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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wrenching the Castro into the news

Fresh paint, bright banners, million-dollar condos:
"These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village..."


The Times story about the demise of gay neighborhoods is so squarely on the post-gay beat that I would feel obliged to blog about it even if it weren't so terribly askew in the context department.

Broadly speaking, Patricia Leigh Brown got the story right: the Castro has become a gentrified version of itself that is too precious and expensive to welcome gay refugees from those terribly benighted flyover states, and the need for such a mecca has diminished as those places have become less benighted.

The trouble with the story is that it mixes up distinct phenomena: gentrification, straightification, and Halloween, and it tries to freshen a story without acknowledging that it's twenty years old and far more complex than the story makes it seem.

The Castro is a neighborhood, not a museum. It changes gradually but sometimes radically. Since turning gay thirty years ago, it has followed the gentrification trajectory that has revived or plagued urban neighborhoods (depending on your point of view, which is probably determined by your income) since the Reagan administration at least. What happened in the Castro isn't very different from what happened in SoHo or the Haight Ashbury over the hill--in fact, according to Randy Shilts in his brief history of the neighborhood in The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, it was because rents were going up around Haight and Ashbury that young immigrant gays transfered operations to 18th and Castro. Like artists (which many of them were), gays made the Castro attractive and comparably safe. The neighborhood was unaffordable twenty years ago, a disappointment for young people who wanted to move there whether they were seeking refuge, community, easy sex, or all of the above. It became especially unaffordable, like most parts of San Francisco, after Marc Andreessen commercialized the Web browser twelve years ago. The idea that Arquitectonica condos mark some sort of sea change is nonsense.

the prospect of half-million-dollar condos inhabited by many straight people underscores a demographic shift.

Many straight people? This is reportorial laziness pure and simple, not just because of the safe, virtually meaningless "many," but because it smooths over the single most salient difference between the gays generally and the true victims of urban gentrification (primarily disadvantaged ethnic minorities but also young people generally and artists, though they're typically part of the problem). By and large, the gays have held onto the Castro. The blacks have not held onto the Fillmore. The Italians have not held onto North Beach. Yes, there are strollers and same sex couples marauding through the streets of Eureka Valley, but they were there ten years ago and they were there thirty years ago. As for the gays, the new arrivals may be unable to afford an apartment at Diamond and 19th (join the club), but their older gay brothers and sisters have double incomes, most of them have no kids, and they have jobs in venture capital and law and high-tech. They have stock options. They get their nails done. The gays are getting pushed out of the Castro and other gays are moving in.

And what about those huddled masses of young gay men and women, yearning to live in the gay ghetto? Brown clearly did not do her research at night. There are more fun parties, packed with younger and far more ethically diverse gay crowds, on almost every night, in the Castro, than at any time in my memory. 440 Castro (formerly Daddy's) is packed with kids on Wednesday nights. So is the Bar on Castro on Thursdays, the Cafe on Fridays. These multiracial young people may not be able to call the Castro home--yet--and they may never want to. But they sure do party there, and as the story reports from shrinks with the 'Net-addicted, depressed gay clients, the night life ain't nothing.

The last thing that bothered me about Brown's story is lumping in the Halloween debacle with the gentrification issue. Unrelated! Except, perhaps, if you're going to draw some sort of analogy with the uncostumed straight Muggles wrecking the party for the rest of us. Is the Castro in the grip of a crime wave, of which the Halloween shootings are an integral part? Show me the numbers. I'd be extremely surprised if crime rates in the neighborhood are significantly worse now than they were ten or twenty years ago.

I gave up on Halloween in the Castro long ago, and it had less to do with unwelcome heterosexuals than unparticipatory spectators, teenage rowdiness and, frankly, boredom. That straight woman whose babies wear "I love my daddies" t-shirts? At least she's trying.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hypnagogy report 20071015

let me borrow a pile of rubble
Florida? Go!
there were all these arms that came out
they kicked sand in his face too--I want to hear
it makes me so upset I want to cry
It's People Magazine so you can't expect a reply to email. Don't believe what you hear at the farmer's market. Sit down.
In pictures is she all goofy? No, they all look like him.
We're all chasing the earth's shadow. What else are we doing up here?
What would you do if I wore this outside?
Everything looks OK, as long as you're 15.
Why else would you have water patience?

Monday, October 22, 2007

music review: Louis Lortie and the SF Symphony

Louis Lortie

On Saturday night I went back to ODC Dance Theater with James and our friends Barbara and Lyman for the third and final night of Donna Uchizono's "Thin Air." Rob scored us front-row seats and, at least for James (who danced with the Silesian Dance Theater in Bitom, Poland for the '99-2000 season), the show lived up to my hype. Beforehand we went to dinner at Walzwerk on South Van Ness and had the only mediocre meal I've ever had there. Don't go on a busy night; on a slow one, it's an ace kitchen.

The following day my old friend Emma Moon--another Yale-Juilliard-Yale boomerang--invited me to the symphony for a program of new music: Liszt's Totentanz, Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. Most people probably don't consider any of that new music, but in fact I had never heard a note of it.

When the house lights dimmed and the concertmaster had tuned the orchestra, Kurt Masur came out with a diminutive man in casual black slacks and a black shirt. This guy was a little bit of a zhlub--not just the outfit but the careless management of his remaining hair. Oh shit, I thought as the audience applauded tentatively--Masur accidentally came out with the janitor. It seemed so terribly embarrassing for everybody, but only for a moment, because the janitor proceeded to sit down and play the living daylights out of the Liszt.

The soloist, Louis Lortie, was a total joy to watch--not fun like watching Liberace, young black & white Liberace with the dazzlingly anodyne smile and the wink, ever-ready no matter how many hundreds of notes per second his fingers are flawlessly and charmingly processing. What showed up on this guy's face was a performance unto itself, and a great performance, free of the laborious grimaces that disfigure the faces of so many pianists, and full of evidence, if his playing didn't already drive home the point, that every phrase of the music was part of an incredibly vivid and theatrical narrative. I found myself challenged, as a performer and as a listener, because the story on his face spurred me to listen for more, to hear better, to imagine harder, the way Jody Foster directed one of her child actors: "I want you to go out there and pretend really hard." Lortie is a virtuoso pianist, but more importantly he is a virtuoso pretender. And that's why his impersonation of the janitor was such a nice touch, because it said: It makes no difference what you see when I appear before you, for in a moment I will pull jewels, skulls, succubi, God and the blood-drenched history of Europe out of this piano. He made good on the threat, and when he was through, every single person in Davies Symphony Hall wanted to fuck him.

The Beethoven is a spectacular white elephant of a piece, a musical Moby Dick in its discursive structure and grandiosity. I enjoyed it, especially Lortie's solos, but through much of the piece, as through much of the Liszt, I was reminded of Josefa Heifetz's nasty observation that "variations aren't music." Alexander Nevsky was dazzling--my appreciation of Prokofiev only waxes and never wanes the more I hear. I hadn't heard the symphony chorus in many years and was delighted to see Apparition of the Eternal Church star Ron Gallman in the tenor section, and, newly installed at the first desk of cellists, my old conservatory, SF Symphony Young Musicians Award DC vacation, Lowell High and Juilliard comrade Amos Yang.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dumbledore bats for our team


I'm reminded of Margaret Cho's response to the last Pope's homophobia: "Oh, you a real good judge of normal! Livin alone with all yo mens, in your gowns, surrounded by the finest antiques in the worl..."

Rowling Reveals Harry Potter Secrets


...
The big revelation of the night came when she was asked if Dumbledore had ever found love. With a sigh, she seemed on the verge of saying no, but then revealed, "my truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay." After a collective gasp, the audience roared with applause. Rowling was clearly astonished by the positive reaction and exclaimed, "if I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!" She went on to say that she thought Dumbledore had fallen in love with Grindelwald, a Dark Wizard he defeated in battle in 1945, which possibly made it forgivable that he had not seen Grindelwald's true nature, because "falling in love can blind us to an extent."

(full story)

Emily Litella lives

Anyone who watched the original cast of Saturday Night Live, and many people who didn't, are familiar with Gilda Radner's persnickety and hard-of-hearing heroine Emily Litella, who appeared regularly as a commentator on Weekend Update and complained about contemporary outrages such as "busting schoolchildren" and "the deaf penalty" until Chevy Chase or Jane Curtin set her straight. (Wikipedia lists her other aural misprisions in an informative entry.)

Nothing she did on television is half as hilarious as this segment from her 1979 off-Broadway show Gilda Live, which I discovered courtesy of YouTube:



A year ago, not having seen the Radner act since adolescence, James and I put together this Emily L. tribute, set to the Lovermakers' tune "Shake That Ass," for Trannyshack's Hairisson Street Fair celebration Hair Ball.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dance review: Donna Uchizono's Thin Air


Yesterday, since I wasn't going to a second showing of Appommatox, I was free to accept comps, from my old Youth Orchestra pal Rob Bailis, for a showing of Donna Uchizono's "Thin Air," which plays twice more at ODC Dance Theater (which Rob directs), tonight and Saturday.

"Thin Air" was the perfect antidote to my night at the opera, though at first I didn't recognize it as such. The piece started out with three dancers perched on ladders, bobbing their heads. They bobbed, then they kept bobbing, and when they were through with that they bobbed some more. I didn't think to check my watch but experientially it was about a quarter hour of bobbing. Then, very slowly, someone raised an arm. I thought Oh no. This.

Oh no quickly turned to oh my god. Somewhere early in the unfolding of her ideas (in my case, after the bobbing) Uchizono got our attention and she did not relinquish it until the house lights came up. She has a virtuoso sense of scale, zeroing in on riveting miniatures in one scene and zooming back out to big stark pictures in the next. Her use of video projection was actually poignant. I could try to describe some of her devices but choose not to, because there's so much pleasure in the surprise of watching them emerge.

That said, I'm going to go again Saturday and bring James. For the sheer concentration of interesting ideas, for the high success rate of its many experiments, you should go see this for yourself. So should the creators of Appommatox. Ticket information is here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Boston poster

My movie Apparition of the Eternal Church is playing at the Boston University Messiaen Project international conference "Messiaen the Theologian." It's part of their three-year observance of Messiaen's 100th in 2008.

I spent most of the day working on this variation of the New York premiere poster and the DVD cover art. It will also appear on t-shirts for sale after the show, because documentary filmmakers gotta eat. I'm looking forward to the screening, after which I have 22 hours in which to get nervous about giving the Fantaisie premiere. The Fantaisie (1933) is one of only three pieces that Messiaen wrote for violin and piano, and that's including the single movement from the Quartet for the End of Time. There's no recording of the Fantaisie. So I'm guessing that even in a group of Messiaen scholars, the vast majority of the audience will never have heard the piece.

Click on the poster for a larger version:

About Me

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.

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