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House Of Tudor 

Roxie benefit documentaries, electro-punk Bitches, and a Tribute to tribute bands

Wednesday, Apr 24 2002
Even from his new home in Los Angeles, music promoter Ian Brennan is doing his share to save our city's institutions -- in this case the beleaguered Roxie Cinema, which is still only halfway to being rescued. This weekend, Brennan presents an evening of never commercially screened music documentaries, from which all proceeds will go to the theater. The first film, Devil Got My Woman, was shot during the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, where music archivist Alan Lomax set up a makeshift juke joint, stocked the bar with booze, and let the blues take its course. As intimate and casual as a home movie, Devil Got My Woman captures a late-night reunion of hollow-bodied-guitar pickers from the Delta region and the Chicago scene. Early on, Howlin' Wolf pontificates on the nature of blues ("Any time you're thinkin' evil, you're thinkin' about the blues"), harasses Bukka White for his lack of money and love of whiskey, and then dusts off his song "Dust My Broom." Other highlights include White prompting a hip-shakin' dance party with "Please Don't Put Your Daddy Outdoors"; Son House opening his toothless maw and pouring out all the cares of the world; the spectral Skip James plucking and humming through "I'm So Glad"; and the Rev. Pearly Brown drawing sustenance from a leggy lass on "Pure Religion." While Devil might be too slow for children of the digital age, lovers of country blues will see it as a priceless glimpse of a faded world.

The second feature is actually two 1959 documentaries -- Glenn Gould: On the Record and Glenn Gould: Off the Record -- which capture candid moments in the life of one of the most idiosyncratic and influential composers of the 20th century. Glenn Gould was a childhood genius who, at the age of 3, displayed absolute pitch and the ability to read staff notation; by 5, he had written his first compositions. His debut recording, an interpretation of Bach titled Goldberg Variations, became an instant best seller when he was 23, and soon after, he became the first North American entertainer to enter the Soviet Union since the onset of the Cold War. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his astonishing virtuosity and large body of thought-provoking work, the short-lived artist's reclusive nature and neurotic behavior became the primary focus of the media and his growing fan base. (Gould was known to always wear his long wool coat, even in sweltering heat, and during recitals he would slump in a low chair and sing audibly to himself while conducting the entire piece with one hand.) Before giving up public performance altogether, he indulged a camera crew, whose results make up these two 30-minute films. On the Record follows the hypersensitive, self-critical Gould through a New York recording session, as he jokes with cabdrivers, banters with sound engineers, and records his Italian Concerto. In Off the Record Gould revels in freedom from prying eyes at Lake Simcoe in Ontario, ambling through the woods, performing luscious recitals for his collie, and talking composition with fellow musician Franz Kraemer. The movies will be shown Friday, April 26, at the Roxie Cinema (3117 16th St. at Valencia) at 7 p.m., 9 p.m., and midnight. Tickets are $7 general and $3 for seniors and children; call 863-1087.

With their alluring countenances and penchant for kung fu as foreplay, the Ping Pong Bitches are electro-punk's version of Charlie's Angels, and are, sadly, just about as clever. Initially, Mandy Wong, Louise Prey, and Emily Hell took to the stage in stiletto heels and latex, but a few small riots made the ladies think better of their S/M image (a product, perhaps, of one-time manager Malcolm McLaren). Still, their near escapes neither inhibited their stage show -- which makes overt female sexuality look like a sort of desperate, compulsive, unsexy tic -- nor curtailed their tales of sex, violence, and underage boys. This lasciviousness, the Bitches think, is what turns up the heat on their eponymous debut album when, in actuality, it's the brilliant programming and still more brilliant guitar playing of Steve Jones and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera. While the karaoke babes claim a healthy appreciation of Slayer, the Stooges, Prodigy, and Donna Summer, they should not claim to be serious, which they often do. Thankfully, their lack of humor does not detract from the gleeful hilarity of their live shows. The Ping Pong Bitches perform on Saturday, April 27, at the Justice League at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8-10; call 289-2038.

At once ridiculous, disturbing, and oddly heartbreaking, Tribute is rock 'n' roll's answer to the film Trekkies. This exceptional documentary spends several years following five Southern California tribute bands intent on aping Kiss, Journey, the Monkees, Judas Priest, and Queen. With bitterness and vitriol rivaling their real-life counterparts, "Davy Jones" and "Mike Nesmith" rip each other to shreds and start dueling Monkees bands; Priestly "Rob Halford" picks apart the success of made-good tribute singer Tim "Ripper" Owens while glumly watching his tiny daughters fall on the kitchen floor; "Gene Simmons" goes insane, lights his house on fire, finds God, and renounces the evil that is Kiss; "Freddie Mercury" gives up his Queen cover act to pursue a successful theatrical career in Germany, plunging 500 fans and one very devout "superfan" into deep despair; and a perfectly pitched, pointy-nosed "Steve Perry" resuscitates a Journey repertoire that belongs buried with his painted-on white slacks. In between the emotional madness, there are mind-boggling -- and sometimes mind-numbing -- musical performances, auditions, fittings, and sound checks, as well as interviews with loyal followers and their booking agents, poignant insight into what drives thousands of musicians to plug in their amps every day, and a heart-rending look at what happens when people completely lose perspective. You might think it's only warmed-over rock 'n' roll, but after seeing Tribute you'll understand exactly why the husband and wife who made this movie were willing to kiss off their life savings and credit rating to finish it, and why Steven Soderbergh snatched it up when he saw the rough cut. Tribute screens as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival on Saturday, April 27, at 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday, April 30, at 9:45 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki (1881 Post at Fillmore). Call (925) 275-9490 for tickets.

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Silke Tudor


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