October 11, 2004

Soul City

When Touré amiably looked out over the tiny group at Cody's on Wednesday night and announced it was his first time in Berkeley, I was very glad that Aimee and I were swelling the ranks of his audience by two bodies, if only to give him a warmer welcome. As he read a couple of passages from his new novel Soul City he wove a spell around us with descriptions of a cafe run by Humbert Humbert where all of the employees play characters from great works of fiction, and of a villain who uses her gifts as a mindreader to drop gossip bombs at the most inopportune moments she can find. Soul City certainly reminds me of Touré's hometown Brooklyn, but more important than making his city a specific place he has attempted to encompass the entire black experience. During the discussion after the reading Touré talked about how in his next book Death will reinvent his image so successfully (with the help of some skillful PR) that the people of Earth lose their need to believe in God. No fear of the afterlife leading to lack of faith? It's an intriguing idea to play with, and I look forward to seeing how Touré spins it.

From the bookstore we made our way over to the Parkway to see Zhang Yimou's Hero. It took me some time to warm up to the plot despite the fact that I was fully enjoying the wonderful performances by Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi, though after the movie concluded it was clearer to me how Yimou's direction thoughtfully conveys a complex set of stories. The visuals are relentlessly stunning throughout, to the point where I couldn't imagine ever trying to watch it on a small screen. Rather than being all style and no substance, however, Hero is a classic martial arts fairy tale with roots in ancient Chinese history and culture. I could have done without the explanatory supertitles that started and ended the film, but I suppose I have Quentin Tarantino to thank for those.

I carefully planned my day at work Thursday so that I could creep out for a couple hours in the early afternoon to hear Susan Orlean read at Stacey's. She was there to present her new collection My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere, and she chose to read a piece about climbing Mount Fuji and then another about Thomas Kinkade, seemingly disparate topics that were equally engrossing and hilarious in her capable hands. I greatly admire Orlean's sense of adventure and how she's made a career for herself in the writing industry, and I also find inspiration in the fact that she doesn't use a tape recorder to document interviews with her subjects. She takes a few notes, but mostly she just pays attention.

Saturday evening I brought a parka and heavy socks to Dolores Park for the SF Neighborhood Theater Foundation's outdoor screening of Harold and Maude, and I am embarrassed to say it was the first time I'd ever seen it. Embarrassed because so many of my friends love this film so much that I don't know what took me so long. Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are sublime as the title characters, a young man and a much older woman who form an unlikely bond after they discover they both enjoy attending the funerals of strangers. Complete with the Bay Area as backdrop and Cat Stevens songs running throughout, Harold and Maude is laugh-out-loud funny and utterly enchanting. It even has an anti-war undercurrent that jived nicely with the previews and film shorts produced by local filmmakers that preceded the feature.

After the film I parked my car in the Fifth and Mission garage and took a brief disco nap to prep for late-night activities at Club Six, namely the Get Selected DJ mixoff. Down in the basement eight house DJs swapped off on the decks in brief rapid-fire sets, while upstairs eight hiphop DJs did the same. They were judged on creativity, mixing, record selection, and crowd reaction, so I did my best to show my appreciation when the bass really got going. I was pleased to see a lone female DJ in the house mix downstairs, even if the MC immediately had to call attention to her looks instead of her skills. The speed at which records were flying kept the energy high, but I confess I did not have the stamina to stick around and see who won the battles.


Cody's Books
Soul City Is Cool
Stacey's Bookstore
Susan Orlean
San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation
Harold and Maude
Club Six

Posted by nightfall at October 11, 2004 09:59 PM