Attention Kmart Shoppers Influenced by old Hollywood and Madison Avenue advertisements and pulp fiction iconography, Alexis Smith's collage approach is seductive and subversive. Though Smith's combination of text and commercial material echoes Barbara Kruger, her style is more lively, less ideological. "Commercial Art" shows new work by Smith, along with visual/musical creations by Christian Marclay and an installation by Allen Ruppersberg; the exhibition is open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Gallery Paule Anglim, 14 Geary St, S.F. "Commercial Art" continues through Nov. 11. Free; call 433-2710.
Just Joshing Josh Kornbluth's last solo piece --The Mathematics of Change -- started in S.F. and wound up off-Broadway. The next installment in Kornbluth's award-winning semi-autobiographical series, Pumping Copy focuses on a naive college grad's quest to attain fame and fortune in the lucrative, glamorous field of alternative journalism. Family squabbles and optical problems add to the intrigue. Still in development, Pumping Copy begins three weeks of workshop performances at 8:30 p.m. at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia, S.F. Tickets are $8-12; call 826-5750.
Love Is a Many Gendered Thing Billed as "a chaotic fairy tale for the queer, urban world," Fanci's Persuasion is a same-sex S.F. update on A Midsummer Night's Dream, dosed with weird magical realism. The best things about Charles Herman-Wurmfeld's movie are its vibrant primary colors and Justin Bond's scenery-chewing performance as a stressed-out suburban mom. Fanci plays at 7:30 & 9:15 p.m. (and repeats Friday) at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight, S.F. Tickets are $3-5.50; call 668-3994.
Open Your Art Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, ArtSpan's Open Studios is S.F.'s largest single annual visual arts get-together, allowing the general public to visit the private studios and homes of over 600 local creators. The show-and-sell event spans a month, and its sites range from converted South of Market warehouse spaces to chichi Pacific Heights living rooms. Featuring music by the Jug Band, an opening reception for the artists involved lasts from 6 to 9 p.m. at SOMAR Gallery, 934 Brannan, S.F. Free; call 861-9838.
Sexual Politics How does homosexuality relate to political and social radicalism? Berkeley professor Leo Bersani's new book, Homos, addresses this question, and his idiosyncratic answers have prompted the New York Times Book Review to counterpoint Homos with Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal in a (patronizing) front-page review. Bersani will be joined by a theorist (Judith Butler) and an artist (Nayland Blake) for a discussion at 7 p.m. at Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA, 151 Third St, S.F. Tickets are $4-8; call 357-4102.
Magic LaWanda "Tell the man with the money to come here and pay me." That's the first thing LaWanda Page said when she entered the studio to make a cameo on RuPaul's debut album. Two decades since her acting heyday as wisecracking Aunt Esther -- the nemesis of Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) on Sanford and Son -- Page is still feisty, and her stand-up routines are filled with words you can't hear on TV. She'll be joined by poet/singer/rapper/lecturer/producer/director Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore for an evening of XXX-rated comedy at 8 p.m. at McKenna Theatre, Creative Arts Building, SFSU, 1650 Holloway, S.F. Tickets are $10-12; call 338-2444.
Sitar Man Hailed as "the godfather of world music" by George Harrison, Ravi Shankar has integrated Indian instrumentation with rock/blues (with the Byrds, John Coltrane, and others) and Western classical compositions (with the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra). This year, the renowned sitar virtuoso celebrates his 75th birthday by hitting the road. Accompanied by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, Shankar performs a benefit concert for the Foundation for Cancer Research at 8 p.m. at Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California, S.F. Tickets are $19.50-30 for the show, $150 for the show plus a reception with Shankar; call (510) 762-2277.
Where's Andy? "Warhol's main strength in filmmaking is as a kind of personality promoter who can pick real performers," Parker Tyler writes in Underground Film. Warhol's best-known film from the Factory era, The Chelsea Girls brings together quite a few "performers," including Gerald Malanga, Briget Polk, speed-freaky Pope Ondine, and Mary Woronov. One of the few cast members still alive, Woronov continues to act and paint, though she has little affinity for Pop Art's ironic, emotionally distant aesthetic. She'll read from her forthcoming autobiography, Swimming Underground, and local singer Omewenne will perform a tribute to Nico at a special 30th-anniversary screening of The Chelsea Girls at 7 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St, S.F. Tickets are $10; call 431-5329.
Never Say Die The story of a Marin County woman obsessed with staying young, Antenna Theater's Skin & Bones/Flesh & Blood takes audiences on a headset-guided journey through model agencies, beauty parlors, operating rooms, and -- in the end -- a mortuary. Shadow puppets and actors wearing humongous Day of the Dead-style masks are part of the walk-through performance at 8 p.m. at Marin Recycling Center, 535 Jacoby, San Rafael. Tickets are $12-15; call 331-8512.
Troubled Waters Once a bad seed, always a bad seed. "My parents claim they knew something was wrong with me from the beginning, and my childhood obsession with car accidents confirmed their worst fears," John Waters writes in Shock Value, adding, "If I could pick my death, it would be on a roller coaster that jumps the tracks and careens into a packed crowd at a cotton candy stand at a state fair." Waters' trash aesthetic is the norm in today's crime-and-court-obsessed pop culture, but no one presents bad taste with the same style and flair. Hear a monologue version of Waters' Shock Value at 8 p.m. (repeats Saturday) at Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, S.F. Tickets are $18; call 392-4400.
Kids Crusader Founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman has long been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans. Under her leadership, the Children's Defense Fund has become a national voice for otherwise powerless children and families, fighting against high dropout and pregnancy rates. Edelman presents a lecture at 8 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, Lake & Arguello, S.F. Tickets are $15; call 392-4400.
Flea-Ring Circus The gargantuan and the tiny, the colossal and the minute, the massive and the minuscule all come together at "About the Size of It: A Circus of the Big and Small," the latest exhibition at the Exploratorium. The star attraction is the Cardoso Flea Circus, a real troupe of fleas including escape artist Harry Fleadini and tightrope walker Mr. Mag. Other sights include giant shoes, a huge site-specific sculpture by Jim Pridgeon, and a bowling alley that fits into a bowling bag. Size queens and kings can scope things out from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, S.F. Admission is $2.50-9; call 563-7337.
Out There Forget the special effects, The X-Files' best trick is making the FBI likable: Agent Mulder (David Duchovny) is mysterious; Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) is strong, smart, an excellent shot, and she bears an uncanny resemblance to Leslie Gore. Neither Duchovny nor Anderson will be at the Official X-Files Convention; still, Mitch Pileggi ("Skinner"), William B. Davis (the "Cigarette Smoking Man"), a psychic named Sylvia Browne, and a number of onstage presentations and video displays will divert the show's devoted following. The eerie event lasts from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at San Jose Civic Center Auditorium, 150 W. San Carlos, San Jose. Tickets are $10-14; call (818) 409-0960.
Fallen Star In Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the anorexic '70s singer is played by a stiff actress: Barbie. Much more than a joke, this casting triggers vicious circles of meaning: Carpenter wanted to be perfect, like Barbie; in America, both dolls and pop icons invade children's imaginations. Written by Haynes and Cynthia Schneider, the film plays with the meaning of Carpenters songs: Feel-good anthems like "Sing a Song" are coupled with images of Nixon and Vietnam, while sad songs like "Hanging Around" ("Sometimes I'd like to quit/ Nothing ever seems to fit") -- matched with shots of Ex-Lax packages, salads, and iced tea -- become windows into Karen's psyche. Ultimately, like a kid projecting fantasies onto toys, Superstar's viewer begins to feel for plastic Karen as she struggles to free herself from familial and personal demands. A rare video screening of Superstar precedes Fanci's Persuasion at 8 p.m. at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia, S.F. Tickets are $5; call 824-3890.
British Invasion Blur's new LP, The Great Escape, is filled with tales of British eccentrics, including a "Charmless Man" ("I think he'd like to have been Ronnie Kray/ But then nature didn't make him that way") who sounds suspiciously like Morrissey. The LP's best songs, though, move beyond nasty character studies to nasty global critiques. Complete with huge string arrangement and a chorus of backup singers, "The Universal" bemoans an age where "the future has been sold" and everyone sings to karaoke songs "although the words are wrong." Hear and see dishy Damon Albarn and his band at 8 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, S.F.; Swedish pop perverts Whale (whose LP features a cameo by Tricky) open. Tickets are $12; call 474-0365.
Much Music Blues, jazz, and gospel are the featured flavors on the third and final day of Arhoolie's Festival of Down Home Music. Ann Savoy, the Magnolia Sisters, John Jackson, and Los Cenzontles cap the morning with a program of ballads, and "tall tales" by discographers and record company reps fill the afternoon. The Paramount Singers, John Jackson, Omar Sharriff, and Johnny Otis & Orchestra highlight an evening performance. The music starts at 11 a.m. (day show) & 8 p.m. (evening show) at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell, S.F. Tickets are $5 for the day program, $15 for the evening program; call 885-0750.
Gimme Maysles Though best-known for the creepy Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, Albert Maysles' documentary career covers broad terrain. Over the past 35 years, his subjects have ranged from abortion to Jessye Norman, from Muhammad Ali to Truman Capote, from James Baldwin to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models; one of his best works, 1976's Grey Gardens, jettisons the public eye for private life, focusing on two eccentric recluses in a decaying East Hampton mansion. Maysles speaks as part of the "Meet the Mavericks" series at 7:30 p.m. at Film Arts Foundation, 346 Ninth St, S.F. Tickets are $12-15; call 552-8760.
Rock That Bites The Red Aunts are three women from the Northwest. Their lead singer is named EZ Wider. Their songs are short and not-so-sweet: Fourteen vicious, bite-size blasts of noise can be found on the group's latest album, #1 Hot Chicken. They've been known to make male rock critics (namely, SF Weekly contributor Colin Berry) "wet." They headline a triple bill that also features Cheaterslick and Tanner at 9:30 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St, S.F. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.