Pull My Daisy

"Cinema Salon" aims to recapture the spirit of old North Beach café society

Pull My DaisyThe red and green tiki lights signaling the entrance to the venerable Bannam Place Theater on Telegraph Hill are disconcertingly cheerful this Wednesday evening, in contrast to the weeknight quiet engulfing North Beach's entertainment strip two blocks away. The distinctive scent of incense grabs me at the door, drawing me with a pleasantly conspiratorial sensation down into a cozy brick basement. Welcome to the new "Cinema Salon," an undertaking of the enticingly named Fugitive Film Forum that's as enthusiastically regressive as it is progressive.

"Cinema Salon" taps into North Beach's legacy as a hub of creative cross-pollination in the '50s and '60s. In the world-famous heyday that extended from the Beat era through the hippie revolution, poets, musicians, and filmmakers filled the cafes and clubs, seizing inspiration from one another. The boundaries between disciplines relaxed, for a time, and experimentation was exalted. The cozy "Cinema Salon," convening every Wednesday night through the end of May (at least), aims for that kind of participatory scene, in which moviegoers talk not only to each other and to the filmmakers, but to the screen.

The evening begins with tune-spinning, imbibing, and schmoozing, as the crowd filters in. The lights go down around 8, people fill the 50-odd theater seats, and the films unspool. The April 10 program features Miles Montalbano's Love and the Monster, a short film adapted from a story in the Love and Rocketscomic book, while April 17 is given over to a rare screening of William Farley's landmark 1982 feature, Citizen. Snacks and conversation follow the flicks, although modern-day San Franciscans apparently lack the stamina of their all-night North Beach forerunners: The crowd at the first salon had disappeared by 10:30. Perhaps stronger stimulants than bottled water are required. The calendar is online at www.cinemod.net; for reservations, which are required, send an e-mail to cinemasalon@hotmail.com.

American DreamGarrett Scott moved to Oakland in 1998 with 70 hours of footage and not much else. The subject of his documentary work-in-progress was an infamous unemployed San Diegan named Shawn Nelson, who stole a tank from a National Guard armory in 1995 and ripped through his Clairemont neighborhood before the police terminated his joy ride with extreme prejudice. Scott, a San Diego native himself, realized at a certain point that the most important step he could take to finish the film was simply to exit Southern California. "It was very important to be out of San Diego to complete a film about San Diego," he remarks. "It's such a banal thing to say, but when you have a geographical distance, subtle things become apparent."

A blend of investigative journalism and historical documentary, Scott's Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Storypremiered last month at the New York Underground Film Festival to extraordinary reviews. While the media depicted Nelson as a crazed loner, Cul de Sacpresents his road rage as the most visible consequence of the invisible, gradual decline of a defense industry-dependent community. "It was so overdetermined and hyperrepresented by the media that getting on the ground and listening to other people's responses was key to getting a sense of what really happened," Scott explains.

Scott was inspired by The Sorrow and the Pity and Shoah, documentary masterpieces that examined history through the words and acts of ordinary people -- and at the same time challenged filmgoers' beliefs that they would have behaved differently in the same circumstances. "I do think it's important for the documentary to indict the audience in some way, or lead to some sort of complicity on the part of the people watching it," Scott says. He'll be on hand when Cul de Sac screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street), S.F.

 
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