Revival offers playful objects for every budget. Designer blankets with saturated colors of blues and greens and geometrical patterns are soft in texture and made of 100% Merino wool. A cut above any catalog find ($229.95). For $30 you'll find fantastic angora and wool hats for the mod, fly girl or homey. One stretchy hat has a border of webbed material--hair gets pulled through it, framing the face like a mane, while keeping the noggin warm. The string light collection is extensive and includes lights with tufts of black and white feathery fur. These fuzzy shimmering lights will please both teenager and Black & White gala girl ($14.95).
Revival of the Fittest, 1701 Haight (at Cole), 751-8857. One-stop shopping for the naturalist, Buddhist and goddess on your list. The bug collection is both scary and seductive, with preserved butterflies, beetles, and other unimaginables ($78 and up). African and Indonesian ceremonial masks range from humorous to ethereal and start at $50. Expansive tapestries from India in earthy, muted colors make great wall hangings, bedcovers or beach blankets and are both versatile and affordable ($18.95-$24.95). Planetweavers, 1573 Haight (at Clayton), 864-5526. The huge fishnet-clad legs dangling over the entrance of this little boutique hints at what's inside. Enter this party girl, lap dancer's closet and find custom made disco-raver all-American cowboy hats. In this time of über-patriotism, it's a gift for that friend who won't tone it down to half-mast. ($67-$100). Ultra cool are the fur legwarmers that fit over boots. Dancing hooves are phat these days and come in blacklight-ready zebra and cow prints ($40). For the Christmas stocking, but meant for the midriff, pick up a novel navel adornment that blinks. Belly lights ($8) twinkle in red and green and include two batteries and adhesive. Promises are made that it will adhere to outies! Piedmont, 1452 Haight (between Masonic and Ashbury), 864-8075. For the rock star in your life, look no further than Wasteland for outfits worthy of the stage, rave, motorcycle or street. Ultra cool seconds give you the financial leeway to purchase those red-and-white leather racing pants for the guy with a Norton, or a bright orange 70s macramé top for the retro-chic girl. Denim outfits and jeans have always been a great find here, as well as Goth, mod, and rockabilly attire. Jewelry, sunglasses, gloves, hats, and shoes round off the outfit for a head-turning appearance. Catering to the counter culture, this huge cavern of a store has been a fixture in the upper Haight while costuming the ever-changing SOMA club scene. Wasteland is known for its vintage collection, but also features an amazing contemporary selection that changes as fast as fashion. Wasteland, 1660 Haight (at Belvedere), 863-3150.
Very cool here are messenger, shoulder, and clutch bags made from recycled seatbelts--all are gorgeously woven and come in custom-dyed colors ($70- $100). Particularly swank is a silver Saab clutch. In the toy section, check out No Bonz. These iMac-colored Lego-like gizmos assemble into sea creatures with moving parts--an invertebrate building bone-anza ($18). For the friend who frantically rummages for their Edelweiss-wailing phone, Therapy sells a mobile phone holder shaped like a baby's head. They come in blue or pink with a hole in the back for the phone. A suction cup adheres to a car window or the forehead of those who make us suffer. ($10). Therapy is a good thing.
Therapy, 545 Valencia (next to HEAD gallery), 861-6213.
Displays of vintage chemist bottles, fossils, plants, and tools plus a tearoom lure the nostalgic, the naturalist, and the gardener alike. The Victorian Conservatories, beautiful curved glass houses that are showcases for exotic plants ($60-$780) make good gifts for all of the above. The precious feel of an ostrich egg in one's hand is a gift unto itself. The egg's enormity betrays its fragility ($20-$50). For a child, a fossilized shark's tooth provides a feeding frenzy for the imagination and one that you might not want to witness. ($7.50 and up).
Paxton Gate, 824 Valencia (between 19th and 20th Sts.), 824-1872.
Yaeko Yamashita is an alchemist with fabric, creating beautiful objects like her Arabian-style velvet slippers ($68 -$75). The children's version is irresistible. ($29-$35). Alongside mittens, gloves, hats and jewelry are fantastic Dr. Seuss-inspired miniature chairs. Wire backs twirl and end in a tuft of feathered fur, while the seat sprouts velvet buds of different colors. If Barbie needed a throne, this would suffice ($15-$23). In the stocking-stuffer price range, you'll find velvet/satin budding rose brooches, barrettes, and hair ties, all handmade and exquisite ($5 -$20).
Laku, 1066 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd Sts.), 695-1462.
With 100% of profits going to AIDS charities, you give twice with every gift purchased here. You'll find a veritable goldmine of housewares for your favorite Francophile, including a Paris-labeled glazed pitcher and small bowl ($52), a stand-out on any table. A glass hummingbird feeder gives that neighbor something else to watch besides you. Hand-blown spheres or red rocket shapes will delight the nervous birds and your wallet at $38. For Christmas parties, those gifts of ornaments are immediate gratification to you and your host. A gorgeous peacock ball ornament ($14) goes to the A-list party giver.
Under One Roof, 549 Castro, 503-2301.
My daddy once told me, "Never give a gift you can't share." You'll want to make sure you're around when this gift gets unwrapped. This shop is a hilarious nest of fantastic chocolates and fudges in a boudoir setting. The chocolatier carefully crafts indulgences for those of us who'd rather die fat and laughing. When you've got names like Coffee Slut Truffle and Lou Rawls Balls, (a dark bittersweet truffle), to choose from, the dilemma of "what for whom" takes care of itself. While classic fudges like chocolate and maple are delicious, slip in some exotic flavors like the rose or violet. Palates will reel with pleasurable confusion when the botanical essence saturates. Purchase a Faerie Queene pre-paid debit card or pre-boxed chocolates ($8 to $50). All individual chocolates are packaged in festive bags.
Faerie Queene Chocolates, 415 Castro (at Market), 252-5814.
From the land of some enchanted eveningcome gifts from Bali and Indonesia. The exotic pedigree of home furnishings found here could bring back memories of vacations past, or a piece of Bali home, depending on how much you want to spend. For example, a grand four-poster custom-made bed with opium panels and leather insets ($2,850) turns the bedroom into an island paradise. But in conjuring memories, one could find Shiva and Diva statuary, wall sconces and jewelry ($40 and up). Also, wonderful dragon platters, elephant drawer hardware or knockers, shadow puppets, and an assortment of original candle and votive holders. In the stocking range there are little frogs and turtles, Indonesian good luck symbols ($7.50).
The Barking Frog 2215 Market (at Sanchez), 436-9600.
All your friends are moving out of town? Well, show them the best of San Francisco's haute design and check out the second floor of LIMN. For their new home in the rainy North, perhaps a lamp from local designer Pablo. The umbrella lamp has a stem that leans into imagined wind and moves with weighted measure. Light is bounced, spot, or diffused by adjusting the umbrella's canopy ($110).The Allessi line has something kitschy for the souls that move south: sunny pastel colored characters that sit by your sink. One little guy is pregnant with dental floss that's threaded through his mouth into his hand which holds the cutter. A toothpaste guy gets screwed onto the tube and his hand claps over his mouth to hold the goo in. The last stooge caps the toothbrush bristles while traveling. Set of three is $38; also sold individually for $10 to $15.
LIMN, 290 Townsend (at Fourth), 543-5466.
For friends willing to pay a toll to drive their dogs to a quality walking destination, Embellish has the collapsible K-9 bowl. Made of a sturdy Kevlar-like material, the bowl folds down into a pouch when the battens are removed ($18). A vast collection of the Lunares line of serving platters, gift boxes, and utensils, perfect for the one who gravitates to the shiny. Burnished aluminum brilliance with thick soft curves makes Lunares housewares a gift of utility weighted with beauty. Prices range from $15 for small boxes to $100 for the platters and bowls. Embellish provides an abundance of gift choices for the suave urban type, or for children, travelers, readers and collectors. Gift giving here is like dealing a deck of cards--one for you, one for me...
Embellish, 177 Brannan (between Delancey and Embarcadero), 882-7147.
If you have the coveted authority to dress your man--think cashmere. In Isda's new retail store, you'll find a plush boxy sweater with a crew funnel neck ($186). For the ones who can't keep two of anything together there are zipper slippers, soft and silk-padded, with soles that zip together for easy packing or tracking, in sage green ($33). Just in from Paris is the new bath line of Catherine Memmi called Les Basiques ($7-$19), a rare combo--reasonably priced with a French pedigree. Head next door to the outlet store for last season's deals. By seeking out the fabrics first, then implementing her designs, this local couturier lets texture dictate the line. The result is very wearable and durable pieces that survive the seasons and make impressive gifts.
Isda & Co, 19 & 29 South Park, 344-4887.
Do you have one of those fanatical collector-types in your life? You know--the guy who still has ticket stubs from every concert since eighth grade? If so, a trip to Showbiz is in order. Roger Brown's shop is a shrine to celebrity and happens to be the last surviving movie poster shop in S.F. An archive of 8x10 photos features everyone from Harlow to J-Lo (approx. $5 per print), Fillmore posters span the decades and genres from Joan Baez to Sound Tribe Sector 9. You'll also find sheet music and a "Bride of Chuckie" doll, and for 15 bucks you can pick up a pink, aluminum "I Dream of Jeannie" lunchbox. Yes, master.
Showbiz, 1318 Grant (between Green and Vallejo), 989-6744.
Visiting this gorgeous shop is like walking into a gallery, with imports mainly from Bali including furnishings made from recycled teak and other reclaimed woods. Local craftspeople are also represented here. You'll find limited-edition jewelry from Mike Leon--beautiful yet sturdy pieces with his signature ruby near the clasp. Children's gifts are both original and affordable ($20-$50) and range from striking mobiles with colorful wooden animal cutouts to wooden puzzles or Balinese kites. Recycled glass lamps ($155) add subtle color to any room.
Toko Arts, 1314 Grant (between Green and Vallejo), 397-2323.
Part maritime museum, part gift shop, this is a great place to pick up original gifts for dads, kids and the nautically inclined. From commercial gear like sextants, ship clocks, and navigational tools to intricate antique model ships (starting at $165), authentic whaling-period scrimshaw and woolen Greek fisherman's caps ($17.50), there's something here for both seasoned sailor and dilettante. Antiques are fascinating and pricey (a brass Russian Navy diving helmet goes for $1,485), but clothing is reasonably priced and includes Tommy Bahamas Hawaiian shirts, cotton and wool cable-knit sweaters ($52-$83), and Italian flannel shirts. For kids, a miniature spy glass ($9), junior navigator compass ($5.25), or 3 Boats in a Box--a kit that includes all the materials to assemble three tiny boats, including glue, thread for riggings, and flags. ($10.25).
Franks Fisherman, 366 Jefferson St (between Jones and Leavenworth), 775-1165.
There are plenty of shops in the Wharf to buy knock-off Gucci sunglasses or squash a penny and imprint it with the image of the Golden Gate Bridge, but one tchotchke shop stands out among the mountains of fleece and plastic cable cars. Route 66 specializes in nostalgia memorabilia, including a vast selection of Coca-Cola collectibles and metal advertising posters. Metal signs ($14.99) run the gamut from classic cars and vintage war-propaganda posters, to an illustration of Lucille Ball promoting "vitametavegamin." Betty Boop and Elvis are well represented here, as are 50s matinee idols and vintage aviation miniatures ($1.99-$5.99).
Route 66, 2653 Taylor (between North Point and Beach), 749-0781.
Give a gift that keeps on living. Exquisite orchids, succulents, and bamboo vie for space in this harmonious shop with impeccable feng shui. Select raw materials--plants, flowers, vases, terrariums, urns, tiny ceramic Buddha statues, pagodas, or glass turtles and create your own designs, or better yet, leave the job to the expert. Artist/floral designer Kevin Kim's delicate bonsai sculptures balance water, greenery, and tiny glass and ceramic pieces subtly and organically. Kim's custom designs are one-of-a-kind, and he'll work in any price range. At any given time, 30-40 different species of orchid are available. With strains of classical music in the background, this oasis of calm is a welcome respite from the holiday shuffle.
Plants on Polk, 1475 Polk (at California), 921-1072.
A Parisian perfumerie on Polk Street? Mais oui! Denis Dumont's elegant shop is a slice of the 8th arrondissement in San Francisco. Dumont, a trained perfumer, creates his signature scents for both men and women from more than 2,000 essences and aromatics. He uses no synthetics in his formulas. Custom fragrances are unique and personal, handcrafted from botanical plants ($76 per 1/3 oz). From violet to verbena, you'll find scented soaps, lotions, sachets, foaming gelee, exfoliating scrubs, masks, perfumes and aftershave. Dumont also stocks French Limoges porcelain boxes, glass perfume bottles with bulb sprays and tassels, pill boxes, men's Italian shaving kits, wild-boar-bristle hair brushes, sea sponges, and brushed gold candles. Gift wrapping is available for a nominal charge.
Denis Dumont Parfumerie, 1741 Polk, 441-0341.
A new addition to the neighborhood (in the former Brownie's Hardware space) is Sugar Poppy, a girly boutique, as the name suggests. Here you'll find lots of fun fashions for teenage girls and Sex and the City types. Urchin's fur-trimmed sweaters are hot this season and come in tangerine, beige, and black ($176). A similar Betsy Johnson comes in a deep, rich burgundy ($162). A great selection of funky, very original Mona Milkface handbags includes one with a pink plastic handle shaped like a tulip. The bag itself is black velvet with a green stem and leaf ($252). In the jewelry case are sassy, 70s inspired necklaces, like the ones that spell out "foxy" or "Scorpio" in rhinestones. For $8 you can pick up the wallet-size Vinnie's Tampon Case ("I break for cycles"), but you'll want to be aware of the timing of this gift.
Sugar Poppy, 1552 Polk (at Sacramento), 775-4979.
You can shop for your New Age-y niece, your Pagan pal, and your sister the seeker while having your astrology chart done at this metaphysical mecca. You'll find candleabras that would do any Goth proud, a bust of Nefertiti for the Egyptophile, plus crystal balls, cauldrons, and crop circle cards. No matter what deity they dig, there's a gift here that pleases. In the $50 range you'll find a Dracula crest as well as chakra balancers, but if you really feel like splurging, a 4-foot-tall sarcophagus goes for $440. Also, gems, jewelry, CDs, musical instruments, incense, herbs and lots and lots of books.
Psychic Eye Book Shop, 301 Fell (at Gough), 863-9997.
Timepieces make great gifts, but you needn't limit your choices to the Swatch counter at Macy's. Rather, transport yourself to another era at Zeitgeist, where you can pick up a pocket watch circa 1700 or a wristwatch from the 70s. Vintage jewelry includes stylish 20s-era diamond rings with lacy white-gold filigree. Though it's primarily a repair shop, you'll find classic watches made by Longines, Waltham, Hamilton, and Gruen as well as bold, chunky, contemporary stainless-steel pieces by Teno ("lugnuts for the enlightened"). While you're there be sure to admire the old German tower clock on the wall by the door. Modern watches range from $79 to $200; antiques are in the $300 range.
Zeitgeist Timepieces & Jewelry, 437 Hayes, 864-0185.
If you can't get a chunk of your shopping done at Panetti's, you haven't spent enough time poking around the place. For starters, there's a "box of very silly things" in which you might come across eyeglasses fashioned from household items--two forks cover eyes, a spoon over the nose. ... ($22). Beautiful dioramas depicting vibrant Mexican storefronts dress up any wall. Equally colorful are Lori Sandstedt's cigar-box purses with vintage postcard images and handles made from beads and dice ($138). For the cocktail culture set, there are plenty accoutrements to choose from, including martini glasses with the San Francisco skyline etched along the rim ($28 each), champagne flutes, fancy picks, and stem rings and charms to decorate glasses. Wood- block prints of vividly colored fruits and vegetables liven up a bachelor's kitchen.
Panettis, 3927 24th St. (between Sanchez and Noe), 648-2414.
More than a jewelry store, this is a gallery of wearable art dedicated to selling the wares of many local artists who design and hand-make limited-edition pieces. Currently featured at the Noe Valley store are Betsy Barron's organic-influenced designs. Barron casts jewelry from items found in nature--poppies, twigs, and a beautiful star of anise are among her treasures. Margaret Marano has a distinctly Asian flair to her work, which includes beautiful glass earrings, while Vanessa Mellet's Baroque style is much more ornate. A popular line of rings is offered by David and Ronnie. One of the great things about this shop is that there is something lovely in every price range, from $12 to $2,000.
Gallery of Jewels, 4089 24th St. (at Castro), 285-0626.
Can't figure out what to get anyone? Head to Forrest Jones, a general/kitchen/only-in-San-Francisco store. Wicker baskets of all shapes and sizes are stacked along the sidewalk; garlic presses are displayed nearby sequined vests. For the friend who can't afford Paris this year, how about French soaps from Roger & Gallat in a classic fragrance like sandalwood or a natural scent like melon? ($4.50-$18.50). For your girlfriend who eats the olives out of your martini, how about a Tuscan yellow olive tray of her own ($15)? Indulge the décor-deprived in co-owner's Phillipe Henry de Tessan's specialty--lamps fashioned from colorful Malaysian seed jugs ($100 to $200).
Support a local artisan this holiday season. For 30 years, American Pie has been the place for emerging artisans to sell their wares. Owner Taylor Wilcox's taste is whimsical and offbeat. In addition to nostalgic knickknacks and old-fashioned candy, you'll find a gift of aromatic luxury--a silky pillow stuffed with buckwheat and lavender ($36-$56). Make someone the snazziest shopper at the Farmers' Market with a kitschy 50's-influenced canvas tote ($26). Choose from bursting fruity patterns like strawberries on a turquoise background. There's plenty here to stuff in stockings, including eye pillows, magnets, and even Scent of San Francisco incense sticks ($10).
American Pie, 3101 Sacramento (at Baker), 929-8025.
My Boudoir is a lingerie store where lace bears little resemblance to the doily beneath grandma's fruitcake. If you know your gal doesn't mind goin' nipply, give her a red spidercage bra ($78) with matching panties ($108). If you haven't been dating her long enough to give the gift of kink, go with a sexy but snuggly ivory velvet chemise with embroidered lace ($120). And ladies, there's holiday shopping here for you too! Buy yourself something sexy and sit for a Boudoir Portrait. For $125, you get a one-hour session with a professional female photographer and 36 shots of yourself in seductive poses to give that lucky someone. Victoria, beware.
My Boudoir, 2029 Fillmore (between Pine and California), 346-1502. www.myboudoir.net.
If the idea of homemade gifts conjures images of the macaroni sculpture you made mom in fifth grade, it's time to re-evaluate your creativity. How about a handmade photo album for your sister to remember the trip you took to Tahoe together? Or a collage crafted into an accordion book for your grandfather? Paper Source provides not only the kits ($5-$29.50) but the know-how of a helpful staff. Better yet, give the gift of craft itself. Paper Source offers more than a dozen classes for the hobbyist--linoleum-block printing, Polaroid image transfer, bookbinding, silk-screening, and card making ($45-$110). Children's classes are also offered.
Paper Source, 1925 Fillmore (between Bush and Pine), 409-7710.
D&M Wine and Liquor isn't your ordinary corner package store. A pre-eminent source for champagne, D&M also specializes in single malt scotch, armagnac, calvados, cognac, and tequila. Pick up a couple of tumblers and wrap them with a bottle of Bunratty Potcheen Moonshine ($15.99), the first legal potcheen (pronounced "poteen") since the 17th-century ban on its production. For an ultra-rich whisky, give him a bottle of Black Adder Old Man of Hoy from the northernmost distillery in Scotland ($38.99). If tequila is more his style, a bottle of Del Maguey Chichicapa ($59.99) is a complex tequila with a distinct smokiness and hint of mint, imported from a pueblo at 7,000 feet, separated from Oaxaca by a mountain range. If you're lucky, he'll open it up right there and toast the holiday season with you!
D&M Wine and Liquor Co., 2200 Fillmore (at Sacramento), 346-1325. www.DandM.com.
Give your best friend a day at the spa. Imagine her recovering from the holidays inhaling aromatherapy candles while steaming out the toxins of those spiked eggnogs. Afterward, any memory of the annual Christmas bicker is soothed away in an herbal wrap at Heaven Day's renovated Victorian spa. She'll be chanting your name in thanks. Facials, massages, wraps, and other spa treatments run from $40 to $150. Or create an in-home spa package--Heaven Day Spa offers gift baskets, facial and body masks, candles, and relaxation CDs for the in-home spa.
Heaven Day Spa, 2209 Chestnut (between Scott and Pierce), 749-6414. www.HeavenDaySpa.com.
Bring some Italian tradition home for the Holidays. Lucca Delicatessen, with its dangling sausages and shelves brimming with Italian wines, fresh cheeses and pastas, is a bit of Little Italy in the Marina. Great with coffee, panettone ($2.99-$12.99) is a seasonal yellow cake that is surprisingly unsweet. In Italian-American homes it's customary to bring a panettone in its decorative box to your Christmas host. Panforte is a typical Italian cake of Siena (and New York Italians) with candied fruits, almonds, and dusted with powdered sugar ($6.99 and $11.99). But Amarettis di Saronno--Italian almond-flavored cookies--are everyone's fave. Hard and crumbly, some might think it's a perfect dip in a glass of Vin Santo, but children love them crushed with milk. Buon appetito!
Lucca Delicatessen, 2120 Chestnut (between Pierce and Steiner), 921-7873.
Not just for Halloween, this shop features handcrafted masks by 15 Venetian and Florentine artisans. The austere El Dottore--the white-beaked mask worn by doctors while attending to victims of the plague ($78), is haunting and appeals to the history buff. The "Don't Touch" policy doesn't exist here; dress yourself up in a velvet cloak and try on a satin farfallina (half-mask). Buy your loved one a royal blue velvet farfallina with a two-foot plume springing from the top ($138) and you might end up with an invitation to Carnival in Venice next year. Delicate farfallinas ($58), patriotic USA masks ($39.99), jester masks, sun masks, and El Gato masks are just some you'll be tempted to buy.
Mask Italia, 2176 Chestnut (between Pierce and Steiner), 409-4743. www.maskitalia.com.
Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Your 8-year-old will know the answer after playing this mystery geography game with her. Most toy stores stock Harry Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Curious George, but where else can you get a beaded Zulu matron doll ($10-18)? In addition to the must-have toys of the year, Ambassador devotes shelves and shelves to helping kids appreciate the world around them. Give a My First Look at the World atlas ($6.95) or Amazing Africa: A Cultural Adventure card game ($10). Geography games like Carmen Sandiego or National Geographic Mystery Voyage Game range from $23 to $25.
Ambassador Toys, 1981 Union, 345-8698 (between Laguna and Octavia) or 1686 West Portal, 566-8081. www.ambassadortoys.com.
The world's in need of spirituality these days and Gity Hebel offers a bit of inspiration at her shop Gity Joon. Among the icons and paraphernalia from religions around the globe, you'll find a nativity crèche ($98) for your favorite Christian or a new menorah for your Jewish friend ($55). Buddhas range from $2.50 to $78. For the agnostic in the crew, jewelry is a safe bet. How about a silver necklace from Tahiti? Gity has that too. Imports from more than 35 countries include mini Egyptian pyramids and Chinese wind chimes, making a shopping trip to Gity Joon like a flashback to Disneyland's It's a Small World After All. If you go in late December, bring a gift for needy children. Santa will be there to collect them and to listen to Christmas wishes.
Gity Joons Treasures & Charms for the Heart, 1828 Union (between Octavia and Gough), 292-7388.
Smokers have a safe haven at The Humidor. With more than 100 kinds to choose from, you can give the aficionado a treat with a top-quality Dunhill aged cigar ($15.99). If your cigar-smoking buddy doesn't yet have a favorite, consider a cigar sampler--three or four different cigars for $22.98, on sale at $15.00. Dad smokes a pipe? Choose from 15 different pipe tobaccos from hazelnut to English Supreme. Fill up a humidor ($79 -$400) and earn eternal gratefulness or stock a smoker's stocking with a cigar cutter, lighter, and European hand-rolling tobacco ($5.99).
The Humidor, 2201 Union (at Fillmore), 563-5181 or 2050 Chestnut (at Mallorca), 561-0491.
New boyfriend's a little fashion-challenged? Sean can help. Sean Cassidy (no, not the Hardy Boy) owns an unpretentious boutique featuring French designer Pierre Emile Lafaurie. His trendy but tailored styles make certain mass-clothing retailers seem beige and bland. Give your honey a choco-brown fleece painter coat ($140) that will make him a standout among the black leather drones. Keep him warm with a cotton fleece sweater ($88) or scarf ($46) that feels like cashmere. Choose from Sean's stock of earth tones. Get your boyfriend hooked this holiday season and never be afraid to let him shop alone again.
Sean, 1749 Union (between Octavia and Gough), 474-7363. www.seanstore.com.
Giving a movie usually means one of two things: that a movie is good enough for multiple viewings, or that you want to expose someone to something you think is cool or educational. Tear-jerkers, surprise endings, and light romantic comedies don't usually hold up on review. Fine cinema, good special effects, cult films, and very clever comedies do. Well-made documentaries can be passed along. While most of these titles are available on tape, the superiority of DVD over VHS is a forgone conclusion. The widescreen format presents movies as the filmmaker intended, while the quality of digital audio and surround- sound, compared to that of VHS, approximates the difference between cassette and CD. Basic functions like chapter lists and language options are often accompanied by extra features such as director or actor commentaries that run along as the film is playing. These commentaries are great for auteur filmmakers, low-budget films, and effects-heavy action pictures. Scenes that had been cut for length reasons in the theatrical release are often included in the DVD version.
Throughout the gift section, items marked with a "*" have local angles to them.
Woody Allen Collection
MGM has three different box sets spanning the career of filmmaker Woody Allen. Go for the early work, beginning with 1971's Bananas to recall that Woody was wacky before he got deep. Some of his best films are here: the futuristic Sleeper, '77 Best Picture Annie Hall, the informative Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex , and his first black and white feature, Manhattan. All the elements are here that will define Allen's output--smart humor, great music, complex characters, and younger women. There are no DVD extras such as commentary or "making-of" documentaries. Nor are there any deleted scenes, because Woody makes exactly the movie he wants.
*The Celluloid Closet
In clips from 120 films, the image of queers in the cinema unfolds in a timeline beginning with silent film comedies in which a man dancing with another man was considered risqué humor. Proceeding from sissies in the 30s to doomed deviants in the 40s and 50s, up through the iconographic gay imagery of the end of the 20th century, The Celluloid Closet is a well-researched and informative capsule of the portrayal of gays on film, from the subtle to the overt. The unspoken in Spartacus, The Maltese Falcon, and Rebel Without a Cause finally comes out in Making Love, Silkwood, and My Own Private Idaho. The Bay Area is well-represented by modern commentators. Local Susie Bright gives great interview, as do one-time Bay Areans Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Hanks. Armistead Maupin wrote the narration, delivered rather straight by Lily Tomlin. Susan Sarandon describing her role in The Hunger and Tony Curtis on the Hollywood studio machine are highlights. The booklet reprints a letter by Charlton Heston publicly dissing Gore Vidal for questioning Ben-Hur's motivations.
Best in Show
Christopher Guest reassembled most of his ensemble cast of Waiting For Guffman to do for dog shows what the previous film did for small-town theater. His troupe skewers subcultures from the inside by a combination of research, a strong premise, and a loose script. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock are brilliant as the hypercompetitive obsessives traumatizing their Weimaraner. Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara have never been funnier in a film, he as a clueless, tactless announcer at the national show, she as a wife with a history with everyone. The audio commentary by director Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy reveal that informed improvisation unleashes the devils in the details. Refreshingly, the deleted scenes are worth watching.
*The Godfather Collection
This year, give them a gift they can't refuse. From San Francisco's most celebrated filmmaker, this highly-anticipated DVD release actually lived up to expectations, with the first three films on four discs, and another disc of quality extra material. First off, there are 25 additional scenes for the men in your life to memorize, along with a precise timeline as to how they were supposed to fit in. Plus Academy Awards acceptance speeches, a Corleone family tree, great documentaries including Mario Puzo and Coppola on screenwriting, and more. The titles alone on the documentaries last longer than some other DVD "bonus" cuts. Local angles in Part III include Marin resident Don Novello (aka Fr. Guido Sarducci) as Pacino's publicist, and I kid you not, Willie Brown blatantly selling Michael Corleone a judge. (The audio commentary has Coppola noting that his family and Brown are close. Have rings been kissed at Tosca?)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Most of us are familiar with the feature film, and if you know of someone who isn't, that's reason enough to get it for them. But for your die-hard Python fans, the bonus stuff alone is worth it. This is the whole package--The Godfather of comedy DVDs in that a separate disc is needed for the extra material. For commentary, choose either tag-team directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones for reminiscences on the filmmaking process, or "general complaints and back-biting" by John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle. A cast guide shows how many roles each player had (Palin tops with 10). Throw in the best animated menus (Gilliam's, of course), which scream "get on with it" if you take too long, a knights-of-the-round-table musical number redone in Lego, tons of "unshot footage," and a follow-the-killer-rabbit feature, and you've got a standard by which cult films can be expanded upon in this new delivery mode called DVD.
A great gift for any movie lover would be the Stanley Kubrick Collection, which contains eight movies including the masterpieces A Clockwork Orange, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. But if you were to buy just one of the titles, it should be Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb. Playing the president of the United States, a British officer, and the Nazi advisor Dr. Strangelove, Sellers displays the range of a true comic genius. A bonus documentary reveals that the pilot character played by Slim Pickens was meant for Sellers before he broke his ankle during shooting, and that much of his work was improvised. Other worthwhile bonus material includes individual split- screen interviews by Sellers and George C. Scott , wherein they pretend that they are on the phone so reporters can edit themselves into an interview. Rightly, the Kubrick titles are presented in letterbox only. Dr. Strangelove shows why this is the way to go--Kubrick uses every bit of the widescreen format, as both the war table and the wings of the bomber go edge to edge.
*Margaret Cho - I'm the One That I Want
SHomeslice Margaret Cho chose the Warfield Theater to record her feature-length stand-up movie after selling out shows in New York and across the country. In the tradition of the comedic confession, or "comfessional" perfomance, Margaret details her near-demise after moving to Los Angeles to star in the sit-com "All-American Girl." Through truthful, brutal characterizations of agents, managers, and producers, we see how the Hollywood system nearly killed her in a cultural makeover and weight-loss regimen designed so she could better play herself. Along the way are lesbian whale-watching, self-proclaimed fag-haggism, Tinseltown sluttery, and the familiar territory of Margaret's family. The end result is a tribute to survival, self-expression, and confidence, but you're too busy laughing to see it that way on first viewing. Sixteen year old girls could handle the blue humor, and be inspired by her strength and resilience.
Anchor Bay Entertainment seems to have cornered the market in 80s teenage cult films. Their catalog includes classics like Emelio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man, Wynona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannan Doherty in the mass-murder black comedy Heathers, and Kentucky Fried Movie, Jerry Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers' spoofy warm-up to Airplane!Under-thirteens might be too young but you can't be too old for this stuff. Edgy and raunchy, dark and silly, fart jokes and f-words. Hey, they could be watching Tom Green.
Other box sets and collectors editions include The Alfred Hitchcock Collection, history and military sets from A&E, The George Carlin Collection, The Bruce Lee Gift Set, Classic Steve Martin, Peanuts Classic Holiday Collection, The Honeymooners, collectors sets of SF's finest Dirty Harryand Bullitt, and BBC series such as The Avengers, The Prisoner, The Saint, and Monty Python. Packaging propers go to Artisan Entertainment for the Mars-shaped tin encasing the Total RecallDVD, and the inclusion of an ice pick pen with the Basic Instinct unrated version.
Choosing movies to give to kids requires a delicate balance between your two audiences--the kids who watch them again and again to the point of memorization-- and the parental recipients of the ad nauseam second-hand repetition. Breeders of all kinds will appreciate something like Fantasia or Yellow Submarine because they loved them as kids, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's anti-brat message, while a gift such as the Home Alone Collection will bring pressured invitations to baby-sit and other curses. Movies that can be watched together once, much less several times, ought to be gold-plated.
The Incredible Adventures of Wallace and Gromit
Before the chickens ran, Wallace and Gromit were getting into plenty of their own claymation calamities. Compiled on one disc are the short films A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave, where we're introduced to creator Nick Park and his unique sense of humor. Wallace's well-intentioned inventions bring the spirit of Rube Goldberg to life, and the silent but resilient Gromit is his foil. In A Close Shave, the object of his affection is Wendolene Ramsbottom--until Wallace learns she doesn't like cheese. All the stories are clever and cute, and each has a big finish.
Correct children to know that prequels come out before the rest of the story. Like an army of orcs, an onslaught of hype lies just over the hill. Be prepared for the live-action Lord of the Rings movie by finding out how the hobbits got the darn ring in the first place. This animated telling of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy introduces us to Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Wizard, and the inhabitants of Middle Earth. If you can answer the riddle "Box without hinges, key or a lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid," you can proceed to the nearest multiplex on Dec. 19 for the blockbuster. If not, you need a refresher course in Gollum-speak.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
G-Rated, harmless, time-consuming, slapstick fun. This is the Who's Who of 50's television comedy, brought together to chase after 1963 money. "Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand G's!" You can explain to the young viewers who Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Jerry Lewis are. Cameos by Carl Reiner, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges, Don Knotts, and Norman Fell.
*The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
SA silly, somewhat psychedelic farce. The official onscreen credit goes to Ray D. Tutto, but the King of the Moon would appear to be our own Robin Williams in truly fine manic form. There's eye candy in the form of early Uma Thurman, and the perennially over-budget Terry Gilliam does a great job with the look of the rest of the film as well. That man can spend, but with good results.
The Princess Bride
It's inconceivable that anyone hasn't seen this all-ages classic. It's got Andre the Giant before we all learned to Obey, Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, the self-aggrandizing philosopher, Mandy Patinkin as the vengeance-driven Inigo Montoya, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as the not-at-all subtly Jewish magicians, and it introduced Robin Wright before she was introduced to Mr. Penn. All this and Rob Reiner too? Believe it.
With the advent of home theater systems, music-oriented movies are the best-served of any genre. Listening to the Doors out of your television's crappy speakers really minimized the Lizard King's power. But watching The Buena Vista Social Club on DVD through your amplifier is a spiritual experience. Now it makes sense to collect concert films, because the sound is as good as the compact disc and they can be played in bits and pieces or as background stimulus. And rock "n' roll movies make for some of the best late-night vegetation sessions.
Roy Orbison and Friends
I want friends like these. Guest musicians, in alphabetical order because the egos were checked at the door for this one: Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d.lang, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. Filmed at the Cocoanut Grove in 1987, this is the only commercially available live recording of Roy Orbison, and he sounds as amazing as ever. In an era of effects and autotuners, the throwback look of black-and-white film (not manipulated video) and Orbison's stunning vocal control hark back to the golden age of rock and roll.
Stop Making Sense
Perhaps the best concert film ever, and not just on performance alone. The visuals, the angles, the motions, the staging, the sequencing all were conceptualized and perfected by the band and director Jonathan Demme. There is always something new to look at, be it different lighting, projected words, funky shadows, or the wad of nervous energy that is David Byrne. DVD extras include commentary from Demme and all four members of the band, though obviously not recorded together. There is also a strange sequence with Byrne interviewing himself.
Recorded live at Oakland's magnificent art deco Paramount Theatre in 1995 but just now released on DVD, this concert includes Bonnie-penned classics such as "Longing in Their Hearts" and "Feeling of Falling" as well as Raitt-owned covers like John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" and Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day." She even slips in a rousing version of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House." Here's Jackson Browne guesting again, along with Charles Brown, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Hornsby, whom Bonnie is known to ridicule for ironing his jeans.
Set in London and Brighton in 1964, Quadrophenia is, on the surface, a film about the scooter-riding Mods and the motorcycle-riding Rockers set to a kick-ass soundtrack by The Who. Going a little deeper reveals a classic study of alienation and identity questioning with a kick-ass concept album soundtrack by you-know-who. Collectors of self-congratulatory Sting interviews should be thrilled, as the Dolby 5.1 Surround Audio engulfs you in the omni-talent that is Sting. While most DVD bonus interviews have actors praising the director and the director praising cast and crew, Sting ruminates on his "amazing success in one field, and then another!"
Documentaries are great for getting backstage looks at the making of some fantastic music, and they can be lent to friends when done. Billy Bragg and Wilco's Man in the Sand is a documentary of the process of writing and recording Vols. 1 and 2 of the Mermaid Avenue albums, wherein unearthed Woody Guthrie lyrics are put to music. But before you watch that, try the double DVD overview of American Roots Music for reference. The footage is culled from the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Good stuff for fans of folk, bluegrass, and blues.
*Jim Jarmusch takes on La Honda resident Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse in Year of the Horse, but he doesn't get in the way. Instead, he lets the band do what they do best--jam. The bonus interviews have Neil expounding on his formula for "long-term preservation," something any young musician could benefit from.
The holidays offer the opportunity to purchase pleasurable things for people you don't really know, including secret Santa draws, clients, new family members, and sometimes, old family members. Music seems like a good idea, until you try to match your current tastes across an age gap. Giving your in-laws a home-burned CD of your latest Icelandic-Celt-hop-trancepop playlist will not endear you to them, and you can forget about being the cool uncle if you offer commercial cheese to your teenage nephew. The selections below maximize the chance of success in your giving endeavors.
Say it Loud -- A Celebration of Black Music in America
This 6-disc, 108-cut set is the collaboration of VH1, Quincy Jones, and the compilation wizards at Rhino Records. A companion to the thematic television documentary, this collection goes strictly chronologically, from Scott Joplin to Coolio, creating the ultimate rebuttal to white supremacy. The breadth is staggering, the selections seminal, the music uplifting and inspiring. It should be required listening for every human being and beamed into space on a continual loop. We like it.
Your grandparents might appreciate this young'un's song selection, and some virtuoso rag piano and smooth crooning might be a refreshing respite to you from the mandate of continual Christmas carols. Harry Connick Jr. so wishes he had been in the Rat Pack, that he's chosen songs even Frank and Dean were nostalgic about. This is his 30th birthday present to himself, and he clearly thinks enough of his truly to do a swell job on "Don't Fence Me In", "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and other standards.
Days of Wine and Roses
Henry Mancini has been called the greatest composer of music for film. From the late 50's throughout the 80's, Mancini scored over 80 films and released more than 50 albums. The Mancini formula fused the sensibility and light-heartedness of cool, West Coast jazz with orchestral emotional symbolism. This three-CD set covers his entire career, of which the instrumental pieces like "Theme from The Pink Panther" hold up best. Some tunes have an overdone chorus, the likes of which blight many a Ray Charles tune, but the cumulative effect of this 80-tune retrospective is impressive. After breaking through with the score to Orson Welles' noir Touch of Evil, Mancini wrote and reluctantly recorded the theme to a young Blake Edwards' TV show called Peter Gunn. It was the first jazz score for television and brought Mancini his first #1 LP, unheard-of for a TV score. Edwards' debut feature, Breakfast at Tiffanys, became the first of 28 films he and Mancini would do together. They collectively contain some of the best-known film songs, such as, "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Moon River." Don't recognize those tunes? Your family elders probably do, and that's why this would make a good gift. Let your grandparents know he used to play with the Glen Miller Band, tell your parents that Audrey Hepburn called him "the hippest of cats," and remind your bachelor uncle that he wrote the score to Mommie Dearest. Everybody's happy.
*The Jam: Graham Central Station Anthology
The pluck and thump baseline that drove 60's funk higher came out of Oakland via Larry Graham while onstage with Sly and the Family Stone. By the time he left the band in 1972, his influence could be heard all over the funkadelic landscape. The Jam is a 33-song retrospective of his post-Sly work with Graham Central Station and some solo stuff. The band was a kind of gospel/ soul/ funk concoction that seemed to want nothing to do with the sexual revolution, judging by the common theme of commitment, but that wanted to get down on the dance floor nonetheless. Can a band be wholesome and badass? They come close.
Can You Dig It? The 70s Soul Experience
The best packaging of the year award goes to this six-disc, 136-song collection of soul classics disguised as a case of 8-track tapes. A full 65 of the selections were #1 on the R&B and/or pop charts, making this a dazzling display of licensing. It reminds us that the soundtrack for the blaxploitation 70's was soul, not disco. Also reflected in the music are black power, women's lib, and castrati-falsetto-chic. Survivors like Isaac Hayes and Tower of Power are sandwiched between other masters and a slew of one-hit wonders. These discs are great for drivin,' dancin', or makin' sweet love.
*Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection
For a quarter of a century, Blind Pig has been releasing some of the most authentic, honest, contemporary blues music in the country out of their Bernal Heights HQ. But don't think down-and-out blues; think barroom blues, hot-lick blues, and hip-hop blues. Two CDs chronicle an impressive array of performers, from big-time bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins, to local luminaries like Tommy Castro and Norton Buffalo, who have shared stages with the best. Disc 3 is a CD-ROM of videos and interviews of Blind Pig alumni such as B.B.King and Popa Chubby. For the complete roster, visit www.blindpigrecords.com.
Fail-safe gifts for music snobs who find fault with everything would be Poncho Sanchez's Latin Spirits, or The Very Best of Cubanismo. Let them try to find something wrong with this passionate, soulful, superb musicianship.
Two new CD's that will work wonders on the young hipster who wants only the latest are Afro Celt Sound System Volume 3: Further In Time and Ozomotli's powerful Embrace the Chaos.
Other new releases for the urban set are Bullfrog, a Montreal hip-hop outfit including Kid Koala, a fun and funky record reminiscent of The Pharcyde and MC 900Ft Jesus, and The Coup's Party Music, an insanely indignant and contemptuous anti-capitalist manifesto wrapped up in brilliant rhymes and flawless production from this Oakland collective.
Is that a jukebox in your pocket or just a little hard drive? Apple's iPod is both, actually. This groovy gizmo is the size of a pack of smokes and holds up to 1000 mp3 files. Designed as a companion to Apple's simple-to-use iTunes application, synchronization is automatic upon plug-in, and an entire CD can be downloaded in about 10 seconds via the firewire port. The 5-gig hard drive can also be used to transport and transfer non-music files. If James Bond ripped albums, he'd carry one of these.
Due to widely varying tastes and sensibilities, it can be problematic to buy fiction for other people. In doing so, it is somewhat implicit that your are responsible for the recipient's time spent reading it, in that if they think the book blows, they'll blame you for the wasted nights and Muni rides. Long fiction is also a gift that creates resentment if they plow through it just because you may ask them how they liked the ending. This doesn't apply to the proper gift book, which can be picked up and enjoyed whenever and by whomever, or, in the case of fiction can be read in an evening or two. The best advice is to stick with visual arts and light reads, and of course to support the bookstores in your neighborhood.
One of the thoughts that come to mind when flipping through Atget's beautiful monograph on Paris (1857-1927), is to thank God he did this. Without his efforts, many of the scenes he photographed would be gone from the human record; as it is, the romance of turn-of-the-century France is both preserved and perpetuated by the totality of his work. Atget reveals the lavish to the low-down in a comprehensive study of the culture: a lobster stand, a newspaper kiosk, bakeries, carnivals, a wine merchant's shop, clothiers, parks, buggies, sculpture, alleyways, staircases, castles, interiors, and his famous Parisian store windows. There are rarely people in his photographs, but you feel you really understand those who lived there through the streets they walked. Thankfully, the shots of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge are free from Christina Aguilera and Lil' Kim. And don't look for Pink, either; this is all in glorious black-and-white.
San Franciscan Jim Marshall is considered by his peers to be the greatest photographer of musicians. His is a genius of mixing talent, timing, and Tri-X to create images that become definitive of the subject. Hendrix's flaming guitar, the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, Johnny Cash at Folsom, and Janis Joplin with her Southern Comfort bottle--you know these images even if you don't know the man who took them. A few years ago he published Not Fade Away, a collection of his rock music images that views like a celebration and a memorial roster at the same time. Marshall captures the exuberance of the early days of 60's rock, but time and circumstance have put in a somber undertone, with all the casualties preserved in their prime. Not Fade Away is also available in paperback, and Jim has collaborated with two other photographers, Barry Feinstein and Daniel Kramer to produce an intimate book of photographs and anecdotes entitled Early Dylan, which focuses on the mid-sixties era.
*Remains of a Rainbow: Rare Plants and Animals of Hawaii
David Liittschwager & Susan Middleton
These two local photographers have made it their mission to document America's endangered species through a style of portraiture that amplifies the creature's essence by isolating it from environment. They have created an affecting record of both plant and animal, and their new National Geographic book project had them four years in Hawaii preserving the vanishing. Graceful, peaceful, and tragic--elements that make nature photography art.
Aperture Masters of Photography Collection
Aperture, a publishing leader in fine art photography, has a series of books designed as economical introductions to master photographers. Selling individually for $12.50, with discounts for set purchases, these are like little primers in the art. Measuring just 8"x 8" and containing 40 duotones each, they're not so intimidating as the huge coffee-table tomes that most of these artists also have published.
The first set gathers the work of twelve photography masters of the highest order for your pleasure and education, including the photojournalism of Cartier-Bresson; the New York of Berenice Abbott, Weegee, and Stieglitz; the avant-garde experiments of Man Ray; and August Sander's Weimar portraits.
This six-book set showcases W. Eugene Smith's extraordinary storytelling, Barbara Morgan's stunning dance photographs, Tina Modotti's Mexican and communist workers, Harry Callahan's shape-driven art, as well as the photographs of Wynn Bullock and Eikoh Hosoe. If you can't find them in your local bookstore, visit www.aperture.org.
*San Francisco Bizarro
Whether they lived through the '06 earthquake or just arrived here in SF, not many folks have the collective knowledge found inside this guide. This SF bible of the bizarre trails us through the cultural gutters and the notorious landmarks of wonderful San Francisco. Written with wit, it chronicles the city's bar noir scene, celebrity mishaps, odd museums, sex industry, and anti-California cuisine and takes a fascinating look at some of our strange city's inventive vocations. Former SF Weekly writer Boulware gives the reader carnal knowledge of local singularities such as a shoe store for foot worship, a school for sex and a church whose patron saint is John Coltrane. Take a tour through the Pez Memorabilia museum or visit a sergeant's dead dog at the Presidio pet cemetery. An engaging guide that will get you and visiting guests out on this strange town.
If you know someone who pants over the sorority girls in HR, or whose palms sweat while signing for the FedEx man, the Office Kama Sutra could be their guide to fulfillment. This tastefully illustrated book of wanton wisdom leads you through techniques of choosing, courting, and gratifying your new-sprung office love. Occupations are compared, and the temp worker has high honors: "Cloaked in anonymity ... their presence is made all the more appealing by the threat of their imminent departure." There are 40 ways of courtship to master, and each will titillate young lovers. Consider the game of a thousand sticky notes, wherein you slowly uncover your lover's delectables one note at a time. Or of ergonomically correct congress, in which you measure your lover's limbs to correct for any encumbrances and avoid injury. Conveniently, it comes with a reversible cover, aptly titled "Getting what you want at work," that allows one to continue to read in the appropriate place, the office.
By Nick Bantock
Another wonderful correspondence story from illustrator/writer Nick Bantock. The fourth book in the Griffin & Sabine series, this addition continues the tradition of beautiful images, postcards, and handwritten letters pulled from their envelopes that tell a fantastical mysterious tale. Re-emerging are the main characters, Griffin & Sabine, as they start a correspondence with a young archaeologist in Egypt. Confounded by the clairvoyance of a letter from a woman named Sabine, the archaeologist shares it with his lover, Isabelle, who resides in France. The two couples' lives begin to entangle via shared visions and discoveries. The reader is taken into their mythical lands, ancient truths, and dark forces. It is irresistible to want to continue with the story but as in the last one, we will have to wait for the follow-up of this fantastic tale.
Susan Stryker has a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Cal and a post-doc fellowship in sexuality studies at Stanford. In other words, she's a heavyweight in the field of getitonology. Despite the academics, she's also got her tongue firmly planted in cheek, as shown in this collection of lurid paperback covers of queer pulp fiction from the 50's and 60's. Very well researched and annotated, the essays are an extreme contrast to the graphics. One can't help giggling at Abnormals Anonymous, AC-DC Lover, Lavender Love Rumble, or Frisco Gal. Don't ask, but do tell about Army buddies in The Killer Queens and Womens Barracks. These "one-handed readers," packed with closet queens, trannies, she-males, homos, lesbos, and deviants of every variety, are for those who favor naughty over nice.
Comic and former San Franciscan Marc Maron has adapted his one-man show into a hilarious travelogue for the lost. With the sound of Satan's cloven hooves never far behind, Maron searches for the men behind the curtains at every opportunity, be they the Illuminati, the ghosts of dead comedians, or the Almighty himself. The Jerusalem Syndrome takes its title from the delusion some people get when entering the Holy Land that their arrival has cosmic implications and was orchestrated by God. In other hands, this questing could get tired fast, but Maron's ability to recognize his own idiosyncrasies is the key, because if one can articulate the conspiracy well enough, then the paranoia isn't so far-fetched. Sorry to give anything away, but Maron gives a compelling confession in which he admits responsibility for the Northridge earthquake by performing a rite on the roof of the St. James Hotel in Hollywood.
*This Too Can Be Yours
Beth Lisick's short stories are guilty pleasures--candid glimpses into flawed and troubled lives that unfurl with confessional honesty, indulging the reader in voyeuristic gratification. If you've lived in the Bay Area long enough, you'll likely recognize some of her characters--the aging hippie still searching for free love and good karma, the cyber freak, the annoying performance artist, the out-of-work poet, the reality TV wannabe, the neurotic media maven, the rock star asshole, the debauched debutante. Lisick manages to nail all of these and several more while generously infusing the stories with pop culture kitsch. A poet and performer, Lisick fronts a band called The Beth Lisick Ordeal, and is a columnist at sfgate.com. She writes with equal ease from the male and female perspective. In "Grit in the Oil," she captures both the blasé ennui of a likable male limo driver and the abrasive egocentricity of the female record exec he's paid to pick up from the airport and spy on: "I see her rolling her eyes in the rearview while she listens (to her cell phone). "Okay, whatever. If she has a leash on you, then fine. I'm free for dinner tonight and if you want to see my new underwear, I suggest you make yourself available. Bye!' " It's this sort of candor, like eavesdropping on a conversation or reading someone's diary, that make this collection a quick and compelling read.
Here's What's Cooking
In a town that elevates food to a fine art form, cookbooks are a popular and welcome gift. British voluptuary Nigella Lawson leads the pack with How to Be a Domestic Goddess, the ultimate in comfort cookery which incidentally commanded her a British Book Award for Author of the Year. In this deliciously reassuring book, eggs, butter, cream, and sugar are no longer dirty words. In contrast to Nigella's permissiveness, Moosewoods Lowfat Faresmight be just the antidote to two months of holiday binging. Foodie celebrity Bobby Flay's Boy Meets Grill is a good choice for the backyard barbecuer. And locally, Chronicle Books offers Farallon, arrogantly subtitled, "the Very Best of San Francisco Cuisine," and while that's certainly debatable, the book is beautiful, equally at home on the coffee table as the kitchen table.