Before it gets too long past July 4 I should note that I actually made an effort to see the San Francisco fireworks this year, remarkable only because I don't really celebrate Independence Day and any pyrotechnics I happen to witness are usually the illegal ones going on very close to my neighborhood in south Berkeley. But for whatever reason I felt up to making the journey to the city Saturday night, so I booked a table at Waterbar and wrassled Laura into being my date. We had dinner at the bar with an amazing view of the Bay Bridge all lit up, but once the fireworks started we were at an angle that only allowed us to see bursts of colored fog. So we quickly wrapped up our meal and ran outside to the waterfront where we ooohed and aaahed with the rest of the gathered throng. And honestly it wasn't too crowded there right under the bridge either, with a nice view of the Ferry Building clock tower too. Maybe I'll do it again next year.
And speaking of music, I was delighted to hear Mika Tajima would be doing a special installation at SFMOMA last weekend called Today Is Not a Dress Rehearsal since I had just encountered her work for the first time when I was in New York back in March. The Dia space in Chelsea is currently being occupied by an arts non-profit calling itself X for one year, during which time they will be presenting exhibitions in four rotations as well as a wealth of associated programming. For X's first phase Tajima had constructed a series of psychedelic backgrounds and other set pieces that took up the entire ground floor gallery and seemed to be lying in wait for actors and a film crew to come make use of them. Tajima brought similar sets to SFMOMA and constructed a performance space inside the museum's Schwab Room, and when I arrived Tuesday night filmmaker Charles Atlas was also there to live-edit Tajima with her noise band New Humans. It did get very loud inside the Schwab Room once New Humans got going, looping sounds of electrical drills and breaking glass into thunderous rhythms. Tajima watched intently from behind Atlas's edit station at first as multiple cameras (including one mounted on a crane that rolled along a short track laid on the floor) captured footage, but soon she moved onto the set to move the backgrounds and then to start smashing things herself. I was loath to leave while the music was going on but wanted to see what Atlas was cooking up with Final Cut, so I ran over to the Phyllis Wattis Theater where I was treated to a gorgeously warped, fragmented version of what was being enacted live just a few feet away. The power blew out halfway through, cutting off the video projection as well as the sound for New Humans, but they got everything restarted within a matter of minutes and went right back at it.
It was partly because KALX provided me a free ticket that I decided to attend my one SF International Film Fest event for this year, the screening of the 1925 silent version of The Lost World at the Castro Tuesday night with Dengue Fever providing the live soundtrack. Besides, it just sounded freakin' awesome. The movie is the first filmed version of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic tale and though a teensy bit dated is rightfully famous for its amazing stop-motion dinosaurs, lovingly animated by the great Willis O'Brien. I was there with Brent, Logan, and JD, and we were all having trouble containing our squeals of glee during one exciting (and surprisingly moving) sequence where a mama triceratops defends her baby from a pathologically ravenous allosaurus. Dengue Fever pulled from their trademark Khmer-tinged rock 'n' roll to create rich soundscapes that were perfect accompaniment to the images of snarling dinos and volcanic infernos, and I thought it was clever of them to keep Ch'hom Nimol's amazing voice under wraps at first until the film's explorers reach the Amazonian jungle because the moment she started to sing a literal shiver of anticipation ran down my spine. And in the final scenes, when an escaped brontosaurus paddles down the Thames and then out to sea, Nimol's voice rose powerfully to fill the theater with a combination of exultation and poignance. I might have wiped away a tear.
Yesterday PFA took advantage of the long weekend and squeezed into its already-packed February schedule a marathon showing of Masaki Kobayashi's epic nine-hour film trilogy The Human Condition. I went into it knowing I wasn't quite ready to deal with the whole thing so just bought a ticket to the first part, No Greater Love, though it looked like an impressive amount of people were settling in for the rest of the day. Set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria during World War II, No Greater Love tells the story of Kaji, a mine official who takes a supervisory post in the Chinese boondocks because it means he will get an exemption from military duty. His humanist ideals are tested almost from the moment he arrives, especially once he is put in charge of hundreds of Chinese prisoners sent by the Japanese army to do forced labor in the mine. His attempts to better the system earn him nothing less than imprisonment and torture. Though unflinching in its portrayal of Japan's injustices against China the film is a genuine masterpiece of post-war Japanese cinema, with each frame shot in glorious black-and-white 'Scope perfectly composed and elegant in its evocation of human emotion. And though I was already familiar with actor Tatsuya Nakadai from his work with Kurosawa, he is an absolute revelation here as Kaji, his face registering every new horror of war. I do want to see the next two parts of the trilogy that follow Kaji after his induction into the army and then when he is captured by Russian troops, but I'm going to wait a bit first.
I also highly recommend stopping by the Berkeley Art Museum tomorrow night, where the Berkeley Center for New Media in conjunction with the Long Now Foundation and KOFY will be holding a Funeral for Analog TV. The event is proceeding as originally scheduled even though Congress did just vote to extend the date of the switch to a digital-only signal, and if you're ready to let your old analog TVs go you can bring them along to be recycled responsibly by the awesome Alameda County Computer Resource Center. My favorite sci-fi author Bruce Sterling will be delivering the eulogy, and Neighborhood Public Radio will be providing video art. Let us mark the demise of the analog signal together.
My DJ shift tomorrow: 3 - 6pm PST, Sunday, December 21 KALX Berkeley 90.7fm
It's difficult for me to explain why I love Phil Kline's Unsilent Night so much. I tried to do so on tape for someone tonight and I think I failed miserably. It is the darkest night of the year tonight, but there I was in the Mission, one of my favorite places in the entire world, joining my boombox with at least a hundred others, all of us playing Kline's fantastic piece, divided up into parts but coming together in a sublime whole. It was my fourth year, Sasha's first, and we spent some time at the front of the crowd before taking a timeout on the steps of Mission Dolores to just listen as the rest of the group flowed past us on their way back to the top of Dolores Park. I think a lot of people were already out of town for the holidays as a lot of houses remained dark as we walked by, but I saw one fellow come to his window and slide it open to hear better. I live for moments like that one, that even while having an intensely personal experience of beauty I can also share it with other people, friends and strangers alike. And the light only grows brighter from here.
My DJ shift tomorrow: 3 - 6pm PST, Sunday, December 14 KALX Berkeley 90.7fm
Today was one of those perfect Bay Area days, mostly sunny with one quick rainshower, crisp and cold, filled with awesomeness:
Feria Urbana at Pizzaiolo, where I picked up a rad tee by The Girl and Rhino and then ate toast with lime marmalade and washed it down with a Blue Bottle mocha. Feelings of invincibility inevitably followed.
The San Francisco Center for the Book Holiday Fair, which was filled from end to end with even more beautifully-printed paper than usual. I finally settled on an amazing letterpress calendar depicting the coolest swimming pools in the world (like Sutro Baths and the Sacred Pool of Hieropolis in Turkey) by Aviary Press. It includes a quote by Jacques Cousteau: "From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free."
I don't know why it makes me so happy to see hundreds of drunken Santas rampaging through the Mission, chucking snowballs in Dolores Park and generally creating good-natured mayhem. It just does.