Documentaries were once the stodgy old coots of the cinematic world. But with the release of surprise hits like Super Size Me and Fahrenheit 9/11 they're suddenly big business, and the moment is ripe for a reappraisal of the nonfiction pictures that we missed on their first go-rounds. The series "The Contemporary Documentary: Cultural Icons" is perfectly timed to cash in on our current filmic zeitgeist, with a month's worth of movies that examine the fascinating back stories of famous folks.
First up, in tonight's screening, is F for Fake, the 1974 flick in which Orson Welles deconstructs his own artistic inclinations under the guise of eulogizing a painter known for knocking out counterfeit Picassos and Matisses. Coming from a man famous for the effects of his fake radio newscast War of the Worlds, F is all the more enjoyably sly for those with a bit of Welles background under their belts. On Jan. 14 filmmaker Maximilian Schell fillets the mystique of Ms. Dietrich in Marlene, while on Jan. 21 Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol digs beneath the seemingly impenetrable facade of America's most celebrated pop artist. Finally, host (and SF Weekly contributor) Michael Fox saves a treat for the end with Jan. 28's Let's Get Lost, the gorgeous 1988 film that transformed Chet Baker from an obscure jazzman to an underground superstar as revered for his dissolute life as for his music. See if you can handle the truth at 6:30 p.m. each week at the Mechanics' Institute Library, 57 Post (at Market), S.F. Admission is $5-7; call 393-0101 or visit www.milibrary.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
It's a Katastrophe
Rising "homo-hop" star Katastrophe straddles the line between poet and musician, but in both capacities this self-described "somewhat reclusive MC" often leaves audiences roaring for more. Flowing rhymes, righteous anger, and a sharp, stylish sense of humor work in this kid's favor -- and have done so since he was a teen taking the slam world by storm. Katastrophe (aka Rocco Kayiatos) is all grown up now, and he's got cause for celebration tonight: the record release party for his first full-length recording, Let's F*ck, Then Talk About My Problems. A truckload of talent opens, including D/DC, JenRO, and Dime Life Crooks, at 8:30 at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell (at Van Ness), S.F. Admission is $5; call 861-2011 or visit www.rickshawstop.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Images of the dark side
If you've been lamenting a seasonal dearth of the sinister and grim, Hamburger Eyes Photo Magazine promises to restore your fervor with "The Blackhole: A Photographic Apocalypse," an event celebrating the release of the publication's eighth issue. It has an audacious title, but the nervy mag is up to the task, judging from the work on display at 111 Minna. Advancing Hamburger Eyes' objective of "revitalizing the sensation of photography as a craft, as well as a tool to record and document," the exhibit features photojournalistic black-and-white visualizations of everyday life, with images that tend toward the gritty (strippers, the down-and-out). Catch photos by Stefan Simikich, Ted Pushinsky, Ray Potes, and other artists along with sweet DJ spinning at the opening reception at 5 p.m. Thursday (the exhibit runs through Feb. 6) at the 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 974-1719 or visit www.hamburgereyes.com.
-- Michael Leaverton
Don't stop till you get enough
A horrible thought: What if you had to choose only one funky pop-music genius? Positively dreadful, but as a concept for a DJ battle, "Prince vs. Michael -- Round 5" is brilliant. Let's ignore the current criminal allegations against Jackson, especially since Prince has been bathed in enthusiastic praise of late. Instead, let's talk about the music, since it wouldn't be much of a contest if it were for "Nicest Guy." The tie-breaking fifth round of DJs Dave Paul and Jeff Harris' awesomely conceived face-off promises to be a dance marathon: "Little Red Corvette" takes a swing at "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)," only to be pounded by "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," which had better watch its back when "U Got the Look" comes around, all starting at 8 p.m. at Café Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is $7; call 861-5016 or visit www.cafedunord.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
In the days of hoop skirts and suspenders, patent medicine sellers staged glamorous spectacles that made gullible rubes gather 'round. You won't be asked to sample any remedies or describe your symptoms at "Attaboy and Burke's Surreal Medicine Show," but downing some type of mood-enhancing substance might help you appreciate your hosts' smirking, snarky, sideshow-style hucksterism. The event includes a revolving panoply of acts, which in past shows has ranged from the Amazing Rubberboy's mind-bending contortions to the pogo stick striptease of Roky Roulette. The madness cranks up at 9 p.m. (and continues the first Saturdays of February and March) at the Odeon, 3223 Mission (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $6; call 550-6994.
-- Joyce Slaton