Monday, January 30, 2006

Kung Fu Kiddies

At the San Francisco Asian Art Museum on the afternoon of Sunday the 30th...

...there was a kung fu demonstration in the ornate Samsung Hall...

...which looks pretty much the same as it did when this building housed the San Francisco Main Public Library.

The demo was introduced by Connie Yu, mother of the three performing children.

I have run into plenty of stage mothers in my checkered career, but this was the first time I'd seen a Kung Fu Stage Mother.

The kids were both cute and awesome in equal measure.

The program notes on the museum's website note the following:
"Siblings Chrystina, Michael, and Robert Yu – collectively known as Jiayo (“more power” or “more strength” in Mandarin) – will perform a dynamic demonstration of wushu in celebration of the Chinese New Year."

"Wushu is a form of Chinese kung fu embodying self defense, determination, and perseverance. It is a time-honored art form honoring the achievement of confidence, health, vitality, strength, power, and inner peace. With advanced skills, they wield weaponry such as chain whips, swords, staffs, spears, and graceful hand forms."

I discovered kung fu movies in 1972 as a teenager in Singapore just before kung fu movies were banned from the island nation because they were a "bad influence," and before they swept the Western world.

The movie palaces were ornate, 3,000 seat affairs with monster curved screens that were perfect for exhibiting widescreen Shawscope spectaculars. (The Shaw Brothers were the Hong Kong version of Warner Brothers during the 1960s and 1970s.) I was often the only gringo in the audience and was quite an object of curiosity.

I don't watch the movies much anymore because my loving Domestic Partner, though he doesn't have a racist bone in his body, hates the sound of the Chinese language, particularly when they are screaming at each other which happens quite a bit in kung fu movies.

Still, I did manage to make it to a multiplex with my friend Joshua last year to see "Kung Fu Hustle," which was easily my favorite movie of the year. It's a truly innovative cross between a Shaw Brothers Spectacle (including the casting of some of their old stars) and a Looney Tunes cartoon. Do check it out from your local DVD store.

And do check out part two of "Traditions Unbound: Groundbreaking Painters of Eighteenth-Century Kyoto" at the Asian Art Museum.

The second half of their installation of Monster Japanese Screens is up until February 26.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Five Favorite Funny Blogs

Though I spend most of my time in the blogosphere on political/journalism sites, they can get a mite dull and depressing, so it's good to have places to go that reliably make me laugh out loud and look at the world in a different way.

First off is Princess Sparkle Pony's Photo Blog created by Peter Huestis in Washington, D.C.

It's fun, well-written and fairly demented, sort of like Peewee's Playhouse for Genius Photoshoppers. Click here to check it out.

Similar in spirit is a site called Dependable Renegade (click here) which is put out by some woman in New York who calls herself "watertiger." It is sheer, unadulterated snark with dozens of wire service photos recaptioned each day with mean, terse text. Many people have tried the same thing, but watertiger is definitely the champion.

The picture above, for instance, is entitled. "That's some walking stick" and the text below the photo of the antiabortion rally reads "Wouldn't it be easier to just use a cane? (Roe v. Wade is 33 today.)"

Thanks to M. C- over at "The Standing Room" (click here), I've recently discovered two blogs that are devoted to fashion, which I could care less about, but they are written with such deadpan wit that both are indispensable.

First off, there's Manolo's Shoe Blog (click here), where somebody pretending-but-not-really to be Manolo Blahnik, the shoe designer, holds forth on footwear and other international fashion questions.

The primary joke is language-based, where the Manolo has decided not to learn any of those annoying little words in English like "a" and instead uses "the" for everything. On first reading, the joke is amusing, but incrementally and with each repetition, the joke gets better and more irresistable. After a while, it's hard not to speak and write like the Manolo too. Here's a sample:
Manolo says, the Manolo’s most recent column for the Express of the Washington Post it is now available for the downloading at their website. Today, the Manolo he discusses the “hip” shoes for the man.

"Dear Manolo,

Can you recommend a pair of hip shoes for a downtown sort of guy?


It is no secret that the Manolo he loves the shoes, but it is perhaps less well known that the Manolo he disapproves of the “hip” shoes for the men.

The “hip” shoe, it is the lamentable trend, with its gaudy colors, and its too-square-or-too-pointy toe, and the ridiculous exotic leathers like the iguana, or the ostrich, or the alley cat.

If it is your desire to look like the Argentine tango pimp then by all means wear the hip shoe.

However, if you wish to be taken seriously, as the adult man should naturally wish to be, then you should remain on the side of tradition."

"Give me spirit fingers dammit!!" (click here) is just about unclassifiable, written by an Australian living in Hong Kong, writing about fashion in Asia and beyond. His photoessays involving wire photos of insane fashion and cool, measured humor are unique.

For instance, his description of the this year's Lunar New Year is priceless, illustrated by Dogs in many outfits:
"Don't forget to offer up a blessing to the various deities that matter, such as the God of Wealth and his wonder dog Prosperity Pooch. Prosperity Pooch has the uncanny ability to sniff out sugar mummies and sugar daddies as well as track down freshly laundered funds for your taking."

Finally, there is a blog called "I'll Flip You. Flip You For Real." (click here) without many pretty pictures like the preceding four, but the young San Francisco writer Beth Spotswood doesn't really need them because her prose is often so brilliant.

A recent favorite is her description of Christmas with the folks in nearby Mill Valley, California where she grew up:
"Everyone thinks their family is weird, right? Well, mine’s weirder and here’s my favorite quote of the weekend. It's Christmas morning and my parents, brother and I are opening presents around the tree along with my uncles, Bill and Ted.
Yep. Bill and Ted.
Bill’s in town from Savannah and had shipped all of his presents in advance, one of them to my mother with the following card attached:

To Joanne, Merry Christmas! Love Chris and Martin.

My mother sits with the gift on her lap, looking slightly confused and innocently asks, “Who are Chris and Martin?”

With utter seriousness and mildly annoyed, my Uncle Bill sighs, “They’re my birds, Joanne.”

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chris Matthews, Begone

There is a boycott brewing over NBC's loudmouth commentator, Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball," who has lately been comparing Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden and cracking fag jokes on a right-wing radio show about "Brokeback Mountain," in between giving oratorical blow-jobs to our demented Commander-in-Chief. I've never been able to watch his TV show, or any of the cable TV news channels for that matter, without getting physically ill, but there are a number of people who have stronger stomachs than me who have decided enough is enough. Chris has stepped over the line, Dr. Laura Schlesinger style.

If you happen to use Intuit (Turbo Tax software makers), Verizon cell phone service, or are considering driving a Toyota, you might want to express your displeasure with their sponsorship of Mr. Matthews' show. Go to this website here, and there is plenty of contact information for you to do just that. I've despised Mr. Matthews ever since reading him for years as the Washington, DC correspondent for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner during the 1990s. He started off years ago as an aide to the corrupt old Democratic pol, Tip O'Neill, and over the years Matthews has essentially became Pat Buchanan with a liberal figleaf.

Well, the figleaf is gone, and it's time to point our fingers at his inadequacies. Please join me.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Old Wealthy Woman of Independent Spirit

When you are self-employed, and there is no work, it is always nervous-making.

On the one hand.

On the other hand, if you've been self-employed more or less for 30 years, you probably have a few wise ways of dealing with sudden free time, which mainly involve appreciating the freedom.

Today was my third day in a row of no work on a weekday and I was quite ready to relax completely and go with the flow.

Though I'm neither elderly nor female nor living on independent means, the entire day I felt rather as if I was an old wealthy woman of independent spirit.

It started with seeing the mostly Asian office workers doing their 10AM dancing Tai-Chi exercise routine in the middle of Civic Center Plaza.

It looked like so much fun that I joined them, though I got a few odd, penetrating looks from one of the three exercise leaders who were taking us through our very gentle paces. I finally realized it was because I was the only man among 50 women.

At City Hall acrosss the street, there was a large group of Asians waiting to get through the metal detectors. I turned to a lawyer/lobbyist who was waiting alongside and asked, "Do you think the group is political or a wedding party?" and one of the women who was part of the group turned around and laughed.

"It's a tour group from China," she told us and indeed it was.

I'm glad the ornate City Hall was worthy of all the crazed camera action.

On the second floor, the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors was meeting in Room 263. Aaron Peskin was beaming like a proud father over his new proposed legislation creating a new Port Commission. Sean Elsbernd looked bored and annoyed, and Mirkarimi looked cagey.

Peskin's charter amendment would explicitly call for various disciplines and areas of expertise for the proposed seven commissionners rather than the accumulation of political hacks that have worked there over the decades.

Since moving here 30 years ago, the official rallying cry has been to Save the Port and the Blue-Collar Shipping Industry, but that always struck me as absurd. Once the container cranes went up in Oakland and the infrastructure grew up around it, there was absolutely no more reason to drop off the manufactured goods of the world in San Francisco. It's time, and long overdue, to revamp the entire waterfront economy to a tourist/recreational one rather than a shipping one which left long ago.

I continued to the weekly peace vigil at the Federal Building.

Everyone was in a very photographic mood, and Larry took my photo with his new cell phone.

Wonderful articles went up on the internet this week by two of my favorite writers in the world: Molly Ivins on why she doesn't want Hilary or any other Democrat who has been an Iraq warmonger running for president (click here) and Gore Vidal relating the Fall of George Bush to grisly Roman history (click here).

Before the peace vigil, I waited for an hour for an inexpensive ticket to the Rhoda Goldman Old Ladies Matinee at the San Francisco Symphony.

The concert was an all-Russian affair (Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky) conducted by MTT in anticipation of the orchestra's tour to Hong Kong and Shanghai.

That is, if the orchestra musicians don't strike next week, which is a real possibility. Does that mean they would also cancel the special Chinese New Year's Special Concert? Yikes!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Noir City 4: Litquake

On Saturday afternoon of the 21st, the Fourth Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival tried a change of pace.

They collaborated with a group of local authors who had started a literary festival in 2002...

...called Litquake, where they could create something as a group rather than spending so much time in the solitary act of writing.

The program was set in the lounge area rather than inside the large theater, presumably because they were using DVDs for the film clips, and there was already an A/V setup in the lounge with a very harassed operator who performed heroically, although all the films were in the wrong aspect ratio.

The emcee Peter Maravelis is the events programmer for City Lights Books, and he was quite brainy, though he kept getting writer's names and titles wrong in his headlong rush to keep the afternoon moving along.

The roster of local writers reading excerpts from various crime novels was certainly a starry one, lead by Joe Gores who has published a huge pile of novels including "Hammett," along with a range of television and film work.

He read from "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, and claimed that the reason the movie was so successful was because John Huston did something revolutionary. "He just filmed the book. Period."

The next writer was Joyce Maynard, a novelist and journalist living in Mill Valley. Her tight red skirt and leopard-print blouse was definitely the sartorial highlight of the afternoon. She read from Raymond Chandler's "Farewell, My Lovely" which reminded me of how fun Chandler is to read.

The dapper-looking novelist Barry Gifford also works in film, co-writing a movie with David Lynch ("Lost Highway") and Matt Dillon ("City of Ghosts").

He pulled out a copy of a letter Raymond Chandler had written to James M. Cain when the former was adapting the latter's novel of "Double Indemnity." It was a really interesting description of how they had tried filming a few scenes using Cain's direct dialogue for the book but how it hadn't worked. What was beautiful as a clump of dialogue on the page merely sounded stilted on a film set.

He read from Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and the following film clip nicely illustrated his point. The scene was almost exactly the same as the written page, but not really. The dialogue was succinctly covering more territory.

Next up was Joe Loya whose memoir the emcee called "The Man Who Outgrew his Self," but Mr. Loya started his reading with a correction. "My book is called 'The Man Who Outgrew his Prison Cell' and it's about my time in San Quentin when I was a bank robber where I got up to 690 pounds and literally outgrew my cell."

He read from "The Asphalt Jungle" by W.R. Burnett, who I'd never heard about before but who had quite a career, writing "Little Caesar" in the 1920s and continuing on with the screenplay for "The Great Escape" in the 1960s.

Daniel Handler, the enormously successful Lemony Snicket creator, looked very pleased with himself, and why not? He read from Patricia Highsmith's first novel, "Strangers on a Train" which was later turned into the Hitchcock movie with Farley Granger.

He told a funny story about having two friends who didn't know each other who both happened to spend some time with Patricia Highsmith. "They both used exactly the same words to describe her, though. She was one of the most unpleasant people they had ever met in their entire lives."

"Strangers on a Train" was an odd choice for the reading because the book and the movie are so radically different. The book is naturalistic and deeply melancholy. In fact, what makes Highsmith's tales so disturbing is that she tells extremely macabre tales in the flattest, most naturalistic style possible.

Hitchcock, on the other hand, enjoys adrenaline and cartoonish characters, such as Marion Lorne above as Bruno's Mom, who in the book is depicted as a slightly distracted socialite.

Winning the hunk-a-chunk award was the author Robert Mailer Anderson who has written an interesting sounding novel called "Boonville."

He read from a Cornell Woolrich short story that eventually became another Hitchcock film, "Rear Window."

Winner of the most beautiful voice of the afternoon was Los Angeles writer Gary Phillips with a rich bass-baritone reading the wildly violent and misogynistic prose of Mickey Spillane, who according to the program is still alive at 87.

The excerpt was from the final scene of "Kiss Me Deadly" where an evil woman bursts into flame and Deserves It!

According to Phillips, the 1955 Robert Aldrich version kept the title and the name Mike Hammer, and that was about it, though the movie clip was the finale of the film where the bad girl opens a box and it has Nuclear Material which makes her burst into flame. And she Deserves It!

Michelle Tea introduced an excerpt from Jim Thompson's "The Grifters" with the comment, "Let me get this over with quickly so we can get to the fabulousness of Angelica Huston," and she'll get no argument from me.

The final reader was Peter Plate, who in a tour-de-force performance recited a large chunk of Charles Willeford's "Miami Blues" from memory.

It was the scene where a handsome young psycopath (played in the 1990 movie by Alec Baldwin at his sexiest) gets off a plane in Miami, has a Hare Krishna put a candy pin into his new suit, which irritates him enough that he breaks the Hare Krishna's two fingers. It was quite a rousing way to end the afternoon.