It was one of those harshly warm autumn San Francisco days, a sort of final hurrah before the opaque gloom of winter rolls in. A few records left in a sunny patch by the window fell victim to the rays, vinyl warping and distorting Jerry Garcia’s vocals into an intolerable nasal whine. “Ripple” rippled, goodbye American Beauty! Listening to it now makes your skin stand on edge.
Around seven pm on a Monday after work, I walked to Corona Heights, a craggy hidden park that brings to mind a dusty lunar landscape. The hillside was crowded with admirers; we were grasping for the final dredges of summer, the last moments of sun on a dwindling day. We knew this was the last time we were going to feel this sensation for a while. The sense of change in the air brought almost a mournful feeling, warm breeze blowing across your skin.
San Francisco stood at our feet cast in a tangerine haze. The landscape felt incomprehensible in its beauty, like you have to shield your eyes from absorbing it all. It gave the sense that you could never fully take in all that it has to offer; just out of grasp but intoxicating in its promise.
I felt a sense of languishing dread, attempting to appreciate the moment while anticipating the inevitable bitter chill soon to arrive. Sort of like that feeling you get on Sunday evenings, puttering around to avoid thinking about the impeding week, a dull twist of anxiety in your gut.
While mourning the loss of the season, I simultaneously craved a reprieve from the suffocating warmth; enveloping your body in a saline stickiness and making you kick off your sheets in the night. The dreaminess began to turn to delirium; a cold slap of reality was needed. It was time for a change.
Holy Motors is a metaphysical dream-scape of a film; a beautiful, ingenious tale that unapologetically stretches the limits of imagination, described by Time‘s Richard Corliss as an “exhilarating trip of movie madness and sadness.”
French filmmaker Leos Carax’s first film in ten years shocked and perplexed filmgoers at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with some hailing it as a cinematic masterpiece and others decrying it as malarkey. Holy Motors follows Monsieur Oscar (an astounding Denis Lavant) as he goes through one day of work for “The Agency,” traveling in a stretch white limo to ten “appointments” throughout Paris. Oscar is either a super-spy or a prodigal actor, but as a master of disguise transforms himself completely – identities including a beggar-woman, manic psychopath, accordion bandleader, dying old man, anarchist, and father to a teenage girl. The purpose of Oscar’s work for The Agency is never fully disclosed and at times the illusion is broken, as others in the scene are revealed to be at an “appointment” as well.
The film also includes a few notable cameos, including Kylie Minogue as a fellow spy for The Agency and Eva Mendes as an oddly placid kidnapped supermodel.
I saw Holy Motors at the Roxie Theater in the Mission after hearing the unfortunate news that the Bridge Theater and the Lumiere Theater have closed this month. In a city with 74 neighborhood cinemas at its peak, six additional cinemas have closed in the past decade, including the demise of the Upper Haight’s beloved Red Vic in 2011.
Independent films are increasingly available on Netflix or other streaming sites shortly after their theatrical release. Why pay to sit in a living room-sized theater when you can sit in your own living room and watch it at no additional cost? THE EXPERIENCE, people! The character and history of single-screen cinemas provide a unique memory with each film; granted, the clientele is exceedingly pretentious, but it’s a special experience rather than the slog of unending escalators, acrid chemical butter scent, and labyrinthian carpeted hallways at multi-mega-plexes. I always think of my hometown Bijou, a theater crafted out of an old church, and the signature large cat snoozing in a chair in the lobby- would that ever happen at a Regal? No!
Back to Motors: This specific genre of film is of a particular taste and somewhat divisive; if the surrealist absurdity of films like Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or the Dylan biopic I’m Not There appeal to you, then make haste to go see it. If you find those works to be frustratingly devoid of continuity and obnoxiously head-scratching, then stay away. In watching a surrealist movie, you have to allow each moment to wash over you, rather than analyze each bit of it, agonizing over how it doesn’t follow common logic. The moment is what it is and you can interpret it however you see fit- it allows the audience to be actively participatory.
The film reads as a love-letter to cinema, reminding me of the silent-film infatuation of 2012’s Oscar darling The Artist. Rather than sticking to one specific style, Holy Motors draws reference ranging from 19th century stop-motion film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge to today’s CGI animation using motion sensor technology.
At times the frenetic pace of Holy Motors becomes draining, particularly in the second half of the film. Overall though, it is an exhilarating ride that allows the audience to laugh at themselves, the absurdity of the art-world, and not take it all too seriously.
After I left the Roxie, I wandered over to the bus stop to hop on the 33. Just sayin’, San Francisco is an excellent place to contemplate absurdity and the strangeness of existence. On Muni, strangers shared cantaloupe on the bus and chatted about Mother Teresa and Black Rock City, Nevada. At 18th and Castro, shirtless muscular men sipped lattes outside of Starbucks while a pack of mimosa-drunk women giggled and swayed on the sidewalk. To some degree the film made me think about the multiple identities that we create for ourselves, from that carefully selected hat that gives off the perfect don’t care stance, to acting as a mini self-funded PR machine for our curated Instagram posts (“What does the Valencia filter say about me?”).
Rather than worrying about our social perceptions, perhaps we should just enjoy this bizarre, 80-something year journey in which we appear to have found ourselves. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Venturing back into my long-dormant blog, just in time for the new year. I have a tendency to write posts as unedited, rambling drafts and then never actually POST them, so going to make a minor effort to push that Publish Post button.
Up first is a series of pictures taken on the rooftop balcony at SFMOMA in late November. My family journeyed from the damp reaches of Seattle and Portland to visit San Francisco for Thanksgiving, so I had a chance to play host and show off all of the city’s decadent amenities. Naturally we made a go for SFMOMA, that art-deco tower of modern artistic thought. Prior to our museum jaunt, we stopped for coffee and contributed to a letter to my sister’s pen pal, an architecture friend studying at Columbia. We added a pint-sized doodle of a bird’s eye view of San Francisco, with commentary added (“My house”, “HIPSTERS”, “HIPPIES”, etc.) Here is her reply:
Wow, that Gawon sure is a great pen pal. And what lovely handwriting!
After feeling particularly inspired by the celestial Field Conditions exhibit and Chinese paintings depicting the Maoist culture of the 20th century, we snaked up to the top floor for a pause from our arduous standing-and-pondering activities.
As we sat down on a side balcony, the clock nearing 5 pm, the last rays of the day cast a sharply incandescent glow. My family humored me as I went into amateur photog mode, cajoling them to “Stay right there! Now.. scrunch down a bit, yeah.” They both have such warmly amber orbital eyes that I wanted to capture their moment in the sun.
Fire eye’d girl.
It would be too easy to go into cliche-land and compare her ambiguous smile to a certain eyebrow-less Da Vinci, but I am NOT GOING TO GO THERE.
But really, what is she thinking?
Objects (and people, and things) found on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley; spontaneous moments of whimsy and intrigue. A song for each picture to capture the mood.
“Beware.” Woolsey Street, Berkeley, April 2012. Musical Accompaniment: “What Do You Expect,” El Perro Del Mar.
“Sprouting.” Arguello Street, February 2012. Musical Accompaniment: “Phone Call,” Jon Brion.
The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form. The word is a learned formulation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache”.
(Definition via the ever accurate and always trustworthy source of our times, Wikipedia.)
As an admitted nostalgia fiend, there are few things I find pleasure in more than reading a weathered book with someone else’s notes scrawled in the margins, a looped, cursive signature of a stranger on a yellowed LP cover, a ripped tag from a foreign brand on a secondhand, delightfully unique garment. The mystery of discovering the joys of lives once lived, grasping at the small tokens of pleasure that perhaps contributed to a sense of purpose, escapism, longing, beauty… an infinite possibility of meanings, never fully uncovered.
The minutiae of life help to drive us through the daily slog of the mundane, fuel our aspirations, and tell our stories beyond our ultimate demise. In discovering the artifacts of the past, the eternal and the temporal nature of existence is fused together in a moment. I find myself infatuated with the past partially due to to the terminal nature of life, in the dark hope that the minuscule items that contribute to my sense of self will somehow transcend my time kickin’ it as a corporeal being. Our lives are ever changing, constantly moving, but the significance of past histories remains, the ideas behind them will never die.
(Side note: the auditory accompaniment for this article is provided by Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th”.)
One of my luckiest finds: an issue of LIFE magazine from January 9, 1970. Fascinating speculations about the future, analysis of cultural norms, beautiful photography and design aesthetics.
Streisand and a Picasso.
These statistics are from your parents’ lifespans. Illuminating, fascinating, and more than a little disturbing.
“What sort of society are our computers and computer-oriented society driving us?”
Predictions of androgyny for 1970’s fashion.
Fantastic Rolling Stones book (The First Twenty Years):
LBJ-era political cartoons:
How much has changed, and how much is exactly the same?
San Francisco seems to be an endless treasure trove for individuals who are drawn to the unique histories of the past. Other recommendations for those who love to imagine stories told in the waxy wood grain of weathered bar tops:
Aub Zam Zam: Sip a wicked martini with the 3 pm-Tuesday regulars in this decadently divey Haight locale. The lush red walls, dingy carpets, and gold-encrusted Persian mural behind the bar are the original 1940’s decor… try to find the black-and-white framed photo in the back of this haunt in its heyday!
Cafe Du Nord: Originally opened during the Prohibition era, Cafe Du Nord feels like a hidden relic, a dark-wooded basement gem (featuring an excellent live music roster). In more recent nostalgia news, apparently it was THE place for the late ’80’s gothic scene, with a wildly popular event called “Dark Sparkle”… how intriguing!
St Francis Fountain: Operating continuously since its inception in 1917, this wood-paneled Mission diner evokes the days of the sock-hop while you are served vegan soyrizo and artisanal coffee by attractively grungy servers (how appropriate for the neighborhood). Past ‘n’ present, UNITE!
What are your favorite places to reminisce about a lost time that perhaps never even existed?