Arts + Culture

Saving radical actions and spaces, virtually

Bay Area Society of Art and Activism “Collective Memory” project archives alternative history — and wants you to contribute.

48 Hills
Ant Farm’ 1975 Cow Palace cataclysm “Media Burn” is one of the feats of collective art making documented in SomArts’ current exhibit.

By Caitlin Donohue

ART LOOKS How to put this delicately. It could be that the pop-up #BlackLivesMatter silk screening studio, the LGBT film noir appreciation society, the Marxist-leaning soccer league for single moms, the secret underground yarn-bombing society — all those things that make the Bay Area so politically and culturally vibrant, well, they may not be around forever. Consider the number of your favorite art and activism spaces that have shuttered or collectives that migrated to lower rents in the last few years alone. What will the centers of cultural resistance look like in San Francisco and Oakland in 10, 20 years?

We’re hoping there will still be plenty of new ones. (Please get on that right away.) But right now, down SOMArts Cultural Center, you can witness “Making a Scene,” the center’s current visual arts presentation documenting the past 50 years of art and activism collectives in the Bay Area, proof positive of our creative resilience. The inspiring show includes reasonably well-known endeavors (Ant Farm, porn star Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens’ “Ecosexuals” project) to colorful mini-histories of spaces like Galeria de la Raza and CELLSpace and collective efforts like ArtSpan’s Open Studios.

But more than just an art show about the past, “Making a Scene” is “a direct call-to-action that invites the Bay Area to contribute to the collective memory of the region’s spaces” — the curators want you to contribute your memories, artifacts, and photos of the activist spaces and art movements you’ve experienced here, via the Bay Area Society of Art and Activism’s History Collection Lab. The project is called “Collective Memory,” and it proposes nothing less than building an entire history of Bay Area activism, with your help.

BIG WEEK: What to do Aug. 4-10, 2015

J-Pop Summit, Shakespeare in the Park, Pistahan Festival, Les Nubians, Janeane Garofalo, Jorge Drexler, and more essential events. 

48 Hills Big Week: Gacharic Spin, J-Pop Summit
Gacharic Spi headline the J-Pop Summit at Fort Mason, Sat/8-Sun/9

By Marke B.

BIG WEEK First off, this weekend is Outside Lands (sold out!), so plan your public transportation route — or cower under your bed — accordingly.

Second, you have two weeks left to see the stunning 28 Chinese exhibition at the Asian Art Museum — and believe me, you don’t want to miss it.

The brilliance of the exhibition lies not just in the sharp eyes of power-couple collectors Mera and Donald Rubell (you can meet them next Thursday, Aug. 14 to discuss the show), who selected, yes, 28 contemporary Chinese artists to showcase from dozens they met over a decade  of research. Nor is it sparked alone by the frequently gob-smacking work of the artists themselves: Chen Wei’s hyper-expressive, posed photos of an intellectual dream world in chaos; Zhu Jinshi’s enormous, showstopping “Boat” made of crumpled Xuan paper (assembled by hand by museum staff); Ai Wei Wei’s “A Ton of Tea” — an actual cubed meter of compressed tea leaves weighing 200 pounds, and, related, He Xiangyu’s multimedia project of boiling down 127 tons of Coca-Cola and using the toxic residue for, among other things, boldly expressive calligraphic brushwork.

Zhu Jinshi’s “Boat” (2012) from ’28 Chinese’ at the Asian Art Museum.

Those things are a big part of this glimpse into the state of China’s contemporary art scene, of course. But the stroke of genius upon genius here was curator Allison Harding’s inspired decision to place much of the exhibition around the museum’s three floors rather than just in a single group, hiding the quivering modern among the ancient holdings of the museum’s permanent collection and sending viewers on an exquisite scavenger hunt. (They give you map.)

Guns, girls, gangsters storm Castro Theatre

From ‘Chinatown at Midnight’ to ‘Dangerous Blondes,’ the I Wake Up Dreaming series showcases rare noir films, Thu/6-Sept. 3.

48 Hills: I Wake Up Dreaming, Film Noir
Robert Montgomery directed and starred in ‘Ride the Pink Horse,” part of the “I Wake Up Dreaming” series

By Dennis Harvey

SCREEN GRABS Elliot Lavine programmed his first noir series at the Roxie nearly a quarter-century ago, not long after starting to work as a publicist for that 16th Street cultural institution. The month-long series “included tons of classics as well as a whole raft of Poverty Row obscurities. Most on 35mm, some on 16.” It was a big gamble, but he recalls “the response was overwhelming. Most of the shows sold out, or came close. I followed up with another 30-day festival the following spring.”

Since then, Lavine’s noir series have become a Roxie staple, alongside his equally popular showcases for Hollywood pre-Code features. In recent years he’s expanded the loyal audience’s almost insatiable hunger with schedules of French noirs, international
noirs, and “Not Necessarily Noirs”—the latter covering genre terrain overlapping but not strictly part of the postwar crime melodramas that Gallic admirers retroactively dubbed “film noir.”

But his main event, these days called “I Wake Up Dreaming” (after I Wake Up Screaming, a 1941 proto-noir mystery starring leading WW2 pinup Betty Grable), maintains its fairly strict focus on Hollywood “B” thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s.

48 Hills: I Wake Up Dreaming, Film Noir
Mamie Van Doren stars in ‘Guns, Girls, and Gangsters’

This time, however, Lavine will be taking his celluloid tough guys and hardboiled dames a few blocks uptown to the larger, more resplendent Castro Theatre. (Where each January there’s the “Noir City” festival — formally unrelated to Lavine but which owes a great deal to his pioneering model.) Each Thursday night from Thu/6 through Sept. 3 that Art Deco movie palace will host double or triple-bills of 12 variably rare noirs. All are
being shown in 35mm prints (no digital projection), and none, Lavine promises, have ever been shown at the Castro before — or at least not since their original release.

La Chica Boom explodes herself (almost)

Multimedia artist brings raw, transformative retrospective to Galeria de la Raza — hot sauce strap-ons included. 

Picante, anyone? Bottle label art from La Chica Boom’s Galeria de la Raza solo show, opening reception Sat/1.

By Caitlin Donohue

ART LOOKS Xandra Ibarra, a.k.a. Bay Area multimedia artist La Chica Boom, has built an international career of parodying microaggressions through her so-called “spictacles,” hyper-racialized performance pieces that blast apart notions of respectability associated with femininity and Latinidad. Think a strap-on harness that brandishes a five-ounce bottle of Tapatio: this is the calling card of La Chica Boom.

Sat/1, 6pm-10pm, marks the official opening reception of Galeria de la Raza’s “Ecdysis: The Molting of a Cucarachica,” Ibarra’s first solo show of its kind. (The exhibition runs through Sept. 6.) The show, which has been installed in Galeria since July 25, features documentation of Ibarra’s post-2012 work, in which she attempted to leave the La Chica Boom era of her art career behind — she felt it was too restrictive — and morph into something new.

That attempt wasn’t entirely successful, although it did make for some great art. Performance photography, video, and original interactive works from the recent, turbulent period will be on view. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave the kids at home for this one — the show’s been deemed unsuitable for the under-18 crowd due, among other things, to a clip showing the Tapatio harness in action.)

I had a very candid Skype conversation with Ibarra in which she explained some arresting images from her body of work for 48 Hills.

BIG WEEK: What to do July 28-August 3, 2015

Jerry Day, Jimmy Carter, Nihonmachi Street Fair, Ginger Pride Fest, Great Apes, Outsound, more essential events this week.

48 Hills Nihanmachi Street Fair
The West Coast Lion Dance Troupe performs at the Nihonmachi Street Fair, Sat/1-Sun/2. Photo by Albert Law.

By Marke B.

BIG WEEK Alas, another abrupt closure on the local arts scene: Over the weekend, underground Mission performance space Dark Room Theatre announced it was folding up its chairs and silencing its raucous comedy parodies, avant-garde stand-up, and other homey, lovably oddball events.

The gist is that the theater couldn’t withstand anymore complaints from a noise-averse neighbor or neighbors, but the Dark Roomers are being a bit coy about the exact source of the spot’s demise after 13 years, in an effort to prevent any kind of vengeful pranks against the party or parties who blew the whistle. It’s so noisy when you live in an actual, vibrant city. How surprising to some.

48 Hills Big Week: Dark Room
Lights out for Dark Room: A 2012 performance of the eternal classic ‘Holy Shit, Batman!’

And right before what promised to be an epic debut of “Harold. Kumar. Whitecastle” — a live-action take on that stoner classic. Farewell, wee Dark Room, you were a bit of a stoner classic yourself.

Here are some ways you can support the local arts and entertainment scene — not all of them very quiet, I’m afraid!

PARTY RADAR: Up Your Alley parties, Dinosaur Nightlife, King Britt, Fort Rameau, more

Choice nightlife and dance floor affairs, July 23-26.

48 Hills Party Radar: Boys Noize
Boys Noize plays Mezzanine, Fri/24

By Marke B

PARTY RADAR First of all, go see that new movie Tangerine. Not so much because it’s about nightlife (although there is a seminal nightclub scene), or just because it’s a fantastic indie made on iPhone, and looks incredible nonetheless.

But mostly because the movie, which chronicles a wild day — Christmas Eve — in the life of two firecracker trans sex workers in Los Angeles finally records for the world a realistic take on the kinds of fierce and unruly personalities you used to encounter in SF clubs before it got so damn expensive to live here. (Bonus: It’s playing at Embarcadero Cinema, which has a full bar!)

48 Hills Party Radar: Tangerine
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in ‘Tangerine’

I mean, for every character big and small who explodes on the screen in Tangerine, I could pretty much find a direct corollary in the catalogue of ’90s and early 2000s club kids. I don’t miss the mess and I don’t miss the meth, but I miss the sense of unedited expression, rampant drug use in bathrooms and back rooms, crazy all-nighters in donut shops and diners, and random encounters with people on the street and by the booth who may have infuriated and embarrassed you, but at the end of the day, by the dawn’s early light, were your sisters for life.

BIG WEEK: Our guide to essential events July 21-27, 2015

Berkeley Kite Fest, Sing-A-Long Hairspray, High and Mighty Brass Band, Pedalfest 2015, Los Amigos Invisibles, Up Your Alley Fair, and more. 

48 Hills: Big Week
The Berkeley Kite Festival takes off Sat/25-Sun/26

By Marke B.

BIG WEEK Ostensible tourist attraction that more locals should check out: The Cable Car Museum. Have you been? Lately? It’s pretty great. I was put in mind of it both by the announcement that a new E-Embarcadero Muni Line is finally starting up Aug. 1, and the crowning, earlier this month, of a new Cable Car Bell Ringing Champion, Byron Cobb.

I am definitely among those who hardly hop aboard our storied cable car lines unless family or friends are in town, but will openly weep with pride when I see one pop up in old movies and TV shows, or when I find the remnants of old tracks from the eight cable car lines that survived the 1906 earthquake (now we’re down to three), or old tracks of any kind, nestled along back yards and restaurant patios.

In any case, a perfect summer day activity is to hit up the museum in the morning to rediscover some fascinating past (and awesome machinery) — it’s open 10am to 6pm — and then jump on a cable car right outside the museum and reacquaint yourself with one of the primal joys of San Francisco. (You can use your Clipper Card, it’s $7, just hand it to the driver and ride around as much as you like, and you don’t have to hop on with the tourists at Powell and Market.) This is also kind of the perfect romantic date for the adventurous — you’ll probably spot a nice wine bar or ice cream shop along the right route.

Below are some more perfect things to do. (Also check out our previews of the 35th Annual SF Jewish Film Fest and awesome-sounding stage event Juárez: A Documentary Mythology, happening this week.)

Bear witness: Voices of Ciudad Juárez come to Z Space

Director Rubén Polendo interviewed over 200 Juarenses to tell a dynamic, staged story of their memory and survival, Thu/23-Sat/25.

48 Hills: Juarez by Theater Mitu
Z Space presents the West Coast premiere of ‘Júarez: A Documentary Mythology’

By Caitlin Donohue.

ONSTAGE You might know that you don’t know enough about Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican city of 1.5 million people that lies just across the border from El Paso, Texas. It’s a city wracked by economic strife both technically legal — in the form of the maquiladoras, massive factories installed by the likes of Zenith and Panasonic with encouragement by NAFTA which disrupted family life with their 24-hour work cycles — and technically illegal, as in the violence incurred by warring drug cartels and more covertly, by the police forces they keep in their pocket. It’s also a city where families live, children grow up, and people eat, dance, fall in love, remember.

This week the West Coast premiere of Juárez: A Documentary Mythology comes to Z Space, and with it, the voices of hundreds of Juarenses who want to tell you what life is like living at the violent crux of two nations. Director Rubén Polendo of NYC’s Theater Mitu conceived of the project, largely to resolve unanswered questions that he had about the city where he was born and raised.

48 HIlls: Juarez by Theater Mitu
Aysan Celik and Denis Butkus of Theater Mitu in ‘Juarez’

Polendo and the rest of the Theater Mitu company spent eight months in Júarez, where they interviewed over 200 residents from morgue workers to the governor of Chihuahua to Polendo’s own father about what it’s like to live in the town the UK Guardian once famously called “the murder capital of the world” — and which is now nervously awaiting the ramifications of the recent, extravagant prison escape of El Chapo. That the man who once led the Sinaloa Cartel into bloody warfare with Juárez gangs in city streets busted out of maximum security through a mile-long, DIY tunnel, potentially on a motorcycle is enough to make anyone nervous.

What to see at the 35th SF Jewish Film Festival

Don’t schvitz! From Hitchcock to DJ AM, here are six essential picks from the sprawling annual cinematic feast, beginning Thu/23.

48 Hills: Jewish Film Fest
‘The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films’ celebrates ’80s cinematic excess.

By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

SCREEN GRABS The 35th Annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is coming up July 23-August 9 — and there are a stunning amount must-see films for cinephiles in the Bay Area. While the fest’s films range from bawdy comedy to introspective drama, as usual some of the most fascinating films are the documentaries, which bring unseen aspects of the Jewish experience (and beyond) to life. Here are my “Ficks’ Picks!”

1. German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945) – North American premiere. Directed by Sidney Bernstein; advisor Alfred Hitchcock.

48 Hills: Jewish Film Fest

In the 1970s, Alfred Hitchcock told Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, “At the end of the war, I made a film to show the reality of the concentration camps, you know. Horrible. It was more horrible than any fantasy horror. Then, nobody wanted to see it. It was too unbearable. But it has stayed in my mind all of these years.”

Not only is this landmark cinematic event appearing on the screen in North America for the very first time, archivists recently found the infamous missing sixth reel as well as all of Hitchcock’s intricate structural notes, restoring this testament to the Holocaust for the first time ever.

Club is Hell in Thrillpeddlers’ latest hoot

Hilarious glam rock musical ‘Club Inferno’ literally drags us through Dante, now through Sept. 12. 

48 Hills: Thrillpeddlers Club Inferno
Noah Haydon as Cleopatra and Peggy L’Eggs as Dante in Thrillpeddlers’ ‘Club Inferno.’ Photo by

By Marke B

ONSTAGE/PARTY RADAR I’ve written about debaucherous parties for 20 years now, and attended them for 30 — and yes, some nightlife moments have indeed felt like Hell, my soul wandering a god-forsaken wasteland for what seemed like eternity. (Looking at you, Ruby Skye.)

But I’ve never attended an actual party in Hell — unless you count all those awkward Halloween themes — and definitely no party as riotously fun as glam rock musical Club Inferno, the latest outing from our fabulously shoestring underground burlesque/cabaret stage company the Thrillpeddlers (at Hypnodrome through August 8).

Who knew Hell was full of drag queens? (OK, we all did.)

48 Hills: Thrillpeddlers Club Inferno
Noah Haydon with Thrillpeddlers players in ‘Club Inferno.’ Photo by

Bursting at the seams with rock excess and hoary one-liners, the kind that actually seem funnier when they don’t quite land, Club Inferno transforms Dante’s Inferno into a camp cabaret, replete with preening guitar solos, mile-high wigs, sexual innuendo, and, of course, guest appearances by Judy Garland.