Saturday, March 20, 2010

Over the Top Sex Comedy Thrills at the Asian American Film Festival

Director Quentin Lee and actress Karin Anna Cheung

A sold-out audience gasped, laughed and even yelled loudly throughout director Quentin Lee’s unpredictable sex comedy "The People I’ve Slept With" at the Castro Theatre on March 14. The film was chosen as a Centerpiece Film for the 2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Beautiful lead actress Karin Anna Cheung and director Quentin Lee, a UC Berkeley alum, attended the screening.

The gay element of the film occurred in its first few minutes, as Cheung’s self-described promiscuous character is seen in the throes of lurid passion with different men, and her voice-over details her comparison to sexually active gay men. Director Lee is openly gay, and effervescent gay Latino actor Wilson Cruz did some of his best work as a guy who enjoys sex with as many different men as possible. The first part of the film was a fascinating tribute to two people dedicating their lives to sexual pleasure.

Cheung’s character even had sexual baseball cards, which were Polaroid snapshots of the Asian, White, Black, and Latino men she had thrashed around with, and a few women also. And the cards become important to her when she discovered that she was pregnant, and the most likely father was among the snapshots. Archie Kao of TV’s "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" was a lead, and so was legendary actor James Shigeta. Shigeta starred in the 1961 film "Bridge to the Sun" as a lead with glamorous White actress Carrol Baker when such interracial casting was unheard of.

Actor Cruz’s character realized that while he is helping with the daddy hunt that one of his conquests is someone he should not have discarded. His pursuit of love ends up in a surprising finale for someone so dedicated to variety, and the character played by Cheung has a decidedly ambiguous finale to her full tilt desperate rampage through the lives of the men who may have impregnated her. Both Cheung and Cruz’s characters transcend their previous lives, a goal of films, novels, and other creative art.

Lead actors Cheung, Cruz, and Kao are impossibly good-looking and their acting energy varied measurably to add texture and to present an unusually message-filled creation, especially for a sex comedy.

The Asian American Film Festival was programmed from March 11 through March 21, and this is year 28 of the largest festival dedicated to Asian American cinema. Diverse films were screened and there were party-hopping, online contests, and interactive projects. The opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum was packed with supporters as well as directors, actresses, actors, and David Chiu, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

And again Karen Larsen and her crew from Larsen Associates public relations drew large audiences to the various events.

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Patrick’s Day on Castro Street: A Wild Night for the Big Green Holiday

Sarah Al-Kassab, unidentified guest, DJ Joan Crawford Texas, and Alex Hannun at Café Flore

One of San Francisco’s premiere party areas, the Castro, did not disappoint on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

The neighborhood’s last blue collar bar, The Mix, was even more packed than usual, and an ocean of green beer was consumed. Men and women in green T-shirts and hats were crushed up against each other, and they celebrated in grand style.

Bruce Beaudette and friend at Café Flore

Café Flore served multiple shepherd’s pies, green mojitos, and quarts of green beer with a smile. Shimmering green absinthe was poured with a sugar cube.

Absinthe is linked with the infamous pairing of famed French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Rimbaud was 17 and Verlaine was 28 when he introduced the boy to absinthe and sodomy. Their relationship was realistically displayed in the 1995 film “Total Eclipse” with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud and David Thewlis as Verlaine. Reportedly DiCaprio’s mother placed a protective pillow over his butt before Thewlis engaged in an infamous sodomy scene after multiple glasses of absinthe were drunk. DiCaprio was 21 at the time, but he did seem to have a fully involved stage mother. Gay audiences have embraced the film and it is especially popular with queer college youth, who drink absinthe during screenings.

Carl With Records at Magnet's Smack Dab

Larry-Bob Roberts and Kirk Read hosted another Smack Dab open mic show at Magnet on the big green holiday, and a literary crowd converged on the Castro’s cultural and medical center. Featured performer Carl With Records showed up to sing wearing a Baby Jane Hudson wig and makeup, a green spangled gown, and a hat with frog dolls wrestling each other on it. Guests were divided on his singing, some calling it caterwauling and others said it was sophisticated, expressive karaoke.

The Q Bar placed green lighting throughout the bar and in its doomed smoking lounge, so that all of their imbibers had a St. Patrick’s Day glow, and green drinks were popular.

Steve Adams, the president of the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro (MUMC) was checking out the festivities with congressional aide Miguel Bustos and the Castro’s ubiquitous three naked guys added green hats and beads to their usual flip-flops and cock ring attire.

It was a wild celebration but not out of control, as seen in some neighborhoods. No one tried to turn over a bus and there were no mass street fights, so the Castro St. Patrick’s Day is a moderate traditional party for locals and tourists.

Friday, March 12, 2010

International Women’s Day Celebration at the Library: A Revelation of Women’s Talent

Writers Nina Serrano, Michelle Tea, Diane di Prima, Priscilla Lee and Janice Mirikitani

Current San Francisco Poet Laureate Diane di Prima said that she was surprised and pleased that all of the women writers that she invited as hostess for "A Celebration of International Women's Day" at the San Francisco Main Library on March 9 agreed to participate. The Library’s Joan Jasper was the initial greeter, and she welcomed the readers and the audience.

Di Prima’s recent inauguration on Feb. 2 as San Francisco Poet Laureate had packed the Koret Auditorium and a nearby overflow room — an indication of the affection for di Prima and for poetry. She is the author of nearly four dozen books, and she was one of the few published woman authors of the Beat and Hippie eras. Di Prima is also a prose writer, playwright, social activist, teacher, and the mother of five.

Di Prima gave a short history of International Women's Day around the world then spoke about continuing disgraceful gender inequality. She spoke about a United Nations study that stated when housework is included, women do two thirds of the work and receive 5 percent of the pay they are due, and that they are only receiving 77 cents of a dollar that men receive for the same or similar work. She had not planned to perform her work, but an audience member insisted, and the crowd was pleased when she emoted her poetry.

Published poet Priscilla Lee read about how wearing jockey shorts changed the power balance with her husband, and about the tribulations of the Sunset neighborhood, where “Chinese families go after doing time in Chinatown.” Lee said that her family considered her a freak because she preferred to revere Boy George instead of Mick Jagger like other local youth. She spoke about her experiences in the Sunset to be all about the gritty odors of fish and crab, tequila shots and shark fin soup dumplings, and the fog and stucco, which drew nervous, knowing laughter.

devorah major and Janice Mirikitani

devorah major, a past Poet Laureate of San Francisco, was late for the forum since she was teaching a science fiction writing class. She is a supporter of poetry as an art form that can please and empower, and writes about how to deal with the creative challenges of city life. She read about a heroic Black woman in the 19th century and stated that the Taliban’s biggest nightmare is to be defeated by armed aggressive women in combat units. major read from her poetry about uncompromising, outspoken women and how they can get what they want and deserve.

Poet Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco’s second Poet Laureate, is a visionary and community activist, a novelist and an essayist. She has served at Glide Church for 40-plus years as a founding president of the Glide Foundation, funding a health clinic and housing for low-income citizens. She spoke about women rising above addiction for reclaimed lives. She recounted the landmark case of Inez García, a woman jailed for two years for killing a rapist in self-defense in 1974. Mirikitani and her husband Rev. Cecil Williams welcomed García to Glide Church and provided for her defense fund. The trial of Inez García was a rallying point for Bay Area feminists and her subsequent exoneration was an important legal milestone. Another victimized woman mentioned by Mirikitani was "Tokyo Rose" Iva Toguri, an American citizen who was induced to speak on Japanese propaganda radio broadcasts after being trapped in Japan at the outbreak of World War II and later wrongly convicted of treason in San Francisco in 1948.

Nina Serrano, Michelle Tea (seated), and Diane di Prima

Author Nina Serrano is well known as a poetry workshop teacher at Oakland’s La Peña Cultural Center and as a KPFA 94.1 FM radio host who reads stories in schools and who has received awards for her films. She has published books of her poetry and her work appears in several anthologies. Serrano is also co-founder of San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. She remarked that she had expected a packed auditorium, and quoted this journalist, who spoke to her earlier about San Franciscans, who unlike residents of Seattle and Portland, stay home when there is a threat of rain. She then spoke in a syncopated voice that women hold up half the sky, and while some people see praying hands in the design of Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light, she sees a vagina.

The last reader was Michelle Tea, author of four memoirs and a novel, a masterful arts event organizer, and the center of the traveling, rapturously creative women's cultural group Sister Spit. Her Radar Reader Series at the San Francisco Main Public Library and other venues feature diverse and exciting authors, and the Q&A is lively because participants receive homemade cookies. Her compelling work covers feminist, queer, prostitution, race, class, and other themes. Her reading revealed that she has an unusual take on needy queer youth and older gays, considering what has occurred in the Castro and the Haight neighborhoods — she thinks that older gays want to help the youth on sight.

The event was an entertaining adventure and consciousness-raising phenomenon that was only possible because of the stupendous talent on the stage.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Leather Alliance Dinner: 44 Years of Service With Leather and Fetish

Performer Clint and friend

On March 5–7 the SF Bay Area Leather Alliance presented a splendid Leather Bound Weekend. The March 5 kickoff dinner at the Hotel Whitcomb set the stage for a celebration of leather, motorcycle clubs, and fetishes. Community awards were bestowed upon worthy individuals and groups, and tables full of guests loudly applauded the honorees. The three Mr. San Francisco Leather contestants were presented and they impressed with provocative fantasies. There was an almost equal number of women and men at the dinner, and they freely mingled and caroused.

The SF Bay Area Leather Alliance is a volunteer organization that provides public service and grants for members who are recovering from motorcycle crashes and illness. There is bonding and camaraderie, and the members enjoy being with others who receive fulfillment from volunteering.

The Leather Alliance was formed when The Inter-Club Fund of San Francisco and The Leather Forum merged in 2008. The Inter-Club Fund was one of the earliest LGBT groups, dating back to 1966.

The dinner featured the Mr. SF Leather Contest, and it has been choosing a leader and a spokesman for the leather community for 32 years now.

One of the most outrageous events of the Inter-Club Fund was the CMC Carnival — a large, erotically charged bacchanal held in basements, cab garages, and warehouses. Now the group presents the Leather Alley at the annual San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration, as well as group motorcycle rides and a holiday volunteer appreciation party.

BubblinSugare was bestowed the Entertainer of the Year Award by hosts Lenny Broberg and Donna Sachet

Hosts Donna Sachet and Lenny Broberg expertly wove the scheduled events together and exhibited excellent repartee. Broberg warned the judges that Sachet lusted for them. Sachet denied it almost to the end of the evening, and then requested extra cocktails for the judges so that they would be immobilized. The audience hung on every clever sarcastic remark and sharp comeback. Hopefully Sachet and Broberg will host this year’s live San Francisco Pride Parade television broadcast.

Scott Peterson (left) and friends

Notable guests included Powerhouse Bar manager Scott Peterson, who not only bought a table for his employees, but he also generously served them drinks throughout the evening.

Contestant Robbie Leonard

Contestant Stefanos Tiziano

Contestant Lance Holman

Leather clothing designer and master stylist Troy Anicete prepared stunning Mr. SF Leather contestant Robbie Leonard, and youths Clint and Rachel took the brunt of contestant Stefanos Tiziano’s faux stage fantasy brutality. Striking contestant Lance Holman won the title and his stage fantasy of surprising a burglar during a shower and forcefully subduing, beating and sexually mauling the perp was being discussed in awe for days afterwards.

Dykes on Bikes secretary Soni Wolf described her two years of service on the San Francisco LGBT Pride Board, stressing the importance of a leather presence and her organizing experience.

Katie Brown accepted the Most Visible Community Organization Award for the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes

President Dahn Van Laarz with Seth Munter who was recognized with the Frank Benoit Award

A lot of hard work and time went into the weekend’s event, and much of the credit goes to Leather Alliance president Dahn Van Laarz, who intuitively drew the best out of group members, and to dinner program designer Bill Hollabaugh. Both have tirelessly worked for the betterment of the leather/biker/fetish community for years and they have the skill to coordinate popular future events.

This journalist has a connection to the Leather Alliance, attending many of the Inter-Club Fund events since the early 70s and having been voted a 2006 Motorcycle Awards "Man of the Year." Hopefully more members and groups will join the Leather Alliance so that its future will be assured by young acolytes.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

HUD Town Hall Meeting on LGBT Housing Discrimination in San Francisco

Raphael Bostic, HUD Assistant Secretary, Ken Stram, Director of Economic Development at the SF LGBT Community Center, and Theresa Sparks, Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission

More than 120 people gathered in the San Francisco LGBT Community Center’s Rainbow Room on March 1 for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Town Hall Meeting on housing discrimination against the LGBT community.

The attentive audience was drawn by the news that the HUD bureaucrats would be traveling to San Francisco to listen to citizens’ comments about the proposed national study on home sale and rental bigotry. HUD assistant secretaries Raphael Bostic and John Trasviña made it clear that because same-sex marriage is still not a national reality, the State of California and the City of San Francisco can provide expansive protection against unfair treatment. And they stated that since HUD is a landlord, they can work against housing discrimination toward LGBT citizens and people with HIV/AIDS in their properties.

The listening part of the meeting brought a convergence of some well known community activists to the microphone:

Melanie Nation of the County of Marin Human Rights Commission spoke about the shocking cases of discrimination she had encountered.

AIDS Housing Alliance executive director Brian Basinger said that he has been trying for years to get HUD and people with AIDS together, and he said that he wanted the reality of gay poverty and homelessness to be made known. He added that more government funding would then be possible because the need would be established.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca from the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco backed up what Basinger said by describing in detail the myth of widespread gay wealth and its origins. And Avicolli Mecca said that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in the HUD guidelines in receiving housing funding for tangible change. He told the harrowing story of a battered homeless queer youth and the need for more shelters and permanent housing for LGBT youth.

AIDS Legal Referral Panel (ALRP) executive director Bill Hirsh spoke about his organization’s work to provide legal advice to people with HIV/AIDS and how he hoped that HUD would support ALRP’s efforts in serving more than 2,000 clients a year.

San Francisco City Supervisor David Campos and Cecilia Chung, president of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, eloquently spoke from the stage about the toll of discrimination on the community, and they welcomed the HUD listening tour to the event at The Center.

Raphael Bostic, HUD Assistant Secretary, Brian Basinger, AIDS Housing Alliance Executive Director, John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary, and Cecilia Chung, President of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission

Monday, March 01, 2010

German Gems at the Castro Theatre

"Tender Parasites" producer Juliane Thevissen with German Gems festival director Ingrid Eggers

The German Gems films were presented at the Castro Theatre on Feb. 28, and the one day of new German cinema drew large appreciative crowds. Even the noon screening on a Sunday filled most of the seats.

A series of unfortunate happenings brought about the temporary collapse of the annual German-language Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, so Ingrid Eggers, the resourceful, recently retired former director of San Francisco’s German cultural center, the Goethe Institut, stepped in to coordinate a one-day celluloid festival.

San Francisco is internationally known for possessing a large and vibrant ethnic German community, and the Goethe Institut, the German Consulate, and diverse German restaurants present creative events that are a unique and charming escape from the mass taste American “Let’s Make a Deal” kitsch culture around us.

The first film was “Tender Parasites (Zarte Parasiten),” a genuinely frightening character study about two young people played by Robert Stadlober and Maja Schöne, who live in the woods and venture out to into the homes of lonely people and attempt to assume of roles of their missing children.

Stadlober was superb. He is famous in Germany and highly regarded for his role in the 2004 gay coming-out masterpiece “Summer Storm (Sommersturm).” His emotional performance strongly affected fans worldwide, and especially at LGBT centers and film festivals. He played a conflicted, closeted gay youth who was in love with his straight best friend and JO buddy. That film was a work of art, and the urgent and subtle mating scene on a dock surpassed the homoeroticism of dozens of other well meaning but ultimately lesser gay-themed movies.

Juliane Thevissen, producer of the festival's opening film "Tender Parasites," joined Eggers onstage for the Q&A after the film ended and applause spread across the theater. The large number of women producers in Germany was discussed, as was the talent and popularity of actor Stadlober.

The reception for the films featured wonderfully aromatic carrot soup from Schmidt’s restaurant, distinctive German beer, and satisfying earthy pizza. The pizza was a conversation piece, and guests wondered how deeply the South Bavarian border intrudes into Northern Italy.

The most highly anticipated film “Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen,” which was directed by exalted director Margarethe von Trotta, and starring impressive actress Barbara Sukowa as Hildegarde von Bingen, a nun who lived 900 years ago, greatly exceeded its PR buildup. Sukowa exquisitely portrayed the sainthood candidate who challenged the church’s overwhelming male dominance to establish her own convent, consistently supported democracy and women’s equality, and became the first woman composer and writer about female sexuality. And with her writings were an inspiration for the Enlightenment, which ended the Medieval era. Sukowa’s performance was phenomenal and breathtaking.

Again, festival coordinator Eggers deserves high praise for her promethean efforts, and public relations icon Karen Larsen of Larsen Associates again did a fine job of drawing large audiences, and even on a sunny day and a rainless evening in the Castro, an area teeming with distractions that could lure guests away from a dark theater. Champion volunteer coordinator Ninfa Dawson achieved another seamlessly-run event, which is important since festivals in the U.S. depend on the work of volunteers. In Germany, the city, state, and federal governments support the arts and most of the workers are paid.

Coordinator Eggers was careful to say that German Gems was not meant to compete with the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. Hopefully that festival will be revived and there will be a plethora of fine German-language films shown over a couple days in the fall.