fought Lee’s “art washed” gentrification plan — is revisited with new book and two events, Thu/15 and Fri/16. 

48 Hills Streetopia

By Marke B

ART LOOKS How do you throw a sprawling, thought-provoking, renegade art fair to protest the gentrification of a neighborhood — just as the mayor starts pushing art fairs as the key to sugarcoat his gentrification agenda?

That’s one of the contemporary arts dilemmas the organizers of the 2012 Streetopia festival — which occupied Mid Market and Tenderloin abandoned storefronts, public spaces, and civic-minded galleries with work from almost 100 artists and activists — set out to explore.

Their creative approach? Double down on community engagement, dig deeper into San Francisco’s communitarian past, activate spaces left abandoned by rampant speculation, and challenge participating artists to harness the abstract to the concrete to address and broadcast the concerns of the local population, caught up in a seemingly uncontrollable wave of change.

48 Hills Streetopia
Love Warz performed on the opening night of Streetopia 2012. From the new book ‘Streetopia,’ edited Erick Lyle

A free food cafe, a geography-based project informing homeowners of the hippie commune past of their property, public interactive performances, and more were meant to counter the “art washing” that can take place when art fairs like Art Basel Miami take over a community and contribute to its displacement.

Three years later, Streetopia is back — in the form of a new book documenting the festival with full-color pics and 24 in-depth essays from Bay Area arts heavy-hitters like V Vale, Kal Spelletich, Chris Johanson, Barry McGee, Spy Emerson, and Bochay Drum that address Streetopia’s vision, execution, and legacy. A panel with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (Thu/15) at Adobe Books and a full-on bonanza book release party (Fri/16) at Luggage Store Galley — locus of the original Streetopia — will bring this vital piece of recent history to life.

BIG WEEK: What to do Oct. 7-13, 2015

48 Hills Big Week: Litquake 2015
Hawaii's first poet laureate (and MIT nuclear physics graduate) Kealoha performs multimedia piece "The Story of Everything," Mon/12, 7pm as part of Litquake

Litquake, Shocktoberfest, Sandcastle Contest, Decompression, Latin Legends, Ocean Beach Fest, Indigenous Powwow, Youngblood Brass Band, more essential events.

48 Hills Big Week: Litquake 2015
Hawaii’s first poet laureate (and MIT nuclear physics graduate) Kealoha performs multimedia piece “The Story of Everything,” Mon/12, 7pm as part of Litquake

By Marke B. 

BIG WEEK The vast tsunami of words and acts that is Litquake 2015 washes over the city Oct. 9-17 — and as always, there are too many cool, quirky, crazy, and just plain important literary events to take in. I want to eat the whole thing!

The great ‘Quake officially kicks off this year Fri/9 with “The Devil’s Acre,” an insanely neato-looking tribute to 19th century San Francisco, which doubles as “the official book launch for Drinking the Devil’s Acre, Duggan McDonnell’s illustrated history of cocktails from the wild and wicked saloons of the Barbary Coast. With sea shanty singers from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, a rarely seen archival slideshow, and a special appearance by Emperor Norton himself. Costumes are encouraged!”

48 Hills Big Week: Litquake
A raucous Barbary Coast bar cartoon helps promote “The Devil’s Acre,” Litquake’s opening party, Fri/9.

There’s a zillion other things after that: Eric Bogosian reads about the Armenian Genocide, a production of Romeo and Juliet by African American teens, star-spangled reading fiestas featuring everyone from Michelle Tea to Daniel Handler, and, of course, one of my favorite things ever: Litcrawl on Sat/17, the “world’s largest literary pub crawl” along Valencia, which brings 101 readings to bars, bookstores, galleries, even the Mission Police Station. As the Litquake folks put it, “Get drunk on words!”

Play along with “San Francisco Political Squares”

48 Hills Political Squares

Live charity game show mixes political players, local entertainers, stiff drinks — Tue/6 at Oasis.

48 Hills Political Squares

Join 48 Hills’ Marke B and Tom Ammiano, plus a gaggle of local political and showbiz luminaries — including Tom Temprano, Marga Gomez, Broke-Ass Stuart, Scott Wiener, Kaseem Bentley, Natasha Muse, and of course glittering drag stalwart Heklina as the center square — for a wild night of Hollywood Squares-style glitz and bawdy humor!

48 Hills Political Squares

Tue/6, 7pm-10pm at great new club Oasis, “Political Squares” charity contestants will vie against the wicked smarts and tart-tongued humor of the “squares” for beneficial funds. Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual indulgence hosts, Maria Konner judges, DJ Sergio get everyone moving, and Marke B. will do his best Paul Lynde impression. “Haaaaa.” Brought to us by the crazy-creative kids at local TV show Under the Golden Gate.

GET YOUR TICKETS HERE for a wild night of zingers, ringers, and humdingers (and tequila shots).

BIG WEEK: What to do Sept 30-Oct 6, 2015

48 Hills Big Week
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass heralds the fall arts season in SF. Photo by Anthony Presti vi The Art of Muses.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Castro Street Fair, Veg Fest, Art Night, Sharktoberfest, Algiers, John Carpenter tribute, more essential events this week.

48 Hills Big Week
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass heralds the fall arts season in SF. Photo by Anthony Presti vi The Art of Muses.

By Marke B

BIG WEEK As the story usually goes, one of our richest men was also one of our great patrons of the arts. But unlike, say, the staid-if-contemporary Eli Broad (whose new LA Museum seems a little too candy-coated), Warren Hellman really wanted something for all people to enjoy. His journey from prominent investment banker to progressive supporter is truly San Franciscan, culminating in his creation of the enormous and wonderful annual, free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival (Oct 2-4, free, Golden Gate Park, SF).

This year’s fest has some heavy hitters, including Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder, Steve Earle, Boz Scaggs, and Los Lobos, but there’s also tons of new names, experimental get-togethers (a tribute to Big Star’s 3rd album), and folksy family fun (Conor Oberst’s takeover of one stage with his friends). It really does put many of our other, over-programmed, hella-expensive festivals in a generic light.

48 Hills Big Week
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell team up on Sunday’s Banjo Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass for some down-home duets. Photo by David McClister

A particularly cool highlight of the fest: Tons and tons of Bay Area school kids will attend on Friday morning as part of Daniel Pearl Day, celebrating the murdered journalist’s love of music and helping “to help spread a message of hope and unity.” Let the fiddles fiddle and the banjos ring!