The Rise and Fall of Mr. Television
Three years ago, San Francisco filmmaker Sam Green was toiling down in L.A. as a researcher for a television newsmagazine. One night the local news featured a standoff between police and an armed religious kook with a hostage in a hotel room. The incident ended without violence, but it turned out the kook had a past -- in the '70s and '80s he had been the Rainbow Man of sporting events, the irrepressible fan in the seats with a colorful Afro wig who always held up a sign reading "John 3:16." After perusing stacks of newspaper and magazine articles, Green decided he wanted to make a documentary about the life of Rollen "Rock 'n' Rollen" Stewart, an American folk hero turned gunman.
Green's 41-minute documentary, The Rainbow Man/John 3:16, which premieres Monday at the Roxie, is a thorough chronicle of Stewart's bizarre quest to get on television. The film splices together home movies and news and sports footage, as well as a recent prison interview with Stewart, now serving three life sentences in San Luis Obispo. Viewers are treated to many rare and hilarious on-camera appearances by the enthusiastic Rainbow Man, including Budweiser commercials, football games, the World Series, bobsled runs, golf tournaments, and his very first attempt, at a 1976 pro basketball game.
"On a certain level, I admire him," says Green. "It was a great idea."
A former auto parts store owner and pot grower, Stewart had little going for himself until he became the Rainbow Man. His celebrity made him the life of the party in the late '70s, until the 1980 Super Bowl, after which he became a born-again Christian. He repositioned his sports fan/party guy character, turning into a spokesman for the biblical verse John 3:16. After several years, however, he ended up homeless in Los Angeles. His tragic, final, armed attempt to reinvent himself using television is powerful, depressing, and, given our nation's obsession with fame and celebrity, not unexpected.
Green says he originally made the film as a lark, but when it was immediately accepted at Sundance, he realized the subject was more interesting than he thought: "The media not being a healthy thing -- that resonates with people."
The Rainbow Man has also shown at festivals in New York and Chicago, but Nov. 10 at the Roxie will be its theatrical premiere. Shows are at 6, 8, and 10 p.m. (The screening includes another strange documentary, Andre the Giant Has a Posse, which deals with a skateboarder who has a passion for graffiti.)
What Was Left Out of Tales of the City
Bill Brent chronicles some excellent underground history of the local gay clubs and bathhouses in the latest issue of the zine Black Sheets. In a round-table discussion with veterans from San Francisco's gay party scene of the '70s, Brent and company cover an amazing amount of ground. Beginning with the post-World War II gay bar scene, Brent takes readers through the beats, the police harassments of the early '60s, the protection offered to gays by Glide Memorial's the Rev. Cecil Williams, the political coalition of gay bars, and eventually the outer limits of '70s decadence. Supplemented with plenty of historical bar fliers and matchbooks from clubs like the Black Cat, Why Not, Ramrod, Ambush, Sound of Music, Fe-Be's, Folsom Prison, and Cauldron, the piece really gets moving when the survivors begin swapping war stories of the good old days, when San Francisco was the gay capital of the U.S.
One man named Lewis remembers what it was like to visit the city from the East Coast:
"It seemed to me that the focal point of life in San Francisco was sex, whereas in New York, the focal point of life was having an extremely complex, busy life, in which sex was as intense as one's work, one's cultural life, one's friends -- I mean they were all intense -- but they were one component. My impression was that one's sexual life here was the defining, central occupation. And it also seems to me -- and again, I don't know why this is true -- many of us in New York had the impression that no one here seemed to have a job. I never understood how you all lived! No one ever seemed to work! The joke was that the typical guy in San Francisco hustled a bit, sold some drugs, was a part-time waiter, did a little catering, you know -- I mean it was kind of put together. No one ever seemed to have a career or occupation. We really were condescending. This was a nice place to visit, but you couldn't imagine living here. What would you do?"
All in all, it's a fine piece of local history that's well worth checking out. If you can't find Black Sheets in stores, send six bucks and an age statement to PO Box 31155, San Francisco, CA 94131.
According to those who travel in such circles, the SFPD refuses to refer to the monthly swarm of bikes as Critical Mass. Instead, the happening is now known among cops as an "alternative bicycle event."