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House of Tudor 

American Mullet, blues radical John Sinclair, and Nik Phelps' animation bounty

Wednesday, Jan 29 2003
In the film Withnail & I, Danny, the purveyor of "rare herbs and prescribed medicines," offers this solemn caveat against the shoring of one's hair for financial gain: "Hairs are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos, and transmit them directly into the brain." Just further testimony as to the wisdom and wile of those brave mariners of mulletude who, through ingenuity and self-determination, prove daily that anyone, yes anyone, can have business in the front and a party in the back. And yet, call it what you will -- shlong, sho-lo, shag, mud flap, hockey hair, Camaro cut, Kentucky waterfall, Canadian passport, bilevel beaver paddle, or Missouri compromise -- the mullet remains utterly inscrutable. Sure, you've surfed all the Web sites and added pithy captions to your secret snapshots; you've read ironic articles published by the New York Times Magazine and passed your lunch hour spotting femmulets, mulletinos, and skullets; you may have even joined the "Mullitia" or purchased "Fear the Mullet" stickers for your car. But are you any closer to understanding the inner nature of the design? Have you stopped to ask yourself, "What's beneath the mullet?" Los Angeles filmmaker Jennifer Arnold makes an attempt to answer that question with her 2002 documentary American Mullet. Arnold's first feature has proven popular enough to garner another booking in San Francisco, not for its cultural insight -- interviews conducted at Native American reservations, Brazilian soccer practices, Mexican hair salons, lesbian book-signings, drag king shows, country and western bars, motorcycle races, and Fourth of July celebrations in Arizona reveal nothing unexpected -- but for the simple fact that mullets are still pretty funny. American Mullet screens Wednesday through Saturday, Jan. 29-Feb. 1, at the Red Vic (1727 Haight at Cole) at 7:15 and 9:15 nightly. Admission is $6.50; call 668-3994 or visit for matinee show times and prices.

Though known as the manager and political "theorist" behind the MC5, the '60s radical who founded the White Panther Party, and the germinating force in the anti-drug law movement, John Sinclair is first and foremost a poet and blues enthusiast. While still in college, he became the Detroit correspondent for Downbeat (a longtime relationship that would lead to an editorship, among other things); published his first book of poetry, called This Is Our Music; contributed live readings to trumpeter Charles Moore's Detroit Contemporary 5; and founded the radical Detroit Artists' Workshop. Still known internationally as a dissident, Sinclair might be happier being called a 21st-century American griot. Certainly, it is a griot's ambition that prompted Fattening Frogs for Snake, a collection of anecdotal poems set to a deep Louisiana grind that relates the history of the blues through myth, rhythm, fact, and impression. Sinclair has always considered it a political act for white guys to promote and defend black music; since moving to New Orleans in the early '90s, he has really settled down with the blues, channeling his barroom growl, encyclopedic knowledge, and natural gift for oratory into several wildly popular radio shows that elucidate and celebrate all the artists he loves. And while Fattening Frogs may not be terribly interesting as an album, it's absolutely riveting as a musicology lecture. John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars perform on Thursday, Jan. 30, at Slim's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333 or go to

Every once in a while I receive a postcard from Nik and Nancy Phelps, chronicling their most recent overseas adventure as self-appointed ambassadors from the American cartoon underground. This time around, news comes from Russia, where the pair recently presented their unique vision of "Contemporary American Animation" at the KROK International Film Festival. Drawing on nearly five years of "Ideas in Animation," a regular Bay Area film and music series that marries avant-garde clips with live musical scores by Nik Phelps & the Sprocket Ensemble, the curators garnered numerous accolades and grand memories of opening night at a historic theater in St. Petersburg, as well as a handful of European gems, which they will present to local audiences in two programs. On Saturday, four films by two celebrated European animators -- Britain's Paul Bush and Latvia's Rose Stiebra -- will be shown along with debuts by Finland's Sammi Abaijon, the United States' Jen Sachs, and the Bay Area's own Karen Lithgow. On Monday, a darker vein of new animation will be mined by Sweden's Eric Rosenlund, Hungary's Andrea Kiss, Australia's Kate Mathews, the Ukraine's Alex Zhukov, and the United States' Niki Yang. "Ideas in Animation" will be held on Feb. 1 at 21 Grand in Oakland at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-10; call (510) 444-7263. The second showing will take place on Feb. 3 at 111 Minna at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-10; call 974-1719.

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Silke Tudor


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