Oh, You Beautiful Doll! Cartoon characters, chinoiserie, celebrities, and popular entertainments like Ballet Russe and Comedie Française influenced the Italian doll-making company LENCI, which did brisk business in the toy trade from the 1920s to the 1940s, until the Depression and World War II curtailed production. The exhibit "Classic LENCI Dolls" shows off nearly 100 of those original dolls, on loan from private collections and the Turin-based company itself, which now makes reproductions. Registered in 1919 with a Latin slogan that translated as "To Play Is Our Constant Work," the company enlisted Italian and European artists to paint the dolls' expressive, childlike faces on felt and dress the dolls according to fashion designs of the day. LENCI turned out "Luscious Ladies," long-limbed flapper dolls with color-coordinated accessories; "Good Sports" dolls equipped with athletic equipment; international and "Oriental" dolls derived from opera and Asian art; and dolls styled after Betty Boop, Josephine Baker, and Marlene Dietrich. The exhibit opens with a reception at 5:30 p.m. (and runs through Jan. 31) at the Museo ItaloAmericano, Building C, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is free-$2; call 673-2200.
Everything Old Is New Again The Portland hardcore band Poison Idea knows what people like: smoking outhouse props, liquored-up 400-pound singers barreling through Go-Go's covers, and glorious, roaring volume. It's what the band has delivered for the last 18 years, and, in an unprecedented nod to nostalgia, will deliver again with bassist Chris Tense and drummer Dean Johnson, original members who played on the early albums Kings of Punk and Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes. "Stinky's Peepshow," the variety night with plus-sized go-go dancers and raunchy doings in the back room, hosts PI's "Learning to Scream Seminar '98," an adjunct to the group's new Taang! 7-inch of the same name, and an object lesson in original punk. Enjoy. Hotbox opens the show at 10:30 p.m., followed by Bimbo Toolshed, at the Covered Wagon, 917 Folsom (at Fifth Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 974-1585.
Head Tripping Blasthaus, the electronic arts gallery that brought us Switzerland's orange-suited technology performance corporation Etoy, as well as the robot-detonating antics of Survival Research Laboratory and the U2 lawsuit-provoking music of Negativland, is trying something new, again. Transcinema 1998 is a three-day intersection of film, video, music, and performance with the digital subculture. Opening night is devoted to Australia, with the Bureau of Inverse Technology's BIT Plane video and David Cox's cyberpunk narrative Otherzone, starring performance artist Stelarc. Night 2 spotlights Germany and Austria, while the closing program offers work from local filmmakers Lynn Hershman and Craig Baldwin, as well as the Canadian documentary-style feature Hang the DJ. "CrossOver," an improv blend of live performance, sound sculpture, and spoken word, follows each night's screenings, which begin at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Admission is $7-15; call 789-7690. And speaking of video crossover, Slam Poets Versus Cin(e)-Poets: New Vids on the Block pits live spoken word against film and video clips of poet performances, to be judged by random audience members. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Somar Gallery, 934 Brannan (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 552-9261.
Merce Cunningham devotees can get their fix between company visits with a performance by kindred ensemble the Mel Wong Dance Company: Wong, an Oakland native and the first Chinese-American dancer in Cunningham's company, is returning to the West Coast after 22 years of dancing in New York. A former scholarship student at the exclusive School of American Ballet, Wong eventually embraced Cunningham's experimental aesthetic and formed his own company in '75; three years later, New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce referred to his approach as "Mercist," although Wong has softened the edges. The company's homecoming show "Three Generations" brings back original member and sometime-Limon dancer Sonya Delwaide, who performs a solo choreographed just for her, Hidden Histories. The evening of dances also emphasizes Wong's role as a representative of his cultural community with Growing Up Asian-American in the '50s, a comic autobiographical solo replete with yo-yo tricks. The show begins at 8 p.m. (also Saturday) at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $10-12; call 863-9834.
Billy Club It was Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora who recognized that English singer/guitarist Billy Bragg had the sort of common-man political consciousness (he toured to raise funds for the U.K. miners strike of '84) and impassioned storytelling style that would lend themselves beautifully to her father's never-released songs. And so Nora approached Bragg about recording Woody's music, a project that found Bragg collaborating with the rootsy No Depression rockers Wilco, whose homespun melodies were equally suited to the task. The highly lauded result was Mermaid Avenue, which drew from the period following Guthrie's Dust Bowl troubadour years; at last summer's touring Fleadh festival, waiting for Wilco to drop in on Bragg's set and vice versa was a popular pastime. Bragg and his band, the Blokes, do Guthrie and music from Bragg's back catalog, which is studded with underappreciated gems like the haunting ballad "Levi Stubbs' Tears." Acoustic finger-picking blues guitarist Corey Harris opens the show at 9 p.m. at the Maritime Hall, 450 Harrison (at First Street), S.F. Admission is $18-20; call 974-0634.