San Francisco Noir 2


Edited by Peter Maravelis

Akashic Books

300 pages


D. Scot Miller (For San Francisco Bay Guardian)

San Francisco has many legacies, including the social movements of the 1960s and '70s. But before more recent utopian impulses, SF was the Barbary Coast — and Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District were havens for gambling, prostitution, and crime. This gritty, nefarious reputation was enhanced in the '30s by Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon, and in the '40s by John Huston's film version, among other SF-set stories. SF was a noir city, defined by hard drinking and hard living. This is a legacy that the current city perhaps would prefer to forget, much like a blackout during a drunken binge.

In his excellent introduction to the first San Francisco Noir anthology in 2005, editor Peter Maravelis writes, "Crime fiction is the scalpel used to reveal San Francisco's pathological character." With San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, Maravelis does more than pick up the scalpel once again. Using a timeline, he reprints some of the grainiest SF snapshots by Barbary Coast writers. He starts with Mark Twain's hard-boiled description of the infernal Hall of Justice in the late 19th century — a rogues gallery of vermin, where judges drop like flies from stress-induced heart-attacks. He then traces these noir elements to a doppelganger tale by Jack London, on to Hammett, and to contemporary authors such as William T. Vollmann, who writes what Maravelis calls "splatter-noir, where plutocracy has won and the dispossessed give graphic descriptions of the tears in the social fabric." Through recent stories by Janet Dawson, Oscar Penaranda, and others, Maravelis ups the ante, as if to say: this is the real San Francisco. Always has been, always will be.

Paul Beatty's Slumberland and Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa

Healing Words
an Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa
by D. Scot Miller

Slumberland By Paul Beatty
Review by D. Scot Miller

Are You Andoumboulou?

Are You Andoumboulou?
By D. Scot Miller for San Francisco Weekly

Nathaniel Mackey begins his poem "Spectral Escort" with the lines, "Not exactly a boat or/ not only a boat … / Weathervane, boat/ flag rolled into one." Whether as vehicle, compass, or guide, Mackey's book Splay Anthem takes the reader to uncharted poetic spaces, tracing a lost tribe through waking and dreamtime. The winner of the National Book Award for 2006, Splay Anthem is composed of two ongoing serial poems that Mackey has been writing and speaking for more than 20 years: "Mu" and "Song of the Andoumboulou."

"Andoumboulou are a failed, earlier form of human being in the Dogon cosmogony," explains Mackey in the introduction. "The Andoumboulou live underground, inhabiting holes in the earth." Mackey also co-edited the anthology Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (one of the few books to capture Cecil Taylor's poetry on the page), and has been the editor of the Afro-surrealists' literary journal of note, Hambone, for the past three decades. Tonight, Mackey appears with Hafez Modirzadeh, a saxophonist, teacher, and music theorist who played on Mackey's CD, Strick: Song of Andoumboulou 16-25, and is a longtime member of the avant-garde ensemble Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra. They are joined by Canadian poet Wayde Compton and British Poet D. S. Marriott, whose book title, Ingcognegro, is worth the price of admission alone.

Barry Jenkins

Viewing the city -- and its displacements -- through the prism of a relationship

By D. Scot Miller
Wednesday November 5, 2008

Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy was one of the biggest successes of this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, but it almost didn't happen.

"We shot the movie fast and thought maybe we could pass it around to friends," Jenkins says. "I started cutting it and said to myself, 'This is really coming together. Fuck it, let's try to get it into the San Francisco International Film Festival.' I looked on the website and the deadline had already passed. But I'd stopped (San Francisco Film Society Executive Director) Graham Leggat coming out of the bathroom at another film festival — it was rude, you should never stop someone coming out of the bathroom — and he remembered me and gave my film a fair viewing. God bless him."

Medicine For Melancholy, Jenkins' first feature, is a love story about Micah (Wyatt Cinach) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), two black San Franciscans who come together and fall apart over a 24-hour period. Race, displacement, and resentment play into their affair in surprising and subtle ways.

"I had the idea for this movie years ago," Jenkins says, "and I'd placed it in Chicago or New York City, but to me the city had to be a character. That could only be San Francisco. It would be silly for Micah to be so into Jo in New York or Chicago. [Meeting] Jo here makes him like an explorer in the Amazon who has come across an endangered species. He wants to run everything that's happening, to him and the city, by her. If he would shut the fuck up, he could get the girl."

Though framed as a romance, Medicine tackles one of the most pressing — and overlooked — issues in San Francisco: black people, and the city's lack thereof.

"Micah is based on this person I became after my first functional interracial relationship dissolved," Jenkins says. "When I moved to San Francisco, I was viewing the city through the prism of this relationship, living in this great, multi-culti San Francisco. When that relationship ended, San Francisco became a different place. There's a great indie arts scene here, a great indie music scene, but they're predominantly, if not entirely, white. You don't consciously become aware of it until one day you look around and say, 'Oh shit, I'm the Last Black Man on Earth!'

"The question became: Is there a place for me as a black man in San Francisco? Sure, there is. In LA, I couldn't write for two years. I come to San Francisco and over the first eight months, I'd written five screenplays. One of which became my first film. But it seems like nothing can stem the tide of the migration of all people of a certain economic background — people who've had to leave San Francisco, and who are now commuting to keep the city beautiful for people who make tons of money.

"For a time, there was a proliferation of gentrification in San Francisco, but it is shifting to displacement, and not just displacement based on race, but displacement of anyone who cannot afford to live here. And I think the reason it has proliferated is because not enough folks have taken the city to task. There have been folks, like the Guardian, who write about this shit all the time, but a lot of folks have been afraid to speak out."

This writer is here to tell you: it's not too late.