Abandonment at birth, homelessness during her teens, drug and alcohol abuse, and, of course, an early death: These are just a few of the hardships that helped seal Edith Piaf's reputation as one of the world's most renowned chanteuses. Beloved not only for her difficult life, but also for her charm, Piaf had a simple style and a tiny frame that belied an amazing set of vocal cords and a gut-wrenching delivery. In her heyday in the 1940s, as now, fans happily set aside the traditional U.S. loathing for all things French. On the black-clad singer's birthday, San Francisco cabaret artist Raquel Bitton screens her concert-documentary Piaf: Her Story ... Her Songs, Bitton's tribute to France's "Little Sparrow." In it she performs some of the Gallic singer's most recognized songs -- "La Vie en Rose" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," to name only the most famous. In addition to delivering beautiful interpretations of Piaf's oeuvre, Bitton interviews composers, family members, and friends whose lives were affected by one of France's most unforgettable exports.
Ben Fong-Torres interviews Bitton post-screening. The film begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. (at A), San Rafael. Admission is $8-10; call 454-1222 or visit www.cafilm.org.
– Brock Keeling
Bands attack carols
The implicit irony in über-hip acts covering corny Christmas songs is nothing new -- David Bowie raised eyebrows with his "Little Drummer Boy" duet with Bing Crosby, and you haven't heard "White Christmas" until you've listened to Stiff Little Fingers' exhilarating version -- but there's something just a little bit naughty about tainted takes on classic holiday tunes. That's why we're putting the Rockin' Your Stockin' Christmas Pageant and Toy Drive on our "good" list this year, with local performers like Smelly Kelly (of Red Meat and the Plain High Drifters) and the Sheets (featuring Tim Bluhm of Mother Hips) delivering cockeyed variations on favorite ditties such as "We Three Kings," "Little St. Nick," and of course the immortal "Daddy Drank Our Xmas Money." Bring an unwrapped toy for the San Francisco Fire Department Toy Program and you get in for $5 (it's $10 for those not bearing gifts) starting at 9 p.m. at Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St. (at Wisconsin), S.F. Call 503-0393 or visit www.theeparkside.com.
– Joyce Slaton
The "Now" Camera
For the love of Polaroids
Of all things instant, photographs are the best. Instant pudding, oatmeal, and coffee are all horrifying and should be abolished. But Polaroids are worthwhile. We've even heard tell of Polaroid pinhole cameras, and we approve.
Michelle Casciolo probably would, too. She's the curator of "Gimme Polaroid IV," a one-night display made up entirely of the unpretentious images. The New Langton Arts gallery, she says, is hung "salon style," which apparently means pictures crammed onto every available surface. In addition, showgoers get the rare chance to have a black-and-white 8-by-10 image of themselves made in the Polaroid Photo Booth, beginning at 7 p.m. at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 626-5416 or visit www.newlangtonarts.org.
– Hiya Swanhuyser
On the Roadshow
Move over, book-signing tours -- now there's something meatier. Nifty lo-fi talent roundup the Perpetual Motion Roadshow features swell entertainment from 3-D visual artist Tyler Burke, author and Punk Planet columnist Joe Meno, and publishing phenom Todd Taylor of Razorcake Magazine/Gorsky Books. Not boring or your money back, organizers promise. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 282-9246 or visit www.mtbs.com.
– Hiya Swanhuyser