September 25, 2006
Welcome to death little girl!
at 16th and Harrison waiting for the 22 Fillmore after attending the mini Cornell Woolrich “NOIRtaud” festival at Project Artaud, three nights of noir, noir and noir leaving me wanting moir, moir and moir. At the bus stop someone had written in the cement “Hello Little Flower,” which reminds me of the time I walked down quiet, pleasant, tree-lined Laussat St. specifically to see what there was to discover, and found inscribed in the sidewalk: Welcome to death little girl. Not much further down is a quote from Baudelaire: Les chercheurs du paradis font leur enfer. My rotten French renders this as: Seekers of heaven make their own hell. Feel free to correct me. Across the street is: Beware to you who pass here. And a ways further on, closer to Steiner, is a faded stenciled sigh of resignation: All the signs were there, but no one fucking cared.
You see, even under the most peaceful-seeming façade lurks a fiendish underbelly of noir, invoking death, heaven, hell, foreboding and despair—just like the streets of the Mission after the festival. They are empty and quiet, and, under the influence of noir, I find them seedy, suspect and lonely. This neck of the Mission is a mix of industrial uses, a City College campus, new lofts and artist studios, redolent with the intoxicating yeasty aroma of fresh-baked bread from the Rainbo Bakery Shop.
SO SAN FRANCISCO
A couple who has apparently been here for quite some time before me start to flag down a cab and, sweet of them, ask me if I want to ride with them. But then the bus appears on the horizon and we’re on it. I’m thinking, that festival is so why I live in this city. A fifteen minute ride from my house, Project Artaud used to be a can factory, and for many years has been a performance space, theater, gallery and live/work space for dozens of artists, one of the coolest spots in town. On this occasion it was host to a theatrical reading of Woolrich’s “Angel Face” by acting troupe Word 4 Word, and screenings of Woolrich-based films “Phantom Lady,” “Black Angel,” “Street of Chance” and “The Guilty,” a film so dark it’s not only black and white, it’s charcoal and chalk. If a noir character were watching a noir movie, it would look like this, dark within dark.
A DAME WITH A ROD IS LIKE A GUY WITH A KNITTING NEEDLE
The films were from the collection of Paul Meienberg, who with Mark Dolezal hosts the Danger and Despair Knitting Circle (after the Steve Brodie crack in “Out of the Past”), a bunch of noirheads who collect and trade films and conduct private screenings at undisclosed locations. One must be invited into the fold, and I am proud to say I have made the cut. Oddly, after my own reflection that the Circle is “so San Francisco” Mark countered that my web page is “really what this town is all about,” a gratifying remark instantly entering the annals of greatest compliments I’ve ever received. Enter their world at http://www.noirfilm.com/.
THE MOST EXISTENTIAL WORD IN THE LANGUAGE
Marc distinguishes noir from other dramas thus: “The Classic Mystery asks ‘Who did it?’ The Classic Crime asks ‘Will they get away with it?’ The Classic Noir asks ‘WHY did they do it?’—‘why’ being the single most existential word in the English language.”
Words are a great reason to love noir. Great stories, great language, drama with style. Why indeed. What motivates people? What happens to ordinary people in desperate situations? What lengths will they go to? And what would we do in their place?
Some other snappy lines from “Out of the Past”:
Robert Mitchum: “It was the bottom of the barrel, and I scraped it.”
Kirk Douglas: “Joe couldn’t find a prayer in the Bible.”
Mitchum to big-time gambler Douglas: “I sell gasoline and I make a small profit. With that I buy groceries and the grocer makes a profit. They call it earning a living. You may have heard of it.”
Mitchum to Jane Greer: “You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another. You can’t help anything you do. Even murder.”
Greer to Mitchum: “Can’t you even feel sorry for me?” Mitchum: “I’m not going to try. Look just get out will ya? I have to sleep in this room.”
Rhonda Fleming to Mitchum: “For a man who appears so clever you can certainly act like an idiot.” Mitchum: “That’s one way to be clever. Look like an idiot.”
Virginia Huston about Greer: “She can’t be all bad. No one is.” Mitchum: “She comes the closest.”
YA GOTTA LOVE IT
I have a Big Daddy beer at B’artaud and chat with one of the Word 4 Word actors. “Is that cigarette a prop?” I ask him. Cigarettes might as well be the sixth finger on everyone’s hand in noir. What could be more noir than smoke? An ethereal veil of mystery, ever shifting, a thousand shades of gray, hanging in the air between people. Is what you see through the cloud for real? Who’s zoomin’ who? You never know, perhaps, until The End.
I AM CONVINCED
that Chronicle columnist Mark Morford is the male me, except that I don’t have nearly the sex toys he does. In fact I think the spiked red vinyl dog collar I wore to a Red Dress Party is the only even marginally kinky thing in the house. He gets to be the male me and not I the female him because I figure I’ve got 10-15 years on the guy. Apart from constantly snapping up topics I was just about to write about, virtually every sentence that comes out of the guy makes me think: I could have written that, had I only thought of it first.I was delighted to meet Mark after seeing him read onstage at the Cowell Theater during Johnny Steele’s comedy extravaganza “The War on Error.” I can’t imagine a more horrific scenario than a room full of people waiting for me to say something—even something prepared. My writing does all my talking for me, I tell him. Yet Mark pulled off his first night under the lights with aplomb and no sign of nerves. Maybe it was his white patent leather shoes that gave him the confidence.
Every writer should be their own biggest fan. If you don’t love your own work, who will? So I am not ashamed to say that I am my own favorite writer. I’ve been reading myself since grade school, and I have always satisfied my own desire to write what I want to read. But Mark is a close second among writers of our ilk, because I think it is true of both him and me that regardless of the subject matter, you can see underneath it all that we both just plain love manipulating words, and can’t help doing so. He has had kind things to say about the Ax Files, which I email to him, and I can only hope that I will one day have enough readers to merit emails as vicious as his column inspires. Find him at http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/morford. Like a hole in the head he needs the plug.
I’M GOING TO JAIL
according to h brown, who says that just being on his email list might land us all in prison some day. Then woe to me for being on his website. I guess I’m going to hell.
THIS CITY STINKS, LITERALLY!
That’s one of the threads being discussed by the Lower Haight Google Groups online community. I don’t know who can deny it. Depending on what zip code you’re in, this can be one dirty, trash-strewn, piss-stained town. At this time of my life, I am faced with a choice of either selling my San Francisco flat and moving back into the lovely, magical 4-bedroom house I own in Portland, Oregon, or selling the Portland house and committing myself to this place. It’s getting to be too much to maintain both places. The other night, as I walked down mid-Market amid the filth and flotsom of the Tenderloin, Portland was looking pretty good. Exactly why is it that I might want to stay here? I found myself wondering.
There was a modest flyer on the wall outside 34 Mason, a club called Crash, where a modest group, maybe 50-60 folk—63, says h—was gathered in support of Josh Wolf and the Rise Up Legal Network. Wolf landed in prison after refusing to surrender his unpublished videotapes of a demonstration to the feds. I literally snatched a moment of his time to make his acquaintance before I left (my only chance for who knows how long), as he dashed from one tribute to another. He referred to me as “h’s partner.” Yikes. I’m going to hell. He was making the most of his couple of days of freedom and flying high on the energy in the room.
I see on his web site he was ironically named Journalist of the Year (as were mainline media Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada) by the Northern California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, quite a coup for someone whose status as a “real” journalist has been questioned. Time called him a “videoblogger” who “thrust himself onto the front lines of citizen journalism.”
The shield law doesn’t actually mention or define “journalists” per se; it protects “a publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or employed” from contempt charges “for refusing to disclose the source of any information procured while so connected or employed for publication in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication” (Article I, Sec. 2(b)). It makes no mention of online media, and as such, is an outdated law leaving situations like this wide open to interpretation. As a result, someone who did not commit any crime is sitting in prison, for up to a year. That’s a high price to pay for the shot in the arm this notoriety gives his career.
Free Speech crusader Mario Savio said of civil disobedience: “You can’t disobey the rules every time you disapprove. However, when you’re considering something that constitutes an extreme abridgement of your rights, conscience is the court of last resort.” With an imperfect shield law in place and the constantly evolving dynamics of “civilian journalism,” conscience was indeed Josh’s last resort. “Each day he remains incarcerated represents another small dent in this nation’s basic freedoms,” said a Chronicle editorial.
I sent Luke Thomas a congratulatory email on http://www.fogcityjournal.com“>his new website, signing off with my habitual “Keep on rockin’ in the free world,” and he wrote back, “We gotta keep on rockin’ to keep the free world free!” Otherwise, as Josh put it, “We might as well be automatons.”
SO GLAD TO BE SO MAD
San Francisco sure does loves a good fight, especially anything involving freedoms. Sometimes I think certain people in the political realm feed on their anger, actually thrive on it, it gets their blood up. What would they do without it? “If ever there were a ‘San Francisco cause’ ” wrote h, “it is the case of Josh Wolf. I mean, guys, it doesn’t get much better than this for a journalist. …Covering the case, that is…How could you get a better story for San Francisco? The radical photo-journalist from a radical family, surrounded by radical friends gets locked up by the Bush administration in an attempt to intimidate the alternative online press.” I can just see that little leprechaun rubbing his hands with glee.
There will always be plenty to protest and be angry about, and rightfully so, but damn, this Wolf thing was practically made to order. Berkeley was in its glory during the KPFA/Pacifica flap, parading with giant puppets, shouting slogans, carrying signs, just like the good old Free Speech Movement days. Let’s remember Savio’s famous comments before the historic Sproul Hall sit-in at UC Berkeley in December 1964:
Savio was tailed by the FBI for ten years after this speech. This is scary shit, check it out.http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/10/10/CMGP08OOFI1.DTLWhen I asked h if he was happy with the turnout, he was pleased, but noted that half the people there were taking notes or pictures—that is, they were either covering the event or were “stakeholders,” being journalists who might find themselves in the same fix. Where were the regular folk, the people you don’t see at every damn progressive event you go to? On the way home some guy started feeding me some line on the street—was I coming from work? At 11:00? No, I’m coming from a fundraiser for the journalist who refused to turn his tapes over to the feds—”and why weren’t you there?” As if. But I was not particularly impressed with the turnout. We should have been spilling into the street. The issues are bigger than can be contained by a club on Mason Street. But I was glad to be part of this intimate gathering of angry people, glad to be mad, and glad to be reminded of why I should want to live here.
It is time for us to once again rage against the machine, people! Because all the signs are there. And we’d damn well better fucking care.
Mitchum: “There was a little business about 40,000 dollars…”
Greer: “I didn’t take anything. I didn’t, Jeff. Don’t you believe me?”
Mitchum: “Baby, I don’t care.”
Welcome to death
copyright Alexandra Jones 2006