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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Mar 4 1998
Night of the Locust
The cars stretch down three blocks of 16th Street, around the corner, and down two blocks of Guerrero. Hundreds of flickering taillights declare that traffic is at a standstill, but these weekend thrill-seekers are not to be confounded. This is how they know that they have come to the right neighborhood, and they are not at all surprised to see half a dozen TV cameras outside the Roxie Theater. Just as they are not surprised by the densely packed line that twists down the sidewalk and around the corner, into the alley. But they want to know what they're missing. A stocky man with wind-swept hair and wraparound sunglasses leans out his car window and asks.

"It's Nick Broomfield's latest movie," says Wayne Fallon, a glib man from the 'hood whose sense of superiority forbids him from saying more. The inquisitive party-guy nods without comprehension and tells his friends in the driver's seat that it's some "art thing." Fallon, who has been following the controversy over Broomfield's Kurt and Courtney, feels smug. He could have told the man that this is the world premiere of a documentary that suggests (without, by any means, proving) Courtney Love may have planned the murder of her husband, Kurt Cobain, or that this film was barred from the Sundance Film Festival after intervention by Love's lawyers, or that Roxie management received threatening letters from those same lawyers for showing the movie tonight. But Fallon didn't feel all the controversy relevant.

"I'm here tonight because it's a Broomfield movie," says Fallon, "not because of the controversy. I've seen all of his movies here, and I'd be here on opening night regardless of the subject matter. I think Broomfield is a certain kind of genius."

This is essentially the opinion held by Roxie owner Bill Banning and Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine, who, far from being scared by threats from Love's legal posse, spent most of the afternoon in their office joking about letter bombs and court injunctions each time there was a knock at the door. That is not to say a little oddball excitement doesn't accompany the guest list generated by the film's subject matter. Broomfield, Sean Penn and his actress-wife Robin Wright, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Love's father Hank Harrison, Love's former private investigator Tom Grant, Nirvana photographer Alice Wheeler, and, most important, the whore who got Hugh Grant in deep water, Divine Brown, all are expected to show.

At least a dozen journalists swarm through the crowd, interviewing fans in line. Cameras flash hysterically. Long cars pull up in front of the theater and double-park. Important-looking people jump out of them. They shout harried questions at Lavine, then speed away again. Sean Penn arrives, looking very small and unshaven. Stalkarazzi Alan Bowman, who appears in Broomfield's movie, also has a film crew that is filming him. He wears a ready-made suit over a dark turtleneck shirt. The whole scene is a pale insinuation of Los Angeles into San Francisco, an insinuation that seems all the more perverse for being set in front of the Roxie Theater, with its diminutive 250-seat capacity and its chuckling staff.

Most people in line have strong feelings about Love, even prior to seeing the movie.

"She's a fuckin' gold digger," says 26-year-old Jamik Logan. "You can see it in how she lives her life. She was a junkie 'cause it was cool, and that's what her old man was into. Now, it's plastic surgery, fancy-shmancy Hollywood parties, designer dresses, and limos. Can you imagine Kurt ever wanting to do shit like that? I don't think so."

"I think Courtney's talented in her own right," says Karen Rannisto. "Hole's a powerful band, but there can be no denying that she and Kurt had a pretty destructive relationship. He was obviously really unhappy when he was alive, and she's obviously a lot happier now that he's gone. I don't know if she killed him, though."

"It doesn't matter if she did it or not," says Nathan Schertz, who wears a white Nirvana T-shirt and a dour face. "He's still dead."

Inside the movie theater, folks settle down to watch the parade of fading junkies, conspiracy theorists, dysfunctional relatives, and ex-lovers who make up the body of Kurt and Courtney. Hank Harrison, Love's tough-love father who happily accuses his daughter of murder on screen while plugging his new book, sits in the back row, waiting condemnation from the crowd. It never comes. Despite the great criticism leveled at this documentary, the crowd does not think Love is a sacred cow, and they prove to be wholly irreverent. They laugh heartily through an interview conducted with Cobain's best friend, Dylan Carlson, who is clearly strung out and scared. They guffaw at the sight of El Duce, the lead singer for the Mentors, who claims, rather unbelievably, to have been offered $50,000 to "whack" Cobain. They applaud the Dwarves, a local San Francisco band that headlined for Nirvana, for beating their fans with a microphone. They even clap when Harrison threatens to kick his daughter's ass again.

"Everyone's more interested in sensationalism and entertainment than they are about the facts," says Tom Grant, the private investigator who first proposed the theory that Love may have hired someone to kill Cobain. "Broomfield did a great job. I have to respect him for getting past Courtney and making the movie, but even he left out important medical evidence."

Grant slips away before the movie lets out in an attempt to avoid Harrison, whom he believes to be an opportunist and a deplorable father with no real credibility. Harrison, on the other hand, holds court. Posing for photos with people who claim to have once known his daughter, rattling off significant dates in his estranged daughter's marriage to Cobain, answering questions for journalists from Brazil, and preening in front of the paparazzi cameras. (He tells me, in confidence, that he has $600 cash on his person right now; that he studied with Nelson Algren; that he is a practicing Buddhist, a cabalist, a Hermetic scholar; that his father won a bronze medal in the '37 Olympics; that he comes from strong stock; that he has a Mercedes parked around the corner; that he is 58 years old and no slouch. He also shows me the skin around his neck and on his arms.)

"Well, you can see where Courtney got it," says Wheeler. "She's definitely her father's daughter."

"Even if the movie didn't convince me that she did it," says Jared Annis, "watching him makes me wonder."

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By Silke Tudor

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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