Night Crawler

Two men in polyester-satin blends gaze through the door of the 16th Street McDonald's. Between bites of their Big Macs, they keep an alert eye on a small gray mouse that sits in the center of the dull linoleum floor. The rodent, taking no notice of the other customers, makes short work of a fat, greasy french fry and lopes off to find dessert as a blond man wearing a peach cashmere sweater, mirrored shades, and pink bunny ears struts past the open doorway. The Big Mac men critique "the look" with laughter and rolling Spanish, then turn their attention back to the mouse that scampers across the eatery floor with the tail end of a French toast stick stuffed in its cheek. Bunnyboy sashays across the street to the Victoria Theater and joins 15 only slightly less flamboyant folks under a washed-out marquee that reads Anxiety -- the descriptive title of tonight's multimedia gathering. The fashionable Mission group squints into the setting sun, posing, smoking, and congenially passing time before the box office opens.

"Summer hours are so difficult," moans a lithesome brunette in a silver halter top. "When you get dressed for a night out, it's still daylight. What's a girl to do?" The men standing nearby nod knowingly and take long, sympathetic drags off of their cigarettes as Bay Area found-film pioneer Craig Baldwin approaches, wearing a red soccer jersey with his name printed across the back. He and his friend take their place at the back of the ticket line.

"Why is Craig Baldwin waiting in line?" asks a nearby fan. "He's one of the featured directors."

"He's that kind of guy," is the response.
At the door a silver-haired gent wearing a tux with a dainty red rosebud in his lapel tears the tickets and welcomes the crowd into the humble but historical environs of the Victoria. The theater has a familiar, musty smell, like the odor that accompanied games of dress-up in Grandma's attic. Four garish but oddly fetching paintings by postmodernist Adam Christopher Strange hang on either side of the stage and copies of 16th Street: Faces in the Mission -- the bright coffee-table book put out by photographer Bert Katz -- sit on a small stand in front of the stage. None-too-subtle ambient music pipes in through the speakers and sets the mood for all the people carrying plastic cups of beer.

"The only thing that could make me happier to be here tonight," begins MC Mark Lehmann -- brother of 26-year-old director Nathan D. Lehmann, who is also the organizer behind 16th Street Presents -- "is if I could tell you that the Giants won the pennant. Nathan and I grew up in this neighborhood, and we hope that this event helps give good people in the neighborhood a louder voice than the troublemakers."

After a little jig, which Mark says he reserves for Hale-Bopp, the crows on Turtle Hill, and tonight's screening, Anxiety -- a three-minute film collage by Nathan -- fills the screen. Applause and hoots of "Nathan" are forthcoming. Baldwin's 1978 Wild Gunman follows, splicing together disturbing images of the Marlboro Man and a cat being tortured by electric shock while drinking milk. Next is In the Course of Human Events by Dominic Angerame, the executive director of the highly experimental Canyon Cinema. In the Course is an exquisite black-and-white surrealist depiction of the Embarcadero Freeway demolition, in which dinosaurlike tractors gnash at an organic tangle of steel reinforcements. Like a moving gallery installation, the 23-minute piece is comprised of individual shots so precise and emotionally evocative that each could stand on its own as testimony to Angerame's astounding talent.

"I would love to have a copy of that," sighs Lara Kane, a sassy 25-year-old who currently works as a cosmetologist but has larger aspirations. "It's the equivalent of visual wind chimes."

MM is a collage by Timoleon Wilkins that makes use of ticklish found footage from the '50s and early '60s. Brush Park finds Nathan Lehmann in Germany, tracing his family's roots. The audience is treated to a stark modern-day view of Luitpoldhain (where Leni Riefenstahl once filmed Hitler's rallies), and to beautiful montages of sunflower rows that resemble soldiers who turn black and wither. The story travels to Brooklyn, where Lehmann's camera (in first person POV) must dance around the perimeter of the Orthodox side of his family before finding bittersweet acceptance from an Ethiopian Jew named "Olde Duke," who lives in Detroit. Ending the miniature film festival is Danny Plotnik's Pipsqueak Pfollies, a hysterical chronicle of a man tormented and beaten by children while trying to do his laundry. Adding to the delightful physical comedy is a jubilant live score performed by Alison Faith Levi, Chuck Marcus, and Anthony Bedard.

Moments after lights up, the audience swarms the stage. They are invited to partake of Mission grub from Hazahez Restaurant, Mariachi's Taco Bar, Red Tail Beer, and Katz Bagels while the Sandor Moss Trio supplies some acoustic supper jazz. Would-be actors, directors, and producers along with film-lovers mingle with the featured artists in an afterglow of cutting-edge celluloid.

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