Pop culture is obsessed with so-called reality; from The Bachelor to The Osbournes, verisimilitude has reeled in millions and drastically blurred the line between what's authentic and what's manipulated. With a lot less flash and much more substance, San Francisco's John Pence Gallery, one of the premier academic realist art galleries in the United States, promises to bring us back to earth with a refreshing thud. “Self Portraits,” an exhibition featuring some of the top artists of the contemporary American realist movement, is filled with rich, thought-provoking images that at varying times can be both haunting and amusing, yet are consistently more compelling than the latest Joe Millionaire cast.
The work of Daniel Sprick, for example, crystallizes images of familiar objects — a refrigerator, the contents of a garbage can — in such a way that they become mysterious, almost supernatural. His down-to-earth approach colors his self-portrait, which features a pensive Sprick against a warm yellow background. Appearing caught off guard, Sprick urges the viewer to zero in on the detailed lines of his face, the individual hairs of his thick brows, and the microscopic prickle of his 5 o'clock shadow. Mikel Glass' paintings take a different tack, drawing viewers in with scale instead of detail. His Getting a Grip features the artist thoughtfully at work constructing more than a dozen hairless replicas of his head, some with eyebrows and crooked, broken teeth, some without; some looking secretive and shy, other likenesses fixed with a gleefully insane mien, while the painted body of Glass cradles one final head in his hands, fixing it with an eerily romantic gaze.
Other featured artists include Jacob Collins, the de facto leader of the modern realist movement, and Will Wilson, whose work was given the nod by no less a personage than Michael Jackson, who used Wilson's creation for the cover of his greatest-hits album, Blood on the Dance Floor.
This welcome escape from reality will remain up until Nov. 15 at 750 Post (at Jones), S.F. Admission is free; call 441-1138 or visit www.johnpence.com.
— Valerie Garing
Tricks of the Bloody Trade
Warning: Although guignol is French for “puppet,” Grand Guignol is not for children. The phrase probably translates more accurately to “Adult Playland.” From 1897 to the early 1960s, a little theater in Paris called Le Theatre du Grand Guignol was a draw for tourists. It didn’t matter how bad your French was: Two prostitutes gouging the eyes out of an innocent girl and then burning each other’s faces off speaks a universal language. Throat-slashings, disembowelings, and acid-throwing were, it seems, the staples of this type of theater. At “Magic and Mayhem: Stage Effects of the Grand Guignol,” historian Mel Gordon discusses the original company’s frequent use of animal eyeballs, because they could be relied upon to — oh, please, no — bounce. Also featured will be a live demonstration by the Thrillpeddlers, a theater troupe dedicated entirely to re-creations of the original short works of this alluringly disgusting proto-slasher-flick art form. Vintage posters and programs will be displayed and the launch of www.grandguignol.com celebrated starting at 7 p.m. at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is $5-10; call 255-4800 or visit www.sfpalm.org.
— Hiya Swanhuyser
A classic Halloween screamer
David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly was such a sucker-punch gross-out that it eclipsed the subtler early screen version of Daphne du Maurier's eerie tale of a man who pays a hideous price for meddling with teleportation. Though Jeff Goldblum was a sympathetic hero and Cronenberg's special effects were affecting, the later film bludgeoned viewers with gore and humor while 1958's Fly slices into the consciousness with elegant chilliness. Consider star Vincent Price, horror's greatest schlockmeister, who here is delicately compelling as the titular insect's brother. Price pooh-poohs the notion that his sibling's been transformed into a monster until he discovers the mutation trapped in a spider web in the movie's haunting final scene. Sure, the sequence looks cheesy next to Cronenberg's scabrous FX. But we bet the hapless fly's piteous cry — “Help me! Help me!” — will linger in your mind like a nightmare. The movie screens at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft (at Bowditch), Berkeley. Admission is $4- 8; call (510) 642-1124 or visit www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.
— Joyce Slaton
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which erected a narrative on the disgusting trading-card spinoff of the Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon, was so reviled upon its 1987 release that it was pulled from theaters after only five days. Its prosthetic-clad midget actors populated a creation story for characters like Foul Phil and Valerie Vomit, who apparently sprung from the primordial ooze at the bottom of a waste barrel from outer space. Ooooohhh-kay. They wind up in the retail establishment of a good-hearted antiques dealer, who accidentally allows the kids to escape while seeking a magic potion that will return them to their pail. The runaways burn up the screen with gallons of bodily fluid, painfully awful song-and-dance numbers, and nasty gags, such as one character's penchant for munching on severed toes and disembodied eyeballs. Leave the youngsters at home and see this rare freak show while you can, at midnight at the Four Star Theatre, 2200 Clement (at 23rd Avenue), S.F. Admission is $6; call 666-3488.
— Joyce Slaton