February 27, 2006


I've been thinking a lot about Africa recently, with my little brother Brent stationed with the Peace Corps in Cape Verde and with my upcoming trip there this fall. So it was appropriate that Aimee and I rented Fernando Meirelles's The Constant Gardener this week, even though the slums of Kenya are pretty far from the parts of West Africa I will be visiting. In some ways the story is standard John le Carré thriller, on whose book the screenplay is based. But what lifts the film above the shadowy government officials and car chase through the bush is Meirelles's extraordinary direction, as well as first-rate performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz as a diplomat and his feisty wife. Weisz will win the Oscar on Sunday, if there is any justice in this world. Even though the idea of any multinational pharmaceutical company going to the dastardly lengths portrayed in the film is vaguely improbable, honestly it's not improbable enough. I have no love for the big drug companies, and they're certainly doing plenty of damage not only in developing nations but also here in the United States.


Thursday we were treated to an unseasonably gorgeous night in the city, and I took full advantage of the brief respite between winter storms. First up was the Marcel Dzama and Alice Shaw opening for their joint show at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, Conversation 2. Dzama established himself as an artist when he lived in Winnipeg and is currently working in New York, while Shaw is a photographer local to the Bay Area. Both artists embrace individually quirky sensibilities that meshed nicely in the exhibition. Dzama's deceptively simple drawings suggest entire twisted fairy tales with a single image of a cowboy aiming his gun at bat-creatures or of a young boy dancing with a rattlesnake in each hand. Shaw similarly lets the viewer interpret why a duck might be nuzzling a man on the floor in one of her pictures or why a sidewalk planter might be securely wrapped with duct tape in another. Beck used Dzama's artwork for the cover of his most recent album, and I think he should choose a Shaw photo for the next one.

From the Civic Center I headed into the Mission for a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc at Artists' Television Access, accompanied by a new live score by Lester "Tombstone" Raww. The story of Joan's faith never fails to move me, and Renée Falconetti in the role is utterly mesmerizing. Raww's score was by far the most memorable and effective backdrop for the film I've yet experienced, gently ambient electric guitar looped back on itself near the beginning, but increasingly raucous and dissonant sound as the trial edges toward its inevitable conclusion. I know Dreyer intended the film to be shown without sound, but this was a special treat.

Finally on my way back home I stopped by the Commotion party at Space180, which was simultaneously a CD release for the 7 years of APAture album, a community arts expo, and the launch of the new Kearny Street Workshop store. I walked in and was instantly distracted from the fabulous shopping by the strains of local indie acoustic folk rock extraordinaire Goh Nakamura's guitar. I joined the small press of fans and just stood listening quietly for a while before floating back out into the night.


Readings at the Edinburgh Castle always promise to be entertaining events, and Saturday night's was no disappointment. Craig Clevenger stepped up to the mic and declared that he'd been awake for 30 hours, but had just listened to Johnny Cash's cover of "Personal Jesus" to get himself in the proper mood. The passage he read from his book Dermaphoria hinted at drug abuse, memory loss, and gleeful nihilism. After Clevenger, Ryan Gattis presented a portion of his Kung Fu High School, which left me with an impression of My So-Called Life crossed with Fight Club. I'll be borrowing both author's books from the local library post haste.


The Constant Gardener
San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
Artists' Television Access
Kearny Street Workshop
Edinburgh Castle Pub

Posted by nightfall at February 27, 2006 09:33 PM