March 24, 2008

Here's to Being Here

For my 32nd birthday I bought myself a new blog. The entry below is my last post on Astrarium, and if you'd like to follow my meanderings you may now find them on Hope to see you there!


Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient was a very important book to me when I first read it, well before Anthony Minghella (R.I.P.) ever committed the story to film. I was entranced by the way Ondaatje chose to tell his tale, jumping forward and backward in time, and shifting perspective from character to character. He employs a few of the same narrative techniques in his new novel Divisadero, this time to tell the story of two Bay Area sisters and the event that divides them. But while separation is a major theme of the book, so are the random encounters and personal relationships that give a human life its shape. Ondaatje has a film editor's knack for pacing and mood, and if you've never picked up The Conversations, transcripts of his dialogues with Walter Murch about the art of editing film, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The San Francisco street Divisadero is referenced several times in Ondaatje's book, and it was on that exact street that I found myself Tuesday night to see Jason Collett at the Independent. I had gotten a free ticket through KALX, but when I got to the window they handed me two tickets instead of the expected single. After a few exploratory calls to friends I thought might be likely candidates for spontaneous weeknight music, I finally handed my extra to the next guy who walked up, a nice fellow who bought me a beer as a thank you. The show itself was sparsely attended, unsurprising for the night after St. Patrick's Day, but Collett was in perfect form, singing his heart out and giving me chills. At one point in the middle of the set he briefly dismissed his band to debut some new songs he'd written on tour, including a snazzy number about the famous Chicago madams the Everleigh sisters that made me suspect he'd just read the same guilty-pleasure biography about them that I had, Sin in the Second City.

Speaking of guilty pleasures, this week I made up for the last month of Criterion DVDs by watching Joy Ride, a 2001 movie co-written by J.J. Abrams that felt like a cross between a Dean Koontz thriller and, well, a J.J. Abrams series. Two brothers, played by Paul Walker and Steve Zahn, find their lives being threatened as they're driving cross-country, thanks to a prank they play using a CB radio, and it's Zahn that makes the movie worth watching. Walker's wooden delivery makes it easy for the very talented Zahn to steal every single scene they're in together, and I've seen X-Files episodes more intense than Joy Ride. Leelee Sobieski is in it too, but her presence doesn't really add the intended dramatic tension as I wanted her to get kidnapped and stay kidnapped.

Saturday I took advantage of the gorgeous weather the Bay Area was experiencing and did some gallery-hopping. First up was the Bucheon Gallery in Hayes Valley, where the group show Landscape, Nature and Space loosely tied together art that fell into those three categories. I was drawn most to the relatively representational "nature" paintings: Eckhard Etzold's unsettling taxidermy and skeletons, and Margaret Wall-Romana's epic merging of classical landscape with still-life.

I then breezed over to 49 Geary to see Jordan Eagles's new blood paintings at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art. Eagles does indeed use real animal blood to create luminous large-scale works in which he preserves the fluid under layers of resin, divorcing it from its origins in a way that can allow the viewer to observe it from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Except I can never forget that blood has to come from a creature that was once alive, so I seesawed from marveling at the sheer beauty of the work to suppressing a reflexive shudder.

My last stop Saturday afternoon was SFMOMA, not for any of the exhibits but to see Sholay, a Hindi version of a western directed by Ramesh Sippy. Almost four hours long, the film follows two petty thieves as they are recruited by a former police officer to help bring a no-good bandit to justice. All of the classic western themes play out Bollywood-style (civilization vs. lawlessness, justice vs. vengeance, good vs. evil) with the protagonists bursting into song and dance at every opportunity. This was the latest in SFMOMA's excellent series Non-Western Westerns, and I'm going to try to catch a few more films before they wrap it up in April.


Jason Collett
Joy Ride
Bucheon Gallery
Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art