Sunday, July 20, 2008


Saw the latest Pixar film on Saturday evening at the Westfield Mall. When we got there, the place was packed, but it turned out that the biggest crowd was there to see Mamma Mia. Anyway, I liked the 1st 3rd of WALL-E that takes place on a decimated Earth, but once the story left Earth & switched to the giant spaceship, I found it uninteresting. I also could not buy into the concept of robot love. But the early part of the movie is good stuff. It looks terrific & convincingly real, from the decaying cityscapes to the objects collected by Wall-e to the way the light filters through the thick air. It even questions what a life of purpose & self-sufficiency might still lack.

Once we're on the spaceship, things start to look conventionally cartoony & the plot becomes a predictable series of rescue scenes. I found it a little disjointed to see real human actors in the videos that Wall-e & the captain watch vs. the cartoon versions of humans on the spaceship. I'm also wondering if fat people might be offended by the movie's vision of generations of technology-enabled couch potatoes.

SF Zine Fest

For a good dose of alternative culture, on Saturday I checked out the SF Zine Fest at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It felt larger & busier than the event last year in the Mission. I couldn't resist buying all 3 available issues of the lovely, playful & treat-filled zine All This is Mine. I met Michael Capozzola who draws the off-color Cheap City in the Chronicle. He worked so hard selling me that I would have felt mean if I hadn't bought his twisted & lewd Chubby Browne comic. I picked up the latest issue of Jason Martin's sensitive & affectionate Laterborn. He even took the time to sign it for me with a little cartoon.

Once I started handling Kelly Lee Barrett's palm-sized book of photographs of Clarion Alley, I had a hard time putting it down. It was out of my price range, but I so wanted to have it! It was also impossible not to stop for Jonathan Fetter-Vorm's gorgeous illustrations for Beowulf & Lucretius. I chatted with Mr. Fetter-Vorm briefly, & I think he is one smart guy. I was hoping to see Andy Hartzell there & harass him for Part 3 of Monday, but lucky for him I didn't find him.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Saturday in the City

I started out at the Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason. It took up most of one of those Fort Mason pavilions, & there was a sizable, mostly female, crowd. Lots of friendly people hawking various arts & crafts. Fun to browse. I think this is what happens when you have too many people graduating from art schools.

From the Long Now Foundation, I bought a ticket to the Mechanicrawl, which turned out to be a triumph of packaging over content. All the venues that the ticket supposedly allows you to access are generally open to the public & either free or cost about the same as the ticket. I toured the USS Pampanito, a restored submarine, & the Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien. The engines were running on the Jeremiah O'Brien, so you could experience the heat & the motion of the gigantic crank shaft. It has a certain romance. They even pipe 1940's music on deck.

For me the most overwhelming part of the Mechanicrawl was the walk through Fisherman's Wharf. I'm an SF native, but I rarely find myself in Fisherman's Wharf. I could not believe how crowded it was & what an embarrassing tourist trap it is. I saw the Bushman, whom I'd never even heard of before, & he did not come across as a happy guy. We also saw an ambulance take away the victim of a cycling accident & passed by 2 teenage girl missionaries, whose hook was a sign reading "Free Encouragement".

In the evening I was in another crowd, this time at the Castro Theatre for the Silent Film Festival screening of The Man Who Laughs. I'd say this movie is an average product of the tail-end of the silent era, which is to say that it is well-constructed, has high production values, & has a full complement of pathos, drama, romance, humor & spectacle. It ends with a breathless, harrowing race against many obstacles to reunite the good guys. Conrad Veidt stars as a grotesque worthy of Lon Chaney. He looks like The Joker in Batman, except that the Joker was inspired by this movie.

Before the screening we got the usual festival line-up of obligatory speeches. Sadly, the representative from the Library of Congress referred to Conrad Veidt as "The Man of a Thousand Faces", which got an outraged response from the audience. Organist Clark Wilson was the true hero of the evening, though. He played non-stop for 2 hours, never flagging, & whipped up a symphonic sound that not only matched every dramatic climax of the film, but also made the dramatic structure clearer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The good life

"If your life at night is good, you think you have everything".

So says the wall in the bathroom at Pasta Pomodoro.

Line for iPhone 3G on Chestnut Street

At 9am this morning, the Chestnut Street Apple store had a line all the way down the block & around the corner. I saw this while riding the bus to work, & a fellow passenger claimed that someone had actually been in line since last night!

Update: At 2pm this afternoon, I walked by the Union Square Apple store, & their line is up the block & around the corner too. People were cheering when they were let in.

Update: At 8:30pm, there was a line of about 50 people outside the Chestnut Street Apple store.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

70mm at the Castro

The Castro Theatre is in the midst of mini-festival of 70mm films. On Friday night I saw Little Shop of Horrors, the musical version. I remember seeing it when it first came out & being totally impressed by it, even though musicals are not generally my thing. The movie is now over 20 years old, & I think it completely holds up. I had a great time seeing it again. The tunes are still catchy, the performances brilliant, & even the puppet plant doesn't look hokey yet. Despite the happy ending mandated by the box office, it's still a cruel critique of the post-war consumer society. It was a pleasure to encounter something I hadn't seen in a long time & to discover that it's still good.

There was definitely a crowd at the 9:00pm show, so I'm wondering if this movie has become a cult classic. The lively Castro Theatre audience applauded the musical numbers & the star cameos. Some patrons thought it was a sing-along as well. Unfortunately there was a young lady in the row behind me who was a just a bit too lively. I got to listen to her running commentary throughout the entire show. Well, at least I wasn't going home with her afterwards.

I was back the next afternoon to see Tron. I'm a techie guy, but for some reason I had never seen this movie before. There was an even bigger turn-out for this showing. Unfortunately Tron is a pretty bad movie. I suppose it's a clever conceit to have the action take place inside a computer, & there are definitely foreshadows of The Matrix, but there are way too many lame moments.

I couldn't help noticing that in Tron world, bad guys are red & good guys are blue. When the world is freed from the evil Master Control Program, blue beams of light replace red ones. One can only hope.

The movie shows how quickly the aesthetic of CGI evolved. The look of Tron is based on early video arcade games, & the computer-generated imagery is meant to depict an artificial world. Nowadays, the computer-generated worlds look more real than the real world.

At both shows, the sound system was cranked way up. I sat through Tron with my in-ear headphones on just to cushion my ears.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Handel's Ariodante

San Francisco Opera
Tue Jul 1 2008 7:30 pm

Ariodante: Susan Graham
Ginevra: Ruth Ann Swenson
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Dalinda: Veronica Cangemi
Lurcanio: Richard Croft
Odoardo: Andrew Bidlack
The King of Scotland: Eric Owens
Polinesso's Squire: Anders Froehlich

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: John Copley

If opera is supposed to be about singing, then this was a great performance all around. Ruth Ann Swenson got us off to a strong start with her bold sound & high-hitting cadenza. The dramatic situations are pat at best, but after each shuffle of the personnel on stage, I was looking forward to hearing the next spectacular bout of singing. Sonia Prina could cram so many notes into a phrase that it was both gasp-inducing & ludicrous. Richard Croft's sweet & lyric singing was an unexpected pleasure. The centerpiece of the evening was Susan Graham's extended Act II aria of despair. On stage alone, she completely commanded us with her heart-breaking acting & a sound that was rooted deep in her core. She even sang from a twisted position on the floor!

Patrick Summers led a reduced orchestra that included a baroque lute & 2 harpsichords but was otherwise modern. It was a good compromise between historical accuracy & modern performance practice. He accompanied the recitatives himself on one of the harpsichords. He took generally fast tempos. In numbers that seemed headed towards a forte at the conclusion, he sometimes suddenly pulled back & landed lightly on the last chord. Fleet instead of heavy.

The period costumes were colorful, opulent & fun to look at. The set was a shiny black floor that unfortunately squeaked & 4 walls that reconfigured themselves between scenes. The staging was of the kind that makes opera so easy to make fun of. There are 2 prancing ballet numbers for no apparent reason. During the instrumental passages of the arias, characters stalk around the stage, as if looking for an exit. Then as soon as a character finishes singing, he or she immediately walks out on us, leaving us to applaud an empty stage or a bunch of people who haven't done anything for the past several minutes but stand around. One character did nothing but follow the bad guy Polinesso around. Another character did nothing but follow the King around, but at least he got a few lines of recitative.

There was at least one nice directorial moment, though, when Polinesso stroked the King's throne as he walked by it, revealing his political aspirations. It got an appropriate laugh of recognition. But the main attraction of this production is the singing. There's only one performance left, & I'm considering standing room this Sunday for another chance to take in those great voices.