December 17, 2007

Bazaar Bizarre

I had quite an emotionally tempestuous week this week, and it didn't necessarily help that I was devouring Tom Perrotta's latest novel The Abstinence Teacher at the time. This is the first book of his that I have read, but I am familiar with some of his recurring themes from the filmed versions of Election and Little Children -- amazing movies both. The teacher of the title is Ruth Ramsey, a single mom who for years has ably taught high school sex ed, but after finding herself at the heart of a scandal is forced to follow a new curriculum that preaches virginity and abstention. Her foil in the story is her daughter's soccer coach Tim, a man who has found relief from the demons in his past by embracing born-again Christianity. I came to the book with a pretty hefty set of my own prejudices, having been raised in a conservative church and with the no-sex-before-marriage message high on the list of things that did major damage to my psyche. While I still call myself a Christian, my beliefs about sin diverge wildly from those set out by the evangelical church in the book. However, I was impressed with how well Perrotta developed Tim's character, so that you understand why he might actually be drawn to a faith governed by rules and the threat of hell. I also identified strongly with Ruth's character, both in her commitment to truth as empowerment and in her struggle to fend off desperation when faced with her lack of a relationship. I can't wait to see who gets cast to play her in the inevitable movie adaptation.

Speaking of casting, when I saw that Richard Chamberlain was the star of Peter Weir's The Last Wave I had my doubts, since I still associate him with early-'80s TV like Shogun and The Thorn Birds. I should have known I could trust the director of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Chamberlain plays David Burton, a Sydney lawyer who is asked to represent a group of Aboriginal Australians accused of killing another indigenous man. Burton himself has been having strange premonitory dreams, and looks to one of his defendants, played by David Gulpilil of Walkabout fame, for insight into what they might mean. As he does in Picnic Weir here deals with the lack of understanding the colonizing white people have for the traditions of the land they have settled, and he amps up the sense of foreboding by setting the story in the midst of some seriously apocalyptic weather. The Last Wave also examines modern man's disconnect from spirituality and the sacred, as well as the psychological importance of dreams. I know my own dreams have been giving me a healthy workout this week.

So I decided to relieve some of that pressure by going shopping. Not just any shopping, mind you, as I always try to steer well clear of chain stores and their ilk. Instead I like to support independent designers with my dollars, so when I heard that the Bazaar Bizarre would be coming to the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park I got there as early on Saturday morning as I could manage. In addition to two large rooms crammed full of handmade jewelry, stuffed animals, prints, clothing, and other miscellany, the Bazaar also offers workshops on everything from glass etching to making your own yarn, thus inspiring the next generation of craftsters. I ran into my coworker Mark spinning beats in one of the rooms, and in the other was inspired to pick up a pair of absolutely gorgeous earrings from the Figs & Ginger booth. Very successful retail therapy, if I do say so myself.

More visual stimulus was to be had at SFMOMA later that afternoon, when they screened Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus subsequently went on to be director of photography on a number of Martin Scorsese's films, and here he perfectly frames the emotional deterioration of fashion designer von Kant as she tries to maintain her relationship with her lover and protege Karin. I had done a return to visit to the Jeff Wall exhibit upstairs before the movie to better understand why he might have selected it as an influence, and I saw parallels in the theatrical composition of each and every shot onscreen and in the galleries, as well as in the emotional honesty fabricated by both Wall and Fassbinder. I confess I was barely following the dialogue in some of the earlier parts of the film I was so busy gaping at the visuals, but once the name-calling started my attention was fully engaged straight through to the end.


The Abstinence Teacher
The Last Wave
Bazaar Bizarre
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Posted by nightfall at December 17, 2007 10:08 PM