Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pier 24 Photography

Madame Le Chef and myself are vacationing at home this summer and we’ve been having a very good time. I’ve now lived in San Francisco for 34 years and feel qualified to say (contrary to the usual geezer line) that the city is better and more beautiful than ever. One of the fairly new cultural additions is Pier 24 Photography. This is a private photography collection housed in a renovated warehouse on a pier under the Bay Bridge. In order to see an exhibition you have to sign up on line. They only let 20 people in at a time and it's free.

The current show is called "Here" and consists of photographs shot in the extended Bay Area by photographers based here or passing through. Because California has been a magnet for photographers the lineup of artists is pretty amazing, going from Watkins and Muybridge through Weston, Arbus and Frank, up to the present day. The revelation of the exhibit is Larry Sultan. They gave an entire room to his show "Homeland" which he shot from 2007 to 2009, the year of his death. He photographed Hispanic looking men posed on bits of undeveloped land next to various suburban developments. Obviously the photos make a historical point but are also just beautiful images. I would recommend the exhibit just for Sultan's work but the whole thing is wonderful. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Briefly Noted

Of course this billboard (click) makes no sense. It wouldn't make much sense if it were on a rural highway, where it was apparently intended to be, because the motorcycle cop behind the billboard is more a creature of 50s Hollywood films and magazine cartoons then current reality. (Last time I looked, most of the traffic seemed to be on the superhighways.) But on the side of a yoga studio on Cortland Avenue, in Bernal Heights, it's ludicrous.

It does, however, conjure up the vision of a cop interrupting his downward dog pose and leaping up from the yoga mat to run outside and give a speeder a ticket. What were they thinking?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ed Hardy Tattoo the World

It’s currently fashionable among hip young people to hate on the various lines of Ed Hardy clothing, shoes, coffee cups etc that apparently generate tens of millions of dollars in sales around the world. The bureau chief, who prefers his clothes without images or visible trade marks, has no problem with that reaction but there is a delightful historical irony to the scorn. That tattoos are now popular and indeed virtually omnipresent among young people, in a way that was impossible to imagine in the 1960s, is because of the very same Ed Hardy and also of Lyle Tuttle.

This is made clear in Emiko Omori’s excellent documentary, “Ed Hardy Tattoo the World”. (Full disclosure: Emiko is a friend of myself and Madame Le Chef). The film is not currently in theaters but will hopefully be out on DVD later this year. Madame Le Chef and I were lucky enough to see a screening of it at the San Francisco Art Institute where Ed Hardy was an undergraduate print-making student in the 1960s. He was good enough to be offered a graduate fellowship to Yale but he turned away from "fine art" and entered the then outré world of tattooing.

Hardy worked as a tattooist for 40 years and only stopped a couple of years ago to devote himself totally to painting, drawing, ceramics and other forms. He currently has a show at the SFMOMA Artist's Gallery  at Fort Mason if any Bay Area readers are interested. We saw it this past Saturday.

The gallery is in a great setting. Click.

A self portrait.

Baron Samedi?

I don't know Russian.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Red Beard

Akira Kurosawa's "Red Beard" begins with a man in a kimono, a short sword in his sash, walking. The camera is behind him, looking up, and his head and back fill the center of the screen. He's walking towards a cluster of wooden building that indicate we're in pre-20th century Japan. If you're a fan of Kurosawa, you've seen this shot in many of his samurai films, and the man's sword indicates that he is a member of that class, but rather than being an errant swordsman, he's a young doctor, straight out of medical school, who has been sent to do his residency at a clinic. This is a story of doctors, and of the people they take care of, shot like a widescreen, black and white, samurai epic. It's a great film.

The two central characters of the film are Dr. Yasumoto (Yuso Kayama), the character we saw at the beginning of the film, and "Red Beard", Dr. Niide (Tosiro Mifune), the director of the clinic. The central story of the film is the development of Dr. Yasumoto from a spoiled, self centered, young jerk to a compassionate and dedicated doctor, under the gruff tutelage of Red Beard.

In a previous post I compared Kurosawa and Capra. Watching this film I thought of Kurosawa and Dickens. They both managed to combine a belief in the goodness of people with a totally bleak vision of the poor's plight, suffering under a callous and corrupt social system. This vision allowed them to alternate sentimental scenes with scenes of the blackest humor. This is not an action film but there is one fight where Red Beard explains to a bunch of pimps, who are trying to prevent the two doctors from removing a 12 year old girl from a brothel, that, “You know, a bad doctor can kill you. I won’t kill you, but I might break a couple of arms or legs." You should listen to your doctor.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen has made a film almost every year since 1977, when he made probably his best film, "Annie Hall". He was on a roll through the 70s and 80s but quality declined in the 90s and in the 00s of this century. The bureau chief, who at one time saw every Allen film that came out, adopted the wait for the reviews and see method after watching some truly wretched efforts. Expectations have been greatly diminished so it's a pleasure to be able to say that "Midnight in Paris", the director's latest, is a very enjoyable little film.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter who despises his own trade. He has a sexy but horrible fiancée, Rachel McAdams, and equally horrible future inlaws, and he wishes that he could be working on his novel, in 1920s Paris, among the Lost Generation. He gets his wish, after midnight, every night. It's an English Major's wet dream where he gets to hang out with Hemingway, Scott and Zelda and Gertrude Stein. He also meets a lovely French woman, Marian Cotillard, who, a woman of the 1920s, longs for the Belle Epoque of the turn of the 20th century. Clearly this is a wry meditation on the nature of nostalgia but with a light touch.

The film is funny. The biggest crowd pleaser is Hemingway, played by unknown-to-me Cory Stoll, as a Hemingway hero speaking Hemingway prose. But Allen gets humor from all the notables who appear, to the point where just their appearing is amusing. This film, and "Vicky Christina Barcelona" demonstrate that the director still has some things to show us.