Taking a good, long look at the truth
The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival returns
by David Lamble
What? Yet another film festival? The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival could be dismissed as a collection of oddball excursions into hyperreality that can be better sampled on HBO, IFC or The History Channel. But this would be a mistake. This collection of 21 programs covers the waterfront from an inquiry into what happened to a lock of Beethoven's Hair (Women's Building, 5/20) to Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs (Women's Building, 5/14). The line-up is not only insanely eclectic, but at times quite unexpectedly entertaining. Running from May 12-21 at the Little Roxie and The Women's Building, this spin-off from the SF Indie Fest not only provides a real education, but hell, maybe you'll even meet somebody with similar interests. Your critic skipped the hair and the UFOs, but caught six programs you should consider. More info at www.sfindie.com.
The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief Checking out the fashion magazines in Japantown, I've often wondered what all the queerly attired 20something Japanese men could possibly be up to. Jake Clennell was in Osaka to film a teenage baseball league when he started noticing guys who looked like they were trying out for a boy band, hanging out in a seedy part of town.
Turns out the guys are "hosts" at underground clubs catering to young women with rather too much cash and spare time. We meet Issei (keep alert for a brief butt-shot in the opening sequence), the 22-year-old owner of the Rakkyo CafÃ©, who casually describes how he rakes in up to $50,000 a month pretending to be in love with some rather footloose young gals. The women, many of whom work as prostitutes to support their Issei habit, spend $12-$60 an hour for his time, and $500 a pop for bottles of Champagne.
Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation revealed how some Americans are baffled by the brash Japanese pop culture (ironically spawned by the war), with its worship of kitsch, flash, and to us, kinky diversions (such as the subculture of boy-love books written for women). Clennell's thoughtful and artfully filmed exploration of the host clubs reveals a society that still has little regard for the needs of a new generation of quasi-liberated women. The climax of the film has a woman patron boasting of how she plans to win Issei's love by plying him with ever-increasing amounts of cash. Meanwhile, Issei is telling the filmmaker that the woman is delusional and rather a bore. Issei explains that the hosts make a point in not going to bed with their female clients, and that the occupational hazards of their profession are considerable: long hours, emotional numbness, and the fear that one's liver may be shot by age 30. (Women's Bldg., 5/20)
Snapshots: Shorts Program The most ambitious offering is an odd portrait of the troubling intersection of race and right-wing politics in America. Secret: The Josephine Baker FBI Files flashes back to the 1950s, when America's color line was enforced by twin culture czars: FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and tabloid columnist Walter Winchell. Told in a pastiche of black-and-white footage and dramatically recreated recollections from the time, the film is a tribute to the bravery and spunk of a talented black American entertainer who carved out a brilliant career in exile in France. Also featured: Forgotten Palaces is an excursion to abandoned San Francisco movie th
Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren's R&R Comics This forgotten chapter in the weird history of America's love affair with comic books comes from San Diego. It's not until the end of the film that you learn that this brash business prodigy, infamous in the underground comic business for launching a series of unauthorized biographies of popular rock bands, was probably murdered by a male trick, possibly the infamous serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Loren, viewed here chiefly in an amateur home-video, was envied and hated for his sharp business practices, but also loved by many friends and artists for his fierce devotion to the First Amendment. A lawsuit against Loren resulted in comic book artists being extended some Constitutional free-speech protections. Some entertaining interviews detail the collision of the comic-book world with the equally insane rock world. Highlights include the disarmingly candid opinions of Alice Cooper. (Women's Bldg., 5/13)
Punk Like Me A Southern California boy's long-deferred dream to become rock n' roll frontman David Lee Roth for one fabulous summer is vividly depicted in Zach Merck's hugely entertaining road movie. Rich Wilkes narrates, in Jackass style, his teenage hopes of leading his own punk band. Finally, at age 37, Wilkes puts a Hollywood writing career on pause to head out on a lavish tour bus with a wife and four equally untalented musician friends. Their destination is the Vans Warped Tour, where Wilkes and friends â€” including two very sexy backup men â€” proceed to risk limbs and dignity performing as Carne Asada, a musically challenged punk-rock mariachi band. Combining sage advice from professional rockers, the trip is a loosey-goosey delight as the boys flat out flirt with disaster â€” playing drunk in one memorable parking-lot gig, and finally resulting in an unexpected professional triumph as they play their asses off for real rock fans who think they're divine. (Women's Bldg., 5/13; Little Roxie, 5/18)
Muskrat Lovely This account of a small-town Maryland teenage beauty contest does not condescend to rural life, and is full of some very funny and outrageous moments, including the sight of teenage girls and boys skinning dead muskrats on stage. (Little Roxie, 5/16; Women's Bldg., 5/21)
Deeper than Y An affectionate look at the members of a New York City YMCA swimming class for seniors. Especially engaging are an 80-something male couple recalling how they met in their 40s, and how they've kept love alive for over three decades. One tip: one guy looks after the couple's political agenda while the other is better in bed. (Little Roxie, 5/17; Women's Bldg., 5/21)