February 11, 2008

Eternal Spring

My media consumption this week was, in a word, difficult. It began with Elfriede Jelinek's novel Greed. The story involves a promiscuous policeman in the Austrian countryside and a dead girl that turns up in a nearby lake. But this is no simple thriller, as Jelinek's prose delves deep into the psyche of her characters and into the countryside itself. She writes in a dense stream-of-consciousness style that defies a casual reading, and the result is a deeply unsettling look at human nature. Jelinek, also author of The Piano Teacher, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004, a testament to the willingness of the Nobel committee to give the award to writers who take some pretty serious risks.

The darkness I found in Jelinek's book also reverberates through Brad Anderson's 2001 film Session 9, though the scenario is completely different. Five men who have been hired to clear asbestos out of an abandoned mental hospital start to experience some seriously creepy goings-on, paralleled in the gradually-revealed story of one of the former inmates. The movie was filmed inside the Danvers Insane Asylum in Massachusetts, the building itself inspiring Anderson's script after he'd driven past it numerous times. It's a setting so spooky that five minutes into the movie I was already thinking it might not have been the best idea to watch it at home alone at night. My curiosity compelled me to keep watching to find out what happened next, though I literally moved as far away from the screen as possible, turned all the lights on, and pulled my hoodie up over my head. Sleep did not come easily that night, let me tell you, and even writing about it now I can feel myself getting twitchy again. Boo!

It wasn't all blood and horror this week, I swear. A couple weeks back I wrote about going to hear Gabriele Basilico speak about his photographs of Silicon Valley that are currently on view at SFMOMA, and this week I returned to take another look at them. I find the photos surprisingly moving, because Basilico is able to capture in one shot both the utter beauty and absolute loneliness of these landscapes and city corners that have become so familiar to me. His outsider's eye reminds me of those first few times I ventured up to the city by myself, traveling on the same freeways that fascinate Basilico, when I was still just drinking it all in. The photos sharpen my own eyes so that I remember to see things like power lines and the corporate buildings that sit on either side of 101, objects that I have learned to edit out of my line of sight. They also remind me of the breath I take every time I'm driving up from the peninsula and round that corner of the freeway to see San Francisco spread out in front of me in all its glory.

And if there's one thing I love to do in San Francisco, it's to see live music. The Black Lips played a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall Friday evening, and I was able to attend courtesy of KALX. The Great American is one of my favorite venues in the city because there are tables upstairs where you can chill out and have a beer if you're not feeling the music, which was exactly the case for me during opener Pierced Arrows. But as soon as the lights went down for the Black Lips I scurried down to the main floor where I proceeded to dance my ass off for the entirety of their set. The Black Lips are (in)famous for putting on a spectacularly sloppy and energetic live show, chock full of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, and they did not disappoint. I was grinning ear to ear when I left, just ahead of an encore that reportedly turned a bit ugly.

It was back to SFMOMA with me on Saturday afternoon for the next installment of their Emile de Antonio film series, a double feature of Underground and In the King of Prussia. Local filmmaker Sam Green, director of 2002's The Weather Underground, introduced the first film and spoke of how it influenced his own work. De Antonio was able to interview five members of the Weathermen as long as he agreed not to show their faces, and he edited that footage together with scenes of unrest from the '60s to better elucidate how their radical philosophies were formed. The second film spotlighted another group of activists, the Catholic pacifist group Plowshares 8, whose members were imprisoned for their action against nuclear warheads at a General Electric plant. As a peacemaking Christian myself I cannot tell you how inspiring it was to see the strength of their faith as they spoke their beliefs in the recreated courtroom scenes, which de Antonio filmed during breaks in their actual trial. Let us beat swords into plowshares, indeed.

There was a bit of excitement five minutes before the end of In the King of Prussia when SFMOMA had to be evacuated due to some unnamed emergency. I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably gorgeous weather to walk over to SomArts to join Carrie in checking out a bevy of local vendors at the Eternal Spring fashion/arts/music event. A DJ spun trancey beats as Miss Rosie led a hoolie hoop class on stage at one end of the room, and Carrie and I wandered from table to table checking out the goods. I was particularly drawn to Kittin Hawk's trinket-laden earrings, Fluidance's sculptural and organic jewelry, and a certain perfectly-tailored trench by Al's Attire. I did not give in to temptation myself, but was happy to enable Carrie her own retail therapy.


Session 9
Gabriele Basilico: From San Francisco to Silicon Valley
The Black Lips
In the King of Prussia
Eternal Spring

Posted by nightfall at February 11, 2008 10:21 PM