Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tab Hunter in The Castro

Noir City 5 continues through the week at the Castro Theatre, with last Sunday's program devoted to an early 1950s double bill starring Evelyn Keyes.

Miss Evelyn is a good girl who marries sailor Wendell Corey for three days before he's shipped off as a sailor where he disappears during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After taking on a new identity, he becomes king of the rackets in Honolulu.

11 years later, Evelyn goes searching for him, and even poses as a taxi girl in "Hell's Half Acre," where she dances with the Asian/Polynesian guys for fifty cents a dance.

The movie was fascinating, with poignant views of Waikiki beach pre-development and racial attitudes that were more nuanced than expected.

At intermission, there was a "special guest" who turned out to be none other than 1950s Teen Idol Tab Hunter, now 76.

Tab recently had his autobiography published, which was written with the assistance of Noir City host Eddie Muller, and they had become friends.

Tab is also neighbors with the 92-year-old Evelyn Keyes in Santa Barbara, where his "partner" visits daily and watches her old movies in a screening room with her. "Look at those tits," she reportedly says. "No wonder I was a star."

Eddie has written a book called "Dark City Dames" that includes a chapter on Evelyn Keyes, whose real life story and character is more outrageous than any film role she ever played.

Both Tab and Eddie were trying their best to be discreet about their old friend, but you could tell they were itching to tell a few stories. Finally, Eddie recounted how he would ask dumb questions during interviews with the old stars to get everyone comfortable, such as "What is your favorite word?" He related that one actress chose the word "harmony" and somebody else "poetry," but when Evelyn Keyes was asked the question, she answered without hesitation: "Cocksucker!"

Monday, January 29, 2007

Queen Beth in North Beach

Never having indulged in internet dating and/or sex, I still find it exciting and bewildering encountering people in the flesh who I have only known in the online world.

After being virtual pen pals for over a year with the smart, witty writer Beth Spotswood (click here for her blog), I finally met her on Saturday night.

The occasion was a celebration of Beth's 29th birthday at the Washington Square Bar and Grill, and the experience didn't disappoint.

Part of the fun was meeting the large cast of characters Beth has been writing about for the last couple of years...

...including her sweet roommate...

...along with her baby brother...

...and her best friend Zoe.

There were a few other bloggers at the event, including Sam Breach (above), who I think of as the Queen of the Food Blogs over at her magnificent "Becks and Posh" (click here), though she maintains that she doesn't covet that particular title.

Also present was Eve Batey (unpictured), who used to be the editor of SFist (click here) but who is now working for the San Francisco Chronicle's website, where Beth has just been hired for a weekly essay on their Culture Blog (click here for a sample). Eve's brilliant predecessor at SFist, Jackson West (above), also showed up for the party looking relaxed and charming.

Many of us drank way too much, but it was a young persons' party so it continued late into the night.

Even though Beth's would-be boyfriend, Mayor Gavin Newsom, was in Davos, Switzerland rather than getting hammered at the Tosca bar, we still made a pilgrimage there and continued worshiping at the altar of Queen Beth on the occasion of her birth.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Marsha Hunt at Noir City 5

With perfect timing, there was a light rainfall to slick down the streets for the fifth annual Film Noir Festival (click here for their website), returning to the Castro Theatre after a two-year exile.

Noir City 5 has received a huge amount of press attention in the last week, and probably the best article about the event was written by Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (click here) detailing Eddie Muller, "The Czar of Noir," and his annual movie festival which seems to grow more ambitious every year.

A major part of the fun of this festival is the audience itself...

...which likes to dress up for the occasion.

The number of afficionados seems to get larger the further the original "Film Noir" period recedes (from approximately 1941-1959, with antecedents and "neonoir" successors all over the place).

The special guest for the evening was the 89-year-old actress Marsha Hunt, above.

Her movie career extends from 1935 (click here for the entire imdb.com filmography) to the early 1950s, when she ran afoul of the House Unamerican Activities Committee during the Red Scare because of her outspoken leftist beliefs and defense of her colleagues. After being blacklisted in the movies, all of her subsequent work was in television for the next forty years

There was a reception for fans and Marsha in the small mezzanine of the Castro Theatre, complete with the Marcus Shelby jazz trio, cocktails...

...and Miss Noir City 5, Ivory Madison (above), who posed as the femme fatale on this year's poster.

Marsha spent the entire time signing copies of a coffee-table book from 1993 that she wrote called "The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then" which according to Eddie Muller is one of the most brilliant, unclassifiable mixes of fashion, politics and philosophy every assembled (click here for the Amazon page where it gets five stars and is still a collectible).

"You don't have to be frumpy and uninterested in fashion just because you're interested in social justice," as Eddie put it during his onstage interview with Marsha between the two movies "Raw Deal" and "Kid Glove Killer."

Marsha not only looked supernaturally youthful for her age but her mind is still sharp and she's a graceful speaker with a streak of goodnatured humor.

"How did I get my start in Hollywood? How long do you have tonight, anyway? Hollywood has always been a very childlike place. Not childish, mind you, but childlike. For instance, if you give a child a plateful of food and tell them they can eat anything on the plate except for the spinach, then their immediate reaction will be to want the spinach more than anything. Well, some publicist friends of mine in New York talked me up in Hollywood, and then told everyone that I would never be available. In other words, I became the spinach, and everyone wanted me."

She had wonderful stories about the director Fred Zinnemann, whose first film as a director was "Kid Glove Killer," and Claire Trevor, her costar in "Raw Deal," and she seemed amused at how film noir, with its unredeemed characters going through their grim, fateful paces had become "such a cult, I guess you could call it."

The lady radiated such warmth and charm that you could believe it when she claimed that there was no personal bitterness over her blacklisting. "I spent the next 25 years working with the United Nations in its earliest years, and after being an actress with all its self-absorbtion, it was wonderful to be outwardly directed and give something back to the world."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let Us Then Try

The weekly Quaker/Buddhist/What-Have-You Peace Vigil continues on Thursdays at noon in front of San Francisco's Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue.

Unfortunately, we not only have the Iraq War and the withdrawal of U.S. troops to worry about, but the murderous lunatics currently in charge of the U.S. government and Israel now want to attack Iran, and they are not making their plans particularly secret. Another troop carrier division just left the San Diego region for the Persian Gulf last week according to friends of my mother.

At Chris Floyd's "Empire Burlesque" website (click here), he makes a chilling case for the disaster we are currently facing. Here's an excerpt:
"The very best outcome of a war with Iran – the most benign result possible to imagine – will be deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and a floodtide of terror and carnage set loose on a world in overwhelming economic crisis. That is the best possible outcome. The worst is the slaughter of tens of millions of innocent people from the nuclear attacks that we know George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have advocated in their maniacal war planning: tens of millions dead, hundreds of millions poisoned, whole nations brought to ruin and a planet mortally sickened. Between these two poles of ungodly mass slaughter and unfathomable genocide lie the only possible realistic outcome of a war with Iran. And we stand on the very brink."

Another great piece worth reading is a recent Lance Mannion essay about "irrational hatred" by liberals towards Bush, and what a crock that particular meme is. Click here to check it out.

The next two months will pretty much tell the tale whether the madmen in D.C. can be restrained by other powerful forces there, or if we're all sliding into hell together. Do what you can, and praying's not a bad idea.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

San Francisco Ballet's Opening Night Gala

The San Francisco Ballet opened its 2007 season with an Opening Night Gala at the Opera House on Wednesday evening.

For the wealthier patrons, there were a series of cocktail receptions, dinners, and a post-performance party held in City Hall and the Veterans Building next door.

For the not-so-wealthy patrons, you could buy a Standing Room ticket for $20 and not only enjoy the show, but you could help yourself to decent free champagne during the 7-8 PM Champagne Promenade in the Opera House lobby.

The standing room tickets were supposed to cost $25 for the Gala, but the San Francisco Examiner missprinted the price as $20, and the company honored the lower price which was sweet of them.

The company has also installed a two-tier pricing system this year where subscribers pay substantially less than single ticket buyers ($10 vs. $18 in the balcony, for instance) but this has had the unintended effect of making standing room tickets for the season $18, which seems like a drastic jump from last year's $10.

I pointed this out to a few people who worked for the company, and they were surprised at the news of the standing room price, so maybe this will be amended before the season actually begins next week.

There are plenty of serious balletomanes like Grove Wiley, above, who live on limited means and this price hike would just cut into part of the company's most dedicated audience.

But enough about money, this evening is all about looking at rich people and their costumes.

Upstaging everybody before the show began were a dozen impossibly good-looking young men who had been hired to dress in vintage red Cartier jeweler outfits.

They stood at each entrance to the auditorium looking immensely decorative.

Another one of the joys of the Gala is being surrounded by young San Francisco Ballet students who are wildly enthusiastic, excited...

...and often bitchily funny...

...especially when pointing out fashion disasters such as the lady above.

The Gala Program is usually a series of silly bonbons to keep the party crowd happy, but this year's version was better than usual.

Act I started with "Aunis," a 1979 French folk-dance piece by Jacques Garnier for three men set to a recorded accordion score. It was completely charming, and so were the dancers: Nicolas Blanc, Pascal Molat, and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba.

Then it was on to a Pas de Deux from "The Sleeping Beauty" which has one of my favorite and most frequent credits in classical ballet, "after Petipa," referring to the original old Russian choreographer. This was followed by a literal one-man show where a shirtless Davit Karapetyan choreographed, lit, costume designed and danced himself into outrageously convoluted positions to some recorded music from "Matrix Revolutions." It was short and sensational.

The following dance was a Pas De Deux from a Helgi Tomasson piece, which is always problematic because he's a very, very boring choreographer, and he's also the director of the company. This was followed by a 1976 Frederick Ashton homage to Isadora Duncan set to five Brahms Piano Waltzes, danced beautifully by Molly Smolen. Instead of being borderline ridiculous like Vanessa Redgrave dancing in the 1960s movie "Isadora," it was quite touching and beautiful. The final piece was another Helgi Tomasson number that unfortunately made the music of Benjamin Britten dull, which is unforgivable.

After intermission, there was another Pas de Deux "after Petipa" from "Giselle," followed by an odd, arty thing called "Bitter Tears" choreographed by "Choreographer in Residence" Yuri Possokhov for the soon-to-retire dancer Muriel Maffre. The dance has her enter in a huge 18th century hoop skirt where she flits around a countertenor (male soprano) who is singing an aria from an extremely obscure Handel opera "Tolomeo Re d'egitto (Ptolemy, King of Egypt)." Muriel sprawled on the floor at one point and slithered out of her hoop skirt whereupon she did all kinds of interesting movement while Mark Crayton sang on. And major props to Crayton for singing and dancing at the same time.

This was followed by a crowd-pleasing 1978 showpiece called "L'Air D'Esprit" choreographed by Gerard Arpino for the Joffrey Ballet, and danced extraordinarily well by Tina LeBlanc and Gennadi Nedvigin. A wonderful Pas de Deux from Christopher Wheeldon's "After The Rain" with music by Arvo Part was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. The bodies onstage all night were smashingly beautiful, but even by those high standards, Damian Smith stood out. As one elderly gentlemen next to me said at the end, "That may be a perfect human body."

The evening ended appropriately with the final movement of Balanchine's 1947 "Symphony in C" by Bizet, which was danced by almost the entire company. It was a fun evening.