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House of Tudor 

Soviet film satire, organ plaster-casting, and animal 'toon carnage

Wednesday, Nov 13 2002
Banned in the Soviet Union for almost half a century, Kote Mikaberidze's 1929 silent movie My Grandmother is a visually striking, often hilarious example of avant-garde Russian filmmaking, inspired by the 1922 Eccentric Manifesto. The picture, named after a slang term for unwarranted dividends garnered from public office, follows the misadventures of a Georgian bureaucrat who loses his job and discovers what it's like to be on the other end of the boodle. Drawing on the gesamkunstwerk ("biomechanics") of the constructivist theater movement -- gesture over speech, architecture over art, organization over personalization -- Mikaberidze uses stark, angular, oversize sets that deftly characterize the still-young Soviet State system that he chose to lampoon. Inside this austere, expressionistic setting, he tosses a cast of wonderfully strange and despondent characters who are, at once, self-important and seriously impotent: an administrator who whiles away the hours by chasing cockroaches with his spit, a paper-pusher who spends the day hurling love letters folded into the shape of airplanes at an indifferent secretary, and a grimy clerk whose job it is to carry memos to the suits sitting around a giant table. And that's just the beginning. The cast, most notably the wild-eyed Bella Chernova (playing our unhappy bureaucrat's wife), is comprised of adept physical comedians who stand up superbly next to Mikaberidze's more adventurous techniques, such as stop motion, puppetry, exaggerated camera angles, and animation, all of which were considered radical, if not anarchic, at the time. Add to this a good smattering of death -- suicide by handgun, near-suicide by hanging, and murder by giant pencil (wielded by the ever-vigilant Communist Youth League) -- and a catchy little maxim ("Death to Red Tape, Messiness, and Bureaucrats!") and you've got yourself a box-office hit. Or a movie that will never see the light of day until the Pacific Film Archive resurrects it with loving care and a lot of help from the Beth Custer Ensemble. Custer's original score -- a pastiche of classical, folk, blues, jazz, and international sounds performed by seven very gifted musicians -- captures the kinetic, off-kilter pace of My Grandmother while plumbing its darker depths and amplifying its humor. The score will be performed live with select narration, tears, and laughter provided by Nils Frykdahl (Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Faun Fables) at each showing of My Grandmother on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15-16, at 8 p.m. at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro near Market). Tickets are $12; call 621-6120 or visit

Combine French chanson, German electronica, Swedish pop, and a well-developed Peter Pan complex; add a sleazy organ-fueled garage-boogie freakout from New Orleans to homemade drum machines and a criminally infectious puppet musical; and what do you get? The best show in town, hands down. Stereo Total, Quintron, and Miss Pussycat perform on Saturday, Nov. 16, at Slim's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12-14; call 522-0333 or visit

By 1977 she had been memorialized by Kiss, but Cynthia Plaster Caster didn't need the hype (after all, she already held Jimi Hendrix in the palm of her hand). While she believed the Kiss song was actually an invitation to immortalize the "member" that had purportedly conquered a legion, she declined, choosing instead to cast the willing cocks of the MC5, Television, Dead Kennedys, and, um, Lovin' Spoonful. Perhaps now, in her more benevolent frame of mind, Cynthia Plaster Caster would change her tune, for the kids. Through the Cynthia Plaster Caster Foundation, a portion of proceeds from the sale of any cast replica goes toward helping the music career of some hopeful young artist, as well as providing hotel rooms for underprivileged groupies. Buyers uninterested in antiquated "pieces" might be happy to know that artists like Momus, Martin Atkins, and Chris Connelly have decided to make their privates public for charity's sake, and some compassionate ladies have similarly donated their tits (Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, Mekons' Sally Timms, and Demolition Doll Rods' Margaret Doll Rod among them). Just remember, while some gifts keep on giving, others are best left to the imagination. Cynthia Plaster Caster will be in San Francisco to cast Ebbott, lead singer of the Swedish group Soundtrack of Our Lives, and to appear at the opening of her exhibit on Saturday, Nov. 16, at ArtRock Gallery (893 Folsom at Fifth Street) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call 777-5736 or visit

Of all the Flash 'toons in all of cyberspace, only Happy Tree Friends gives rise to the pure, uncorrupted childhood glee I first felt upon seeing Marv Newland's Bambi Meets Godzilla. Like Newland, Flash animators Kenn Navarro and Rhode Montijo conjure moments of chaste, candy-coated cuteness that inevitably end in carnage (e.g., a sweet, pastel-hued baby skunk named Petunia plays with a pinwheel, cooing and giggling in self-satisfied delight, until a sudden windstorm turns the pinwheel into a high-powered rotor that eats her face). It's funny every time.

This year, San Francisco's Mondo Media, the same Net-work that gave us Thugs on Film and The God and Devil Show, released Happy Tree Friends: Volume 1 on DVD. The crisp and queasy collection includes 14 episodes, a cast-of-characters slide show, running commentary, early sketches, early pilots, three interactive "Smoochies" -- little games in which you may direct the characters' demise -- and an artists' buzz session. Worth its weight in marshmallow and sinew. Navarro and Montijo will appear in flesh-and-blood real time to indulge all your most perverted furry queries at the screening of Happy Tree Friends: Volume 1 on Saturday, Nov. 16, at Borderlands Books (866 Valencia between 19th and 20th streets) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call 824-8203.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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